It’s Memorial Day, MLB fans! And you know what that means: You can now officially look at the MLB standings.
The saying goes, among baseball fans, that you should avoid checking the standings until Memorial Day, which puts us two months into the season. That gives teams time to play enough games to add meaning to what we’re seeing happen in every division.
And while where your team sits in the standings this holiday might not serve as a guarantee to where it will finish the season, there is some truth to the concept: According to Elias Sports Bureau data, 58% of teams (87 of 149) that were in sole possession of first place on the morning of June 1 have gone on to win their division in the wild-card era (since 1995 and excluding 2020).
Keeping that in mind, we asked ESPN MLB experts Alden Gonzalez, Joon Lee, Jeff Passan and Jesse Rogers to take a good look at the standings to help us make sense of where things stand in the 2022 MLB season so far.
What’s the first thing that jumps out to you when you look at the standings?
Gonzalez: The New York Yankees‘ dominance, and what it says about how quickly they’ve flipped the script. There were lots of questions heading into the offseason about whether Brian Cashman should blow up his roster and whether he should fire Aaron Boone as his manager. When the season began, there were just as many questions surrounding whether enough was done to improve the team. But the Yankees look like the type of force they were supposed to be last year. Their offense has been explosive, and their starting rotation — the most uncertain part of this team heading into 2022 — has helped carry them to the top of baseball’s most competitive division. That’s a very encouraging sign.
Lee: That we might finally get an opportunity to see Shohei Ohtani and Mike Trout in the playoffs together. Just given the history of the Los Angeles Angels, I did not expect the team to make the playoffs. So, to see them not only flourishing but challenging the Houston Astros for the division title in the West is something I did not expect. I also expected a stronger start from the Chicago White Sox and did not expect to see the Minnesota Twins leading their division through the end of May. Obviously, there’s a lot more season to go, but this all looks like bad news for the four teams in the American League East that all have championship aspirations.
Passan: It’s not just the five-game lead the Twins have on the White Sox that registers as a surprise, but the fact that it’s not bigger. The Twins’ run differential is plus-30. The White Sox are minus-46. By that measure — in which the White Sox are far closer peers to the woebegone Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers than they are the Twins — Chicago is lucky to be within striking distance, especially with Lance Lynn and Eloy Jimenez primed to return. At the same time, the Twins’ gamble on a return to prominence, punctuated by their late-March signing of Carlos Correa, has proved warranted over the first third of the season.
Rogers: It wasn’t that long ago that some observers thought the National League East was going to be a beast. One team — the New York Mets — is currently doing its part, but the Philadelphia Phillies, Atlanta Braves and even the Miami Marlins are underwhelming — and all are under .500. Miami is actually plus-12 in run differential but just 6-14 in one-run games entering play on Sunday. The Phillies spent a huge amount of money on Kyle Schwarber and Nick Castellanos, yet both have an OPS-plus that has hovered around the league average. And the Braves are experiencing some type of hangover — either a championship one or a Freddie Freeman one. They’re 12h in OPS and 17th in ERA. That doesn’t scream repeat. The NL East is the NL Least right now.
Of the six NL teams currently in the playoff field, how many will be there in October?
Gonzalez: I’m pretty certain that all three of the current division leaders — Los Angeles Dodgers, Milwaukee Brewers, Mets — will make the playoffs in some form. But I’m confident in only one of the current wild-card teams, and that is the San Diego Padres. My biggest question was whether their thin offense could sustain the prolonged absence of Fernando Tatis Jr., and that has proved to be true, thanks in large part to Manny Machado‘s MVP-caliber play. Their starting-pitching depth is real, and they’ll be a scary team once Tatis is back. The San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals have playoff-caliber talent, especially within an expanded postseason field, but I expect the Braves to factor into this. They’re really, really good and just haven’t shown it yet.
Lee: I expect the Padres and the Giants to be in the playoffs through the wild card, but I think the competition for that last playoff spot is going to be really steep. I don’t necessarily expect to see the Arizona Diamondbacks in the mix by the end of the season, but Atlanta and Philadelphia should definitely be fighting with St. Louis for that last slot.
Passan: The alternate version of this question reads: How much do you buy the Braves? I’m still in. Out of Michael Harris, Marcell Ozuna, Adam Duvall, Eddie Rosario and Travis Demeritte, they’re going to find some pair of outfielders to complement Ronald Acuña Jr. Their infield still rakes. Their catching depth is enviable. The question then becomes: Who do they replace? None of the division leaders. We’ve seen San Diego fail, but this team feels different. So between St. Louis and San Francisco, which goes? The schedule dictates only so much, but the Giants have 30 games left vs. the Dodgers and Padres, and the Cardinals have 48 against the Cubs, Reds and Pirates. That’s enough to say five of six with San Francisco the odd team out.
