August 06, 2012

The NL West is shaping up to be an epic battle between bitter rivals. Over the weekend, the Giants and Dodgers both swept weaker opponents and just a half game continues to separate the two at the top of the division.

Both teams reloaded at the trade deadline last week, but haven't gotten any significant contributions from their deadline acquisitions. Hanley Ramirez (.238/.347/.405) has hit at the same level he did in Miami, while Shane Victorino (.118/.118/.176) has been an automatic out for the Dodgers, but they've been bailed out by Matt Kemp's hitting and Clayton Kershaw's pitching. The story is the same in San Francisco, where Hunter Pence is at .182/.208/.318 since the Giants added him to their outfield, but Melky Cabrera and Buster Posey have more than made up for his struggles and carried the Giants offense while he tries to adjust to a new surrounding.

The Dodgers have kept adding, though, picking up Joe Blanton to improve the back of the rotation, and Ramirez and Victorino should be able to contribute more than they have in their first week in Dodger Blue. With those three now in uniform, Los Angeles may have enough talent on hand to keep pace with a Giants team that has performed better over the first four months of the year. While the Giants lead in the power rankings suggests that they should be slight favorites, this race is going to come down to the wire.

NOTE: All stats are through Sunday, August 5.

Rankings written by Ben Duronio of 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 <a href=Nationals" title="Washington Nationals">
Last Week: 1
WAR Winning Percentage: .610; Current Winning Percentage: .602 WAR Wins:66; Current Wins: 65
Adam LaRoche's career year continued last week, as he blasted four home runs in six games and posted a .520 on base percentage. For the season LaRoche has a career high 133 wRC+, and his 2.9 WAR is also a high water mark for him. The Nationals reportedly toyed with signing Prince Fielder to replace LaRoche over the winter, but LaRoche has actually outperformed Fielder (2.2 WAR) to this point and for a fraction of the cost. In this instance, sticking with the status quo has proven to be the right choice.
2 Texas <a href=Rangers" title="Texas Rangers">
Last Week: 2
WAR Winning Percentage: .609; Current Winning Percentage: .589; WAR Wins: 65; Current Wins: 63
In an attempt to energize a struggling offense, the Rangers have called up slugging infield prospect Mike Olt. The 23-year-old hit 28 home runs in Double-A this year and was one of the most coveted prospects at the trade deadline, though the Rangers decided they'd rather use him than trade him. Although he may struggle finding regular at bats down the stretch, Olt's ability to play first or third base and hit left-handed pitching very well may be crucial for the Rangers in the playoff race.
3 St. Louis <a href=Cardinals" title="St. Louis Cardinals">
Last Week: 3
WAR Winning Percentage: .599; Current Winning Percentage: .546; WAR Wins: 65; Current Wins: 59
Receiving more compete game performances like the one they got from Adam Wainwright over the weekend may be just what the Cardinals need to close the gap with Cincinnati. Although the Cardinals are third in the NL Central, they are third in our rankings in part because their bullpen meltdowns have skewed their record relative to how well they've actually played. Now 12-4 in their last 16 games, the Cardinals are starting to hit their strides, however, and may be primed for another late-season surge.
4 New York <a href=Yankees" title="New York Yankees">
Last Week: 4
WAR Winning Percentage: .591; Current Winning Percentage: .589; WAR Wins: 63; Current Wins: 63
Ichiro Suzuki has recorded a hit in all 12 of his games with the Yankees, though he has recorded exactly one hit in each contest, exemplifying why hitting streaks don't always mean that a player is excelling. Despite the slow start, Ichiro still has the speed and defensive ability to be a strong contributor for the Yankees. He's just going to have to do more than post an empty hitting streak to show that.
5 Arizona <a href=Diamondbacks" title="Arizona Diamondbacks">
Last Week: 7
WAR Winning Percentage: .556; Current Winning Percentage: .509; WAR Wins: 60; Current Wins: 55
Chris Johnson has gotten off to a huge start in Arizona, hitting three home runs and driving in 10 runs in his first six games since being traded fro Houston. While his performance will certainly drop, getting this hot streak to start his tenure in Arizona has helped the D-backs get within four games of first place in the NL West. Arizona already has the best run differential in the division and some production from third base could turn that run differential into several wins.
6 Cincinnati <a href=Reds" title="Cincinnati Reds">
Last Week: 5
WAR Winning Percentage: .550; Current Winning Percentage: .611; WAR Wins: 59; Current Wins: 66
The Reds are starting to pull away from the Pirates in the NL Central, with a 4 1/2 game lead after winning two of three against Pittsburgh this weekend. Johnny Cueto has established himself as a legitimate Cy Young contender with 14 wins and a 2.52 ERA while pitching in one of the most hitter-friendly ballparks in the majors. His quietly dominant season has paced a surprisingly good Cincinnati rotation all year.
