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TWO WEEKS AFTER New Year’s, there was a bidding war over a baseball card at collectibles marketplace Goldin. Bidding opened at $30,000 and rose to $101,000 by the next day, accruing 14 bids by midnight. A high-end collector, who goes by Shyne150, had unloaded $474,000 on a 2020 Bowman Chrome Prospect Autographs Superfractor, a literal one-of-a-kind rookie card, of a minor league prospect — believed to be the most ever for a card featuring a player yet to appear in Double-A.

“That’s extreme interest,” Ken Goldin, the marketplace’s namesake founder and executive chairman, says. “That’s Fernando Tatis Jr., Ronald Acuna Jr., Juan Soto interest.”

The prospect was years from The Show. The card was serial numbered one-of-one featuring Jasson Dominguez, the New York Yankees‘ then-Low-A switch-hitting teenager who had played 57 games of minor league ball at the time of the sale.

The card collecting world was stunned: by the total, the name on the card and the brazenness of Shyne’s prospecting — a term for investing in cards of unproven players before they bloom or bust. The practice had become de rigueur, but the investment is usually more conservative.

Shyne didn’t see Dominguez as inexperienced or his investment risky; he saw potential waiting to be fulfilled and a profit margin to be reckoned with. After all, baseball provides a lengthier runway for prospects to succeed than football or basketball.

“Even if you tried to buy the Dominguez from me for $200,000 more than I paid for it,” Shyne, 40, says now, “I wouldn’t even consider it. … Dominguez is not mature yet, like a bond. You just gotta wait.”

The expectations surrounding Dominguez have been near-unprecedented (“He’s like Mike Trout,” one general manager told ESPN’s Jeff Passan when he was signed in 2019); the comparisons equally high (a skill set “like Mickey Mantle,” an international scouting director told Passan) and the nickname (“The Martian,” or El Marciano, coined in his native Dominican Republic) unforgettable. The Yankees gave him a franchise-record-setting $5.1 million signing bonus, using 95% of their international bonus pool for 2019-20 on the 16-year-old free agent.

Dominguez’s debut in 2021 — after COVID canceled the 2020 minor league season — was lukewarm. In those 57 games, between Rookie ball and Low-A, he hit .252 with five homers. He was no longer the Yankees’ top prospect. Still, Dominguez was promoted to High-A ahead of the 2022 MLB Futures Game (his second appearance) and emerged as the focal point of hypothetical trades for superstar outfielder Soto or ace Luis Castillo.

The promise of stardom — his MLB debut is projected in 2024 — was apparent in his trade value, but Dominguez’s team won’t reap the rewards for years, if at all.

Big league teams have long taken on that risk. But to sports card collectors investing hundreds of thousands — even with the hobby’s shocking unpredictability and a recession looming — was something new. Dominguez, who doesn’t turn 20 until February, would need to become, at least, a multiple-time MLB All-Star for Shyne’s bet to pay off. That’s a big gamble.

Could it actually happen?

“Timing is everything,” PWCC Marketplace director of business development Jesse Craig says. “Some people prospect as short-term gambling, some long-term …

“And some really think their guy’s going to be the next big thing.”

SHYNE’S REAL NAME is Matt Allen, but that’s not something you’ll see on his manicured social media. About four years ago, Allen invested money he made from private equity into cards. (“That’s something I really don’t want to get into,” Allen says when asked about his background. “A lot of people want to know the story.”) “I parlayed my profits into my passion,” he says now, wielding a sports card collection, by his own estimate, worth more than $100 million.

He sold a Luka Doncic rookie patch autograph (called an RPA, which includes an embedded piece of a jersey) reportedly for $4.6 million, which briefly held the record for most expensive basketball card of all time. On Instagram last December, he showed off a LeBron James RPA he says he ponied up $2.4 million for. His one-of-one Justin Herbert rookie card, for which he says he paid $550,000, just sold for $1.8 million at a Goldin auction. Allen says he bought a red Bowman Chrome refractor (numbered out of five) of Julio Rodriguez’s for $50,000 a year and a half ago; it just sold at auction in early August for $276,000.

He also owns a Triple Logoman boasting James, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant, which one industry headliner told ESPN is the greatest modern card in existence.

Allen, who began collecting at 7, is a tentpole of the hobby’s entrepreneurial evolution — one that has allowed him to rub elbows with some of the world’s most famous people. He breaks boxes with Drake, can tell you where the bathroom is at a Kardashian’s house (OK, it’s Rob’s) and is friends with Logan Paul.

The perpetually aviator-clad Allen is known for his big bets and bigger splashes. So when industry experts say that a half-million on Dominguez is a prospecting outlier and not the new normal, Allen demurs.

“What seems expensive today seems cheap tomorrow,” he says. “… I’m not even paying attention to [the card’s day-to-day worth]. I’m so long on it that it doesn’t even matter. If you said, ‘Hey, I’ll give you X for the card right now,’ it’s not even an option.

“I’m not trying to make money now.”

Instead of waiting to see if Dominguez is the second coming of Mickey Mantle — or Roy White … or Kevin Maas, for that matter — Allen overpaid now rather than risk not being able to acquire it when (or if) Dominguez starts launching moonshots into Monument Park.

