We’re around the one-month mark of the 2023 MLB season, and while it’s still too early to be paying too much attention to the standings, five of the six division leaders are teams that didn’t win their divisions last year.
We’re not even out of April yet and there’s a long season ahead, but it’s nevertheless surprising to see teams such as the Rangers and Pirates atop their respective divisions. Both teams are on the move in our Power Rankings, too, as Texas has cracked the top 10 and Pittsburgh made the biggest jump of the season so far, up seven spots to No. 14.
Can these clubs carry their momentum into May?
Our expert panel has ranked all 30 teams 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 each team.
Previous ranking: 2
Tampa Bay received a blow to its rotation after Jeffrey Springs underwent Tommy John surgery on Monday, but the Rays keep rolling. Randy Arozarena is mashing at the plate, hitting .341/.410/.571 through 23 games so far this season, ranking third among position players on the team with 1.0 bWAR. Zach Eflin — the team’s biggest free agent signing this offseason — looks strong through three starts, posting a 2.81 ERA in 16 innings. — Lee
Previous ranking: 1
The Braves had a tough weekend series at home against the Astros — losing all three games. On Friday, the bullpen allowed three runs in the seventh and then A.J. Minter served up a game-losing home run to Yordan Alvarez in the ninth. Kyle Wright was cruising on Saturday until Alvarez and Kyle Tucker connected for two-run homers in the sixth. On Sunday, the Astros scored five runs in the final two innings for a 5-2 victory as Minter once again took the loss.
Spencer Strider came to the rescue on Monday, taking a no-hitter into the eighth against the Marlins (it would have been a perfect game attempt if not for Matt Olson‘s error). He settled for two hits in eight innings with 13 strikeouts — and has become the Cy Young betting favorite in Vegas. — Schoenfield
Previous ranking: 4
The big news from this past week — beyond Justin Verlander‘s impending return — was Max Scherzer‘s ejection in the fourth inning of a win on April 19, resulting in a 10-day suspension the following day for excessive stickiness on his fingers. He’s just the third pitcher to be ejected from a game since umpires began in-game checks in 2021. ESPN analyst David Cone showed how a little rosin and alcohol (which Scherzer claimed he used to wash his hands after the umpires asked) can actually increase the tackiness. Of note: Umpire Phil Cuzzi has tossed all three of those pitchers. The Mets, meanwhile, will have to get through this stretch without Scherzer, Carlos Carrasco (ailing right elbow) and Jose Quintana. Jose Butto and Joey Lucchesi have entered the rotation. — Schoenfield
Previous ranking: 7
One guy playing an unexpectedly large role in the American League playoff chase this season is Astros utility man Mauricio Dubon, who has started 21 games at second base because of the absence of Jose Altuve. All Dubon has done is hit .330/.355/.420 in the early going with 18 runs scored. He’s been hitting in Altuve’s usual leadoff spot since April 15, and during that span, he’s hit .313 with 11 runs scored in 11 games, all while pushing his hitting streak to 20 games, the longest in the majors this season and the longest by an Astros player since Michael Brantley in 2019. As a team, the Astros get plenty of attention, but if there is one guy on the roster who likely isn’t getting the due he’s earned, it’s Dubon. — Doolittle
Previous ranking: 3
Yankees fans might be inching closer to the panic button, as the team sits just ahead of the Red Sox in fourth place in the American League East after the Twins won their first season series over New York since 2001 this week. Franchy Cordero has come back down to earth after getting off to a scorching hot start with the Yankees. One of the team’s biggest struggles remains the outfield, with both Willie Calhoun and Aaron Hicks ranking among the least productive position players in baseball receiving regular playing time. They both boast a Baseball-Reference WAR (bWAR) below 0. — Lee
Previous ranking: 6
In addition to the hot starts from Matt Chapman, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, Kevin Kiermaier has been hitting the cover off the ball, hitting .299/.338/.448 in 20 games this season. Toronto’s offense could reach a whole other level when outfielder Daulton Varsho finds his stroke at the plate, as he’s hit .198/.300/.314 in 24 games. Toronto will need more from Jose Berrios, Chris Bassitt and Alek Manoah, but Yusei Kikuchi is off to a strong start, posting a 3.00 ERA in five starts. — Lee
Previous ranking: 5
Milwaukee came back down to earth following its successful road trip with series wins over the Padres and Mariners, losing a home series to the Red Sox while compiling a 5.60 ERA in a five-day span ending on Tuesday. That ranked 14th in the National League, ahead of only the Marlins. Most of that damage came on Saturday in a 12-5 loss to Boston. It was about the only poorly pitched game of the month for Milwaukee, with most of the runs scored against the bullpen. The Brewers still rank third overall in ERA in the NL and have firmly established themselves as contenders in the NL Central for the long haul. — Rogers
