With Opening Night minutes away and the first slate of games set for a glorious Thursday afternoon, now is a good time to rank the 30 offenses in major league baseball. This isn’t a formal ranking of teams, but a ranking of starting lineups.
There just seem to be many misconceptions out there about certain teams. People are praising the Rays and Angels as two of the top-five teams in baseball, ignoring the fact that both have relatively poor lineups. So without further ado…
30) Houston Astros
Carlos Lee is the only power bat and Jordan Schafer strikes out way too much to be a leadoff batter. There’s no way he lasts in that role all season. Jose Altuve and J.D. Martinez could surprise some people, but overall this lineup is young and full of easy outs. Wouldn’t be surprised to see Jamie Moyer toy with it on Friday.
29) Oakland Athletics
Yoenis Cespedes certainly helps, but you know you have very little offense when Coco Crisp and Seth Smith are batting in prime run-producing spots. Both are nice players. But they aren’t No. 3 and 4 hitters.
28) Chicago White Sox
Eww. Adam Dunn and Paul Konerko batting third and fourth but a series of black holes elsewhere. Nobody else gets on base with any regularity. Not A.J. Pierzynski, or Alex Rios, or Alejandro De Aza, or Alexei Ramirez. Gonna be a rough year on the south side of the Chi.
27) Chicago Cubs
Just not much there. The Cubs are probably OK with not competing this season. The projected 1-2-3 of David DeJesus, Darwin Barney and Starlin Castro might hit 400 singles and make 1,200 outs. None of them walk. None of them are overly fast. Unless Alfonso Soriano and Bryan LaHair combine for 125 extra-base hits, this team will struggle mightily to score runs.
26) Pittsburgh Pirates
Andrew McCutchen is an incredible talent and the type of player all 30 teams covet, but he’s not a game-breaking offensive talent. He can hit doubles, steal bases and work the count but he doesn’t yet have 30-home run power and he is a lifetime .276 hitter. There simply isn’t enough protection around him. Neil Walker is productive but fits better as a fifth or sixth batter than a cleanup hitter. And the Pirates are again planning to give Garrett Jones close to 500 plate appearances. Jones’ power is overrated — 20 home runs over a full season isn’t as valuable as you may think, especially when it’s packaged it with a low batting average (.254 career) and OBP (.323).
25) San Diego Padres
Partly because of the ballpark, partly because of poor roster construction, the Padres have been nightmarish at the plate in recent years. This season they could take a step forward. Cameron Maybin finally came into his own last season and will lead off for San Diego. On-base machine Chase Headley is back and healthy, as is catcher Nick Hundley. Yonder Alonso is a top NL Rookie of the Year candidate who will bat fourth or fifth. Jesus Guzman has big-time power potential, even if he hasn’t realized it through his age-27 season.
24) Seattle Mariners
Like the Padres, the Mariners figure to be better with the sticks. A 2-through-5 of Dustin Ackley, Ichiro, Justin Smoak and Jesus Montero has the chance to be very good. Montero is my AL Rookie of the Year pick. I could see him hitting .291/.385/.500 with 20-22 homers.
23) Baltimore Orioles
You can do worse than J.J. Hardy, Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and Matt Wieters in the heart of your order, but a 7-8-9 of Mark Reynolds, Chris Davis and Robert Andino will strike out far too much, leaving a lot of importance on leadoff batter Nolan Reimold to set the tone for the Orioles’ run producers.
22) Kansas City Royals
More teams need to lead off a hitter like Alex Gordon, who can hit, walk, hit for power and run a little bit. This isn’t 1975. Your leadoff batter doesn’t have to be a fast guy who gets on base 33 percent of the time.
KC can do some things at the plate this season. A 3-4-5 of Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler and Mike Moustakas could prove to be fearsome for the next decade. But as of now, the Royals have too many lineup holes.
21) Cleveland Indians
Asdrubal Cabrera, Shin-Soo Choo and Carlos Santana are all standouts, but like a lot of these teams in the lower half, there is little else in the lineup. If Grady Sizemore can return at some point and Travis Hafner can stay healthy, the Indians have a chance to be much more dynamic offensively. But those are two huge “ifs.”
