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MLB Power Rankings: Which early surprise teams climbed into our top five?

Believe it or not, we are already just about a month into the 2021 MLB season with the calendar set to flip to May this weekend.

What does that mean for this week’s edition of our MLB Power Rankings? Well, yes, it is still early — but it also isn’t too early anymore.

How much did our voters reflect that when pitting early surprises like the Kansas City Royals, Milwaukee Brewers, Oakland A’s and San Francisco Giants against slumping preseason favorites such as the New York Yankees, Houston Astros and Atlanta Braves? And did any of those teams impress our experts enough to challenge the Los Angeles Dodgers and San Diego Padres for the top two spots on our list?

Here is what our eight-voter expert panel decided based on what we’ve seen in the first four weeks of the season. We also asked ESPN MLB experts David Schoenfield, Bradford Doolittle, Joon Lee, Jesse Rogers and Alden Gonzalez to weigh in with one Week 4 observation for all 30 teams.

Previous rankings: Week 3 | Week 2 | Week 1 | Opening Day

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

Record: 16-9
Previous ranking: 1

The Dodgers on Tuesday lost a third game in a row for the first time since late August in 2019. That loss, at home to the Reds, gave them seven over the course of nine games, so the Dodgers aren’t unbeatable. Their offense has languished somewhat, but that will undoubtedly turn itself around. The serious questions are in their bullpen, especially with Corey Knebel, David Price and Victor Gonzalez now hurt. As of Wednesday morning, only two bullpens had a higher WHIP than that of the Dodgers — the Rockies’ and Tigers’. Those are, uh, not good teams. — Gonzalez


MLB Power Rankings: Which early surprise teams climbed into our top five?

2. San Diego Padres

Record: 14-12
Previous ranking: 2

Fernando Tatis Jr. found himself during a four-game series at Dodger Stadium, amassing five home runs and three stolen bases. Trent Grisham, meanwhile, entered Wednesday with an .888 OPS. If those two are clicking at the top of the lineup, the Padres’ offense is among the best in the sport. — Gonzalez


MLB Power Rankings: Which early surprise teams climbed into our top five?

Record: 15-10
Previous ranking: 6

The A’s ran their winning streak to 13 games before finally losing Sunday to the Orioles. The bullpen has been tremendous, and how about a shout-out to Yusmeiro Petit, who keeps rolling along as one of the most underrated relievers in baseball. Despite his track record and durability, all it took was a one-year, $2.55 million deal to bring him back to Oakland. — Schoenfield


MLB Power Rankings: Which early surprise teams climbed into our top five?

Record: 16-9
Previous ranking: 3

Whether the Red Sox can hit is not a question at this point — they boast the highest OPS in baseball. Boston’s season will hinge instead on its pitching depth, particularly the back end of the rotation. Garrett Richards, the biggest wild card there, made significant mechanical adjustments before his most recent start, when he went seven innings, struck out 10 and allowed one run against the Mets. If Richards looks more like the pitcher of Tuesday night rather than the one of his four previous starts, watch out. — Lee


MLB Power Rankings: Which early surprise teams climbed into our top five?

5. San Francisco Giants

Record: 16-9
Previous ranking: 12

The Giants’ rotation holds the sport’s lowest ERA by a wide margin, an amazing feat considering who’s included in that group — a former first-round pick who was once considered a bust; a 14-year veteran who had compiled only 25 starts over the previous three years; a guy coming off shoulder surgery; another guy with a 7.22 ERA last season; a 24-year-old fourth-round pick who had to win a rotation spot during spring training; and a 30-year-old with an exhaustive medical history. Farhan Zaidi is already working his magic. — Gonzalez


MLB Power Rankings: Which early surprise teams climbed into our top five?

Record: 14-10
Previous ranking: 8

Corbin Burnes hasn’t slowed down much — though the Miami Marlins did get to him for his first loss of the season. He’s two strikeouts away from tying the record for most strikeouts without giving up a walk to start the season. He has 49 strikeouts and zero walks. That kind of production helped vault the Brewers into first place. Sweeping the Padres then taking two of three from the Cubs might be an early-season defining road trip. — Rogers


MLB Power Rankings: Which early surprise teams climbed into our top five?

