MLB Power Rankings: Yankees are still the clear number one, and the best mid-June team seen in a decade
I took over MLB Power Rankings here at CBS in the offseason between 2011 and 2012. As such, this is now the 11th season I’ve been at the helm here. I’ve certainly had my fair share of teams that were tops in the league for weeks on end. I bring this up because the Yankees are so far and away number one right now that it got me pondering if they are at this point the best team I’ve had in power rankings.
Let’s take a look at a few very obvious ones and compare to where the Yankees sit right through around this point in the season.
A lot of people remember these Giants won the World Series after winning “only” 88 games and having to take the wild card game in Pittsburgh. Some people might not remember they were awesome early. Through June 8, the Giants were 43-21 (.672), had a 10-game lead in the NL West and were five games better than the second-best NL team, the Brewers, and no one else was closer than 9 1/2 games. The +67 run differential said they probably weren’t this good and a bit of a backslide happened, but then they got it together when it mattered most.
It can be cruel what an early postseason exit does to the memory of a team. This Cardinals team was ridiculous early. Around the time I’m trying to look, the Cardinals were 43-21, but ran it to 51-24 by June 28. Even if we stuck with the 64-game mark, the Cardinals had the best record in baseball by 5 1/2 games. By June 28, they were leading the entire NL by nine games. They would go on to win 100 games, but the Pirates won 98 and the Cubs took 97, finishing on a multi-month tear. Those Cubs would get them in four games in the NLDS.
After a 25-6 start, the Cubs suffered their first lull, but they had rebounded by now. After winning, again, exactly six years ago Sunday, the Cubs were 47-20 with an absurd +171 run differential, which easily makes them the best team here in this regard in mid-June. Even with a rough stretch in the middle of two gangbusters ones, the Cubs were the easy and obvious best team for a decent portion of the early going. They’d go through another rough stretch before the All-Star break, but in the second half they were automatic at the top. They would go on to win the World Series.
By later in the season, they were the obvious number two, and we’ll get to why in a second. By now, the Astros were suffering through their rough stretch — hey, it happens to everyone — but they had started 42-16 and were nailing down the number one spot with ease. By this time on the calendar, they were 45-22 with a +102 run differential and had the best record over a team we’ll mention in a second by 2 1/2 games. They would get hot again and were 54-26 after a win on June 29. They would go on to win the World Series.
Is a 17-2 start good? Then through a 28-14 record (which is also amazing, but sequencing can get teams in trouble in small samples, as we all know), they had to hear nonsense like “since their 17-2 start, they have gone 11-12.” I probably did it. Then they got really hot again. Through 70 games, they were 48-22 with a +104 run differential. They were actually only the best team by 1 1/2 games, though. Of course, they wouldn’t slow down. They’d win 108 games and then not even face elimination in the playoffs, taking the World Series in five games where the only loss was that outrageously dumb 18-inning affair.
The Dodgers at various points
I haven’t kept track of such things, but my hunch is in all my years of doing the rankings, the Dodgers have held down the number one spot most often — and it’s a blowout if we start in 2017 and come to the present. I hinted at their 2017 season in the Astros entry above. They won 16 of 17 through the bulk of June and though it’s a bit later than we’re looking, they were 51-26 after that run. It was much later, but they were 91-36 at one point. They’d lose Game 7 of the World Series. Through just about this point in 2019, they were winning 2/3 of their games (50-25 on June 19). They had a 10-game lead in the West and no one else in the NL was even in the same ballpark. The Twins had the best AL record. That Dodgers team would fall to the Nats in the NLDS. The 2020 Dodgers were dominant throughout. The 43-17 record is a 116-win pace over 162. They won the World Series. Last season, the Dodgers were 44-27 through June 20. They actually trailed the shocking Giants, but still held number one for most of the early going. The Dodgers would lose in the NLCS.
They seemed maybe, possibly mediocre through 10 games, having gone 5-5 and having lost a series to the Orioles. They’ve obliterated everyone since, basically. They now sit 49-17 with a +143 run differential. This is the best record and second-best run differential from this quick little exercise. There are other elite teams this season, but the Yankees are the — say it with me — an easy and obvious number one. They have a record that is six games better than anyone else right now. They have a run differential that is easily outpacing the rest of the league. They don’t really have a glaring weakness. They are 19-9 against teams .500 or better.
To this point in the season, the best team I’ve had in the power rankings would probably be the 2016 Cubs, 2017 Astros, 2018 Red Sox or this Yankees team. The other three were great the rest of the way and won it all.
These Yankees will probably have a rough stretch. Maybe even here in the next few weeks. It happens to the best. See above.
More than anything, though, I’d like to now reveal the reason I went through this. I admittedly surf Twitter at times to see if anything inspires me for a topic here. I’ve already seen more than a few “they are peaking too early” comments — usually from a dude with a Mets or Red Sox logo as his AVI. Some of the teams above would like to inform you that’s not an actual argument. There’s no such thing. The Yankees aren’t “peaking early,” because the 2014 Giants, 2016 Cubs, 2017 Astros, 2018 Red Sox and plenty of other teams throughout the long history of Major League Baseball — check out the 1984 Tigers if you wish — have already blazed the path that says you can be the best team early, stumble, and still win it all.
