Welcome to the fourth edition of theScore's MLB Power Rankings for the 2021 season.1. Chicago White Sox Record Last 10 RD Previous Rank (Change) 19-13 7-3 +53 4 (+3) The White Sox earn the top spot without any clear favorite due to their MLB-best plus-53 run differential. Chicago's offensive rating of 18.1, according to FanGraphs, is the league's fourth-best despite long-term injuries to Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez. Meanwhile, the team's pitching staff ranks in the top four in fWAR thanks to brilliant performances from Carlos Rodon and Lance Lynn. The former owns a 0.58 ERA and has allowed just one home run over 31 innings.2. Boston Red Sox Record Last 10 RD Previous Rank (Change) 22-13 6-4 +36 5 (+3) Xander Bogaerts might finally be getting the appreciation he deserves. The 28-year-old is off to a career-best start through 33 games, slashing .349/.396/.589 with seven home runs, 10 doubles, and a league-leading 45 hits. It's looking increasingly likely that the longest-tenured Red Sox player will opt out of the final three years and $60 million of his contract after the 2022 season and join a stacked free-agent class of shortstops slated to include Carlos Correa, Corey Seager, and Trevor Story.3. San Diego Padres Record Last 10 RD Previous Rank (Change) 19-16 6-4 +19 2 (-) San Diego owns MLB's best ERA at 2.89. That's why the Padres are second in the NL West, as the club just isn't hitting right now. Fernando Tatis Jr. and Trent Grisham are the only qualified Padres position players with an OPS above .800. Ha-Seong Kim, Jurickson Profar, and the team's entire catching corps have disappointed thus far. If San Diego is going to fulfill its potential this season, Tatis and Grisham need a lot of help fast.4. Oakland Athletics Record Last 10 RD Previous Rank (Change) 21-15 5-5 -10 3 (-1) The A's are still rolling. Bob Melvin's squad has lost just one series (to the Orioles, of all teams) since its season-opening six-game losing streak. The Athletics aren't doing anything spectacular. Instead, they're playing solid all-around baseball, and it's paying off. Their minus-10 run differential might indicate some regression, though.5. Los Angeles Dodgers Record Last 10 RD Previous Rank (Change) 18-17 2-8 +32 1 (-4) Injuries have decimated the powerful Dodgers, and even their unparalleled depth is being tested. The defending champs lost three of four to Milwaukee before the Cubs swept them at Wrigley Field, and they nearly blew a 13-0 lead to the Angels on Saturday. Despite all of that, the Dodgers are only 2 1/2 games out of first place in the NL West, and they own a plus-32 run differential. The odds are good they'll weather this storm. Sarah Stier / Getty Images Sport / Getty6. New York Yankees Record Last 10 RD Previous Rank (Change) 18-16 7-3 +13 14 (+8) Giancarlo Stanton isn't hearing many boos in the Bronx lately. The much-maligned slugger is helping to right the ship in New York with his sizzling stretch. He's hitting .413.464.762 with six home runs and four doubles over his last 15 games, pushing the Yankees to a 10-5 record over that span.7. San Francisco Giants Record Last 10 RD Previous Rank (Change) 20-14 5-5 +27 7 (-) After all the offseason hype tied to the Padres and Dodgers, the Giants are the first NL West team to reach 20 wins, and they boast the NL's second-best winning percentage and run differential. A home-heavy schedule has helped (they're 12-4 at Oracle Park). So has outstanding starting pitching from some surprising contributors, and resurgent offensive campaigns from veterans Evan Longoria and Buster Posey.8. St. Louis Cardinals Record Last 10 RD Previous Rank (Change) 21-14 8-2 +23 15 (+7) The Cardinals sit atop the NL Central after winning 12 of their last 16 games, and the ageless Yadier Molina leads their offense. He's produced five home runs and a .997 OPS over 21 contests, while Nolan Arenado paces the club with 23 RBIs. Ace Jack Flaherty is a perfect 6-0 in seven starts, and closer Alex Reyes has authored a 0.53 ERA with 10 saves in 16 appearances during his first season in the role.9. New York Mets Record Last 10 RD Previous Rank (Change) 