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Welcome to the NBC Sports EDGE MLB Power Rankings, a weekly feature that will run every Tuesday through the end of the 2021 regular season. These rankings are not fantasy-driven in any way, though I do tend to sprinkle in fantasy-relevant nuggets here and there. Who’s hot, who’s not, who to watch -- that sort of thing. Send any and all complaints to me on Twitter: @drewsilv.
Please believe me when I tell you that I do not hate your team.
The defending World Series champions get top billing here before Opening Day. They’ve won eight straight National League West titles and signed 2020 NL Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer in free agency this winter. The pitching depth is incredible and should help mitigate some of the workload concerns that all teams will face coming off the abbreviated, pandemic-affected season. A full year of Mookie Betts? Look out. This team is certainly capable of a repeat.
Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, and Joe Musgrove were amazing additions to the starting rotation, but don’t overlook the signing of Ha-seong Kim, who batted .306/.397/.523 with 30 home runs, 109 RBI, 23 stolen bases, and 111 runs scored in 138 games last season for the Kiwoom Heroes of the Korea Baseball Organization. It’s not exactly clear where Kim is going to play, but the fantasy upside is tantalizing if the 25-year-old can somehow carve out an everyday role.
3. Atlanta Braves
Ronald Acuna Jr. was the No. 1 overall pick in most standard fantasy drafts this spring, and rightly so. The dynamic 23-year-old outfielder has averaged 42 home runs, 100 RBI, 32 stolen bases, and 130 runs for every 162 games played since he arrived in the majors in April 2018. He will again bat leadoff for a largely-unchanged lineup that generated a combined .832 OPS last season, best among all major league teams. 2020 NL MVP Freddie Freeman will hit third.
4. New York Yankees
The injury bug bit late in camp for the Yankees, as power-hitting first baseman Luke Voit was diagnosed this past Saturday with a partially torn meniscus in his left knee. He’ll be shut down for the next three weeks and figures to be sidelined until sometime in early-to-mid May. This is still a loaded team on paper, but health will be a huge factor. Can they get 140-plus games out of Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton? How will Corey Kluber and Jameson Taillon hold up?
Eloy Jimenez could be forced to miss the entire 2021 regular season after suffering a torn left pectoral muscle last Wednesday, but the White Sox seem confident that Andrew Vaughn can handle left field and help make up for some of the lost power production. Liam Hendriks was a big signing for the back end of the bullpen and the starting rotation will be led by Lucas Giolito, who struck out nine batters over five scoreless innings in his final Cactus League outing.
There is a fresh sense of optimism in Queens thanks to new owner Steve Cohen and his willingness to spend big on roster upgrades. Mets fans were maybe hoping for one or two other major splashes, but Francisco Lindor, Carlos Carrasco, James McCann, Taijuan Walker, and Trevor May are all significant acquisitions, and the club also made some decent depth moves in adding Jonathan Villar, Kevin Pillar, and Albert Almora. It’s a much more well-rounded team.
Kenta Maeda promptly emerged as one of the top starting pitchers in the sport last year in Minnesota, delivering a 2.70 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, and 80/10 K/BB ratio in 66 2/3 innings and earning a second-place finish in the AL Cy Young Award balloting. The gains he made appear real and sustainable, and the Twins will hope for the same with the budding power of Byron Buxton. Let’s see if this club can finally win a playoff game for the first time since 2004.
8. Toronto Blue Jays
This lineup could be a force in the American League East, presuming that George Springer’s late-spring oblique strain doesn’t prove too costly and that Vladimir Guerrero Jr. can start lifting some balls in the air with his more athletic frame. There are question marks in the rotation beyond Hyun-Jin Ryu, but the Blue Jays should be able to make pitching upgrades mid-season as many of the teams that populate the lower half of these rankings continue crying poor.
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9. Houston Astros
Houston finished under .500 in the regular season last year with a record of 29-31 but still snuck into the expanded postseason field and came alive at that point with a sweep of the Twins in the AL Wild Card Series, a 3-1 series win over the Athletics in the ALDS, and an ALCS against the Rays that went to Game 7. Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, and Carlos Correa are all capable of bouncing back and young slugger Yordan Alvarez can hopefully maintain better health.
10. Tampa Bay Rays
The rotation suddenly looks … average? And the bullpen, without Nick Anderson (elbow) for at least the first half, is going to require more magic tricks from manager Kevin Cash. A full season of Randy Arozarena should be fun and Austin Meadows is an obvious rebound candidate after battling COVID-19 and an oblique strain in 2020, but this is a downgraded roster from the one that marched to the World Series last October. Tyler Glasnow must emerge as a legitimate ace.
