There's one thing you need to know before I get to the actual rankings:
I am NOT basing everything on the current regular season records. If I based it entirely on the current records then I could simply go to MLB.com and check the standings. There'd be little need for a post like this.
Thus, there's some projection involved in this rating system, and I'm taking X-factors into account (serious injuries, suspensions, general deterioration, etc.).
That said, here we go...
30-San Diego Padres: 13-21, 4th in the NL West
They sprinted out of the gate, but it was an obvious fluke. With the exception of Adrian Gonzalez, their offense is anemic. Excluding Jake Peavy, their starting rotation is unimpressive, and their bullpen is predominantly makeshift. Heath Bell is OK, but c'mon, this team stinks.
29-Pittsburgh Pirates: 14-19, last in the NL Central
Similarly to the Padres, the Pirates got off to a promising start. Again, it was smoke and mirrors. Nate McLouth is a legitimate player, but the rest of this team is erratic, and arguably quadrouple-A worthy. Light offensively, shaky in middle relief, but fairly decent with Paul Maholm, Ian Snell, and Zach Duke at the top of the rotation.
28-Arizona Diamondbacks: 13-22, last in the NL West
The Brandon Webb injury buried this team early. That put more pressure on Jon Garland and Max Scherzer, and neither have responded too well. Dan Haren continues to do his thing, but Arizona's hitters are noted for a lack of patience and plate discipline. They're extremely reliant upon the longball, and they don't produce them often enough.
27-Colorado Rockies: 13-19, 3rd in the NL West
This division is a disgrace, and has been for quite some time. The Rockies, D'Backs, and Padres only have wins because they beat up on each other. They can't beat real teams. Rocks severely miss Matt Holliday and his born-for-Coors Field-swing, and Aaron Cook (not surprisingly) won't be an all star again this season. They'll continue to be without Jeff Francis.
26-Oakland Athletics: 13-18, last in the AL West
Their starting pitching is way too young to generate positive returns this year, and they're not hitting the way they expected with Holliday, Jason Giambi, and Orlando Cabrera added to the mix. The Angels are beginning to roll, and Texas isn't half-bad. The struggle will likely persist for Billy Beane's boys.
25-Seattle Mariners: 16-18, 3rd in the AL West
A little better version of the Padres and Pirates. Got off to the fast start, and have quickly returned to earth. They have a better chance at sticking around because of "King" Felix Hernandez, Erik Bedard, and Jarrod Washburn, but their offense has been known to experience extended scoring droughts.
24-Washington Nationals: 11-21, last in the NL East
Here's what I mean about the records: the Nats have the worst record in baseball right now, but that doesn't mean they'll be the worst team in baseball when the '09 season comes to a close. In fact, I can almost guarantee that they won't be. These guys -- Ryan Zimmerman, Cristian Guzman, Nick Johnson, Elijah Dukes, and Jesus Flores -- can hit, and the young pitching duo of Jordan Zimmerman and Shairon Martis is emerging.
23-Baltimore Orioles: 14-20, last in the AL East
It's tough being the worst team in baseball's best division. The Orioles can mash, and boy, it's a good thing they can. If they couldn't hit, they'd probably never win a game in that division with Mark Hendrickson, Adam Eaton and the rest of the bums in their rotation. In regards to starting pitching, it was a terrible offseason for Baltimore's front office.
22-Houston Astros: 15-18, 5th in the NL Central
Something's missing on this team. I said the same thing about the New Orleans Hornets in the NBA playoffs, and they took it on the chin. That doesn't bode well for you Astro fans out there. Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee, Miguel Tejada, and Hunter Pence sounds great on paper, but it never seems to be enough in results. The same can be said of Roy Oswalt and Wandy Rodriguez in the rotation.
21-Cleveland Indians: 13-22, last in the AL Central
Cliff Lee's turning it around quickly (as I said he would), but the rest of their rotation worries me. Relief's been a problem too, which means this club's in Texas territory. All the bats in the world -- Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta, Grady Sizemore, Mark DeRosa, Asdrubal Cabrera, and even Choo Choo train -- but few arms to go with them. Always a shame.
20-Chicago White Sox: 15-18, 4th in the AL Central
Here was my preseason logic with this team: the White Sox have the premier bullpen in baseball, and their division has great parity, which normally translates into a high number of close games. Generally, the teams with the better bullpens perform better in tight affairs. The result? Positive for the ChiSox. Turning back to the present, their bullpen has been excellent, but their offense has struggled mightily in clutch situations. Can't hold ties forever; eventually the bats have to bust it open.
19-Kansas City Royals: 18-16, 2nd in the AL Central
All the talk's been about Zack Greinke, and he's deserving of the attention, but few discuss Kansas City's offensive woes. This team can't hit. Their first two batters in the order tonight were Coco Crisp and Willie Bloomquist. Seriously, do I have to say more? I probably don't, but I will: the injury bug has arrived (it bit Alex Gordon), and that certainly doesn't help their cause.
