Memorial Day standings check: Teams to watch, worry about and more ESPN logo
Monday, May 27, 2019

It's Memorial Day, which means one extra little thing for MLB fans: You're now officially free to look atthe standings page!

We asked Buster Olney, Jeff Passan and Sam Miller to do just that -- and help us make sense of the 2019 season so far.

1. What's the first thing that jumps out at you when you look at the standings right now?

Buster Olney:The National League East is not nearly as competitive as I thought it would be after the Nationals invested in the most expensive pitcher of the offseason and after the Mets made no secret of their intention to spend big (within the Mets' context anyway) and try to win this season. To date, no managers have been fired, but it's conceivable that the first three to lose their jobs will all come from this division: Mickey Callaway, Dave Martinez and Don Mattingly.

Jeff Passan:I picked the New York Yankees to go to the World Series, so the idea that I'm surprised by their topping the American League East isn't entirely logical. But I didn't expect them to have placed 17 players on the injured list for a total of 733 days. That's more than Houston, Philadelphia, Arizona and Seattle had all of last season. For the Yankees to have run out so many replacements and remained not just competitive but on a 105-win pace is remarkable.

Sam Miller:It's not just that the Twins are in first place -- the only real upset at the top of the standings to this point -- but that the Twins are absolutely burying Cleveland. The playoff odds in that division have completely flipped, from 80-20 in Cleveland's favor to 80-20 for Minnesota. We could soon be speculating about Trevor Bauer as a trade candidate in July.

2.Which team is headed for a big rise or drop in the standings in the future?

Olney:The Braves have a much deeper and stronger lineup than they did last year, and bit by bit, they look like they're putting together their pitching. Alex Anthopoulos doesn't have a lot of money to spend, but he seems to be saving some financial ammunition for the staff additions in the last four months -- maybe a reliever such asCraig Kimbrel (though I bet Kimbrel's price tag is too high) and maybe a veteran starter such asMarcus Stroman.

Passan:Everything is coming together for the Atlanta Braves. Austin Riley looks like a star. Mike Soroka's angry sinker is shot-put heavy. Max Fried's curveball is made for the Pitching Ninja. And that's just the unexpected stuff. Freddie Freeman remains a hitting deity. Ronald Acuna Jr. is back in center doing Ronald Acuna Jr. things. There's depth in the bats and the rotation. If general manager Alex Anthopoulos can cobble together a worthy bullpen -- Mr. Kimbrel on line 1 -- the Braves are the team to beat in the NL East.

Miller:I still believe the Nationals, despite having the second-worst record in the NL, can get back in the race. Max Scherzer is having, by FIP, his best season,Stephen Strasburg is, by FIP, the NL's second-best pitcher (after Scherzer) and Patrick Corbin, by FIP, would be the No. 1 starter on half the teams in this league. "By FIP," he says. That's because Washington's defense has abandoned its pitching staff, and "by ERA" wouldn't paint nearly so rosy a picture. But defense shouldn't be a liability for this roster going forward, especially with the return of Trea Turner at shortstop.

3.Which team's place in the standings right now is the most disappointing (and do you think it can turn things around)?

Olney:The Nationals, unquestionably. They were so confident in spring training that their run prevention would be much better, with Victor Robles stepping into the outfield in place of Bryce Harper and Brian Dozier at second instead of Daniel Murphy. But the defense has been terrible, the lineup production has been sporadic, and the bullpen is the worst of any team since the Dodgers and Giants were still in New York.

Passan:With Trevor Bauer two years from free agency and Francisco Lindor, Corey Kluber and Brad Hand three years away, the Indians recognize that their window for this bountiful era is closing. So how did they bulk up for the 2019 season? By signing left-handed one-out guy Oliver Perez to a one-year deal. That was the entirety of the Indians' offseason free-agent moves, and the subsequent weakness throughout their lineup has manifested itself in an offense worse than Baltimore's. The bright side is there's room for improvement. The question is how motivated the Indians are to actually improve.

Miller:I'm disappointed that the Rockies are irrelevant again. One can't help fearing that baseball in Colorado is forever doomed, that the disadvantage of playing at altitude will never permit a truly great team. Last year gave us real promise: an entirely homegrown rotation, with a top three of starters who could rival almost any in the league. But the collapses of Kyle Freeland, Tyler Anderson and Antonio Senzatela this year might send the Rockies back to the brink of existential hopelessness.