Previous ranking: 8
It’s still early, of course, but Max Muncy has eased concerns that his down year in 2022 would spill over into 2023. He is OPS’ing 1.129 with a major-league-leading 11 home runs while boasting the sport’s second-highest walk rate thus far, joining upstart rookie James Outman in helping to carry the Dodgers’ offense through the first month. Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman have yet to hit full stride, Will Smith is on the injured list, and the likes of David Peralta, Chris Taylor, Austin Barnes and Miguel Rojas, the latter of whom is nursing a hamstring injury, have struggled. Muncy’s production has been essential. — Gonzalez
Previous ranking: 11
The longer the Rangers hang around first place in the AL West, the more they give credence to the idea that they have a shot to contend. That was no sure thing a few months ago, even with their big-name offseason additions, but manager Bruce Bochy has Texas playing good baseball. Adolis Garcia is heating up, too. He went 8-for-19 with three home runs over a four-game span from last Friday to Tuesday, earning him AL Player of the Week honors. All three of his long balls came in a historic game for him on Saturday, as he went 5-for-5 against the A’s, driving in eight runs while totaling 16 bases. Garcia had a whole week of production in one game. — Rogers
Previous ranking: 9
Fernando Tatis Jr. struggled through his first five games, getting his first home run out of the way but slashing only .182/.250/.318. Wednesday’s victory at Wrigley Field, however, might have qualified as his coming-out party. Tatis, the superstar shortstop-turned-outfielder coming off a PED suspension, drove in three runs, including the ones that put his team ahead late. The Padres are still waiting on Manny Machado and Juan Soto to get going. Tatis providing a spark from the leadoff spot would be huge for them at the moment. — Gonzalez
Previous ranking: 14
Baltimore’s winning streak might have come against some of the lesser competition in baseball, but it still finds itself with a record that keeps it on pace with the first-place Rays. This isn’t the best the Orioles can be, either, with infielder Gunnar Henderson struggling at the plate to start the season, hitting .194/.357/.328 with two homers in 21 games. Meanwhile, shortstop Jorge Mateo continues an incredibly hot start to the season, ranking in the top 10 among all position players in bWAR. — Lee
Previous ranking: 10
The collective performance by the big three of the Twins’ rotation — Sonny Gray (3-0, 0.62 ERA), Joe Ryan (5-0, 2.81) and Pablo Lopez (1-2, 3.00) — has been one of the emergent stories of baseball’s first month. All three, arguably among the top 10 Cy Young candidates in the AL, are established veterans who have nonetheless found new levels to their game this season. There was a lot of uncertainty about the Twins’ pitching program last season with the highly respected Wes Johnson announcing he was leaving to return to college baseball. Most of everything that has happened since then suggests that Minnesota’s pitchers are in good hands with Pete Maki heading up the operation. — Doolittle
Previous ranking: 15
The euphoria surrounding the Cubs’ early-season success was tempered a little when the Dodgers took three of four games from Chicago at Wrigley Field over the weekend, with Muncy and Outman doing a lot of the damage for L.A. But the Cubs should still be proud of their season so far.
Now, they just need to figure out how to get out of the ninth inning, as Michael Fulmer has had a rough month. He’s blown two saves while compiling an 8.68 ERA in the early going, forcing manager David Ross to look elsewhere. Lefty Brandon Hughes could get some chances or so could righty Mark Leiter Jr., who was designated for assignment by the Cubs in January. Now he’s a valuable thrower in the pen. Veteran Brad Boxberger is another option. — Rogers
Previous ranking: 21
When was the last time the Pirates were the talk of the baseball world? After vaulting to the top of the standings, they made big news on Tuesday by signing center fielder Bryan Reynolds to an eight-year, $106.75 million deal. It signals the Pirates’ desire to compete and not just perennially rebuild. Their string of 12 consecutive quality starts was longer than any streak for a team all of last season, as well as the first month of this one. Manager Derek Shelton was also given an extension. Pittsburgh could not have asked for a better first month to the season. — Rogers
Previous ranking: 12
Even with injuries sidelining rotation fixtures Triston McKenzie and Aaron Civale, the Guardians’ pitching has been terrific during an overall start that, to be kind, can be summed up as topsy-turvy. An offense that looked solid during the Guardians’ season-opening road trip to the West Coast has been in a virtual free fall over the past two weeks, even as Cleveland has come up against some of the lesser competition on its schedule.
