Streaking Tigers take over No. 1; reeling Cardinals tumble

Thursday August 1st, 2013

Returning from an injury, Anibal Sanchez was stellar in July, going 3-0 with a 2.15 ERA for Detroit.
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Baseball's best have gone streaking.

The Tigers, who lead the AL Central, have won five straight and nine out of 10 despite missing Miguel Cabrera for part of that; the Braves, who lead the NL East, have won six straight, sweeping St. Louis and scoring nine or more in each win over Colorado; and while the Red Sox and Rays oscillate atop the AL East, the toughest division in baseball, the Pirates have rebounded from a poor series loss to the lowly Marlins to take four straight from the Cardinals and take over first in the NL Central.

For Detroit, this is its first time atop Power Rankings since May 9. Then, as now, the starting pitching has made the difference. In the nine wins of the recent hot streak, the Tigers' rotation has a 1.20 ERA and a .187 average against.

As a weekly reminder, this year Power Rankings is trying to objectively determine who is 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 Wednesday, July 31.

MLB Power Rankings
1Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 6
Jose Iglesias, the gifted defensive shortstop Detroit acquired from Boston in a three-way trade this week, should pay immediate dividends for Tigers pitchers who have gotten groundballs on 48.4 percent of all balls in play, the highest rate in the AL. According to the Fielding Bible's Plus/Minus system, Detroit's left side of the infield (third baseman Miguel Cabrera and heretofore shortstop Jhonny Peralta) has cost the club 10 runs defensively.
2Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 7
The Braves' two youngest starters -- Julio Teheran, 22, and Mike Minor, 25 -- have been their best rotation members all season and especially of late. In Tehehan's last four starts, Atlanta is 3-1 and the righthander has a 2.45 ERA in 25 2/3 innings; in Minor's last five starts, Atlanta is 4-1, and the lefthander has a 1.53 ERA in 35 1/3 innings.
3Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 4
The acquisition of starter Jake Peavy from the White Sox gives the Red Sox rotation depth while Clay Buchholz remains out and allows the club to move Brandon Workman, who's already within 20 innings of his career high, to the bullpen. By assumingPeavy's entire salary, Boston's prospect cost wasn't steep. Another benefit: Peavy has a 3.83 ERA in 19 career starts against the AL East.
4Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 2
The Rays won have 10 straight series and have gone 26-7 since June 23, during which time their rotation has a 2.33 ERA, 16 quality starts, seven complete games and a .202 batting average against. In 17 of those starts -- more than half -- Tampa Bay's starter has exited after at least six innings while allowing either zero runs or one.
5Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 5
The Pirates are playing so consistently that even when they do lose -- which is infrequent -- the game is almost always close. Since losing 10-0 to the Giants on June 13, Pittsburgh has won 26 of 41 games with all 15 losses by three or fewer runs. Its .610 winning percentage in games decided by three or fewer runs is the best in baseball.
6Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 11
In their last 16 games, the Indians have gone 12-4 while allowing more than four runs only twice. During that stretch, all six pitchers who have started games have fared well for a 2.27 rotation ERA and .197 average against.
7St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 1
The reeling Cardinals have lost seven straight -- including four to chief NL Central rival Pittsburgh -- to fall to second place in the division. The offense has been so poor that not a single active member of the roster has homered since July 10; the only two St. Louis has hit in those 17 games were by catcher Yadier Molina, who was just placed on the DL.
8Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 9
The offensive year of trade acquisition Alberto Callaspo -- a .671 OPS with the Angels -- was exactly the same as the collective second basemen the A's have trotted out this year. Callaspo also hasn't played second base since 2010 and even then it was sparing, with just 12 games logged. Trading former first-round pick Grant Green, he of the .879 OPS in Triple A this year, is puzzling.
9Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 10
Lost among the commotion of the hot stretches from Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez is that Clayton Kershaw is having his best season yet. He leads the majors in ERA (1.87) and WHIP (0.86) and is fourth in strikeouts (161).
10Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 3
The league-wide stolen-base percentage is 72.8 percent -- one of the top-five rates in baseball history -- yet the Reds haven't benefited at all. Their 55.9 percent rate is the worst in the majors.
11Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 17
The Royals have reeled off eight straight wins to reclaim a winning record, but the Tigers have won five straight and the Indians have won seven straight, so K.C. has gained little ground in the AL Central. The timing of the hot streak before the deadline meant that the Royals didn't sell, though Baseball Prospectus pegs their postseason chances at just 2.8 percent.
12Texas Rangers
Last Week: 12
The Rangers were curiously silent at the trading deadline, especially with the possibility of top home run hitter Nelson Cruz facing a suspension for his alleged link to Biogenesis. (Some reports say he may appeal.) But Texas is smart enough not to overpay from its enviable farm system, especially when its position in the standings should enable some waiver trades. And an 8-15 start to the month got a lot better as three straight walkoff homers helped the Rangers sweep the Angels.
13Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 13
A great stat from the Arizona Republic's Nick Piecoro: Entering Tuesday, the Diamondbacks were 30-15 when Paul Goldschmidt drives in at least one run and 21-33 when he didn't. His 24 home runs and 86 RBIS are both more than double the total of any teammate, his .941 OPS is 135 points better and even his 10 stolen bases are the most on the team by two.
14Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 8
Getting Wei-Yin Chen back from injury is probably more important than trading for Bud Norris, but collectively they should ensure that the Orioles improve their 4.67 rotation ERA, which is tied for 26th in the majors.
15New York Yankees
Last Week: 15
The Yankees hit a franchise-record 245 home runs last year and led the majors in that category. This season, however, they rank 24th and are on pace for only 138. New York recently went nine straight games without a homer, which is tied for the fourth-longest streak by any AL team in the last 20 years.
16San Diego Padres
Last Week: 24
With its new dimensions, Petco Park has seen home runs per game surge from 1.35 last year to 1.85 this year. Unfortunately for the Padres, that hasn't worked out so well, as their pitching staff has allowed the NL's fourth-most homers at home this season. Still, it's a pitcher-friendly upgrade for trade acquisition Ian Kennedy.
17Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 27
The Blue Jays aren't only struggling in one-run games (11-19) but all games decided by three or fewer runs. They are 26-35 in such games for a .426 winning percentage that is sixth-worst in baseball.
18Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 18
The Cubs did well this month to trade Matt Garza, Alfonso Soriano, Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger for prospects but ultimately chose not to trade Kevin Gregg, Nate Schierholtz and David DeJesus. If nothing else, Chicago now has a better than even chance of staying ahead of Milwaukee and thus out of the NL Central cellar for the fourth straight season.
19Washington Nationals
Last Week: 26
After a promising start, Denard Span has cooled off badly atop Washington's lineup -- and in centerfield. Over his last 63 games, his OBP has been a subpar .309, and for the season he has a Plus/Minus of 0, according to the Fielding Bible, meaning he's been no better than a replacement-level centerfielder despite saving 55 runs over the two previous seasons in Minnesota.
20New York Mets
Last Week: 19
Guess who has been the NL East's best team since June 17? (Hint: this is the Mets' section of Power Rankings.) Yep, it's New York, which is 23-17 since that date, during which time they've scored a league-high 185 runs.
21Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 14
Does anyone remember when Felix Hernandez was thought to have elbow issues this spring? Me neither. Seattle's ace is once again the AL's best, with a league-low 2.34 ERA. His strikeout rate (9.25 K/9) is a personal best and so too is his walk rate (1.58 BB/9).
22Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 16
Keeping the ball down is a basic tenant of good pitching and something the Rockies especially emphasized this spring -- and it seems to be working. Colorado's pitchers have allowed the fewest homers on the road of any team (38) and only 51 homers in 57 games at Coors Field, a rate slightly less than the big league average of 0.98 homers per team per game.
23Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 20
As far as the new wave of stats go, OPS is much less mystifying than WAR, so this should be easy to explain: Mike Trout is having a better 2013 season than he did a 2012 season. Trout's OPS right now (.974) is better than it was last year (.963), when he won AL Rookie of the Year and was the runner-up in a hotly contested MVP race. Trout currently leads the majors with 137 hits and leads the AL in triples (eight).
24Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 25
This week the Brewers announced that all August visitors to Miller Park would receive $10 vouchers, freebies of an estimated $3.6 million, which just so happens to be the salary Ryan Braun forfeited with his suspension. It's a nice good will gesture, but with Braun banned and Aramis Ramirez and Yovani Gallardo hurt, it's going to take more than two free hot dogs to win over fans.
25Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 21
It was only fitting that Joe Mauer returned to the club from paternity leave on Tuesday afternoon, the same day the Twins announced their 2014 All-Star logo. Mauer, the local boy whose wife (appropriately) gave birth to twins, is having another quietly outstanding year with a .328/.410/.475 batting line and 144 OPS+ -- the only player on Minnesota's roster with 300 PAs and an above-average adjusted OPS.
26Miami Marlins
Last Week: 29
The Marlins' anemic offense has averaged only 3.0 runs per game this month and has a .625 team OPS this season -- if they finish the year at that OPS number, it'll be the majors' lowest since the 1981 Blue Jays.
27San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 22
A train wreck of a June and July -- an 18-35 record -- derailed their season, but the Giants continue to be mighty within the NL West. They are .500 or better against all four divisional opponents and are 29-21 (.580) overall against Arizona, Colorado, Los Angeles and San Diego. They are 16-32 (.333), however, against other NL clubs.
28Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 23
The Phillies missed an opportunity at the deadline to get younger, holding onto free agents-to-be Michael Young and Carlos Ruiz, as well as potential difference makers Cliff Lee and Jonathan Papelbon. The on-field news isn't much better right now thanks to a recent eight-game losing streak.
29Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 28
The White Sox landed Tigers' outfield prospect Avisail Garcia and three low-level minor leaguers from the Red Sox in exchange for Jake Peavy -- and traded reliever Matt Thornton, also to Boston, earlier in the month -- but surprisingly held onto all their other assets. With a weak free agent class expected, however, Chicago may be able to fetch good value for them this winter.
30Houston Astros
Last Week: 30
After trading Bud Norris on Wednesday, the Astros no longer have any player making more than $1.15 million on their active roster, thus making their rebuild about as thorough and complete as possible. In possibly related news, since June 17 the Astros are 10-26 (.278) and haven't won back-to-back games.

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