Cardinals are No. 1 and projection says they'll finish that way

Friday July 19th, 2013

Edward Mujica has 26 saves and made his first All-Star team in his first season as a closer.
Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

The Cardinals have resided atop the Power Rankings for eight of the past 10 weeks, but the expectation here is that they're on track for a far more substantive goal: their third World Series championship in the last eight years.

In this week's issue of Sports Illustrated, I projected baseball's final standings given what we've learned in the first half, a second-chance update after the staff's first efforts before the season started. Each's team projected record after the All-Star break is included below, and here's a quick postseason summary:

AL East: Tampa Bay (by one game over Boston),
AL Central: Detroit (by four games over Cleveland),
AL West: Texas (by virtue of a head-to-head tiebreaker over Oakland),
NL East: Atlanta (by three games over Washington),
NL Central: St. Louis (by six games over Pittsburgh)
NL West: Arizona (by a game over Los Angeles)

Wild-card winners: Boston, Oakland, Pittsburgh and Washington

World Series: St. Louis over Texas in 6

As a weekly reminder, this year's Power Rankings are trying to objectively determine 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.

NOTE: All stats are updated through Thursday, July 18.

MLB Power Rankings
1St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 1
Projected second-half record: 40-29
St. Louis has had no apparent flaws ever since Edward Mujica solidified the end of the bullpen back in mid-April. Sure, it could use an offensive upgrade over glove-first shortstop Pete Kozma, but the NL's highest-scoring offense hasn't been affected thus far. As well as the Cardinals have played -- they have the majors' best record and run differential -- they still have waiting reinforcements, young and old, who either have yet to appear or only made cameos in pitchers Chris Carpenter, Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez, as well as the top minor league hitting prospect, outfielder Oscar Taveras.
2Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 3
Projected second-half record: 37-30
Oakland enters the stretch run with a slumping offense that has scored more than three runs twice in its last 11 games. So far the AL's best pitching staff (3.62 ERA) has compensated for that, but that's not a sustainable way to win games. This is a clear playoff-bound team, but the A's will have a hard fight to stave off Texas for the AL West title.
3Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 5
Projected second-half record: 39-27
The Rays are on a torrid stretch -- 19-6 in the past month -- with their already strong starting pitching getting especially hot, having failed to complete six innings only twice in 25 tries while pitching to a 2.40 ERA. Tampa Bay won 90+ games each of the last two years with below-average offenses, but this year's lineup ranks fifth in the AL in runs scored and the prediction here is that the Rays overtake the Red Sox by a game in the East.
4Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 2
Projected second-half record: 35-30
The Red Sox have the AL's best record, but a few concerns linger in the bullpen, which has struggled all year, and the rotation, where Jon Lester and Ryan Dempster have a combined 4.42 ERA and Clay Buchholz's return date is uncertain. But the Red Sox still have the majors' highest-scoring offense and historically have been aggressive in making impactful trade deadline moves.
5Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 4
Projected second-half record: 36-32
To date the Tigers have played the fewest intradivisional games of any team in baseball, going 20-13 against AL Central competition with 43 of their final 68 games with the same familiar foes. That shouldn't be much trouble -- Detroit is 113-64 (.638) within the division since the start of 2011 -- but a bullpen that ranks 25th in the majors (4.15 ERA) continues to be a problem area.
6Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 6
Projected second-half record: 36-31
With Jason Heyward and both Upton brothers slumping, Atlanta's outfield ranks just 23rd in OPS (.707), but there ought to be some degree of a rebound in the second half. An already strong pitching staff -- 3.29 ERA, second in the majors -- should only improve with Brandon Beachy's return.
7Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 8
Projected second-half record: 35-34
The Pirates would have to go 25-44 to fail to log a winning season, which is such a poor record that even the Astros and Marlins should exceed that. Even if their major league-best pitching staff (3.08 ERA) does regress some, Pittsburgh seems to be a likely wild-card team.
8Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 16
Projected second-half record: 33-34
The Indians pitching staff has walked more hitters than any team in baseball (3.7 BB/9), and their offensive production has declined each month (.798 OPS in April, .745 in May, .727 in June and .708 so far in July) -- indicators that are not conducive to the team remaining in the divisional race for long.
9Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 9
Projected second-half record: 33-34
The third-place Reds may know where they stand soon: Thanks to a rain postponement, they play 11 games in 10 days on a protracted West Coast trip that is sandwiched in-between home series with second-place Pittsburgh and first-place St. Louis. In all, they have nine games remaining with the Pirates and seven with the Cardinals; Cincinnati is just 7-12 against the teams they're chasing.
10Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 14
Projected second-half record: 37-29
At this point last year coverage of the Orioles centered on the idea that they were lucky -- their final record in one-run games set a record -- but there's no such notion this year, not when Chris Davis and Manny Machado have had such stellar breakout seasons. More consistent pitching is critical down the stretch, and last week's return of Wei-Yin Chen (who beat the Rangers) is a large part of the antidote.
11Texas Rangers
Last Week: 7
Projected second-half record: 39-28
Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando, Colby Lewis and Neftali Feliz represent the makings of a good rotation, right? Well, that's what the Rangers currently have on the disabled list -- Darvish and Ogando are due back imminently, and contributions from the other three will further help, and that doesn't include any reinforcements Texas may add before the trade deadline.
12Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 15
Projected second-half record: 37-30
