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Braun-led Brewers bash their way back into the playoff picture

The Brewers' seven-game losing streak a week before the trade deadline seemed to be a well-timed death knell on their season. On July 26 they were both 10 games under .500 and 10 games out of the second wild card. The club traded ace Zack Greinke to the Angels and listened to offers for other players.

Less than two months later, however, Milwaukee has won 20 of its last 26, pulling two games above .500 and 2 1/2 games out of the playoff picture.

The Brewers have scored 266 runs since that July 26 nadir, which is the most in the majors, and no small amount of credit for that goes to the steady production of leftfielder Ryan Braun (more on him below) and to the renaissance of second baseman Rickie Weeks, who had a .190 average and .638 OPS until a 4-for-4 game on July 25 -- near the end of that awful losing streak -- seemed to wake him up. He's batted .301 since then, with a .928 OPS that trails only Dustin Pedroia among major league second basemen during that time span.

While most of the Brewers' recent schedule has featured teams in decline during the second half (Cubs, Marlins, Mets and Pirates), their last 10 days included a three-game sweep of the Braves and a 2-of-3 series victory over the Cardinals, whom they are chasing in the standings -- but not in SI.com's latest Power Rankings. The Brewers' surge came late enough that they are still playoff longshots, but they've climbed to No. 11 here, which beats the rest of the competition for that second NL wild card. A 10-game road trip to Pittsburgh, Washington and Cincinnati starting Tuesday may well determine their October fate.

NOTES: All stats are updated through Sunday, Sept. 16.

