Soon, there will be no more reason for anyone to panic. Soon, there will only be darkness.

And for one team, light.

Per uje, these rankings are completely subjective. You can disagree with me, of course, but you will be wrong. All records are as of September 3, 2018.

Panic Level 0: Life Is Good

Boston Red Sox (95-44)
New York Yankees (86-52)

Both fan bases will try to find something to complain about. The Red Sox lack an elite bullpen. Aaron Judge might be legally dead. Chris Sale is hurt-ish. Aroldis Chapman is hurt-ish. Blah blah. Don’t get suckered into feeling even a little bit bad for either of these teams. They’re both great. Neither has to worry about making the postseason. We should all be so lucky.

Houston Astros (85-53)
Oakland Athletics (83-56)

It still kind of feels like the Astros should have 10 more wins and the A’s should have 10 fewer, but that sure isn’t how things are trending. The Astros will continue to be rightfully feared each step of the way, especially since Alex Bregman has apparently stolen Josh Donaldson’s bat. The A’s will continue to (perhaps wrongly) be underrated. It’s hard to imagine they’d be a favorite in any postseason matchup. It’s also easy to see that being a mistake. The American League playoffs are shaping up to be a blast.

Chicago Cubs (81-56)
Atlanta Braves (76-61)

The Brewers and Phillies are lurking in the respective rear-view mirrors of these teams, but their leads have opened up in recent days. That being said, the fans of these two teams are probably feeling very differently. For Cubs enthusiasts, I’d imagine it’s a sense of “finally,” as the heavy preseason favorites have finally started playing better after making some very savvy trade pickups. For the Braves fans, it should be more of a sense of “just happy to be here,” although there’s real reason for optimism. Then again, if either of these squads fails to make the postseason at this point, they’ll be rioting in the Chicago/Atlanta streets. Aren’t sports fun?

Cleveland Indians (77-60)

Sure, they’re dangerous, but they’ve had the easiest schedule this side of a second semester senior. Color me only moderately impressed.

Panic Level 1: Cautiously Optimistic

Milwaukee Brewers (78-61)
St. Louis Cardinals (76-62)
Philadelphia Phillies (72-65)

Well, “optimistic” might be kind for how the fan bases of these three teams are feeling, but we’ll run with it for consistency’s sake. The Brewers and Cardinals have allowed the Cubs to separate, but now appear more likely to find themselves in a dog fight for the National League Wild Card spots with the Phillies and half of the NL West. Matt Carpenter may be the most successful revived Carpenter since Jesus, and the Brewers may have finally acquired some rotation help in Gio Gonzalez, but it’s looking like too little too late for both squads.

The Phillies have to be pleased with their 2018 progress if they take a long-term view, but their recent play has been disappointing, as they’ve let the Braves take the NL East lead. It’s tough to be too upset given that this team only won 71 games two years ago, but these are Phillies fans we’re talking about here.

Seattle Mariners (77-61)
Tampa Bay Rays (74-63)

Over in the AL, we have two teams with similar records that couldn’t possibly feel more different. For a good chunk of the season, it looked like the Mariners would finally end their playoff drought. Then the A’s happened, and the universe remembered these are the Mariners we’re talking about. They’ll probably end with around 90 wins and lots of frowny faces in the Pacific Northwest.

On the flip side, the Rays have parlayed an unconventional pitching strategy (you may have heard about it once or twice) and steps forward from some young players into a solid record. They’re still more the paper $/WAR champions than serious contenders, but their rebuild may not be as lengthy as many of us assumed it would be.

Panic Level 1.5: The NL West

Colorado Rockies (75-62)
Los Angeles Dodgers (75-63)
Arizona Diamondbacks (74-64)

Good luck handicapping this race. I don’t know how it’s possible that none and all of these teams deserve to be in the postseason at the same time, but that’s pretty much exactly how I feel. It’s no fun rooting for the Dodgers because they’re the favorites. It’s no fun rooting for the Rockies because you just know they’ll get steamrolled in the NLCS at best. And it’s no fun rooting for the Diamondbacks because they have like four stars and then just a bunch of scrubs, like some sort of functional Angels team or something. Then again, the Dodgers are loaded, the Rockies are a great story, and it’s always easy to pull for Paul Goldschmidt and Zack Greinke.

If you like one of these teams, the next four weeks will be stressful as hell. If you don’t, it’s just good fun.