Rogers: Five of them. One of the NL East teams will overtake the Giants for a wild-card berth. The West is just too good this year for three teams to make it to the postseason. They’re going to beat up on each other. Philadelphia has a plus run differential, so I put them as the team with the best chance. That would mean each division will send two teams to the postseason. Symmetry is good — and works for me.
Of the six AL teams currently in the playoff field, how many will be there in October?
Gonzalez: The AL seems really difficult to predict, largely because the Angels and Twins have surprised while the White Sox and Boston Red Sox have underperformed. The Twins’ starting pitching has been one of the most pleasant surprises in the sport thus far, but I don’t trust it. And I expect the White Sox talent to eventually push them to the top of the division. I picked the Angels to make the playoffs at the start of the season, but it’s hard for me to fully trust them for one simple reason: Everything can fall apart with a major injury or two. I’m ultimately only confident that three of the current AL playoff teams will remain there — the Yankees, Astros and the Toronto Blue Jays, who have yet to hit full stride.
Lee: Part of me still expects the Angels to fall back from where they currently are in the standings, while I expect the Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto to stay in the wild-card mix — especially once the Blue Jays’ offense picks up and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette pick things up from an offensive standpoint. I picked the Red Sox to take that wild-card slot before the season, but that was before Minnesota’s hot start, which puts Chicago in the mix alongside the Angels.
Passan: Five. The Yankees, Astros and three wild cards — Los Angeles, Tampa Bay and Toronto — stay the same. The White Sox finally figure things out, go on a run and eke past the Twins in the last series of the season, when they host Minnesota from Oct. 3-5.
Rogers: The Yankees, Rays and Blue Jays are too good not to make it, so there’s three. Same goes for Houston. After that, it gets tricky. Are the White Sox going to go on a run? Odds say they will, but it’s a flawed team and Minnesota has shown already to have staying power. Only one team from that division is getting into the postseason, and it feels like the Twins will pull off the upset. So there’s five. That leaves the Angels. If they stay healthy, then all six currently in the postseason field make it. If not, my sleeper is the Texas Rangers. My even deeper sleeper is the Cleveland Guardians — who sport the youngest roster in the game. So if not this year, then maybe next.
Which team’s place is the biggest surprise in a positive way?
Lee: The Twins. I was slightly puzzled by their decision to sign Correa this offseason after the team flamed out last season, but Minnesota is getting strong starts from Max Kepler, Trevor Larnach, Jorge Polanco, Byron Buxton and Luis Arraez — and the results are showing in the division standings. Minnesota could provide a framework for other teams that there’s a way to build back quickly without tearing things down and giving up on the season in hopes of landing a few high draft picks.
Gonzalez: It’s the Twins for me, too. But we should also highlight the Mets, simply because they’re always a mess and I thought the Jacob deGrom injury would be too tough a blow at the start of the season. Their rotation is currently without deGrom, Max Scherzer and Tylor Megill, who came out of nowhere to dominate through his first six starts. But Chris Bassitt, Taijuan Walker, Carlos Carrasco and David Peterson have stepped up, and their offense has been as advertised. I honestly thought the Braves would run away with that division when the season began. Clearly that won’t be the case.
Passan: I’m so sick and tired of ESPN’s Midwest bias. The obvious answer is the Angels. Even after a four-game losing streak this week, they’re second in the AL West and in the sixth playoff spot. They own the second-best run differential in the American League, have the two best-per-plate-appearance hitters in the AL this season (Trout and Taylor Ward), boast a rotation that’s pitching well beyond expectations and feature a serviceable enough bullpen to make a long-held baseball dream a reality: Trout and Ohtani in the playoffs.
Rogers: I’d love to say the Diamondbacks but that would be a disservice to the Twins. They started the season 4-8, swept the White Sox in a series, and have never looked back. It’s mostly as simple as if Byron Buxton is on the field, the Twins have a good chance of winning. But they’re also getting really good pitching from some unexpected places. The starting staff — led by Joe Ryan and Sonny Gray — is fourth in ERA. But it’s not just them, as the Twins have gone eight deep to start a game in the first two months and almost all have been impressive. It’s why the Twins have staying power. They have unexpected depth where it’s needed most — on the mound.
Which team’s place is the biggest disappointment?
