The time for unwarranted optimism has come and gone. Now it’s time to take a good, hard look at yourself, even if you might not like what you see.
As always, these rankings are completely subjective. You can disagree with me, of course, but you will be wrong. All records are as of June 5, 2018.
Panic Level 0: Life Is Good!
So far so good for two of the AL’s top three teams. The Yankees have only played, like, a third of their regularly scheduled games, but that hasn’t stopped them from bashing their foes into oblivion. If they’re able to overcome their greatest nemesis—ESPN—they should be here all season. The Astros got off to a slow start by their new standards (read: world-beating), but they’re just about where we all thought they’d be when the season began. It’s scary to realize that they still have the minor-league pieces to land a good player at the deadline, too.
This is a very fun duo. The Brewers have been rewarded for making splashy moves in an otherwise stagnant offseason. They could still use some starting pitching help, but their bullpen is phenomenal and they’re loaded with hitting talent. People seem to think the Cubs are going to catch up to them, but I’m not so sure. As for the Braves, well, the Nationals in the mirror are closer than they may appear, but they’ve got to be thrilled with the outcome so far. If they choose to trade some of their prospects to make a push, things in the NL East could stay very interesting.
Panic Level 1: Cautiously Optimistic
Boston Red Sox (42-19)
Is this the ranking of an overly cautious Red Sox fan? Perhaps. But there are some cracks in the armor here, despite an MLB-best win total. Dustin Pedroia lasted less than a week in his return from offseason knee surgery before heading back to the disabled list. AL MVP co-frontrunner Mookie Betts’ timetable to return is still unclear. Chris Sale hasn’t been great over his past few starts, and Drew Pomeranz has been bad all year. There are lots of positives too, of course, but until this team gets a little healthier (and until we know for sure that Hanley Ramirez isn’t gonna sign with the Yankees), I can’t pretend there’s zero sense of panic. Yes, I understand if you hate me for this.
Is this the ranking of an overly cautious … person who’s familiar with how the universe treats the Mariners? Perhaps. Despite the tear they’ve been on lately, they figure to miss Robinson Cano. And despite his solid last start, King Felix appears to be going the way of Henry IV. Still, the Mariners are fairly healthy right now (for the Mariners, at least), and with a solid deadline acquisition or two, they could be serious contenders.
As for the Angels, they’ve squandered a hot start to a certain degree, as the Astros and Mariners have caught up. Still, they’ve got enough talent to hang around with even marginally better luck on the injury front. Also, how panicked can you be when you have Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani? They’re just too fun.
These five NL contenders are living different lives, but find themselves in similar situations. The Nationals have rebounded nicely after a rough start, as many thought they would, and are in striking distance of the division lead. The Diamondbacks have cratered hard after a hot start, as many thought they would, and are in danger of losing their division lead. Ditto the Phillies, just minus the “division lead” part.
The Cubs and Cardinals … have been consistently good but not great, and the former just lost Alex Reyes for another season. All of these teams could play in October, but at least two (and possibly three) are likely to miss out.
Panic Level 1.5: Saved By Circumstance
If you couldn’t guess, this new Panic Level is all about teams who really aren’t playing very well, but who are still in the thick of things thanks to circumstances largely outside of their control. The Indians are the AL’s most disappointing team, as their once-dominant bullpen is now among the league’s worst. That being said, they’re in the first place in the worst division in baseball. Indians fans shouldn’t be panicking too much, because if they get into the playoffs, Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, and Carlos Carrasco can make magic happen. Still, it hasn’t been an inspiring start.
The Twins are in the same boat, but their boat is leaking. Miguel Sano is hurt. Byron Buxton is hurt and bad. The pitching is just so-so. They’re only a few games out because the AL Central is so horrific, but they might not be one of the 15 best teams in baseball. This is a generous ranking.
Oh looks, it’s the majority of the NL West. We know this division was likely to have parity, but this is getting a little crazy. The Rockies and Dodgers are trending in opposite directions, but both teams have a ton of question marks. It’s tough to envision L.A. surviving the loss of Clayton Kershaw on top of Corey Seager and all of their other maladies. It’s tough to see the Rockies advancing considering Jon Gray has turned into a pumpkin. And it’s tough to see the Giants doing very much of anything at all.
But someone has to win this division, and the Diamondbacks are hardly invincible. It might simply come down to who’s willing to push the most chips in at the deadline.
Panic Level 2: Already Dead Inside
Yes, the Tigers and Padres are dead inside. But they’re comparatively less dead inside than the rest of the bad teams in baseball! In fact, there’s an argument for Detroit in particular to rank in “Cautiously Optimistic.” But with Michael Fulmer ailing and few breakouts from offensive players (Jeimer Candelario aside), this record is a bit deceptive. They still have a ways to go before they’re genuinely interesting again. As for the Padres, well, it feels like they’ve been about 28-35 at this point in the season every year for the past decade. They are in baseball purgatory.
Nothing needs to be said about this quartet. They’ll all likely be picking in the top five of the 2019 draft. Woof.
Panic Level 3: Winter Is Coming
Pittsburgh Pirates (30-30)
If you’re a Pirates fan, you likely feel as though this is a bit unfair. If you’re not, you understand what being .500 at this point in the season means when the Brewers, Cubs, and Cardinals all share your division. The Bucs might not be dead yet, but it’s not going to get better—especially since they may have broken Felipe Vazquez.
And here we have the AL’s also-rans. Not many outside of Oakland, Tampa, or Texas expected these teams to compete this season. Still, the rosters weren’t so destitute that their fans needed to dread 2018. We’re pretty much there now, though. Oakland’s record is as average as their talent would indicate. The Blake Snell breakout aside, the Rays are better known for their failing pitching experiment than any of their actual players. The Rangers have no pitching (pinned tweet) and have faced more than their fair share of injuries. It might be time for a reload, if not a complete rebuild, in Texas.
As for the Jays, well, they’ve got to be awfully disappointed. Aaron Sanchez and Marcus Stroman have taken big steps backward. Roberto Osuna might not pitch again this year. Josh Donaldson is perma-hurt. They’ve got some elite young talent in the minors, but it’s likely to get a little worse before it gets a lot better up North.
Panic Level 4: This Is Fine Dog
For a moment, imagine combining these two teams. Think of all the talent! Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, Steven Matz, Dylan Bundy, and Kevin Gausman in the rotation. Zach Britton, Jeurys Familia, A.J. Ramos, and Brad Brach in the bullpen. Manny Machado, Jonathan Schoop, Amed Rosario, and Jay Bruce in the infield. Adam Jones, Yoenis Cespedes, and Michael Conforto in the outfield. It’d be a glorious, star-studded team. A team that should win 90-plus games.
But it would win, like, 72, because both of these franchises are utterly cursed at present. Dunking on the Mets was played out, but it’s come out the other side funny again, like an inside joke that everyone is in on. The Orioles are crumbling so fast it’s a wonder Scott Pruitt isn’t the GM. It’s ugly times for both of these fan bases right now, and I’m not sure which is worse off. The Orioles need to start a total rebuild, and that’s likely to be painful. But Mets fans have to watch the Mets, and that’s mighty painful as well.
Hold tight, guys and gals. A future of “Already Dead Inside” is well within sight.
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