In light of their ridiculous start, this week’s trivia question: Who is the fastest team to 50 wins in a season in MLB history? You’ll find the answer in the Giants’ comment.
While we’re talking about amazing starts, we should point out the 1986 Mets were 47-21 at this point. Not too far off!
Now they deal with Walker Buehler and Mookie Betts injuries. They’ve had an awful lot of things go wrong for a team with one of the best records in baseball.
Slight speedbump for Justin Verlander in his age-39 season coming off Tommy John surgery. He’s given up 21 runs (though only 14 earned) in his last five outings. He only gave up seven runs in his first eight.
In high school, I had a football coach who had a name for a player who could never achieve glory. He was a defensive lineman and, for example, if the blocker in front of him fell down, he still wouldn’t be able to record a sack. If a fumble fell at his feet, he’d lose control of the ball trying to dive on it. Stuff like that. He called him “Dean Carey.” So he would always tell us to avoid being Dean Carey. There have been several times this season where the Padres could’ve moved up to the top four, maybe even three or two. Getting swept in Colorado when winning all three could have had them second or third this week was the latest example of them being the Dean Carey of the 2022 MLB power rankings. They just can’t break through!
What a huge comeback on Sunday to avoid being swept by the Yankees. They still needed to do more to make the division interesting, though.
They’ve won 13 of 17 and are very dangerous. That is to say, they are much better than their full-season record indicates.
They might be back on track. Let’s see how this four-game series in Atlanta goes. Also, the answer to the trivia question (see the Yankees) is the Giants, of course. The 1912 New York Giants, that is. They started 50-11. They won the NL pennant under John McGraw (Christy Mathewson was their ace), but lost the World Series to Tris Speaker’s Red Sox.
Win 14 in a row and then lose two straight to a team that entered the series with a 10-game losing streak. Baseball is a cruel mistress.
Byron Buxton is nearly halfway to 40 homers (19 through 68 team games means he’s on pace for 45). The only Twins players to ever top 40 are Nelson Cruz, Roy Sievers, Brian Dozier and Harmon Killebrew (the other guys only did it once and Killer did it eight times). The record is 49 (Killebrew, obviously).
José Ramírez RBI watch: 62 in 62 Guardians’ games.
The Cardinals are tied for first in the NL Central with the Brewers and the two teams square off for a four-game series in Milwaukee starting Monday. Yes, please.
The Braves winning streak and obviously the great season the Mets continue to have leave the Phillies overshadowed at the moment. They are piling up a possibly-historic June, though. As of right now, the Phillies are 16-2 this month. The best record in June in franchise history (in a full month; they were 7-2 in 1981) is 18-8, which happened all the way back in 1905.
This might be the end of the line for Lorenzo Cain. If so, it was truly a pleasure to watch his 10-year career.
I guess their line of thinking would be now they can sweep the Yankees at home and get those three losses from last week back? In order for a division title shot, though, surely they needed to do more than split (and the odds of that are remote now). For now, they just look mediocre.
Given all their problems, you simply cannot say enough about what Johnny Cueto has given them. He was basically a lottery ticket and he’s having his best season since 2016.
Through three years of his seven-year deal, Anthony Rendon has played 155 games and produced 3.1 WAR. There’s always an asterisk for the 2020 season, but it still hurts so far.
Perhaps Corey Seager is heating up? He hasn’t been awful or anything (the home runs have been there all year), but he could play at an MVP level. He was 8 for 23 with two doubles and three homers last week.
Christian Walker has 18 home runs right now, which puts him on a pace to top 40. The only Diamondbacks ever to do that are Luis Gonzalez (57 in 2001) and Mark Reynolds (44 in 2009).
Jerar Encarnacion hit a grand slam in his first career game. The last time it happened for the Marlins was 2005 with Jeremy Hermida.
I’ll reiterate that they aren’t good but definitely compete. They’ve won six of their last nine right now.
Kris Bryant is set to begin his minor-league rehab assignment on Tuesday. So far in his seven-year, $182 million contract he’s hit .270 with a .342 OBP, but the .333 slugging is miserable. Of course, it’s a 17-game sample. Let’s give him a few games before the mockery I’ve seen in some internet corners.
The manner in which Robbie Ray lost that no-hitter on Friday night was incredibly annoying. His reaction, though, was kind of funny now, from a certain point of view. That is, we’ve all had “you’ve got to be (effing) KIDDING ME” moments in our lives. So, yeah, we have no idea what it’s like to be robbed of a possible no-hitter like that, but we’ve felt that way.
Ian Happ continues to have a very good, very steady season. If he were hitting like sixth or seventh on a contender he’d be such a valuable contributor.
This will make six seasons since a winning record and eight since the last playoff appearance. How safe is general manager Al Avila’s job?
How about rookie Jack Suwinski’s day on Sunday? He was 3 for 3 with three home runs … and the third one was a walk-off.
Brandon Drury being an All-Star would really be something. They have to get one and Tyler Stephenson is hurt right now.
Possible signs of life, but we need to give it a few weeks. The wins over the A’s might not even count. I’ll check with sources to confirm.
On Sunday, the Nationals snapped an eight-game losing streak and also a 12-game losing streak to the Phillies.
What more can be said? They can’t even win a home series against the Royals.