1. New York Yankees
Boasting a young and talented roster, the prospects of the team that fell one game short of advancing to the World Series last season are looking even better this season. The Yankees traded for National League (NL) MVP Giancarlo Stanton and called up promising prospects Gleyber Torres and Miguel Andujar, lending the team depth and even more power hitting ability. The return of first baseman Greg Bird from the disabled list has also increased the team’s overall strength. Despite a rough start to the season including an injury count in the double digits, the team has lived up to expectations, and their win percentage is now the best in baseball. The Yankees will likely look to use their farm system to improve their starting pitching via trade following the loss of Jordan Montgomery to a recent Tommy John surgery.
2. Houston Astros
Entering the year as the defending World Series champions, the Astros’ roster has changed very little since last season. Given the number of returning faces, Houston remains one of the teams to beat in the race for a World Series title. Additionally, the Astros acquired Pittsburgh Pirates ace Gerrit Cole to boost their already-competitive pitching rotation and added Hector Rondon to the team to strengthen their bullpen. Their rotation has been record-setting this season, and Cole and teammate Justin Verlander both rank in the top six best Earned Run Average (ERA) for the American League (AL). Familiar names remain atop the AL once more: The Astros only have to worry about the dominant Yankees and the powerful Red Sox.
3. Boston Red Sox
Last season, the Red Sox were excellent at working their way on base by consistently stringing long rallies of singles and doubles together. With a superb pitching rotation led by Chris Sale, Boston’s contact hitting proved reliable enough to win their division in the regular season, but not enough to win the coveted World Series trophy. So, they recruited power hitter J.D. Martinez, who has delivered with a .315 batting average and 22 home runs so far this season. Mookie Betts’ ascendance lends even more firepower to the offence: He has already knocked in 19 home runs halfway through the third month of the season, a striking uptick from his 2017 season total of 24. An improvement in power hitting and a maintained pitching staff have put the Red Sox in position to battle the Yankees for the best record in baseball and have strengthened their prospects of being World Series contenders once more.
4. Atlanta Braves
Despite including no household names, Atlanta’s starting pitchers are the stars of the team. Sean Newcomb and Mike Foltynewicz are fooling hitters and both boast ERAs below 3.00. But with a hit-or-miss bullpen, it’s up to the offence to build sustainable leads for the Braves—and they’re doing just that. Led by veteran Nick Markakis and his .323 batting average, the Braves’ outfield is knocking the cover off the ball. Infielders Freddie Freeman and Ozzie Albies have been tremendous, as well. Along with Markakis, they place in the top 50 in the majors in Wins Above Replacement (WAR). The Braves have surprised the league, coming out of nowhere to dominate the NL East, and they are now serious contenders to battle for the World Series trophy.
5. Milwaukee Brewers
The Brewers have enjoyed dependable hitting from all of their starters this season, but first baseman Jesús Aguilar’s performance stands out: Since becoming a regular starter, he’s hitting .301 with 14 home runs. With six offensive players on the disabled list, Milwaukee’s offseason trade for star outfielder Christian Yelich is paying off. His .295 batting average is the second-best mark on the team and his .833 on-base plus slugging is the fourth-best mark. Along with free-agent signing Lorenzo Cain—8th best in WAR among position players—Yelich has helped strengthen the Brewers’ outfield. Much like the Braves, Milwaukee’s starting pitching has been impressive; however, their bullpen, led by the young Josh Hader, has stolen the show with its 2.79 ERA. As the team gets healthier and returns the missing offensive contributors as well as ace Jimmy Nelson, they will become a force to reckon with come October.