MLB Power Rankings Week 18: Where all 30 teams stand as playoff races heat up


Players are settling in with their new teams in the weeks after the trade deadline, and in several circumstances, they could be the difference between making and missing the playoffs.

Can the Red Sox hold off long enough for the return of Chris Sale and Kyle Schwarber? Are the Dodgers' new additions enough to give them the NL West? Who's No. 1 in the chaotic NL East?

Here is what our eight-voter expert panel decided based on what they have learned in the first four and a half months of the 2021 season. We also asked ESPN baseball experts David Schoenfield, Bradford Doolittle, Joon Lee, Jesse Rogers and Alden Gonzalez to weigh in with one Week 18 observation based on what they have seen recently for all 30 teams.

Previous rankings: Week 17 | Week 16 | Week 15 | Week 14 | Week 13 | Week 12 | Week 11 | Week 10 | Week 9 | Week 8 | Week 7 | Week 6 | Week 5 | Week 4 | Week 3 | Week 2 | Week 1 | Opening Day

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

Record: 69-45
Previous ranking: 2

The Dodgers have loaded up for the stretch run, but they're still struggling to stay healthy. Clayton Kershaw, who hasn't pitched since July 3 because of inflammation around his pitching elbow, isn't expected to restart his throwing program until next week, at the earliest, and might not have enough time to build up to a traditional starter's workload before the end of the regular season. Mookie Betts, meanwhile, was placed on the injured list again on Wednesday with lingering pain in his troublesome hip, prompting him to fly back to Los Angeles to visit with a specialist. The Dodgers are deep enough and talented enough to succeed without them, but perhaps not if they want to catch the Giants. -- Gonzalez

2. San Francisco Giants

Record: 73-41
Previous ranking: 1

Kris Bryant batted .314/.385/.514 in his first nine games with the Giants, spending the majority of that time at third base. That won't be so necessary moving forward, with Evan Longoria activated off the injured list after missing more than two months with a shoulder injury. The Giants' position-player group is at full strength now, a rarity this season. And now is when Bryant's versatility will start to pay dividends for a team that has proven to be as good as any at optimizing matchups. Bryant can also help the Giants in left field, center field and first base and will do so in order to remain in the lineup. -- Gonzalez

3. Tampa Bay Rays

Record: 69-45
Previous ranking: 4

The Rays continue to roll along. Randy Arozarena continues to lead the way on offense and is one of the leading candidates for American League Rookie of the Year honors. In the absence of ace Tyler Glasnow, Tampa Bay continues to fill in the gaps with starters such as Shane McClanahan and bulk relievers like Collin McHugh, who recently returned from injury. -- Lee

4. Houston Astros

Record: 68-46
Previous ranking: 3

During the Astros' first nine games after the trade deadline, when Houston dealt starting center fielder Myles Straw to Cleveland, initial concerns about the club's production at that spot have been unfounded. It's a tiny sample, but since July 31, Astros center fielders -- Chas McCormick (29 plate appearances), Kyle Tucker (8) and Jake Meyers (1) -- have hit a collective .400/.447/.686. Not bad. Their 1.133 OPS during that span ranks fourth among all MLB center field groups behind the Cubs, Athletics and Rockies. Like we said, it's a small sample but an encouraging sign for the loaded Astros. -- Doolittle

5. Chicago White Sox

Record: 67-48
Previous ranking: 5

The career evolution of Adam Engel has been fascinating. Long one of the game's fastest players, Engel put that speed to good use with dazzling center field defense as a part-timer during the White Sox's rebuilding seasons. Because of those traits and his occasional pop at the plate against lefties, one could see Engel hanging around as a bench player once Chicago shifted into winning mode. With the White Sox mobilizing for a World Series run, Engel is indeed still around. But he's become more than an end-of-the-bench specialty player because of the tremendous growth of his offensive game, especially against right-handers. Through the end of the 2019 season, Engel had a career .567 OPS against righties with a 33.2% strikeout rate. Since then, he's improved those marks to a .912 OPS with a 23.3% strikeout rate. -- Doolittle

6. Milwaukee Brewers

Record: 69-46
Previous ranking: 6

Milwaukee is getting pushed a little by the Reds but now a series against the Cubs means it should earn easy victories. The Brewers swept a doubleheader from Chicago on Tuesday without playing their best baseball and continue to roll even without Josh Hader, who's on the Covid IL. Willy Adames continues to swing a hot bat, hitting .400 over the past week. -- Rogers

