MLB Power Rankings Week 23: Which NLWC team has the edge?

Thursday, September 7, 2023

There are four power rankings left to go in the 2023 season, and while certain teams -- such as the Braves -- have cemented their position in the standings and on our list, many clubs remain in flux.

That is especially true for the four teams vying for the final wild-card spot in the National League -- the Diamondbacks, Reds, Marlins and Giants. They've continued to move around and swap places in the wild-card standings, as all four are within a couple games of each other -- and all boast negative run differentials.

Which of them has the advantage -- and who will secure a postseason berth?

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 and Alden Gonzalez to weigh in with an observation for all 30 teams.

Week 22 | Second-half preview | Preseason rankings

1. Atlanta Braves


Previous ranking:1

The Braves took three of four from the Dodgers with Ronald Acuna Jr. making an MVP statement in his head-to-head matchup againstMookie Betts by homering in each of the first three games -- all Atlanta victories. His home run on Saturday was a 121.2-mph blast to center field, the hardest-hit home run of 2023 and only the fourth homer of the Statcast era clocked at 120 mph. The others came from Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge. Acuna became the first player ever with 30 home runs and 60 stolen bases,leads the NL in runs, stolen bases and total bases and is tied for first in hits andon-base percentage.-- Schoenfield

2. Baltimore Orioles


Previous ranking:3

As the Orioles prepare for a possible -- or even likely -- postseason without star closer Felix Bautista, they've been collecting and probing different bullpen configurations. Hard-throwing lefty D.L. Hall, developed as a starter, was used in back-to-back outings and had a save opportunity against the Angels, which he failed to convert. His plus-stuff plays up in the role and his initial strikeout rates have been dominant. Alas, the command has not been.

Meanwhile, Shintaro Fujinami came out of the bullpen throwing triple digits and earned the save against the Angels after the Orioles went ahead in extra innings. Baltimore also reacquired Jorge Lopez, and while Yennier Cano is the Bautista replacement -- and a good one -- his ascension to the ninth inning scrambles a high-leverage picture that manager Brandon Hyde will have to sort out over the next few weeks while trying to nail down the American League East crown. It's a challenge. -- Doolittle

3. Los Angeles Dodgers


Previous ranking:2

This is an issue that carries importance far beyond sports, but we'll stick to the baseball portion for the purpose of these Power Rankings: The Dodgers probably won't see Julio Urias again this season, in the wake of him being arrested on felony domestic violence charges Sunday night. They've already lost Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin for the year, and Clayton Kershaw is pitching through shoulder woes, which resulted in diminished velocity during his Tuesday start from Miami. The Dodgers are cruising toward their 10th division title in 11 years and might still reach 100 wins for the third straight season. But they have a major starting-pitching problem heading into October. And Walker Buehler won't be stretched out enough to help much. -- Gonzalez

4. Tampa Bay Rays


Previous ranking:4

Reports emerged last week that the red-hot Rays were going with Taylor Walls as their primary shortstop for the rest of the campaign, with Osleivis Basabe moving into more of a utility role. Walls has more of a big league track record than Basabe, and at the very least, Tampa Bay can count on elite defense from Walls.

Over his first 134 games as a big league shortstop, Walls posted plus-23 defensive runs saved, which is a Gold Glove trajectory. His offense lags well behind his glove, but he does have strengths. Namely, he walks (65 free passes per 162 games in his career) and steals bases (20 thefts per 162 games). Still, he's a career sub-.200 hitter and any offense he generates will have to be viewed as gravy. Luckily, with the Rays' offense rolling as it has, they can afford to go all-in with Walls' glove at shortstop and with Basabe still around, they can pinch hit for Walls in a key spot. -- Doolittle

5. Houston Astros


Previous ranking:6

The Astros began their crucial series at Texas by clubbing the Rangers into submission, scoring 27 runs over two games. While we've become accustomed to this sort of offensive outburst by the Astros over the years, this barrage was notable not just because it came in a big series against a rival, but because it happened on the road and on the heels of a home sweep at the hands of the Yankees. This continues a head-scratching, season-long trend of Houston hitting much better away from Minute Maid Park. Houston had scored nearly 100 more runs away from home, along with road-home splits of 113-78 home runs and .794-.734 OPS. That probably doesn't mean that the Astros should angle to play on the road as much as possible in October, but it is a trend worth noting. -- Doolittle