“[Other collectors] wouldn’t pay $120,000 today for a card that sold for $100,000 yesterday; they would feel foolish,” Allen says. But according to Goldin, there’s a growing group of collectors who, armed with better-than-average sports knowledge, are taking a calculated risk — for better or worse.

“It’s common that people are prospecting, but the Dominguez case is prospecting — and I know this is a bad word — on steroids,” Goldin says. “He’s a Yankee, Yankee fans and collectors are clamoring for a young draft pick to be their next superstar. If he is, the card’s going to be in the millions.”

Bob Means, who oversees eBay’s sports card category, says, “At these initial stages, I don’t know if [prospectors are] thinking about the downside. I think it’s part of the hunt.”

Allen says that while others in the hobby were deciding whether paying future prices was a good strategy, he was actually doing it. “I pushed the private market in the past 3½ years greatly,” he says. “Myself and Ken [Goldin].”

Craig notes that, pre-pandemic, margins for success weren’t so thin. “Prices on prospecting are way more expensive than three years ago because everybody already understands what could potentially be the finish line.”

Recent multimillion-dollar sales, high demand from an influx of collectors and the uber-rarity of a one-of-one card justifies Allen betting big on Dominguez. Despite that, he admits that the sale was met with wide eyes. (One shocked hobby mainstay called Allen after the sale finalized, saying: “Bit of stretch, Matt?”)

Sure, Allen says he paid $100,000 for a Wander Franco Superfractor in 2019, two years before the former top prospect debuted with the Tampa Bay Rays. But Dominguez was far riskier; there was less of a sample size to work off. Allen could try to capitalize on that unrealized potential any time but, if Dominguez is as good as billed, that return-on-investment could soar.

“Then later on, [flippers, or prospectors who cash in at the earliest opportunity] are kicking themselves because it’s worth $1,000,000,” says Allen, who claims to have rejected a $1.8 million offer for the aforementioned Franco recently. “So it’s the people who just make that small percent margin … or people who can afford to hold it. I’ve spent like $9 million on cards in the past three weeks and I haven’t even released any of this stuff.”

Craig notes an example: A friend has an autographed one-of-one Superfractor of Seattle Mariners rookie sensation Julio Rodriguez, a 2022 MLB All-Star and likely AL Rookie of the Year. Following his Home Run Derby heroics, he was offered $1,000,000 for it. He turned it down.

“Prospecting, in general, is gambling,” Craig says. “Some people can actually look at a player, see he’s a five-tool guy, in the right organization and situation, and make an educated bet that he’s going to be a superstar.”

When Mike Trout’s 2009 Bowman Chrome Draft Prospects Superfractor sold for $3.94 million in August of 2020, he was already a three-time AL MVP. Goldin rattled off names of the supposed next big things of yesteryear, all hyped before their first MLB Opening Day. There was Bryce Harper and Ichiro on one hand, and Stephen Strasburg and Gregg Jefferies on the other.

Then he stopped.

“Oh, actually,” he said. “This is the single most obvious one …”

A light went off in his head.

“’89 Ken Griffey Jr.”

COMPARING DOMINGUEZ TO Ken Griffey Jr. is, at once, astounding and fitting. Within the hobby, Griffey’s iconic Upper Deck rookie card — the first card in its 1989 debut release — is the most famous example of prospecting, both from a manufacturing and collecting standpoint.

It’s the reason that modern prospecting is what it is. It also nearly killed the hobby.

In the late 1980s, sports cards were a billion-dollar business. A hobby shop called The Upper Deck partnered with businessmen breaking into the industry, with lofty aspirations: Start creating superior baseball cards.

Topps’ half-century monopoly on baseball cards ended in 1980, allowing new companies to compete in the space. But card technology was rudimentary and Upper Deck knew collectors wanted upscale products: higher quality cardstock, foil pack wrappers instead of wax, hologram technology dissuading fraud, all which would motivate consumers to devour a product that cost double, per pack, what Topps cost. Even their credo was decades ahead of its time: “Upper Deck: For the kid on the street and the Wall Street investor.”

But they wanted their debut release to kick off with a wunderkind, rather than the conventional established star.

In 1988, Griffey was raking at High-A San Bernardino, which played home games 7 miles from the school attended by an Upper Deck employee; he’d eventually choose him as the debut set’s face. Junior finished the season at Double-A Vermont and had never been photographed in a Seattle Mariners uniform, so Upper Deck superimposed Seattle regalia over a Sports Illustrated photo of him in San Bernardino garb, despite even bullish estimates pegging him as a midseason call-up.

When “The Kid” hit .397 in spring training and made the Opening Day roster, collectors went hunting for Griffey’s rookie en masse, which is where things went awry.

Unbeknownst to collectors at the time, Upper Deck reportedly printed more than two million Junior rookie cards. To date, it’s one of the two most often graded cards of all-time. It was an era without transparency of how many of each card manufacturers produced. Baseball, always the hobby’s most popular sport, was propping up the entire industry. And overproduction, coupled with the 1994 MLB strike, nearly sank it — Junior’s smiling visage the scapegoat.

Serial numbering was introduced in the early 1990s and one-of-ones debuted around 1997. Card collecting largely remained niche for the next decade, but as the economic recession of the late 2000s wreaked havoc, those with expendable income looked for investments outside the volatile stock market. Investing in cards from 2008 to 2018 proved more stable and lucrative (from a return-on-investment standpoint) than the S&P 500; the card industry was reborn as portfolio diversification.

