You gotta know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em, know when to walk away.
As always, these rankings are completely subjective. You can disagree with me, of course, but you will be wrong. All records are as of August 6, 2018.
Panic Level 0: Life Is Good
It’s pretty tough to unequivocally announce a lack of panic in New England, but the Red Sox have made it so. Anyone who’s trying to instill fear of a collapse or warning against “peaking too early” is simply fear-mongering and click-baiting; the Sox are for real and they’re spectacular. Yes, the offense needs to start clicking again. Yes, the infield needs to get healthy. Yes, they could use one more reliever. They’re also a serious threat to post the best record ever. Red Sox fans don’t get to complain (I know, I know, but we can pretend).
As for the Astros, well, you can understand if their fans are feeling a little green right now. Half their team is on the disabled list, and the A’s are suddenly only a few games back in the standings. That being said, every star (other than maybe Lance McCullers) should be back for the stretch run, or at the very least for the playoffs. Houston is still incredibly dangerous on paper, and in a normal year they’d be in the running for best record in the game once again.
In some ways, the Tribe don’t really belong in this grouping; they haven’t played well enough to deserve it. But their division is absolutely atrocious, they don’t have to worry at all about making the playoffs, and they added enough talent at the deadline to put a scare into Sox and Astros fans. Plenty of fan bases would trade places with them right now.
It’s a bit more complicated in the NL, where every division race is still wide open. The Cubs and Brewers remain deadlocked, and figure to be so until the final days of the season. With their suspect rotations, questionable defensive positionings, and loads of offensive talent, they’re evenly matched. Both squads also caught a break with the Cardinals deciding to semi-sell at the deadline instead of buying.
In the NL West, the Diamondbacks continue to delay what feels like the inevitable; the Dodgers overtaking them for the division lead. The smart money is still on that happening, but Arizona quietly got substantially better at the deadline, albeit in a different way than the Dodgers did. It feels like both of these teams deserve to be in the playoffs, but with seven NL squads between 60 and 70 wins right now, that’s not a given. Plus, the Rockies are doing what the actual Rockies do; looming menacingly in the distance without a good bullpen.
Finally, we have the NL East, where both the upstart Phillies and upstart Braves made modest but meaningful upgrades to their 2018 squads without mortgaging their very promising futures. The Phillies might have made the better push for this year in acquiring Asdrubal Cabrera and Wilson Ramos, while Atlanta took a slightly long-term approach by netting Adam Duvall and the remains of Kevin Gausman. Neither team will be a favorite if they make it to October, but both fan bases have to be thrilled with how their 2018 campaigns have gone.
Panic Level 1: Cautiously Optimistic
One of these teams isn’t going to make the playoffs. Isn’t that crazy? Despite their devastating sweep at the hands of the Red Sox, the Yankees remain very dangerous. Once they’re healthier with Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez back, they’ll be a force to be reckoned with, though their rotation isn’t very intimidating.
The A’s … well, the A’s never lose anymore, somehow. They made some savvy deadline additions, and while it feels like their luck should run out, it’s also fair to say they’ve been underrated in this column all season long. Your gut might be telling you they’ll slow down, but baseball history tells us they’ll probably manage to knock out the Yankees in a play-in game or something.
On paper the Mariners may seem like a better team than the A’s, but let’s not forget that the Marines were engineered in a lab to inflict as much pain on their fans as possible. They’ll lose a Game 163 to the A’s in the bottom of the ninth inning or something. It’s not their fault. You just can’t fight fate.
Colorado Rockies (60-52)
What are the Rockies? Are they a good team being hamstrung by an underperforming bullpen? Are they a bad team skating by thanks to surprise performances from guys like Kyle Freeland and Late Career Carlos Gonzalez? Is Jon Gray good again? There are more questions than answers with this squad, but they remain within striking distance.
Panic Level 1.5: Clinging to Hope
It’s not looking good for these teams, but there’s a shred of a chance at postseason glory remaining for each. The Cardinals got actively worse at the trade deadline, but could still make a push with marginally better health in their rotation. It certainly looks like they’re punting on 2018, though. The Pirates went the other way, buying Chris Archer after a successful July. That being said, Archer isn’t a rental, and this could easily be justified as a move to help them from 2019-2021.
As for the Nationals, well, good luck figuring out their deadline plans. They made themselves worse by trading Brandon Kintzler and then DFA’ing Shawn Kelley to prove how Not Mad, Actually Laughing they were, but they didn’t go all-in on punting 2018, either. Instead, they seem to believe that moderately better health and improved performance from their stars, minus some good bullpen arms, will allow them to make a playoff push. That’s a bold strategy Cotton, etc.
Panic Level 2: Already Dead Inside
This is about what we expected from all these teams. They are boring, nondescript, run-of-the-mill, store-brand bad. You won’t ever remember these teams. In fact, you’ve already forgotten them (Tommy Pham/Chris Archer trades aside).
This is about what we expected from all these teams. They are extremely bad, and should dominate the early portion of next year’s MLB draft. They also represent the three stages of MLB rebuild acceptance; light at the end of the tunnel (the White Sox), the doldrums (Royals), and the ugliest part; the beginning (Orioles).
Panic Level 3: Winter Is Coming
Listen, it can be tough to differentiate between merely sad and outright depressed franchises this late in the season, but we’ll try. It’s looking pretty bad for the Giants, but they at least still have a snowball’s chance in hell at pushing for the postseason. Their fans might not want to admit it, but they were smart not to make a push at the deadline; this isn’t a team that’s one arm or one bat away from serious contention.
The Angels have to be disappointed by wasting another year of Prime Mike Trout, but they were never playoff favorites and their fate’s been sealed for quite a while now. Ditto the Rangers, minus the Trout part, but at least they had a good deadline, recouping young talent for old arms and watching Rougned Odor come back to life to boot.
You could argue for any of these teams down in the next level, but let’s try to stay positive, no?
Panic Level 4: This Is Fine Dog
And here we have it, the three most disappointing teams in baseball. The Twins made the playoffs last year—no, really—but they’ve regressed harder than American Exceptionalism. All of their supposed young stars save for Jose Berrios have been atrocious. Their offseason moves didn’t work. There’s honestly not a ton that suggests they’ll be substantially better next year, at present. It’s not going well.
The Blue Jays faced similar regression from their key young players, but were also strangely stagnant at the trade deadline. Sure, they shipped out Roberto Osuna for Not Entirely Baseball Reasons, and they sent J.A. Happ packing, too. But they held onto Josh Donaldson, Curtis Granderson, and a bunch of veteran relievers for … reasons? Their future may be somewhat bright thanks to Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, but 2018 has been a colossal failure for them.
And then we have the Mets. Oh, the Mets. There is absolutely nothing I could write in this space that would surpass Noah Syndergaard contracting Hand, Foot, and Mouth disease. It is a metaphor that only the universe itself is talented enough to gift us.
It is a metaphor that only the Mets deserve.