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Tigers and Braves just can't lose, keep grip on top two spots

Photo: AP

Catcher Alex Avila has been a central part of Detroit's winning streak both at the plate and behind it.

On the morning of Friday, July 26, the Tigers and Braves each had 45 losses.

Nearly two weeks later, on Thursday, Aug. 8, a check of the standings shows that both still have 45 losses.

Detroit and Atlanta have been concurrently invincible for a fortnight, with the Tigers winning 11 straight games (and 15 of 16), while the Braves have won 13 in a row.

The two teams have seemingly swapped league identities for these hot spells. Detroit is pitching like an NL club, holding foes to just 18 runs (1.6 per game), as its starters have averaged a hair more than seven innings per outing. Atlanta has been mashing like an AL team, outscoring opponents 77-31 and scoring nearly six runs per game with a .298 average.

No matter their methods, it's clear the Tigers and Braves are baseball's top two teams of the moment and are ordered thusly in this week's MLB Power Rankings.

JAFFE: Possible trouble spots for Tigers and Braves

As a weekly reminder, this year Power Rankings is trying to objectively determine who is the best team at the moment, by weighing season performance with recent play. 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.

The Cardinals are a spot ahead of the Pirates primarily because of their vastly superior run differential (+144 to +59) but also partly because of their schedule in the last week (contending with the Reds and Dodgers rather than the Rockies and Marlins, whom Pittsburgh faced).

NOTE: All stats are updated through Wednesday, Aug. 7.

MLB Power Rankings
1Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 1
During their 11-game winning streak, the Tigers have seen a big offensive boost from their catchers, Alex Avila and Brayan Peña -- and their former catcher, Victor Martinez. Each of the three has an OPS between .850 and 1.000 during the hot streak, and Avila has three home runs.
 
2Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 2
Back in April, the Braves went on a 10-game winning streak. Relatedly, Justin Upton batted .350 and slugged six home runs. Now the Braves are on a 13-game winning streak. In related news, Upton is on a 12-game hitting streak in which he's hit .440 with five home runs -- and his brother, B.J., is 10-for-21 since returning from the DL and had a four-hit night on Wednesday.
 
3Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 3
Shortstop Stephen Drew was hitting as low as .223 on July 26, but in 12 games since he's gone 17-for-42 (.405) with four home runs, including Wednesday's ninth-inning winner against the Astros.
 
4St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 7
Over the past month the Cardinals' offense has scored the second-most runs in the NL but has been done so in inconsistent bunches. In its last 24 games, St. Louis has scored nine or more runs six times and four or fewer runs 17 times, leaving just one game with something of a middle ground between those extremes.
 
5Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 5
Andrew McCutchen is on another tear: he's had two hits in each of his last five games and in eight of his last 11 starts. His home run power may be down -- he hit one every 19 ABs last year and is hitting one every 26 ABs this year -- but his doubles are way up. In fact, a higher percentage of his base hits this year are going for extra bases (38 percent) than did last year (34).
 
6Texas Rangers
Last Week: 12
Survival is all about adaptation, and with leading home run hitter Nelson Cruz suspended for 50 games, the Rangers have taken to the basepaths. In sweeping the Angels for the second time in 10 days, Texas stole six bases on Tuesday night and seven bases on Wednesday. In all, the Rangers are 13-2 this season when recording two or more steals.
 
7Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 9
The Dodgers entered play on Wednesday with identical 31-25 records for home game and road games, the latter mark bolstered by a 15-game road winning streak that was baseball's longest since 1984.
 
8Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 4
With wins over the Giants on Saturday and Sunday with 31,969 and 34,078 fans, respectively, packing Tropicana Field, the Rays improved to 48-16 since 2008 with attendance of more than 30,000, a .750 winning percentage. Unfortunately for them, that's barely 10 games of that many fans each year.
 
9Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 10
A .231/.290/.356 batting line would seem to be a quick ticket to the bench or the minors, yet that's the production the Reds are getting from all of their righthanded hitters collectively, meaning Ryan Ludwick's activation from the DL can't come at a better time.
 
10Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 11
The Royals are 15-4 (.789) after the All-Star break -- and have lost a half-game in the standings! Such is their cursed luck playing in the AL Central, though they have cut their wild-card deficit from 9 1/2 to 5 games. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas have emerged after the break with nearly identical numbers: Hosmer's OPS is .896 and Moustakas' is .895.
 
11Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 6
The Indians won their first series of the season against the Tigers, taking two of three back in mid-May; since then, however, Cleveland is 1-11 against the division rival it's chasing in the standings. That's a 10-game standings swing that's more than responsible for the Tribe's six-game deficit.
 
12Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 8
The A's are suffering from a huge drop in production from their corner outfielders. Last year leftfielder Yoenis Cespedes had an .861 OPS, which has plummeted to .719; rightfielder Josh Reddick hit 32 home runs with a .768 OPS in 2012 but has hit only five homers so far this year with a .613 OPS.
 
13Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 14
The Orioles are playoff contenders despite their inability to pad their record against baseball's worst teams. They are just 26-23 against clubs with losing records, having finally gotten above .500 by starting 5-3 in an 11-game stretch against the Astros, Mariners, Padres and Giants.
 
14Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 13
Arizona stayed afloat while running the gauntlet of the AL: In eight straight games against the Rangers, Rays and Red Sox -- all currently in playoff position -- the Diamondbacks went 4-4. They play 10 straight against three more teams above .500 (Orioles, Pirates and Reds), but after Aug. 22 they have only seven more games against clubs with winning records. Each of those games is against the Dodgers, whom Arizona is chasing in the NL West.
 
15Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 17
Earlier this week I wrote about the Yankees' potentially record-setting pace of using position players, and the Blue Jays are their pitching counterpart, having used 29 already this season, which is three more than any other big league club. Only 20 clubs have ever used 30 or more pitchers in a season -- which Toronto should easily pass with September call-ups -- and the record is 37, set by the 2002 Padres.
 
16New York Mets
Last Week: 20
Matt Harvey's appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live was comedic gold, but the interviewee with the boyish face had a point: Harvey should keep his pitch count down. Harvey is thoroughly dominant until just after the century pitch mark, holding opponents to a .489 OPS on pitches 91 through 105, but that jumps to a 1.311 OPS beginning with that 106th pitch, according to STATS LLC. On Wednesday, Harvey essentially adhered to that advice and shut out the Rockies on 106 pitches.
 
17San Diego Padres
Last Week: 16
Padres starting pitchers are working on a bad combination: their strikeout rate is bad (6.21 K/9, third-worst in majors), their walk rate is worse (3.56 BB/9, second-worst in majors), and they don't convert many batted balls into double plays (0.65 GIDP/9, third-worst in majors). That makes San Diego the opposite of the Twins, who have the worst K/9 (4.80) but the best GIDP/9 (1.14).
 
18Washington Nationals
Last Week: 19
The Nationals have scored two or fewer runs in 52 games this season, which is second only to the Marlins and accounts for 46 percent of their games this season. They are 6-46 in those games for a .115 winning percentage, slightly below the league average of .145.
 
19New York Yankees
Last Week: 15
Hiroki Kuroda was snubbed of an All-Star bid, but let's hope he isn't left out of the Cy Young race. The 38-year-old righthander has allowed more than three runs in only three of his 23 starts and didn't allow any runs in four of his five July outings. His 2.45 ERA is second in the AL behind only Seattle's Felix Hernandez (2.39), who plays in the much more favorable home ballpark.
 
20Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 23
Even with Josh Hamilton's horrible season and Albert Pujols' substandard, injury-shortened year, the Angels still lead the AL West in offense with 512 run scored. That says as much about the rest of the increasingly pitching-rich division as it says about the Angels, whose pitchers would have given up the most runs in the division if not for the outlier Astros.
 
21Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 21
It was a good week to be a 30-plus catcher. With rookie Mike Zunino on the DL with a broken hand, 34-year-old Humberto Quintero and 41-year-old Henry Blanco both homered twice for the Mariners and drove in a total of 10 runs.
 
22Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 24
Last year's Brewers pitching staff came within two strikeouts of the 2003 Cubs' all-time record of 1,404 and did beat the Cubs (at the third decimal place) in K/9 with an 8.68 for the best rate in the modern era. This year, however, Milwaukee is a half-strikeout below league average with just a 7.06 mark.
 
23Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 22
Jhoulys Chacin -- who was a tough-luck loser on Wednesday after allowing two runs in seven innings but getting zero run support -- is now the Rockies' alltime ERA leader among starting pitchers at 3.59. He has a 3.36 ERA this season.
 
24San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 27
The Giants haven't benefited from a second-half offensive surge like last season. Since July 14, they've averaged just 2.5 runs per game, which has only been good news for closer Sergio Romo's stat line -- because they've had troubling blowing out teams, he's saved six of their last seven wins.
 
25Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 25
The Twins have seen a dramatic reduction in offense from their righthanded hitters this year. Trevor Plouffe and Josh Willingham both regressed from standout 2012 seasons -- and Willingham has been on the DL since June 30. Minnesota's righthanders have declined from a .703 OPS and a home run every 32.4 at bats to a .655 OPS and a homer every 38.7 at bats.
 
26Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 18
The Cubs' problem may be that pesky little rule that games should only last nine innings -- they are only 43-60 (.381) in nine-inning games but 7-3 (.700) when playing extras. Chicago's hitters are batting .280 with a .820 OPS in the 10th inning or later.
 
27Miami Marlins
Last Week: 26
As of Wednesday, Giancarlo Stanton had the exact same OBP (.361) this year as he did last year, but his slugging percentage had dropped dramatically, from a major league-leading .608 in 2012 to a more pedestrian .461 this season. Also, despite playing in a huge home ballpark, his home splits (10 HRs, 1.041 OPS) were significantly better than his road splits (3 HRs, .600 OPS).
 
28Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 29
The White Sox swept the Yankees in three games to snap a 1-13 skid -- Jake Peavy started that win, meaning Chicago nearly went three laps of its rotation without winning a game started by a pitcher on the active roster. The Sox hadn't won three in a row since June 8-10.
 
29Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 28
The Phillies' second half has been wretched, as they've gone 3-14 and been outscored 102-57. It's been so bad that they sit behind the Mets in the NL East standings, and their run differential is now two runs worse than the Marlins'.
 
30Houston Astros
Last Week: 30
Chris Carter remains a perfect case study in the old school vs. new age stats debate. He's batting .210 with 149 strikeouts, but he's hit a team-leading 19 home runs with a .732 OPS that's above league-average and only five double plays (an ancillary benefit of how rarely he puts the ball in play).

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