It's Memorial Day and that means we are all now free to obsess over the standings. Memorial Day is the traditional start of summer and, at this point, we kind of have to stop saying "it's early." The 2023 season is nearly two months complete and the contenders are starting to separate themselves from the pretenders, and those hot and cold starts are sorting themselves out.
Now that summer has unofficially begun, let's take stock of the baseball landscape. Come with me, won't you?
This is Year 2 of MLB's new 12-team postseason bracket. Eight of the 12 teams in postseason position on Memorial Day last year ultimately made the playoffs. The biggest miss? The Twins. They were 29-19 (.604) on the morning of Memorial Day, then went 49-65 (.430) the rest of the way to finish 14 games out in the AL Central and eight games out of a wild-card spot. These would be the postseason brackets if the season ended today (based on winning percentage):
The only teams truly out of the race right now are the Athletics (.182) and Royals (.296). Both are double-digit games out of a postseason berth and there's no reason to believe they can put together the sort of turnaround necessary to contend. It would be a stunning and historic reversal.
Otherwise, every single team in the NL -- every single one! -- is within 4 1/2 games of a postseason berth. Every team other than the A's and Royals in the AL is within six games of a postseason berth. The races are still wide open, as they should be on Memorial Day. Even a team like the White Sox, who started so terribly, has hope with four months to play. That's good for baseball.
Best team: Rays. It's closer than you think -- the Orioles and Rangers have been excellent and appear to have staying power -- but yeah, it's the Rays, who have won 39 of their first 55 games. Tampa is second in runs scored per game, fourth in fewest runs allowed per game, and first in defensive efficiency. They have 11 players with at least seven home runs. The Rays have been a powerhouse two months into the season. The best team in baseball, regardless of league.
Worst team: Athletics. This is just a sad situation and I feel terribly for A's fans. How government officials in Las Vegas could look at the way A's owner John Fisher and team president Dave Kaval have run the franchise and treated the fan base and say, "That looks great, let's given them hundreds of millions of dollars to run a team in our city!" is beyond me. The A's are on pace to go 29-133 and shatter -- shatter -- the 1962 Mets modern record for futility (40-120-1). What a shame. What a disgrace. Also, the Royals owe the A's a big thank you. Kansas City is on pace to go 48-115, and without Oakland, we'd be talking about the Royals having a chance to be the worst team since the 2003 Tigers went 43-119.
Biggest surprise: Rangers. They lead baseball in runs scored per game and are fifth in fewest runs allowed per game, and they're doing that despite getting only 30 innings out of Jacob deGrom. Injuries come with the territory with deGrom, I know that, but if you would have told me before the season that the Rangers would have allowed the fifth fewest runs per game on Memorial Day, I would have assumed deGrom had stayed healthy and been a major contributor. Nathan Eovaldi stands out as the best free agent signing of the winter, certainly among pitchers at least, and the Rangers surpassed the Rays in run differential last week (plus-123 to plus-120). I thought Texas would be improved this season. I did not think they would be this good, even just over the first two months.
Biggest disappointment: Blue Jays. I was tempted to say White Sox, though a poor start didn't seem out of the question given last year and their underwhelming offseason. Toronto looked like a potential powerhouse with a shot to challenge for the AL East title, if not the best record in the AL. Instead, they're hanging around .500 two months into the season and recently wrapped up a 2-9 stretch against division rivals with . The Blue Jays should be a lot better than this. The Guardians deserve a shoutout here as well. That offense is abysmal.
Team with the most to prove: Mariners. They snapped the longest postseason drought in the four major North American sports last season and, while there are still four months to play, the Mariners haven't exactly looked like a team ready to make the jump to World Series contender. Offseason additions Teoscar Hernández, AJ Pollock, and Kolten Wong have underperformed (and that's putting it nicely), and while they've lost several important pitchers to injury (Andrés Muñoz, Robbie Ray, etc.), Seattle isn't alone in that department. The Mariners are better than they've shown to date. Now they have to go out and prove it.
Team that most needs to make a trade: Rangers. There are a lot of "correct" answers to this one. The Yankees need a left fielder. The Mariners need a DH. Chris Young has shown himself to be a big game hunter and I can't help but wonder if Liam Hendriks would be on the radar should the White Sox decide to sell.. I'll go with the Rangers because, as good as they've been, the bullpen has been a sore spot. Texas doesn't want to undermine their dominant offense and strong rotation work with a leaky bullpen come the second half and the postseason. GM
MVP: Shohei Ohtani. The AL MVP race is wide open at the moment and the tie goes to the dude who pitches and hits at high levels. Wander Franco leads the league in WAR, Marcus Semien is the engine that drives the Rangers, and if you took Aaron Judge away from the Yankees that offense goes from mediocre to bad real quick. There have been a lot of terrific individual performances in the Junior Circuit this season. I won't argue against Franco or Semien or Judge or Randy Arozarena or several others. Right now, two months into the season, I'll go with Ohtani. He's incredible.
Cy Young: Sonny Gray. The case can be made the top two Cy Young contenders are Twins: Gray and Joe Ryan. Shane McClanahan is the frontrunner among non-Twins with Gerrit Cole's so-so May knocking him down the depth chart. Gray is going to get whacked with the home run regression stick at some point -- he has yet to allow a home run in 54 1/3 innings -- but it hasn't happened yet, so the MLB leader in ERA, ERA+, FIP, and WAR is an obvious choice for the Memorial Day Cy Young.
