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MLB Power Rankings: Astros still team to beat, but race for No. 2 is tight

It’s far too early to drastically alter our opinions about the 2018 Major League Baseball season. With teams only playing a handful of games, we don’t have a lot of evidence to know which teams will truly surprise and which will disappoint.

That means you shouldn’t expect anything too crazy in our first MLB Power Rankings post of the season. That’s right, Big League Stew is taking over the Power Rankings. We’ll be bringing you our ranks, with some quick thoughts, each week during the regular season.

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A note about how we’re going to be handling things: We’ll take a combination of team record and preseason expectations into account early on. The downside of this is that we might wind up being slow to praise a breakout team. The upside is that you don’t get the undefeated Pittsburgh Pirates in the top spot to open the season. They still get credit for their strong start, but we want to see more before they are among the elite teams.

With that said, let’s get to ranking. You can probably guess which team is in our top spot.

1. Houston Astros (6-1)
Houston has picked up right where it left off a year ago — you know, when it won the World Series. The Astros have the best run differential in MLB coming into Wednesday’s action and if Gerrit Cole looks as good as he did in his debut, watch out, American League.

2. Washington Nationals (4-2)
Bryce Harper has been smashing the ball this season, and that’s a good enough reason for the Nats to be among MLB’s best. Coming into play Wednesday, he led the league in homers and was tied for most RBIs.

3. Boston Red Sox (5-1)
Their big offseason acquisition J.D. Martinez hasn’t done much yet, but no matter, Red Sox pitchers have allowed the third-fewest runs in the league. Their 2.21 team ERA is best so far in MLB. That’ll work.

The Yankees are going to win a lot of games thanks to their outfield. (AP Photo)

4. New York Yankees (4-2)
They’ve been a little uneven so far, but the Yankees have showed us that when they’re good, they’re really good. Even with Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez off to tepid starts, the Yankees are getting it done with things like Didi Gregorius 8-RBI game.

5. Los Angeles Dodgers (2-5)
No doubt, the Dodgers are feeling the loss of Justin Turner and are worried about closer Kenley Jansen’s performance. But we’re still not worried enough about L.A.’s slow start to boot them out of the top.

6. Chicago Cubs (2-3)
The Cubs’ strikeout issues thus far have been slightly overblown. Playing a 17-inning game will do that. It’s still somewhat concerning the offense hasn’t taken advantage of pitchers yet, but they are too talented to keep struggling like this.

7. Cleveland Indians (2-3)
José Ramírez’s slump-breaking home run Tuesday didn’t lead Cleveland to a win, but it should provide optimism that things about to turn for the club soon.

8. Arizona Diamondbacks (5-1)
D-backs fans will likely take issue with being behind the Dodgers, since they’ve been the much better team to start the season, including a sweep of L.A. Keep this up and the D-backs won’t be behind the Dodgers too much longer.

9. Milwaukee Brewers (4-1)
Turns out, Ryan Braun still has a lot left in the tank. His first home run of the year gave the team a shocking comeback win over the Padres. His second was a walk-off blast against the division-rival Cardinals.

10. Minnesota Twins (2-2)
All the commotion about the Twins yelling about a ninth-inning bunt has distracted from the fact that Jose Berrios dominated in his first start. Berrios showed flashes of greatness last season, but if this is the year he completely breaks out and stays healthy, the Twins are going to be in a great position to get back into the postseason.

Shohei Ohtani has been as awesome as advertised with the Angels thus far. (AP Photo)

11. Los Angeles Angels (4-2)
Shohei Ohtani is hitting dingers (two of ‘em now) and won his first game as a pitcher. What more could Angels fans want at this point besides a higher ranking on our list?

12. New York Mets (4-1)
Mets fans have probably been holding their breath waiting for something bad to happen this season, but so far, it’s been pretty good. Even Matt Harvey looked strong in his first start.

13. Pittsburgh Pirates (4-0)
The only undefeated team in baseball has captured our attention, but we’re not ready to overreact just yet. Taking three games from the Tigers isn’t a huge accomplishment these days, though it’s better than the alternative. We’re watching cautiously for now.

