With All-Star week festivities in the rearview mirror, the second half of the 2023 season is off to a bang. MLB had a night of offense to remember on Tuesday, with 12 teams scoring double-digit runs — a level of offensive production not seen in 129 years.
Despite putting up 13 runs, the major league-leading Braves lost their third of four games since the All-Star break — before losing a fourth straight game Wednesday — in a 16-13 defeat by the Diamondbacks. Meanwhile, the Orioles are coming off a series loss to the Dodgers and now face the Rays in a battle of the top two American League teams — one with major AL East implications, too, as a Tampa Bay loss and Baltimore win on Wednesday left the pair tied atop the division entering the four-game matchup.
Who will come out ahead as the division leader — and as the best team in the greater league? Where do all the other teams stand entering the second half of the season?
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.
Second-half preview | Week 14 | Preseason rankings
Previous ranking: 1
Matt Olson had 77 RBIs through 93 games (through Tuesday), putting him on pace for 134. The franchise record is Hugh Duffy’s 145, set way back in 1894 — which is hardly an apples-to-apples comparison as the National League averaged 7.39 runs per game that season (and the Boston Beaneaters, as the Braves were then known, averaged more than nine runs per game). The modern record belongs to Eddie Mathews, who drove in 135 runs in 1953 for the Milwaukee Braves. The “Atlanta” record belongs to Gary Sheffield, who drove in 132 in 2003.
Minor cause for concern: Bryce Elder has allowed seven runs in back-to-back starts, getting knocked out in the fourth and third innings. He has a 5.44 ERA over his past eight starts. Max Fried is getting closer in his rehab and will throw 60 pitches in his next outing. — Schoenfield
Previous ranking: 2
The Rays’ slow slide accelerated over the last week when, after a second-straight loss to the Rangers on Tuesday, Tampa Bay was on pace to win fewer than 100 games for the first time all season. With a losing record in the 10-, 20- and 30-game windows, this can’t be dismissed as a mere slump — there are some trends in play as well.
Let’s take the 30-game window, in which Tampa Bay has gone 12-18, as an example. Part of it has been bad luck. The Rays “should” have won 16 games based on their run differential during that time. That they didn’t is in part a result of going 2-7 in one-run games. The bullpen has been excellent; only one other team has a better bullpen ERA during that time frame. The culprit is the injury-battered rotation. During those 30 games, Rays starters had a 5.07 ERA, ranking 25th in the majors. Well, Shane McClanahan is back from the injured list but, of course, Drew Rasmussen and Jeffrey Springs are down for the season. The moral of all this: The Rays should be laser focused on bolstering the rotation from now through the trade deadline. — Doolittle
Previous ranking: 3
Bruce Bochy can make room on his mantle for manager of the year as the Rangers might end up with the best record in the American League and a No.1 seed in the postseason. There’s a long way to go, but their post-All-Star break performance has been stellar. A series sweep of the Guardians followed by a series win over the Rays has Texas positioned to potentially take over the top spot in the league.
The wins over Tampa Bay, in particular, were about as good as it gets. Both came via late-inning, run-scoring rallies including a walk-off on Monday. But the story of the Rangers is their pitching staff minus Jacob deGrom. Nathan Eovaldi garners most of the headlines, but Dane Dunning is having a breakout season. He held the Rays to five hits and two runs over seven innings on Monday, reducing his ERA to 2.82. It’s hard to imagine the average baseball fan would know Dunning ranks in the top five in the league in that category. — Rogers
Previous ranking: 7
The Orioles owned a share of first place in the AL East for just one day — after their season-opening win back on March 30. Since then, they, along with the rest of the division, have been chasing Tampa Bay. Despite the Rays’ historically fast start, the Orioles’ biggest deficit has been just 6½ games, but they fairly recently hit that nadir — back at the beginning of July.
