The season is half over. The weather is hot. The All-Star game approaches. It’s time to fret.
The usual caveat: 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 as of July 4, 2017.)
Panic Level 0: Life Is Good
We’ll start, as always, at the top, where the Astros and Dodgers reign comfortably as the kings of the Junior and Senior Circuits, respectively. Houston has some pitching issues and the Dodgers still cycle through injured players like they’re in a 10-team roto league, but both teams are sitting pretty.
Three division leaders come next. The Nats have a comfy lead in the NL East, the Red Sox are on a tear, and the Brewers are somehow still ahead of the Cubs. The Nats’ bullpen, David Price’s personality, and the Brewers’ rotation might give all three of these teams’ respective fan bases some pause, but overall they have to be happy. The Diamondbacks have the third-best record in the league, but unfortunately for them they share a division with the Dodgers. They’re an arm or two away from looking like a dangerous October team, though.
As for the Braves and Royals? Well, this ranking is relative to expectations, remember? The Braves were among the favorites to finish with the worst record in baseball. Instead they’re flirting with .500 and just got Freddie Freeman back. That’s a win. As for the Royals? I left them for dead in the last Panic Index, and they’ve come roaring back to life. They might only be a few games better than .500, but given how poorly they started, that’s quite impressive. Eat a bag of cold ones, PECOTA.
Panic Level 1: Comfortably Numb
They’re all just as bad as we thought they’d be. The White Sox and A’s are probably about to get blown up. The Padres will probably sell some relievers, per uje. The Reds don’t really have anyone to trade, though they do have two of the same player in Scott Schebler/Adam Duvall. Check back next season.
Panic Level 2: Only Mild Discomfort
On the one hand, if we told Yankees fans before the season that their team would be only four games out on July 5, they’d probably be pleased. On the other hand, the Yankees have lost a lot of ground to the Red Sox very quickly, and their very real problems in the rotation are getting laid bare for the world to see. Plus, now Dellin Betances is kinda broken, too. It will be fun to see if they try to upgrade at the deadline to go for it in 2017, or if they stick to a slightly longer rebuilding timeline. The Rays … the Rays continue to barely live up to the expectations they never truly had.
This might be a little bit harsh for the Indians—they are in first place and six games over .500, after all—but they were supposed to run away with the AL Central, not let the Royals and Twins hang around. They still have the most talent of any team in the division on paper, but the later in the season it gets, the less that can be used as a counterbalance against their actual performance. The Twins are in the same position as the Yankees—their overall 2017 performance has dramatically exceeded expectations, but they’re not trending in the right direction. You could make an argument for them at Panic Level 0 thanks to the Braves argument, though.
CNN thinks the Rockies had a rough second half of June. After looking like one of the league’s dominant teams in the season’s first two months, Colorado went 0-8 from June 21-29, losing ground to the Dodgers and D-Backs in that time. They still look like a contender, but by giving up 76 runs in that stretch they proved their pitching still has some question marks. As for the Angels, well, they’re below .500, but they’ve kept their head above water while Mike Trout was on the mend. He’s started rehabbing, which means the Angels could still have a puncher’s chance when he returns. All in all, that’s not so shabby.
Panic Level 3: Hello Darkness My Old Friend
The first four teams here all had legitimate reasons to believe they’d be contenders this season. They’re not officially dead yet, but they’re getting close. The Cardinals lack impact talent, the Orioles set a record for pitching futility, the Mariners are starring in their own Final Destination installment, and the Rangers have a Northeast Division II school bullpen. Odds are one of these teams will find a way to claw their way up to Panic Level 2 by August, while the other three might fall even further.
As for the Marlins and the Pirates, well, it’s been evident for a while now that they’re not going anywhere this season. Miami has a rotation to match Texas’ bullpen and the Pirates are somehow still the most disappointing Pirates-related show in town this summer. The time to panic has come and gone for these bottom-10 squads.
Panic Level 4: This Is Fine Dog
Oh yeah, this is the good stuff. The Mets have done well to remain even remotely relevant, but their injuries and Washington’s dominance are likely going to prove too much to overcome. Detroit has star power but a shallower roster than the cast of Mean Girls. The Blue Jays flirted with .500 for a few weeks, but .500 stopped responding to their texts and unfriended them on Facebook, too. Expect the Tigers to sell in the coming weeks. Expect the Mets and Blue Jays to remain frustratingly stagnant.
The Giants are a tire fire, but let’s give them credit for being consistently bad from the start and not stringing their fans along. As for the Phillies … we discussed this last time. Philadelphia’s “worst team in the league” years were supposed to have come and gone. Instead, they’re the only squad that’s yet to break the 30-win mark. Perhaps the Nick Williams call-up will usher in a younger, more fun squad in the second half, but for now, they’re just terrible.
Panic Level 4B: This Is Fine Goat
Chicago Cubs (41-42)
You asked for it, Cubs fans. You got it. After the last installment of the Panic Index, I heard from Cubs fans about how panic was in full swing when their team was 25-26. But the Cubs had so much talent and the Brewers were so narrowly ahead in the NL Central that I stuck to my guns and kept them at Panic Level 2.
Not so this time. Not so. The Cubs are still a .500 team at the halfway point, and while there’s still time for them to overtake Milwaukee, that outcome isn’t a given. Maybe it’s a playoff hangover. Maybe it’s because the Cubs rest their players. Maybe, just maybe, it’s because Cubs’ starters have a 4.52 ERA. Regardless of what you think is causing the Cubs’ slide, the time to start worrying is now.*
*I still think the Cubs will be fine.