MLB Power Rankings Week 3: An interleague battle for the top spot

Brandon Lowe, Sean Murphy, and Jarred Kelenic ESPN

Just three weeks into the season, three teams -- the Rays, Braves and Brewers -- are in a tight race at the top of the MLB standings, with a number of surprising squads -- such as the Rangers and Cubs -- not far behind. Welcome to 2023!

Can these high-flying clubs keep up this momentum to further cushion their lead atop the majors? Or will historically dominant powers such as the Yankees and Dodgers soon catch up? Only time will tell.

Our expert panel has combined to rank every team in baseball based on a combination of what we've seen so far and what we already knew going into the 162-game marathon that is a full baseball season. We also asked ESPN MLB experts David Schoenfield, Bradford Doolittle, Jesse Rogers, Alden Gonzalez and Joon Lee to weigh in with an observation for all 30 teams.

Week 2 | Previous rankings

1. Atlanta Braves

Record: 14-5

Previous ranking: 2

The Braves are rolling now and Sean Murphy, Matt Olson and Ronald Acuna Jr. have been red hot, with Murphy looking like one of the best pickups of the offseason. But let's zero in on Spencer Strider, who allowed one hit in six scoreless innings to beat the Padres on Tuesday. He leads the majors with 36 strikeouts (in just 22 innings) and has held batters to a .158 average. Yes, last season was no fluke. He now has made 24 career starts and allowed more hits than innings pitched in just three of them. He has been a little wild (4.5 walks per nine) and if he can find a little more economy in his pitch count, he can start going deeper into games. If that happens, he's a clear Cy Young contender. -- Schoenfield

2. Tampa Bay Rays

Record: 16-3

Previous ranking: 1

They weren't going to go 162-0. Their undefeated streak came to an end in Toronto, where the Blue Jays took two of three against the scorching hot Rays. While Wander Franco continues to help carry the offense, watch out for third baseman Taylor Walls, who leads the team in Baseball-Reference WAR (bWAR) while hitting .350/.435/.700 with three homers, three doubles and one triple. Also off to a dominant start is right fielder Josh Lowe, who's hitting .362/.412/.745 with four homers and six doubles, supplementing the offensive firepower from Brandon Lowe and Randy Arozarena. -- Lee

3. New York Yankees

Record: 11-7

Previous ranking: 3

While Anthony Volpe still finds himself below the Mendoza Line, the rookie shortstop might have found a new home as the team's leadoff hitter. Despite struggling to get hits, Volpe continues to make an impact on the Yankees. Among shortstops, he ranks fourth in defensive runs saved and sixth in walks drawn, and he has also stolen eight bases -- all while showing strong discipline at the plate. If Volpe gets his bat going, watch out for the Yankees' lineup. -- Lee

4. New York Mets

Record: 12-7

Previous ranking: 9

Let's be honest: Take out that Oakland series and it has kind of been a scuffling start for the Mets. That Friday game against the A's was something else, though: The Mets drew 17 walks in a 17-6 victory. Yes, that was a franchise record, topping the 16 by the 1962 Mets in a 10-4 win over the Dodgers -- and pitcher Jay Hook drew three walks himself that game. It was also the most walks in a game since the Diamondbacks drew 18 against the Phillies in 2013, except that game lasted 18 innings (shed a tear for the 18-inning game that no longer exists).

Only one team in the live ball era (since 1920) drew more walks in a nine-inning game: Cleveland, in a 13-4 victory over the Red Sox in 1948. Anyway, the Mets might need all those walks, because so far Pete Alonso (eight) and Francisco Lindor (four) are the only players to have more than two home runs. -- Schoenfield

5. Milwaukee Brewers

Record: 14-5

Previous ranking: 7

Milwaukee had the best week of any team in baseball. Winning series in both San Diego and Seattle, it matched the Cubs in terms of road dominance against West Coast teams, but the Brewers did it against playoff-caliber opponents. In the NL, they are third in ERA and third in runs scored. That says all you need to know about the NL Central's first-place team. The Brewers' balance is striking. The biggest surprises have come on offense, where eight different players have at least one home run -- but none more than five -- and 12 players have at least one double -- but none more than three. This is far from the old days where it was the Christian Yelich show. Milwaukee is deeper than anyone knew. -- Rogers

