Month No. 2 of the 2021 season is underway, and while it’s still a little early to draw long-lasting conclusions about anyone, it’s not so early that we can’t start acknowledging that some teams’ starts deserve to be looked at not as flukes, but as signs they may be on to something.
The Royals are a good place to start. They’re at the top of the AL Central (despite having a negative run differential), they’re off to their best 25-game start since 2015 and they are, for the most part, pitching well (Sunday’s 13-4 loss to the Twins notwithstanding).
If Kansas City wants to make a further statement in this division, the upcoming week provides a good litmus test. The Royals host the Indians and White Sox, the two teams immediately trailing them in the standings.
It’s also not too early to notice what the Brewers are doing as the leaders in the NL Central at 17-11, and the Giants at the top of the NL West, also at 17-11. Every team in the NL West but the Rockies have winning records and positive run differentials. Who wouldn’t love to see a four-team race?
Biggest jump: The Astros jumped nine spots, from No. 14 to No. 5. The Astros have won eight of 11 and have a 2.27 ERA over that stretch (25 ER/99 IP). Honorable mention goes to the first-place Giants, who jumped eight spots after coming in lower than they probably deserved last week. This time, they’re No. 8, up from No. 16.
Biggest drop: The A’s dropped nine spots, from No. 2 to No. 11. This seems a little drastic, no? This may be a result of a little course correction. Like many teams, the A’s weren’t as bad as they started, nor were they going to be able to keep pace with that 13-game winning streak that ended a little over a week ago. Reality is likely somewhere in between.
1. Dodgers (1 last week)
The Dodgers have had a rough past couple of weeks, but even with the injuries piling up and the losses coming in bunches, it wasn’t enough to deter our panel from sticking to the theory that overall, the Dodgers are still the best team in baseball (though this time it wasn’t a unanimous selection). The Dodgers did have a good day Sunday, piling up 16 runs while watching Julio Urías strike out 10 Brewers batters over seven innings. But prior to that, over that stretch, the Dodgers went 3-10 and slashed .185/.310/.308 while scoring 3.4 runs per game. And their injured list looks a little like a CVS receipt — it goes on for a while.
2. Red Sox (4)
Boston also didn’t have a great week, dropping three of four to the Rangers to conclude its road trip. The Sox may get a break this week, though: they host the struggling Tigers for a brief three-homestand before heading to Baltimore for a four-game set with the Orioles. Individually, J.D. Martinez appears to be back on track after a rough 2020. Martinez is slashing .347/.431/.713, whereas over a full truncated season in ’20, he slashed .213/.291/.389.
3. Padres (3)
Prior to their 7-1 loss to the Giants on Sunday, the Padres had won six of their previous eight games, and their starters had a 2.09 ERA over that stretch, allowing two runs or fewer in seven of those eight contests. They just completed an all-NL West stretch of nine games against the Dodgers, D-backs and Giants and finished 6-3.
4. White Sox (6)
A hot White Sox offense cooled on Sunday in a 5-0 loss to the Indians, ending a nine-game stretch in which Chicago outscored opponents 53 to 31. During those nine games, the club’s starting pitchers produced a 2.88 ERA (16 ER/50 IP). Run differential factors greatly into these rankings, and it should be noted the Sox are one of the best in that area — their +28 differential is behind only the Dodgers (+45) and the Astros (+32).
5. Astros (14)
Houston has had quite a stretch since dropping four of five on its road trip to Seattle and Colorado. In 11 games since, the Astros are 8-3 and there’s a trend there — in all three series, they’ve won all but the final game of each set. This week will be interesting — the Astros open a three-game series at Yankee Stadium, and they are slated to face their old teammate, Gerrit Cole, in the finale on Thursday.
The rest of the field of 30:
Voters: Alyson Footer, Anthony Castrovince, Jesse Sanchez, Mark Feinsand, Nathalie Alonso, Mike Petriello, Sarah Langs, Andrew Simon, David Venn