How much can a team or fan base really panic in May, June, or July?
Sure, we can call certain teams disappointing. And yes, in the case of season-ending injuries, we can make some bolder claims. But the baseball season is so long and there always seems to be so much time left, that it’s difficult to feel a real sense of urgency unless you’re 10 games back, all your best players are hurt, or both. But that’s not the case anymore. August is here, the trade deadline has come and gone, and we now know for sure that some teams should feel very comfortable, some should be awfully uneasy, and some are now altogether irrelevant.
So while this list is, as always, completely subjective, there are really fewer teams for us to disagree about. A reminder: this 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 through 7/31/2017.
Panic Level 0: Life Is Good
The Dodgers, Nationals, and Astros are, pretty much without question, the three best teams in baseball. The Dodgers looked at their potentially record-challenging pace and decided they needed another elite starter, so they added Yu Darvish. The Nationals looked up the definition of insanity and so they decided to trade for a bullpen. The Astros, well, uh, Francisco Liriano has been good before. All three of these teams will coast into October, and all figure to be dangerous when October arrives … assuming they're healthy.
The Yankees were supposed to be rebuilding. The Royals were supposed to implode. New York had such a good trade deadline season that even Yankees fans couldn’t complain about it, adding Sonny Gray, two good bullpen arms, and Todd Frazier. The Royals’ acquisitions were more modest, but so too were their expectations just 6-8 weeks ago. Both fan bases should be very, very happy right now.
Panic Level 0.5: Life Is … Mostly Good
Both teams are in first place, which is pretty sweet, but both were supposed to be better than this. The Indians went on a big-time hot streak in July and clearly have the most talent in their division, but they did nothing of note at the deadline, with apologies to Joe Smith. The Cubs have been even hotter and made splashier moves, adding Justin Wilson and Alex Avila a few weeks after nabbing Jose Quintana. Odds are both of these squads are October-bound, even if the ride hasn’t been as comfortable as they would’ve hoped.
No one expected any of these teams to be very good. None of these teams are leading their division. But all are still playing well above expectations and were moderate buyers at the deadline. Odds are at least two of these three squads will make the playoffs, and while whoever misses out will have had a disappointing second half, they all get “A” marks for the season’s first four months. That’s very different from an “A’s” mark, mind you.
Panic Level 1: Comfortably Numb
The Reds and White Sox have been here forever, their fans’ expectations muted long ago. As for the Giants and Phillies, they’ve generally occupied the lower rungs of this ranking, but at this point they’ve accepted fate. San Francisco is arguably the most disappointing team in baseball, but at least their stars are getting healthier and they don’t need a long-term rebuild. The Phillies should’ve been more competitive this season, but really, this hasn’t set their rebuild back. They stink, but they don’t necessarily need to stink long term (though the Phillies might).
Panic Level 2: Only Mild Discomfort
Let’s be honest, the actual panic level in Boston right now is “getting mad about Golden State Warriors jokes,” but this is where the Red Sox’s panic level should be. They’ve blown a decent lead in their division thanks to a team-wide offensive cold spell, but they made solid additions in Eduardo Nunez and Addison Reed (didn’t think I’d type that sentence a few years ago) and have hit a bit as of very recently. The Rays continue to hang around and made a nice series of under-the-radar acquisitions at the deadline. They will haunt the Red Sox and Yankees right until the very end, per usual.
Man, these teams are thisclose to being dead, but there’s still a fighting chance for both given their talent and the not insurmountable ground they must make up in the AL Wild Card and NL Central races, respectively. You could easily argue the Ms and Cards should be in the next tier, but given that both fan bases should’ve accepted it’s not gonna happen for either of these squads a while ago, their relatively proximity to competing should be a bit of a silver lining.
Then again, you try explaining the concept of a silver lining to a Mariners fan.
Panic Level 3: Hello Darkness My Old Friend
Remember when the Angels were nearly .500 despite losing Mike Trout for six weeks? When the Blue Jays clawed their way back toward respectability after an abysmal April? When the Pirates were poised to make noise thanks to the easiest schedule this side of Baby Whisperer? Womp womp. These teams are another lost series or two away from having the proverbial fork proverbially stuck in them. The Marlins are just … the Marlins. It’s always dark.
Oakland Athletics (47-59)
Another season, another young star traded away for baseball’s version of Sisyphus. Maybe rebuilding yet again is necessary for Oakland, but that doesn’t make it any less painful.
Panic Level 4: This Is Fine Dog
Two would-be contenders entering the year have stayed jusssssssssst close enough to the periphery of contention that their fans could hope for a late-season comeback. Those hopes are gone now. The Mets traded away Addison Reed and Lucas Duda, and are looking to move more pieces in August. The Tigers gave away J.D. Martinez and their first competent closer in … ever … and can’t keep pace even in an uninspiring AL Central. Better luck next year.
What’s sadder, trading for Jeremy Hellickson or trading for Jaime Garcia, then immediately trading him away? O’s fans have had to deal with a slow, sinking feeling all season long as their team has been completely derailed by its rotation. The Twins, meanwhile, enjoyed a shorter time as a July contender than Anthony Scaramucci (#topical). Most people saw this regression from Minnesota as inevitable, but that doesn’t make it any more pleasant for Twins fans to watch. Going from “cautious buyer” to “cautious seller” in like five days is a bitter pill to swallow. At least the Twins are still well-positioned for the future. As for the Orioles, well, they have more in common with the …
Texas Rangers (50-55)
We’ve watched Texas’ contention window close slowly for a bit now. The Rangers tried to pry it open last season with the Jonathan Lucroy trade and moves for relievers, but it’s been slammed shut with the trade of Yu Darvish. The Rangers have a long, long way to go before they build a reasonable MLB rotation or bullpen, and while they do have some exciting young assets like Nomar Mazara and Joey Gallo, they don’t look ready to hang with the Astros anytime soon.
At least we got to see Adrian Beltre get to 3,000.