“Chase” cards (cards collectors hunt and capitalize on) are most often one-of-one signed rookie cards. One-of-ones don’t exist without that Griffey rookie.

Allen’s $474,000 gamble on Dominguez — the rarest card of a prospect billed to rewrite record books under the MLB’s brightest, most famous lights — isn’t just a natural progression of the industry, but has direct lineage from Junior. It’s also a perfect storm of collecting’s evolution since the late 2000s.

But in 1989, with Upper Deck boxes running consumers $35, prospecting on “The Kid” wasn’t a mortgage-leveraging endeavor. In 2022, with a high-end card market producing boxes costing thousands, risky prospecting could decimate a savings account, another temptation as legalized gambling trickles about the United States.

But prospecting successfully, now more than ever, could also mean early retirement. For those who can afford it, that’s a risk worth taking.

“Cards were never considered an alternate asset class [until the last five years],” Goldin says. “People are looking at [cards] kind of like the next big biotech company.”

ANTHONY GIORDANO RESISTED getting his 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle card graded and sold for decades, despite repeatedly being offered millions. When he finally relented and sold it for an all-time sports collectible record $12.6 million in late August, it was what a generation — of his family and those in the industry — had been waiting for: The first eight-figure card sale.

It’s also the pie-in-the-sky denouement for Allen’s Dominguez card.

But Mantle and his hallowed 1952 Topps card have long been inked into lore. Dominguez’s story is not only still being written; the pen has barely touched paper.

So when Dominguez dropped a fly ball in the second inning of the 2022 Futures Game, laughed it off, then hit a prodigious home run into the bleachers at Dodger Stadium in the next half-inning, it was a reminder of the risk-reward of prospecting.

“Look, Dominguez in five years could be washed up and [prospectors] are onto the next new thing,” Allen says. “Most of it is hype.”

But that didn’t stop him from joyfully reading Dominguez’s stats as if, quite literally, off the back of his baseball card. He was watching the Futures Game when Dominguez’s ferocious swing, punctuated with a helicopter finish, deposited a round-tripper in the seats at Chavez Ravine, perhaps portending his future.

Allen’s first thought?

“Man,” he chuckled, “Everybody’s going to be going crazy for Dominguez now.”

Bryce Harper, who landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16, was labeled a prodigy. Since arriving in the majors in 2012, he has won Rookie of the Year, collected two MVPs and was named to seven All-Star games. Pretty good, right? Several industry experts unanimously cite Harper as a hobby disappointment — “He was supposed to catapult a franchise, be the next Mickey Mantle,” says Craig — relative to expectations.

“Modern cards are more naturally volatile. There’s risk when a player’s active,” says Craig. “I’m a risk-averse guy, so if I were investing half a million dollars into a card, I’m going vintage.”

Means also thinks vintage is more reliable: “When you’re looking at Willie Mays, there’s no new story — Willie Mays is Willie Mays. It’s done. … [But] we’ve seen people stumble, where someone lays an egg during a playoff series. People can have slumps.

“Next thing you know, you’re seeing 20%, 30%, 50% drops in their card values.”

With all eyes on Dominguez in the Futures Game, Yankees center fielder Aaron Judge was set to play in the same stadium, in the All-Star Game itself, three days later. Judge, amid one of the best seasons in baseball history, was chasing the American League single-season home run record. And yet, in May, his 2013 rookie Superfractor sold for $150,000 less than what Allen paid for Dominguez’s.

What about reigning AL MVP and two-way phenom Shohei Ohtani, doing things in professional baseball not seen since Babe Ruth? His autographed 2018 Superfractor went for roughly 39% of Dominguez’s sum.

Dominguez, for his part, wasn’t yet challenging hallowed records or making an MVP push. He had been playing for the Hudson Valley Renegades. He debuted July 22 by hitting a game-tying, ninth-inning blast against the Wilmington Blue Rocks, sending shockwaves through social media. Two days later, as the MLB trade deadline closed in, Twitter nearly combusted when Renegades manager Tyson Blaser removed Dominguez from a game after six innings.

Was Dominguez getting traded? Nope. His Renegades had a comfortable lead, and Blaser felt his star had earned a rest. The deadline passed, too, and Dominguez remained unmoved.

The Yankees did make several moves — but they weren’t for Soto, who went to the San Diego Padres, or Castillo, who was dealt to the Mariners.

Time will tell if that’s a good thing for the Yankees — and for Allen. One thing’s certain: The value of Dominguez’s card is higher with him in pinstripes.

“The market matters and the Yankees are the epicenter of baseball markets,” says Craig. Allen says that epicenter is why he bought the card.

He knows Dominguez is a work in progress. But he also oozes rare five-tool talent that made him a scout darling through grainy YouTube clips of batting practice.

As Dominguez’s competition improved, so did his play; he had 16 extra-base hits and 17 steals, while hitting .306 with an on-base percentage at nearly .400, in his 40 games with the Renegades. In his last game in High-A, he hit two home runs, one from each side of the plate.

Allen was ecstatic when Dominguez graduated in September to Double-A Somerset — his second promotion in 61 days — following his South Atlantic League Player of the Week honor. After some growing pains — he went 2-for-23 in his first six games as a Patriot — he racked up a .563 batting average and a 1.838 OPS in his last four.

