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The New York Rangers were as dramatic as a Broadway play until the end of Round 2.

The Blueshirts trailed early in Game 6 of their series against the Carolina Hurricanes, and appeared in danger of not only allowing the Hurricanes to stay alive, but win the entire thing by sending things back to New York for Game 7.

The third period was all Rangers, though. A hat trick from Chris Kreider in that frame helped New York overcome multiple deficits and punch their ticket to the Eastern Conference finals with a 5-3 win.

Here’s a look at the keys to their run so far, and a look ahead at how they match up against their two potential opponents.

Rallying Rangers

There’s no arguing that New York had its worst outing of the postseason in Game 5 against Carolina. The Rangers were comparatively lifeless from the start — and still nearly completed a comeback to send the Hurricanes home.

New York responded well after losses in the regular season, and if Game 5 was a blip in that respect (as was losing at all for New York in the postseason, let alone twice in a row), Game 6 is where the Rangers showed why they were Presidents’ Trophy winners. Even after falling behind 3-1, they staged an epic third period rally to seal the deal on opposing ice.

Instead of letting Carolina continue to fester and create doubt about how good a lineup New York actually has, the Rangers tapped back into their strengths (i.e., scoring more than one goal like they did in Game 5) and channeling their top-tier pedigree in enemy territory. Perhaps it wasn’t the cleanest of series, like the Rangers’ first-round sweep, but in the end New York finished the job.


Best of the bunch

It’s cliché for a reason: If your top skaters aren’t performing in the playoffs, it’s tough to find success (just ask the Toronto Maple Leafs).

Consider New York’s run last season, when Artemi Panarin produced just two assists in seven games. This time around? Panarin had four goals and nine points — through seven games. Vincent Trocheck has been a revelation in the postseason, with five goals and 12 points, Mika Zibanejad has tossed in 13 points and Alexis Lafreniere is playing some of his best hockey to date, with four goals and 10 points.

While depth is always an asset in the postseason, it almost always has to be in tandem with a team’s high-end talent steering the ship. That’s what’s happening for the Rangers. When all their stars are aligned, it’s hard to imagine slowing this group down.


Stealing with Shesterkin

The Rangers can give an opponent’s goaltender fits when their high-flying forwards get in a flow. New York is fortunate its netminder is in top-top shape, though, because for all the Rangers’ offensive prowess, they allow a shocking number of scoring chances against.

Igor Shesterkin has been up to the task of keeping New York from hurting itself (too much) defensively. Not only are the Rangers giving up the most shots on goal in the postseason (32.9 per game), Shesterkin also faced the most high-danger shots (63) and completed the second-most high-danger saves (52).

Carolina in particular peppered Shesterkin with an onslaught of quality opportunities. The cool, calm, collected version of Shesterkin (circa, say, winning the Vezina Trophy in 2022) has been on full display throughout the playoffs (with a .924 save percentage and 2.33 goals-against average to prove it). There’s no question he’s an integral piece in the Rangers’ dominance and will continue to be so in the series ahead.

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‘IGOR’ chant rings out after another clutch Shesterkin save

Rangers fans go wild after Igor Shesterkin shuts down Jake Guentzel’s breakaway goal attempt.


Super special teams

It’s a classic case of pick your poison, because the Rangers can beat a team in multiple ways.

Their 5-on-5 numbers are, thanks to that noted core of offensive threats, strong this postseason. And then there’s the power play, which is third best in the playoff field (33.3%) and packs a powerful punch (with 10 goals through nine games).

New York’s penalty kill is even more effective, sitting second best overall at 91.2%, and it was a backbreaker for the Hurricanes to try to get through (Carolina started the series going 0-for-15 on the man advantage). And short-handed goals? New York leads the playoff field with four.

Thanks to that strong play in all situations, the Rangers present a formidable challenge to whomever lines up against them next.


How the Rangers match up with the Florida Panthers

At its best (and most entertaining), a New York-Florida series would just be nonstop goal-scoring. And if any two teams have the offensive firepower to make that vision a reality, it’s the Rangers and Panthers.