7. San Diego Padres

Record: 66-50
Previous ranking: 8

The Padres had a rough few days. They began with them missing out at the trade deadline on a top starting pitcher -- first Max Scherzer, then everybody else -- and then it continued with the Padres' contention hopes might rest solely on whether they can keep Fernando Tatis Jr.'s shoulder from sliding out of its socket position once again. Tatis is currently on the injured list with yet another subluxation, and in the meantime he has been getting a lot of outfield reps to carve out a potential alternative. The Padres can easily deploy Adam Frazier at second base, Jake Cronenworth at shortstop and Tatis in right field. Playing the outfield -- if he transitions well enough -- could minimize diving attempts and create less friction for Tatis' left shoulder. At some point, probably as soon as this offseason, Tatis will need surgery. But the Padres maintain that he isn't causing further damage by continuing to play through it. Ideally, he'd hold off that surgery for another 11 or so weeks. -- Gonzalez

8. Oakland Athletics

Record: 66-48
Previous ranking: 9

Oakland sustained a major blow when news of Ramón Laureano's 80-game suspension for PEDs broke, but the team continues to find production in unexpected places, including strong performances in the rotation from Cole Irvin and James Kaprielian, who represent two of the team's biggest surprises this season. Trade deadline acquisition Starling Marte is already making an impact, hitting .400/.438/.578 in 10 games so far with Oakland. -- Lee

9. Toronto Blue Jays

Record: 62-51
Previous ranking: 10

The Blue Jays continue to chase a playoff berth, with one of the best run differentials in the American League, ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays and the Chicago White Sox. George Springer is hitting like the difference-maker Toronto expected when the season started and the addition of Jose Berrios considerably bolstered the rotation, setting up the team for a bright future even beyond the 2021 season. -- Lee

10. Boston Red Sox

Record: 66-50
Previous ranking: 7

Panic is starting to settle in in Red Sox Nation. Following a trade deadline where the majority of the division seemed to improve, Boston has struggled, including a swept by Tampa Bay at the end of July. Recently, the Red Sox dropped two of three games to the Detroit Tigers and lost three of four against the division rival Blue Jays. After a season of performances exceeding expectations, the rotation is falling back to earth. Martin Perez was demoted to the bullpen. -- Lee

11. New York Yankees

Record: 63-51
Previous ranking: 11

Following the trade for Joey Gallo, Andrew Heaney and Anthony Rizzo at the deadline, the Yankees look like a rejuvenated team, just two games behind the Red Sox for second-place in the American League East. Watch out for rookie starter Luis Gil, who in two starts has thrown 11 innings, allowed six hits, no runs, three walks and 12 strikeouts. -- Lee

12. Cincinnati Reds

Record: 61-54
Previous ranking: 12

Getting Nick Castellanos back from an injury is a boost for the Reds' playoff hopes but some sustained success out of the bullpen might mean even more. It's no longer ranked last in ERA but the bullpen still has its moments. Cincinnati gave up a 2-0 lead to Atlanta on Tuesday, eventually losing 3-2 when Amir Garrett walked in the go-ahead run. How he keeps getting meaningful time on the mound is anyone's guess. -- Rogers

13. Atlanta Braves

Record: 59-55
Previous ranking: 15

Charlie Morton has been exactly what the Braves hoped when they signed him as a free agent. Morton has a 10-4 record and 3.52 ERA, including a 2.47 ERA over his past 10 starts. He's also the only starter who hasn't missed a start all season. The Braves start a nine-game road trip this weekend at Washington, Miami and Baltimore, a good opportunity to gain some ground against three weaker opponents. -- Schoenfield

14. Philadelphia Phillies

Record: 59-55
Previous ranking: 16

An eight-game winning streak vaulted the Phillies into first place for the first time since May 8, with Zack Wheeler's 3-0 shutout on Sunday over the Mets the highlight, a 108-pitch outing in which he struck out 11. He's 10-6 with a 2.42 ERA, leads the majors in innings and apperas to be the front-runner for the Cy Young Award alongside Walker Buehler of the Dodgers. He also shouldn't be dismissed for MVP consideration either since he leads all NL players in WAR. -- Schoenfield