Better yet? He slugged two homers in Somerset’s final game of the season, a series-clinching win to vault the Patriots to their first Eastern League title, and first title since becoming the Double-A Yankees affiliate.

“I’m getting phone calls,” Allen says cheekily, “saying he’s more or less the hottest Yankee in their farm system.”

In fact, Allen said, one of his buddies wants the card, an interest symbolic of the market’s ever-evolving clientele. He’s a minority owner of an MLB team, who texted Allen from his yacht, off the Amalfi Coast.

Though Allen says he’s not concerned with the ebbs and flows of it all, he estimates he could get at least $600,000 for the Dominguez card if he wanted to. But he’s holding out for more.

“That card can break a million dollars,” he says, “before he even makes it to the major leagues.”

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MLB Power Rankings: Who’s the new No. 1 team atop our list?




MLB Power Rankings: Who's the new No. 1 team atop our list?

As the battle in the National League persists between three powerhouse teams, one has emerged as the new No. 1 in our rankings — the Phillies.

The shake-up in the top five continued beyond that, as the Yankees jumped up two spots to No. 3 and the Braves fell to No. 5 while they try to find an offensive rhythm.

Is Philadelphia the current best team in MLB? And which emerging squad has a chance at knocking one of the elite top-five clubs from its spot?

Our expert panel has combined to rank every team in baseball based on a combination of what we’ve seen so far and what we already knew going into the 162-game marathon that is a full baseball season. We also asked ESPN MLB experts David Schoenfield, Bradford Doolittle, Jesse Rogers, Alden Gonzalez and Jorge Castillo to weigh in with an observation for all 30 teams.

Week 7 | Preseason rankings

Record: 36-14
Previous ranking: 2

The Ranger Suarez show continues after the southpaw allowed one run in seven innings with 10 strikeouts to beat the Rangers on Tuesday, running his record to 9-0 with a 1.35 ERA through his first 10 starts. Here’s the list of pitchers since 1920 to win at least nine of their first 10 starts with an ERA under 1.50: Suarez, Ubaldo Jimenez (2010), Juan Marichal (1966) and Sal Maglie (1952). Now the game has changed: While Suarez has pitched 66 innings, Marichal had thrown 92 innings through 10 starts, which was more than nine per start (including a 14-inning 1-0 shutout). Still, Suarez has been amazing, and those 10 strikeouts in a game matched a career high, set in September against the Marlins. — Schoenfield

Record: 33-19
Previous ranking: 1

The third start of Walker Buehler‘s return from a second Tommy John surgery was by far his most encouraging. He held the Reds scoreless through six innings on Saturday, striking out seven batters without issuing a walk and scattering only three hits. His fastball touched 97 mph. “I think I was pretty good at one point — I’ve started Game 1 of playoff series and Opening Day and things like that — and I want to be really good again,” Buehler said. If the Dodgers can get that Buehler … and pair him with Tyler Glasnow and Yoshinobu Yamamoto at the top of the rotation … to go with perhaps the most feared top half of a lineup in the sport — well, it might just be unfair. — Gonzalez

Record: 34-17
Previous ranking: 5

It finally happened: Clay Holmes gave up an earned run. The Yankees closer had not allowed one in 20 innings over 20 appearances to begin the season until Monday’s ninth inning, when some bad luck and two walks snowballed into four Mariners runs, a blown save and a loss to snap the Yankees’ seven-game winning streak. Holmes wasn’t going to keep a 0.00 ERA forever, but the collapse with a three-run lead was jarring nonetheless. The Yankees’ bullpen is still second across the majors in ERA and third in win probability added despite ranking 23rd in strikeout rate. More K’s would make their effectiveness more sustainable. — Castillo

Record: 29-18
Previous ranking: 4

Baltimore finished April second in the majors at 5.46 runs per game, but May has been a very different story for the offense. The Orioles are averaging four runs per game this month. They have been shut out twice and held to three or fewer runs 10 times in 18 games. And yet the Orioles have gone 10-8 in May behind a starting rotation with the second-best ERA in baseball since May 1. A lineup with Gunnar Henderson and Adley Rutschman at the top won’t underperform for too long. Combine that with the standout starting rotation and the Orioles will remain one of the sport’s top five teams. — Castillo

Record: 28-18
Previous ranking: 3

Atlanta’s offensive woes are starting to go beyond just a slow start at this point — at least as compared to last season. The Braves do still rank sixth in the majors in OPS, but they had a three-game stretch against the Cubs and Padres where they scored just one run in each game. Ronald Acuna Jr. still can’t find his power stroke, Austin Riley has been out with an intercostal strain, Orlando Arcia has struggled and Jarred Kelenic has slowed down after a nice start. At least Chris Sale continues to dominate: He tossed seven scoreless innings to beat the Padres on Monday for his third straight scoreless start and sixth consecutive win (1.15 ERA over that span). — Schoenfield

Record: 33-17
Previous ranking: 6

The Guardians made a big statement with a weekend sweep of the Twins, as Jose Ramirez belted a go-ahead home run in the eighth inning on Friday and Will Brennan hit a walk-off three-run homer on Sunday — both off curveballs thrown by Twins reliever Jhoan Duran. Ramirez’s batting average and OBP are down, but he leads the American League in RBIs, as he has hit well with runners on base. He also is getting more RBI opportunities, as opponents are pitching to him more with Josh Naylor behind him. Ramirez was intentionally walked 22 times last season but just twice so far in 2024. — Schoenfield