6. Seattle Mariners


Previous ranking:5

The 10-game road trip to New York, Cincinnati and Tampa Bay started off disastrously with series losses to the Mets and Reds. Suddenly, the pitching staff is looking fatigued. Bryan Woo's velocity was way down in his start against the Reds and given his large platoon splits (lefties have hammered him), the Mariners may need to consider an opener in his next game (they don't really have any good other starting options). Woo is way past his season high in innings in either college or last year in the minors. Bryce Miller's strikeout rate has plummeted over the past month. Closer Andres Munoz was AL Reliever of the Month in August but has struggling in September. Justin Topa blew a 6-3 lead on Tuesday. Can the staff make it through September without collapsing? -- Schoenfield

7. Texas Rangers


Previous ranking:7

Nathan Eovaldi's return from injury was nothing short of a disaster. He lasted just 1 innings Tuesday against the Astros, giving up four runs on five hits including two home runs. The formerly dominant Dane Dunning didn't fare much better in relief as the Rangers are suddenly in jeopardy of missing the playoffs. Their pitching staff needs to right the ship after a brutal week -- they ranked last in ERA over the past seven days and will need Eovaldi to lock in as soon as possible. The Blue Jays, Mariners and Red Sox all remain on their schedule -- including Seattle seven times before the end of the season. Those head-to-head matchups will likely determine the Rangers' fate in October, which seemed like a lock for most of the season. That's no longer the case. -- Rogers

8. Toronto Blue Jays


Previous ranking:10

The Blue Jays' position group is beat up right now. Bo Bichette, Matt Chapman and Danny Jansen have all landed on the injured list, while Brandon Belt is dealing with a balky back. The timing isn't good, but on the field Toronto has been able to tread water. Because of that and a concurrent collapse by the Rangers, the Blue Jays managed to move back into playoff position the day after Labor Day. We highlighted the boost provided by Davis Schneider last week, but the Blue Jays have gotten key production from another unsung replacement since then. This time, it's Spencer Horwitz, a 25-year-old lefty hitting DH/first baseman. Over his first seven games, Horwitz homered, drove in four runs and posted a .961 OPS. -- Doolittle

9. Milwaukee Brewers


Previous ranking:9

Brandon Woodruff appears to be all the way back and ready for October. He threw seven shutout innings Tuesday in the Brewers' win over Pittsburgh. In five of his six starts since coming back from his injury, Woodruff has given up two or fewer runs. He has 25 strikeouts in his past three outings alone, further proof his stuff is rounding into form. His fastball velocity is already in the top 20% in the league and it's still climbing. Milwaukee's playoff hopes rely on him, along with Freddy Peralta and Corbin Burnes, as the team's offense has been inconsistent. -- Rogers

10. Philadelphia Phillies


Previous ranking:8

Trea Turner headed off on paternity leave riding a 15-game hitting streak during which he hit .358, slugged 10 home runs and scored 19 runs. Going back to that standing ovation he received in early August, Turner has hit .362/.395/.767 with 12 home runs in 28 games. That pushed his OPS+ over league average to 106 and while that's still well below the 139 mark he posted from 2020 to 2022, he has at least rescued his season from those miserable first four months. A hot Turner heading into the postseason bodes well for another deep run for the Phillies. -- Schoenfield

11. Chicago Cubs


Previous ranking:11

Justin Steele's Cy Young bid took another step forward as he pitched a gem on Labor Day, shutting out the Giants over eight innings. He's 16-3 with a 2.55 ERA, doing it mostly with a four-seam fastball and slider. His ability to work both sides of the plate and change the eye level for opposing hitters has been nothing short of fantastic. Steele's 2023 resume doesn't feature the strikeout totals Spencer Strider is putting up, but he has kept the ball in the park much better. Steele leads the league in home runs per nine innings (0.7) as well as ERA+ (177). That could give him the edge over Strider and Blake Snell. -- Rogers