Gonzalez: The White Sox could make a case as the most deep and talented team in the league at the start of 2022, and yet they began Memorial Day weekend with a minus-42 run differential. Some of that is health, with Eloy Jimenez and Lance Lynn missing extended time and Garrett Crochet requiring season-ending Tommy John surgery. But the White Sox are not hitting enough, are not pitching effectively, and they have been one of the worst defensive teams in the sport. They’ve been bad, basically, in every respect. And they’re not supposed to be.
Lee: The Red Sox have been turning things around lately, but until they climb well past the .500 mark, it’s hard to not call them a disappointment. This team is going for gold this year, especially after signing Trevor Story — leading to the uncertain future surrounding Xander Bogaerts in Boston beyond the 2022 season. Chris Sale‘s injury delivered a big blow to this team’s chances early in the season, but the lineup has also faced considerable struggles from expected contributors Kiké Hernandez, Bobby Dalbec and Alex Verdugo.
Passan: Almost the entire American League? The Tigers and Royals both wanted to take the leap this year … and instead find themselves in the draft lottery. The Seattle Mariners wanted to replicate their incredible second half last year. They’re near the AL West cellar. And you already know about the White Sox and Red Sox. Honorable mention goes to the Phillies, for whom third place is not so much a disappointment as it is an inevitability.
Rogers: That’s an easy one. The DETROIT TIGERS ARE TERRIBLE. Yes, caps are needed for this one. Expected to at least make some noise in a weak-ish AL Central, they’ve done anything but — showing up near the bottom of the weekly MLB Power Rankings on a regular basis. Detroit’s biggest problem is at the plate, where they rank last in the league in OPS, barely breaking .600. High-priced free agent Javy Baez saw his batting average dip below .200 over the weekend and has just three home runs. In fact, four regulars — FOUR — are hitting under the Mendoza line, while promising 2021 youngster Akil Baddoo has been banished to the minors. It wasn’t supposed to go this way for the AJ Hinch Tigers, as they’ve dug a huge hole for themselves.
Which team should go into unload mode between now and the trade deadline?
Gonzalez: The Diamondbacks, even though it is simply not within that front office’s nature. I’m thrilled for them that they’ve turned it around and probably won’t suffer through another 100-plus-loss season, but they must ask themselves whether they truly believe they can contend in a division with the Dodgers, Padres and Giants at the moment. They can’t. But what they can do is get a good return on starting pitchers such as Madison Bumgarner, Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly. I don’t hate the thought of holding on to those men and building around them — Kelly, if you’ll recall, was signed to an extension last month — but quality starting pitching will be very difficult to come by in July. And the D-backs have it in a year when they probably won’t contend.
Lee: The Washington Nationals. There will be teams interested in acquiring Nelson Cruz, Josh Bell and Victor Robles. There’s been chatter around Juan Soto as well. Unless Washington really feels like it cannot sign the superstar outfielder to a contract in the immediate future, there should not be a second thought about trading a player who could one day find himself in Cooperstown and should be the centerpiece of any rebuild that takes place in D.C., given his youth at 23 years old.
Passan: The Nationals, Royals, Tigers, Pittsburgh Pirates, Cincinnati Reds, Baltimore Orioles and Chicago Cubs are the obvious ones. Here’s one that isn’t so obvious: The White Sox. Now, it’s quite unlikely to happen. Owner Jerry Reinsdorf didn’t hire Tony La Russa to manage a seller. That said, if the White Sox continue to hover around .500 and don’t foresee enough of a turnaround between now and the deadline, Jose Abreu, A.J. Pollock, Johnny Cueto and Josh Harrison are the kind of players teams love to target. None will bring an enormous bounty, but for a White Sox system that ranks among the worst, they need all the help they can get.
Rogers: It’s the Reds, of course. They have the fourth-oldest batting roster in the league and aren’t going anywhere in the standings. (The three older rosters are all playoff contenders.) Cincinnati should try to unload Mike Moustakas, Tommy Pham, Brandon Drury, Tyler Naquin and anything else that isn’t bolted down in the clubhouse. Heck, perhaps someone will take on Joey Votto‘s contract, if he approves. OK, maybe not, but you get the point.
Which team will finish the season with the most wins in MLB — and how many games will they win?
Gonzalez: The Yankees and Dodgers are the two best teams, but they also play in supremely competitive divisions. I’ll go with the Brewers, and they’ll win 98 — a franchise record.
Lee: The Yankees, with 101 victories.
Passan: Am I seriously the only person picking the Dodgers? Give me 102.
Rogers: As long as the Yankees stay healthy, they’re just too good this year. They’ll win 103, the most in baseball.