February 27, 2024

The Braves are in. The Dodgers are in. The Rays and Orioles are in — and the Brewers and Twins aren’t far behind. Welcome to the stretch run!

With a week and a half left in the season, these teams have locked up their spots in the playoffs — but others still have a lot to play for.

Which of the three AL West teams vying for the division title will come out on top? And which of the five teams battling for a National League wild card — the Diamondbacks, Cubs, Marlins, Reds and Giants — will secure the remaining two slots?

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 24 | Second-half preview | Preseason rankings

Record: 97-55

Previous ranking: 1

That ugly sweep to the Marlins after clinching the division title has put the best overall record in jeopardy for the Braves as the Orioles are now breathing down their necks — although, with seven of their final 10 games against the Nationals, the Braves should be able to hold on. With an 11-strikeout performance in a win over the Phillies on Tuesday, Spencer Strider is up to 270 strikeouts, just six short of John Smoltz’s franchise record set in his Cy Young season of 1996. Strider’s 37.9% strikeout percentage is the second highest ever for a starter in a full season, behind only Gerrit Cole’s 39.9% in 2019. — Schoenfield

Record: 95-57

Previous ranking: 2

Manager Brandon Hyde told reporters this week that Jack Flaherty is being shifted to a bullpen role. The switch isn’t necessarily permanent, but even if it’s only a one- or two-game experiment, it’s one worth conducting. With John Means back in the rotation and looking solid, Baltimore has five viable starters, one more than it’ll need in a postseason context. Flaherty has a 6.68 ERA since joining Baltimore at the trade deadline and just wasn’t getting deep enough into games. He has made just five relief appearances in his career, so there isn’t much to go on in terms of his track record in that role. His 1.017 OPS allowed this season in first innings isn’t a great sign, but perhaps his stuff will play up as a reliever. Flaherty’s maximum velocity this season (97.2 mph) ranks in the 78th percentile among qualifying big league hurlers. — Doolittle

Record: 93-58

Previous ranking: 3

The Dodgers won their 90th game and clinched the NL West on Saturday, with 15 games remaining in their regular season. Their focus has since shifted to the playoffs, where their short-handed starting rotation could present problems. But let’s not jump there without appreciating what the Dodgers just did. This, if you remember, was supposed to be a transition year. They took a conservative approach to the offseason in order to create a runway for some of their younger players, and yet they breezed to their 10th division title in 11 years. Their bullpen had the fifth-worst ERA in the majors by the end of June, their rotation has been decimated by injuries all year — in addition to Julio Urias being placed on administrative leave in the wake of domestic violence charges — and yet the Dodgers just keep rolling. It’s truly remarkable. — Gonzalez

Record: 93-60

Previous ranking: 4

The four-game split with Baltimore last week had to register as a letdown in St. Petersburg after Tampa Bay won the first two games of the series. The split leaves the Rays still needing to make up sizable ground in the division race, the winner of which is likely to be the American League’s top seed in the playoffs. Besides the small problem of the Orioles continuing to play championship-caliber baseball is the disparity in remaining schedules. Sandwiched around two games at Fenway Park is a pair of three-game series against a very good Blue Jays team fighting for its postseason life. Meanwhile, the O’s have a four-game set at Cleveland before finishing up with six home contests against last-place teams: Washington and Boston. — Doolittle

Record: 85-68

Previous ranking: 5

Just two weeks ago, Houston manhandled division rival Texas to the tune of 39-10 over three games. The Astros vaulted into the AL West lead during that throttling for the first time this season. With their main weapons back on the field, it very much looked like Houston was situated for a stout defense of its World Series crown. Instead, the Astros have since played sub-.500 baseball and find themselves not just in a no-room-for-error three-team race for the division title, but just one short losing streak away from dropping out of the playoffs altogether. Meanwhile, manager Dusty Baker opted to give Yordan Alvarez a break, saying he didn’t like the way the star slugger looked at the plate or moving on the field. However it shakes out, the Astros’ stretch run looks more interesting than we would have anticipated. — Doolittle

