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A's make a move into top five behind improving pitching staff

Photo: Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Led by Jarrod Parker and the rest of their pitchers, the A's have cut almost six games off their AL West deficit.

The AL West race is heating back up because of scorching-hot Oakland, which has closed a seven-game deficit on May 15 to 1 1/2 games on June 6 by going three weeks without losing consecutive games. In all, the A's are a baseball-best 16-3 since the ides of May, while Texas has gone 10-8.

Leading the charge for Oakland has been a pitching staff that has allowed more than five runs in a game only once during that span. Bartolo Colon has won each of his last four starts, allowing just three earned runs in 28 innings for a 0.90 ERA. Equally important, Jarrod Parker has turned his season around, with a 1.98 ERA over his last four outings after sporting a 6.86 ERA on May 11.

JAFFE: Major question remains for surging A's

As Power Rankings are trying to objectively determine who is playing the best <i>right now</i>, Oakland is the highest-ranked AL West club at No. 4 despite still trailing Texas (No. 7) by a small amount in the standings. The rankings are ordered based on a quantitative formula that considers season record, last-10-games record (with a small strength of schedule component) and season run differential.

NOTE: All stats are updated through Wednesday, June 5.

MLB Power Rankings
1St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 1
The Cardinals have devoured righthanded pitching, going 31-13 in games when an opponent starts a righthander, as opposed to just 7-8 in games started by a lefty. In fact, lefthanded pitching may be the closest thing the Cards have to an Achilles heel, as St. Louis' offense has a .230/.302/.355 batting line against southpaws for a .657 OPS that's nearly 100 OPS point worse than it is against righties.
 
2Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 5
Few teams get streaky like the Braves, who already have 10- and eight-game winning streaks this season and now an active-five game streak. Their NL East division lead of 7 1/2 games is more than double the second-largest lead, a three-game edge for the Cardinals in the NL Central.
 
3Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 4
Before Tuesday night, Ryan Dempster had lost four of his last five starts, receiving just a combined five runs of support while he was on the mound in those four losses. Then, the Red Sox scored 17 runs on his behalf, and his season run-support number has irreparably skewed.
 
4Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 6
The unlikely duo of Jed Lowrie and Josh Donaldson have been the best offensive left side of the infield in baseball. Donaldson ranks second only to Miguel Cabrera among third basemen in OPS with a .931 mark; Lowrie ranks fifth among shortstops at .845.
 
5Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 2
Cincinnati has the majors' second-best home record at 21-9, and what's surprising is that its pitching staff has been better at cozy Great American Ballpark than on the road (where the team is 15-15), even with an elevated home-run rate. At home the Reds have a 3.08 ERA and 9.3 K/9 despite allowing 38 homers; as visitors, they are have a 3.61 ERA, 6.9 K/9 and only 25 homers allowed.
 
6Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 10
Arizona oscillates between two time zones -- Mountain in the winter, Pacific for most of the other three seasons -- but the Diamondbacks probably wish they were full-time residents of the Central. They've played five series against teams that make their home in that time zone and have gone 11-4, including a 6-3 mark over the last week and a half, highlighted by two Paul Goldschmidt grand slams.
 
7Texas Rangers
Last Week: 8
Alexi Ogando made a triumphant return from the disabled list on Wednesday, getting the win while allowing one run in 5 2/3 innings. Martin Perez made his big league season debut recently. Colby Lewis and Matt Harrison are on the DL longer term but both are expected back this season. This is all to give perspective on how impressive the Rangers' 3.55 ERA -- the best in the AL -- really is.
 
8Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 11
Alex Cobb entered the season as the Rays' nominal No. 5 starter, but so far he's arguably been the team's best. (At worst it's a tie between Matt Moore and him.) Cobb has nine quality starts in 11 outings with a 2.39 ERA, a 1.06 WHIP and a 4.1 K/BB ratio, all of which lead the rotation.
 
9Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 7
Two years ago the Tigers had envious offensive production from catchers Alex Avila and Victor Martinez, ranking third in the majors in OPS at that position. This year, however, Detroit catchers rank 25th in OPS -- Avila has a .582 mark while Martinez, in his return from major knee surgery, hasn't caught a game but also hasn't hit much (.589 OPS) while primarily serving as DH.
 
10Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 9
We're now a third of the way through the season, and Chris Davis hasn't slowed down. He's batting .356 with a .436 OBP and a .740 (!) slugging percentage; his 20 homers and 52 RBIs put him on pace for 55 and 143, respectively.
 
11Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 3
Starters James McDonald, Jeanmar Gomez, Jeff Karstens and Phil Irwin are already on the disabled list, and then Wandy Rodriguez left Wednesday's start with forearm tightness after recording only one out. Pittsburgh has had the game's best bullpen thus far -- leading the majors in ERA (2.74) and lowest inherited runner scoring rate (15.7 percent) -- but it is already teetering on being overworked. The Pirates' relievers have logged more innings than that of any other NL club (and just one inning fewer than the AL leaders).
 
12Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 15
ERA isn't always a perfect measure of an individual reliever's value, but with a majors-leading 0.35 mark, it's a clear-cut measure of dominance for Rockies lefthander Rex Brothers. He is striking out a batter per inning, while accumulating two saves and six holds while blowing only one lead.
 
13New York Yankees
Last Week: 16
Mark Teixeira is notorious for his struggles every April (his OPS is nearly 150 points lower that month than the rest of the season), but his start to the 2013 season suggests that his troubles may well be limited to that calendar page and not the beginning of his season. After returning last Friday from a wrist injury, he homered twice in his first five games, including hitting a grand slam on Monday.
 
14Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 12
The loss of Asdrubal Cabrera for a few weeks to a strained quad will undoubtedly hurt, but the Indians won't lose much, if anything, by going with Mike Aviles. Aviles' .719 OPS is within shouting distance of Cabrera's .745, and advanced defensive metrics have always favored Aviles' shortstop defense over Cabrera's.
 
15Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 18
It's been easy to lose track of Joe Mauer in recent years, given his injuries, his waning power since his 28-homer campaign in 2009 and his team's middling play. But, in case you're wondering, he's still about as pure of a hitter as there is, with a .329/.408/.481 batting line; the average is sixth in the AL and the OBP ranks fourth.
 
16San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 13
Pablo Sandoval loves to swing. According to data at FanGraphs.com, he is not only leading the majors by swinging at 82.4 percent of all pitches he sees inside the strike zone, but he is also leading the majors by swinging at 48.7 percent of all pitches he sees outside of the strike zone.
 
17Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 17
The Cubs have a proud history of slugging pitchers: they are responsible for four of the 13 home runs hit by pitchers this season (two by Travis Wood and one each by Scott Feldman and Jeff Samardzija); the 2009 Cubs were the last pitching staff to hit five homers in a year; and Chicago has contributed three of the seven seasons since 1974 in which a team's pitchers have hit six or more homers, having done so in 2003, '06 and '08.
 
18Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 22
Domonic Brown, a former No. 4 prospect in the game according to Baseball America, has arrived. After hitting just 12 homers in 147 big league games spanning 2010-12, he hit that number just in May this year and has hit 10 in his last 12 games for an NL-leading 18 this season.
 
19Washington Nationals
Last Week: 19
The Nationals should be concerned not only because they've gone 10-15 over the last four weeks but also that they've done so while playing something less than a particularly challenging schedule. Only 10 of those 25 games were against clubs with inning records, and they didn't fare well in those contests, going 3-7 against the Braves, Giants and Orioles.
 
20San Diego Padres
Last Week: 23
Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera is quietly turning into a great top-of-the-order hitter. He has a .366 OPB while alternating between first and second in San Diego's lineup. He also leads the majors with 25 stolen bases (while getting caught only five times), a pace for 69 steals for the season, which would be the most by an NL player since Jose Reyes swiped 78 for the Mets in 2007.
 
21Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 24
The Blue Jays' woes in a nutshell: the average WHIP in the majors this year is 1.30 yet, until R.A. Dickey tossed a gem on Wednesday, all 11 Toronto pitchers who have started a game this season had a WHIP of 1.40 or worse. Now, 10 of 11 do, and Dickey is still below-average at 1.31.
 
22Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 26
Despite making Hall of Famer George Brett their hitting coach, the Royals are still having trouble scoring. Their streak of scoring no more than four runs is at 14 games in a row, the longest in the majors this season and the most since the Phillies went 14 games in 2011.
 
23New York Mets
Last Week: 20
The Mets' bullpen has a 4.76 ERA, the second-worst in baseball, in part because of its 30th-ranked strikeout rate (6.8 K/9). One exception had been closer Bobby Parnell until the last fortnight -- he entered in a 4-4 tie and gave up three runs in a loss to the Reds two weeks ago and on Tuesday he blew a 2-1 lead to the Nationals and took another loss.
 
24Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 25
Rookie rightfielder Yasiel Puig won't quite turn Andre Ethier into Wally Pipp because the Dodgers have so many injuries in their outfield that Ethier has gotten playing time in center, but Puig has given L.A. a much needed jolt of productivity: Through three games, he has five hits, including two homers and a double.
 
25Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 27
It was an eventful offseason for Felix Hernandez, who was reported to have a concern with his elbow just before he signed a seven-year, $175 million extension in February, the richest contract ever for a righthanded pitcher. As for the regular season, he's having one of his best years, with career highs in K/9 (9.4) and BB/9 (1.7) and a 1.048 WHIP that's his lowest since his 12-start rookie season in 2005.
 
26Houston Astros
Last Week: 29
The Astros are one of only two AL teams (along with the Twins) to have gotten above-average defense at all four of the up-the-middle positions of catcher, second base, shortstop and centerfield, according to Fielding Bible's Plus/Minus system. Leading the way are centerfielder Brandon Barnes (seven runs saved), shortstop Marwin Gonzalez (five), second baseman Jose Altuve (three) and catcher Jason Castro (three).
 
27Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 14
Getting swept in any series by the Astros might be the Angels' season nadir, but this one especially stung -- it was four games, not three, and it was at home. Before the season, one wondered if the addition of the Astros would artificially boost the records of AL West teams because of unbalanced scheduling, but right now L.A. has the worst intra-divisional record (9-19, compared to Houston's 12-19).
 
28Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 21
Chicago has gotten the fewest homers in baseball from its middle infielders this season, netting one from shortstop Alexei Ramirez and one from since-departed second baseman Tyler Greene. Free-agent signee Jeff Keppinger has primarily played second, but his lone homer came while playing third. And oh by the way, the White Sox' four homers from their third baseman is tied for second-fewest in the AL.
 
29Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 28
The Brewers' four best hitters this year are all righthanded -- Carlos Gomez, Jean Segura, Aramis Ramirez and Ryan Braun -- yet, curiously, Milwaukee has baseball's worst record in games when an opponent starts a lefthanded pitcher at 5-20.
 
30Miami Marlins
Last Week: 30
Can someone here play a position other than rightfield? While star Giancarlo Stanton has been on the disabled list, rookie Marcell Ozuna has stepped in and been the lone offensive bright spot for the Marlins with 12 doubles and a .326/.370/.473 batting line.

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