Baltimore’s slow crawl towards the lead since then became a sprint this week. The O’s actually passed the Rays in the loss column, though a disparity in games played still kept the Rays in first. Baltimore has been as many as 22 games over .500. While its contention last season at this time was uncertain, there is no ambiguity this time around. Whether you look at 30-game or 50-game rolling averages, this version of the O’s has been a consistent winner from the outset. The next couple of weeks leading up to the trade deadline will be awfully interesting. This is what Baltimore’s most loyal fans have been waiting for. — Doolittle
Previous ranking: 6
Julio Urias offered up a very encouraging sign to begin the second half, tossing six scoreless innings in a road start against the Mets on Friday night. But he followed that up by allowing four first-inning runs to the Orioles on Wednesday afternoon, an outing that didn’t see him record his first swing-and-miss until his 51st pitch. Urias’ up-and-down season continues. The Dodgers are undoubtedly in the market for starting pitching before the trade deadline — they have to be, given that Dustin May is out for the year, Clayton Kershaw is on the IL and Walker Buehler is coming back from Tommy John surgery — but the supply there is expected to be exceedingly limited. They probably won’t get very far if Urias doesn’t start performing like an ace again. — Gonzalez
Previous ranking: 4
The Astros have played under .500 against winning clubs this season, but they’ve been middle of the pack by that measure. They’ve only done that well because their pitching staff ranks in the top 10 in ERA against winning teams. The story has been very different for the hitters. Through Tuesday, Houston’s .792 OPS against losing teams is the sixth-best total in the majors, but against winners, the .691 OPS ranks 23rd. The disparity (101 points of OPS) is the third-largest in the majors, behind the Angels (133 points) and Pirates (123). The Astros have appeared in more than twice as many playoff games as any other AL club since 2015, so they know this better than anyone: That’s not going to play in October. — Doolittle
Previous ranking: 9
Toronto’s recent surge makes it the AL’s hottest club right now. Because that spree has coincided with the Rays’ downturn, suddenly Toronto looks poised to join Baltimore and Tampa Bay in a three-team scrum for the AL East crown. With the deadline approaching, count the Jays as one of the teams that ought to be mining for rotation help. Kevin Gausman, Jose Berrios, Chris Bassitt and Yusei Kikuchi have all been solid or better, and all are trending in the right direction. But after a five-walk/zero-strikeout performance by Alek Manoah in his last start, Toronto has reached the point where it can’t bank on him reverting to his 2022 Cy Young-like form. You don’t abandon Manoah of course, who remains a key aspect of the Blue Jays’ future, but some more depth in this spot would be a good idea. — Doolittle
Previous ranking: 11
Camilo Doval came out of the bullpen to record a save on Tuesday afternoon — then came out of the bullpen to do it again only a few hours later, becoming the first pitcher this season to record two saves on the same day (even though the first of those games was a makeup from Monday). It gave Doval a major league-leading 30 saves for the season and ran the Giants’ winning streak to seven games, keeping them in contention with the Dodgers and Diamondbacks for the top spot in the NL West. The emergence of their bullpen — which has the majors’ third-lowest ERA, fifth-lowest WHIP and fifth-highest strikeout-to-walk ratio since the start of June — has been a big reason why. — Gonzalez
Previous ranking: 12
The Phillies won four of their first five games coming out of the break, including taking three of four from the Padres. Bryce Harper ended his long home run drought (166 plate appearances) on Saturday, and Taijuan Walker won his seventh consecutive start — he’s 7-0 with a 1.84 ERA and .187 batting average allowed in that span. Harper continues to get pregame work at first base, although his debut at the position continues to get pushed back — maybe we’ll see him there this weekend. On the bad news front, top prospect Andrew Painter will now undergo Tommy John surgery after initially trying a conservative rehab program. The timing means he’ll likely miss all of next season, too, after not pitching in 2023. — Schoenfield
Previous ranking: 5
The D-backs lost eight of their first 11 games this month, a stretch that saw them slash just .210/.297/.326. Then they broke out for 16 runs in a wild back-and-forth game against Atlanta on Tuesday, getting multiple hits from five members of their lineup. The D-backs’ offense has proven to be good enough and deep enough to not be held in check for very long. But they’ll still need pitching before this year’s trade deadline if they hope to keep pace with the Dodgers and Giants in the NL West, both for the middle of their rotation and the back end of their bullpen. And they have the young players to get practically whatever they want. — Gonzalez
Previous ranking: 17
The Red Sox are well into an extended soft stretch in their schedule, one that has been at least partially responsible for their rise to within a game or two of the AL’s last playoff slot. (Which, in 2023, is also within a game or two of last place in the division.) The schedule from here on out is more rugged, especially the upcoming stretch against the Mets, Braves and Giants that takes them almost to the trade deadline. So, where does that leave lead exec Chaim Bloom in terms of his deadline approach?