Record: 86-66

Previous ranking: 6

The Brewers are close to securing another division title and playoff spot under manager Craig Counsell as they seem to be peaking at the right time, especially on the mound. Their pitching ranked near the top of the majors in ERA last week — they’ve given up five or more runs just once in their past 12 games. Brandon Woodruff has continued his solid return from injury, compiling a 1.06 ERA over his past five starts that included a complete game shutout followed up by a six-inning stint where he gave up just one run against the Nationals. If Rowdy Tellez and/or Carlos Santana (as a lefty) can get hot next month, Milwaukee could be a dangerous playoff team. — Rogers

Record: 83-69

Previous ranking: 8

The Phillies haven’t won three games in a row since late August as they struggle to officially secure that top wild-card spot. Michael Lorenzen has pitched himself out of the rotation and into the bullpen, so once the Phillies do lock up a playoff spot, it will be fascinating to see who manager Rob Thomson lines up as the next two starters behind Zack Wheeler in a wild-card series. Ranger Suarez has been the best of the rest of late with a 2.86 ERA over his past six starts, although the walk rate has been a little high (16 in 34 2/3 innings). Meanwhile, Kyle Schwarber is up to 45 home runs, following up last year’s 46-homer season. He’s the first player with consecutive 45-homer seasons since Ryan Howard did it with the Phillies in four consecutive seasons from 2006 to 2009. — Schoenfield

Record: 85-67

Previous ranking: 7

With Toronto one of four teams — along with Texas, Houston and Seattle — fighting for three AL playoff berths, it’s easy to fixate on the Jays’ remaining slate, which isn’t an easy one. Toronto’s stretch run consists entirely of AL East rivals: the Yankees and Rays. Both opponents have plenty to play for, with the Rays angling for a division crown and the Yankees trying to extend their epic streak of non-losing seasons. Perhaps more important than the schedule for Toronto is simply trying to figure out what this Jays team is about. Just this month, it has had three winning streaks of at least three games, but the Jays were also swept at home in a crucial four-game series against Texas. So more pertinent than the opponents down the stretch is the question: Which Jays team is going to show up for the most important games of the season? — Doolittle

Record: 84-68

Previous ranking: 10

A streaky second half continued for the Rangers last week as they swept the Blue Jays in a crucial four-game series in Toronto only to lose the next four, including a sweep at the hands of the below-.500 Guardians. Texas’ offense dried up in that series, scoring just six runs over the three games. Mitch Garver had the roughest week — going just 3-for-24 — while Corey Seager wasn’t much better, hitting just .217 over a seven-day span ending on Tuesday. The good news for Texas came in the return of Adolis Garcia from injury. He was out less than two weeks and now is ready for the stretch run — and this up-and-down offense needs him. Now, if their bullpen can lock in, the Rangers might have a chance. Otherwise, it’ll be a long offseason. — Rogers

Record: 84-68

Previous ranking: 9

Let’s give a big shoutout to J.P. Crawford, who has had an outstanding offensive season. Thanks to a .378 OBP and 50 extra-base hits, Crawford ranks seventh in the AL in offensive WAR. (Offensive WAR includes a positional adjustment, so it doesn’t mean Crawford has been the fifth-best hitter; he’s not in the top 10 in runs created, although he does rank right outside the top 10 in OPS+). Crawford has added more power, pulling the ball with authority much more often, but he works the strike zone better than any Mariners hitter in a long time with 88 walks and a low chase rate. — Schoenfield

Record: 81-72

Previous ranking: 12

As the Twins turn their attention to ending their record 18-game postseason losing streak, it’s a mystery what their postseason lineup might look like. Byron Buxton’s injuries are an old story, but it’s still possible he could be patrolling center field in October. Carlos Correa, meanwhile, hit the IL because of a worsening case of plantar fasciitis. He, too, might be back in time for the playoffs. Finally, breakout third baseman Royce Lewis turned up with a hamstring problem and is headed for an MRI to determine the extent of the issue. All of these players are now suspended in postseason limbo. Needless to say, Minnesota’s chances of finally getting a playoff win look a whole lot better with this trio than without it. — Doolittle

Record: 81-72

Previous ranking: 13

The way the D-backs navigated through last week served as a perfect encapsulation of how wacky and unpredictable the wild-card races have been this year. They lost three straight to the lowly Mets, with the Cubs on tap, set to match up the top of their rotation against the back end of Arizona’s. It seemed as if the D-backs were destined to fade down the stretch. Instead, they swept the Cubs over the weekend, vaulting into the second wild-card spot.