6. Toronto Blue Jays

Record: 11-8

Previous ranking: 8

Matt Chapman continues his torrid start to the season, leading the league in bWAR and putting in strong performances both in the field and at the plate. The biggest difference for Toronto in 2023, however, could be the bat of Bo Bichette, who's hitting .354/.384/.549 with four homers. Bichette struggled through much of the 2022 season and the Blue Jays felt the absence of his dynamic bat at times. If he can look like the player who put up 6.0 bWAR in 2021, this Blue Jays team will be in the World Series mix come October. -- Lee

7. Houston Astros

Record: 9-10

Previous ranking: 6

Tough break for Chas McCormick and the Astros after the team's starting center fielder went on the injured list with a back problem. This came after he had to sit for a couple of contests with vision issues. The maladies interrupt the momentum of what was shaping up as a possible breakout season for the 28-year-old. McCormick is hitting .275/.383/.500 over 11 games with a pair of homers. Even more intriguing was that he seems to be taking advantage of the new base-stealing-friendly conditions in baseball, stealing four bags in four attempts during those games. That total matched his output in both of his two previous big league seasons. With McCormick out, Jake Meyers has center field all to himself, for the time being. -- Doolittle

8. Los Angeles Dodgers

Record: 9-10

Previous ranking: 5

The Dodgers officially have a shortstop problem. It began with Gavin Lux, who tore his ACL during a spring training game and won't play this season. Then Chris Taylor suffered an injury to his left side on Monday. And then Miguel Rojas tweaked his hamstring on Tuesday, ultimately landing on the injured list. How shallow is their depth at this critical position?

Well, when Mookie Betts returns from the paternity list, likely on Friday, he is expected to sub in at shortstop, a position he has not played since his minor league season of 2012. Betts has been clamoring to play shortstop for a while now, and the Dodgers believe he can handle it. It's notable, though, that they need him to. -- Gonzalez

9. San Diego Padres

Record: 9-11

Previous ranking: 4

Fernando Tatis Jr. will come off his suspension and make his long-awaited return at Chase Field in Phoenix on Thursday, joining Juan Soto, Manny Machado and Xander Bogaerts to form the most celebrated foursome in the sport. And it couldn't come soon enough. The Padres are clearly lagging, losing six of their past eight games and totaling only two runs in their past 35 innings. Tatis, who homered five times in a stretch of seven at-bats during his stint in the minor leagues, should provide precisely the kind of spark this team needs. So can Joe Musgrove, though perhaps to a lesser extent. He'll return to the Padres' rotation on Saturday. -- Gonzalez

10. Minnesota Twins

Record: 11-7

Previous ranking: 11

It's too soon to make any bold declarations, but the early signs are that the Twins' efforts over the past couple of years to piece together a contention-worthy rotation have paid off in what might be baseball's best early-season group of starters. Joe Ryan and Pablo Lopez both look like two of MLB's most improved hurlers and Sonny Gray has been as good, if not better, than both of them. Tyler Mahle and Kenta Maeda have been solid as well.

Overall, the Twins are second in MLB in rotation bWAR. A team often criticized for its early hooks now is atop the majors in innings per start and average game score. If this keeps up, the American League Central might produce a bona fide AL pennant contender after all. -- Doolittle

11. Texas Rangers

Record: 12-6

Previous ranking: 12

How long before we declare Texas for real? Its run differential is second only to the Rays in the AL -- and the team hasn't felt the impact of the loss of Corey Seager just yet. The Rangers won two of three in Houston over the weekend -- a place they traditionally struggle -- and then proceeded to pitch and hit their way to another series win in Kansas City. Marcus Semien is on fire, hitting three home runs and compiling a 1.278 OPS over the past seven days. His grand slam against the Astros put an exclamation mark on that series. Manager Bruce Bochy has his team rolling. -- Rogers

