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NL East, AL East rivals establishing themselves as game's best

Through the season's first half, baseball's power has been concentrated in the East. Every team has played more than half its schedule, and four have emerged in a tier of their own on top of all others: the Philadelphia Phillies, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox and Atlanta Braves.

This is not to say that there aren't potent teams beyond the Eastern Seaboard -- the Giants' and Angels' pitching staffs, for instance, would make them dangerous in a postseason series; the Rangers, Cardinals, Brewers and Reds all have lineups that could slug their way to a title -- but, as the season approaches the All-Star break, the five best teams (also including the Rays) play in the AL East and the NL East.

Most clubs will have about 70 games remaining on their schedules after the break, which is a lot of time for significant shifts in the standings, but for now we look to be on a collision course for a rematch of the 1993 Braves vs. Phillies NLCS (who also play each other this weekend in Philadelphia) and yet another bout of Red Sox vs. Yankees in the ALCS, which would be their fourth playoff meeting since 1999. That was also the last year all four championship-series participants came from the two East divisions.

NOTE: All stats are updated through Wednesday, July 6.

MLB Power Rankings
1Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 1
Three Phillies starters made the All-Star team (Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee); one of them, Lee, recently threw three consecutive shutouts and allowed one earned run in 42 innings in June (0.21 ERA); another, Halladay, either leads or is tied for the NL lead in complete games (six), innings (136 1/3), BB/9 (1.1) and K/BB (7.71); and the staff's virtual unknown, Vance Worley, has pitched nearly as well of late. With starters Roy Oswalt and Joe Blanton both on the DL, the 23-year-old Worley's last four starts (2-0, 0.72 ERA in 25 innings) have reinforced how deep the Phillies' rotation really is.
 
2Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 3
Second baseman Dan Uggla has the 11th-worst OPS (.612) of the 156 big-league players with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title. Rightfielder Jason Heyward, last year's NL Rookie of the Year runner-up, has a .706 OPS that's 71 points behind the .777 average for a major league rightfielder this season. Neither has met expectations so far this season, which in turn means that the Braves rank below-average in runs (352, tied for 17th in the majors), yet the Braves still have the NL's second-best record. In other words, if Uggla and Heyward heat up -- and Uggla has homered in his last two games -- watch out.
 
3New York Yankees
Last Week: 2
As a Tiger in 2007 Curtis Granderson became only the sixth member of the 20-20-20 club for doubles, triples and home runs as he had a 38-23-23 split for a total of 84 extra-base hits. (Impressively, he also had 26 stolen bases to join the 20-20-20-20 club.) With the Yankees in 2011 Granderson has 43 extra-base hits ? which projects to 82 for the season -- meaning he's on a similar pace, only with a different distribution. He is tied for the AL lead with seven triples and though he only has 11 doubles, he has 25 home runs. That's a pace for 48 homers, which would obliterate his previous career high of 30 set in 2009. Swapping doubles for homers is a trade any player would take.
 
4Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 6
After throwing four no-hit innings against the Blue Jays on Tuesday, Red Sox lefthander Jon Lester exited the game unexpectedly with a lat strain on his left side, prompting a DL stint. Four of the original five starters in Boston's rotation have now spent time on the DL, and the only one who hasn't, Josh Beckett, recently went 13 days between starts because of illness. Despite the starting pitcher absences -- and despite the continued presence of John Lackey (7.47 ERA) in the rotation -- the Sox keep on winning, taking six of their last seven.
 
5Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 4
Since many readers wrote in last week seeking elaboration on how I could choose Ben Zobrist over Robinson Cano as an All-Star starter, here's the case for Zobrist. Though he trails Cano in OPS .858 to .810, Zobrist's OPS+ -- which, for players in the same league, adjusts OPS for the ballpark -- is slightly higher (131 to 129). Their offensive résumés are comparable, as Cano has more homers but Zobrist leads the majors in doubles; their OBPs are nearly identical. Cano has the advantage of a much better surrounding lineup, and Zobrist blows him out defensively. According to Plus/Minus, Zobrist ranks first among all major league second baseman at +12; the next best is +7 and Cano is -5. Zobrist's WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is 3.3, compared to Cano's 2.5.
 
6San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 5
Manager Bruce Bochy should have resisted the temptation of using three of his four free All-Star picks on his own starting pitchers, even though Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong are all having very good seasons; they just aren't having exceptional seasons by the standards of the current, depressed run environment. Vogelsong's 2.13 ERA and 1.15 WHIP sparkle in any year (though he has pitched fewer innings than the rest), while Lincecum (3.14, 1.19) and Cain (3.22, 1.09) have excellent stats that would stand out more if 2011 weren't such a down year generally for offenses. In fact, Lincecum and Cain merely rank 13th and 14th in the NL in ERA, making their All-Star selections generally defensible individually -- as in, a case could be made for each by himself -- but inexcusable collectively.
 
7Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 9
Indians righthander Josh Tomlin denied the Yankees any hits for the first six innings on Monday night, and in doing so he easily exceeded five innings pitched to become the only big-league pitcher since at least 1919 to have gone at least five frames in each of the first 29 appearances of his career. Tomlin has been a revelation for the Tribe, going 10-4 with a 3.78 ERA and 1.00 WHIP with a 1.1 BB/9 ratio that's not only the stingiest rate in the majors but also in stark contrast to the pitching style of the man whose record he broke: Red Sox starter Daisuke Matsuzaka.
 
8Texas Rangers
Last Week: 7
Dating to June 8, 2010, the Rangers have only finished 10 days of play in which they were not in first place or tied for first in the AL West, but they spent three days this week in a tie with the surging Angels. Texas is tied with the Cardinals for the worst record of any division leader and has had a losing record (33-34) since April 24, when they were an AL-best 14-7. On the bright side, outfielder Josh Hamilton is getting hot. He's had nine multi-hit games in his last 19, during which time he's batted .316/.391/.605 with six home runs.
 
9Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 12
As recently as 2008, starter Dan Haren threw his cutter only 6.6 percent of the time, according to data at FanGraphs. That rate has grown to 23.3 percent in '09, 27.2 percent in '10 and 45.5 percent in '11, including 53.6 percent of his pitches (60 of 112) in Tuesday night's complete-game shutout against the Tigers, who had Justin Verlander on the hill. Haren threw 51 of his 60 cutters for strikes, inducing swings and misses 14 times as he won his 100th career game. He ought to be an All-Star selection for a Sunday starter, as he's 9-5 with a 2.65 ERA and leads the AL in K/BB ratio (5.9).
 
10St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 14
Man or Machine? Such is the increasing question regarding Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols, who was activated Tuesday and returned to the lineup Wednesday (and contributed an RBI single) after missing only two weeks after suffering a broken bone in his wrist; he was initially expected to miss roughly six weeks. He batted .339/.435/.831 with eight homers in his last 16 games before the injury and if he hits anything close to that upon his return, St. Louis, which went 7-7 in his absence, could hold onto their slim divisional lead.
 
11Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 11
Knee-jerk trade review time: At the winter meetings the Diamondbacks shipped third baseman Mark Reynolds to the Orioles for relievers David Hernandez and Kam Mickolio. So far this year Reynolds has hit 20 home runs with an .854 OPS though his -17.5 UZR is by far the worst defensive mark among all third basemen; Mickolio gave up five earned runs in 6 2/3 innings before a minor league demotion, but Hernandez has excelled in Arizona's bullpen. He recently saved three games in the absence of injured closer J.J. Putz while compiling 11 holds and a 3.43 ERA in 39 1/3 innings. Though any team would like Reynolds' offensive production, his poor defense and Hernandez's success suggests this trade has been relatively even so far.
 
12Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 8
The Tigers fired pitching coach Rick Knapp this week as the team had a 4.37 ERA that ranked 26th in baseball. Knapp's gig was his first at the major league level after 26 years as a minor league pitcher and coach, most recently as the Twins pitching coordinator. In his 12 years in that post developing Minnesota's staff, the major league club never ranked worse than third in walks allowed. Under Knapp, who is also one of the nicest men in the game, the Tigers decreased their walks by 50 in his first season and then another 57 in his second season but had regressed badly in 2011; the team ranks 12th in the 14-team AL in free passes issued.
 
13New York Mets
Last Week: 13
Other than a clunker at Detroit on June 29 -- in which he still earned the win -- Mets lefty Chris Capuano has been excellent in his last six outings with five quality starts and a 2.50 ERA over 36 innings. He's not going deep into games, as he's thrown seven innings only twice in 18 starts, but he's been well worth his $1.5 million contract. In fact, FanGraphs estimates that he's already accrued $4 million in value this season. After missing all of the 2008 and '09 seasons, Capuano is now a respectable 12-11 with a 4.09 ERA in 162 2/3 innings since returning from his elbow injury.
 
14Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 16
It's likely that one obstacle preventing WAR (Wins Above Replacement) from joining the mainstream baseball stats conversation is that its methodology is more opaque than, say, batting average, which can be computed by simple division. Nevertheless, WAR is at worst a rough guideline for the game's best all-around players and, at best, the single most useful stat in evaluating overall play. In short, Pirates centerfielder Andrew McCutchen is having a phenomenal season: He has a 4.9 WAR per FanGraphs' formula and 5.0 per Baseball-Reference.com, both of which rank third among all major-league players, leading many -- including this writer and colleague Joe Posnanski -- to join the outcry over his All-Star snub.
 
15Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 10
Entering the season the Brewers had no reason to think that third baseman Casey McGehee, fresh off a 2010 in which he posted an .801 OPS, 23 home runs and a team-leading 104 RBIs, wouldn't once again be an effective as Milwaukee's No. 5 hitter. Instead, he's been mired in a season-long slump -- batting just .225/.276/.320, though his pinch-hit home run Wednesday (his fifth HR of the year) rallied the team for a win -- and is the primary reason the Brewers rank last in the NL in OPS by their third basemen and last in the league in OPS from the No. 5 spot in the lineup. The latter should improve as Corey Hart will bat in that spot when everyone is healthy.
 
16Washington Nationals
Last Week: 18
In Dec. 2007 the Nationals made a trade of relievers with the Yankees -- Jonathan Albaladejo for Tyler Clippard -- in what has been a rout for Washington. Albaladejo had a 4.70 ERA in 59 1/3 innings for the Yankees with two holds and zero saves in three seasons. Clippard, however, has a 2.74 ERA in 210 innings over four seasons with the Nationals, including one save and 48 holds. His 22 holds in 2011 lead the majors, and along with his 1.86 ERA explain why Washington's top set-up man is its All-Star representative.
 
17Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 15
At least Adam Dunn has kept his sense of humor. The White Sox DH, who has a terrible .166/.302/.308 batting line, hit an innocuous fourth-inning single off the Royals' Jeff Francis, but the Chicago fans gave him a sarcastic standing ovation as it was just his second hit off a lefty pitcher in 55 at bats this year (an .036 batting average compared to a .235 clip against southpaws entering the year). Dunn doffed his helmet in response. But the fans really roared in the eighth when Dunn hit a game-winning two-run homer off All-Star reliever Aaron Crow for the win. The joy was shortlived: In his next two games Dunn went 0-for-7 with two walks and five strikeouts.
 
18Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 21
The Phillies' Cliff Lee snared all sorts of headlines with his three shutouts in June, but the Mariners' Jason Vargas -- to much less herald -- also had three shutouts in 30 days' time, blanking the Rays on June 3, the Phillies on June 19 and the Padres on July 1. Vargas' publicity machine suffered because his weren't consecutive and spilled onto the next page of the calendar, but in his shutouts he allowed just 13 hits and three walks, 16 baserunners in 27 innings, similar to the 15 baserunners in Lee's three. Vargas now has a 3.57 ERA and is tied for the AL lead with his three shutouts.
 
19Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 17
The Reds have been flirting with .500 all season -- they've played 87 games and been at or within two games of an even won-loss record at the end of play for 55 of them -- but on Tuesday sank to a losing record for only the second day of the season and haven't won consecutive games in three weeks. Cincinnati is in fourth place but only three games off the pace in the NL Central. The biggest problem? In a year where the major league average ERA is 3.85, the Reds' rotation has spent only one day under 4.00, and that was on the fourth day of the season. Currently, their starters have a 4.60 ERA, which ranks 27th in the majors.
 
20San Diego Padres
Last Week: 22
The past fortnight has been so kind to the Padres -- they won 10 of 13 from June 21 to July 5 -- that the rules of the game seemed to have changed in their favor. In Saturday's game at Seattle Cameron Maybin, San Diego's centerfielder, worked a seven-pitch walk . . .with only three balls. Maybin had fouled off a pair of two-strike pitches and went to first after the third ball; neither the Mariners nor the umpire protested and he stayed at first and later scored the only run in a 1-0 victory. In that 10-of-12 team streak Maybin went 17-for-45 to raise his average from .244 to .268.
 
21Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 19
It's often hard to evaluate the work of hitting coaches, but consider this anecdotal track record of the Blue Jays' Dwayne Murphy. In 2009, when he was the first-base coach, he worked with Jose Bautista on starting his swing earlier and adding a leg kick; after Bautista hit 82 home runs in the past season and a half, the evidence is clear it worked. More recently, Murphy had a long chat with slumping first baseman Adam Lind on April 25. Since then, Lind has batted .342/.398/.652 with 15 home runs in 42 games.
 
22Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 20
In consecutive games Sunday and Monday the Rockies saw their two franchise cornerstones, outfielder Carlos Gonzalez and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, leave games with injury: CarGo was carted off the field after crashing into an outfield wall; Tulo exited with tightness in his quad after running out a groundball. The two players, both of whom signed seven-year extensions in the offseason, lead the club in both hits and total bases. The timing of their injuries was unfortunate for Colorado, which was swept in a three-game series in Atlanta.
 
23Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 23
Joe Nathan and Matt Capps -- and their combined 372 saves -- both appeared in Tuesday night's game, yet it was Glen Perkins who closed out the Rays for his second career save. Nathan, in his first year after Tommy John surgery, has a 6.52 ERA, and Capps, who has blown six saves this year (including allowing four runs in a loss on Saturday), was on the verge of blowing his seventh before Perkins was summoned with two men on to get the final out. Before this season Perkins had zero career professional saves and had started in 145 of his 186 career minor- and major league appearances.
 
24Florida Marlins
Last Week: 27
First baseman Gaby Sanchez may be the only Marlin selected to the All-Star Game, but he'll see a couple of friendly faces: Brewers leftfielder Ryan Braun and Indians closer Chris Perez were both Sanchez's college teammates at the University of Miami. Sanchez leads the Marlins with a .369 OBP, .840 OPS, 155 total bases and 48 RBIs; he ranks second with a .292 average and 13 home runs. He was surprised to learn of his All-Star selection, as he assumed the other Sanchez -- pitcher Anibal -- would have made the team as he is 6-2 with a 3.58 ERA and twice took a no-hitter into at least the seventh inning, including once into the ninth.
 
25Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 25
As noted by Cam Inman, Bay Area News Group columnist and friend of the Power Rankings, the A's are about to make All-Star history by sending only pitcher(s) to the Midsummer Classic for the eighth straight year, as starter Gio Gonzalez is the club's lone representative. Among the trivia unearthed by Inman: 11 franchises have never even gone back-to-back years without a position player as All-Star, and only three other teams have had a streak of even four straight years. Gonzalez is at least a terrific emissary for the A's. His 2.31 ERA ranks fourth in the AL; his 8.8 K/9 ranks fifth; and his 106 strikeouts rank 10th. By the way, the last non-pitcher to represent Oakland in the Midsummer Classic was catcher Ramon Hernandez in 2003.
 
26Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 29
Alex Gordon is finally healthy and settled in one position, and as a result the No. 2 overall pick of the famed 2005 draft is living up to his potential with 10 home runs and a team-leading .843 OPS. He has also shown above-average range in leftfield and leads all major league outfielders with 13 assists. (Teammate Jeff Francoeur ranks second with 10.) Yet Gordon was oddly passed over as the Royals' All-Star representative -- though he was placed on the Final Vote ballot -- for reliever Aaron Crow, who didn't help calm critics when he blew a lead and took the loss while giving up three runs in 1 2/3 innings in his first appearance after the announcement.
 
27Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 26
The Dodgers have hit 61 home runs and Matt Kemp has 22 of them. That means one player has accounted for 36.1 percent of his club's total, easily the highest rate in the majors. Similarly, the Dodgers have 67 stolen bases and Kemp has 25 of them, which equates to 37.3 percent (which is a lot but not the highest rate in the majors: for example, Houston's Michael Bourn's 35 steals are 50.0 percent of his team's total). Those are just two examples of how impactful -- and valuable -- Kemp has been on a bad team this year.
 
28Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 28
The Cubs' offense is slightly above average in a rather remarkable way. They have eight players (Jeff Baker, Marlon Byrd, Starlin Castro, Kosuke Fukudome, Reed Johnson, Carlos Peña, Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano) with at least 130 plate appearances and an OPS+ of at least 100 -- which is the league average -- and that's the most such players in the majors. Only one of those Cubs, however, has an OPS+ of 125 or greater. Their pitching doesn't stand up as well: Only one of their seven pitchers to have started five or more games has an ERA+ of 100 or greater.
 
29Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 24
The Orioles have already said that rookie pitcher Zach Britton would have his innings monitored closely the rest of the season, but perhaps he can still crack the lineup -- as a hitter. Britton became the first AL pitcher to homer in interleague play since 2009 and went 5-for-8 with a double, the home run, two RBIs and three runs. He didn't have any at-bats in the minor leagues, so he hadn't swung a bat since he was an all-state outfielder at Weatherford High in Texas five years ago. Britton, incidentally, was his district's co-MVP that year, sharing the honor with Jordan Walden, now the Angels' closer.
 
30Houston Astros
Last Week: 30
After losing 10 of 11, the Astros held a 75-minute pregame team meeting on Wednesday and then beat the Pirates 8-2 for their 30th win in their 88th game. That's even behind the pace by the worst team in the majors last year: Pittsburgh, which earned its 30th win in its 82nd game and went on to lose 105 times.
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