15. New York Mets

Record: 57-55
Previous ranking: 13

During the team's dismal 2-9 stretch heading into Wednesday, the Mets hit just .202/.286/.324 with fewer than three runs per game. They haven't scored more than five runs in a contest since July 21. Michael Conforto continues to struggle. Since coming off the IL on June 23, he's hitting .175/.309/.341, with just 12 RBIs in 43 games. He's a free agent after the season and has played himself out of a big deal, after entering 2021 with a career OPS+ of 128. -- Schoenfield

16. Seattle Mariners

Record: 60-55
Previous ranking: 14

They're 4-9 since the Kendall Graveman trade heading into Wednesday's game, including three losses in extra innings, plus a couple other blown leads in the late innings. The bullpen was due for some of those tough losses, but the bigger problem has been a lack of offense. The timing looks bad. On the other hand, Abraham Toro has looked very good and could be the starting second baseman in 2022, or take over for Kyle Seager at third. -- Schoenfield

17. Cleveland Indians

Record: 55-57
Previous ranking: 18

Jose Ramirez remains Cleveland's best player and is now cornerstone of the franchise. His remarkable development from a spray contact hitter with limited power potential to what he's become is by now an old story. However, the evolution of Ramirez's game at the plate has never really stopped, and although his 2021 batting average has slipped into the low .250s, you wonder if perhaps the pendulum has swung a little too far, no pun intended. This season, Ramirez has pulled the ball about 47% of the time, more than four percent higher than his previous career high. His rate of opposite field balls in play has shrunk below 10 percent. His previous low was 12.4%. Players make tradeoffs as they age, of course, but you'd be hard pressed to watch Ramirez and think that, at 28, he's lost an iota of bat speed. Approach seems the more likely explanation. So the question becomes: Is it time to recalibrate that approach a bit? No question that Ramirez remains a great hitter, but even the great ones have to be mindful of a trend that can gradually take the form of a bad habit. -- Doolittle

18. Los Angeles Angels

Record: 57-58
Previous ranking: 18


The most important task for the Angels in what remains of this season is to find out which of their young starting pitchers can be counted on in 2022. Patrick Sandoval (3.39 ERA in 82⅓ innings), Jose Suarez (3.90 ERA in 55⅓ innings) and Chris Rodriguez (3.64 ERA in 29⅔ innings) have all offered encouraging signs, while Reid Detmers, last year's first-round pick, has shown flashes in the midst of some early struggles. The Angels know they're going to need starting pitching this offseason. The question is: How much? -- Gonzalez

19. St. Louis Cardinals

Record: 57-56
Previous ranking: 17

St. Louis has been treading water for so long, it's hard to know where it goes from here. Perhaps the Cardinals simply run it all back in 2022 hoping for a healthier year on the mound. Their bullpen has finally shown some positive signs as they're not walking as many people. They were middle of the pack in that category over the past month. Mark that down as too little, too late. The Cardinals could have used that bullpen help while they dealt with injuries to their starters. -- Rogers

20. Detroit Tigers

Record: 56-60
Previous ranking: 20

By any criteria, this has been a year of considerable progress in the Tigers' quest to return to contention. There has been one glaring sore spot for Detroit on this season's production-by-position grid: Shortstop, where the Tigers rank dead last with a collective minus-2.0 bWAR at that spot. Together, the quintet of Niko Goodrum, Zack Short, Harold Castro, Willi Castro and Isaac Paredes have put up a .205/.285/.321 slash line with an MLB-worst minus-17 defensive runs saved at shortstop. Also: There doesn't appear to be anyone in the pipeline ready to take over the spot any time soon. Recent reports have suggested that the Tigers might be willing to open up the purse strings during free agency this winter. This year's prospective free-agent class is rich in shortstops such as Trevor Story, Javier Baez, Carlos Correa, Corey Seager and Marcus Semien. -- Doolittle

21. Colorado Rockies

Record: 51-63
Previous ranking: 25

One thing about the 2021 Rockies that has worked out has been C.J. Cron, the 31-year-old power-hitting first baseman who posted an .857 OPS, accumulated 18 home runs and was worth 1.9 Baseball-Reference wins above replacement through his first 94 games. Cron, who joined the Rockies on a minor league deal, was named National League Player of the Week after going 10-for-18 last week. -- Gonzalez