“We’re trying to win out,” D-backs first baseman Christian Walker said after Sunday’s game. “We want to give ourselves a no-doubt chance, and we understand how hard it is and how quickly things change.” Do they ever. — Gonzalez

Record: 79-73

Previous ranking: 11

A 1-5 road trip crushed the Cubs’ chances of winning the division or hosting a wild-card series, but they’re still in decent position to make the postseason. Cody Bellinger’s slump has coincided with the team’s issues scoring runs. He has slugged just .308 over a recent 10-game span in which the Cubs went 2-8. A weekend series sweep by fellow NL wild-card contender Arizona really hurt, too, as the Cubs lost all three games while pitching their top two starters and the Diamondbacks were missing both Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly. Marcus Stroman has returned from a rib cartilage injury and will pitch out of the bullpen. With Michael Fulmer and closer Adbert Alzolay on the IL, Stroman could get some meaningful innings down the stretch. — Rogers

Record: 79-74

Previous ranking: 16

A weekend demolition of the Braves kept the Marlins in the thick of the wild-card race. They scored 36 runs in the three-game sweep as Jazz Chisholm became the first Marlins player with grand slams in consecutive games and Luis Arraez ripped out eight hits, including three home runs. With an off-day on Thursday and another one on Monday, the Marlins will also be able to bypass a couple of starts from the bottom of the rotation, and a concluding six-game road trip against the Mets and Pirates isn’t the toughest of final weeks. Miami has a good shot at its first full-season playoff berth since 2003. — Schoenfield

Record: 79-75

Previous ranking: 14

The Reds are hanging around the playoff race and could make a push in the final week, considering their final eight games come against teams below .500. However, they haven’t had a late-season defining stretch just yet. After getting swept by the Cardinals recently, they won their next two series and took Game 1 against the Twins on Monday before losing on Tuesday and Wednesday. It’s been that kind of back-and-forth for them for quite some time. The team’s waiver claims haven’t exactly panned out, either, as Harrison Bader is on the IL and Hunter Renfroe was DFA’d this week. Bader hit .161 over 14 games for the Reds, who will have to rely on their young players to reach the postseason. The return of Matt McLain from an oblique injury will help. — Rogers

Record: 76-76

Previous ranking: 18

Spoilers is not a role that you’d traditionally associate with the Yankees, but that’s where they’re at. New York’s homestretch includes a number of games against teams engaged in close battles to get into the postseason — Arizona and AL East rival Toronto. When you tack on the Yankees’ quest to avoid their first losing record since 1992, New York’s remaining schedule will have a little drama around it. The quest for .500 is likely to come down to the final weekend when the Bombers finish their season with a three-game series against the triple-digit-losing Royals. It’s not likely to conjure old memories of George Brett against Goose Gossage but, hey, you never know. — Doolittle

Record: 76-76

Previous ranking: 15

The Giants lost for the 11th time this month on Tuesday night, but the biggest blow occurred in the third inning, when Alex Cobb exited with discomfort in his hip. The next day, he was placed on the IL, essentially ending his season. The regular season, at least. Cobb has put up a 3.87 ERA in 151 1/3 innings this year, joining Logan Webb as the only reliable, consistent starters in the Giants’ staff. On the night he went down, the Giants dropped to three games out of the final wild-card spot with three teams in front of them. Their path just got a lot more difficult. — Gonzalez

Record: 75-78

Previous ranking: 17

With Triston Casas joining Jarren Duran on the IL, and Boston searching for its next roster architect, it’s hard to look at the current Red Sox group with an eye toward the future. One player who will be there going forward is Masataka Yoshida, who’s wrapping up his first MLB campaign. He has mostly been as advertised, which is a tepid observation. He has hit for a decent average but displayed limited patience and only occasional power. It’s an overall above-average hitting profile. The problem is that Yoshida can’t run and that limits his value in the field and on the bases. The bottom line: He’s at just 1.0 bWAR as the season winds down. — Doolittle

