MLB Power Rankings Week 24: Where all 30 teams stand as playoff picture comes into focus

Xander Bogaerts, Tim Anderson & Nolan Arenado ESPN

With one week left until the calendar turns to October, the 2021 MLB playoffs are just around the corner. But there is still much to be decided in the final days of the regular season, with everything from division titles and final postseason berths to the No. 1 pick in the 2022 MLB draft still up for grabs.

Do the Los Angeles Dodgers or San Francisco Giants hold the top spot in our rankings as they battle for the National League West crown? Do our voters put the Toronto Blue Jays ahead of the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox as three American League East teams vie for two AL wild-card spots? And at the other end of our list, do the Baltimore Orioles or Arizona Diamondbacks find themselves at the bottom?

Here is what the members of our eight-voter expert panel decided based on what they have learned over the course 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 24 observation for all 30 teams.

Previous rankings: Week 23 | Week 22 | Week 21 | Week 20 | Week 19 | Week 18 | 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: 97-55
Previous ranking: 2

Cody Bellinger's nightmare season took another dark turn on Tuesday, when the Dodgers placed the 2019 NL MVP on the injured list with what the team called a left rib fracture. Bellinger's season might be over. If it is, it would end with an unsightly .159/.237/.291 slash line through 337 plate appearances. Luckily for the Dodgers, new left fielder Gavin Lux finally seems to have his swing back, and AJ Pollock returned from the IL on Wednesday. But Chris Taylor, who was platooning with Bellinger in center, is still battling a neck injury. -- Gonzalez

2. San Francisco Giants

Record: 99-53
Previous ranking: 1

There have been 24 instances since the start of August when the Dodgers have won a game and have not been able to gain any ground on the Giants in the NL West. Another Dodgers division title has long seemed inevitable, given the overwhelming talent on their roster. But the Giants just keep winning and only seem to be growing stronger as October nears. Tuesday marked their 40th comeback win this season, the most in the NL. -- Gonzalez

3. Tampa Bay Rays

Record: 94-59
Previous ranking: 3

Tampa Bay, in first place in the AL East, continues to prepare for the postseason, with Wander Franco nearing his return from the injured list. While the organization has its mind set on success in the present, the Rays are always looking toward the future: Shane Baz threw five innings with two runs allowed and five strikeouts in his major league debut. -- Lee

4. Milwaukee Brewers

Record: 91-61
Previous ranking: 4

Like the White Sox in the AL, the Brewers have been a little slow to ignite the clinching celebration. But that's about to come. The more important news is that righty Freddy Peralta is looking more and more like himself after a short stint on the IL. He has given up just three runs -- and that came against the hottest team in baseball, the Cardinals -- over his past 12 innings, spanning two starts. He should fit nicely as the Brewers' No. 3 starter, behind Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff, in the postseason. Getting Willy Adames back from an injury might be the final piece of prep work for the Brewers. They are near full strength now. -- Rogers

5. Houston Astros

Record: 91-61
Previous ranking: 5

It's been nearly a month since Alex Bregman came off the IL after missing more than two months with a quad strain. It's been a solid return, as he has hit .333/.409/.481 over 22 games with three homers and 17 RBIs. The lack of homers continues to be a theme from Bregman's line during the shortened 2020 season, when he went deep just six times in 42 games. Overall, after Bregman clubbed a career-high 41 homers in 2019, he has since averaged 21 long balls per 162 games played. Given that much of the damage Bregman has done during his playoff career has come via the home run, Houston would really like to see him show an uptick in power between now and the end of the regular season. -- Doolittle

6. Toronto Blue Jays

Record: 85-67
Previous ranking: 6

The Blue Jays finish off the season with games against the Twins, Yankees and Orioles as they try to win an AL wild-card slot. Rookie pitcher Alek Manoah continues to impress in the Toronto rotation. While Manoah struggled with his control in his more recent start against Tampa Bay, walking six batters, he struck out seven and allowed two runs across six innings pitched. If Toronto makes the playoffs, he'll be competing with Steven Matz for a spot in the rotation. -- Lee

7. Chicago White Sox

Record: 85-66
Previous ranking: 7

To contextualize the White Sox's troubling second-half malaise, let's consider before and after snapshots using Eloy Jimenez's return from IL as the dividing line, though that's merely symbolic and not to point the finger at Jimenez. Jimenez returned to the lineup on July 26. At that point, the injury-riddled White Sox owned a .596 winning percentage and baseball's fourth-best run differential, and they ranked fourth in runs scored and fourth in fewest runs allowed. Since then, Chicago has mostly gotten healthier yet has gone .500, with baseball's 10th-best run differential and ranking 13th in runs and ninth in runs allowed. Terrible? No. World Series-contending performance? No. The thing for Tony LaRussa and his club to figure out over the next 10 days is this: Why has the team struggled to stay consistent as it has gotten healthier over the course of the campaign? -- Doolittle