Rookie of the Year: Hunter Brown. Gunnar Henderson is beginning to pick it up at the plate -- the stats aren't there yet but he consistently puts together quality at-bats and hits the ball hard -- and my guess is he'll be a serious contender for this award when it's all said and done. But, right now, two months into the season, I'll go with Brown over Bryce Miller and Yennier Cano mostly because he's thrown roughly twice as many innings, and pitched very well in those innings. Don't sleep on Zach Neto. He's beginning to settle in after a sluggish start to his MLB career.
Best team: Braves. The Braves and Dodgers have essentially the same record and run differential, and roughly the same strength of schedule too. They've both had a lot of injuries as well. This really is a toss up. I'll go with Atlanta because the case can be made they have the two best players in the NL this season (Ronald Acuña Jr. and Sean Murphy) and because they've weathered the pitching injuries a little better than Los Angeles. But again, this is a toss up, and I wouldn't argue with anyone who says the Dodgers have been the best team in the NL. Atlanta's margin of victory here is razor thin.
Worst team: Rockies. The Cubs have not covered themselves in glory the last few weeks and are a viable contender for this spot. I mean heck, they have the NL's worst record! Colorado is right there with them though, and the Cubs have enough talent that I can see them turning things around in a way I just can't with the Rockies. Credit to the Nationals for being better than just about everyone expected too. They're not good (23-30), but they're not an abject disaster either and they compete hard. Two months ago I would have assumed they were a shoo-in for this spot.
Biggest surprise: Pirates. They have crashed back to Earth hard since their 20-8 start, but they woke up in a postseason spot Sunday morning, and that qualifies as a surprise on Memorial Day. Even with Oneil Cruz's unfortunate injury, you can see the makings of the next contending Pirates team coming into place. It's Mitch Keller atop the rotation, Bryan Reynolds in the middle of the order, Ke'Bryan Hayes winning Gold Gloves at third base, etc. The Diamondbacks deserve a mention here as well, though I thought they had this kind of start in them given their young talent. I'm less surprised the D-Backs are where they are than I am surprised the Pirates are where they are, so the Pirates it is.
Biggest disappointment: Padres. The names say this should be one of the best teams in the league, if not the best, and yet the Padres are under .500 and far enough out in the NL West that a division title might already be out of the question. The hope was Fernando Tatis Jr. would give the team a spark, and as good as he's been, San Diego had a .450 winning percentage before he returned from his suspension and they have a .455 winning percentage since he returned from his suspension. They haven't exactly turned things on. The Padres should be better than this. We also said that last year and the year before though. It's impossible to quantify and difficult to even explain, but the Padres seem to be lacking an "it" factor.
Team with the most to prove: Mets. San Diego certainly fits here as well. The Mets having the highest payroll in the sport's history, however, and they've hovered around .500 most of the season. On paper, they have the best rotation in the game, but that rotation ranks 29th in WAR because of injuries and poor performance. The Mets blew a 10 1/2-game division lead last season and lost in the Wild Card Series, then owner Steven Cohen invested heavily in the roster in the offseason. This is very much a World Series or bust team, and the Mets have not looked very World Series-ish to date. The Phillies are an honorable mention here.
Team that most needs to make a trade: Cardinals. St. Louis is 14-7 since their 10-24 start and they've begun to climb up the NL Central standings. The division is extremely winnable and, like most contenders, the Cardinals will look to add at the deadline. Unlike most contenders, the Cardinals also figure to look to trade pieces away at the deadline. They have too many outfielders and not enough pitching, so an outfielder for a pitcher trade would be ideal. Easier said than done, of course. Point is, St. Louis needs to clear the outfield logjam and beef up the pitching, both for this year and the future.
MVP: Ronald Acuña Jr. He has been arguably the best all-around player in the game and he has a real chance at a 40/40 season. The best player on the league's best team always gets a ton of MVP support. Acuña's teammate, Sean Murphy, deserves love here as well, as do Freddie Freeman, Mookie Betts, Paul Goldschmidt, and others. It's weird to call him a sleeper, but don't forget about Juan Soto. He's back to being the best hitter in baseball after an underwhelming (by his standards) April. If the Padres get their season on track, Soto will be a major reason why, and that will lead to MVP votes.
Cy Young: Logan Webb. Alex Cobb's stinker Sunday paved the way for his teammate to take our Memorial Day Cy Young. Webb leads the league in innings and ranks near the top of the league in ERA, ERA+, ground ball rate, and WAR. That's good enough for me. Zac Gallen is in the race as well, ditto Spencer Strider and Bryce Elder. Atlanta's rotation injuries gave Elder an opportunity and he currently leads the league in ERA and ERA+, albeit in considerably fewer innings than the other Cy Young candidates. I value volume, so Webb gets the nod here. Great season for Elder though. Way to capitalize.
Rookie of the Year: Corbin Carroll. James Outman's poor May opened the door for Carroll to win our Memorial Day Rookie of the Year award. Francisco Álvarez is charging hard though. He's out-hitting Carroll and Outman, albeit in way fewer plate appearances, and he's doing it as a catcher. For now, Carroll is the NL Rookie of the Year thanks to a thrilling power/speed combination. He is the franchise player the D-Backs have lacked since trading away Paul Goldschmidt.