12. Cleveland Guardians

Record: 10-9

Previous ranking: 10

We could have expected the Guardians to play a lot of close games, but they are taking the nail-biter genre to a whole new level. Sixteen of Cleveland's first 19 games were decided by two or fewer runs, a total that dwarfs that of any other club in the majors. The Guardians have held their own in the close ones, going 9-7 in those contests, but for a team with serious postseason aspirations, this is no way to live. One thing that would give manager Terry Francona a little more breathing room would be for the moribund offense to get going. For that to happen, the Guardians need four lineup fixtures to rev it up after frigid starts: Josh Bell, Amed Rosario, Oscar Gonzalez and Josh Naylor. -- Doolittle

13. Arizona Diamondbacks

Record: 11-8

Previous ranking: 14

The D-backs know they boast a dynamic offense and a solid defense and can only hope for a much-improved bullpen. But they'll have a tough time contending in a thoroughly competitive NL West if they don't get significant starting pitching contributions outside of Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly. Some encouragement might be found in Drey Jameson, the 25-year-old right-hander who has allowed just four runs in 16 innings this season. Jameson, who cracked Kiley McDaniel's most recent Top 100 Prospects list, has yet to be fully stretched, lasting no more than four innings. His walk rate has also been an issue. But contributions from young starting pitchers like him could be key for the D-backs this season. -- Gonzalez

14. Baltimore Orioles

Record: 11-7

Previous ranking: 17

Adley Rutschman might get the most attention on the Orioles, but he isn't the team's leader in WAR. That title goes to shortstop Jorge Mateo, who's off to a hot start hitting .362/.418/.638 with three homers and eight stolen bases. Mateo ranks fourth in position player bWAR. After winning three of four against Oakland, Baltimore took two of three against the White Sox, keeping pace with the rest of the division. -- Lee

15. Chicago Cubs

Record: 11-6

Previous ranking: 18

The Cubs are hot. More impressive than hammering the lowly A's on the road was their series win against the Dodgers this past weekend. Chicago was expected to have some decent pitching this season, but ranking second in the NL in ERA so far is a bit of a surprise. Having said that, the biggest early-season shocker is Cody Bellinger. After a three-year downward spiral, his hard work this past offseason has paid off. He's no longer trying to launch balls out of the park as his swing has leveled off. Line drives are the norm for him -- resulting in the first five-hit game of his career on Monday. -- Rogers

16. Seattle Mariners

Record: 8-11

Previous ranking: 15

Remember the "fun differential" Mariners of 2021? That club went 14-7 in extra-inning games and 33-19 in one-run games. Last year's playoff team went 11-5 in extra innings and 34-22 in one-run games. The 2023 Mariners, however, are learning that regression is real.

They're 0-4 in extra innings and 2-5 in one-run games. Some of that is the lack of bullpen depth and some of that is the lack of clutch hitting -- Julio Rodriguez had a chance to win Tuesday's game with a base hit with the bases loaded and two outs, for example, but grounded out -- but mostly it was just extremely unlikely the Mariners would continue a two-year stretch of being the best team in baseball in extra-inning and one-run games. -- Schoenfield

17. Los Angeles Angels

Record: 9-9

Previous ranking: 13

A sign of the Angels' urgency to win this season could be found in one of their latest transactions. Zach Neto, a 2022 first-round pick who had accumulated just 201 minor league plate appearances, was called up on Saturday and served as the team's starting shortstop at Fenway Park. David Fletcher, signed to a five-year extension two Aprils ago, was optioned to Triple-A in order to make room. The Angels have made the playoffs only once in the past 14 years and have been out of contention down the stretch for most of these past few seasons. This might be their final year with both Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani, the two most transcendent talents in the sport. It needs to happen now, and they know it. -- Gonzalez

18. St. Louis Cardinals

Record: 8-11

Previous ranking: 16

We've seen this act before with the Cardinals. They can sleepwalk through a portion of the season but then turn it on. Could this year be different? Perhaps, as their weakness is in the most important aspect of the game: starting pitching. St. Louis starters are 4-9 with a 5.60 ERA. That latter figure ranks 13th in the NL. Odds are that St. Louis will get it together -- it's only April after all -- but the starts by the Cubs, Brewers and even Pirates are making them look bad. At one point recently, four of five NL Central teams had a plus run differential -- and none was named the Cardinals. That's shocking, even this early. -- Rogers