18-Florida Marlins: 17-17, tied for 3rd in the NL East
Here's another in the "hot start not indicative of their actual level" category. Florida has a load of young talent, but their starting pitching has been overrated from the get-go this season. Josh Johnson is legit, but Ricky Nolasco's velocity has disappeared, Chris Volstad is nothing but average, Anibal Sanchez is serving up beachballs, and the fifth spot's always a question mark. Their lineup has power, but similar to the D'Backs, they lack the necessary discipline to produce with consistency.
17-San Francisco Giants: 18-15, 2nd in the NL West
They're trying to do what the A's have done in the past, and what the Twins have done in recent years, which is build a small-market team around starting pitching. But are they really small market? Sometimes it's difficult to tell with this organization. Regardless, it's nice to have Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain at the top of the rotation, but I don't think they'll hit enough to truly contend for a playoff spot. That's asking an awful lot of Pablo Sandoval.
16-Minnesota Twins: 17-17, 3rd in the AL West
Speak of the small-market devil -- here they are. Gotta love the quintet of Kevin Slowey, Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano, Nick Blackburn, and Glen Perkins; nice righty/lefty balance and offspeed/power mix. Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer have proven that they can hit enough to carry a team to the playoffs, but can they take that next step? I don't think they will, despite Rod Gardenhire's managerial expertise.
15-Atlanta Braves: 17-17, tied for 3rd in the NL East
They haven't been able to keep Brian McCann and Chipper Jones on the field together, but it appears they'll have the opportunity to do so now. Garret Anderson is just beginning to recover from his early season injury issues, and Yunel Escobar and Omar Infante are swinging hot bats. Derek Lowe, Jair Jurrjens, Javier Vazquez, and Kenshin Kawakami is as good a 1-4 as there is in the National League. Note to the rest of the NL East: beware.
14-Detroit Tigers: 17-15, 1st in the AL Central
I think the lead in this division will be up for grabs throughout the season. Detroit's the team of the hour right now, but Minnesota and Chicago will be in the mix, and if Cleveland can get the back end of their rotation in order, they could also make a little noise. Even Kansas City could hang around, but there's an awful lot of pressure on their starting pitchers, namely Greinke, Gil Meche, and Brian Bannister. As for Detroit, they rely heavily upon Miguel Cabrera and Curtis Granderson. Not a bad offensive tandem.
13-Milwaukee Brewers: 20-14, tied for 1st in the NL Central
This team's been a lot better than I thought they'd be. Their starting pitching really worried me heading into the season, but Yovani Gallardo has responded to become the ace that this organization so desperately needed. With C.C. Sabathia and Ben Sheets out of the picture, Gallardo, Braden Looper, and Dave Bush need to continue performing to their best of their ability. If they underperform, they'll be too much pressure placed upon their streaky offense. However, that streaky offense does boast the likes of Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun, and J.J. Hardy (who is just beginning to come around).
12-Cincinnati Reds: 20-14, tied for 1st in the NL Central
Along with the San Francisco Giants and Texas Rangers, I had these Reds as one of my sleeper teams in my MLB Preseason Predictions. So far, so good. The Reds have only recently begun to click on offense, which makes their record all the more impressive. They've been finding ways to win, and Jay Bruce and Willy Taveras have been scorching of late. The starter foursome of Edinson Volquez, Johnny Cueto, Aaron Harang, and Bronson Arroyo is more than respectable, too.
11-Texas Rangers: 19-14, 1st in the AL West
They're killing the ball...are you surprised? Well, you shouldn't be; even with Josh Hamilton on the sidelines. What you should be surprised by, is their decent pitching. Historically, "decent" is pretty damn awesome for this club. Vicente Padilla and Kevin Millwood are respectable veterans, and Matt Harrison and Brandon McCarthy provide some usable youth. The bullpen has performed better than expectations.
10-New York Yankees: 16-17, 3rd in the AL East
I have very little respect for this organization right now. From top to bottom, the beginning of this season has been a disaster; and yet, the impressive talent level remains. If this team ever stays healthy (big if) and ever plays up to its potential (it's hard with Joe Girardi in charge) then its one of the top two or three teams in the game. But I'm not playing the "what if?" game right now, so 10's as high as I go with these bums. Ten is probably a little too generous, now that I think about it.
9-Tampa Bay Rays: 16-19, 4th in the AL East
The offense is still prolific, the starting pitching is still in the upper echelon, but the bullpen has returned to earth. The front office showed that it wasn't overconfident in its relief core (signing Joe Nelson, Brian Shouse, and Jason Isringhausen), but the activity hasn't translated into success. This bullpen is shaky, and B.J. Upton is as cold as the Rockies in the winter right now. Nonetheless, the talent's there for them to turn things around, and quickly.