8. Boston Red Sox

Record: 88-65
Previous ranking: 10

Boston has gone all-in on superstition, wearing its polarizing yellow City Connect uniforms as the Red Sox continue their winning streak to grab the lead in the AL wild-card standings. While the group rides a wave of success, the Red Sox put reliever Garrett Whitlock on the injured list with a right pectoral strain, a significant loss for the bullpen. Rookie first baseman Bobby Dalbec has had a strong September after a season marked by struggles with plate discipline. -- Lee

9. New York Yankees

Record: 86-67
Previous ranking: 9

The inconsistent Yankees are maintaining pace in the wild-card race with the Red Sox and Blue Jays after a series victory over the Rangers. New York finishes out the season with games against both Boston and Toronto as well as first-place Tampa Bay. Luis Severino -- who pitched in his first game since 2019, throwing two scoreless innings -- hopes to bolster the team's bullpen down the stretch. -- Lee

10. Atlanta Braves

Record: 80-70
Previous ranking: 8

Freddie Freeman and Austin Riley could both be headed for a 30 HR/.300 season, which has happened 22 times in Braves history, including Freeman in 2016 (the only such season since 2004). Two players have accomplished the feat in the same season three times before: Felipe Alou and Joe Torre in 1966, Chipper Jones and Andres Galarraga in 1998 and Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones in 2000. -- Schoenfield

11. Oakland Athletics

Record: 82-70
Previous ranking: 11

Oakland looks up at the Yankees, Blue Jays and Red Sox in the wild-card race, with a tough stretch of games ahead against division rivals in the Mariners and Astros. Righty Chris Bassitt will return to the mound just five weeks after being hospitalized after getting hit in the head by a 100 mph line drive and start Thursday against the M's. -- Lee

12. St. Louis Cardinals

Record: 82-69
Previous ranking: 13

They're the talk of baseball, putting together a double-digit win streak at the most important time of the season. It could propel Mike Shildt into the Manager of the Year discussion, as he had to navigate numerous injuries on the mound. The Cardinals survived, and they are now thriving. That's more than you can say for another team with pitching injuries: The Cardinals are everything the Padres are not right now. And though veterans such as Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado have contributed for the Cards all season, it's youngsters like Tyler O'Neill and Dylan Carlson who have carried the load lately with both compiling an OPS of more than 1.000 over the past seven days. -- Rogers

13. San Diego Padres

Record: 76-75
Previous ranking: 15

The Padres were swept by the Cardinals over the weekend, a series punctuated by Manny Machado yelling in the face of Fernando Tatis Jr. Then reports began to surface about manager Jayce Tingler losing the respect of the players in his own clubhouse, a development sources had been hinting at for several weeks. The Padres are in a free fall, to the point where they might soon be looking ahead to next season. And next season, given the trajectory of their roster, is a crucial one; it might require a new manager. -- Gonzalez

14. Seattle Mariners

Record: 83-69
Previous ranking: 12

Jarred Kelenic is finally showing signs of making the proper adjustments, hitting .265/.324/.618 in September with six home runs and 15 RBIs, heading into Wednesday's game. His OPS+ of 69 is still terrible, of course, but here's food for thought: Since 1961, 110 players with at least 300 PAs have produced an OPS+ of 80 or worse in their age-20 to age-22 seasons. Among those are Hall of Famers Ron Santo, Ted Simmons, Gary Carter and Robin Yount, along with Dale Murphy and Sammy Sosa, plus some recent good hitters such as Carlos Gonzalez and Jose Ramirez. -- Schoenfield

15. Cincinnati Reds

Record: 78-74
Previous ranking: 14

Cincinnati fans will undoubtedly have nightmares about the lowly Pirates this offseason if their team doesn't make the playoffs. The Pirates have been a thorn lately, beating the Reds no less than three times over the past week. Even the Reds' wins have been highly contested, as Cincinnati avoided a recent sweep with a 1-0 win. While Joey Votto and Kyle Farmer have gotten hot, outfielder Nick Castellanos is cold for just about the first time all season. Castellanos compiled just a .269 OBP over the past seven days. The Reds' playoff hopes are slowly fading away. -- Rogers