Panic Level 2: Already Dead Inside

Cincinnati Reds (59-79)
Chicago White Sox (56-82)
Detroit Tigers (55-83)
Miami Marlins (55-83)
San Diego Padres (54-85)
Kansas City Royals (46-91)

They didn’t think they’d be good. We didn’t think they’d be good. They weren’t good. Thanks for the mems, though.

Panic Level 3: At Least They Tried

Los Angeles Angels (67-71)
Pittsburgh Pirates (67-71)
Minnesota Twins (63-74)
Toronto Blue Jays (62-75)
Texas Rangers (60-78)

At this point in the season, there isn’t a ton to say about these also-rans. The Twins and Angels likely have the most reasons to be disappointed here. The former saw regression from pretty much all of its young players except for Jose Berrios, while the latter suffered injuries to a bunch of its superstars yet again. L.A. could feasibly compete in 2019 with a few roster tweaks and better health, while the path looks less clear for Minnesota.

The Blue Jays, Pirates, and Rangers may have considered themselves contenders heading into the season, but, well no one else really did. The Jays’ young pitchers went the way of the Twins’ young hitters. Worse yet, pending free agents like Josh Donaldson, Curtis Granderson, J.A. Happ, and others didn’t play well enough to return major pieces at the trade deadlines. At least they have Vladimir Guerrero Jr. to look forward to (once he gets another 4,000-5,000 plate appearances in the minors).

The Pirates … well, good luck trying to unpack everything they’ve done in the last calendar year. They traded their homegrown Ace and Face of the Franchise in order to rebuild, then … traded for the Rays’ homegrown Ace at the deadline. They looked like a .500 team coming into the season, and that’s probably right around where they’ll finish.

The Rangers should’ve known they’d be pretty bad this year. They are indeed very bad. At least Jurickson Profar looks like a real piece again.

Panic Level 4: This Is Fine Dog

Washington Nationals (69-69)
San Francisco Giants (68-70)
New York Mets (62-75)
Baltimore Orioles (40-98)

And here we have it: the four saddest and/or most disappointing teams in baseball.

Despite having the nicest record possible, the Nationals are tire fire. They wasted their potential final year of Bryce Harper, the trade deadline botch job was impressive even by D.C. standards, and they helped give Craig Goldstein some of the national spotlight. Just atrocious all the way around.

The Giants are basically just an expensive version of the Padres.

The Mets continue to find new and impressive ways to fail, true pioneers in futility. They could compete again as soon as next season, but that feels unlikely. It’s hard to believe this team looked like they’d be perennial contenders as recently as 18 months ago, but life comes at you fast.

And finally, that brings us to the Orioles. No other team is starting as fresh in as deep a rebuild as what Baltimore requires. There’s a solid argument to be made that absolutely no one who’s on the team at present will be on the Next Good Orioles Team. Perhaps O’s fans can take some solace in the fact that their direction is at least now definitive. There will be no more last gasp efforts, no more Alex Cobb/Andrew Cashner contracts, no reason to block younger players in vain attempts to squeeze out a few more wins. The rebuild is on in earnest, and while it will take some time, the O’s should appear all the better for it.

In the meantime? O’s fans need look only to their own manager for inspiration if they want to handle the down years with grace, poise, and dignity.

Thank you for reading

This is a free article. If you enjoyed it, consider subscribing to Baseball Prospectus. Subscriptions support ongoing public baseball research and analysis in an increasingly proprietary environment.

Subscribe now
You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe
Robert Hacking
That poster is awesome.
I think that the case could be made for the Dodgers' fans to be much more panicked than listed. If my $250M team was struggling to be a division-winner, and one with possibly the worst record of the six divisions, and I might be losing Kershaw in a few months, then I would perhaps be quite panicky, but then again, I am not a Dodgers fan. And I'm not a Padres fan (so maybe they are inured to the pain?), but they should probably be more panicked, given that the rebuild has produced nothing as of yet, and my team now owes Hosmer a boatload of money.
Craig Goldstein
The Dodgers opening day payroll was $187m. They're close to the luxury tax now but only around $197m, just like every other big market team but Boston, basically.
Cliff Mayo
Being reminded about Childish Bambino makes me want to tell you to raise the Nats from 4 to 3. Plus, since the panic started literally 3 months ago, we're all kind of over it already and accepted that it just ain't happening this year.
I feel like the notion of panic has faded from these articles, in favor of hope and happiness vs. despair and disappointment. Even though it's been a good season, I would think the highest panic level right now would be in Seattle. Or possibly Washington, where Harper might have a foot out the door, the manager might be a fired man walking and the front office has made decisions that will be pointed to for months.