Nationals back in top 10 after five-month absence; Red Sox stay No. 1

Thursday September 19th, 2013

Unheralded Tanner Roark has been one of the best relievers in baseball this season.
Greg Fiume/Getty Images

The Nationals are baseball's most dominant team, just as we expected. Over the last six weeks, Washington is a major league-best 27-11, but this late-season surge may have started too late to salvage the club's postseason chances.

Though Jayson Werth has been one of the NL's best hitters, Denard Span has a season-long 29-game hitting streak and rookie righthander Tanner Roark has been the game's best run preventer (more on him below), the Nationals are still on the outside of the playoff picture. They're chasing the Reds for the second NL wild card and, unfortunately for Nats fans, Cincinnati has been the NL's second-hottest team over the last six weeks.

JAFFE: Span's hitting streak helping keep Washington's hopes alive

Washington remains 5 ½ games out of the playoffs and has had to scratch ace Stephen Strasburg from scheduled starts twice in the past week with forearm tightness. Nevertheless, the team's red-hot baseball is recognized here in Power Rankings, where the preseason World Series favorites have jumped from No. 12 to No. 7. That's the Nationals' highest spot since the very first rankings of the season, when they were No. 6 on April 11. (They were as low as No. 26 on July 25.)

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. 18.

MLB Power Rankings
1Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 1
The Red Sox' offense is so deep that even their pinch-hitters are mashing. In 82 plate appearances, Boston pinch-hitters are 17-for-69 with seven home runs and 11 walks for a .975 OPS that is third-best single-season mark since at least 1974, according to STATS LLC.
2St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 2
Catcher Yadier Molina smacked four hits and a homer in Sunday's Cardinals win, and he is now one of just seven NL players with at least four four-hit games this season. St. Louis has had the best record in the NL Central by two games since Molina returned from the DL in mid-August, and they are 75-46 (.620) in games he starts this season and 14-17 (.484) when he doesn't.
3Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 3
Batting averages in baseball may be at their lowest (.254) since 1972, but the Tigers' lineup hasn't seemed to notice. The team is batting .285, the majors' best since 2007, thanks to seven players with 400 PAs and a .275 average or better, which is tied for third-most since 1950.
4Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 5
A.J. Griffin is the sport's most extreme flyball pitcher with just a 0.69 groundball-to-flyball ratio. Supported by a good outfield defense in a big home ballpark, he can afford to do that -- when the ball stays in the yard. He has allowed the most homers in the majors (35) yet has just a 3.78 ERA, meaning he's on track to be just the second pitcher of last decade to have allowed at least 35 home runs while maintaining an ERA under 4.00.
5Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 6
Freddie Freeman has established himself as one of the game's premier first basemen with a breakout season -- 21 home runs, .875 OPS -- and he only turned 24 last week. Among players who debuted within the last decade, Freeman's 467 hits through his age-23 season rank eighth; teammates Jason Heyward (also recently 24) and Justin Upton (now 25) are seventh and third on that list.
6Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 4
Lightning-fast Billy Hamilton, he of the 155 minor league stolen bases in 2012, had stolen five bases and scored four runs before ever reaching base on his own accord (he started 0-for-3) or starting a big league game (as he did for the first time Wednesday, when he had three hits and four more steals) thanks to his pinch-running exploits. He ranks second in the majors with five steals as a pinch runner, singlehandedly propelling Cincinnati to a first-place tie in the NL for pinch-runner stolen bases.
7Washington Nationals
Last Week: 12
Tanner Roark, a former 25th-round pick who didn't even make the Nationals' top-10 prospects list, is leading the majors in ERA among pitchers with at least 40 innings -- his is 1.08 in 41 2/3 innings of work, over three starts and nine relief appearances.
8Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 8
Age is but a number, an idea reaffirmed this week by the Royals, who on consecutive nights started James Shields (an in-his-prime 31), Yordano Ventura (a 22-year-old rookie making his debut) and Bruce Chen (an aging veteran at 36). The trio combined to allow four runs in 16 2/3 innings (2.16 ERA); Kansas City's starters have allowed more than three runs just once in their last 11 games.
9Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 9
Starling Marte, who returned to the Pirates' starting lineup after a month-long absence on Tuesday, is having a one-of-a-kind season. Marte is the first player in history to have a season with at least 20 doubles, 10 triples, 10 home runs, 20 stolen bases and 10 hit by pitches; the leftfielder's totals this year are 25-10-11-36-22.
10Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 10
Ubaldo Jimenez has been the AL's best starting pitcher since the All-Star break, with a league-leading 1.83 ERA in his 10 starts -- in only one outing has he allowed more than two runs, and in that one he only allowed three. Jimenez has been especially good in September, with one earned run allowed in 21 1/3 innings.
11Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 15
Matt Moore has allowed one earned run in three September starts since returning from the DL. All three of those starts were away from Tropicana Field, and the Rays won them all. Overall, Tampa Bay is more than twice as likely to win a road game started by Moore (12-2, an .857 winning percentage) as it is in road games started by anyone else (24-37 for a .393 winning percentage).
12Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 11
Closer Jim Johnson endured a poor mid-August stretch in which he blew three straight saves and allowed a run in four straight outings, but he hasn't allowed an earned run since over his next 12 appearances. During that scoreless streak, he has struck out nine compared to only one walk while converting all eight save chances.
13Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 7
The Dodgers' historic hot stretch is officially over. Not only did they go 53-13 for a staggering .803 winning percentage through the summer, but they also didn't lose more than two consecutive games for two and a half months. Over the last two weeks, however, they've lost four straight games twice.
