July 30, 2012

For the first time in 10 weeks, we have a new first place team. With the Rangers sputtering and the Nationals surging, Washington has finally overtaken Texas for the No. 1 spot in our Power Rankings after being second to the Rangers since late May.

The Nats have the top starting pitcher WAR in baseball and have led the league in position player WAR in July, thanks to an insane month from Ryan Zimmerman (10 HR, .434 OBP) and solid performances from role players Danny Espinosa (0.9 WAR) and Roger Bernadina (0.7). With Jayson Werth set to return from a broken wrist this week and Ian Desmond not long after from his oblique strain, Washington's reign as the top team in the Rankings may just be getting started.

NOTE: All stats are through Sunday, July 29.

Rankings written by Ben Duronio of Fangraphs.com. The system used to rank the teams is based not on the current standings or a gut feeling about team quality, but on how well they've performed at the underlying traits that predict future performance better than wins and losses.

wRC+ is an offensive index where 100 is league average and every point above or below that denotes how far from league average a player's performance has been up to that point. It is adjusted for park and league, so it takes into account the context of a player's surroundings, and allows for comparison of performance from players in different situations and in different times.

MLB Power Rankings
1 Washington Nationals
Last Week: 2
WAR Winning Percentage: .616; Current Winning Percentage: .604; WAR Wins: 62; Current Wins: 61
The Nationals went 6-1 last week, including an extra innings victory on Sunday after being down six runs in the eighth inning. Michael Morse and Adam LaRoche have supplied the power lately, each belting three homers last week, and Washington's lineup should get stronger this week as Jayson Werth returns. They continue to insist that they're going to shut down Stephen Strasburg at some point, but his teammates may be forcing them to consider the present more than the future.
2 Texas Rangers
Last Week: 1
WAR Winning Percentage: .609; Current Winning Percentage: .590; WAR Wins: 61; Current Wins: 59
The Rangers really need Josh Hamilton to start hitting if they want to hold off Oakland and Los Angeles in the AL West. Hamilton is hitting a putrid .141/.229/.282 in July, and with Colby Lewis out for the year and Neftali Feliz's elbow hurting again, Texas is going to need its offense to carry the load. Hamilton is not the only disappointing Ranger hitter, though; Michael Young has been a problem as well, as he has just a .267 on base percentage and no home runs in July.
3 St. Louis <a href=Cardinals" title="St. Louis Cardinals">
Last Week: 3
WAR Winning Percentage: .602; Current Winning Percentage: .529; WAR Wins: 61; Current Wins: 54
The Cardinals are starting to turn their great run differential and high WAR ranking into big win totals, as they have gone 7-3 in their past 10. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, the Reds and Pirates are even hotter, and the Cards are still 7 ½ out in the NL Central. St. Louis has received some tremendous starting pitching all month, with Jake Westbrook's 3.18 ERA being the worst among the team's five starters. If they can continue to get consistent pitching, the Cardinals should be able to keep in contention in the race.
4 New York <a href=Yankees" title="New York Yankees">
Last Week: 4
WAR Winning Percentage: .594; Current Winning Percentage: .594; WAR Wins: 60; Current Wins: 60
Losing a series at home to the Red Sox always hurts, especially when the series could have been a Yankee sweep with a few breaks their way. That wasn't even the worst break of the week for New York though. That dishonor goes to Alex Rodriguez's fractured left hand, which he suffered when hit by a Felix Hernandez pitch last Tuesday in Seattle. Rodriguez was having a solid season with the bat and will now miss up to eight weeks, causing the Yankees to search for a short-term third base replacement. They have a large enough lead in the division that they don't need to panic, but with A-Rod on the shelf, the team now has an area of need.
5 Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 10
WAR Winning Percentage: .554; Current Winning Percentage: .604; WAR Wins: 56; Current Wins: 61
Winning 10 straight games is always impressive, and all the moreso when the team in question is mossing its best player. Yet since Joey Votto's last game on July 15, the Reds are 11-2 and have not lost a series. Drew Stubbs has been a big reason for the team's recent success, hitting .370 with three home runs and three steals in his past six games, but the team's pitching has been the big driver in their recent stretch. Cincinnati has allowed more than three runs just twice in its 10 game winning streak, including its recent three game sweep of the Rockies at hitter-friendly Coors Field.
6 Los Angeles <a href=Angels" title="Los Angeles Angels">
Last Week: 8