11. Oakland Athletics
Oakland ran away with the American League West last year, finishing seven games ahead of the second-place Astros, but it would have been nice to see ownership spend aggressively for once this winter to increase the odds of a repeat. Granted, there was the one-year, $11 million payout to Trevor Rosenthal in late February. He worked to a dominant 1.90 ERA and 38/8 K/BB ratio over 23 2/3 innings in 2020 and is a sneaky-good value bet to lead MLB in saves in 2021.
12. St. Louis Cardinals
Nolan Arenado basically fell into their laps and should lift an offense that ranked dead-last in home runs in 2020. But it was a trying spring from a health standpoint, what with Miles Mikolas (shoulder), Kwang-Hyun Kim (back), and Harrison Bader (forearm) all landing on the injured list prior to Opening Day. The depth will be tested early, and the Cardinals badly need youngsters Jack Flaherty and Dylan Carlson to play to their high-level potential right out of the gate.
13. Milwaukee Brewers
Milwaukee made a couple of crafty moves over the winter, adding two-time Gold Glove-winning second baseman Kolten Wong on a two-year, $18 million deal and one-time Gold Glove-winning outfielder Jackie Bradley for two years, $24 million. Wong boasts a career .308/.373/.482 batting line at Miller Park -- er, it’s now American Family Field -- and Bradley is coming off a strong season at the plate in Boston. In other words, those were more than just defensive upgrades.
14. Washington Nationals
Juan Soto and Trea Turner had to carry far too much of the offensive weight last year and the Nats will hope that offseason additions Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber can help in that regard. A healthy Stephen Strasburg would go a long way on the pitching side after he was limited to two starts in 2020 due to carpal tunnel syndrome. New closer candidate Brad Hand was a mess this spring, allowing 10 runs on 13 hits and five walks in 6 2/3 innings. There are red flags here.
15. Chicago Cubs
When president Theo Epstein resigned in November, it looked like the Cubs were headed for a full-on teardown. But the position player core remains intact and actually got a little better this winter with the arrival of Joc Pederson, who went off for eight home runs and 19 RBI over 18 games this spring in Cactus League play. The starting rotation is a little lacking and the bullpen could easily fall apart, but this is still the best lineup in the NL Central. At least for now.
16. Los Angeles Angels
Please, baseball gods, give us a full season of two-way Shohei Ohtani. Do it for Mike Trout, who has somehow appeared in only three postseason games in his now 11-year MLB career. Isolating the best of Ohtani, remember that he had a .925 OPS with 22 home runs and 10 stolen bases over 104 games as a rookie in 2018 and also pitched to a 3.31 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and 63 strikeouts across 51 2/3 innings that same year. His blister issue from Monday appears minor.
17. Philadelphia Phillies
Maybe this will be the season that the Phillies flip the script and actually overperform? They have the top-level talent to do so in Bryce Harper, J.T. Realmuto, and Aaron Nola. And young third baseman Alec Bohm was as good as anyone could ask for as a rookie, slashing .338/.400/.481 across his first 180 major league plate appearances. The bullpen has been almost completely retooled after last year’s crew struggled to a league-worst 7.06 combined ERA.
18. Cleveland Indians
There doesn’t seem to be much of a plan in Cleveland, other than pushing the payroll as low as it could possibly go. That’s a shame for 25-year-old ace Shane Bieber, who deserves a better supporting cast after claiming the 2020 American League Cy Young Award with a bonkers 1.63 ERA, 0.866 WHIP, and 122 strikeouts in 77 1/3 innings. What happens to the offense if Jose Ramirez gets hurt or is traded? It’s almost like this organization is inviting mediocrity.
19. Cincinnati Reds
Cincinnati should be a lot better offensively than what we saw last year, but the roster in general again feels boom-or-bust, and any hint of a bust could lead to an active sell-off ahead of the July 31 trade deadline. Consider the Raisel Iglesias trade a preview of sorts. Amir Garrett does, however, look fully ready to step into the vacant closer role. He struck out 10 of the 13 batters he faced this spring in the Cactus League and didn’t allow a hit or issue a single walk.
20. Boston Red Sox
J.D. Martinez turned his career around several years ago in Detroit by delving deep into film study of his own swing and fully embracing the launch angle revolution, so it probably shouldn’t have come as a surprise that he struggled last year as MLB removed in-game video access amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He posted a combined .317/.392/.593 batting line in his first two years with the Red Sox in 2018-2019 before stumbling to a .213/.291/.389 slash line in 2020.