Florida and New York are averaging some of the best scoring totals in the playoff field (with 3.70 and 3.33 goals per game, respectively). They can be superb on special teams with two excellent power plays (30.3% and 23.7%) duking it out versus difference-making penalty kills (91.9% and 85.3%), and notably, the Panthers are second in shots on net (33.5) to spice things up even further with their competition.

The Rangers’ stars have come out in the postseason, and so have the Panthers’. Matthew Tkachuk (four goals and 13 points in the postseason), Aleksander Barkov (five goals and 13 points), and Carter Verhaeghe (six goals and 10 points) would be going stride-for-stride with the Rangers’ elite. And while teams don’t necessarily want to be into a track meet at any point in their season — particularly when stakes are highest — it might be inevitable when gifted scorers are rolling out on nearly every line.

New York’s defensive performance aligns with Florida’s, too. The Rangers have allowed 2.56 goals against per game in the postseason, compared to 2.60 by the Panthers — but Florida holds a considerable edge in limiting shots (giving up 24.2 per game versus 32.1). So, New York would have to tighten up there lest the Panthers take advantage to run wild. But even then, the back-and-forth that could come out of this series highlights what New York does well, and Florida has potential to offer up more chances than the Bruins might.

The Rangers’ other big boost is in the crease. Sergei Bobrovsky‘s numbers (.892 SV%, 2.62 GAA) have been solid, and he’s giving Florida timely saves. Shesterkin, though, has been exceptional for much of the postseason (.924 SV%, 2.33 GAA) despite New York’s leakier back end, and he has factored squarely into making New York appear at its most dominant. Naturally, we assume that will offer the Rangers a serious bump on the goaltending side (something they may not have in a series vs. Boston, where Jeremy Swayman has been locked in throughout the playoffs).

New York’s bread and butter has been its attack up front plus excellent netminding, and a series against Florida gives them the opportunity to lean on both — and punch their ticket back to a Cup Final.


How the Rangers match up with the Boston Bruins

This is the Original Six matchup both cities have longed to see on the big stage.

The last postseason meeting between these clubs was in 2012-13, a series Boston won in five games. The Rangers know what it takes to top the Bruins this time around, having swept the season series 3-0.

Boston doesn’t have the same showcase of scoring talent as New York does. The Bruins’ depth was an issue in their series against the Panthers, and the Rangers may, arguably, have more offensive threats in their lineup for Boston to heed. That would likely be the biggest question mark heading into this particular conference finals matchup: Can the Bruins go toe-to-toe with the Rangers up front?

Boston is relying on younger skaters than New York as well. While the Rangers are thick with experience, the Bruins require vital contributions from the likes of John Beecher (22 years old) and Mason Lohrei (23) to give them quality minutes in the postseason. The Bruins also average nearly one goal less per game than the Rangers (2.50 vs. 3.33).

It’s Boston’s goaltending that has been its backbone in the postseason. And Swayman might be the only netminder who can challenge Shesterkin when he’s in top form. The Bruins’ defense has allowed the third-most shots against (32.5 per game) while averaging the fourth fewest goals against (2.42 per game). The Rangers are in the same boat, giving up the fourth most shots (32.1) and fifth fewest goals (2.56). Frankly, this series’ winner would be the one not getting “goalied.”

The Rangers have a special teams advantage against the Bruins with the better penalty kill (91.9% vs. 81.8%) and power play (30.3% vs. 22.6%). But Boston’s kill stepped up big against Florida, and there may be momentum to carry on into another series, too.

Boston has shown resilience in the postseason by not blowing a 3-1 lead in the first round, and if the Bruins make it past Florida it will be by overcoming a 3-1 deficit. The Rangers would have to be prepared for Boston’s confidence to be sky-high going into a conference finals matchup that not too long ago likely looked — and felt — like a pipe dream.

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

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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

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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%’

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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.”

UP NEXT

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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