12. Minnesota Twins


Previous ranking:13

Since we've pointed out so many times this season that the Twins have failed to put a hammerlock on an AL Central division that has been begging for someone to take control, we probably ought to highlight that the Twins now appear to have put a hammerlock on the AL Central. This has happened mostly because of an offensive outburst in two series apiece against Texas and Cleveland. Over an 11-game stretch beginning Aug. 24, the Twins averaged 6.9 runs per game, second-best in the majors during that span. Tuesday's 8-3 win over Cleveland pushed the Twins' lead over the Guardians to seven games, their biggest margin of the season. Minnesota finally looks like a lock for an October invite. -- Doolittle

13. Boston Red Sox


Previous ranking:15

Boston's tepid approach to the trade deadline has not done much to inspire a fast finish. The Red Sox have hovered around .500 with their post-deadline play as their postseason chances have collapsed from around one-in-five to about one-in-50. The pitching has been a mess even though the performance of rookie Brayan Bello has held up and Chris Sale has flashed dominance at times. James Paxton and Kutter Crawford have fallen off. And that's just the rotation. The bullpen ERA since the deadline is one of the worst in the majors. Patience in the Red Sox's ongoing passive approach is surely growing thin. -- Doolittle

14. Arizona Diamondbacks


Previous ranking:12

The D-backs have an important stretch coming up, with nine of their next 13 games coming against either the Cubs or the Giants, two teams joining them amid the crowded NL wild-card field. But the D-backs need to worry about getting right themselves. They followed a disappointing 8-16 month of July with a 12-15 August and have split their first six games of September. Since the All-Star break, they rank 21st in the majors in runs per game and 26th in ERA. That's a pretty long stretch of time to be below average. But all that matters is the next 3 weeks. -- Gonzalez

15. Cincinnati Reds


Previous ranking:16

The additions of Harrison Bader and Hunter Renfroe provided immediate dividends as Renfroe walked off the Cubs over the weekend. Cincinnati could have also used the pitchers who were placed on waivers, but Cleveland grabbed them instead. That left the Reds with one chance to make the postseason: by slugging their way there. But as good as their young hitters have been this season, they've slumped in the second half. Cincinnati ranks in the bottom five of the majors in OPS since the All-Star break. Its on-base percentage has hovered around .300 during that time frame. After playing the Mariners this week, the Reds have a light schedule the rest of the way. If the offense picks up, they still have a shot at the postseason. -- Rogers

16. Miami Marlins


Previous ranking:17

The Marlins looked dead in the wild-card race until they swept four games from the Nationals. The offense, which had scored just 17 runs in the previous 10 games, burst out with 31 against Washington while hitting .321 with eight home runs. Luis Arraez went 10-for-18, Bryan De La Cruz had a four-hit game, Jesus Sanchez had seven hits and Jazz Chisholm Jr. had six. They did it without Jorge Soler, who missed the entire series before returning in Tuesday's win over the Dodgers. Of the four teams battling for the final wild-card spot, the Marlins have the toughest remaining schedule, including the upcoming road trip to Philadelphia and Milwaukee. -- Schoenfield

17. San Francisco Giants


Previous ranking:14

Logan Webb produced another quality start against the Cubs on Monday, getting charged with three earned runs in 6 innings. But the Giants' offense didn't produce much of anything in support of him, and so he was tagged with the loss. It was an all-too-familiar scenario. Webb has the lowest run-support average in the major leagues, and the Giants' recent struggles on offense are costing them a prime opportunity to gain ground in a crowded wild-card field. From Aug. 5 through Monday's game, the Giants navigated a 28-game stretch in which they slashed a paltry .219/.293/.327 as a team, accumulating only 20 home runs. -- Gonzalez