Record: 12-10
Previous ranking: 7

The early success of the Royals aside, the Twins’ bewildering tailspin of late has coincided with the gradual arrival of the White Sox team we expected this season, and as the first month comes to an end, Chicago looks like the team to beat in the AL Central. The rotation has been one of the more consistent groups in baseball, Lucas Giolito‘s recent scuffling notwithstanding. And Michael Kopech, whose role will continue to evolve, has looked like one of baseball’s most electric pitchers in the early going. — Doolittle


MLB Power Rankings: Which early surprise teams climbed into our top five?

8. Kansas City Royals

Record: 15-8
Previous ranking: 19

Whatever happens from here, the Royals will be able to look back at late April and say that, for a couple of days at least, they woke up in the morning with baseball’s best record. There are a couple of obvious areas where it appears the Royals’ pace isn’t sustainable. They are 6-1 in one-run games. They are hitting .381 in late-inning, high-leverage spots, a category in which the MLB average is .156. Still, K.C.’s record is what it is, and there are reasons to think the Royals have yet to play their best baseball. — Doolittle


MLB Power Rankings: Which early surprise teams climbed into our top five?

Record: 13-12
Previous ranking: 5

They haven’t played like the defending AL champs, but don’t write off the Rays. Tyler Glasnow — 2.05 ERA, 0.75 WHIP with 46 strikeouts in 30⅔ innings — is pitching like a Cy Young candidate. And, after a sluggish few weeks, Randy Arozarena looks like the sensation he was last postseason, with eight hits in 19 at-bats this past week. — Lee


MLB Power Rankings: Which early surprise teams climbed into our top five?

Record: 9-10
Previous ranking: 4

The lack of power has been the biggest problem, as the team has scuffled to score runs, with just 15 home runs in its first 18 games. The Mets scored more than four runs just three times in those games. Meanwhile, Jacob deGrom continues to roll, including a 15-strikeout shutout last Friday against the Nationals, while Francisco Lindor, who got booed at home on Tuesday, continues to struggle. — Schoenfield


MLB Power Rankings: Which early surprise teams climbed into our top five?

11. Atlanta Braves

Record: 12-12
Previous ranking: 10

Ronald Acuna Jr. continues to be a one-man wrecking crew, showing no ill effects from the abdominal strain that forced him to miss two games. He launched a 481-foot home run on Tuesday, giving him two 480-foot home runs in his career. The only other player with two 480-foot blasts since 2018 is Nomar Mazara. — Schoenfield


MLB Power Rankings: Which early surprise teams climbed into our top five?

12. Houston Astros

Record: 13-11
Previous ranking: 15

The Astros seem to have weathered a downturn exacerbated by roster issues stemming from health and safety protocols. The pitching has carried the weight, with Cristian Javier building on his fine rookie season of 2020 to take on the look of a bona fide ace. All the metrics shine: 0.89 ERA, 1.46 FIP, 25% K%-BB% rate, average game score of 64. Houston dipped below .500 for a few days but still has baseball’s second-best per-game run differential. It was rocky for a bit, but the Astros are just fine. — Doolittle


MLB Power Rankings: Which early surprise teams climbed into our top five?

Record: 12-11
Previous ranking: 9

Mike Trout is wrapping up what might be the best month of his career, Shohei Ohtani has been an offensive force, Albert Pujols is showing some promising power numbers and Anthony Rendon is back from the injured list. Once David Fletcher gets going in the leadoff spot, the Angels’ offense will prove to be a major force. The question — perpetually — is whether they can pitch well enough to remain in the hunt. And that’s why Ohtani’s command is so important. — Gonzalez


MLB Power Rankings: Which early surprise teams climbed into our top five?

Record: 11-12
Previous ranking: 20

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is beginning to live up to the hype of being one of the most exciting young prospects the sport has seen since Ken Griffey Jr. After losing 40 pounds this offseason, Guerrero is hitting .360/.484/.693 with seven homers following a three-homer bonanza on Tuesday — with two of them, including a grand slam, off Max Scherzer. — Lee


MLB Power Rankings: Which early surprise teams climbed into our top five?