21. Kansas City Royals
You can certainly poke holes in certain areas of the roster -- specifically the starting rotation -- but the lineup should be a whole lot of fun. Whit Merrifield, Adalberto Mondesi, and Salvador Perez were all top-100 picks this spring in the average Yahoo fantasy league and Jorge Soler had an ADP of 133.7. Hunter Dozier has bounce-back potential and offseason trade acquisition Andrew Benintendi may benefit from a change of scenery. Oh, and Bobby Witt Jr. is coming.
22. San Francisco Giants
Thanks in part to a few structural changes at Oracle Park, the Giants ranked within the top 10 of all MLB teams last year in runs scored. San Francisco can move up these rankings with a similar offensive showing in 2021, though it might’ve been an unsustainable pace and the Dodgers and Padres obviously rule the NL West at present. One pitcher to track is Logan Webb, who claimed a rotation spot with a shiny 0.53 ERA and 22/2 K/BB ratio in 17 innings this spring.
23. Arizona Diamondbacks
Zac Gallen boasts a 2.78 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and 10.5 K/9 through his first 152 major league innings and had all the makings of a dark horse NL Cy Young Award candidate this year before suffering a hairline stress fracture in his right forearm when he mishit a pitch while working in a batting cage around mid-March. Bring back the universal DH! There is no timetable yet for Gallen’s return, and the overall rotation outlook in Arizona is quite a bit uglier without him.
24. Seattle Mariners
The longest postseason drought in Major League Baseball belongs to the Mariners, and this probably isn’t going to be the year that they snap it, though brighter days are ahead with top prospects Jarred Kelenic, Julio Rodriguez, Logan Gilbert, and Taylor Trammell all on the cusp. And the M’s might have something unique in Dylan Moore, who put up eight home runs and 12 stolen bases in 38 games last year. That’s a 162-game pace of 35 homers and 52 steals.
25. Miami Marlins
Miami was part of the expanded postseason field last season, so this ranking may be a little controversial, but that lineup still has a lot of proving to do and it’s fair to wonder how hard management might be prepared to push the young rotation after the shortened 2020 campaign. They’re all age 25 or younger. Sixto Sanchez was brought along slowly this spring following a false-positive for COVID-19 and he is set to open the year at the team’s alternate training site.
26. Detroit Tigers
We’ll be on Miguel Cabrera milestone watch this year, as the veteran slugger is 13 home runs away from 500 and 134 hits away from 3,000. He’ll have to stay healthy and at least somewhat productive in what will be his age-38 season, but both marks should be within reach. That’ll provide a bit of entertainment for Tigers fans as they wait for the rebuilding process to begin bearing fruit. It does appear that 2020 top overall pick Spencer Torkelson is on the fast track.
27. Texas Rangers
Not that a healthy bullpen would have pushed this team anywhere near contention, but the Rangers had terrible luck on that front this spring, losing Jonathan Hernandez to a low-grade UCL sprain in his right arm in early March and Jose Leclerc to Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery in the closing days of camp. There’s talk of Matt Bush getting the first look in the closer role, though we wouldn’t project this roster to carry many leads into the ninth inning.
28. Colorado Rockies
This might be among the worst teams the Rockies have fielded since they arrived in Major League Baseball as an expansion franchise in 1993 and it will only get worse if impending free agent shortstop Trevor Story is dealt away at some point before the July 31 trade deadline. German Marquez could be on the block too. An attractive sleeper in fantasy is C.J. Cron, who won the starting first base job after signing on as a non-roster invitee in mid-February.
29. Baltimore Orioles
Trey Mancini’s comeback is a story worth tracking. He broke out to the tune of an .899 OPS with 35 home runs and 97 RBI over 154 games in 2019 before getting diagnosed with a malignant tumor in his colon last March and missing all of 2020. Thankfully, the 29-year-old entered Orioles camp this spring with a clean bill of health and went 17-for-51 (.333) in Grapefruit League action. Something there for O’s fans -- and baseball fans in general -- to root for.
30. Pittsburgh Pirates
Ignoring, well, everything else, Ke'Bryan Hayes sure looks like a ready-made star. The young third baseman arrived in the majors last September 1 and went on to bat .376/.442/.682 with 14 extra-base hits (five homers, seven doubles, two triples) over his first 24 games at baseball’s highest level. Paired with strong defensive metrics at the hot corner, albeit in a tiny sample, Hayes was worth nearly two whole wins above replacement (WAR) in just four weeks of action.