We’re in the home stretch now, friends. You’re one of: comfortable, panicking, or in denial.
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? Well, we’ll know for sure who’s right and who’s wrong by this time next month.
All records and stats are through 9/3/2017.
Panic Level 0: Life Is Good
“But the Dodgers are having a very rough patch,” you protest. “Maybe they should be in the 'Mild Discomfort' tier!” Look, the Dodgers are the only team with 90-plus wins. They’re getting healthier, Corey Seager aside. They still very much look like the top team in baseball, and falling off of your 110-win pace isn’t real cause to panic. We can talk again if Seager ends up missing the rest of the season, but for now, the Dodgers are still sitting pretty. As for the D-Backs, well, never losing has its advantages. Compare where they are now to how people viewed them heading into the season and where they were a month ago, and life looks pretty good.
Here we have three first-place teams that look primed to cruise into the postseason without breaking much of a sweat. The Astros are getting healthier and just made a major addition to their rotation in Justin Verlander (more on that later). The Indians are finally playing like we thought they would, and have pulled away from the pack in a fairly weak AL Central. As for the Nationals, well, health is proving to be an issue, but they should be able to rest some of their frailer players down the stretch. The Bryce Harper news isn’t great, but pretty much everything else is. Including their bullpen, which feels bizarre to type.
Panic Level 1: Comfortably Numb
These teams stink, but they were supposed to stink and there’s nothing particularly memorable about their stinking. They’ll finish with win totals between 65 and 75. They’ll pick in the top 10, but not at the very top of, the draft. History will forget them. So should you.
These teams stink, but their stench is likely to linger for a while. The White Sox were planning to have 2017 be the low point of their rebuild, at least, but that hasn’t made them any more fun to watch. The Giants are arguably the most disappointing team of the season. Most people thought they’d at least compete for a Wild Card spot; instead they’re competing for the top pick. The Phillies were supposed to be on the upswing. Instead they look worse than ever. Maybe these teams and the fans of these teams are numb, but they’re numb in the same way your jaw is after Novocaine, not in some pleasant, ethereal sense.
Panic Level 2: Only Mild Discomfort
The Red Sox and Cubs are in good shape, but they just can’t quite put their divisions away. Boston had a chance to put the Yankees away for good with a series win or at least make life very difficult for New York with a sweep, but instead they lost three of four. Couple that setback with the struggles of Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and others, and there’s reason to be concerned, albeit not as much reason as you’d think if you turn on talk radio north of Providence. As for the Cubs, they’re still oozing with talent, but they’re still fairly inconsistent, too. There’s reason to be concerned, albeit not as much reason as you’d think if you hop on Twitter.
If you told the Yankees and Brewers they’d be in their respective positions before the season began, they would’ve been thrilled. Neither should be favored to overtake their division leaders, but [looks at news literally any day over the past 18 months] stranger things have happened.
Frankly, it will be tough to root against whichever one of these teams makes it as the second AL Wild Card team. The Twins’ own front office quasi gave up on them near the deadline, but they’ve found a way to win down a starter and a closer. The Orioles, of course, fixed all of their problems by trading for Jeremy Hellickson, as one does. And the Angels weathered the loss of Mike Trout and have now traded for Justin Upton to play Robin. It should be fun to watch these three down the stretch.
Panic Level 2.5: The Pain Is Getting Worse
Welp. Once upon a time, the Rockies were neck-and-neck with the Diamondbacks for surprise team of the year. Unfortunately, they’ve played at a roughly .500 level for two months now, and it’s caught up to them. They still lead for the second Wild Card spot as of me writing this, but the Brewers, Cardinals, and even the Marlins are on their heels.
As for the Mariners and Cardinals, well, they keep clinging to life as they swap Mike Leake. It’s not looking great for either squad, but they both have juuuuust enough talent to avoid the darkness for now. But seeing as the M's are used the darkness and the Cardinals draw their power from it, they’ll probably be in this next level come October …
Panic Level 3: Hello Darkness My Old Friend
Welcome to baseball purgatory. Flirting with .500 will be viewed as a disappointment by these teams and their fans, but heading into the season, it’s about what most of us expected. Despite some savvy deadline deals, the Rays and Royals haven’t been able to sustain their midseason resurgences. The Rangers have just been mehh (industry term) all season long. And while the Marlins have been better lately, it’s too little, too late. Plus, because of Giancarlo Stanton, we have to listen to the whole Home Run Record debate again, so I guess we’re all losers.
The Pirates had the easiest schedule outside of a nursing home for much of August, but they couldn’t capitalize. The Blue Jays were never good/healthy enough to recover from their rough April. Both of these teams could be back in the running next season, but they need some work. For now, goodnight, sweet princes.
Panic Level 4: This Is Fine Dog
You know the TV trope where some character says “well, at least it can’t get any worse” and then the bad guys show up or it starts raining? That’s the Mets. They always find a way for it to get worse. Maybe it’s Michael Conforto separating his shoulder while swinging. Maybe it’s Wilmer Flores breaking his nose. Maybe it’s the Mets deciding to pitch Matt Harvey on short rest. It’s always something with this group, and while they should be contenders in 2018, 2017 has become a comedy of errors, injuries, and more injuries.
As for the Tigers, they’re here because it’s not just their 2017 season that’s over, but really their identity from the early 2010s in the wake of the Verlander and Upton trades. Detroit is just now entering the early stages of a rebuild that, given the weakness of their farm system and the relative lack of young talent on its roster, might take a while to complete. It’s true they never made it to the mountaintop, but the teams led by Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Max Scherzer, Ian Kinsler, and others were quite entertaining for the better part of a decade. Their watch has ended, but we should give them thanks.