It’s been a busy four weeks.
In our inaugural Panic Index a month ago, we were just starting to get a sense of the landscape for the 2017 season. Surprising contenders like the Rockies and Diamondbacks were emerging. Blossoming disappointments like the Mets and Blue Jays were surprising fans and pundits alike. And the Astros were starting to look like world-beaters.
Still, how much could a team really panic after just four weeks? It’s not so hard to dig yourself out of a bad April, and while it can feel like the world is ending when you drop five out of six in the season’s first month, it’s worth remembering just how long a 162-game season is.
That being said, we’ve ~*literally*~ doubled our sample for the June Panic Index, and while there’s still a long way to go, for lots of these teams it’s getting pretty real.
As always, this list isn’t a pure power ranking. Rather, it’s an attempt to group teams based on their records, their health, the expectations we had for them (and they had for themselves) coming into the season, and the general mental state of their fan bases.
Is it subjective? Yes. Meaningful? No. Has that ever stopped me before? No, and it never will.
And if you really hate where I’ve placed a team? Odds are it will change in a month, so there’s no reason to panic.
(All records and stats are as of May 31, 2017)
PANIC LEVEL 0: LIFE IS GOOD
We’ll start at the top with the best team in baseball and the rest of the AL’s division leaders. Life couldn’t be much better for the Astros. They’re on a seven-game winning streak, they’re knocking the crap out of the ball, and they’ve got a massive lead in their division. Their rotation could be healthier, sure, but “Process” t-shirts aside, would you trade places with an Astros fan right now?
The Yankees have continued their run as the AL’s most surprising team, but the Twins have started to fall back down to earth a little (thanks mostly to the Astros). Fortunately for them, the Indians are the only other player in the AL Central that seems interested in fighting for the pennant. Odds are this is the last time we’ll see Minnesota up here, but for now they should enjoy it.
Are the Dodgers the most underrated good team in baseball? We’ve paid so much attention to the next pair of squads on this list that we’ve overlooked the boys in blue, who’ve quietly cruised into first place once again. Yes, half of their team is always on the disabled list at any given time, but that’s why they value depth. They’ll be fighting in October once more. The Nationals have slowed down a little bit, but still appear to be one of the more formidable teams in the league, errant helmet-tosses aside. The Brewers are somehow in first place despite barely being above .500. One would imagine their lack of pitching will catch up to them, but so far, so good.
The Yankees might be the most surprising team in the AL, but the Rox and D-Backs are the most surprising teams in baseball. The former has relied on anonymous rookie starters to great effect, while the latter is benefiting from star-level production by many of its biggest stars and a deep offensive supporting cast. YCPB, ya know?
PANIC LEVEL 1: COMFORTABLY NUMB
The White Sox and Reds aren’t great, but neither has been quite as bad as many assumed heading into the season. The White Sox are seeing good performances from most potential trade candidates not named Jose Quintana, while the Reds are holding serve despite a tire fire of a rotation and giving a bunch of at-bats to role-45 guys. Rebuilds aren’t fun, but Sox and Reds fans should be pleased with the ways theirs are progressing.
Ok, maybe you can predict ball sometimes. We knew they’d be bad. They knew they’d be bad. They’re bad. You can’t truly panic when your expectations are this low.
PANIC LEVEL 2: ONLY MILD DISCOMFORT
The AL East is just a little bit competitive this year, and while these three teams are grouped together here, they’re headed in different directions. The Red Sox are clearly a team on the rise. Their offense is clicking, they got David Price back, and they’ve played much better defense. All that being said, they lost Dustin Pedroia for a bit and it’s Boston, so how non-panicky does it really get? The Orioles are trending the other way. They had the roughest May of anyone not associated with the Trump Administration. The Rays aren’t trending one way or another. They look like and have played like a .500 team, so while their panic level might increase as other teams in the division pull away, they’ve held serve so far.