Lately, Bloom’s comments to the media have been noncommittal — win between now and the end of July and Boston might look for pitching help, but lose and suddenly that approach would flip. At the very least, the Red Sox remain in position to make something of a season that hasn’t seen them higher than fourth place since early May. They’re a middle-of-the-road team, but that doesn’t mean they’re without opportunity. — Doolittle
Previous ranking: 14
Milwaukee flexed its muscles in two series wins over Cincinnati, both before and after the All-Star break. The sweep this past weekend was especially impressive as it included two shutouts — and the Brewers also shut out the Reds right before the break, too. All season, oddsmakers have pointed to the Brewers as the overwhelming favorite to win the NL Central, and they’re proving why right now. They have the best pitching staff and the best manager in the division. That might simply be enough to take home the title. — Rogers
Previous ranking: 10
With five straight losses coming out of the All-Star break to at least temporarily drop out of a wild-card position, there will be increased pressure on the Marlins to do something at the trade deadline. The bullpen lost four of those games, so adding some relief help may now be GM Kim Ng’s No. 1 priority. Will they be willing to add much payroll? As good as the Marlins had played heading into the All-Star break, the schedule really picks up starting July 31. Check out this slate of series: vs. Phillies, at Rangers, at Reds, vs. Yankees, vs. Astros, at Dodgers, at Padres. — Schoenfield
Previous ranking: 8
As a franchise, the Yankees own many of baseball’s single-season and aggregate team records. So would it be fitting if the Bombers emerged as the best last-place team in history? Well, if we’re going by won-lost records, that would be the case if the season ended now, as there has never been an above-.500 cellar dweller.
According to my latest simulations, the Yankees have about a 48% chance of finishing last despite an average win total of 84.4. This, along with the possibility of an AL Central champ with a losing record, is the seedy underbelly of the new everybody-plays-everybody scheduling formula that everybody seems to love. Unless MLB makes some tweaks, we probably should get used to this sort of thing. Anyway, suffice to say, if a last-place winning season is the ultimate fate of this year’s Yanks, it’s going to be zero solace for fans in the Bronx. — Doolittle
Previous ranking: 13
The Reds are losing when they score and when they don’t, as their skid hit a low point during a doubleheader loss to the Giants this week. But it was the post-All-Star break sweep by Milwaukee that really hurt — the Reds scored just three runs in three games, which included two shutouts. Perhaps their young roster wasn’t prepared coming out of the break or maybe they’re just regressing to the mean as many predicted. Cincinnati won’t mortgage its future at the deadline, but a pitching addition should help give it that year-ahead-of schedule chance at overtaking the Brewers. View it as a longer shot than just 10 days ago. — Rogers
Previous ranking: 15
The Twins have swept three-game series against bottom-feeding Oakland and Kansas City this month, while mostly struggling in the games they’ve played against better clubs. This has been a season-long trend. While it’s only natural that a club would do better against bad teams than good teams, the scale of the Twins’ disparity seems unusual.