7 Detroit <a href=Tigers" title="Detroit Tigers">
Last Week: 9
WAR Winning Percentage: .550; Current Winning Percentage: .537; WAR Wins: 59; Current Wins: 58
A four-game winning streak from the Tigers has pulled them to within 1 ½ games of the White Sox in the AL Central. Detroit's offensive stars -- Austin Jackson, Prince Fielder, and Miguel Cabrera -- all had stellar weeks, hitting five home runs among them and all netting a wRC+ above 163. That's the kind of production the Tigers will need from their best players in order to run down the White Sox.
8 Los Angeles <a href=Angels" title="Los Angeles Angels">
Last Week: 6
WAR Winning Percentage: .546; Current Winning Percentage: .532; WAR Wins: 60; Current Wins: 58
A 4-6 stretch has set the Angels back into third place in the AL West and a half game out of the Wild Card lead. In four starts against the Rangers since departing from Texas for Los Angeles, C.J. Wilson has a 7.27 ERA and .333 batting average against, which is not exactly what the Angels hoped to get from their $77.5-million free agent when facing their biggest rival.
9 San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 10
WAR Winning Percentage: .542; Current Winning Percentage: .546; WAR Wins: 58; Current Wins: 59
Buster Posey has been on an absolute tear since the All-Star break, with six home runs and a line of .456/.506/.772 in 20 games. With Posey's bat scorching, the Giants acquired rightfielder Hunter Pence to provide some more righthanded power in the middle of the lineup. While San Francisco's lineup still has its holes, it looks a lot more formidable with Pence and will look even better once Pablo Sandoval returns from the disabled list.
10 Atlanta <a href=Braves" title="Atlanta Braves">
Last Week: 11
WAR Winning Percentage: .540; Current Winning Percentage: .574; WAR Wins: 58; Current Wins: 62
The Braves have won 10 of their past 12 games and bolstered their bench and the back end of their rotation at the deadline in acquiring Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson from the Cubs. Maholm had a solid first start in a losing effort, and the Braves have also received solid pitching efforts from Mike Minor and Kris Medlen as of late. With Tommy Hanson ailing, Medlen has thrown 10 1/3 innings in two starts with a 1.74 ERA.
11 Boston <a href=Red Sox" title="Boston Red Sox">
Last Week: 8
WAR Winning Percentage: .534; Current Winning Percentage: .495; WAR Wins: 58; Current Wins: 54
In looking at what has gone wrong in Boston, it is actually amazing that their record and run differential is as good as it is. The team has received very little offense from both Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury, while almost every starting pitcher on the roster has underperformed expectations. The Red Sox are still just 4 1/2 games out of the Wild Card, so a good week could put them right back into the thick of things.
12 New York <a href=Mets" title="New York Mets">
Last Week: 12
WAR Winning Percentage: .526; Current Winning Percentage: .486; WAR Wins: 57; Current Wins: 53
The Mets have fallen out of the race, but things look decent for the team's future especially with how well Ruben Tejada has filled in for departed free agent Jose Reyes. Tejada has the second highest WAR of any position player on the roster behind David Wright, and has hit .323/.368/.395 while playing a solid shortstop. The 22-year-old had a big week last week, hitting his first home run of the season and posting a .412 on base percentage.
13 Philadelphia <a href=Phillies" title="Philadelphia Phillies">
Last Week: 16
WAR Winning Percentage: .521; Current Winning Percentage: .454; WAR Wins: 56; Current Wins: 49
The Phillies have rightfully punted the season and acquired prospects for Hunter Pence, Shane Victorino and Joe Blanton. Philadelphia had a solid run atop the NL East for the past five seasons, but admitting defeat and building for the future was certainly the right decision with how far the Phillies have fallen behind the Nationals and Braves in the division. Giving outfielder Domonic Brown a chance to play every day for the rest of the season should allow the team to properly gauge what type of player they have going forward.
14 Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 13
WAR Winning Percentage: .520; Current Winning Percentage: .551; WAR Wins: 56; Current Wins: 59
In 10 seasons as a major league regular, A.J. Pierzynski had never hit 20 home runs, but he has already surpassed that mark this year in just 340 plate appearances. Pierzynski powered the White Sox to a 4-2 record last week with six home runs and 11 RBIs in five games played. Pierzynski now has the most home runs of any catcher in the game, which nobody could have predicted before the season.
15 Tampa Bay <a href=Rays" title="Tampa Bay Rays">
Last Week: 15
WAR Winning Percentage: .516; Current Winning Percentage: .519; WAR Wins: 56; Current Wins: 56