18. New York Yankees


Previous ranking:19

When all is said and done, the Yankees aren't going to get credit for much of anything based on their 2023 performance. But you can at least say this much: Those on the field as the season reached the Labor Day turn have not thrown in the towel. With the Yankees promoting a gaggle of young players for the remainder of the season, the result has been one that sometimes happens with clubs that go through an in-season teardown: The youth, energy and motivation of the replacements makes the team better. The Yankees looked dispirited a week ago but after they swept the Astros on the road and Jasson Dominguezmadeastrong early impression, New York's string of .500 seasons might yet remain intact. -- Doolittle

19. San Diego Padres


Previous ranking:18

In the wake of Shohei Ohtani's torn UCL -- not to mention the possibility of Julio Urias facing his second domestic violence-related suspension by the league -- Snell stands as the most coveted starting pitcher in the upcoming free agent class. And he has picked a perfect time to be at his best. Snell is 12-9 with a major league-leading 2.50 ERA heading into his 29th start of the season Friday, striking out 201 batters in 155 innings. Nobody has issued more walks or served up more wild pitches than Snell, but nobody has allowed a lower opponents' slugging percentage, either. The Padres are running out of time to make a final playoff push -- especially with Joe Musgrove and Yu Darvish on the IL -- but Snell is trending toward his second Cy Young. -- Gonzalez

20. Cleveland Guardians


Previous ranking:20

Probably needing a sweep of the three-game series against the Twins to have a chance at the AL Central title, Cleveland lost the opener 20-6. Backup catcher David Fry ended up pitching the final four innings, giving up 10 hits, 7 runs and 3 home runs. He became the first true position player to pitch four innings in a game since Jose Oquendo of the Cardinals on May 14, 1988. Tuesday didn't go much better, as Trevor Stephan gave up five runs in the eighth inning in an 8-3 loss -- dropping the Guardians seven games behind the Twins. -- Schoenfield

21. Los Angeles Angels


Previous ranking:22

Shohei Ohtani's agent, Nez Balelo of CAA, addressed the media from his field-level suite at Angel Stadium on Monday afternoon, emphasizing that Ohtani plans to continue to be a two-way player. Meanwhile, Ohtani himself took a rare opportunity for outdoor batting practice and wound up tweaking his right oblique, prompting him to be a late scratch from Monday's lineup and also sit out Tuesday's game. Before then, Ohtani had played in every game since May 2.

But Angels manager Phil Nevin said Ohtani avoided a strain and isn't expected to go on the IL. He will keep playing, at least until he decides the next course of action for his UCL tear. The Angels are out of contention and the AL MVP award has basically been locked up, but Ohtani doesn't want to stop. "This guy loves the game," Balelo said. -- Gonzalez

22. New York Mets


Previous ranking:23

The Mets called up top prospect Ronny Mauricio and he went 6-for-15 (.400) in his first four games. His first career hit Friday was a 117-mph double to right field. With Francisco Lindor entrenched at shortstop, Mauricio started at second base all four games, although manager Buck Showalter said he would use Mauricio at different positions (he also played some left field at Syracuse). Tuesday's lineup featured rookies Francisco Alvarez, Brett Baty, Mark Vientos and Mauricio all starting together for the first time -- and they all had hits in an 11-5 victory over the Nationals. -- Schoenfield

23. Detroit Tigers


Previous ranking:24

The Tigers placed Riley Greene on the IL because of inflammation in his elbow, an injury suffered on a highlight reel catch that, if it proves to be the last we see of Greene in 2023, is a pretty nice exclamation point on a fine second season for the 22-year-old. In almost the exact same number of plate appearances as his rookie season, he has upped his OPS+ from 97 to 116 while improving in all three slash categories. His homer rate more than doubled even as his line drive rate improved markedly. Simply put, Greene hit the ball harder more often. He still has work to do to polish off his strike zone indicators, but any doubt that may have existed about whether he is a cornerstone player for the Tigers has been erased. -- Doolittle