Through Tuesday, Minnesota was 26-16 against sub-.500 teams but just 23-31 against everyone else. The hitters have seen virtually no disparity in performance based on quality of opponent. It’s been the pitchers: Minnesota has a 3.21 ERA against losing teams and 4.19 against everyone else. That doesn’t bode well for the playoffs, but of course the Twins have to get there first. With traits like this, it might make the quality of the remaining schedule more relevant for Minnesota than other teams. If that’s the case, it’s good news for Twins fans. Based on the remaining average quality of their opponents, only the White Sox and Cubs have an easier slate than the Twins. — Doolittle
Previous ranking: 18
The Mariners needed to get on a hot streak with 10 games at home coming out of the All-Star break, but that didn’t happen. They lost two of three to the Tigers and then lost 10-3 to the Twins on Tuesday, a game in which they scored three runs in the first inning despite getting two runners thrown out at home plate. If the Mariners can’t beat the Tigers and Twins at home, they can forget about making a run for the playoffs. As far as the trade deadline goes, the Mariners are straddling the line. No, they’re not going to trade Logan Gilbert or George Kirby as part of a Shohei Ohtani trade, and they may not add much at all. This is a clear case of improvement needing to come from within and a minor trade or two is hardly a solution. — Schoenfield
Previous ranking: 19
The Padres’ maddening inconsistency has already been on display in the early part of this second half. It began with them breezing past the Phillies on Friday. Then they lost three games in a span of two days, all of which they led at one point. Then they showed up in Toronto on Tuesday night and routed the Blue Jays on the strength of four home runs. The Padres haven’t had a winning record since May 10. Every time they creep close, they slip further back, only to get close again. Small shake-ups have already occurred, with Nelson Cruz and, more recently, Rougned Odor getting designated for assignment. If the Padres don’t show some consistency soon, much bigger changes might be afoot. — Gonzalez
Previous ranking: 16
The entire baseball world seems to be fantasizing about Ohtani on any number of other teams, but the Angels, at least for now, still seem focused on making their case to keep him. They began the week having lost 11 of 13 games, a precipitous fall that prompted the Ohtani talk in the first place. But then they swept a three-game series against the scuffling Yankees, and now they’re thinking about getting several of their injured players — Brandon Drury and Anthony Rendon in the near future, perhaps Mike Trout and Logan O’Hoppe not long thereafter — back into the lineup. They have the Pirates and Tigers next. If they take advantage of that soft spot in their schedule — before a brutal stretch of games against contenders — Ohtani might stay. If not, well … — Gonzalez
Previous ranking: 20
The front office has made it clear that in no way will they mortgage the future for some win-now trades, so don’t expect Cleveland to be too active at the deadline. It’s just not the way the Guardians operate, even if the AL Central remains up for grabs. The problem is Shane Bieber, Triston McKenzie and Cal Quantrill — their three best starters from last season — are all now on the IL. Indeed, given McKenzie has made just two starts and Quantrill is 2-6 with a 6.45 ERA, Cleveland is fortunate to be right there with the Twins.
Cool moment in Friday’s loss to the Rangers: Bo Naylor hit a two-run home run in the third inning and four batters later, his older brother, Josh Naylor, also hit a two-run homer. They became the fourth set of brothers to homer in the same inning for the same team, joining Justin and B.J. Upton (twice for the Braves in 2013), Cal and Billy Ripken (for the Orioles in 1990 and 1996) and Henry and Tommie Aaron (Braves, 1962). — Schoenfield
Previous ranking: 21
Amidst the disappointing season, a bright spot has been rookie catcher Francisco Alvarez, who homered twice on Tuesday to run his season line to .242/.303/.534 with 19 home runs (seven in July). That already places him second on the all-time list for most home runs by a 21-year-old catcher. We knew about the power potential, but the surprise has been his defense. He ranks in the 79th percentile in Statcast’s pitch framing metric, and he’s allowed just four passed balls. It’s an impressive package for such a young catcher — with areas to improve on (swing-and-miss rate, throwing accuracy). — Schoenfield
Previous ranking: 22
A critical, post-All-Star part of Chicago’s schedule didn’t start out well as it lost three of its first four games — all at home. While there’s still time ahead of the trade deadline — every game up to it, save their last one, is against sub-.500 teams — the Cubs are running down to the wire. If they do get to .500 (or better), it might put a pause on trading Marcus Stroman and Cody Bellinger. It would help if lefty Drew Smyly found his game again. His first nine starts produced a 2.50 ERA, but his last 10 have a 6.50 ERA attached to them. Inconsistency has been the name of the game for the Cubs this year — though they remain the only NL Central team with a positive run differential. — Rogers
Previous ranking: 23
