Royals move into top 10 amid shakeup of AL wild-card hopefuls

Thursday September 12th, 2013

James Shields has been just what the Royals were hoping for when they got him from the Rays last offseason.
Charlie Riedel/AP

The seven-team AL wild card race has cinched tight, with six of those teams now separated by just two games for the second slot. So too are those clubs clustered in this week's Power Rankings: the Royals are No. 8, followed by the Indians at 10, the Orioles at 11 and the Rangers, Yankees and Rays at 13-14-15.

After taking two of three in Cleveland, Kansas City has cracked the top-10 for the first time since it was No. 5 way back on May 3. It won on Wednesday after James Shields rallied from a two-run first inning to shut out the Indians for the next seven frames, the sixth time he's completed at least eight this season.

Games like that are a reason why general manager Dayton Moore made the bold offseason trade of a package headlined by outfield prospect Wil Myers to the Rays for Shields and fellow pitcher Wade Davis. Shields leads the AL in innings and fronts a revamped Royals rotation that has sliced more than an inning off its ERA from last year, going from 5.01 in 2012 to 3.95 in '13.

As a reminder, this year Power Rankings is utilizing a quantitative formula based on season record (50 percent), recent play and strength of schedule (combined 25 percent) and run differential (25 percent).

NOTE: All stats are updated through Wednesday, Sept. 11.