8-Los Angeles Angels: 17-15, 2nd in the AL West
They'll climb as the season progresses, but they're still a little beat up right now. No John Lackey, no Ervin Santana, and no Kelvim Escobar. All three should return relatively soon (especially the first two), giving the Angels a starting rotation from the heavens. Brian Fuentes and Jose Arredondo are concerns of mine in relief, but Mike Scioscia just keeps on winning with this organization.
7-St. Louis Cardinals: 20-14, tied for 1st in the NL Central
They have the best manager in baseball (Tony LaRussa), and the best player in baseball (Albert Pujols)...that's enough for the top ten right there. In addition to the Big Two, the Cards get the maximum effort and return from their role players (Skip Schumaker, Joe Thurston, Brian Barden, and Chris Duncan), and Yadier Molina has become an all-around threat at the catcher position. Be on the lookout for Chris Carpenter's return, and eventually the same can be said of outfielder Ryan Ludwick.
6-Philadelphia Phillies: 16-15, 2nd in the NL East
As the defending World Series champions, I've given them the benefit of the doubt. Philly's starting pitching is bordering on atrocious, but it's difficult to argue with their bats: Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Jayson Werth, and Shane Victorino. Even Pedro Feliz is stroking this year. They'll need to add a front-line starter if they want to return to the postseason, though. Maybe a Cliff Lee or Roy Oswalt at the trade deadline. Definitely a hurler of that caliber.
5-New York Mets: 18-15, 1st in the NL East
Talent wise, the Mets are probably one of the top two or three teams in the game. Few can match the offensive core of Carlos Beltran, David Wright, Jose Reyes, and Carlos Delgado, and Johan Santana is the world's elite pitcher. Francisco Rodriguez is arguably the premier closer in baseball, and J.J. Putz, Bobby Parnell, Pedro Feliciano, and Brian Stokes aren't too shabby in the bullpen, either. Though they should probably be in the top three, I'm punishing them for their back-to-back September collapses. It's hard to have faith in this group.
4-Chicago Cubs: 19-14, 4th in the NL Central
The Cubbies are becoming the National League version of the Angels: finding their way into the playoffs seemingly every year. But what do they do when they get there? Crumble, like the Mets do at the end of the regular season. This Chicago team has commendable top-to-bottom balance, and they should be able to have an impact in the postseason this time around. Lou Piniella isn't the manager he once was, but it's tough to screw up again with a team this talented.
3-Los Angeles Dodgers: 23-12, 1st in the NL West
They could probably qualify for the No. 2 spot overall, but their projections aren't great without Manny Ramirez and Hiroki Kuroda. I think they'll continue to be the class of the NL West throughout Manny's absence, but when it comes to that division, that's not much of a compliment. Regardless, this club has the best winning percentage in all of baseball right now, so they have to (at least) be in the top three. I like their mix of young (Chad Billingsley, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier) and old (Randy Wolf, Rafael Furcal, and Orlando Hudson).
2-Toronto Blue Jays: 23-13, 1st in the AL East
All right, I'm not exactly sure how they're doing it without Dustin McGowan, Shaun Marcum, Jesse Litsch, and Ricky Romero. But, they are. Can't deny that fact, nor the fact that Roy Halladay is unhittable. Scott Downs and Jason Frasor have been studs in relief, and this team is hitting as well as any other in the game. I think they'll continue to hit because I've always liked Aaron Hill and Lyle Overbay, and the Adam Lind/Travis Snider duo has added youth to a lineup featuring veterans like Vernon Wells and Scott Rolen.
1-Boston Red Sox: 21-13, 2nd in the AL East
To me, this one's a no-brainer. When they suffer through a slew of injuries, they barely seem to miss a beat. That's the mark of an outstanding franchise, one with depth at both the major and minor league level. The lineup is potent with Kevin Youkilis (recently injured), Dustin Pedroia, Jason Bay, Mike Lowell, and J.D. Drew, and they have the arms in Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka (soon returning), and Jonathan Papelbon. If you get a chance, check out this kid Daniel Bard that they just promoted: 100 MPH, and with very little effort. And this guy was in AAA up to this point in the season...that speaks volume about the Red Sox's system.
Please feel free to comment and discuss below.
(The Red Sox are the new Yankees. How did they make the transition? "JFro," aka John Frascella, is the author of "Theo-logy: How a Boy Wonder Led the Red Sox to the Promised Land."
It's the first full-length book centered on Boston Red Sox's popular
general manager Theo Epstein. Preview or purchase it online at Amazon.com, Barnes
and Noble or Borders. It's currently stocked in Barnes and Noble stores
throughout the U.S. Also, check out John on Twitter.)