MLB Power Rankings: Yankees, Phillies, Orioles looking like baseball's strongest teams

The Dodgers, Guardians and Brewers aren't far behind through the season's first two months

With more than two months of the 2024 season officially in the books, we’ve gained laughably little clarity regarding how each league’s playoff picture might shake out. Twenty-five teams sit either in a postseason spot or within five games of one, and that doesn’t include the perennial powerhouse Astros, who are slowly crawling back into the mix after a dreadful first month.

While the standings remain rife with uncertainty, we’re working with a large enough sample now that it’s reasonable to draw some preliminary conclusions about the direction these teams are heading. In turn, for this week’s power rankings, I want to reflect on the first 60-or-so games through the lens of a very basic question: How are we feeling about each team now compared to how we felt on Opening Day: better, worse or about the same?

While I don’t want to speak definitively on behalf of the 30 MLB fan bases, consider this a humble attempt to put myself in the shoes of each team’s supporters.

Much better. The two biggest stories at the outset of the season — the potentially historic duo of Juan Soto and Aaron Judge and the absence of reigning Cy Young winner Gerrit Cole — have each gone about as well as anyone could hope. For as spectacular as they’ve been, Soto and Judge simultaneously raking isn’t a particular shock. The real reason the Yankees sit atop this list is because of what the rotation has done in Cole’s absence — and the fact that Cole is now gearing up to rejoin the staff. You can nitpick the bullpen or a few lackluster showings down the lineup, but the superstars are showing out, and the record speaks for itself. This team is very good and might be about to get even better if Cole looks like himself upon his return.

Better. Philadelphia’s outstanding pitching staff has helped mitigate what has been a merely solid first couple of months for an offense that unquestionably has untapped potential, especially once it is back at full strength. And thanks to the relatively slow start from its biggest rival in Atlanta, a division title — which would be its first since 2011 — is extremely in play for Philadelphia, even as the schedule toughens up in the coming months.

About the same. Coming off a division title and a trade for a Cy Young winner in Corbin Burnes and featuring baseball’s best farm system, Baltimore entered 2024 with lofty expectations — expectations that have largely been met thanks to an MVP-esque leap from Gunnar Henderson, a largely brilliant lineup around him and a Burnes-led staff that has had enough standout showings from guys such as Cole Irvin and Kyle Bradish to weather the latest unfortunate injury news (John Means and Tyler Wells both need surgery). The bullpen remains a notch below what it was a year ago, with Felix Bautista as the headliner, but it’d be a stretch to call it a definitive weakness. This team might not be as good as the Yankees, but it’s one of the best teams in baseball.

Ever so slightly worse. It’s not that the Dodgers shouldn’t still be expected to coast to another NL West title, but it’s at least mildly concerning just how bad the supporting cast has been beyond The Big Three atop the lineup (four if you count standout catcher Will Smith in the cleanup spot), especially while Max Muncy has been hurt. I remain bullish on the pitching staff being one of the best in baseball, especially if/when it gets healthier (Bobby Miller, Clayton Kershaw, Brusdar Graterol), but sheesh, this offense is comically top-heavy in a borderline problematic way. Emphasis on borderline — these are first-world baseball problems.

Better. Rather than having an elite rotation led by Shane Bieber and an army of young yet gifted hurlers, Cleveland has weathered injuries and regression in its rotation by building an otherworldly bullpen featuring renowned closer Emmanuel Clase and a host of lesser-known funkmasters who can get outs with the best of 'em. And when you have José Ramírez, one of the best baseball players on the planet, on your team, anything is possible — even a 40-20 start with a below-average starting rotation. What a treat this team has been to watch. I’m eager to see how aggressive the Guardians get at the trade deadline to supplement this group.

Much better. How many star-level players do the Brewers need to trade before we start accepting that they know what they’re doing? Granted, this rotation could use a Corbin Burnes type right about now, but man, Joey Ortiz has been a sensational addition to this infield and a key cog in a shockingly explosive offense headlined by the bona fide breakout of catcher William Contreras (another nifty trade pickup). Watching Pat Murphy captain this surprisingly excellent team has been a delight. Even if the paper-thin rotation proves to be the undoing of an outstanding start to the season, this organization has earned the benefit of the doubt regarding its ability to compete with unexpected pieces.