MLB Power Rankings
1Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 1
In consecutive 13-game stretches, Mike Napoli roughly quadrupled his production. As noted during a NESN broadcast, from Aug. 4-21, Napoli had a .114 average, .227 slugging and one home run; over his next baker's dozen of games from Aug. 24 through Sept. 8, Napoli batted .400 with an .889 slugging and six home runs.
2St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 5
Here's another perspective on how well the Cardinals drive in runners in scoring position: Allen Craig, Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina rank first, second and fourth in the majors in success rate of scoring runners from second. Craig's 31.0 percent and Beltran's 30.4 rank fourth and sixth among players with 500 PAs since at least 1950, according to Baseball Prospectus. (Incidentally, No. 2 on that list is Craig's 33.0 percent in 2012.)
3Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 4
Since dipping to a .258 average following an 0-for-7 doubleheader on Aug. 16, Prince Fielder has gotten red-hot just as Miguel Cabrera has been in and out of the lineup with various ailments. Fielder has hits in 21 of his last 24 games -- including four hits and a homer on Tuesday -- and has compiled a .374/.431/.582 slash line over that time.
4Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 7
The Reds are on the verge of becoming the first club since 2007 to have two players with triple-digit walk totals: Joey Votto has 117 and Shin-Soo Choo has 98. Votto's a known commodity in Cincinnati, but subtract Choo's contributions from the team totals and the club's .328 OBP this year, which ranks second in the NL, plummets to .316 -- just one point better than what the Reds had last year when it didn't have Choo and ranked 12th in the NL (and which would rank eighth this year).
5Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 3
Jarrod Parker started the year with a 2-6 record through 10 starts but hasn't lost in 19 outings since, the lonest streak in the majors this season. A starter's win-loss record does not tell the whole story, of course, but in this is indicative of Parker's consistency. Since his last loss, Parker has a 2.61 ERA with a .209 average against and has allowed more than three runs only once in those last 19 starts.
6Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 2
Bolstered by the presence of Julio Teheran, 22, and Mike Minor, 25, in the rotation as well as Craig Kimbrel, 25, and Luis Avilan, 23, in the bullpen, Atlanta has gotten the third-most innings in the majors (594 2/3) and second-best ERA (2.77) from pitchers who are 25 and younger.
7Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 6
Dodgers pitchers are baseball's best at diffusing tough spots. They have allowed just 17 home runs and a .668 OPS with runners in scoring position -- both marks are the tops in the majors.
8Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 10
Kansas City's playoff chances appeared sunk after a seven-game losing streak late last month, but they've rebounded by winning 13 of 18. Remove Friday's 16-2 clunker of a loss to the Tigers -- an aberration from James Shields -- and the Royals' rotation has a 2.78 ERA in the recent hot stretch.
9Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 9
Rookie starter Gerrit Cole was just two years and four days old the last time the Pirates had won 82 games but he earned the win Monday night that enabled Pittsburgh to clinch its first winning season since 1992. Cole has a 3.48 ERA and 1.9 BB/9 in 16 starts, joining Brett Anderson in 2010 and Mark Buehrle in 2001 as the only pitchers 22-and-younger to be below the 3.50 and 2.0 thresholds since Brett Saberhagen in 1985.
10Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 13
Though he was displaced from centerfield to left to accommodate free-agent signee Michael Bourn, Michael Brantley has been the Indians' best outfielder this season. He has the starting trio's best OPS .718 -- Drew Stubbs has a .652 and Bourn has a .649 -- and of the three natural centerfielders, Brantley has had the best defensive season with a +6 Defensive Runs Saved score according to the Fielding Bible's metric.
11Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 12
Danny Valencia has started 11 games in August and September and has nine multi-hit games and two hitless games, meaning his first base knock of the game seems guaranteed to be followed by at least one more. He's batting .564 with seven doubles and three homers during that stretch, providing much needed power at DH, where the Orioles have struggled all year.
12Washington Nationals
Last Week: 16
Gio Gonzalez nearly threw the first no-hitter for the Nationals since the franchise moved to D.C., allowing just one hit to the Mets over nine shutout innings on Monday. Since June 1, he has made 18 starts and given up two or fewer earned runs in 14 of them.
13Texas Rangers
Last Week: 8
Year after year, the first inning is typically the highest-scoring inning in baseball -- as it is again this season -- yet the Rangers have scored only 42 runs in the first frame in 2013. That's the worst in baseball by a wide margin, as no other club has fewer than 58.
14New York Yankees
Last Week: 11
The Yankees lost the first three games of their weekend series with the Red Sox despite scoring at least eight runs in each. According to, it was only the fourth time since 1916 that a team lost three consecutive games while scoring eight or more runs, joining the 1961 Red Sox (who lost four straight), 1998 Marlins and 1999 Rockies.
15Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 14
The Rays have won just four of their last 17 games, and maybe that shouldn't be so startling. After all, they've had a winning record in just two of the season's six months, going 12-14 in April, 18-10 in May, 13-15 in June, 21-5 in July, 11-15 in August and now 3-7 in September.
16Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 15
Over 49 games since the All-Star break, Mike Trout has a .512 OBP. In other words, he has reached base more than often than not, a staggering success rate and the latest eye-popping reminder of Trout's greatness. A few more: he's tied for the major league lead in hits and leads the AL in walks and runs.
17Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 19
The #HeathBellExperience is a burgeoning twitter meme, and it's not a flattering one. Bell has converted 15 of his 22 save chances, a 68.2 percent conversion rate that is the worst in baseball among relievers with at least 15 attempts and his 4.50 ERA is second-worst among the subset.
18Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 18
Strikeouts are typically a byproduct of power but not for Edwin Encarnacion. He is the only player in the majors with at least 10 home runs who has fewer strikeouts than walks. Encarnacion has, in fact, slugged 36 homers; he is set to join Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and Jose Bautista as the only players in the last four seasons with 35 or more homers and more walks than strikeouts.
19Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 17
The Rockies are the only team in baseball with three pitchers -- Jhoulys Chacin, Tyler Chatwood and Jorge De La Rosa -- who have logged at least 90 innings and who boast an ERA+ of at least 125, which means they are 25 percent better than average after adjusting for league and ballpark. There are 13 teams with zero such pitchers and only six with two.
20Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 23
Since sweeping the Giants on the road in a three-game series in late July, the Cubs have gone just 14-28 (.333). Part of that is attributable to trade-deadline attrition and partly to a brutal schedule -- that stretch included 19 games against the Cardinals, Dodgers and Reds, in which Chicago went 6-13. Of its final 17 games, 13 are against the Braves, Cardinals and Pirates.
21San Diego Padres
Last Week: 26
Will Venable, who had discrete 15-game and 10-game hitting streaks in the month of August, has taken to the leadoff spot in Everth Cabrera's absence. Venable has a .361/.398/.663 batting line while starting 20 games atop the order and his .997 OPS since July 14 (the day before the All-Star break) ranks fifth in the majors.
22San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 21
In a recent 11-game stretch that ended Monday, the Giants scored three or fewer runs nine times, which typically is a formula for losing, though they won four of those games. We shouldn't be surprised -- since 2010, San Francisco's 90 wins while scoring no more than three runs are second only to the Phillies' 91.
23Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 22
Ryan Braun was suspended for the rest of the season on July 22. The next day, rookie leftfielder Khris Davis smacked a pinch-hit home run and didn't stop slugging until a sore wrist sidelined him. Since July 23, Davis has nine homers and 1.005 OPS, which ranks seventh in the majors during that span among players with at least 100 PAs.
24New York Mets
Last Week: 20
With reports that the Mets may target Reds outfielder Shin-Soo Choo this offseason, it's worth noting how poor New York's leadoff hitters have fared this year, with a .298 OBP that ranks 27th in the majors. Choo, meanwhile, has a difference-making .424 OBP (see Reds skinny above).
25Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 28
Despite a poor first two months, Cole Hamels' end-of-season numbers are going to be in line with his career rates. He had a 4.86 ERA through 12 starts at the end of May but has a 2.62 ERA in 18 starts hence for a season mark of 3.45, just 0.11 above his career rate entering the year.
26Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 24
The Twins average seeing 4.03 pitches per plate appearance and trail only the Red Sox in that category (at the fourth decimal place, no less). Unfortunately for Minnesota, it hasn't translated into big offensive production. The team is tied for seventh in walks and has scored just 565 runs, which is tied for 23rd.
27Miami Marlins
Last Week: 29
While the Red Sox are getting above-average offensive production at all nine lineup slots, the Marlins are at the other end of the spectrum. At only two batting-order positions -- third and fourth -- do they have an OPS above the league average of .717.
28Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 27
No club has played as many -- or lost as many -- one-run games as the White Sox have this season. They are 21-32 in one-run games, including four such losses on their recent nine-game losing streak.
29Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 25
Those wanting to see the future of Mariners baseball no longer have to go south to Tacoma from the Sea-Tac airport but can go north to Seattle. Though Danny Hultzen is still in Triple A, his Big Three pitching cohorts, Taijuan Walker and James Paxton, are both with the big league club and have gone 2-0with a 3.00 ERA in four starts.
30Houston Astros
Last Week: 30
The Astros are no longer on pace to set the single-season strikeout record. They are now on pace for 1,528 -- one shy of the 2010 Diamondbacks' major league mark.

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