20) Washington Nationals
Might be a surprising choice to appear this low, but the Nationals just don’t have enough OBP. Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa will likely bat first and second, and plate discipline is the worst quality of both. Desmond has a .304 career OBP. Espinosa is at .316. Yuck.
Ryan Zimmerman is obviously a stud, but he’s missed an average of 36 games the last three seasons. Jayson Werth has to be better than he was last year, but there is no guarantee Mike Morse will be as good. Morse is starting the season on the DL, by the way. The Nats improved their pitching, but all that means is that they might lose more one-run games.
19) New York Mets
Mets ahead of the Nats just because David Wright should go back to being a 25-30 home run hitter in the shortened dimensions of Citi Field, Ike Davis has Mark Grace-like potential (.300 BA, .385 OBP) and I have faith in Ruben Tejada growing into a productive middle infielder. Tejada is Freddy Galvis with a better batting eye.
18) Minnesota Twins
It all depends on Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, but I have a feeling Mauer reverts to his .320/.400/.470 form. Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit give M&M protection. Speed is a big issue and the 7-8-9 is ugly. But this just feels like a team that will vastly improve upon 2011′s offense. Leadoff batter Denard Span should be back and ready to go, too.
17) Los Angeles Dodgers
Shaping up to be another year of Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and nothing else. I expect the Dodgers to be better than they were last year, but you can’t succeed with two hitters and a bunch of less-than-league-average re-treads like Juan Rivera, James Loney and A.J. Ellis. Dee Gordon won’t be able to steal first.
16) San Francisco Giants
Lineup will be better. Angel Pagan is a legitimate upgrade from Andres Torres from a speed, contact, discipline and power standpoint. Buster Posey is back. Pablo Sandoval is back to being a .300 hitter. Melky Cabrera didn’t fluke his way to 44 doubles and a .305 batting average last season. Better offense but still not top-tier. Though I do expect the Giants to win the NL West by more than five games.
15) Los Angeles Angels
The Angels having “one of the best lineups in baseball” is such a ridiculous misconception. Has anyone who has said that actually looked at the team? Yes, they signed Albert Pujols, but they have less protection for him than the Cardinals ever did. Outside of Pujols, nobody in this lineup has big-time power. Mark Trumbo hit 29 homers as a rookie last season but how many games will he actually play in 2012? He was converted to third base, where he had a horrible spring with the glove. Kendrys Morales had a big offensive year before getting hurt, but again, how much can you realistically expect from him after badly breaking his ankle?
Howard Kendrick can hit. Alberto Callaspo is a good hitter for a utility infielder. Chris Iannetta can get on base. But that’s it. Nothing else. The Cardinals lost Pujols and somehow ended up with a better lineup than the Angels.
***14) PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES***
Middle of the pack. A lot depends on Juan Pierre, which nobody thought when the Phillies signed him to a minor-league deal on a quiet Friday at the end of January. Bad feeling about Ty Wigginton and Laynce Nix. Slightly less bad feeling about John Mayberry. Good feeling about Shane Victorino having a big offensive season. Good feeling about Hunter Pence being Hunter Pence and nothing more or less. No idea what to expect from Jimmy. Predicting Polanco hits .294.
13) Tampa Bay Rays
I guess because they have young talent, are exciting and had a wild finish to the 2011 season, people thought it was no issue overrating them heading into 2012. But do you realize that the Rays have a projected 5-through-9 of Matt Joyce, Luke Scott, Jeff Keppinger, Sean Rodriguez and Jose Molina? The only reason I have the Rays ahead of the Phillies is because Evan Longoria is a game-breaker and Desmond Jennings has a chance to hit like Victorino.
12) Atlanta Braves
Go ahead and write off Jason Heyward. Let’s just ignore that he had a chronic shoulder problem last season, tried to play through it, saw the condition worsen and had a bad year at the plate.
My only concern with Atlanta’s offense is that it centers around Brian McCann, and you never want to base your lineup around a catcher. They break down. Power gets sapped as the year goes on. McCann the last three seasons has hit .236 with a .750 OPS in August and September.
11) Colorado Rockies
Top-heavy, like many other teams, but I’ll take the top-heavy team that has Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki. Michael Cuddyer moves from the worst hitter’s park to one of the best. Todd Helton could slow down to a crawl and still kill the Phillies and get on base 38-40% of the time.