Record: 28-21
Previous ranking: 7

Christian Yelich is putting together his best season since winning the MVP award in 2019. Just in the past week, he has stolen home and led his team to a win against his old team, the Marlins, with a two-run, eighth-inning double. Even missing time due to a back ailment hasn’t slowed Yelich down. Since returning earlier this month, he is hitting over .300 with an OPS well over .800 to go along with four stolen bases, including that one of home on a throw from catcher to pitcher. That kind of heads-up play is indicative of the Brewers this season and a reason they remain in first place. — Rogers

Record: 32-19
Previous ranking: 10

Those who were forecasting a nosedive after the quick start have to be disappointed about Kansas City’s recent surge. The Royals’ pace did slow during the last couple of weeks of April, but since then, they have reemerged as one of baseball’s hottest teams.

As the first important checkpoint on the season calendar approaches (Memorial Day), there is nothing on the Royals’ dossier that suggests a looming regression — other than the notion that, before the season, no one really thought they’d be this good. The team’s front office seems to be buying in, recently cutting bait with Rule 5 pitcher Matt Sauer, who was not big-league ready. Rather than enduring a nonproductive roster spot, as a noncontending team might, the Royals designated Sauer for assignment. The more they win, the more moves like this we’ll see on a roster that has a number of improvable slots. — Doolittle

Record: 27-23
Previous ranking: 8

Shota Imanaga continues to be the storyline for Chicago, and around baseball, as his ERA continues to lower. He has faced nine different teams this season, and none has been able to figure him out. And he’s doing it with mostly a two-pitch mix: a rising fastball and a splitter. That combo has stymied hitters throughout both leagues. He didn’t even have his best fastball his last time out against the Pirates — it averaged just 90.9 mph — yet it was as successful as ever; he threw seven shutout innings while striking out seven, including his final batter with two men on. Imanaga has been nothing short of dominant. — Rogers

Record: 27-23
Previous ranking: 11

The Mariners’ best player so far has probably been catcher Cal Raleigh, who has Gold Glove-worthy defensive metrics while leading Seattle in both homers and RBIs. That Raleigh can be described as their best player despite a .219 batting average underscores the paradox of Seattle’s roster, one devoid of star-level performances this season. And yet, the Mariners not only continue to lead the AL West but have added to that advantage despite not winning more than two games in a row during May.

There has been plenty of good on the Mariners — Raleigh, utility player Dylan Moore, closer Andres Munoz, the entire starting rotation — but very little great. Great, of course, is the tier on which Julio Rodriguez is supposed to reside. If the Mariners are going to continue to thread this needle, however, J-Rod can’t be the only one to break out at some point. — Doolittle

Record: 26-24
Previous ranking: 13

It’s nearly June and the Red Sox — despite a seemingly never-ending stream of injuries — are hanging in there, hovering right around .500. Rafael Devers helped power the offense with a home run in six consecutive games to set a Red Sox record, before the streak was snapped in a win over the Rays on Tuesday. The victory gave Boston its first series win at Tampa Bay since July 2019. The Red Sox began the series having lost 15 of their previous 16 games at Tropicana Field. Their pitching staff remains one of the best in baseball, ranking second in ERA; but it got bad news when manager Alex Cora announced Garrett Whitlock was diagnosed with ulnar collateral ligament damage in his right elbow and that Tommy John surgery is on the table. The hits keep on coming in Boston. — Castillo

Record: 24-26
Previous ranking: 12

The biggest reason the Rangers have been pegged as a second-half breakout team is the quality of the pitchers they have on the injured list, specifically Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer, both of whom should return to action this season. Another indicator that might portend a resurgence is simply that two of their best hitters — Corey Seager and Adolis Garcia — have been more OK than outstanding.

Seager is slugging .404 and has just three doubles after leading the AL last season with 42. Garcia, meanwhile, has seen a regression in his walk rate at the plate and has surprisingly struggled in the field. Out in the grass, the Gold Glover has negative metrics in the various defensive systems, committed four errors and yet to record an outfield assist after registering 28 over the previous three campaigns. The good news for the Rangers: These things are not likely to last. — Doolittle

Record: 26-26
Previous ranking: 14

Joe Musgrove labored through three scoreless innings in his return from elbow inflammation on Tuesday. And though it was an unspectacular start — one that ended in a loss to the struggling Reds — the most important thing is that he’s back, returning to a starting rotation that has been performing quite well of late. Yu Darvish is on a run of 25 consecutive scoreless innings, Matt Waldron has limited the Dodgers and Braves to a combined three runs in 11 innings in back-to-back starts, and Dylan Cease, despite some recent struggles, has a 3.05 ERA in 10 outings this season. The rotation has been encouraging of late. What hasn’t been encouraging: Xander Bogaerts, who was OPS’ing .581 and will now be out at least two months with a shoulder fracture. — Gonzalez