16-13 7-3 -3 9 (-) Rat or raccoon? The Mets' five-game winning streak may have received less attention than the tunnel drama between Francisco Lindor and Jeff McNeil, but New York is finally playing up to preseason expectations. Lindor broke out of his early-season funk while posting a 1.043 OPS during the streak, Pete Alonso got on base at a .400 clip, and Marcus Stroman and Taijuan Walker have been fantastic behind ace Jacob deGrom with their combined 2.25 ERA. Carmen Mandato / Getty Images Sport / Getty10. Toronto Blue Jays Record Last 10 RD Previous Rank (Change) 17-16 6-4 +25 8 (-2) The Blue Jays somehow continue to stay above .500 despite an avalanche of injuries. George Springer is on the IL again and catcher Alejandro Kirk has joined him, along with a bunch of high-leverage relievers. Despite all the bullpen's health issues, the group's 2.92 ERA is fourth-best in the majors. Meanwhile, Toronto's offense is beginning to look like the juggernaut it was projected to become. The club has scored at least seven runs in four of its last 10 games.11. Tampa Bay Rays Record Last 10 RD Previous Rank (Change) 19-17 6-4 +1 11 (-) Mike Zunino was one of the league's worst offensive players during the shortened 2020 campaign, but he's rebounded significantly in 2021 without lighting the world on fire. The catcher has already surpassed his 2020 home run total, and he's one of three Rays regulars with an OPS over .750. If Zunino can sustain his current production, Tampa Bay's chances in the hyper-competitive AL East will keep improving.12. Houston Astros Record Last 10 RD Previous Rank (Change) 18-16 5-5 +33 13 (+1) The Astros managed to survive the Bronx and a hostile first series against the Yankees following the sign-stealing scandal. Houston can now focus on finding some consistency with Alex Bregman and Yordan Alvarez heating up. The 2019 AL Rookie of the Year has recorded multi-hit games in four straight contests and six of his last seven, resulting in a 1.033 OPS this campaign.13. Milwaukee Brewers Record Last 10 RD Previous Rank (Change) 19-16 4-6 -6 6 (-7) A recent six-game losing streak put a damper on the Brewers' good start to the season. Milwaukee will struggle to compete for a division title without a healthy Christian Yelich, who's on the IL with a back issue again, and a productive Keston Hiura. The latter is in the minors after posting a .513 OPS over 26 games. The pitching trio of Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, and Freddy Peralta will need to continue carrying the team.14. Philadelphia Phillies Record Last 10 RD Previous Rank (Change) 18-17 6-4 -8 17 (+3) The Phillies are staying within shouting distance of first in the NL East while dealing with a barrage of injuries, a lack of anything resembling production from the center-field spot, and one of the league's worst bullpens. The bullpen's latest collapse happened in Atlanta on Saturday when Philadelphia's relievers blew leads in the ninth and 12th innings. Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, and Zack Eflin can be incredible, but the Phillies might remain NL East bridesmaids if their bullpen stays broken.15. Atlanta Braves Record Last 10 RD Previous Rank (Change) 17-17 5-5 -12 10 (-5) The state of Georgia breathed a huge sigh of relief when Ronald Acuna Jr. suffered just a bruised finger from being hit with a 97-mph pitch on Saturday. A long-term injury would have been a crushing blow. Instead, the Braves can move past the scary moment and build on a solid week while trying to get above .500 before June. Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty16. Cleveland Indians Record Last 10 RD Previous Rank (Change) 18-14 7-3 +15 22 (+6) The Indians are second in the AL Central, but that standing doesn't fit a team that's already been no-hit twice this season. Cleveland has won seven of its last 10 games, even though the club's 86 wRC+ over that stretch ranks 26th in MLB. How are the Indians managing to be successful? Jose Ramirez slugged .600 with 10 runs scored during those 10 games, while the trio of Shane Bieber, Zach Plesac, and Aaron Civale have combined to strike out 141 hitters in 134 2/3 innings this season.17. Chicago Cubs Record Last 10 RD Previous Rank (Change) 17-17 7-3 -5 21 (+4) Kris Bryant's revenge tour hasn't been able to elevate the Cubs. The 2016 NL MVP has slashed .308/.397/.650 with nine homers over 32 games in what could be the impending free agent's last season on the North Side. Chicago's starting pitching is really holding the team back. The rotation's 5.32 ERA is the worst in baseball.18. Cincinnati Reds Record Last 10 RD Previous Rank (Change) 15-16 6-4 -4 16 (-2) After losing seven straight, the Reds recovered to take a series on the road from the Dodgers before nabbing four wins against tough competition in the Cubs, White Sox, and Indians. While Nick Castellanos continues to hit with authority (.632 slugging percentage), Jesse Winker's play is standing out. The 27-year-old's .354 batting average leads the NL, while his 1.044 OPS ranks only behind Bryant.19. Seattle Mariners Record Last 10 RD Previous Rank (Change) 18-17 5-5 -15 19 (-) Yes, the Mariners are in third place in the AL West and one game above .500. But they've also posted a minus-15 run differential, and the team has played .500 ball over the last two weeks. The Mariners are young and raw too, as catcher Luis Torrens showed with his mental error that allowed a run to score on Saturday. Still, there's talent and hope in Seattle for the first time in a while, even if these Mariners are starting to regress. Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty20. Kansas City Royals Record Last 10 RD Previous Rank (Change) 16-17 1-9 -31 12 (-8) The Royals plummeted following a seven-game losing skid after starting the season 16-9. Kansas City scored just 18 runs during that period, including being shutout in back-to-back games against the Indians and White Sox. Despite the team's recent struggles, left-hander Danny Duffy is turning heads with a 1.26 ERA over six starts.21. Minnesota Twins Record Last 10 RD Previous Rank (Change) 12-20 5-5 -2 18 (-3) Byron Buxton's injury couldn't have come at a worse time. Minnesota's hottest hitter is expected to miss several weeks after slashing .370/.408/.772 through 24 games. The Twins only managed 12 wins over 32 contests with Buxton producing like an MVP, so the next little while could be painful for them. At least they're still in a division with the Tigers.22. Miami Marlins Record Last 10 RD Previous Rank (Change) 15-18 5-5 +20 25 (+3) Young hurlers Sandy Alcantara, Pablo Lopez, and Trevor Rogers are keeping the Marlins hovering around .500 despite a woeful offense that's missing Jazz Chisholm. Only four teams have hit fewer homers than Miami's 31. The good news? Every NL East club has been average to start the season, and the Marlins are the only one with a positive run differential.23. Los Angeles Angels Record Last 10 RD Previous Rank (Change) 15-18 3-7 -27 20 (-3) The unexpected release of Albert Pujols overshadows a very tough week for the Angels, who have gone 3-7 over their last 10 games. Los Angeles also lost Alex Cobb to the IL with a blister, leaving a hole in its rotation. Going from Pujols to Jared Walsh at first base should help, and Mike Trout and Shohei Ohtani will keep doing what they do. But it's starting to again feel like another wasted season is beginning for the Halos. Perhaps they should have bit the bullet on Pujols' contract earlier.24. Washington Nationals Record Last 10 RD Previous Rank (Change) 13-17 5-5 -17 24 (-) During the same week when Pujols was unceremoniously dumped, Max Scherzer was on the mound proving that not all megadeals end miserably. The right-hander has been excellent early this season, posting a 2.33 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, and 61 strikeouts over 46 1/3 innings. Scherzer has been worth an MLB-best 35.5 WAR among pitchers since signing a seven-year, $210-million contract in 2015. Icon Sportswire / Icon Sportswire / Getty25. Texas Rangers Record Last 10 RD Previous Rank (Change) 18-18 7-3 -4 29 (+4) Adolis Garcia has emerged as a bright spot for the rebuilding Rangers. The outfielder leads all rookies and his team with nine homers. Garcia is one of many good