4.Which team's place in the standings is the biggest surprise in a good way (and do you think it can keep it up)?

Olney:Given the dominance of the Houston Astros in the AL West, the trajectory of the Texas Rangers seemed inevitable: a slow start, a midseason sell-off, a late-season tank. But Joey Gallo keeps getting better, Mike Minor is healthy and has had a breakthrough, and the Rangers are much more competitive than I ever imagined. I still think they will become deadline sellers, however.

Passan:The Minnesota Twins aren't entirely a surprise. They won a wild-card spot in 2017 and returned arguably a better roster this season. But to see what they've done -- set a pace to obliterate the single-season team home run record -- is one of the great stories of the early season. They've built their AL Central lead into double digits, and their run differential shows that it is no fluke. Aaron Boone is the AL Manager of the 1/3 Season, but first-year Twins manager Rocco Baldelli isn't far behind. This is real, and the Twins are now the favorites in the division.

Miller:It's certainly the Twins, who are scoring almost one-and-a-half more runs per game than they did last season. Can they keep it up? Can their catchers continue to hit more home runs than any other AL team has hit at any other position? Can the suddenly .600-slugging Jorge Polanco continue to match Mike Trout WAR for WAR and win the MVP award? Can the Twins keep producing an .890 OPS -- Harmon Killebrew's career, basically -- with men on base? Let's say ... yes.

5.Looking at the standings, which is a team you think should go into sell mode between now and the trade deadline?

Olney:There already are teams in sell mode: The Giants, Blue Jays and others have signaled to teams that they are prepared to listen to offers for Madison Bumgarner, Stroman, Aaron Sanchezet al. The Padres might have the toughest decision of any team forthcoming. They're probably still a year away from seriously contending, so it might make sense for them to dangle the 32-year-old Kirby Yates and a couple of others. But their ownership is impatient and wants to win now.

Passan:It's difficult to argue that a team with the game's best pitcher and two more frontline-type starters, plus a handful of All-Star-caliber players, ever should sell. Yet the Nationals find themselves with a record better than only those of the Marlins, Orioles, Tigers, Blue Jays, Giants and Royals, mired nine games back in the NL East and in fourth place. The case in favor of their retooling for future seasons is rather compelling. The Nationals could reap a bounty for prospective free agent Anthony Rendon and closer Sean Doolittle. They tried last year before ownership put the kibosh on a deal that would have sent Bryce Harper to Houston. Fool them once, shame on you. Fool them twice ...

Miller:Besides the usual suspects -- the teams that are already six-sevenths sold off -- the Angels might have the most reason to radically reevaluate what they have. This was a team that, for a few years, invoked feelings of regret by narrowly missing the playoffs. But they've quietly become plainly bad. This looks like it will be their fourth consecutive losing season, and none of those losing seasons has so far reoriented them toward something better. The problem, though, is that there's not much to sell, especially at midseason.

6.How many games do you think the Red Sox will win this season?

Olney:Ninety-four. They are gathering momentum, and it seems like they'll continue to get better as the summer plays out. Given what's at stake for this group -- the opportunity to become the first team in almost two decades to win back-to-back titles -- I'd expect Dave Dombrowski will do his thing and work to improve the bullpen before the deadline.

Passan:Let's go with 89. To get there, the Red Sox would need to play at a .554 pace the rest of the season, which seems fairly reasonable. They still have 17 games against a superior Yankees team and 14 against Tampa Bay. Although their May has proved an unequivocal success and propelled them back into the playoff race, the Red Sox's depth is questionable, their starting pitching is iffy, and their bullpen is outpitching its peripherals to the point that regression is inevitable.

Miller:I think this is something like a 95-win team, so applying that to the rest of the season gets them to 92 or 93. Of course, an injury to Chris Sale would be devastating (as we saw early this year, when Sale was, effectively, pitching like his hypothetical replacement). But on the flip side, we should expect to see the Red Sox land a pretty substantial piece at the trade deadline.

7.How many games do you think the Orioles and Marlins will lose this season?