Record: 26-23
Previous ranking: 9

After winning 17 of 19 games, the Twins’ rally sausage magic ended last week with a reality check. The club was swept by two of the American League’s three best teams — the Yankees and Guardians — and lost eight consecutive games. They rebounded Tuesday with a 10-0 win over the Nationals, but the AL Central is already looking like it’ll be the Guardians’ to lose. The impending return of Royce Lewis should greatly help the Twins’ pursuit. The third baseman ran the bases for the first time on Monday since straining his right quad on Opening Day. He is scheduled to go on rehab assignment soon. If all goes well, he should be back in the lineup some time in June, giving it a significant boost. — Castillo

Record: 25-26
Previous ranking: 17

The Rays are yet another team crushed by injuries this season. It was Zach Eflin‘s turn to land on the IL this week, with lower back inflammation. Otherwise, Tampa Bay actually has received reinforcements recently. Brandon Lowe, Josh Lowe and Jonathan Aranda have all come off the IL this month to bolster the lineup. Right-hander Ryan Pepiot was activated Wednesday after taking a 107 mph comebacker off his leg on May 5. Like the Red Sox, the Rays are staying afloat around .500. That won’t be good enough for long, though. — Castillo

Record: 24-26
Previous ranking: 15

Joc Pederson spent a good chunk of his pregame time in Los Angeles on Monday and Tuesday catching up with former Dodgers teammates and executives, before providing a crushing blow against the team he came up with, as his seventh-inning three-run homer pushed the Diamondbacks to a 7-3 victory on Tuesday (they went on to notch a series win with a 6-0 shutout on Wednesday). Pederson finished that game with a .989 OPS, fourth highest in the majors if he’d had enough plate appearances to qualify. Given the continued struggles of young stars Corbin Carroll and Gabriel Moreno — not to mention the injuries to starting pitchers Merrill Kelly and Eduardo Rodriguez — the D-backs would be in a really bad place if not for Pederson’s contributions. — Gonzalez

Record: 22-28
Previous ranking: 21

The Astros still haven’t caught fire, but little by little, they’ve started to climb out of their early 7-19 hole. Working to their advantage is that neither Seattle nor Texas has taken off and the AL West very much remains up for grabs, even for the sub-.500 Astros. As Houston very gradually builds momentum, the emergence of Kyle Tucker as a front-running MVP candidate continues to generate a brighter — and much-deserved — spotlight. With league-leading totals in homers, walks, OBP, slugging and OPS, a 9-for-9 showing on the basepaths and Tucker’s usual plus defense, this is the best version yet we’ve seen of the perennial All-Star. The “MVP!” chants have already begun at Minute Maid Park. — Doolittle

Record: 23-26
Previous ranking: 16

“Back” Flaherty? OK, so maybe it’s not good enough to put on a T-shirt, but the point stands: Jack Flaherty is so back. He pitched six innings of two-run ball against the D-backs on Saturday, and he has allowed just seven runs in 25⅓ innings over his past four starts. For the year, Flaherty has a 3.79 ERA with 72 strikeouts and only eight walks in 54⅔ innings, displaying a level of dominance we have not seen since he challenged for a Cy Young Award in 2019. With Flaherty, Tarik Skubal, Reese Olson and Casey Mize, the Tigers boast a really good rotation foursome. But they need more offense. — Gonzalez

Record: 24-26
Previous ranking: 24

The Giants’ outfield has been decimated by injuries of late, especially in center field, where Jung Hoo Lee, their big offseason signing, has been ruled out for the year because of a torn labrum in his left shoulder. That’s why Luis Matos‘ performance has been so reassuring. Matos, Lee’s replacement, went 10-for-26 with three home runs and 16 RBIs in his first six starts, earning the most recent NL Player of the Week honors. The 22-year-old Venezuelan totaled 11 RBIs in a stretch of just two games against the Rockies and became the youngest player in major league history with at least five RBIs in back-to-back games. “Man,” Giants manager Bob Melvin said, “that’s a lot of RBIs.” Sure is. — Gonzalez

Record: 22-26
Previous ranking: 18

Things are getting ugly in Toronto. The rumblings of a possible fire sale, one that could include Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette, are growing louder and louder. Blue Jays general manager Ross Atkins spoke to reporters over the weekend about his club’s disappointing start. He insisted “we believe in the talent” but acknowledged “there is a massive sense of urgency.” It comes down to the Blue Jays’ anemic offense. They rank in the bottom third of the majors in runs scored and wRC+. Guerrero has four home runs. Bichette is slashing .233/.289/.349. The Blue Jays aren’t going anywhere if those two All-Stars don’t level up their production. — Castillo

Record: 23-27
Previous ranking: 23

It’s all about Paul Skenes these days for the Pirates. His performance at Wrigley Field on Friday might be looked back upon as the beginning of a special career. More than 1,000 games have been played there between Chicago and Pittsburgh, but Skenes is the only Pirate to strike out at least 11 hitters in one contest. Oh, and he didn’t allow a hit while averaging over 99 mph on his fastball. His stuff, demeanor and presence are why he was the No.1 pick last summer and why he blew through the Cubs’ lineup in his second major league outing. — Rogers

Record: 21-28
Previous ranking: 19

We mentioned Edwin Diaz‘s home run problem in this space a couple of weeks ago — and it has only gotten worse, culminating in him allowing a three-run shot to tie Saturday’s game in the bottom of the ninth as the Marlins went on to win in 10 innings. For now, Diaz’s role as closer will be “fluid,” according to manager Carlos Mendoza. Reed Garrett picked up a save on Sunday. In other news: left-hander Brooks Raley elected to undergo elbow surgery, and he likely will miss the rest of the season; Drew Smith remains out with right shoulder soreness; Kodai Senga missed a bullpen session with triceps tightness; and top prospects Jett Williams and Drew Gilbert remain sidelined in the minors. — Schoenfield