young pieces who will make the Rangers fun to watch, even if they aren't in contention.26. Baltimore Orioles Record Last 10 RD Previous Rank (Change) 15-19 5-5 -16 26 (-) John Means is an ace. The right-hander is coming off a masterpiece no-hitter against the Mariners when he struck out 12 batters and was a wild pitch away from a perfect game. Means' 1.37 ERA is the third-best in the majors, and he's allowed two or fewer runs in six of his seven starts. At 28, Means is a bit older than the rest of the rebuilding Orioles' core. Baltimore could build around him, or use Means as an intriguing trade chip with three-plus remaining years of team control.27. Arizona Diamondbacks Record Last 10 RD Previous Rank (Change) 15-19 3-7 -15 23 (-4) It's been a rough start to the month for the D-Backs. Arizona has recorded one win in May, which came over the lowly Rockies. Asdrubal Cabrera is the only qualified hitter in the D-Backs' lineup with an OPS over .700 this month. At least Madison Bumgarner is rediscovering his old form. The team's ace has allowed eight hits and three runs over his last four starts.28. Pittsburgh Pirates Record Last 10 RD Previous Rank (Change) 14-19 2-8 -30 28 (-) The Pirates lost eight of 10 after playing surprisingly well in April. The team will also be without rookie stud Ke'Bryan Hayes for a while after he was transferred to the 60-day IL with a wrist injury. Pitchers JT Brubaker and Richard Rodriguez - who hasn't allowed a run in 12 appearances - are providing encouraging results.29. Colorado Rockies Record Last 10 RD Previous Rank (Change) 12-22 3-7 -24 27 (-2) The Rockies' old buddy Arenado and the Cardinals completed a sweep of Colorado, ending a series between teams heading in opposite directions. Colorado has now lost eight of its last 11 games to drop to the NL West basement. However, it hasn't been all bad news for the Rockies, as Raimel Tapia is emerging as a breakout candidate. The 27-year-old outfielder is currently on a nine-game hit streak, boasting a .417 average over the span.30. Detroit Tigers Record Last 10 RD Previous Rank (Change) 10-24 2-8 -68 30 (-) Winning will be pretty difficult for AJ Hinch's club if it can't score. The Tigers are only averaging 3.3 runs per game, and their minus-68 run differential is the MLB's worst by a significant margin. As the old adage goes, a team can't score if it can't get on base. Detroit's hitters have combined for a league-worst .277 OBP, with only three of the squad's regulars - Robbie Grossman, Jeimer Candelario, and Niko Goodrum - posting marks above .300.Copyright © 2021 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.
The San Francisco Giants beat the San Diego Padres, 5-4, thanks to a seventh inning solo jack by Austin Slater. Trent Grisham and Eric Hosmer both hit two-run home runs for the Padres, but it was not enough.
In the bottom of the first inning Tuesday night in San Diego, Padres leadoff hitter Trent Grisham struck out by swinging over the top of a darting 97-mph pitch from Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Corbin Burnes. As Grisham walked back to the dugout, the Padres broadcast team relayed the conversation the field microphone picked up. The next batter, Jurickson Profar, asked Grisham to verify what that pitch was."In? Cut?" asked Profar."Yes, exactly," Grisham said.But the pitch seemed to move faster and break later than physics should allow. Despite having a good idea of what was coming, Profar followed by pounding another Burnes cutter into the turf for a groundout.Burnes threw six shutout innings on the night, striking out 10 and walking none, bringing his season strikeout-to-walk ratio to 40-0, an MLB record to begin a season for a starting pitcher. Just over half his pitches were cutters, in line with his usage on the season.Burnes lowered his ERA to a major league-best 0.37, which is remarkable since it was 8.82 in 2019, nearly the league's worst. Throughout Tuesday's outing, the 26-year-old with the dishwater-blonde mullet showed little emotion as he dominated San Diego and stalked around the mound after strikeouts. The rest of the baseball world is in awe.Burnes' cutter