The Indians will be fine. They could easily slot in Life Is Good, but expectations were so high for them heading into the season that they get docked a bit. As for the Cubs, well, they were one of the toughest teams to place on this entire list. On the one hand, most assumed they’d run away with their division and maybe even flirt with 100 wins. By those standards, 2017 has been a major letdown. But they’re also still very much in the thick of things, trail a team they’re better than on paper (the Brewers) and are well positioned to improve even if they stand pat. It might feel like the Cubs should be lower, but really, everything is fine. Like, actually fine, not This Is Fine Dog fine. [Update: Holy crap they got swept by the Padres. Maybe it's not fine …]
Speaking of tough teams to place on this list, look who’s back from the dead! Both the Rangers and Jays have pulled Jon Snows of sorts, though they’re really just getting off the table. If they’d been consistently mediocre as their records suggest, they’d probably slot in the tier below. But given just how bad things looked a month ago, this placement feels right.
PANIC LEVEL 3: HELLO DARKNESS MY OLD FRIEND
These three are still on the periphery of contention, but it’s not looking great. The Tigers keep propping their contention window open with all sorts of riffraff, but that window really wants to shut. The Cardinals probably have the most upside here, but they’ve got some glaring holes in their roster. The Pirates, well, another three Pirates probably hit the DL as I typed this. And now it gets really dark …
Philadelphia Phillies (17-33)
Kathy Griffin thinks the Phillies are a weird mix of offensive and irrelevant. It might seem like I’m picking on them here—after all, other bad teams were listed under Comfortably Numb—but this was supposed to be the year the Phillies started to exit their rebuild, not the year they’d reach “worst team in the league” status. Key youngsters like Vincent Velasquez, Maikel Franco, and Odubel Herrera have been massive disappointments. Manager Pete Mackanin is publicly shaming his players in the media. It’s getting ugly.
PANIC LEVEL 3B: HELLO DARKNESS MY OLD FRIEND HAS A TORN UCL
Los Angeles Angels (27-28)
In the first edition of The Panic Index, I placed in the Angels in the "Only Mild Discomfort" tier and heard it from some of their fans in the comments. The Angels had a good record despite a pitching staff that was decimated by injuries, and in most circles the Angels weren't really expected to compete in 2017 anyway. The Angels should've been listed in the first section, the argument went, and I won't lie, it was a pretty good one.
Those fans won't be happy with this placement either, but there's only one way to feel after you lose the best player on the planet for two months. Already below .500, the Angels will now be without the services of Mike Trout at least through the All-Star break. He's likely to be replaced by a combination of Eric Young Jr. and Ben Revere. That wasn't even easy to type, let alone watch.
The Angels could survive the losses of Huston Street, Andrew Bailey and Cam Bedrosian thanks to some nifty bullpen acquisitions. They've kept their heads above water despite losing Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs, too. But losing Trout is a bridge too far.
The King Is (temporarily) Dead. We should all despair.
PANIC LEVEL 4: THIS IS FINE DOG
Madison Bumgarner, Noah Syndergaard, Yoenis Cespedes, Felix Hernandez, Hunter Pence, Steven Matz, Hisashi Iwakuma, Mitch Haniger, Will Smith, Jeurys Familia, Drew Smyly, and David Wright walk into a bar. Well, Wright’s already been there, but …
The Royals and Marlins don’t quite fit with the other three teams covered here—both billed themselves as contenders but weren’t expected to do much—but are here because they lack a near-term future in addition to lacking much in the way of the present. The Royals are about to get blown up big time, and PECOTA will run around them screaming “ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!” As for the Marlins, well, it’s hard to know which direction they should go. They’ve got the core of a competitive roster and the supporting cast of a soon-to-be-canceled sitcom. Even Jeb Bush doesn’t want to try and fix them, which is incredible considering they’re in Florida. It’s not just likely to be a long 2017 for these two clubs. It’s gonna be a long few years.