Power Rankings: One stat offers clue to success

April 29th, 2019

While we wait a few more weeks to draw concrete conclusions about how much the standings really foreshadow where teams will be positioned four months from now, there are a few numbers we can look at now that may give some clues.

Run differential, while not the be-all, end-all, does provide some insight. Last year, for example, the Mariners spent months on pace for 100 wins, but they were doing it without much by way of piling on the runs. They had a single-digit run differential at best, and all indications were that it wasn’t going to last. And it didn’t.

With a month of games in the books this year, the Rays lead the Majors with a plus-44 run differential, and they are, not so coincidentally, also leading the American League East. The Yankees, playing admirably despite missing a dozen players to injury, have a plus-37 run differential, and, after a tough two-week stretch, find themselves six games over .500.

In the National League, the first-place Dodgers are the leaders with a plus-31 run differential. Interestingly, the next-best team in that division has a winning record but is lacking in runs. The Padres are 16-12 but with a minus-8 run differential, which is probably not sustainable. The D-backs, in third place by a hair, have a much more reasonable formula of plus-20 to accompany their 16-13 record.

On to the Power Rankings:

Biggest jump: The D-backs jumped six, from No. 17 to No. 11. We could point to any number of reasons why they’re the surprise of the season so far, but let’s start with the bullpen, which recently put together a string of 24 innings without allowing a run. The offense has been rolling, too, especially later in games -- entering Sunday’s extra-innings affair, they were slashing .292/.363/.513 with 20 homers and 81 RBIs off relief pitchers.

Biggest drop: Two teams experienced dramatic drops, each falling 10 spots. The Nationals dropped from No. 6 to 16, and the Pirates fell from No. 9 to No. 19. The Nationals are 6-9 in their past 15 games, and even with their win over the Padres on Sunday, they have a plus-1 run differential and little reinforcement on the pitching side. Through Saturday, Nationals pitchers had the NL’s third-worst ERA (5.03), with the bullpen turning in a 7.34 ERA, the highest in the league.

Power Rankings Top 5:

1) Dodgers (2 last week)

Cody Bellinger tied a Major League record with his 14th homer on Sunday, joining an exclusive group of sluggers who have hit that many homers before May 1. There have been only three others -- Albert Pujols in 2006, Alex Rodriguez in 2007 and Christian Yelich this year. And the Dodgers are rolling, having won 11 of their past 14 games with terrific starting pitching that has posted a 2.44 ERA over that stretch. They’re also second in the NL with 49 homers and first with a .467 slugging percentage.

2) Rays (3)

The Rays beat the Red Sox on Sunday to improve to 8-1-0 in series play this year. The only series they’ve dropped so far was last weekend’s three-game sweep at home by the Red Sox. Even with a 4-5 stretch over their past nine games, the bullpen is showing signs of getting back on track. On Sunday, three relievers turned in 2 1/3 scoreless innings to preserve Tyler Glasnow’s win.

3) Cardinals (5)

It’s tough to say whether Marcell Ozuna’s Faceplant Heard ‘Round The World contributed to his dramatic turnaround, but it should be noted that ever since that unfortunate warning track mishap, he’s been nails. Over his past 18 games, including Sunday’s win over Cincinnati during which he walked twice and scored twice, the left fielder has nine homers and 23 RBIs and is slugging .648.

4) Astros (1)

Houston followed its 10-game winning streak with six losses in its next 11 games, but the Astros still boast the best home record at 10-3. They split a four-game weekend set with the Indians after dropping the first two, and with their 4-1 win Sunday, have reclaimed the top spot in the AL West. Carlos Correa has a 10-game hitting streak, during which he has 12 hits in 42 at-bats with three doubles, four homers, eight RBIs and a .643 slugging percentage.

5) Yankees (6)

There hasn’t been much movement regarding the list of players on the injured list, but the Yankees are managing to piece things together after a dismal few weeks. Their West Coast swing against two sub-.500 teams, the Angels and Giants, helped -- though we should note the Yankees have played only one team over .500 all year, and they’re 0-3 (vs. Houston). Kudos to two notable contributors: Luke Voit (.357, 20-for-56 in past 15 games) and Gio Urshela (20-for-52 in 15 starts).

The rest of the top 20:

  1. Twins (10)
  2. Phillies (4)
  3. Mariners (12)
  4. Indians (8)
  5. Brewers (7)
  6. D-backs (17)
  7. Padres (16)
  8. Cubs (13)
  9. Mets (14)
  10. Braves (18)
  11. Nationals (6)
  12. Rockies (20)
  13. Red Sox (15)
  14. Pirates (9)
  15. A's (19)