Record: 21-27
Previous ranking: 20

It will be interesting to see how much more time the Nationals give top prospect James Wood in Triple-A, considering he’s hitting .358/.465/.600 with nine home runs. Sure, you don’t want to rush him, so maybe they give him another month or so. But the most impressive aspect of his season is that he has cut his strikeout rate from 32% last year in Single-A and Double-A all the way down to 19% in 2024 while also walking at a high rate (31 walks, 36 strikeouts). Considering the meager numbers from the likes of Joey Gallo, Joey Meneses and Eddie Rosario, it’s time to call up Wood. — Schoenfield

Record: 20-29
Previous ranking: 22

An awful 3-7 West Coast trip came to an end earlier this week after the Reds dropped their final three games against the Dodgers. The team is simply struggling on offense. Even with Elly De La Cruz doing his thing — especially on the basepaths — it hasn’t been nearly enough. The Reds rank in the bottom third of the majors in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging. Yes, injuries have hurt them, but those in the lineup have no such excuse. Newcomer Jeimer Candelario is hitting .223, outfielder Spencer Steer is only slugging .376 and 2021 Rookie of the Year Jonathan India has been as quiet as anyone, producing just six extra-base hits. The Reds need to turn it around soon. — Rogers

Record: 23-26
Previous ranking: 26

St. Louis has climbed out of last place thanks to some struggles on the road by the Reds — and a recent series sweep of the Orioles — but the Cardinals won’t exactly be considered contenders until they get themselves over .500. That hasn’t happened since they won the NL Central in 2022. That feels like ages ago, but at least the team has played better baseball of late. Three series wins in a row have the Cardinals feeling like they can get back into an NL wild-card race that’s pretty wide open. Not one singular thing has propelled them lately; it’s simply been steady play at the plate, in the field and on the mound. Can it continue? — Rogers

Record: 20-30
Previous ranking: 27

No one ever denied Jo Adell‘s raw ability during his years as a prospect, when he drew elite grades in several skill categories. With a career slash line of .214/.259/.366 over 619 plate appearances (roughly a full season of opportunity) and a strikeout rate of 35.4% entering this season, he simply had not put the bat on the ball enough to translate those tools into big league production. Perhaps the best development in the Angels’ latest disappointing season has been Adell’s improvement. His approach remains below average, but it’s way better than it was, with a strikeout rate down to 25% and career-best walk rate. That has allowed him to get to his power more often, and voilà! He has a career-high nine homers already and is slugging .500. — Doolittle

Record: 20-31
Previous ranking: 25

The Athletics didn’t make any splashes in the offseason transaction market, but it did seem like they added some solid roster-stabilizing veterans to raise the floor of the club, if only a bit. But some of those vets have fallen off in a major way as the A’s current plunge back into a 100-loss spiral picks up steam. J.D. Davis dropped into Oakland’s lap during spring training — after the Giants set him adrift — but he has foundered. Davis has managed a 69 OPS+ to date and has driven in just three runs in 101 plate appearances — all on solo homers. He is 2-for-21 with runners in scoring position with zero RBIs. On the pitching side, Ross Stripling leads the AL in losses and hits allowed. After eight MLB seasons of better-than-average pitching, Stripling has an ERA+ of just 75. — Doolittle

Record: 16-32
Previous ranking: 28

Kris Bryant was activated off the IL and played in his first game in more than five weeks on Tuesday. In three years with the Rockies, he has played in just 135 of a potential 371 games. His slash line since the start of the 2023 season is a mere .220/.307/.346. And after this season, he’ll still have four years and $104 million remaining on his contract. Needless to say, the Rockies desperately need him to recapture some of his lost form. “This last month, or the last couple of years, sometimes you take for granted being on the field,” Bryant said. “Now that I am feeling good and on the field again, I’m just ready to have some fun and not take it for granted and see what happens.” — Gonzalez

Record: 17-34
Previous ranking: 30

The Marlins had their best week of the season last week, taking two of three in Detroit then two of three from the Mets at home, including three straight shutouts (two against the Tigers, one against the Mets). Ryan Weathers, Trevor Rogers and Jesus Luzardo started those three games. Weathers followed up his eight shutout innings against Detroit with another strong start Monday against Milwaukee, allowing just two hits and two runs (one earned) in seven innings. The Marlins won that game, tying it in the ninth and walking it off in the 10th on a single from Josh Bell. — Schoenfield

Record: 15-35
Previous ranking: 29

Andrew Benintendi is off to the worst start of his career, compiling the lowest OPS among all qualified hitters so far this season. Benintendi still has three years remaining on his contract after this year, so dealing him won’t be the easiest task for GM Chris Getz. The veteran signed the largest contract ($75 million) in team history before last season, and he is owed over $50 million on it through 2027. And it’s not like he’s coming off a great year. Benintendi had an OPS+ of just 88 last season, the lowest of his career, outside of 2020. And even though he’s playing at a power-friendly home park, he has managed just six home runs in 94 games at Guaranteed Rate Field. — Rogers

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Braves star Acuña out for season with torn ACL




Braves star Acuña out for season with torn ACL

Atlanta Braves star outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. will miss the rest of the season after he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during Sunday’s 8-1 victory at Pittsburgh.