Worse. This is probably about the lowest you’ll ever see Atlanta on these rankings, but there are enough red flags present, even beyond the season-ending injuries to Spencer Strider and Ronald Acuña Jr., to lower the overall ceiling of this team and put its reign atop the NL East in jeopardy. Only Marcell Ozuna has pulled his weight in what should be one of baseball’s best lineups even without Acuña, but it feels like only a matter of time before the talent wins out and this group gets back to pummeling pitchers with consistency. On the flip side, I’d be cautious about counting on the early stellar showings from Chris Sale and Reynaldo López sustaining all summer, if only due to their recent workload history.

Much better. What Kansas City has managed to do in terms of overhauling what was one of baseball’s most abysmal pitching staffs into what is now one of the league’s best by multiple measures is an astounding accomplishment. Add a face of the franchise in Bobby Witt Jr., who somehow seems to be getting better by the week, and suddenly things aren’t looking so bad. While the bottom half of this roster still resembles that of a team in the thick of a rebuild, the top of it might be good enough to send the Royals back to the postseason far sooner than anyone could have foreseen in March.

Slightly better. The elite starting pitching has largely been as advertised, which has helped compensate for a brutally underperforming offense that recently cost hitting coach Brant Brown his job, despite Seattle being in first place. In a vacuum, the offensive ineptitude would leave one feeling rather dour about the Mariners’ October ambitions, but the team has benefited greatly from its two rivals in Texas struggling to an even greater degree in the early going. In turn, the Mariners currently boast the largest division lead they’ve had in decades and the opportunity to act from a position of strength at the trade deadline in an effort to bolster the lineup — an opportunity we know Jerry Dipoto would never pass up.

Slightly worse. It took a sausage-fueled, 12-game heater to catapult Minnesota back into the AL Central mix after an ice-cold start on offense in particular. Now the Twins find themselves trying to keep pace with not just one familiar foe in Cleveland but also a vastly improved rival in Kansas City, which has suddenly made this long-ridiculed division something of a gauntlet. That context is the most significant factor contributing to my mild pessimism regarding Minnesota’s first couple of months, as I still have a good amount of confidence in the talent on this roster to enable a run at a division title. To that end, Royce Lewis’ return was an especially welcome sight.

About the same. San Diego’s place in the standings — and these rankings — might suggest I’m underselling this team a bit, but that says more about the notably lackluster middle tier of teams than the Padres’ overall quality, and the holes on this roster are still glaring enough that it’s difficult to get too overeager about what this team is capable of long term. The rash of injuries to key players is both a valid excuse and something a ton of good teams are dealing with, and the Padres’ depth will continue to be tested. At the very least, we know general manager AJ Preller will continue to be aggressive to address his team’s needs. I’m not sure Preller can outdo his Luis Arraez acquisition before next month’s trade deadline, but I’m pretty sure he’s going to try.

The Yankees, Dodgers, Guardians and Phillies have been as advertised or even better through the first two months of the 2024 season. (Bruno Rouby/Yahoo Sports)
The Yankees, Dodgers, Guardians and Phillies have been as advertised or even better through the first two months of the 2024 season. (Bruno Rouby/Yahoo Sports)

Ever so slightly better. No team has exhibited a more powerful magnetic pull to .500 this year than the Red Sox, an appropriate encapsulation of a club that routinely yo-yo's between looking surprisingly imposing and decisively unremarkable. The huge strides made on the mound have been somewhat undercut by injuries to key hitters Trevor Story and Triston Casas, leaving Boston with a lineup that doesn’t consistently take advantage of its excellent run prevention. On a macro level, Boston’s improved pitching apparatus could portend a more realistic shot at contention as soon as next year, but the Craig Breslow regime appears reluctant to go all-in on the roster as currently constructed. The Sox are actually pretty good and could win a wild card with the right deadline deals, but I don’t think they want to win that badly this year, unfortunately.

Worse. The defending champs appear to be pinning all their hopes to the pending returns of their overwhelming collection of injured frontline arms, with Max Scherzer the closest to returning, and Jacob deGrom and Tyler Mahle lurking as options later in the summer. Even if each of those pitchers returns as planned, other concerns remain. Namely, the Rangers’ offense hasn’t been nearly the force it was a year ago, despite featuring many of the same high-powered bats. Is it only a matter of time for them, like with Atlanta’s position-player group? Or did we already see this unit at the peak of its powers? That’s a vital question to answer sooner rather than later, considering Texas’ place in the standings.