WAR Winning Percentage: .550; Current Winning Percentage: .539; WAR Wins: 56; Current Wins: 55
The Angels have gone all-in with their acquisition of Zack Greinke, giving up three of the team's top prospects to pick up the best starting pitcher on the market. Greinke had a solid debut in Los Angeles, striking out eight batters in seven innings and allowing just two runs against Tampa Bay. The Angels already have a solid rotation -- and if Dan Haren gets straightened out, it may be the best in baseball now -- but lost Greinke's debut because they were shut out by Tapa Bay. To run down Texas in the AL West, the Angels are going to need to take advantage of all that pitching.
7 Arizona <a href=Diamondbacks" title="Arizona Diamondbacks">
Last Week: 9
WAR Winning Percentage: .550; Current Winning Percentage: .500; WAR Wins: 56; Current Wins: 51
The Diamondbacks shuffled third basemen this week, trading Ryan Roberts to the Rays and acquiring Chris Johnson from the Astros. Although Johnson has a 107 wRC+ on the season, the last time he hit a home run anywhere other than Houston's home park was September of last year. Combine that with a low walk rate and signs that point to his season being relatively lucky, such as an abnormally high batting average on balls in play of .360, and it is difficult to see if the Diamdonbacks even upgraded at the hot corner.
8 Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 6
WAR Winning Percentage: .546; Current Winning Percentage: .500; WAR Wins: 56; Current Wins: 51
Winning two close contests against the Yankees could be an igniter for the Red Sox to make a late season push. With David Ortiz expected back this week, this could be the first time Boston's lineup is at full strength all season, which is scary for the rest of the AL East as only the Blue Jays have scored more runs this year. The Red Sox do need to get a bit more out of Adrian Gonzalez if they want to make a big push though, as his 106 wRC+ would be his lowest of any season with 100 games and he has not taken a walk since June 24.
9 Detroit <a href=Tigers" title="Detroit Tigers">
Last Week: 7
WAR Winning Percentage: .542; Current Winning Percentage: .529; WAR Wins: 55; Current Wins: 54
The AL Central is becoming a two-team race with both the Tigers and White Sox making solid acquisitions as they pull away from the pack. Picking up Omar Infante seems to be an overlooked part of Detroit's trade with Miami, but the second baseman is a stark upgrade over their incumbents both offensively and defensively. He has hit just .143 in his first six games with Detroit, but he should be his normal solid self going forward on both sides of the ball.
10 San Francisco <a href=Giants" title="San Francisco Giants">
Last Week: 5
WAR Winning Percentage: .538; Current Winning Percentage: .545; WAR Wins: 54; Current Wins: 55
Pablo Sandoval has hit the disabled list again, which is a big blow to the Giants offense. With a lack of production from their other infield spots, the Giants have traded for Marco Scutaro, who will play a good amount of third base with Sandoval on the mend. They need him or another infielder to step up while Sandoval's hurt, as all four of their regulars have hit below average compared to their position's peers.
11 Atlanta <a href=Braves" title="Atlanta Braves">
Last Week: 12
WAR Winning Percentage: .525; Current Winning Percentage: .564; WAR Wins: 53; Current Wins: 57
The Braves have opted to move reliever Kris Medlen into a starting role, hoping to find some consistency in the back end of their rotation as Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson have struggled. Medlen has posted a 2.48 ERA and 2.70 FIP in 54 1/3 relief innings this year, so moving him to the rotation is understandable. This could mean that the Braves are moving away from acquiring a starting pitcher and could be focusing on a bullpen replacement for Medlen.
12 New York <a href=Mets" title="New York Mets">
Last Week: 11
WAR Winning Percentage: .524; Current Winning Percentage: .480; WAR Wins: 53; Current Wins: 49
The Mets' second-half struggles have put them 8 1/2 games out of the second wild card, meaning they are all but out of serious contention and could soon be jettisoning parts. Scott Hairston would be an interesting piece for many teams, as he has a .315 average and nine home runs against left-handed pitching -- good for a 162 wRC+. New York's focus should now be on building for the future and locking up superstar third baseman David Wright to a long-term deal.
13 Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 13
WAR Winning Percentage: .523; Current Winning Percentage: .545; WAR Wins: 54; Current Wins: 55
The White Sox have managed to make two solid trades, one for Kevin Youkilis and the other for Francisco Liriano, despite having one of the worst minor league systems in baseball. That's is a testament to general manager Kenny Williams' ability to make some keen decisions for the major league club while he has struggled in the draft. Fittingly, Liriano's debut for the White Sox will come in Minnesota against his former teammates.
