10. Chicago Cubs (5-4 record; +13 run differential)
Thanks to a strong start by their pitching staff, the Cubs have been able to withstand a roughly average lineup in their first nine games. In terms of ERA (2.56), the Cubs’ staff is the fourth-best in baseball. Their offense has had a few bright spots with Kris Bryant and Wilson Contreras. Addison Russell has been solid to start the season, and Ben Zobrist has turned back time for the ten or so days of the season. There have been little contributions elsewhere in the lineup, though. Losing Anthony Rizzo to 10-day DL despite his slow start doesn’t help matters.
9. New York Yankees (5-5 record; +11 run differential)
Giancarlo Stanton already has two games with 5+ strikeouts. It is only April. However, he has been treated quite unfairly by New York. But that is New York for you. The lineup has been relatively productive and it should remain that way all season long. The pitching staff hasn’t been quite as strong as the offense, but still a quality unit when everyone is healthy. The bullpen, on paper, is the best in baseball. Losing three out of four games to the Orioles stings, but shouldn’t be a long-term concern.
8. Toronto Blue Jays (7-4 record; +16 run differential)
A bum arm for Josh Donaldson or not, but the Blue Jays have jumped out to a decent start. This is a different sentiment than the one that was around one year ago. Justin Smoak and Yangervis Solarte have been key contributors. Steve Pearce is still around and still hitting home runs as he now has three on the season in only 23 plate appearances. Donaldson has been his usual self at the plate. Toronto’s Achilles heel may be the pitching staff, which has outperformed its FIP by slightly more than half a run.
7. Pittsburgh Pirates (7-2 record; +19 run differential)
If it wasn’t for the number five team on my list, the Pirates would’ve been the most surprising team this highly ranked. Gregory Polanco appears ready for his long-awaited breakout with a 216 wRC+ in 39 plate appearances. In all, the Pirates’ offense currently has eight hitters with a wRC+ higher than 100. Seven of the eight hitters have more than 30 plate appearances. The pitching staff led by Jameson Taillon has been solid. If Taillon can maintain his hot start, he may generate some support for higher accolades than NL Player of the Week.
6. Arizona Diamondbacks (8-2 record; +19 run differential)
Looking ahead, the Diamondbacks may be the Dodgers’ chief competition in the NL West if Los Angeles doesn’t turn it around like they did last year. This Arizona team has demonstrated they can hang with the Dodgers in head-to-head matchups. Regardless, the offense needs some help sooner than later. Paul Goldschmidt’s slow start and the injury to Steven Souza Jr. doesn’t help. But that is the silver lining: if both hitters can contribute later on, Arizona may have enough firepower. The pitching staff has been one of the best early on this season. It will be interesting to see how well the bullpen holds up all season.
5. New York Mets (8-1 record; +19 run differential)
Surprise! Yes, the Mets have jumped out to a great start. The pitching staff has posted a 2.25 ERA/3.18 FIP in 84 innings. Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard are arguably the most dynamic one-two punch in baseball. Mets’ pitchers in whole have performed quite well. Even the lineup has performed with a 112 wRC+ and eight home runs. The return of Michael Conforto bodes well for the lineup. If health and level heads prevail, this Mets squad will be fun to watch all season long. Yes, that is a long shot with the Mets, but I hope it happens.
4. Atlanta Braves (6-4 record; +27 run differential)
The Braves have been, well, a pleasant surprise. One of the top five offenses in baseball. One of the top ten pitching staff’s in baseball. This all equates to a team with a solid record and a ridiculous run differential. While not a singular case, it will be rather interesting to see how well this team holds up all season long. Honestly, the hype surrounding the Braves may be a year early. This team is only 6-4. But rebuilds can be finished earlier than expected. Look at the 2015 Astros.
3. Boston Red Sox (8-1 record; +16 run differential)
Out of all the teams in baseball, the Red Sox are arguably the hottest today. Winners of eight straight, Boston has experienced the splendid combination of quality pitching (2.69 ERA/2.85 FIP) and timely hitting (.323 wOBA). The postseason hope of Boston’s season likely lands on the arm of David Price and its young bats. If both can manage to uphold their end of the bargain, the Yankees may have tighter than expected competition in the Red Sox and Blue Jays atop the AL East.
2. Los Angeles Angels (8-3 record; +24 run differential)
This bears repeating: Ohtani has more home runs (3) than the Reds (2). The Angels have to be more than pleased with their offense (127 wRC+), which leads baseball in home runs with 18 entering Tuesday. Ohtani was just a matter of outs in the single numbers away from a perfect game in his second start. The pitching staff still needs healthy arms, regardless of Ohtani’s performance. Mike Trout and company may make it interesting for the Astros if they continue to win at this rate. Still way too early to declare anything definite, though.
1. Houston Astros (9-2 record; +24 run differential)
Honestly, this top ranking shouldn’t be of any surprise to people. The Astros pitching staff is the best in baseball with a 1.82 ERA/2.61 FIP. The starting rotation in particular has been nothing less than stellar with a 1.64 ERA/2.62 FIP. However, the offense hasn’t been the juggernaut we remembered during the 2017 season.
A 112 wRC+ is still above average, but the team is tied for eighth in this category. But it is still early in the season. Strikeouts have also been an issue. Yuli Gurriel rejoining the team soon should benefit the lineup in more ways than one.
**Statistics and information courtesy of ESPN and FanGraphs**