UNSUPPORTED BROWSER
More Sports

Streaking Braves and Angels surge into top five for first time

There are two newcomers to the top five of this season's rankings, as the Braves finished last week on a five-game winning streak and the Angels ended by winning six straight.

While Atlanta -- one of only four clubs with at least 80 wins this year -- should be no stranger to such elite company, Los Angeles wouldn't even be in the playoffs if they started today. But that could soon change.

The Angels swept playoff contenders Oakland and Detroit last week and have won 11 of 12 overall and 15 of their last 18, during which time trade acquisition Zack Greinke has found his groove. He's won four straight starts, going at least seven innings while allowing two or fewer runs in each.

Greinke will probably make four more regular-season starts, though probably not again until Friday, meaning he'll miss the four-game series finale between the Angels and Athletics, with a wild-card berth at stake, that starts on Monday night.

NOTES: All stats are updated through Sunday, Sept. 9.

MLB Power Rankings
1Texas Rangers
Last Week: 1
For a team brimming with talented young arms and that enjoyed Neftali Feliz's electric work at the back of the bullpen the past couple of the years, the Rangers' decision to sign Joe Nathan to be their closer seemed curious at first -- and wise in hindsight. The 37-year-old, who struggled last year (4.84 ERA) in returning from Tommy John surgery, has been brilliant this year with a 2.44 ERA, 31 saves (three in four games last week, protecting a total of four runs' worth of leads) and a career-best 7.44 K/9.
2Washington Nationals
Last Week: 3
First baseman Adam LaRoche, who many thought should have been replaced in the offseason, hit five home runs in last week's four-game series with the Cubs to give him 29 for the season and to join such players as Reggie Jackson, Dave Winfield and Bobby Bonds, who have hit at least 25 for four different teams; LaRoche has now done so with the Braves in 2006, Pirates in 2008, Diamondbacks in 2010 and now the Nationals in 2012. (Gary Sheffield hit 25+ HRs with six teams.)
3Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 2
Joey Votto is relentless. He misses nearly two months due to knee surgery and how does he fare in his return? The first baseman had two multi-hit games in his first four games back, as well as a three-walk game. In all, he reached base in 10 of his first 16 plate appearances.
4Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 10
The Braves' top three relievers (Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters and Eric O'Flaherty) each made between 78 and 85 appearances last year, but this year are only on pace for somewhere between 61 and 67 outings. Pitching coach Roger McDowell offered two reasons for the reduced usage: better offense (Atlanta has already played 13 more games decided by 5+ runs than last year) and fewer total innings, as the '11 Braves played 26 extra-inning games, which are inherently high-leverage, while the '12 Braves have only played 10.
5Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 14
Mike Trout has a WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of 10.0, according to Baseball-Reference.com, becoming the first offensive player to reach that threshold since Barry Bonds did it in 2004. There have been only 47 such seasons in history, accomplished by 20 players. Of the 19 who have done it before Trout, only Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Alex Rodriguez are not Hall of Famers.
6Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 4
After trading Gio Gonzalez, Trevor Cahill and Andrew Bailey last offseason, Brett Anderson feels like the last of Oaklands old guard, even if he is only 24 (though in his fourth season). He returned from Tommy John surgery and has been brilliant in four starts, allowing just two earned runs in 26 innings (0.69 ERA) while striking out 19 and allowing only three walks.
7Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 9
Rays closer Fernando Rodney has never walked fewer than 3.5 batters per nine innings for a full season and had a 7.9 rate in 2011 with the Angels. He entered 2012 with a career 4.9 BB/9 and five straight seasons with an ERA of at least 4.24. Yet, somehow, in Tampa Bay he has found the strike zone. Rodney, who leads the majors with 42 saves and has a 0.69 ERA, has an out-of-character 1.7 BB/9.
8San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 5
Baseball's highest-scoring offense, since Aug. 3, resides in San Francisco. The Giants have scored 195 runs since then, plating 6.9 per game in the 12 games they had Melky Cabrera -- buoyed by aberrational single-game totals of 16 and 11 in Colorado and 15 in St. Louis -- but are still averaging 4.9 runs in the 22 games since losing Cabrera to a 50-game suspension for a failed PED test. He, of course, does not account for all or even most of the discrepancy; rather, the point is that San Francisco's offense, at five runs per game, is plenty healthy without him.
9New York Yankees
Last Week: 6
The Yankees cling to first-place in the AL East despite not having won on consecutive days since Aug. 13-15. The Yankees, known for grinding out every at bat, have their lowest on-base percentage (.331) in 20 years but showed signs of a return to that ethos over the weekend. New York posted a .386 OBP and averaged just under eight runs per game while splitting a four-game series against the Orioles.
10Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 7
When Nick Markakis returned from the DL in mid-July, manager Buck Showalter asked him to hit leadoff. He did, bringing stability to the top spot in the order, while batting .335 with a superlative .390 OBP. Five teammates have all started between 14 and 19 games, and that rotation had middling success, with a sub-.300 OBP. With Markakis being lost for the season with a broken thumb, it's back to the batting-order drawing board for the Orioles.
11Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 11
It's not usually the most coveted award, but the White Sox have three fine Comeback Player of the Year candidates on their roster. DH Adam Dunn has improved from a 2011 nadir of 11 HRs and a .569 OPS to 38 HRs, an .825 OPS and a major league leading 96 walks. Starter Jake Peavy, who's been injured on and off again for years, has a 3.22 ERA while throwing 187 innings, his most since 2007. And Alexis Rios has turned 13 HRs, 11 SBs and a .613 OPS last year into 22 HRs, 20 SBs and a .828 OPS, including two homers and six RBIs to account for all of Chicago's runs in a 6-2 win last Thursday.
12Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 8
For the second straight year, centerfielder Austin Jackson has surpassed 20 doubles, 10 triples, 10 homers and 10 stolen bases, making him the only player to have done so the past two seasons. This year's edition is more impressive, as he's also increased his batting average by 54 points up to a sparkling .303.
13St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 13
Before the season, Allen Craig seemed to have neither a position nor a spot in the batting order, but he has essentially become the club's everyday first baseman and clean-up hitter after Lance Berkman's latest DL stint. "The game has a way of working those things out," manager Mike Matheny said recently. Craig (.306, 20 HRs, 75 RBIs) has a team-leading .901 OPS and compares favorably to Matt Holliday (.302, 24 HRs, 96 RBIs) despite having played only 98 games to Holliday's 136.
14Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 16
The emergence of Marco Estrada and Mike Fiers has been a major boon for the Brewers' rotation and has helped Milwaukee become the big league leader in strikeouts. Both starters are striking out more than a batter per inning, as is incumbent ace Yovani Gallardo and five of the Brewers most-used relievers. Milwaukee has won 15 of its last 20.
15Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 17
Now those are the Phillies we remember. Last week they allowed exactly two runs in five straight games (though lost one of those games 2-1) and went 5-1 on the week. Cliff Lee, who has a misleading 4-7 record, remains a master of control. He leads the majors with a 6.46 K/BB and 1.3 BB/9; he and Yovani Gallardo are the only two pitchers with at least 175 innings who have not hit a batter this season.
16Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 12
The Dodgers have been exactly even for more than two months, going 13-13 in July, 14-14 in August and 4-4 so far in September. Facing the division-leading Giants over the weekend, Los Angeles won only one of three and scratched ace Clayton Kershaw from a start because of a sore hip. (He's hopeful to start Tuesday.) According to coolstandings.com, the Dodgers have just a 4.4 percent chance of catching San Francisco and winning the NL West.
17Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 15
Pittsburgh has the bad combination of having the fewest stolen bases in the NL (58) and tied for the most times getting caught stealing (45). The preferred success rate is at least 75 percent, and none of the four players with at least eight attempts are even 60 percent successful. But at least they've curtailed their efforts, having attempted only 11 steals (five successes) in their last 34 games.
18Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 21
The Diamondbacks recently promoted outfield prospect Adam Eaton -- no known relation to the former pitcher of the same name -- who was putting up absurd minor league numbers, including a .381 average and .995 OPS in 119 games at Triple-A this year. A 19th-round pick out of Miami (Ohio) just two years ago, Eaton is off to a rousing start in the big leagues, going 10-for-25 in his first five games.
19San Diego Padres
Last Week: 18
Everth Cabrera entered the year with a 72.5 percent success rate at stealing bases, which is about league average most years, but in 2012 he's had a nearly historic track record. After working with coaches Rick Renteria and Dave Roberts on technique and preparation, Cabrera is 29-for-30 stealing bases, the third most steals while getting caught only once in major league history; Carlos Beltran in 2001 and Brady Anderson in 1994 were both 31-for-32.
20Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 24
Expect Toronto to become a popular destination -- and hitting coach Dwayne Murphy a popular guy -- for 29-year-old journeyman utility players. Jose Bautista was that age when he broke out in 2010, and Edwin Encarnacion is that age this season when he's put together a .281/.381/.561 batting line with 38 homers, including one Friday in the Blue Jays' sweep of the Red Sox. Those 38 homers this year match the number Encarnacion had in 230 games the previous two seasons.
21Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 19
The Mariners' leader in quality starts is not Felix Hernandez but lefthander Jason Vargas, who has 20, putting him in the AL's top five alongside David Price, Justin Verlander, Jake Peavy and C.J. Wilson. (Felix is tied for sixth with 19.) Vargas, who had two quality starts in beating the Red Sox and losing to the A's last week, has gotten depth (avg. 6 2/3 innings per start) in addition to keeping the damage low.
22New York Mets
Last Week: 20
Never has R.A. Dickey's importance to the Mets been so glaring as last week, when New York went 1-5 with Dickey securing the club's lone win. Dickey, who is 18-4 with a 2.69 ERA, has won his last three starts, including a shutout of the Marlins, against whom he is 4-0 with a 1.16 ERA in 31 innings. As Miami manager Ozzie Guillen said to reporters, "When he makes his speech for Cy Young Award, make sure he mentions the Marlins, please."
23Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 22
Against the eight remaining playoff contenders in the AL, the Royals are a quite respectable 30-27. (Sinking their record is a 1-7 mark against the Mariners and 5-10 ledger against the Twins). In every instance against a contender, save two, K.C.'s record is within a game or two of .500 against each. The exceptions could decide help the AL Central. The Royals are 10-5 against the White Sox after taking two of three this weekend but are 4-7 against the Tigers.
24Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 23
The AL co-leaders in contact percentage on swings at pitches in the strike zone are Minnesota teammates Ben Revere and Denard Span, who both hit a staggering 97.3 percent of such pitches; fellow Twin Jamey Carroll ranks fourth at 95.2 percent. Though Carroll's results are spotty (.258 average), Span is hitting .286 and Revere is hitting .301, helping the walk-adverse outfielder get on base enough to steal 36 bases.
25Miami Marlins
Last Week: 26
Giancarlo Stanton got pub in this space last week, but after homering four times last week, including in each of three games against the Nationals over the weekend, he gets his due again. After all, manager Ozzie Guillen even said he's the lone good reason to come to the ballpark and watch the Marlins. Stanton's 33 homers rank second in the NL and his .602 slugging percentage is first, a rare combo for a player on a team whose offense is the worst in the league.
26Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 25
Last year's September was notoriously awful, and this year the poor ending has encroached into another month, as the Red Sox are 10-27 since Aug. 1. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia and outfielder Cody Ross have been the lone stalwarts of a declining offense. In that time span, both are hitting better than .315 and rank first and second in most offensive categories, including average, doubles, homers, walks, RBIs, OBP and slugging among players still on Boston's roster.
27Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 28
Washington annihilated Chicago last week, sweeping a four-game set by a collective score of 31-9, prompting Cubs manager Dale Sveum to concede to reporters, "That's just men playing against boys right now." Ouch. After going 8-21 in August, the Cubs opened September 0-6 and haven't won a series against a club with a winning record since taking two of three from the Cardinals -- at least they beat their rivals -- in late July.
28Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 29
Righthander Justin Masterson has made 10 starts in which he's allowed either zero or one earned run, which is only tied for 30th in the majors, but that's the same number as Justin Verlander and Gio Gonzalez, among others. Masterson is, however, often susceptible to really bad starts. In fact, he's had seven outings in which he's allowed at least seven earned runs -- no one else in baseball has had more than five. (That one of the two pitchers with five is Derek Lowe, whom Cleveland cut loose at midseason, is obviously not a good thing for the Indians.)
29Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 27
Such are the struggles of the Rockies these days: back-to-back 1-0 losses, with an unearned run the culprit each time. As noted by CBSSports.com's Danny Knobler on Twitter, Colorado is the first club to lose two straight games without allowing an earned run since the 1987 Royals -- and the 15th team in the last 94 years -- while no team has lost three straight in that fashion since at least 1918.
30Houston Astros
Last Week: 30
The Astros have won consecutive games only once since the All-Star break and are 11-43 in the second half. But there are, if you look hard enough, a couple of important bright spots. One is 27-year-old starter Lucas Harrell, a waiver pickup last year, who has a 2.75 ERA over 68 2/3 innings in his last 11 starts. And another is Brett Wallace, the oft-traded nearly failed prospect, whose .814 OPS is 111 points higher than last year, suggesting he's made some necessary adjustments.
SI.com

Drag this icon to your bookmark bar.
Then delete your old SI.com bookmark.

SI.com

Click the share icon to bookmark us.