Perhaps even more concerning for the position player group is that the Guardians’ defense, which was such a key part of their surprise run to the AL Central crown in 2022, has ranked near the bottom of the majors this season. The good news: It’s still early. — Doolittle
Previous ranking: 13
The D-backs’ sense of urgency can be felt in the way they’ve shaken up their rotation. On April 20, they cut ties with an ineffective Madison Bumgarner, eating a remaining $34 million in salary in the process. Four days later, they optioned one of their promising young pitchers, Drey Jameson, back to the minor leagues. The expectation is that Brandon Pfaadt, ranked 32nd in Kiley McDaniel’s Top 100, will eventually fill his spot in the rotation. Pfaadt, 24, has a 3.91 ERA in his first five Triple-A starts this year, striking out 30 and walking only six in 25⅓ innings. — Gonzalez
Previous ranking: 19
Yes, that’s Brandon Marsh leading the majors in OPS at 1.138 — .351/.435/.703 with 14 extra-base hits, including an MLB-leading four triples. The Phillies acquired him for his glove in center field, not his offensive potential — he posted a .679 OPS last season in his first full year in the majors — so this is a shocking start.
One big change: He’s swinging less. He hacked at the first pitch 27% of the time last season; that’s down to below 15%, which has helped improve his overall chase rate. Yes, swinging at strikes helps. There’s been some good fortune here — his Statcast numbers suggest an expected batting average of .253 — but there’s been a real change in approach that is paying dividends. — Schoenfield
Previous ranking: 16
After going 3-for-4 on Tuesday, including hitting his seventh home run, Jarred Kelenic moved atop the AL leaderboard in OPS. For all the attention given to his hot spring training, nobody expected him to turn into one of the league’s best hitters in the first month.
While some minor mechanical adjustments have no doubt helped, it’s more about Kelenic’s pitch awareness: recognizing off-speed and laying off fastballs up out of the zone. His chase rate has improved — he’s in the 83rd percentile — and his contact rate in the zone has gone way up. His first two seasons, he hit .124 against curves, sliders and changeups. He’s holding his own against those pitches in 2023 with a an average above .250 and three home runs. And he’s not missing fastballs: .405 with four home runs. — Schoenfield
Previous ranking: 20
It’s still early, but Chris Sale‘s struggles remain one of Boston’s biggest concerns. Sale struggled against the Orioles on Monday, allowing five runs on nine hits while striking out none in five innings. The lefty is the key to the Red Sox rotation resembling anything close to playoff-caliber. But Sale largely looks like someone who might be past his prime, rather than someone who can find some magic again after pitching in a total of 11 games over the previous three seasons. — Lee
Previous ranking: 17
One of the Angels’ trades with the Phillies last summer was looking like a legitimate win-win. While Marsh is tearing it up in Philadelphia, Logan O’Hoppe was starting to look like a cornerstone catcher, OPS’ing .886 through the first 16 games of his age-23 season while showing all the traits necessary to stick at the position. But O’Hoppe tore the labrum in his left shoulder on a swing last Thursday, and now his season might be over. With Max Stassi still recovering, the Angels are giving meaningful playing time to their fourth-string catcher. Their depth at first base and shortstop has also been tested. — Gonzalez
Previous ranking: 18
A miserable month can’t come to a close soon enough for the Cardinals. St. Louis is finally starting to pitch better, but that doesn’t excuse lofty ERAs for starters Miles Mikolas and Steven Matz in April. The Cards aren’t deep enough on the mound to withstand multiple starters struggling — and that’s not to mention Jack Flaherty, who is still slowly returning to form after all of his injuries. If those starters don’t get rolling, it’s going to be a long season in St. Louis — no matter how well the offense performs. — Rogers
Previous ranking: 22
The Marlins had won four straight series — against the Phillies, Diamondbacks, Giants and Guardians — before dropping their past two games against the Braves. With the team hovering around .500, a reason to be optimistic is that the rotation — the supposed strength of the team — hasn’t been all that great so far, ranking 17th in the majors in ERA. Edward Cabrera‘s success will be a huge key, with Sandy Alcantara in somewhat of a slump and Trevor Rogers landing on the IL with a left biceps strain. Cabrera had a 3.01 ERA in his 14 starts last season but has an MLB-leading 20 walks in 22 innings this season. He has to start getting ahead of more hitters. — Schoenfield
Previous ranking: 24