There’s some life in St. Louis, as it finally got out of the cellar in the NL Central on Tuesday — but that could say more about the Pirates than the Cardinals. Jordan Montgomery is going to be a highly sought-after trade chip, with him peaking at the right time. He tossed another six good innings in a win over the Marlins this week, which helped produce a sparkling 1.17 ERA over his last five outings. He and Jack Flaherty are likely headed out of town. In fact, it would be a surprise if they weren’t on the move by Aug.1. — Rogers
Previous ranking: 26
After I asked everyone last week to imagine a world in which Detroit looks to add at the deadline, the Tigers went out and continued to hold their own. They remain in that five-to-six games behind zone that hardly clarifies their ongoing status. In fact, a wild 11-10 loss to the Royals on Tuesday left them 5-5 over their last 10, 10-10 over their last 20 and 15-15 over their last 30. Is that contention? In a division with a .500-ish leader … maybe? The good news is that the Tigers’ management does not seem anxious to punt on the season. President of baseball operations Scott Harris told the media last week that a hot streak could encourage the team to take a positive approach to the deadline. So … dream on. — Doolittle
Previous ranking: 24
The free fall that started about a month ago has continued after the break. Pittsburgh got swept by the Giants and then was hammered by the light-hitting Guardians who scored 21 runs in the first two games of the series. All-Star Mitch Keller looked anything but on Tuesday when he gave up eight runs on 10 hits, including two home runs. Quinn Priester’s MLB debut the night before was only slightly better as he allowed seven runs on seven hits — also including two home runs. The 2019 first-round pick joined a rotation that now ranks 22nd in ERA after being in the top half of the league the first couple months of the season. Things have changed dramatically in Pittsburgh since then. — Rogers
Previous ranking: 25
The two-year nightmare that has been the current version of the White Sox is coming to an end. Since the 2021 All-Star break, Chicago has been a mediocre club despite making the playoffs that season. Lucas Giolito and possibly Lance Lynn will be traded by the Aug. 1 trade deadline, but the biggest question revolves around shortstop Tim Anderson. A change of scenery is in order, though with a team option for next year, it’s unclear when that move might happen. He’s been better lately, but he’s having a terrible overall year at the plate — it’s been over a calendar year since his last home run — and in the field. Would someone take a chance and play him at second base? It’s possible, but he needs a hot finish to the month. — Rogers
Previous ranking: 27
“We’re open for business,” GM Mike Rizzo announced during a press conference prior to Tuesday’s 17-3 loss to the Cubs. “We have a plan in place, we have a blueprint in place for this rebuild. We’re always open-minded and we’ll always be aggressive. That’s not to say we’re going to move everybody.”
Well, of course not: There are a limited number of Nationals players who will draw interest. Jeimer Candelario is the most obvious since he’s on an expiring deal. Teams will also ask about Lane Thomas, who has two more years of team control.
“I see Lane Thomas as having an All-Star first half of the season,” Rizzo said. “He’s got tools, he’s young and he’s a terrific player. If another team views him only as a part-time or bench player, we won’t have a deal. But if somebody views him as the way I view him and the way our staff views him, then we’d have a conversation.” — Schoenfield
Previous ranking: 28
The Rockies’ miserable season experienced a rare highlight over the weekend: a series win over the star-studded Yankees to begin the second half. It was sealed by none other than Chase Anderson, who entered his Sunday start with a 6.89 ERA but held the Aaron Judge-less Yankees scoreless through the first five innings. Later, Anderson said, “I want to be the starter that can stabilize the rotation.” Somebody has to. — Gonzalez
Previous ranking: 29
Let’s see … let’s give a Jordan Lyles update. He looked like he would improve to 2-11 after tossing six scoreless innings on Monday against the Tigers and leaving with a 2-0 lead. Except these are the Royals and the bullpen blew the lead, so Lyles got a no-decision. That leaves him with one victory in 18 starts. What kind of history is in the making here?
Seven pitchers have made at least 20 starts while winning exactly one game (not including Ryne Stanek, who made 27 starts as an opener for the Rays in 2019). Jordan Zimmermann started 23 games for the Tigers in 2019 and went 1-13. Homer Bailey made 20 starts for the Reds in 2018 and went 1-14. So this isn’t unprecedented territory for Lyles. The all-time “record” here: Jack Nabors went 1-20 for the 1916 Philadelphia A’s, making 30 starts. Oh, wait … I’ve just been informed that Zack Greinke is 1-9 in 18 starts. Enjoy the final two months, Royals fans! — Schoenfield
Previous ranking: 30
In the middle of what will go down as quite possibly the most depressing season in franchise history, the A’s received an encouraging sign for their future. It came on Tuesday, in the midst of a 3-0 win over the Red Sox, when Luis Medina, their electric 24-year-old right-hander, allowed only four baserunners and zero runs in 5⅔ innings. Medina entered that start with a 6.34 ERA. The A’s had implored him to take more command of his off-speed pitches to balance out his upper-90s fastball, and Medina did just that, incorporating all five of his pitches in what was by far his best major league outing yet. — Gonzalez