14. Colorado Rockies (2-3)
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Rockies pitching has struggled. The team has a 6.21 ERA to start the season. You can’t blame it on Coors Field this time. All five of the team’s games have been on the road.

15. Seattle Mariners (3-1)
The Mariners are trying to bust MLB’s longest postseason drought? Early verdict: They look exciting and capable of winning. They took two of three from Cleveland.

16. Toronto Blue Jays (4-2)
Early returns on the Blue Jays: Not bad. They’re winning games. We’re still concerned about Josh Donaldson’s arm, though.

17. Chicago White Sox (2-2)
The team’s surprising performance in the first two games made some think maybe the youngsters had arrived early. But as the bullpen showed in the last two games, this is still far from a complete team.

It’s been a mixed bag for the Cardinals to open the 2018 season. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

18. St. Louis Cardinals (2-3)
The Cardinals have looked average so far, but against good competition. They’ve faced the Mets and the Brewers, so better results could be ahead.

19. Atlanta Braves (4-2)
Chalk them up as one of this season’s early surprises. The Braves sit near the top of the NL East and are among the teams with the most runs scored in MLB. We’re just not sure they’ll be able to keep this up.

20. Baltimore Orioles (1-5)
The lineup has potential to score a lot of runs, but so far it hasn’t been delivering. The Orioles have the worst run differential in baseball.

21. Tampa Bay Rays (1-5)
The Rays’ first bullpen day wasn’t too bad. Ryan Yarbrough and Andrew Kittredge combined to give up three runs, but the team lost after the offense scored just two runs. A rainout prevented the team from using another bullpen day Monday, so we’ll need more time before we can rule the experiment a success or a failure.

22. Texas Rangers (2-4)
The Rangers look like a team that can go either way, and so far it’s not the way they’re hoping. But they opened with the Astros, which is a tough task for anybody.

23. Miami Marlins (2-4)
They’re not the worst team in the majors … yet. Both Dillon Peters and Caleb Smith managed to keep the Cubs’ bats quiet. Jarlin Garcia did the same over six strong relief innings in that 17-inning game. They are still just 2-4, but it could be worse, right?

Things haven’t been easy for Gabe Kapler and the Phillies early on. (AP Photo)

24. Philadelphia Phillies (1-4)
The bullpen will be fried by June if they keep it up. To his credit, Gabe Kapler has fully accepted the criticism he’s received. It’s on him to show he can make the necessary adjustments to get the Phillies on track.

25. Oakland Athletics (2-4)
The A’s have potential and could be an exciting team, but they haven’t been scoring as many runs as they could be — and it showed as the Angels beat them in three of four games.

26. San Francisco Giants (2-3)
Joe Panik was finally able to convince someone else on the team to do something on offense. Panik’s three solo home runs were the team’s only source of offense until late Tuesday, when Evan Longoria belted a two-run shot. At least Panik won’t have to do it all on his own.

27. Detroit Tigers (1-4)
We think we found the problem. Through five games, Detroit’s starters have put together a 3.03 ERA, keeping the team in games. The bullpen has been awful, combining for a 6.05 ERA to start the season.

28. Cincinnati Reds (1-3)
Joey Votto has had a strange start to 2018. He’s swinging more than ever but making less contact than ever. He’s barely walked, and he’s seen his strikeout rate soar back to its previous levels. Does that mean anything? Probably not. Votto does a lot of weird stuff at the beginning of the season, and usually irons things out quickly.

29. San Diego Padres (1-4)
They might have been the last team to win a game, but things aren’t that bad. The Padres would have won sooner if not for a ridiculous ninth-inning meltdown against the Brewers. New addition Eric Hosmer seems to be enjoying his new home, as he’s sprayed a league-leading four doubles all over Petco Park.

30. Kansas City Royals (1-3)
The good: Jakob Junis looked like a possible breakout candidate in his first start, striking out six over seven scoreless innings. The bad: Pretty much everything else. As a team, the Royals haven’t reached the Mendoza line yet and still have a slugging percentage under .300.

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Chris Cwik is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at christophercwik@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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