is a unicorn pitch. He developed and added it to what is now a one-of-a-kind arsenal. Batters are helpless.The following is the list of pitchers in the Statcast era who've thrown cutters with similar above-average vertical movement and horizontal darting action and who've averaged at least 94 mph: Burnes in 2021 Kenley Jansen in 2016 That s it. That s the list. Rob Carr / Getty ImagesCleveland s Emmanuel Clase also throws what some systems classify as a 100 mph cutter, though it doesn't quite fit the movement profile. Burnes 2021 cutter moves 2 mph faster than peak Jansen velocity. Burnes is also a starter; Jansen and Clase are relievers. While Burnes now owns the record for Ks without a walk to begin a season as a starter, he's chasing Jansen for the overall mark set in 2017, when Jansen struck out 51 batters before issuing a walk.Like the Jansen cutter, or the Mariano Rivera variant, one of the benefits of a great cutter is it can be thrown regularly. Batters know it's coming and yet can't do much with it. It's given Burnes confidence to pepper the strike zone, reducing the walk issues he's had in the past. Burnes owns excellent control of the pitch so far, throwing 103 of 175 cutters within the confines of the strike zone, per Statcast data.Batters often whiff at the pitch, even when it's in the zone, including the following swing-and-miss from Minnesota's Luis Arraez, generally an excellent contact hitter. Your browser does not support the video tag. Major League BaseballEntering Wednesday, only three qualified pitchers held opponents to a lower contact rate on pitches in the strike zone, a number that shouts: "Here it is. Try and hit it." Those names: Jacob deGrom, Freddy Peralta, and Carlos Rodon. Your browser does not support the video tag. Major League BaseballOnly five pitchers have compelled more batters to chase pitches outside the zone, like that offering above that broke Ian Happ's bat: Burnes, deGrom, Luis Castillo, Joe Musgrove, and Shane Bieber. Only deGrom and Burnes are on both lists.How quickly Burnes' command of the cutter came together is partly a testament to the power of modern pitch design, theory, and unlocking potential.Burnes told reporters last week that he wanted to throw a "tighter, harder" slider following his disastrous 2019. As the experiment evolved during spring training at the Brewers' Arizona complex and the pitching labs there, the Brewers decided to change the tighter slider to a close relative: the cutter."When we got into spring training, we realized it was going to be more of a cutter, and that's when we made a few tweaks," Burnes said. "'Let's make it an actual cutter versus a slider with some depth.'"After all, Burnes already threw a quality slider and a curveball. Why not create a pitch with more velocity but a different shape? The new pitch could also reduce his reliance on a poor fastball.Burnes' four-seamer was by far his worst pitch. Despite throwing it at 95 mph in 2019, it had below-average movement. It had less ability to fight gravity, because of how his grip imparted the pitch's spin. The pitch was crushed. Batters hit .402 and slugged .790 against it.So in the spring of 2020, Burnes essentially took his four-seam grip and offset his hand slightly to the right of the ball. One of the best pitches in the majors was born - fast. He made a big improvement in the shortened season; his 8.82 ERA was down to 2.11 over 12 starts in 2020.So far this year, he's relied on the cutter even more and rarely throws his four-seamer. At the moment, his cutter is the second-most valuable pitch in the majors (only Tyler Glasnow s fastball is more valuable according to FanGraphs' run value). After another bit of refinement and increased usage, batters are hitting .098 against Burnes' cutter this season. Baseball's a game of millimeters. The slightest change in a grip can alter the fortunes of a pitch or a career.Burnes' adjustment isn't much different than the one Rivera made many years earlier. But Rivera's revelation was an accident. The search for a new pitch used to be one of feel, searching in the dark. Pitch-tracking technology now provides