The homer-happy Giants have been undone largely by their bullpen thus far. Their relievers have combined for a 5.17 ERA , second-worst in the NL, while allowing 14 home runs in only 94 innings. Of notable concern has been the bridge to the back-end trio of Tyler Rogers, John Brebbia and closer Camilo Doval, though Brebbia’s ERA is a little bloated at the moment as well. The bullpen could use some of the depth that the lineup has displayed, in which nine different players have homered at least three times through the season’s first four weeks. — Gonzalez
Previous ranking: 23
The White Sox’s cruel April continues, and while their season is not yet a wasteland, their playoff probabilities seemingly plummet with each passing game. With the hot start by Luis Robert Jr. wearing off in recent games, there really is no silver lining to be found from Chicago’s showing thus far. Looking ahead, only the eventual returns of Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada and Liam Hendriks give South Side fans something to look forward to. This roster has already been exposed, so the question for a less gruesome May becomes: By the time the White Sox get healthy, will it already be too late? — Doolittle
Previous ranking: 26
No team in the AL has a larger discrepancy between expected record — based on run differential — and actual record. Yet a win is a win, and as we near the end of April, the Tigers are closer to second place in the AL Central than fourth. After Detroit’s pitching staff was blitzed early by the Rays, Astros and Red Sox, the run prevention has gotten off the deck and trended toward league average. Eduardo Rodriguez looks resurgent in the rotation, and manager AJ Hinch has unfurled a vicious one-two high-leverage punch at the back of his bullpen in Jason Foley and Alex Lange. So, the theme for the Tigers’ first month: Hey, it could be a lot worse. — Doolittle
Previous ranking: 25
Cincinnati got a taste of what the Pirates are all about this month when it was swept in a four-game series over the weekend, scoring only six runs. The Reds gave up only 12 themselves, so there were a few positives, including a solid outing from Hunter Greene. But Nick Lodolo had his first bad start this season when the Rangers tagged him for nine hits and six runs over four innings on Monday. The growing pains that the Reds’ rotation will go through this season should pay dividends down the line — but it won’t be anytime soon. — Rogers
Previous ranking: 27
The Rockies activated German Marquez off the IL for Wednesday’s start, leaving them with seemingly no choice but to designate Jose Urena for assignment. Urena, re-signed on a one-year, $3.5 million contract that included a 2024 club option this offseason, was 0-4 with a 9.82 ERA through his first five starts this season, while giving up nine home runs and issuing 14 walks in 18⅓ innings. One positive: Austin Gomber, also struggling mightily, pitched five scoreless innings against the Guardians on Monday. — Gonzalez
Previous ranking: 29
After a three-homer game in his first start, Josiah Gray has spun off four straight solid starts with no more than two runs allowed, including six scoreless innings against the Mets on Tuesday with nine strikeouts. Those four games haven’t come against an easy slate, either: at Colorado and then against the Angels, Orioles and Mets.
The other pitcher for Washington perhaps making a big leap is reliever Mason Thompson. He’s averaged nearly two innings per outing and leads all relievers in innings entering Thursday. He’s posted an impressive 17-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio with just 10 hits in 18⅔ innings. The Nationals aren’t going anywhere in 2023, but this is what they need: some of their young players to prove themselves as legit major leaguers. — Schoenfield
Previous ranking: 28
If the theme for the Tigers is “Hey, it could be a lot worse,” for the Royals it’s more like, “How much worse can it get?” It’s been a rough month for Kansas City, made even more devastating this week by the news that Kris Bubic is headed for Tommy John surgery. Even the team’s defense, which has solid overall metrics, has recently shown a penchant for committing clutch errors. The short-term project for Matt Quatraro, the Royals’ first-year manager, is simply to create some kind of positive momentum, because a big step back is not what Kansas City fans were expecting from this stage of their team’s ever-lengthening rebuild. — Doolittle
Previous ranking: 30
The Athletics look like one of the worst teams in recent memory, with a rotation led by JP Sears, whose 4.98 ERA is the lowest of any pitcher who’s started a game on the team. This disaster of a season is what happens when ownership refuses to invest in a team for the long term, trading away star players to maximize team revenue. Oakland traded away Chapman, Matt Olson, Frankie Montas and Sean Murphy and has not received much in return. Oakland’s baseball fans deserve so much better than this. — Lee