MLB Power Rankings
1Texas Rangers
Last Week: 1
It's been an up-and-down rookie season for Yu Darvish, but right now he's riding a hot streak. Darvish has thrown six consecutive quality starts, and the last five have been particularly impressive: He's completed at least seven innings while walking no more than two in each, with a total of 43 strikeouts in 36 innings and a .132 average against. He's averaged 16 swing-and-miss strikes over those five outings.
2Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 3
So much for the concern about having to take a hot bat out of the lineup. When Joey Votto returned to the lineup at first base, there was a question about whether 1B/3B Todd Frazier or 3B Scott Rolen would lose playing time after both hit better than .320 in August. Though Votto has done his part by batting .303 with a .853 OPS since returning, both Frazier (.209 BA, .547 OPS) and Rolen (.136 BA, .485 OPS) have both slumped in September.
3Washington Nationals
Last Week: 2
Part of the Nationals' incentive for signing Jayson Werth before the 2011 season was that he'd lead his young teammates by example, and he's done an outstanding job of that in a very practical manner as the club's leadoff hitter. Werth has a .406 OBP in 23 starts atop Washington's lineup and, overall, has a .407 mark since his return from a broken wrist -- the latter mark ranks fourth in the NL since the beginning of August.
4Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 4
Kris Medlen has made eight starts in which he's allowed either zero or one earned run, which is the same number as Tim Lincecum, Cliff Lee and Yu Darvish, among others. Impressive company, especially because Medlen has only made nine total starts, while the others have each made between 26 and 30. Medlen struck out 13 Nationals while allowing one run over seven innings last week and has a 0.86 ERA in his nine starts, making one wonder if he may now be the wild-card game starter for the Braves, who have won his last 20 starts dating to last season.
5Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 6
The Athletics' rotation is currently staffed by Brett Anderson and four rookies -- all five of whom are 25 or younger -- yet they're pitching with veteran poise during the playoff chase. Oakland's starters walked three or fewer batters in 44 consecutive games, dating back to July 30, until Dan Straily walked four on Sunday; they walked as many as three batters only twice during that streak. The A's were 29-15 in those games with a 3.53 starters' ERA.
6San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 8
There's more than one way to win a division. While the Yankees and Orioles have each done nearly half their scoring via home runs, the Giants haven't even scored a quarter of their runs that way (24.1 percent). They've hit just 89 homers this year and only 22 at AT&T Park. San Francisco's .275 batting average with men on base, however, ranks second in the NL.
7New York Yankees
Last Week: 9
Ho-hum, the Yankees have baseball's third-best save conversion rate (82.8 percent) and the majors' No. 1 strikeout-to-walk rate (3.35) when pitching in close and late situations. Well, of course, what else did you expect from the club that employs Mariano Rivera? Oh right, he hasn't pitched since early May. Rafael Soriano's contract doesn't look as bad this season now that he notched his 40th save on Sunday. He and David Robertson arguably have been the game's best 8th-9th inning combo this year.
8Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 10
With all the attention on the Orioles' record in one-run games -- after winning two of three such contests last week, they are 27-8, the best success rate in baseball history -- but they are also quite proficient in two-run games (22-13, fifth-best in the majors this year) and, oddly, in six-run games (12-4), yet they have losing records in three-run games (6-11), four-run games (5-9) and five-run games (5-7). They are also 5-12 in all games decided by seven or more runs, helping explain their negative run differential on the season.
9Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 11
Alejandro de Aza, who became Chicago's full-time leadoff hitter this year, has a solid .340 OBP, has stolen 24 bases and has a chance at history: He has a chance to go an entire season without grounding into a double play. The stat has been tracked in both leagues since 1939, and only four players have qualified for a batting title in a full season with 0 GIDPs: the Astros' Craig Biggio in 1997, the Brewers' Rob Deer in 1990, the Tigers' Dick McAuliffe in 1968 and the Dodgers' Pete Reiser in 1942.
10Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 5
In his last 28 games Erick Aybar has as many multi-hit games (14) as he does game with none or one. That includes three such games last week, including a three-hit game Sunday and a four-hit game on Friday, and he's batting .366 during that span. He's even slugging an even .500 despite only one homer, but a high average and 10 doubles account for that. He has, however, only walked twice in those 116 plate appearances.
11Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 14
Ryan Braun mashed two homers on Sunday, the first to give him 200 for his career and the second to give him an NL-leading 40 for the season, not to mention league bests in slugging (.602) and OPS (.989) as well. His MVP candidacy is getting harder to ignore, especially as the Brewers have crept to within 2 1/2 games of a playoff spot.
12Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 12
Prince Fielder may finally get over the hump. In both 2009 and 2011 he batted .299, but through Sunday he was residing on the other side of the .300 line at .303, reaffirming his skill as a good hitter and not just a power hitter. He is also on pace for his fourth straight season with an OBP of at least .400, though not all of his times reaching base are of his own design, as he leads the majors with 17 intentional walks and is tied for the most times being hit by a pitch with 16.
13St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 13
The Cardinals have had just one starter complete the seventh inning in their 24 games since Aug. 23, during which time the rotation has had a 5.46 ERA, making it little wonder St. Louis has gone just 10-14 in the interim. The club may get a boost on Friday, however, as injured ace Chris Carpenter is expected to make his season debut. In his first outing he may not be able to give the length the Cards need but at least he may be able to provide quality in his innings.
14Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 7
For a while the Rays' team mantra might as well have been, "We've come back from worse," given their miraculous comeback from 9 1/2 games behind last year to win the wild card. But now Tampa Bay -- after a disastrous 1-5 week against the Orioles and Yankees -- is four games out of a playoff spot through 146 games of this season, which is one game worse than they were through the same number of games as last year. Compounding matters is that this time there's a team (the Angels) in-between the Rays and the current wild-card holder (the Orioles).
15Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 16