About the same. It has been a brutal stretch over the past few weeks, but I’m not forgetting what this squad looked like for much of April and how the emergences of Javier Assad and rookie lefty Shota Imanaga on the mound raised the ceiling of this pitching staff. The bullpen will need to be addressed in some form at the trade deadline, but I think there’s another gear for this team to reach, especially if the likes of Dansby Swanson and Christopher Morel start finding their strides at the plate. While Chicago has certainly been outplayed by Milwaukee thus far, it’s not hard to see the Cubs looking like a more balanced team down the stretch, considering their advantages in the rotation. That said, they’ve got a lot of ground to make up.

About the same. While Tarik Skubal and Riley Greene have lived up to the much-deserved hype, and Jack Flaherty has been a marvelous addition to the rotation, the severe lack of offensive production beyond Greene and some slight regression from the bullpen have put Detroit in a precarious position in a division that has far higher standards than any of us previously realized. In other words, if you had told me the Tigers would be .500 through 60 games, I would’ve assumed they’d be closer to first in the AL Central than the 9.5 games back they currently sit. Alas, there’s work to do here for Detroit to stay relevant in the postseason picture.

Slightly worse. Credit the Redbirds for avoiding spiraling completely out of relevance (as they did a year ago) through a shaky opening month. Sonny Gray’s terrific start to his Cardinals tenure and Masyn Winn cementing himself as a franchise shortstop have been notably positive developments in an otherwise uneven season. If not for Willson Contreras’ freak injury, which is expected to keep the catcher on the shelf until around the All-Star break, I’d feel much better about St. Louis’ chances to make some headway in the NL postseason race. They still appear to be a few pieces short; I’d love to see them be buyers at the trade deadline.

Much worse. Yuck. No. 17 might be too generous a ranking for how unpleasant the vibes have been north of the border thus far, but that certainly says more about the teams below Toronto than any sort of Jays optimism. At the same time, this team’s inability to find its groove despite the talent present remains one of the more perplexing storylines of the season. Let’s put aside the October shortcomings for a second; this is a franchise that has averaged 90-plus wins the past three regular seasons while continuing to add to its roster. Things would have to change dramatically — and soon — for another 90-win season in 2024.

Much worse. That I have Houston ranked ahead of a handful of teams with fewer losses is a legitimate vote of confidence that the Astros are far from doomed in the AL playoff chase. But let’s not act like they didn’t dig themselves an enormous hole or don’t face supreme challenges on the mound, considering the latest double-whammy of injury news, with José Urquidy and Cristian Javier both heading for elbow surgery. It has been a rough go in H-Town on multiple fronts, and it’s going to take a rather heroic effort from the Astros’ stars to climb back into the mix.

Worse. Whatever small-market magic Cleveland and Milwaukee have demonstrated this year has not been on display in Tampa Bay. Take your pick of any standard or sabermetric measure of team quality, and you’ll find that the Rays have quite plainly not been a very good baseball team. They are bottom-six in MLB in OPS (.667), ERA (4.32) and run differential (-49), and the underlying metrics don’t suggest they’ve been especially unlucky on either side of the ball. It has been a downright disaster on offense outside of Isaac Paredes, and the Rays seem to be running out of magic on the mound to sufficiently replace all the guys on the IL. And yet! Here they are, floating around .500, sniffing the AL wild-card mix anyway. That said, if any front office is going to be willing to make a move motivated by the bigger picture, rather than going all-in on a team with this many holes, it’s this one. This smells more like a seller than a buyer come July.

Worse. In an alternate timeline in which the Snakes just missed the postseason a year ago instead of going on a Cinderella pennant run, I think we’d look at their start to 2024 as mildly underwhelming but not a far cry from what you’d expect from the roster. But Arizona carries the burden of its own surprise October success and is in turn held to a higher standard. As the bizarre sophomore slump for Corbin Carroll continues and the injuries continue to pile up on the mound, a return trip to October is looking progressively less likely, albeit certainly not impossible considering the jumbled wild-card picture.

Worse. We can commend San Francisco for being ultra-aggressive hot stove shoppers all we want. At some point, however, you are your record, and that leaves the Giants in a troublingly similar spot to where they were a year ago, despite the bevy of new faces on the roster and coaching staff.

