Cardinals return to No. 1 thanks to recent hot stretch

Thursday August 22nd, 2013

Matt Holliday (right) has heated up just in time for St. Louis, which is eyeing its ninth postseason berth in the past 14 years.

The Cardinals are heating up again, winning seven of their last 10 games and three straight series, starting with a set against the division-leading Pirates. When they are at their best, they are baseball's most complete team -- the only club with a top-five offense and top-five pitching, leading to their massive +142 run differential.

St. Louis returns to the No. 1 spot in Power Rankings this week, as determined by SI's formula, which aims 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: 50 percent for season record, 25 percent for record in a team's last 10 games (with a small strength of schedule component) and 25 percent for season run differential.

NOTE: All stats are updated through Wednesday, Aug. 21.

MLB Power Rankings
1St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 5
Matt Holliday is having a down season by his lofty standards -- his .821 OPS this season, though above league average, is the worst of his career. But he remains of great importance to St. Louis' success, as the Cardinals are 14-2 in games when Holliday homers.
2Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 1
There was a scary moment on Wednesday, as the Braves' Jason Heyward was hit in the face with a fastball and suffered a fractured jaw. Early reports from Atlanta suggest he'll miss four to six weeks, which would encompass the rest of the regular season. Heyward had just completed a torrid stretch, too, in which he had 18 hits in nine games (one four-hit game and seven two-hit games).
3Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 2
After a 19-game home run drought, Prince Fielder has parked three in the past week to give him 20 for the season. He joins teammate Miguel Cabrera, the Yankees' Alfonso Soriano and the Red Sox' David Ortiz as the only players with at least 20 homers in every season from 2006 through 2013. (Nick Swisher, Paul Konerko and Matt Holliday still have a chance to join that list.)
4Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 4
The Reds' bullpen is nearly as nasty as last year, when it threatened the record for highest reliever strikeout rate before ultimately finishing third alltime with a 9.90 K/9. This year Cincinnati's bullpen again leads the NL with a 9.69 K/9 that would rank seventh in history but isn't even the best this season; the Mariners have a 9.74 mark that would be sixth alltime.
5Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 3
Here's another way to put the outstanding play of Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez in context: Among players with fewer than 300 plate appearances, they are the only two who have contributed at least three wins to their team, according to Baseball-Reference's WAR. Puig has a .962 OPS and 3.7 WAR; Ramirez has a 1.016 OPS and 3.9 WAR.
6Texas Rangers
Last Week: 6
The Rangers having winning records against all four intra-divisional foes and are 41-16 (.719) overall within the AL West -- those 41 wins are five more than any other major league team has within its own division.
7Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 7
For all the attention paid to the third-base deficiency with Boston's arch-rivals from New York, the Red Sox haven't been so hot at the hot corner either, with a combined .688 OPS from their third baseman, which ranks in the bottom half of the majors. Enter 20-year-old Xander Bogaerts, whom Baseball America rated the No. 4 prospect in baseball on its midseason list.