16. Philadelphia Phillies

Record: 78-74
Previous ranking: 16

Bryce Harper now leads all NL position players in WAR as momentum for his MVP case continues to build, even as the Phillies lag behind the Braves. He had a subtle MVP moment in Tuesday's extra-inning win over the Orioles. The Orioles elected to intentionally walk Harper, putting the winning run on base, to instead pitch to J.T. Realmuto, who then tripled into the right-field corner to score Ronald Torreyes and a hustling Harper for the win. (Not sure why it was scored a triple when Harper barely scored on the play.) The fear of pitching to Harper ended up winning the game for the Phillies anyway. -- Schoenfield

17. Cleveland Indians

Record: 74-76
Previous ranking: 18

As Cleveland battles to extend its string of winning seasons and hold on to a distant second place in the AL Central, it's worth considering one source of this year's disappointing outcome. Relative to preseason expectation, the club's most underachieving unit has been the starting rotation, the very foundation on which any possibility of near-term contention was built. Overall, Cleveland ranks 23rd in the majors with a 4.80 rotation ERA, and Indians starters are a combined 44-49 for a .473 winning percentage. However, this is a good time to think about what the picture looks like going forward, as Aaron Civale recently returned from the IL and ace Shane Bieber will return to the big league mound this weekend. The core five Cleveland starters likely to comprise the 2022 rotation -- Bieber, Civale, Zach Plesac, Cal Quantrill and Triston McKenzie -- have gone 40-23 for a .635 winning percentage and a combined ERA when working in the rotation (3.85) that would rank 10th among starting staffs around the majors. That starters outside of that quintet have gone 4-26 certainly speaks to the need for Cleveland to assemble better depth. But the foundation of the Cleveland plan remains strong. -- Doolittle

18. New York Mets

Record: 73-79
Previous ranking: 17

The toughest decisions for the Mets in the offseason might be what to do with Jeff McNeil and Dominic Smith, who have both had disappointing seasons at the plate. Smith had 32 extra-base hits in just 177 at-bats in 2020, but he has just 29 in 434 at-bats in 2021. McNeil entered 2021 with a career .319 average, but he has hit .252 with minimal power. Do the Mets want to rely on these two for 2022 or look for replacements? -- Schoenfield

19. Detroit Tigers

Record: 74-78
Previous ranking: 20

Catcher Jake Rogers underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this month, casting a little more uncertainty about the Detroit catching situation than already existed. The best of this year's bunch, Eric Haase, has leveraged a mid-career power surge and some new positional versatility to put up a career season. Nevertheless, Haase's offensive value is entirely wrapped up in his 22 homers, and his worth on defense has more to do with general versatility than his metrics behind the plate. He can be a part of next year's solution at catcher, but with Rogers' status uncertain, a veteran, defense-first type would seem to be high on the front office's offseason priority list. Alas, it's a position of scarcity around baseball, so Al Avila and his cohorts might have to get creative. Among pending free agents with the kind of strong framing numbers you like from a backstop who will work with the Tigers' young staff is Milwaukee's Manny Pina, but other free agents such as Yan Gomes and Sandy Leon might also be worth a look. -- Doolittle

20. Los Angeles Angels

Record: 72-80
Previous ranking: 19

All that's really left to watch with the Angels is Shohei Ohtani, but sometimes that can be enough. Take these past few days, for example. On Sunday, Ohtani pitched eight innings of two-run ball against the A's, striking out 10, to put his ERA at 3.28 through 123⅓ innings. On Tuesday, he drove a ball 445 feet against the Astros and became the first player in 14 years to reach 45 home runs and 20 stolen bases in a single season. Patently absurd. -- Gonzalez

21. Colorado Rockies

Record: 71-80
Previous ranking: 22

The Rockies are ... decent? They have been at or above .500 in each of the past four months, including September, and are starting to get some encouraging performances from players who might be considered part of their rebuilding process. Their road struggles have been confounding all year, but they just wrapped up a 7-2 trip on the East coast, with two of those series coming against the Braves and Phillies. "We'd like to think we're more this team, in the second half, than the team we were in the first half," Rockies manager Bud Black said recently. -- Gonzalez

22. Kansas City Royals

Record: 69-83
Previous ranking: 21

The recent juggling of front-office titles in Kansas City was perhaps an indication of how things might change for the Royals under the stewardship of second-year owner John Sherman. That is, they won't change much. Continuity and stability have long been the hallmarks of the Royals organization, no matter who has signed the checks, and it's a policy that plays well in the K.C. market. To be sure, there have been times when perhaps the Royals' penchant for loyalty bordered on atrophy, as at various times during the franchise's long postseason drought between 1986 and 2013. In this case, Sherman, a longtime follower of Royals baseball, seems to recognize where the organization was before Dayton Moore and his staff took over, in 2006, and where it is today: a much better place. -- Doolittle