19. Philadelphia Phillies

Record: 8-11

Previous ranking: 19

Trea Turner has hit just one home run (after slugging five in the World Baseball Classic). Nick Castellanos is without a home run. J.T. Realmuto has a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 21-to-2. Bryson Stott is hitting well over .300 but with an 18-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Jake Cave is playing regularly. Bryce Harper is taking grounders at first base as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery. Just two starters have an ERA under 4.00: Matt Strahm and Taijuan Walker. Gregory Soto, Craig Kimbrel and Seranthony Dominguez have combined for 17 walks and 21 runs allowed in 23 innings. (Although Jose Alvarado has somehow not walked a batter while striking out 18 in 8 1/3 innings.) This is not the way the Phillies expected to start the season. Luckily, it's still only April. -- Schoenfield

20. Boston Red Sox

Record: 9-10

Previous ranking: 21

Boston found life after being swept by the Rays, taking three of four games from the Angels this past weekend. Tuesday night provided a glimpse of hope for the Red Sox's rotation with Chris Sale turning in his best start of the season -- allowing one run, two walks, three hits and striking out 11 in six innings -- after looking like a mess through his first three outings. After Sale started the season with an 11.25 ERA and struggled with command, Boston hopes the outing against Minnesota was a sign of things to come. -- Lee

21. Pittsburgh Pirates

Record: 12-7

Previous ranking: 23

The loss of Oneil Cruz hasn't slowed Pittsburgh down much. The Pirates split a four-game series on the road in St. Louis over the weekend and then hammered the Rockies in Colorado. Vince Velasquez had a great week, pitching 12 innings while giving up just eight hits and winning two games, including one in hitter-friendly Coors Field. Between those surprising starts and Johan Oviedo throwing seven innings of one-run ball, the Pirates rank in the top 10 in the NL in rotation ERA so far. They'll take that in Pittsburgh. -- Rogers

22. Miami Marlins

Record: 10-9

Previous ranking: 24

The Marlins are in a nice stretch here, with consecutive series wins over the Phillies, Diamondbacks and Giants. Most impressively, they've done that even though two of the three losses over nine games were suffered by Sandy Alcantara (including a nine-run outing against the Phillies). The other starters have been solid and the bullpen has been key to the team's 5-0 record in one-run games.

The offense, aside from Luis Arraez, continues to have issues, ranking last in the NL in runs scored. Avisail Garcia is signed through 2025 at $12 million per season, but he was awful last season and worse this year -- so the Marlins might just have to eat that contract. Jean Segura has also been completely ineffective, hitting below .200 without an extra-base hit. -- Schoenfield

23. Chicago White Sox

Record: 7-12

Previous ranking: 20

The White Sox are still trying to find their stride even as key players go in and out of the lineup with injuries. As Chicago continues to tread water, there have been a couple of saving graces during the first month of the season. One has been a division that once again looks like it's going to be highly forgivable. The other is Jake Burger, whose power stroke is absolutely locked in right now.

Burger, who moved into a tie with Luis Robert for the team lead in homers (five), owned a 1.328 OPS over his first 10 games since getting the call from Triple-A. While Burger isn't going to slug over .900 all season, it's going to be tough to take him out of the lineup even when Tim Anderson and Yoan Moncada return. Burger has produced super-elite exit velocities, including a 118 mph homer against the Phillies on Tuesday that was the second hardest-hit ball in the majors this season. Burger's eventual role is uncertain, but in the meantime, his production has been manna for the beleaguered White Sox. -- Doolittle

24. San Francisco Giants

Record: 6-11

Previous ranking: 22

The Giants were scuffling heading into Tuesday, having lost four consecutive games, and then things got worse. Alex Wood caught his cleat on the turf in Miami and pulled his hamstring, landing on the IL because of it. Wood gave up only one earned run through his first two starts and looked sharp early on against the Marlins. Giants manager Gabe Kapler said it was "by far the most crisp he has been." But now the Giants will look to move on without him. They've won only one of their six series this season. -- Gonzalez