CHEN: Bogaerts joins growing list of phenoms
8Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 11
Tampa Bay's improved offense this year has afforded the pitching staff some leeway -- all it needs to do is keep the opponent to five or fewer runs. On the season, the Rays are 65-24 (.730) when allowing no more than five runs, the second best rate in the majors. During their 45-game hot stretch, in which they've gone 31-14, the Rays are 1-8 when allowing six or more runs.
9Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 14
Cleveland fans are likely knocking on wood any time he starts, but Ubaldo Jimenez has been pitching well since the All-Star break. He hasn't allowed more than two earned runs in any of his last five starts, and the Indians are 15-9 in his outings this season.
10Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 9
Oakland has overtaken the Pirates for the highest-rated team defense in the majors, according to Baseball Prospectus' park-adjusted defensive efficiency. A's pitchers rank 25th in the majors in strikeout rate, so a strong defense to chase all those balls in play is important.
11Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 8
Francisco Liriano's results have always been erratic, and this year -- no matter his NL-leading 14 wins -- is no exception. Of his 19 starts, he's allowed zero or one earned run in 13 of them and two more with two runs for 15 good starts, but he's also allowed four or five runs in three starts and, on Aug. 9 in Colorado, 10 runs in 2 1/3 innings.
12New York Yankees
Last Week: 15
Ichiro Suzuki grounded a ball through the left side of the infield in the first inning Wednesday night for his 4,000th career hit -- 2,722 in MLB and 1,278 in Japan -- which is an incredible personal milestone. New York is 18-8 this season when Ichiro has two or more hits.
13Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 12
In the six weeks since July 10, Martin Prado leads the NL with 51 hits. During that time, Prado has 19 multi-hit games, tallying six in his last seven games, and has raised his season average from .251 to .284.
14Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 13
Fans of the home run should flock to Orioles games. Not only does Baltimore's lineup lead the majors with 169 home runs (18 more than the second place Blue Jays), but also its pitching staff ranks dead last in the majors with 160 home runs allowed.
15Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 10
The Royals are the only big league club not to have a player who has hit 15 home runs this season; the team leader is Eric Hosmer with 14. He should get to 15 but 20 is a question mark. Only two teams failed to have a hitter reach 20 home runs last season: the Indians and Astros, whose team leaders both topped out at 18.
16Washington Nationals
Last Week: 16
What happened to Jordan Zimmermann? He had a 2.58 ERA through his first 19 starts, but his last six outings have been rough: a 6.75 ERA and an average of just five innings per start. It's part of a pattern: For his career, Zimmermann has a 2.98 ERA before the All-Star break and 4.48 after it.
17Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 17
Another great example of Coors Field's profound impact: The Rockies' offense ranks second in the NL in OPS yet has a 91 OPS+ (meaning it's nine percent below league average when adjusted for league and ballpark), and the team's pitching staff has the second-worst ERA in the NL yet has a 105 ERA+ (meaning it's five percent above average after contextual adjustment).
18New York Mets
Last Week: 18
Since the start of July, Mets rookie righthander Zack Wheeler has a 3.02 ERA in nine starts spanning 53 2/3 innings with 49 strikeouts, and, most importantly, New York is 8-1 in those outings. In Wheeler's most recent win, a fellow rookie, catcher Travis d'Arnaud, doubled for his first big-league hit.
19Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 22
The Mariners' new fences -- and new faces -- have certainly paid dividends in the power department. Seattle moved the Safeco Field wall in some and added Michael Morse, Kendrys Morales and Raul Ibañez and as a result have hit 65 home runs at home. With 18 home dates remaining, that is already the franchise's best mark since 2009.
20Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 24
This season hasn't been kind to Paul Konerko. The 37-year-old's OPS had declined each of the past two seasons, but it has fallen off a cliff this year. It went from .977 in 2010 to .906 in '11 to .857 in '12, which was a few points higher than his career rate, to this season's .662.
21Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 20
Among players who are primarily catchers, Jonathan Lucroy ranks fourth in the majors in OPS at .828, behind only Joe Mauer, Yadier Molina and Buster Posey and even ahead of Carlos Santana. After posting a .674 OPS in his first two seasons, Lucroy has turned into one of the game's best hitting catchers -- with an .881 OPS last year -- and has started playing some first base to keep his bat in the lineup more often.
22Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 19
Once again, the Blue Jays will need to address their pitching in the offseason, but at least there's nothing wrong with the offense. They are the only AL club with three hitters ranked in the league's top-15 for OPS: Edwin Encarnacion (.898, 7th), Jose Bautista (.856, 9th) and Adam Lind (.831, 15th).
23Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 25
Starlin Castro reportedly wasn't too happy with his demotion to the No. 8 spot in the lineup on Tuesday night, but in truth such placement was still generous. Castro entered the game with a .242/.278/.343 batting line, while the average 8-hole major league hitter had a slightly better .242/.305/.367 line.
24San Diego Padres
Last Week: 26
Rightfielder Will Venable had a hit in every August game until his 15-game streak was snapped on Monday; it was the longest by a Padre since Chase Headley had a 16-gamer in 2011. During that stretch, Venable went 23-for-61 (.377) with 11 extra-base hits (four doubles, two triples and five homers) while also stealing five bases.
25San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 27
The Giants, who rank 12th in the NL in runs allowed, are on pace to give up 721 runs this season. They haven't allowed more than 700 since 2008, when they had their last losing record. In two of the past four years, they didn't even allow 600 runs.
26Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 28
At least manager Charlie Manuel passed the 1,000 career win mark before the Phillies fired him on Aug. 16. He had a .551 winning percentage and a World Series title in Philadelphia; this season was his first with a losing record. Also, he gained the respect of all around him, as evidenced by this great story from the Philadelphia Inquirer's Matt Gelb.
27Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 21
The Twins aren't known for having a particularly patient lineup -- they rank eighth in the AL with 414 walks and 10th with a .313 OBP -- but they lead the majors in pitches seen per plate appearance at 4.04, which would be the highest in franchise history.
28Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 23
Joe Blanton has joined some unfortunate company. He is now only the fourth pitcher in the last five seasons to allow more than 1.95 home runs every nine innings while logging more than 125 frames, joining Bronson Arroyo (2011 with the Reds), Tommy Hunter (2012 with the Orioles) and Ervin Santana (2012 with the Angels).
29Miami Marlins
Last Week: 29
It doesn't seem possible for baseball's most active Twitter user to do anything quietly, but Logan Morrison has had a very nice season that's gone largely unnoticed on a club where the owner, rightfielder and All-Star rookie pitcher garner most of the headlines. Morrison, who didn't debut this season until June 9 because of an injury, has a .277/.359/.436 batting line.
30Houston Astros
Last Week: 30
The Astros' Jake Elmore has nearly completed the whole position set. He had previously played all four infield positions and both left and rightfield before catching and pitching in the same game on Aug. 19, making him just the 14th man to serve both roles of the battery on the same night. All that's left is centerfield.

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