14 Los Angeles <a href=Dodgers" title="Los Angeles Dodgers">
Last Week: 14
WAR Winning Percentage: .513; Current Winning Percentage: .544; WAR Wins: 53; Current Wins: 56
Hanley Ramirez has gotten off to a nice start in Los Angeles, with a .333/.417/.619 line including a home run and a steal in five games since he was traded from the Marlins. If he can hit more like the player he was from 2006-09 rather than the player he was the past two years, and the Dodgers make a move for a starter -- Ryan Dempster only wants to be traded to Los Angeles ? Los Angeles may have enough to outplay San Francisco for the NL West title.
15 Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 18
WAR Winning Percentage: .510; Current Winning Percentage: .520; WAR Wins: 52; Current Wins: 53
The Rays are trying anything they can to fill in for Evan Longoria, as they traded for Ryan Roberts early last week. Longoria is expected to return sometime this week and be used mostly as the designated hitter in his first few games, so Roberts could have an impact if he continues his patient approach and solid third base defense. While the team awaits the return of Longoria, they could move long time starter James Shields, who has battled inconsistencies over the past few years and is expensive for the Rays' payroll.
16 Philadelphia <a href=Phillies" title="Philadelphia Phillies">
Last Week: 15
WAR Winning Percentage: .504; Current Winning Percentage: .441; WAR Wins: 51; Current Wins: 45
The Phillies are entering full-on sell mode, and outfielders Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence could be the team's prime pieces. Victorino has struggled most of the season, but hit a home run and stole a base yesterday, and could be a useful player for a team looking for speed and versatility in the outfield. Joe Balnton would be another interesting player for the Phillies to trade, as he has the highest strikeout-to-walk ratio in the NL.
17 Milwaukee <a href=Brewers" title="Milwaukee Brewers">
Last Week: 17
WAR Winning Percentage: .503; Current Winning Percentage: .446; WAR Wins: 51; Current Wins: 45
After netting a nice package for Zack Greinke, the Brewers must really be wishing that righthander Shaun Marcum was not injured, as dealing him could have also helped replenish their farm system. The Brewers do not have much to play for, but Mark Rogers certainly had a stellar debut on Sunday, striking out seven batters in 5 1/3 innings pitched while frequently hitting the upper 90's with his fastball.
18 Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 16
WAR Winning Percentage: .497; Current Winning Percentage: .574; WAR Wins: 50; Current Wins: 58
Moving Kevin Correia to the bullpen to allow newly acquired Wandy Rodriguez a rotation spot was definitely the correct move, despite Correia's disdain for the decision. Rodriguez posted a quality start in his first outing with Pittsburgh, and although Correia had won six consecutive decisions, his 4.49 ERA is underwhelming and his peripherals, such as his 4.91 FIP, point to his performance not getting much better.
19 Oakland <a href=Athletics" title="Oakland Athletics">
Last Week: 19
WAR Winning Percentage: .478; Current Winning Percentage: .545; WAR Wins: 48; Current Wins: 55
Oakland's starters have the second-lowest walk rate in the American League, as it is clear the Athletics have focused on acquiring starters who consistently pitch in the zone even though they hardly ever record strikeouts. In a vast ballpark and with a solid defense, the A's focus on throwing strikes has allowed the starters to consistently post solid outings start after start. Now if only they could find a shortstop.
20 Miami Marlins
Last Week: 21
WAR Winning Percentage: .466; Current Winning Percentage: .465; WAR Wins: 47; Current Wins: 47
Much has been made of the Marlins going on a "fire sale," but they have really just made quality trade decisions for players that either were not in their long-term plans or needed a change of scenery. After parting ways with Hanley Ramirez, Omar Infante and Anibal Sanchez, it seems as if Josh Johnson -- who would easily net the best return -- could be next in line.
21 Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 22
WAR Winning Percentage: .461; Current Winning Percentage: .505; WAR Wins: 51; Current Wins: 50
Toronto is still hanging in the race, only 3 1/2 games out of the second wild card despite trailing four teams. The Blue Jays have played decently without Jose Bautista, going 6-5 during his DL stint, but still need his bat in order to make a serious playoff push. The Jays still have a lackluster and injured rotation, so they need their offense, which has already produced the most runs in baseball, to be even better if they want to stay in contention.
22 Cleveland <a href=Indians" title="Cleveland Indians">
Last Week: 20
WAR Winning Percentage: .449; Current Winning Percentage: .490; WAR Wins: 46; Current Wins: 50