14Texas Rangers
Last Week: 13
The Rangers are 3-13 in September, as their rotation has been battered to the tune of a .301 opponents' batting average and a 5.53 ERA, which is the second-worst in baseball this month. Derek Holland has a 7.91 ERA in his four starts; Matt Garza has an 8.22 in his three outings.
15Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 16
The Angels have scored 103 runs in the first inning this season, the most in the majors. In related news, Mike Trout has batted in the first inning of every game he's played (all but four of L.A.'s 152) and has personally scored or driven in 41 of those runs.
16Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 17
Arizona's 2-1 victory over the Dodgers on Monday was its 32nd win in a one-run game this season. There have only been four such seasons in the last six years, and two belong to the Diamondbacks, who also won 32 in their 2007 NL West title campaign. (The others: the 2011 Giants won 33 and the 2009 Mariners won 35.)
17New York Yankees
Last Week: 14
Alfonso Soriano has been more likely to homer than walk this season -- 32 HRs, 28 walks -- and it's the fourth time in his career he's accomplished this feat while hitting at least 20 home runs. In doing so, Soriano joins Juan Gonzalez (six times), Tony Armas (five) and Dave Kingman (four) as the only players to do it that many times.
18Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 23
Wily Peralta, a 24-year-old righthander and Baseball America's No. 69 prospect before the season, is finishing his first full big league season strongly. He has a 3.02 ERA in 14 starts since the beginning of July, and he's recorded a quality start in each of his last four outings, with 26 strikeouts in his last 24 2/3 innings.
19San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 22
Madison Bumgarner has been as consistent as any starter in baseball. He has made 18 consecutive starts without allowing more than three earned runs, a streak that is tied with Marlins rookie Jose Fernandez for the longest in the majors this season. Bumgarner has a 2.40 ERA and .201 average against in that stretch.
20San Diego Padres
Last Week: 21
Andrew Cashner suffered a laceration in an offseason hunting injury that made Opening Day readiness "unrealistic" for him, yet he's defied the odds on that count and all season. After beginning the year in the bullpen, Cashner has made 25 starts with a team-leading 3.18 ERA. He's logged 10 straight quality starts, going at least seven innings in each of his last six, including a one-hit, no-walk shutout of the Pirates on Monday.
21Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 18
Blue Jays catcher J.P. Arencibia has had an unusual season in which he has hit 20 home runs, which is good, but is seven times more likely to strike out (140) than walk (20), which is less good. Only two other players have hit at least 20 HRs with a 7-to-1 K/BB ratio while logging at least 400 PAs: Cleveland's Cory Snyder in 1986 and Colorado's Wilin Rosario this season.
22Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 19
The occasion of Todd Helton's retirement announcement is ample reason to review his career and remember how amazing he was a decade ago. From 1999 through 2005 he had seven straight years with an OPS over .975 -- which only he and Manny Ramirez accomplished -- including two seasons with 50+ doubles and 40+ home runs. He'll retire with more than 2,500 hits, about 370 home runs and his career batting average is currently .317.
23Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 25
The 2012 Phillies had a 3.39 strikeout-to-walk ratio, the best of any major league pitching staff in the modern era. That has plummeted to 2.41 this year as their pitchers are striking out 1.19 fewer batters per nine innings and walking an extra 0.54 batter per nine.
24New York Mets
Last Week: 24
Without the injured David Wright and traded-away Marlon Byrd and John Buck, the Mets' lineup has struggled all month. They haven't scored more than five runs in any of their 17 September games and have averaged just 2.7 runs per game. There were, however, runs scored by the home team at Citi Field this week: members of the Mets front office crushed a team of New York media members 13-5 on Tuesday morning.
25Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 20
The Cubs might have the game's most productive backstop tandem. Wellington Castillo leads all big league catchers with 19 defensive runs saved, according to the Fielding Bible's Plus/Minus metric, and he's been an above-average hitter with a .747 OPS. Dioner Navarro, meanwhile, has 12 home runs and an .858 OPS.
26Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 26
The Twins have already been shut out three times this month, including back-to-back games against the Rays last week. Over the past month, Minnesota has failed to score more than one run in 11 of its last 29 games and, for the season, has 31 such games. The Astros, with 32 games of one or fewer runs, are the only AL team with more.
27Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 28
Chris Sale should get some AL Cy Young votes, but he isn't the only 25-and under starter pitching well for the White Sox. Jose Quintana has a 3.49 ERA in 31 starts, and Hector Santiago has a 3.47 ERA in his 22 starts. In fact, with Jake Peavy having been traded, Chicago no longer has any starting pitchers older than 30.
28Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 29
The Mariners have hit 174 home runs, already 25 more than last year, yet their overall run production is essentially the same. Seattle scored 619 runs in 2012 and is on pace for 625 in '13.
29Miami Marlins
Last Week: 27
The Marlins have had 2,004 plate appearances from batters who are in their age-31 season or older. That's the third-highest number from a club with a losing record but, unlike the Phillies and White Sox, Miami knew it would be rebuilding this season yet it still gave a lot of at bats to Placido Polanco, Juan Pierre, Greg Dobbs and others.
30Houston Astros
Last Week: 30
The Astros have singlehandedly skewed the AL wild card race in the Rangers' favor. They have losing records and not more than two wins against any of the contenders -- Baltimore, Cleveland, Kansas City, New York, Tampa Bay and Texas -- but the sheer volume of games within the AL West has helped the Rangers. Houston is 2-14 against its in-state rival but hasn't played any of the other teams more than seven times.

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