immediate feedback about pitch quality thanks to high-speed cameras that show the finest detail of fingertips releasing a pitch and how they influence a ball's spin. Like many clubs, the Brewers have invested heavily in giving their player development staff state-of-the-art tools. While not every pitcher can mimic the best grips due to the uniqueness of physical characteristics, the tools available today are certainly playing a role in the strikeout surge."With a few ball positioning things in the hand, we were able to take (the four-seam fastball) and basically it's the cutter," Burnes said. "When I throw it, I'm thinking through the process of throwing a four-seam fastball. For me, I think that's why it's become such an easy pitch. It's something I've thrown my entire life." Stacy Revere / Getty ImagesBurnes and the Brewers knew what they wanted to do. In designing a cutter, a pitcher essentially wants to tilt the spin axis of a four-seam fastball, which is more parallel to the strike zone, to an axis pointing more toward the zone, the way a football spins. That's known as gyroscopic spin.Instead of slightly bearing in on right-handed hitters as four-seam fastballs usually do from a right-handed pitcher, known as arm-side run, the cutter slightly breaks the opposite way due to the forces acting on it. The slight change produced incredible results: a pitch that travels up to 98 mph with a tight, late break toward left-handed hitters. The pitch breaks like some pitchers' sliders only with elite fastball velocity. So that grip adjustment created a helluva pitch that fits in perfectly with his offerings.What makes Burnes truly terrifying is that while Jansen and Rivera had one great pitch, Burnes throws four others in addition to the cutter.The following is a list of pitchers who throw a cutter, slider, changeup, sinker, and curveball each with frequencies of 10% or more often: Burnes and the soft-tossing Brett Anderson.That s it. That s the list. Most of those pitches are quality offerings in a vacuum and how they play off each other enhances their performance. In addition to the cutter, Burnes began throwing a two-seam fastball last season that breaks in the opposite direction from the cutter and from Burnes excellent, swing-and-miss slider. Add in his curveball and changeup and he possesses multiple pitches that dart away from bats - all with different shapes and slightly different speeds. Few pitchers have some depth in their offerings. Burnes basically has a cheat code at the moment. Your browser does not support the video tag. Major League Baseball / Graphic overlay by Michael Augustine The pitch mix makes him platoon-proof. Righties are batting .077 against Burnes while lefties aren't fairing much better at .116.Burnes is tapping into a concept known as spin mirroring, which is a fancy term for masking the spin of pitches so batters can't differentiate between them as easily. If a pitcher can pair two different pitches that share a similar spin axis, but that rotate with opposite spin direction, it makes it difficult for batters to identify the pitch types. For instance, if a pitcher had a perfect 12-to-6 downer of a curveball and a fastball with a perfectly straight, south-to-north vertical lift, the pitches would share the same spin axis and look similar for part of their journey toward the plate. Burnes is able to do that with various pitch pairings.Otherwise, much of Burnes' profile is unchanged. He throws a bit harder, but not dramatically more so than he did in 2019. He doesn t throw more pitches within the strike zone. But one big thing is different: the cutter is allowing his whole arsenal to play up. Essentially, a second deGrom-level performer is roaming the National League early this season. No one can pitch like Burnes, and no one can hit him.Travis Sawchik is theScore's senior baseball writer. Follow him on Twitter at @Travis_Sawchik.Copyright © 2021 Score Media Ventures Inc. All rights reserved. Certain content reproduced under license.
Jason Heyward walks it off as the Cubs sweep the Mets, plus Trent Grisham leads the Padres over the Dodgers in this edition of FastCast