25. Cincinnati Reds

Record: 7-11

Previous ranking: 25

Cincinnati had one of those volatile weeks that happen in baseball. Not only did the Reds alternate between wins and losses from last Wednesday to this past Tuesday, they won three games by four or more runs and lost three games by five or more. After a good start to his season, lefty Nick Lodolo got hammered by the Rays on Tuesday. He gave up 12 hits and eight runs, but he and Hunter Greene should be mainstays in the Reds' rotation for years to come as the latter player signed a long-term deal recently. Cincinnati is slowly -- very slowly -- starting to come out of a rebuild. Anything close to a .500 season would be a success story in '23. -- Rogers

26. Detroit Tigers

Record: 7-10

Previous ranking: 29

There have been early signs that MLB will have a robust race for the bottom this season, even if some of those unusually lousy clubs have entered the chase involuntarily. At this time last week, the Tigers looked like one of the teams floundering. Not so fast! The Amazin' Bengals reeled off five straight wins, all by one or or two runs, before dropping Wednesday's game to Cleveland -- by one run.

Despite that, it's been a good week. Eduardo Rodriguez threw a gem against Cleveland in the second game of a doubleheader on Tuesday. Javier Baez showed some signs of life at the plate with seven hits, three doubles and six RBIs over a five-game span from last Wednesday through this Tuesday. Maybe this will prove to be the high point of the season in Detroit, or maybe the Tigers are just getting started. Either way, things look a whole lot different than they did seven days ago. -- Doolittle

27. Colorado Rockies

Record: 5-14

Previous ranking: 26

After winning their first two games of the season, the Rockies have three wins in a span of 17 games in April and are currently riding an eight-game losing streak. They're barely walking, have yet to steal a base in April -- even while the rest of baseball seems to be running wild -- and sport a 6.35 ERA this month. Only the A's pitching staff has been worse. Three of the Rockies' starting pitchers -- Austin Gomber, Ryan Feltner and Jose Urena -- have combined for an 10.62 ERA. Their promising young shortstop, Ezequiel Tovar, is slashing only .190/.254/.259. It's not going great. But it is early. -- Gonzalez

28. Kansas City Royals

Record: 4-15

Previous ranking: 27

For most of the first few weeks of the Royals' horrific start to the season, you had to squint so hard for signs of hope that you might have accidentally closed your eyes. But one of those signs of hope was the emergence of Kris Bubic as a possible rotation fixture. Alas, so often optimism is fertilizer for the weeds of disappointment. After two excellent early outings, Bubic turned up with diminished velocity in a drubbing at the hands of the Braves. Then he turned up on the IL with a left flexor strain. At press time, we don't know how bad the injury is, but if you're a Royals fan squinting for signs of hope, now might be a good time to go ahead and close those eyes altogether. -- Doolittle

29. Washington Nationals

Record: 5-13

Previous ranking: 28

Joey Meneses was one of the feel-good stories of 2022, reaching the majors at 30 years old after playing in the minors since 2011 -- and not only reaching the majors, but hitting .324 with 13 home runs in 56 games and becoming an instant fan favorite. Alas, the dream has not continued so far in 2023. He hit .370 with two home runs for Mexico in the World Baseball Classic but remains without a home run this season. There's been some bad luck in the results, as his hard-hit rate is above the 80th percentile and his strikeout rate is better than average. He's not getting the ball in the air enough, but he should start seeing more hits falling in. -- Schoenfield

30. Oakland Athletics

Record: 3-16

Previous ranking: 30

The biggest stories with the Athletics remain off the field. Yes, a possum did recently take up residence in the visiting team broadcast booth. But the bigger story in Oakland is that the fan base is planning a reverse boycott of the team in June, hoping to pack the Colosseum to show that there is a fan base for the A's, if the organization fielded a competitive team. The fan base hopes to counteract the narrative that there aren't any fans of the team left in Oakland and instead highlight that attendance struggles are the result of the club selling off many of its biggest stars over the course of the past decade. -- Lee