22. Miami Marlins

Record: 48-67
Previous ranking: 21

Catcher has to be a position the Marlins look to upgrade in the offseason as they rank 29th in the majors in OPS with a .201/.247/.303 line. Jorge Alfaro has regressed from where he was a couple years ago (75 strikeouts and nine walks tells you all you need to know) and Sandy Leon may be the worst-hitting position player in the majors with a .179 average since 2018. -- Schoenfield

23. Washington Nationals

Record: 50-63
Previous ranking: 23

It's going to be a tough rebuild for the Nationals. They owe Stephen Strasburg $35 million per season through 2026, Patrick Corbin $82 million through 2024 and $15 million a year to Max Scherzer in deferred payments through 2028. So that's about $73 million for those three in 2022 -- one of whom is no longer with the team, one of whom has barely pitched the past two seasons and one with a 5.83 ERA in 2021. -- Schoenfield

24. Chicago Cubs

Record: 52-64
Previous ranking: 24

Tryouts are underway at Wrigley Field but mostly on the mound. Justin Steele got his first ML start on Tuesday and showed promise. Behind him, the Cubs are fielding an older-than-expected team, as their best prospects aren't ready for prime time even though there were plenty of openings after their trade deadline subtraction. The Cubs should be active in free agency this winter as the team needs a new star or two. -- Rogers

25. Kansas City Royals

Record: 49-64
Previous ranking: 23

Salvador Perez established a new career high in homers with a two-homer game against the Yankees on Tuesday. He's already matched his career best season in runs created at age 31. After missing the 2019 season because of an elbow injury, Perez has been producing bWAR at a rate of 5.8 per 650 plate appearances. During the five seasons before the injury, that rate was 3.3. Perez is every bit as embedded in Kansas City as Yadier Molina is in St. Louis. If Perez can stay as durable as Molina and remains a career Royal, it's not far-fetched that by the time he's finished playing he will be looked at as the best-ever Royal in the non-George Brett class. -- Doolittle

26. Minnesota Twins

Record: 50-65
Previous ranking: 26

Amid the wreckage of the Twins' lost season, Luis Arraez is having a Luis Arraez season, hitting .318 with a .380 on-base percentage, though he's hit just one homer in 308 plate appearances. That leaves his career average through 202 games at .326, the third-best in franchise history among players with at least that many games for the Senators/Twins. He's produced hits at a rate of 186 per 162 games and has a career OPS+ of 122. During an age when pretty much every regular in the majors hits for at least some level of power, let's hope the Twins just keep letting Arraez do his thing, if only to prove there is space for this kind of player in the 21st century. -- Doolittle

27. Texas Rangers

Record: 40-74
Previous ranking: 27

Texas has tanked at the plate without Joey Gallo, producing less power while compiling an AL-low .173 batting average over the past seven days. The trio of catcher Jonah Heim, outfielder Jason Martin and infielder Andy Ibanez went 5-for-50. Growing pains were expected but after a recent 12-game losing streak, the Rangers just went through another six-game skid. The season's end can't come fast enough for them. -- Rogers

28. Pittsburgh Pirates

Record: 41-73
Previous ranking: 28

Pittsburgh is all about the future (again) and to that end rookie Ke'Bryan Hayes has gotten hot. He's about the only one as the Pirates hit .197 and scored just 10 runs over the past seven days. Gregory Polanco went 1-for-18 over that time frame. The loss of Adam Frazier has opened up a big hole in the lineup. -- Rogers

29. Baltimore Orioles

Record: 38-74
Previous ranking: 29

Baltimore stares up from the bottom of the standings, 30 games out of first place with the American League's worst record, at four teams who all have a shot at making the playoffs. The future looms around the corner, with top prospect Adley Rutschman's promotion to Triple-A, going 2-for-4 with a double, run scored and an RBI in his debut at the level for the Norfolk Tide. -- Lee

30. Arizona Diamondbacks

Record: 35-80
Previous ranking: 30

Madison Bumgarner, who returned to San Francisco as a visitor this week, is in the midst of a resurgence. In five starts since rejoining the team in the middle of July, the 32-year-old left-hander boasts a 1.97 ERA in 32 innings, striking out only 20 batters but issuing just four walks during that stretch. Bumgarner has recorded 21 outs in each of his past three starts. -- Gonzalez