Over the their last 16 games, the Dodgers have not allowed more than six runs in any game for an average of 3.4 runs allowed per game . . . and have only gone 6-10. They have lost at every rung of the ladder, too, losing when allowing 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 runs, because they've also only scored an average of 2.6 runs in those games. Los Angeles is undefeated when scoring at least seven runs in a game, which has happened 24 times but only once in their last 16.
16San Diego Padres
Last Week: 19
For more than a third of the season, the Padres were baseball's worst, starting with a 19-40 record. Since then, however, they're 52-36 -- third-best in the NL -- and are now disrupting the playoff race, having won six consecutive series against playoff contenders, going a combined 15-3 against the Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Braves and Pirates.
17Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 15
Roy Halladay clearly isn't himself. He allowed a run at Minute Paid Park. The horror. Indeed, the eight-time All-Star and two-time Cy Young winner had thrown shutouts in two previous starts in the Astros' home ballpark, but on Sunday he settled for a three-run, six-inning quality start. The bullpen blew the lead, denying Halladay his seventh win in his last eight decisions and denying the Phillies a series split. It truly has been an odd year for the righthander, whose ERA remains above 4.00, which would be his highest since 2004.
18Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 18
Second baseman Aaron Hill has no middle ground, it seems. Since 2008 he's had three seasons with an OPS below .700, two with an OPS above .800 and nothing in between. It's been a fantastic bounce-back season for Hill, who hit for the cycle twice and has 22 home runs to go along with his career-best .870 OPS.
19Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 17
A week with a .204 average, .295 OBP and 2.6 runs per game is no way to chase a playoff berth, but alas, that's what Pittsburgh suffered through during a recent seven-game losing streak that included four losses to the Cubs. The Pirates, who are no longer a lock for their first winning season since 1992, have the NL's worst record since Aug. 9.
20Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 20
The Blue Jays beat the Red Sox 5-0 on Sunday for their ninth team shutout of the season. This one was started by Brandon Morrow, and that should come as no surprise. He has now started five of those nine shutouts, completing three of them. Of the other four, Carlos Villanueva got the win in three after starting two and, in the third, pitching four innings in relief of injured starter Drew Hutchison.
21Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 21
How consistent has Felix Hernandez been throughout his eight-year career? His recent three-start stretch in which he allowed five or more runs in each is the longest of his career. He has made 235 lifetime starts and did not have a previous streak longer than two such starts. Hernandez's poor September may well affect his Cy Young chances, as he hasn't completed five innings in his last two outings and his ERA has risen about a half-run from 2.43 to 2.92.
22Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 23
Alex Gordon, the major league leader with 47 doubles, now has 92 two-base hits in the last two years, which is the most of any big league player. He is just the sixth player of the last decade to hit 45 or more in back-to-back seasons, joining teammate Billy Butler (2009-10), the Orioles' Nick Markakis (2008-10), the Red Sox' Dustin Pedroia (2008-09), the Marlins' Hanley Ramirez (2006-07) and the Angels' Garret Anderson (2002-03).
23Miami Marlins
Last Week: 25
Seemingly lost in the constant commotion around the Marlins this year is that top starter Josh Johnson has remained healthy this season, pitching deep into September for the first time since 2009. Johnson has been great this month too, throwing at least seven innings in each of his three starts while allowing only a total of six earned runs in 22 innings. Against the Phillies on Wednesday he carried a no-hitter through the game's first five innings but wound up surrendering three runs in seven innings and taking the loss.
24New York Mets
Last Week: 22
From 2009 through 2011 there were 14 seasons in which a player had at least a .300 average, .400 OBP and .500 slugging, yet none by a full-time third baseman. (Jose Bautista in 2011 and Kevin Youkilis in 2009 both accomplished the feat while playing fewer than half their games there.) But now the Mets' David Wright, who previously reached the 3/4/5 threshold in 2007, and the Tigers' Miguel Cabrera are within striking distance. Wright has a .310/.398/.491 line with 16 games remaining.
25Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 27
Alfonso Soriano is on the verge of just the 14th season in baseball history in which a player 36 or older hits 30 doubles and 30 home runs in the same season. Soriano currently has 30 doubles and 29 homers. He'd join Barry Bonds and Rafael Palmeiro (who each did it twice), as well as Babe Ruth, Manny Ramirez, Edgar Martinez, Raul Ibañez, Andres Galarraga, Joe Carter, Carlos Delgado, Vinny Castilla and Moises Alou.
26Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 26
In a problem that has persisted all season, the Red Sox have drawn only 391 walks this year, which is a pace for 431 for the whole season. That would be their lowest total in a non-strike-shortened season since 1931. Since the new front office took over, beginning with Theo Epstein's hiring as GM before the 2003 season, the Sox had not drawn fewer than 578 free passes, which happened last year.
27Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 24
Okay, so we all know which Angel is going to win the AL Rookie of the Year award unanimously, but Twins lefthander Scott Diamond has a good chance at some second- and third-place votes. Though he's shown signs of slowing down -- 19 ER in his last 23 1/3 innings, spanning four starts -- on the season he's 11-8 with a 3.69 ERA; he's the only Twin with double-digit wins. His 1.64 BB/9 rate is sixth-best in the majors among pitchers with at least 140 innings.
28Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 28
The curious case of Ubaldo Jimenez continues. His average fastball velocity, which was 96.1 mph in both 2009 and '10, fell to 93.5 last year and is 92.6 this year. And he has now lost nine of his 10 decisions since the All-Star break, during which time his ERA has nearly added a run from 4.50 to 5.43. His 1.60 WHIP is second-highest in the majors among qualifiers.
29Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 29
The offense hasn't been Colorado's problem this year -- they've scored the third most runs in the NL and rank first in the league in team OPS (.766) -- and the outfield has led the way. With Carlos Gonzalez (.894 OPS), Tyler Colvin (.880 OPS), Dexter Fowler (.879 OPS) and Michael Cuddyer (.806 OPS), the Rockies have four outfielders with at least 375 plate appearances and an OPS over .800, while no other club has more than two.
30Houston Astros
Last Week: 30
Among pitchers who have thrown at least 190 innings since the start of the 2010 season, the major league leaders in strikeout-to-walk ratio are, no surprise, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay, but sitting at No. 4 is new Astros closer Wilton Lopez, who has a 5.27 K/BB over the last three years. He's been particularly exceptional in his 60 1/3 innings of work this year, striking out 52 while walking only seven for a 7.43 K/BB rate.
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