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Cardinals offer extra evidence they belong at No. 1

Photo: Scott Kane/Icon SMI

Timely hitting from Allen Craig is just one reason the Cardinals are closing in on yet another postseason berth.

Last week's Power Rankings were, in a word, unpopular. The chief complaints in the comments and emails I received were that the Cardinals were too high (at No. 1), and the Dodgers (No. 5) and Pirates (No. 11) were too low.

In the ensuing week, however, the Cardinals proved that they belonged atop the Power Rankings field by taking three of four from the Braves, who have the majors' best record, and then two of three from the Reds, another likely playoff team, and are back in first place. Meanwhile, neither the Dodgers nor Pirates especially distinguished themselves: Los Angeles lost two of three at home to the Red Sox before winning two of three against the Cubs while Pittsburgh scuffled along at 3-3 in games against the bottom-feeding Giants and Brewers.

This season I tried to eliminate any subconscious subjectivity by instituting a quantitative formula to rank the teams by using the criteria I previously used when ranking them on my own: season record (50 percent), recent play and strength of schedule (combined 25 percent) and run differential (25 percent). The only bias is in my choice of statistics to include and their values in the formula.

NOTE: All stats are updated through Wednesday, Aug. 28.

MLB Power Rankings
1St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 1
Allen Craig's first career grand slam -- which came in a comeback win against the Reds on Monday night -- was probably inevitable. He leads the majors with a .452 average with runners in scoring position (in 126 at bats) and is now 7-for-10 with the bases loaded. As a team, the Cardinals' .327 average with RISP is 42 points better than anyone else in baseball.
 
2Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 7
David Ortiz, who at age 37 has hit 24 homers and posted a robust .956 OPS, is one of only two players, along with the Yankees' Alfonso Soriano, to hit at least 20 home runs in each of the last 12 seasons.
 
3Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 2
After tripling in Tuesday's win, infielder Elliot Johnson jokingly thanked his pit crew for tightening up the car. It was a rare extra-base hit for Atlanta that didn't cover all four bases. Though the Braves lead the NL in home runs, they have the second-fewest doubles and third-fewest triples.
 
4Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 3
In analyzing the Tigers' re-signing of Anibal Sanchez this offseason, I wrote it was "probably an overpay", but if he comes close to sustaining his performance from this season through 2017 (his age-30 through age-33 seasons), then I will be dead wrong. Sanchez leads the AL with a 2.61 ERA and ranks third with a 9.8 K/9, which is nothing short of ace-caliber production.
 
5Texas Rangers
Last Week: 6
Texas has been on a 20-6 tear since getting swept in a three-game series in Cleveland, one of several eastward trips in which it's struggled. The Rangers haven't returned to the Eastern time zone since, where they are 7-12 this year; they are 55-35 in the Central time zone -- 17-8 in Central road games and 38-27 at home -- and 16-8 when playing in the Pacific time zone.
 
6Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 10
August was shaping up to be Oakland's first month with a losing record since May 2012 before the A's took the first three games of a series in Detroit this week, in which they exploded for 28 runs on 40 hits in just 24 innings because of a rain-shortened game on Tuesday. Those 28 runs were their second-most in a three-game stretch this season.
 
7Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 4
The Reds' Mat Latos, Mike Leake, Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey and Tony Cingrani are baseball's only rotation of five pitchers who have made at least 15 starts while keeping their ERAs under 3.75. All five also have K/BB ratios of 2.4 or better, making them one of only five such quintets in history to meet all three criteria.
 
8Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 5
The Dodgers' 1A and 1B starters have performed exactly as they had hoped. Clayton Kershaw, who leads the majors in ERA and WHIP, is a shoe-in for a unanimous Cy Young award -- and may be NL MVP too -- whereas L.A. is 18-4 in starts made by Zack Greinke, who has a 2.86 ERA and .340 batting average to boot.
 
9Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 8
If the Rays fail to win the AL East or make the playoffs, the Royals may be to blame. After Monday's 11-1 loss, Tampa Bay finished the year 1-6 against K.C. and was outscored 53 to 22. The Rays have dominated the rest of the AL Central with a 16-7 record, with three more games against the fourth-place Twins remaining.
 
10Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 11
Trade acquisitions Marlon Byrd and John Buck arrived in Pittsburgh with the Pirates having lost 11 of their last 17. Buck (15 HRs, .652 OPS with the Mets) and especially Byrd (21 HR, .848 OPS) should provide some righthanded pop for a club whose .390 slugging percentage from that side of the plate ranks 18th in the majors and third-worst among contenders.
 
11Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 9
In the offseason, the Indians added a lot of strikeout-prone hitters to their lineup -- Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn, Drew Stubbs and Mark Reynolds (before he was designated) have all topped the century mark in Ks this year -- but also they've added a lot of runs. In 2012, Cleveland ranked fourth in fewest strikeouts but 13th in runs scored; this year it has fallen to 11th in strikeouts but risen to fifth in runs.
 
12Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 14
There are a lot of amazing stats that describe Chris Davis' season -- 47 HRs, 304 average and 1.067 OPS, for instance -- but maybe the most surprising one is this: two, as in the number of double plays he's grounded into this season. That's tied for second-fewest (behind the Indians' Michael Bourn) among AL players with 400 or more PAs.
 
13New York Yankees
Last Week: 12
On Monday the Yankees suffered only their second defeat of the season to Toronto but avoided a pair of losses on Tuesday: they won 7-1 and the x-ray of Robinson Cano's hand indicated he did not suffer a fracture after getting hit by a pitch there. New York is now 13-3 against the Blue Jays this year, a lopsided record that is almost single-handedly keeping it in the wild-card race.
 
14Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 15
Alex Gordon had an .857 OPS as May concluded but hasn't been the same since, enduring a three-month slump with a .226 average and .689 OPS. In the month of August he's struck out 20 times while walking only three times, though he has slugged five home runs, the most of any month.
 
15Washington Nationals
Last Week: 16
Tyler Clippard seamlessly shifted back into his set-up role. After notching 38 holds in 2011, he saved 32 games in '12 (with 13 holds too) and now has an NL-best 28 holds this season, with a 1.94 ERA while allowing a .138 opponents' batting average, which is the best among NL relievers this season.
 
16Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week:
After beating the Phillies 12-7 in 18 innings on Sunday and the Padres 10-9 on Tuesday, the Diamondbacks have now played 20 games that have gone to extra innings for a total of 70 extra frames. That's 7 2/3 additional games, though Arizona shouldn't complain: It is 15-5 when going beyond nine.
 
17Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 20
On Monday night, Adam Dunn hit his 30th home run and struck out for the 150th time, his ninth career season of meeting both those thresholds. No one else in baseball history has more than Ryan Howard's six seasons of 30/150.
 
18Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 17
It's not quite 1997 when Dante Bichette, Larry Walker and Ellis Burks led a Rockies outfield to a staggering 113 homers and .943 OPS, but the 2013 group headlined by Carlos Gonzalez, Michael Cuddyer and Dexter Fowler does lead all big league outfields with 63 home runs and ranks second with an .825 OPS.
 
19Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 28
There's at least one feel-good story coming out of Los Angeles: Jason Vargas is back in form after a scary blood clot that kept him out of action for two months. His return to the mound was a shaky outing in the Bronx on Aug. 13, but his two starts since have shown marked improvement, including a win against his former club in Seattle last Saturday in which he allowed just one run in 6 1/3 innings.
 
20Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 26
Roy Halladay returned with a quality start and win against the Diamondbacks last weekend, lasting six innings and allowing only two runs. He now has the rest of September to show he is healthy and effective again before hitting the free-agent market, where he'll join the Giants' Tim Lincecum as two of the biggest wild-card options for starting pitching.
 
21Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 21
Jim Henderson has been an extraordinary find for the Brewers. The Calgary native who was drafted in the 26th round of the 2003 draft by the Expos made his big league debut last year at age 29 and this season has racked up 21 saves with a 1.86 ERA. The run he allowed while converting a save on Sunday snapped a streak of 14 straight shutout outings.
 
22New York Mets
Last Week: 18
These are tough days for the Mets, when everybody could use a hug. The news of Matt Harvey's elbow ligament tear damages the mounting hope that the club could (finally) contend in 2014. It didn't help that the news came in the midst of a five-game losing streak in which New York scored just six runs.
 
23San Diego Padres
Last Week: 24
Upon his promotion this week, rookie outfielder Reymond Fuentes is now the only prospect the Padres received for Adrian Gonzalez who's on the big league roster. First baseman Anthony Rizzo was flipped to the Cubs for pitcher Andrew Cashner, and righthander Casey Kelly is rehabbing from Tommy John surgery. Fuentes, a former Red Sox first-round pick who started 0-for-5 with San Diego, batted .418 in 14 Triple A games after hitting .316 in 93 Double A games earlier this year.
 
24Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 22
Mark Buehrle has pitched much better over the last five weeks, averaging seven innings in his last seven starts with a 2.20 ERA to lower his season ERA by three quarters of a run. And while his best two outings came against lowly Houston -- a combined one run in 17 innings -- he also went seven innings against both Oakland and Boston, limiting them to a combined one run.
 
25Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 23
Junior Lake, the shortstop prospect who moved to the outfield because of Starlin Castro, has continued to impress with his bat, compiling a robust .297/.333/.436 batting line. There is one caution flag, however -- his 68.5 contact percentage on swings is seventh-worst among NL hitters with 170+ PAs.
 
26San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 25
After a frustrating first two months of the season which ended with a 7.19 ERA and a fractured hand, Ryan Vogelsong has rallied with quality starts in three of four outings in August. In his most recent turn on Sunday, he threw eight innings of two-hit shutout ball against the Pirates, lowering post-injury ERA to 2.55.
 
27Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 27
Caleb Thielbar has been one of baseball's most devastating LOOGYs. The 26-year-old rookie is holding lefthanded batters to a .206 OBP, which ranks third in the AL among southpaws with 30 or more innings. Overall, Thielbar has a 1.11 ERA in 32 1/3 innings.
 
28Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 19
Another example of Seattle's power binge this season: Not only do the Mariners score a greater percentage of their runs via the homer (46.3) than any other team, but they also have more players with 10 or more home runs -- eight -- than any other AL team. That's tied with Atlanta for the major league lead.
 
29Miami Marlins
Last Week: 29
Some are already asking if Jose Fernandez is the best pitcher in baseball which, though very premature, may be the rookie righthander's eventual description. For now he can settle for having made the best defensive play by a pitcher this season in snaring this Troy Tulowitzki line drive.
 
30Houston Astros
Last Week: 30
Brett Wallace's long-lost power has made a belated appearance. The former first-round pick involved in separate trades for Matt Holliday and Roy Halladay had 16 home runs in his first 733 big league at bats but has powered up since returning from the minor leagues, with 11 homers in 178 at bats.

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