The reigning NL MVP led off the game with a double to right-center field off Martin Perez. With Marcell Ozuna at the plate, Acuña started toward third on a stolen base attempt and his left knee gave way. Acuña remained down for several minutes while being treated, pointing at his left leg before walking off under his own power.

The Braves’ initial diagnosis was left knee soreness. But the team announced Sunday night that an MRI showed a complete ACL tear that will require season-ending surgery.

Acuña tore his right ACL on July 20, 2021. Wearing a brace in the clubhouse after Sunday’s win, the 26-year-old outfielder said this injury felt less severe.

“(I) don’t feel that painful, any pop or anything. … Don’t think it’s that bad,” Acuña said.

Acuña said he was looking to take third when he anticipated a slow throw back to the mound from catcher Joey Bart. The toss came in harder than expected, leading to an abrupt pivot back to second with his knee twisting.

Acuña is batting .250 with four homers and 15 RBIs in 49 games. The four-time All-Star hit a career-best .337 last season with 41 homers and 106 RBIs.

Atlanta already was missing All-Star right-hander Spencer Strider, whose season ended on April 13 when he had internal brace surgery to repair the ulnar collateral ligament in his pitching elbow. Third baseman Austin Riley is day to day with a left intercostal strain, and catcher Sean Murphy remains on the 10-day injured list with an oblique injury after he got hurt on opening day.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Reds extend Dodgers’ skid to 5; Ohtani at ‘90%’




Reds extend Dodgers' skid to 5; Ohtani at '90%'

The Los Angeles Dodgers are in the midst of their longest losing streak since 2019, but first baseman Freddie Freeman has no doubt that there’s no concern.

“It’s May, it’s baseball,” Freeman said. “Two weeks ago, we were winning every game. I don’t think anybody needs to question in our lineup. We’ll be fine.”

The Cincinnati Reds finished off a sweep of the Dodgers with a 4-1 victory Sunday, extending LA’s slide to five games — it’s longest since dropping six in a row April 8-13, 2019.

Dodgers star Shohei Ohtani went 3-for-12 in the series while dealing with a bruised right hamstring. He batted second Sunday and went 1-for-3 as the designated hitter, reaching on an infield single while scoring the Dodgers’ only run.

“It’s right around 90%,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said of Ohtani’s hamstring. “Assuming it will keep getting better, I feel confident that he can play smart and not push it. Talked to him about not trying to steal a base. Be smart. The value of having him in the lineup is everything.”

Los Angeles’ lineup has been hampered by inconsistency. The Dodgers scored six times in the series opener, and then scored two more over the next two games.They have been shut out twice this month while scoring two or fewer runs six times.

“When you’re not hitting, it certainly seems lifeless,” Roberts said. “Seems like we’re running cold. I know it’s not from care or preparation. Bottom line, it’s about results and we’re not getting them right now. They outplayed us this series and won three.”

Roberts hinted at a couple of changes to the lineup when the Dodgers begin a three-game series against the New York Mets at Citi Field.

“Some guys might be pressing a little bit,” Roberts said. “Every time I write the lineup, I feel good that we’re going to put up some runs. It’s not a big picture-type thing. It’s certainly been two weeks where it hasn’t been good.”

Jonathan India and Nick Martini each drove in two runs for the Reds, and Brent Suter, Nick Martinez, Carson Spiers and Alexis Diaz combined for a five-hitter.

Martinez (2-3) pitched 4⅓ innings of one-hit ball on a bullpen day for Cincinnati, and Díaz got two outs for his 10th save.

“It starts with our pitchers,” Reds manager David Bell said. “They’re ready to take the ball. Starting with Brent Suter, who did his job. That’s where it starts. Nick Martinez took over. Nick continues to show when he executes his pitches how good he is. To pitch so well against this team really says a lot.”

Freeman hit an RBI double in the ninth, stopping a 0-for-22 slide for the Dodgers with runners in scoring position. Freeman then advanced on defensive indifference, but Díaz struck out Teoscar Hernandez and Andy Pages swinging.

The start of the game was moved up from 1:40 p.m. EDT to 12:10 p.m. due to the threat of severe storms that arrived in the sixth inning. The teams then waited through a delay for just over an hour.

Cincinnati scored four times in the third off Yoshinobu Yamamoto (5-2). India had a bases-loaded single, and Martini’s bloop hit scored two more.

Yamamoto allowed six hits, struck out eight and walked two in five innings.

“They found a way to fight with two outs and find some outfield grass,” Roberts said. “They stayed inside the baseball. When you fight, you get those breaks sometimes. Outside of that, I thought Yoshi was fantastic. He was one hitter away from going five scoreless.”


Dodgers: Right-hander Gavin Stone (4-2, 3.60 ERA) will oppose Mets right-hander Tylor Megill (0-2, 3.00 ERA) on Monday in the opener of a three-game series.

Reds: Left-hander Nick Lodolo (3-2, 3.34 ERA) will come off the injured list to start the series opener against the Cardinals on Monday. Lance Lynn (2-2, 3.68 ERA) starts for St. Louis.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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