Shin-Soo Choo may be available for trade, which signals that the Indians are not expecting to contend with Chicago or Detroit. With a -66 run differential and being 5 1/2 games out of first place, it seems as if the Indians are making the correct decision, especially given their pitching struggles outside of Zach McAllister. For the month, Indians' starters have the second lowest strikeout-to-walk ratio in baseball with a lowly 1.84 mark.
23 Baltimore <a href=Orioles" title="Baltimore Orioles">
Last Week: 24
WAR Winning Percentage: .440; Current Winning Percentage: .520; WAR Wins: 45; Current Wins: 53
Much like the Blue Jays, the Orioles are clinging to the race, but it is difficult to see them hanging on long enough to seriously contend. They have the only negative run differential in their division with a -58 mark, their top starter (Jason Hammel) is injured and their closer (Jim Johnson) has two blown saves and a 13.00 ERA in July.
24 Kansas City <a href=Royals" title="Kansas City Royals">
Last Week: 23
WAR Winning Percentage: .433; Current Winning Percentage: .406; WAR Wins: 44; Current Wins: 41
The Royals would love for Jeff Francoeur to start, if only to enhance his trade value and make him a piece that any team would like to acquire. With Wil Myers waiting in the wings, Francoeur is obviously the odd man out in the outfield but is difficult to move when he has a 23 wRC+ for July and a 66 wRC+ for the season.
25 Seattle <a href=Mariners" title="Seattle Mariners">
Last Week: 26
WAR Winning Percentage: .433; Current Winning Percentage: .452; WAR Wins: 45; Current Wins: 47
The Mariners will look to move a few of their starters as they are far out of the playoff hunt, but they have to be very encouraged with what they have gotten out of a few of their position players this season. John Jaso specifically has been impressive, with a 142 wRC+ on the year including a career high isolated power of .189. If the Mariners were considering selling high on Jaso, this certainly looks like a good time to do so. Interestingly, the most fitting team for Jaso's services is likely the team that traded him this offseason: the Rays.
26 San Diego <a href=Padres" title="San Diego Padres">
Last Week: 27
WAR Winning Percentage: .432; Current Winning Percentage: .417; WAR Wins: 44; Current Wins: 43
With Zack Greinke off the table, the Padres seem to have the most sought after trade target on the market in third baseman Chase Headley. The price is said to be enormous for Headley, as it should be. In his career, he has a .299/.367/.448 line away from pitcher-friendly Petco Park.
27 Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 25
WAR Winning Percentage: .429; Current Winning Percentage: .370; WAR Wins: 43; Current Wins: 37
The Rockies would be wise to move a few of their relievers, as this time of year almost every playoff-bound team is looking for bullpen help. Rafael Betancourt and Matt Belisle have been tremendous this year, and with both on the wrong side of 30, trading them and building for the future looks like the right decision.
28 Chicago <a href=Cubs" title="Chicago Cubs">
Last Week: 28
WAR Winning Percentage: .414; Current Winning Percentage: .420; WAR Wins: 41; Current Wins: 42
While they've never been in contention this season, the Cubs had a great chance to build for the future at the start of the month by possessing some highly sought-after trade targets in pitchers Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster. But with Garza going down with an injury -- though he is now said to be healthy --and Ryan Dempster declining a trade to the Braves, their deadline outlook now looks rather bleak. Dempster, who has veto rights by virtue of being a 10/5 player, has put the Cubs in a difficult position since it looks like he will only accept a deal to the Dodgers, which gives Los Angeles a ton of trade leverage.
29 Minnesota <a href=Twins" title="Minnesota Twins">
Last Week: 29
WAR Winning Percentage: .397; Current Winning Percentage: .426; WAR Wins: 40; Current Wins: 43
If Josh Willingham did not play another game this season, it would still be the best season of his nine-year career. The outfielder has a 158 wRC+ this year and 27 home runs, including four last week. It is said that the Twins are expected to hold onto Willingham, but you wonder what type of return the outfielder would get at this point, given he has never played better.
30 Houston Astros
Last Week: 30
WAR Winning Percentage: .370; Current Winning Percentage: .340; WAR Wins: 38; Current Wins: 35
Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow has essentially gutted his entire roster, and while the average Astros fan may not recognize but a few names in the lineup every day, this was the right move for the future of the organization. Moving Carlos Lee, Chris Johnson and Wandy Rodriguez has given the Astros a solid group of prospects after doing the same at last year's trade deadline by moving Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence.

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