15. New York Yankees

Record: 11-13
Previous ranking: 16

GM Brian Cashman said he wishes he could forget the first 15 games of the season, but the Yankees have gone 5-3 against Atlanta, Cleveland and Baltimore since, looking more like the team everyone expected this year. While they again benched catcher Gary Sanchez in favor of Kyle Higashioka, they have reasons for optimism in the rotation with Corey Kluber tossing his longest start in nearly two years against the Orioles on Tuesday. — Lee


MLB Power Rankings: Which early surprise teams climbed into our top five?

Record: 12-12
Previous ranking: 21

There are three big holes in the lineup at the moment. Alec Bohm is off to a slow start, with a sub-.600 OPS and perhaps a few more strikeouts than expected. Andrew McCutchen was given a couple of days off sitting on a .154 average. Center field remains the biggest problem, as Phillies center fielders entered Wednesday hitting .093 with three RBIs, leading the team to call up Odubel Herrera from the alternate site to give him a chance. — Schoenfield


MLB Power Rankings: Which early surprise teams climbed into our top five?

Record: 11-12
Previous ranking: 14

In a feast-or-famine era for big league offense, Cleveland might be the most extreme all-or-nothing team in the majors and limps into the end of the month with a batting average hovering around .210, which — only in 2021 — is actually better than a handful of other teams. Cleveland ranks in the top five in isolated power, however, so when it hits the ball out of the yard, the pitching is good enough to win. Only the lowly Tigers have been more reliant on home runs to move the scoreboard this season. — Doolittle


MLB Power Rankings: Which early surprise teams climbed into our top five?

Record: 12-12
Previous ranking: 18

The Cardinals are slowly starting to find their groove, which coincides with starter Carlos Martinez finding his. He’s thrown well over his last two starts — three earned runs in 13⅓ innings — while St. Louis’ rotation overall has been lights out lately. — Rogers


MLB Power Rankings: Which early surprise teams climbed into our top five?

Record: 12-12
Previous ranking: 26

The D-backs’ offense, led by Carson Kelly, has been a pleasant surprise. And lately they’ve seen some good signs from their starting rotation. Madison Bumgarner threw seven no-hit innings in the second game of a doubleheader against the Braves on Sunday. In the first game, Zac Gallen allowed only one hit. Those two hold the keys to the D-backs’ hopes of staying relevant in a loaded division. — Gonzalez


MLB Power Rankings: Which early surprise teams climbed into our top five?

20. Seattle Mariners

Record: 13-12
Previous ranking: 17

The bullpen continues to be a key to the good start, with a 2.29 ERA (second in the majors entering Wednesday) and .180 average allowed (best in the majors). It’s certainly a surprise since the Mariners ranked 28th in bullpen ERA (5.92) in 2020 and 26th in average allowed (.258). — Schoenfield


MLB Power Rankings: Which early surprise teams climbed into our top five?

Record: 11-13
Previous ranking: 11

A seven-game losing streak dropped the Reds out of first place in the NL Central, though they bounced back to beat the Dodgers twice early this week. Despite the losing skid, the Reds still had the best run differential in the NL Central going into games on Wednesday. — Rogers


MLB Power Rankings: Which early surprise teams climbed into our top five?

Record: 10-14
Previous ranking: 23

The Cubs have holes in their game as well as several key injuries. David Ross lamented his lack of relief depth as two close games ballooned to easy victories for the opponent last week. And their up-and-down offense has been just that — up and down. Kris Bryant has been the most consistent hitter, but even a grand slam on Monday couldn’t stave off defeat. He and Javy Baez are dealing with some minor ailments. The team is dealing with a lot of inconsistency. — Rogers


MLB Power Rankings: Which early surprise teams climbed into our top five?