Record: 75-78

Previous ranking: 19

With a 10-1 rout over the lowly A’s on Sunday, the Padres became the last team in the majors to win a fourth consecutive game. They proceeded to win their next three, running their winning streak to seven games and counting, which begs the question: Where was this earlier? Recent surge aside, the Padres find themselves 4 1/2 games out of a playoff spot with four teams to jump and only nine games remaining in their season. They could make this really, really interesting if they win out, but in all likelihood this will end up as one final tease before the conclusion of a thoroughly disappointing season. Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove have been shut down, Manny Machado has been relegated to DH duties because of a balky elbow, and the Padres, helped by a soft schedule at the end, are probably too late. — Gonzalez

Record: 72-81

Previous ranking: 20

Cleveland outfielders have combined for 18 home runs — more than 20 fewer than any other team — after hitting 28 last season (which wasn’t the lowest in the majors; Tigers outfielders hit 23). The last outfield with fewer than 20 home runs: the 1992 White Sox, featuring Tim Raines and Lance Johnson, who hit 19. The 1989 Astros hit 18, and the last team with fewer than 18 was the 1976 White Sox with 17. This blurb has been brought to you by Cleveland Public Power. — Schoenfield

Record: 71-81

Previous ranking: 22

One Tiger who wishes the season wasn’t going to end for Detroit in a couple of weeks is second-year slugger Spencer Torkelson — the former top overall pick is building the most sustained momentum of his young career. Since the All-Star break, Torkelson has hit .237/.319/.509 with 17 homers in 62 games. The pace has picked up even more in September, during which he’s at .265/.320/.544. Since the trade deadline, Torkelson’s OPS ranks in the top 30 of the majors. Going forward, one split you’d like to see ironed out in Torkelson’s profile is his awkward home/road disparity. So far as a big leaguer, Torkelson has a .790 road OPS but just .604 at Comerica Park where, you know, he plays half his games. — Doolittle

Record: 71-81

Previous ranking: 23

For all New York’s disappointing results this season, Kodai Senga has been one of the few Mets who has matched expectations — if not exceeded them. With a 2.95 ERA and 191 strikeouts in 155 1/3 innings, he’ll get some down-ballot Cy Young votes. Coming over from Japan, where pitchers normally start once per week, he was handled carefully by the Mets, as he has made just three starts on four days of rest. The ghost forkball has been as advertised and rates as one of the best wipeout pitches in MLB, as batters have hit .112 against it with no home runs and 104 strikeouts in 177 PAs that end with that pitch (through Tuesday). — Schoenfield

Record: 69-83

Previous ranking: 21

On Friday afternoon, Anthony Rendon revealed he has been dealing with a tibia fracture, a diagnosis — from a fifth doctor of his own choosing — that ran in contrast with the Angels’ description of a deep bone bruise over these past two months. Later that night, media returned to the clubhouse to find that Shohei Ohtani’s locker had been cleared out, the product, we learned the following day, of him shutting it down as a hitter and shifting his focus to elbow surgery. Mike Trout, meanwhile, is running out of time in his hopes of returning from the hamate fracture he suffered in early July.

The Angels are a mess of epic proportions, as illustrated by the state of their best players. Ohtani is heading toward free agency, Trout has struggled mightily to stay healthy these past three years, and Rendon’s contract, with $114 million remaining over the next three years, feels untenable. The Angels, meanwhile, have secured their eighth consecutive losing season, the longest streak in franchise history. — Gonzalez

Record: 71-81

Previous ranking: 24

The Pirates have not mailed it in down the stretch. After beating the Nationals three straight times last week, they played the Yankees tough in a series loss, getting outscored only 15-10 over the three games. They’ve pitched well over that timeframe, compiling an ERA just under 4.00 for the week ending on Tuesday. Once again, it was righty Mitch Keller leading the way. He tossed eight shutout innings in a 2-0 win against the Nats. It came after a blowup against the vaunted Braves offense. Take that game away and, much like the whole year, Keller has been fantastic in the final weeks of the season. He’s the unquestioned ace of the team moving forward. — Rogers