Aaron Judge has the Yankees looking pretty unstoppable through two months of play. (Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)
Aaron Judge has the Yankees looking pretty unstoppable through two months of play. (Amber Matsumoto/Yahoo Sports)

Worse. Losing their best overall player in Matt McLain to shoulder surgery and another projected starter in third baseman Noelvi Marte to a PED suspension was a tough way to start the season, but those two absences haven’t been the Reds’ only issues. The veterans Cincinnati spent a healthy chunk of change on this winter to raise the floor of the roster (Jeimer Candelario, Nick Martinez, Emilio Pagán, Frankie Montas) have been OK at best. The pitching staff is solid but not good enough to make up for a well-below-average offense that, outside of stealing bases, does very little at a high level. While Cincinnati might have just enough to remain relevant down the stretch in the fringes of the NL wild-card race, this has thus far been an undeniably disappointing encore to the team’s surprise 82-win campaign a year ago.

Slightly better. In the early stages of the Nationals’ post-Juan Soto-trade rebuild, a promising, young offensive core appeared to be emerging around shortstop CJ Abrams, catcher Keibert Ruiz and late-blooming outfielder Lane Thomas, while ample questions remained regarding the ceiling and depth of Washington’s internal pitching options. The 2024 season has definitively flipped that dynamic, with substantial progress occurring on the mound while much of the position-player group is either stuck in neutral or going backward. This has made for a difficult evaluation of the season thus far, but I’m more bullish on the Nationals in the near term now that they can consistently record outs. Top outfield prospect James Wood looms as an intriguing addition-in-waiting in the coming months, but he alone cannot solve the Nats’ collective power outage; Washington ranks ahead of only the White Sox in SLG% and home runs.

Slightly better. The explosive arrivals of Jared Jones and Paul Skenes have inspired realistic visions of Pittsburgh boasting one of baseball’s best rotations in the not-so-distant future. Unfortunately, there isn’t nearly as much to be excited about on offense beyond the tantalizing if maddening performance of supersized shortstop Oneil Cruz. At the end of the day, you need to score runs to win games, and that has been a severe weakness for the Buccos in 2024 — one with no obvious avenues through which to improve this year or even next.

Worse. Perhaps the plan for David Stearns all along was to ride out this mediocre roster until July and then flip the most attractive veterans for longer-term pieces. It's still odd to watch a team with this amount of star-level talent flounder near the bottom of the standings for the second straight year. New York added significant minor-league talent at last year’s deadline and appears to be heading toward a similar July, one that could be even busier considering the number of expiring contracts on this roster.

Slightly better. This doesn’t apply to the tragic larger context of the franchise’s pending exit from Oakland, but as for the on-field product, Oakland has been significantly more competitive — and watchable — than it was a year ago. Very few teams boast a pitcher as must-watch as fireballing closer Mason Miller, and that is an achievement in and of itself.

Much worse. Any solace taken in still having Mike Trout around after Shohei Ohtani left to join the Dodgers was quickly squashed when Trout hit the IL in early May due to a torn meniscus, and things have gotten only uglier since. There’s only so much new manager Ron Washington can do with such a woefully ill-equipped roster. Even more disheartening is how challenging it is to dream of a brighter future even if you ignore the present: poor drafting, subpar development and a series of win-now trades that led to no winning have left the farm system barren, and the minor-league records reflect that.

Worse. Unlike with the White Sox, we weren’t certain on Opening Day that Miami was heading for a drastic rebuild in 2024, especially coming off a trip to October. That changed in a hurry with the Marlins’ miserable start, and the trade of Luis Arraez kick-started what is expected to be yet another substantial sell-off, an all-too-familiar sequence for this franchise. Perhaps it’s the right plan in the long term, but it certainly doesn’t make the fan base feel good.

About the same. Nearly every projection system tabbed the Rockies as the worst team in baseball, and they’ve done little to dissuade that beyond simply Not Being the White Sox. It’s a bottom-five offense and a bottom-three pitching staff. A career year from Ryan McMahon and promising production from 22-year-old shortstop Ezequiel Tovar aside, there’s little to get excited about here, which isn’t a surprise.

Much worse. It’s not that anyone expected this team to be good, considering the stated intentions (and subsequent transactions) indicating a rebuild, but being on pace to be worse than the 2003 Tigers is a tough pill to swallow, regardless of the big-picture organizational plan — especially when the tidal wave of losing can’t even garner this team a pick at the top of the 2025 MLB Draft. There have been some encouraging developments on the farm (check out Double-A Birmingham’s pitching staff) but not nearly enough for it to feel like the big-league team will be winning anything anytime soon.