Record: 8-15
Previous ranking: 13

What happened? During Minnesota’s recent slump of 13 losses in 15 games, the Twins ranked 28th in scoring and 29th in ERA. That’s not a great combination, especially for a nominal division favorite. The stunning turn of events has manager Rocco Baldelli on the social media hot seat, though he’s probably fine in the eyes of his bosses after establishing himself as one of baseball’s top young managers in recent seasons. Most of it is overreaction, but there’s no doubt that the kind of gaffe that happened recently — Baldelli had to remove Jose Berrios after 83 pitches of an effective start because he forgot that pitching coach Wes Johnson had already visited the mound that inning — can’t happen again. — Doolittle


MLB Power Rankings: Which early surprise teams climbed into our top five?

24. Miami Marlins

Record: 11-13
Previous ranking: 22

Trevor Rogers is the only starter with a win so far, going 3-1 with a 1.29 ERA. He looks terrific, with swing-and-miss stuff (38 K’s in 28 IP), and has pitched 13 scoreless innings in his past two starts (granted, against the light-hitting Orioles and Brewers). Batters are hitting .175 against his fastball, with just one home run in 63 at-bats. — Schoenfield


MLB Power Rankings: Which early surprise teams climbed into our top five?

Record: 9-12
Previous ranking: 24

Juan Soto took BP and reported no soreness in his shoulder, although he hasn’t been cleared to throw yet. Still, it looks like he’ll be back shortly. And boy do the Nationals need him. Josh Bell and Kyle Schwarber, the two big offseason pickups, combined to hit .157 in 27 games through Tuesday, with two home runs, six RBIs, 37 strikeouts and six walks. — Schoenfield


MLB Power Rankings: Which early surprise teams climbed into our top five?

Record: 10-15
Previous ranking: 25

The Rangers’ rotation came crashing back to earth after a rough week that saw it go from first in ERA in the American League to ninth. Kohei Arihara was among those to implode in a weekend sweep by the White Sox. The Rangers will still provide their share of spoiler moments, but from last place, which is where they’ve landed in the AL West for now. — Rogers


MLB Power Rankings: Which early surprise teams climbed into our top five?

Record: 10-14
Previous ranking: 27

Baltimore’s biggest positive was stopping Oakland’s 13-game winning streak with John Means on the mound. Means continues to post one of the most low-profile hot starts of 2021, with a 1.50 ERA and a 0.90 WHIP in five games. Not to turn the Orioles’ spot on the power rankings into the weekly Cedric Mullins update, but the center fielder’s outstanding numbers continue to be a story: He’s hitting .356/.408/.556 with three homers and nine doubles. — Lee


MLB Power Rankings: Which early surprise teams climbed into our top five?

Record: 12-12
Previous ranking: 28

One of the surprise teams in baseball, Pittsburgh pushed past the .500 mark thanks to a great week on the mound. Over a stretch of seven games, the Pirates gave up just 16 runs, including a streak of five games — which was still alive on Wednesday — giving up two or less. The success isn’t attributed to one or two players — the entire staff had a good week. — Rogers


MLB Power Rankings: Which early surprise teams climbed into our top five?

Record: 8-16
Previous ranking: 29

The good news for the Tigers during a four-game home series against Kansas City last week was that they gave up just 15 runs in the series. The bad news was that they scored just five and lost all four games. The complete lack of a plus offensive skill — other than middling pop on contact — has Detroit’s offense looking like the AL’s worst. On the plus side, the rotation has been a little better than so-so. Unfortunately, two starters have disappointed, and they are the two pitchers Detroit most needs to succeed: Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal. — Doolittle


MLB Power Rankings: Which early surprise teams climbed into our top five?

Record: 9-15
Previous ranking: 30

The Rockies, simply put, are a mess. Over the offseason, they paid another team handsomely to take Nolan Arenado, arguably the best player in their history. Earlier this week, their maligned general manager, Jeff Bridich, resigned. Soon they’ll lose the current face of their franchise, Trevor Story, and won’t get much for him because he’s so close to free agency. Hovering above all that is an active roster that has produced the sport’s third-worst winning percentage and a farm system that is ranked 27th by ESPN’s Kiley McDaniel. The Rockies need to rebuild. But first, they need a sound plan. — Gonzalez

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