Record: 67-85

Previous ranking: 25

Adam Wainwright’s 200th win was a thing of beauty. He made it through seven innings on Monday while giving up four hits and two walks in a tight affair with the Brewers. Nursing a 1-0 lead most of the way, his curveball showed its old life, especially in the later innings when it looked like the veteran would not be denied. In the process, he surpassed 100 innings on the season over 21 starts. The 41-year-old is retiring after compiling a 7.40 ERA in 2023, but he’ll have his last outing in St. Louis as a lasting memory: a 1-0 win to secure No. 200. — Rogers

Record: 68-85

Previous ranking: 26

Jackson Rutledge, the 6-foot-8 right-hander who was the team’s first-round pick in 2019, had an up-and-down career in the minors with injuries and inconsistent results. After posting a 3.71 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A, the Nationals are giving him a look down the stretch. His MLB debut was rough as he allowed 10 hits and seven runs in 3 2/3 innings, but he bounced back against the White Sox, allowing two runs (both home runs) in 6 1/3 innings. His fastball has averaged 95 mph, but he’ll need to improve the changeup to give him another off-speed weapon. Batters are 8-for-16 against it with two home runs. He’s probably more of a deep rotation option for next season. — Schoenfield

Record: 58-95

Previous ranking: 27

Surprisingly, Mike Clevinger has been the team’s second most valuable — and consistent — player after Luis Robert Jr. His latest start was his best as he pitched a complete game against the Nationals on Monday, coming within one out of a shutout. It was the White Sox’s first complete game of the season and Clevinger’s third of his career. His 3.42 ERA over 22 starts would rank seventh in the AL if not for an early-season injury that prevents him from qualifying. He and the team have a mutual option for next season, but Clevinger isn’t likely to exercise his end of it. In a miserable season in Chicago, he has been very good. — Rogers

Record: 56-96

Previous ranking: 28

The Rockies are barreling toward their first 100-loss season in franchise history, but there has been one very clear bright spot lately — Nolan Jones, the rookie outfielder acquired in a swap of young position players with the Guardians last November, has slashed .286/.374/.524 in 96 games since his call-up in late May, hitting 17 home runs and stealing 17 bases. He’s the first rookie in franchise history to accumulate at least 15 homers and 15 steals in the same season, and he has a shot at 20/20 despite spending most of the first two months in the minor leagues. Two Mondays ago, he also recorded the fastest outfield assist of 2023. — Gonzalez

Record: 51-102

Previous ranking: 29

With Salvador Perez suffering a concussion and Freddy Fermin fracturing his finger, the Royals have two of the unlikeliest major leaguers of 2023 in catchers Logan Porter and Tyler Cropley. Porter, a former clubhouse attendant for the Royals’ rookie league team in Arizona, was signed out of Utah Tech in 2018 — with the idea that he would be a bullpen catcher. The Royals told him he might never get in a game — but he did. He hit .301 in the minors in 2022 and .232 this year in Triple-A before getting called up and hitting his first home run on Sept. 16. Cropley, meanwhile, began 2023 in Double-A … as the bullpen catcher. He was called up Sept. 9, but he didn’t get in a game and was designated for assignment two days later. Those injuries to Perez and Fermin gave Cropley another chance, and he started on Tuesday and went 1-for-3 with a sac fly. — Schoenfield

Record: 46-106

Previous ranking: 30

The A’s lost for the sixth straight time and for the 105th time this season on Tuesday night, but a stray dog also wandered into the visiting dugout and made friends with Mariners shortstop Crawford. That was sweet. It was a rose sprouting from concrete, a reminder that beauty can manifest itself anywhere, even within a sewage dump. One just has to actively seek it out. So, remember — there’s beauty somewhere in this miserable A’s season. If you figure out where it is, please let us know. We could all use some positivity. — Gonzalez

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