24. Washington Nationals


Previous ranking:21

CJ Abrams' season has sort of flown under the radar, in part because he got off to a slow start, but his power is starting to develop -- he's up to 15 home runs and 40 stolen bases (and has been caught just three times). There is still room for growth, especially in his swing decisions that lead to a high chase rate and low walk rate. He has also struggled big time against lefties, hitting just .173 with a .255 OBP, but that isn't necessarily unusual for a young left-handed hitter (especially given his lack of experience in the minors). It looks like the bat will eventually play with continued maturity. We'll also see if he stays at shortstop long-term. Statcast metrics aren't a fan of his range, putting him near the bottom of all shortstops, although DRS has him above average. -- Schoenfield

25. Pittsburgh Pirates


Previous ranking:25

It has been a lost season for Oneil Cruz, but if he can get back onto the field for even a few games after recovering from ankle surgery, it could set him up for 2024. Cruz has been a missing element for Pittsburgh all year as his replacements haven't exactly gone off. Pittsburgh ranks 14th in the NL in WAR at shortstop as just one of two teams with a negative rating. If healthy, the 2024 left-side pairing of Cruz and Ke'Bryan Hayes could be an offensive and defensive force for the Pirates. That's the potential bright spot. Their pitching staff still needs work. -- Rogers

26. St. Louis Cardinals


Previous ranking:26

The Cardinals might be playing out the string, but Jordan Walker is still getting after it. He went 12-for-19 in his last five games with four home runs. Walker has had his share of ups and downs, but his rookie numbers are going to look pretty good. He has an OPS over 1.100 since mid-August, and he's one reason St. Louis doesn't need a full-on rebuild. If the Cardinals focus all their efforts on the mound this offseason, there's a chance they could be back in the playoff race in 2024. They aren't far off from being good again, but that's only if they address the starting staff in a major way. -- Rogers

27. Chicago White Sox


Previous ranking:27

Just when you thought things couldn't get worse for the White Sox, they did. A home sweep to the Tigers was bad enough but a Labor Day beatdown at the hands of the lowly Royals was really embarrassing. Manager Pedro Grifol seems to be safe, but some may question why considering the disaster this season has been. His benching of newcomer Korey Lee -- after the rookie couldn't track a popup he hit -- was puzzling. It feels like Grifol wants a do-over first impression, but those only come once. Meanwhile, Jesse Scholtens' bid for a rotation spot in 2024 took a hit after he gave up nine hits in 3 innings to Kansas City on Monday. -- Rogers

28. Colorado Rockies


Previous ranking:28

Kris Bryant told reporters recently that he's hopeful he'll return from his fractured left index finger by the start of the Rockies' homestand next week, which features matchups against his two former teams, the Cubs and Giants. The Rockies have long been out of contention, of course, and are still trending toward their first 100-loss season in franchise history. But getting back before the end of the year will no doubt be beneficial for Bryant. By Monday, he will have played in only 107 of the Rockies' 304 games since signing a seven-year, $182 million contract in March of 2022. He's slashing only .251/.338/.379 in 65 games this season. -- Gonzalez

29. Kansas City Royals


Previous ranking:29

As Cole Ragans continues to roll along, Zack Greinke does not. The future Hall of Famer dropped to 1-14 with a 5.34 ERA. He hasn't reached 80 pitches in any of his past seven starts, as manager Matt Quatraro gives him shorter and shorter hooks. Only 12 other pitchers have won just one game with at least 14 losses -- and four of those did it in the 1800s. It has happened two other times this century, however, as Homer Bailey went 1-14 with the Reds in 2018 and Adam Bernero went 1-14 with the Rockies and Tigers in 2003. -- Schoenfield

30. Oakland Athletics


Previous ranking:30

Amid a year of extreme disappointment -- both on the field of play and, of course, beyond it -- a rookie second baseman has provided a glimmer of hope for the team's future, wherever it might reside. Zack Gelof, the team's second-round pick in 2021, slashed .275/.335/.533 with 10 home runs and 10 stolen bases through his first 200 plate appearances in the major leagues. He's the only member of the A's with both double-digit home runs and steals, even though he has been up only since the middle of July. The sample size is still relatively small, but Gelof has shown to be a more advanced hitter than many anticipated. -- Gonzalez

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