Arizona is in first place despite consistently high levels of production from only one hitter, first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, and one starting pitcher, Patrick Corbin. If Miguel Montero, Martin Prado, Cody Ross and/or Jason Kubel bounce back offensively or now-healthy rookie Adam Eaton becomes an on-base machine, the Diamondbacks would have a formidable offense.
13Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 12
Projected second-half record: 39-29
The Dodgers hit their stride in the last three-plus weeks, going 17-5, but much of that was keyed by the unsustainably high production of Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez. Even if/when they come back to earth, L.A. has enough to challenge Arizona in the NL West.
14New York Yankees
Last Week: 10
Projected second-half record: 32-35
The returns of Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson ought to help the waning offense, while Alex Rodriguez's impending activation will certainly be a major distraction -- and he'll need to hit better than he did last year for him to be worth the headaches.
15Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 17
Projected second-half record: 30-39
The Cubs are playing better baseball and have gone 17-13 in their last 30 games, but that progress will soon be abruptly halted once they begin to sell. Of the NL Central contenders, Chicago has the most remaining games against St. Louis (nine), then Pittsburgh (seven) and Cincinnati (six).
16Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 19
Projected second-half record: 28-38
The Phillies may not be that far back in the playoff races -- 5 1/2 for the wild card, 6 1/2 for the division -- but their -45 run differential suggests they've overachieved to have a .500 record. They rank 10th in the league in runs and 11th in runs allowed, rankings that are not conducive to contending.
17Washington Nationals
Last Week: 18
Projected second-half record: 39-28
The Nationals are too talented not to make a serious second-half push. Jayson Werth has been on fire this month; Anthony Rendon has been terrific in replacing Danny Espinosa at second base; and once Bryce Harper and Adam LaRoche get back on track, the offense will finally keep pace with the club's great rotation.
18Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 22
Projected second-half record: 31-35
Even at four games under .500, the Rockies are division contenders who sit just 4 1/2 back in the NL West. They need more pitching, and if they don't get it, they'll fade slowly down the stretch.
19Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 11
Projected second-half record: 38-31
Before losing all three games last weekend to Seattle, the Angels had gone 11-3 and finally resembled the team they hoped they'd be this year. Expect a few more hot spurts in the second half to get L.A. above .500 for the season.
20New York Mets
Last Week: 20
Projected second-half record: 26-45
The Mets don't have many appealing trade chips to offer contenders, except for Marlon Byrd, so the focus the rest of the way will be on turning around the seasons of in-house players such as Ike Davis, Ruben Tejada and, to a lesser extent, Daniel Murphy.
21Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 23
Projected second-half record: 30-37
The Mariners have, per usual, one of the worst offenses in the AL, yet they could be an attractive place for clubs to shop for hitters. Kendrys Morales, Michael Morse and Raul Ibañez are all set to become free agents at year's end and could provide some pop for a contender.
22Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 21
Projected second-half record: 34-34
The Blue Jays need to go 36-32 for the AL East to be the third division in history to finish the season without a losing team. The guess here is that Toronto won't sell at the deadline and has a chance, but the rotation's poor performance persists and sinks the Jays.
23Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 13
Projected second-half record: 36-34
After a hot streak three weeks ago, the offense has lapsed back into its consistently low-scoring ways, averaging just 3.1 runs over the last 10 games. But the schedule the rest of the way isn't too bad with only two road series against an opponent with a winning record (both against the Tigers).
24San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 25
Projected second-half record: 40-28
Surely the Giants are better than their pre-All-Star break record. The bet here is that the pitching staff's regression is reversed, and they make a strong run in a middling NL West, although they'll likely fall a few games short of a chance to defend their World Series title in the postseason.
25Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 29
Projected second-half record: 30-40
The Twins' contact-oriented pitching staff -- which has struck out, by far, the fewest batters in the majors and ranks in the top-10 in fewest walks issued -- plays well at home, where Minnesota is 21-23 (.475) but less so away from spacious Target Field where it has an 18-30 record (.377).
26Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 24
Projected second-half record: 35-33
There's too much talent on this team for the Brewers to continue scuffling along in the NL Central cellar, but there's also not enough talent to do much else but pass the soon-to-be-selling Cubs.
27Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 26
Projected second-half record: 28-42
Given the affordability of ace Chris Sale's contract -- with options, he's under control for $57.7 million through 2019 -- the White Sox would be wise to hold onto him, but there's no reason anyone else should be untouchable as Chicago becomes deadline sellers.
28Miami Marlins
Last Week: 28
Projected second-half record: 26-43
Rookie All-Star starter Jose Fernandez, who is only 20 years old, looks like he could be an ace for years to come. The development of fellow 22-and-under players like starter Jacob Turner, outfielder Marcell Ozuna and second baseman Derek Dietrich -- not to mention minor league prospects such as outfielder Christian Yelich -- indicate that Miami's rebuilding process may not take as long as expected.
29San Diego Padres
Last Week: 27
Projected second-half record: 31-35
The Padres' play has been maddening: they started 5-15, then regrouped and in mid-June won seven straight (including sweeping consecutive series against division leaders Atlanta and Arizona) to pull within a game of first place. Since then, however, they've gone just 6-20 and have fallen to last place in the NL West.
30Houston Astros
Last Week: 30
Projected second-half record: 26-42
The projection is only a miniscule improvement on their current winning percentage and would leave the Astros with 103 losses this season -- the majors' worst record, sure, but way better than some preseason forecasts for 120 losses.

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