23. Miami Marlins

Record: 64-88
Previous ranking: 23

The primary outfielders of late have been Jesus Sanchez, Lewis Brinson and Bryan De La Cruz. Sanchez has at least shown some pop, with a .493 slugging, and certainly looks like a starter for 2022. De La Cruz also has displayed some offensive promise, with an .841 OPS, although that's been driven by a very high .397 BABIP; his supporting data isn't as impressive. Brinson now has 1,000 MLB plate appearances and still struggles with strikeouts and pitch recognition; maybe he's a backup, but the Marlins might look to move on from him. -- Schoenfield

24. Minnesota Twins

Record: 67-85
Previous ranking: 25

There are many reasons why it's not really fair to point this out, but we're going to do it anyway. Through Tuesday, the 16 pitchers who had started games for the Twins this season had gone a combined 34-55. The win leaders are Jose Berrios, who won seven games before being dealt to Toronto, and Michael Pineda, who also has won seven games, though one of them was in relief. Pineda should have at least two more starts before the season ends to add to that team-leading total. Only once before have the Senators/Twins failed to produce a pitcher who won at least eight games, and that was during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. Here's the part that is unfair to point out: With 1½ weeks left in the 2021 season, Twins starters have won 34 games. In 1913, legendary righty Walter Johnson set the franchise mark for wins in a season -- with 36. -- Doolittle

25. Chicago Cubs

Record: 67-85
Previous ranking: 24

Opposing teams have been impressed by Cubs hitters since the trade deadline. Brewers manager Craig Counsell singled out first baseman Frank Schwindel when the teams met recently, then Schwindel went out and homered off Milwaukee pitching that same day. Pitching is a different story. It's been a rough ride for a very young group. Just over the past week, Cubs hurlers produced the highest ERA in baseball at 8.75. That number won't help win many games. -- Rogers

26. Washington Nationals

Record: 63-89
Previous ranking: 26

Juan Soto is sitting on a .462 OBP, which other than Soto's .490 mark in the shortened 2020 seasons is the highest since Joey Votto's .474 mark in 2012. The only age-22 player with a higher OBP: Ted Williams with a ridiculous .553 in 1941, the year he hit .406. No. 3 on the list is Bryce Harper at .460, and the next highest since World War II is Eddie Mathews' .423 in 1954. Soto also has edged past Fernando Tatis Jr. for the lead in Baseball-Reference WAR among NL position players. -- Schoenfield

27. Texas Rangers

Record: 55-97
Previous ranking: 27

The Rangers are a punching bag again. Even the Yankees are beating up on them. The past seven days haven't been kind to Texas pitchers, as they compiled the highest ERA in the AL at 6.75. Texas unsurprisingly went 1-5 in those games. After two good starts, rookie A.J. Alexy hit a speed bump. He has given up 10 runs over his past seven innings. Kolby Allard had similar problems, with the 24-year-old also giving up 10 runs in his past eight innings. The Rangers are hoping to chalk it up to growing pains and getting good experience even in losses. -- Rogers

28. Pittsburgh Pirates

Record: 57-94
Previous ranking: 28

Pirates pitching finally showed signs of life after several brutal stretches this season. Wil Crowe, Mitch Keller and Bryse Wilson all had decent turns through the rotation last week, while rookie Dillon Peters continues to impress despite a tough outing against the Reds on Monday. How Peters responds in his next outing will be of interest. -- Rogers

29. Arizona Diamondbacks

Record: 48-104
Previous ranking: 29

A lot is still left to be resolved as the Diamondbacks venture into the offseason, namely the status of manager Torey Lovullo and the level of aggressiveness with this forthcoming rebuild. One aspect that seems certain, general manager Mike Hazen told local reporters recently, is that the D-backs will no longer be so ambitious with their defensive versatility. It's in vogue throughout the sport, but it isn't quite as effective when one does not employ the proper personnel. The D-backs believe tapping into that versatility has prompted players to spend too much time in positions they are not comfortable at, ultimately hurting their defense as a whole. -- Gonzalez

30. Baltimore Orioles

Record: 48-104
Previous ranking: 30

The Orioles are in a different sort of race, competing with the Diamondbacks for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2022 draft. Cedric Mullins continues to be a bright spot, ranking in the top 10 among all position players in the sport in bWAR, ahead of Bryce Harper, Aaron Judge and Manny Machado. Mullins is currently a homer short of a 30/30 season, with 29 homers and 30 stolen bases. -- Lee