Olney:The streaking Marlins? The plucky Marlins, who took down the Mets and Tigers? If the Marlins win 58 games, it would be a shocker because even as they play the struggling Mets and Nationals, they will get more than a fair share of games against Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, Patrick Corbin and Jacob deGrom.The Orioles won 47 games last season, and they will struggle to match that total this year. Based on the body language we saw from the Baltimore outfielders in last week's Yankees series, as balls soared over their heads, they might agree.

Passan:Miami's offense is so dreadful -- its current OPS+ of 67 would be the worst since the dead-ball era -- that not even a solid core of young starting pitching can save the Marlins from triple-digit losses. How bad will it get? The record won't match the offense in terms of historic awfulness, but 104 losses sound about right. If the Marlins were in the AL East, it might be 110. The Orioles are in the AL East, so 110 it is.

Miller:They don't play each other in interleague this year, so "the rest" is one option. Will either team be favored for a single game on the rest of the schedule? Maybe whenCaleb Smith starts against sub-.500 opponents. Maybe when the Orioles host the Royals in Baltimore (Aug. 19-21, tickets going fast!). The Orioles will lose 113 games. The Marlins will lose 100.

8.Now that the Yankees have overtaken the Rays in the AL East, how many days do you think New York will spend outside of first place the rest of the season?

Olney:The greatest quandary for Yankees GM Brian Cashman might be trying to decide what to prioritize before the trade deadline because he can't really count on Giancarlo Stanton to come back, and thoughDidi Gregorius' rehab work has been seamless, you don't know what he'll be. But Cashman's default position has always been to overload on pitching, so he'll upgrade the staff before the deadline, and the Yankees will roll to the title.

Passan:Seven, just because the Rays are good enough to hang with the Yankees for the remainder of the season and scratch their way into first for a few days at a time. By the end of the year, though, provided they get and stay healthy -- and that's one whale of a caveat -- the Yankees will hold on to the division crown.

Miller:I think the only logical answer to this question, if one thinks the Yankees will win the division, is "zero." But the playoff odds that give both the Red Sox and Rays honest, 1-in-5 shots at the division also seem right to me. My answer is zero, but this is a very good race among three teams, two of which will probably meet in the wild-card game.

9.The Dodgers and Astros have been arguably the two best teams in baseball so far. Do you think they're on a World Series collision course?

Olney:This is where the safe money would be. The Astros are clearly the best team in baseball, and the Dodgers are the best team in the NL. Remember, too, that Jeff Luhnow has not been shy about spending big for in-season improvements. He landed Justin Verlander, he took the (deserved) criticism for the addition of Roberto Osuna, and he almost landed Bryce Harper last summer. The Astros will do something big in July (I'd love to see them add Trevor Bauer).

Passan:Well, it certainly looks that way. Houston will add Yordan Alvarez -- the best hitter in the minor leagues this season -- to an already unfair lineup. The Astros' aggressiveness at the trade deadline could help them wind up with the starting pitcher they need. The Dodgers, like the Astros, boast a deep major league lineup, excellent starting pitching and enough organizational depth to play buyer at the deadline. The playoffs being the playoffs, either could stumble over a five-game series in October, so anointing them now is a bit much. Just know this: They are the best teams in each league.

Miller:The Astros are the best team in baseball, and the Dodgers are the best in the NL, and the longer you stare at their rosters trying to find a reason to dislike them, the better they look. But there are no collision courses in the baseball postseason. Every course is meandering and half-chance. The Twins have outplayed the Astros over two months, so they (or a more predictably good team!) could certainly outplay them over a week.

10. Quick predictions reset: Give us your division winners and wild cards based on what you've seen so far this season.


AL East: Yankees

AL Central: Twins

AL West: Astros

AL wild cards: Red Sox, Rays

NL East: Braves

NL Central: Cubs

NL West: Dodgers

NL wild cards: Phillies, Brewers

(And the Cardinals will be the most dangerous team outside of those five.)


AL East: Yankees

AL Central: Twins

AL West: Astros

AL wild cards: Rays, Red Sox

NL East: Braves

NL Central: Cubs

NL West: Dodgers

NL wild cards: Phillies, Brewers


AL East: Yankees

AL Central: Twins

AL West: Astros

AL wild cards: Red Sox, Rays

NL East: Phillies

NL Central: Brewers

NL West: Dodgers

NL wild cards: Cubs, Braves

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