10) Arizona Diamondbacks
The D’backs are going to take a step back this year. I’m only ranking them so high because Chase Field is a bandbox and Paul Goldschmidt could hit 40 home runs. Jason Kubel is an upgrade in left field. Justin Upton has more measurable talent than the entire Astros team. Willie Bloomquist and Aaron Hill suck as 1-2 batters. The Diamondbacks could probably be lower. I’m 1,700 words in and am too lazy to move them.
9) Cincinnati Reds
These final nine teams could be ordered in many ways. I’m going with the Reds here because I just don’t trust Scott Rolen and am not as high on Jay Bruce as some people are. Joey Votto is a stud. And I don’t have a huge problem with that 10-year, $225 million contract, because the Reds are never going to lure a top free agent to Cincy. So why not lock up the best player the franchise has had in quite some time?
8) Toronto Blue Jays
Predicted record: 86-76, third place in the AL East, one game ahead of the Rays. GM Alex Anthopoulos has stolen Yunel Escobar and Colby Rasmus the past two seasons. If both finally put it all together in 2012, Toronto can be a top-3 offense. Adam Lind, Edwin Encarnacion and J.P. Arencibia are going to combine for 75 home runs even if they do nothing else. Jose Bautista is going to finish with an on-base percentage over .400 and hit 42-47 homers. Brett Lawrie is going to struggle defensively at third base but nobody is going to care because he’ll hit .285/.370/.500 with 27 home runs.
7) Miami Marlins
It literally all depends on Jose Reyes. If he misses 40 games, like he’s averaged since 2009, it’s a powerful offense that won’t get on base enough to be in the top 5-7. Hanley Ramirez and Giancarlo Stanton are going to have monster years but still do nothing against the Phillies’ three aces.
6) Milwaukee Brewers
Like the Cardinals, the Brewers lost their superstar first baseman but will still remain competitive offensively. Aramis Ramirez is almost a carbon copy of Victor Martinez. Think about the Tigers offense with Miguel Cabrera and Martinez last year. That’s what the Brewers will be with Ryan Braun and Ramirez. Plus there’s Rickie Weeks and a full season from Corey Hart. The Brew Crew won’t struggle to score.
5) St. Louis Cardinals
I’ve already mentioned how much I like the Cards’ offense. They lost Pujols to Anaheim and still have a better lineup than the Angels. Matt Holliday, Carlos Beltran and Lance Berkman are an OBP nightmare, and all three could hit 25 home runs. Jon Jay is a dangerous hitter at the bottom of the lineup. Yadier Molina alternates between very good and mediocre offensive seasons. David Freese won’t be a star in this league but he’ll hit .280 with 23 home runs.
4) New York Yankees
Not on the level of the top-three, but still an offense you don’t want to face. Jeter-Granderson-Cano-A-Rod-Teixeira. Not only is that incredibly difficult to maneuver through, but it’s R-L-L-R-S.
3) Texas Rangers
Once you get down to these three, any choice is the right one. Texas has the most power, top-to-bottom, of the final three, but also has the most injury concerns with Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz always missing time. I expect less from Mike Napoli but more from Ian Kinsler. Those Rangers-Angels games are going to be great. LA’s stellar pitching and Texas’ near-unstoppable offense. Hot diggity.
2) Boston Red Sox
A 7-8-9 of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Cody Ross and Mike Aviles isn’t top-five worthy, but Boston’s first five batters are Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis and David Ortiz. If Carl Crawford is even 85% of the player he was in Tampa Bay, the Red Sox could win 97 games.
1) Detroit Tigers
Boston, Texas, and the Yankees are more complete 1-through-9, but I have no idea how a pitcher is going to convince himself to pitch around both Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder and not have a subsequent single put a wrench in his plans.
Cabrera and Fielder are two of the top-five hitters in baseball. Cabrera is simply better than Braun, and that 3-4 in Milwaukee was the best in the game as it was. Cabrera and Fielder hit for power, hit to all fields, have tremendous plate discipline and don’t strikeout often. They each have the complete package Phillies fans wish resided inside Ryan Howard.