The Rays have been treading water, going 5-5 in their past 10 games as they sit two games out of the Wild Card lead. The Rays have really struggled offensively of late, with Matt Joyce being the only player with a wRC+ over 100 in the past seven days. Evan Longoria is expected to return this week, and he could provide the Rays with the offensive boost that they need for the stretch run.
16 Milwaukee <a href=Brewers" title="Milwaukee Brewers">
Last Week: 17
WAR Winning Percentage: .510; Current Winning Percentage: .449; WAR Wins: 55; Current Wins: 48
After struggling throughout the entire first half, it looks as though Rickie Weeks has gotten back on track during the second half of the year. Over the past 14 days, the second baseman is hitting .323/.463/.605 with three home runs and a stolen base, as his wRC+ has ticked up to 96 for the season. As the Brewers are far out of any playoff race, it is good to see that Weeks has not hit a wall and that he should be productive when Milwaukee is ready to compete again next year.
17 Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 18
WAR Winning Percentage: .507; Current Winning Percentage: .570; WAR Wins: 54; Current Wins: 61
The Pirates were not able to make up any ground against Cincinnati this weekend, but they did avoid a sweep thanks to yet another sterling performance from A.J. Burnett. Over his past five starts, Burnett has a 2.04 ERA and 4-1 record, pushing his season numbers to 14-3 with a 3.19 ERA. With a good finish to the season, it is not out of the question for Burnett to be in Cy Young contention.
18 Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 14
WAR Winning Percentage: .506; Current Winning Percentage: .541; WAR Wins: 55; Current Wins: 59
The Dodgers have put all of their chips in the table, making big acquisitions over the past few weeks to aid both the lineup and the rotation. While they were not able to work out a deal with the Cubs for Ryan Dempster, they did land Joe Blanton, who currently has the best stirkeout-to-walk ratio in baseball and could receive good results in pitcher friendly Dodger Stadium. Fellow newcomers Shane Victorino and Hanley Ramirez should also help shore up the offense that has struggled as of late.
19 Oakland <a href=Athletics" title="Oakland Athletics">
Last Week: 19
WAR Winning Percentage: .471; Current Winning Percentage: .537; WAR Wins: 51; Current Wins: 58
Oakland holds one of the Wild Card spots right now, but will have to make a push without rookie sensation A.J. Griffin after he was put on the disabled list with a shoulder strain. The right-hander has a 2.42 ERA over eight starts this season. Their first test comes at the beginning of the week when they the Angels, the team immediately behind them in both the AL West and Wild Card races, for a three-game series.
20 Miami <a href=Marlins" title="Miami Marlins">
Last Week: 20
WAR Winning Percentage: .471; Current Winning Percentage: .450; WAR Wins: 49; Current Wins: 49
Not much has gone right for the Marlins this year, but at least Jose Reyes has gotten hot and looked like his old self the past few months. He is currently on a 24 game hitting streak and has pushed his season line up to a very respectable .288/.351/.432 with seven home runs and 27 stolen bases. His double play partner Emilio Bonifacio has stolen 30 bases in just 61 games played, but has again been forced to the disabled list due to a thumb injury.
21 Toronto <a href=Blue Jays" title="Toronto Blue Jays">
Last Week: 21
WAR Winning Percentage: .451; Current Winning Percentage: .491; WAR Wins: 49; Current Wins: 53
The injury bug has again hit the Blue Jays, as both Colby Rasmus and Brett Lawrie were both forced to miss games due to nagging injuries over the weekend. There's also a chance that Jose Bautista's wrist injury could sideline him for the remainder of the year. With Toronto's record just under .500, it's hard to wonder where the Blue Jays would be if not for injuries taking their toll on the rotation, lineup and bullpen.
22 Kansas City <a href=Royals" title="Kansas City Royals">
Last Week: 24
WAR Winning Percentage: .449; Current Winning Percentage: .437; WAR Wins: 39; Current Wins: 38
The Royals finally decided to cut ties with veteran infielder Yuniesky Betancourt, who was hitting just .228/.256/.400 before he was released Sunday. Kansas City also got rid of Jonathan Broxton last week, but via a trade that will allow the Royals to use Greg Holland as the closer for the remainder of the season. The next to go could be Jeff Francoeur, a veteran who could be desired by several teams in need of an extra bat for the stretch run.
23 Baltimore <a href=Orioles" title="Baltimore Orioles">
Last Week: 23
WAR Winning Percentage: .443; Current Winning Percentage: .528; WAR Wins: 48; Current Wins: 57
The Orioles continue to defy the odds, as they are the only team in the AL East to post an above .500 record over their past 10 games and sit second place in one of the toughest divisions in baseball. Both their WAR ranking and run differential suggest the Orioles should hit a wall at some point, but they continue to win games despite not having a well-rounded team.
24 Seattle <a href=Mariners" title="Seattle Mariners">
Last Week: 25
WAR Winning Percentage: .436; Current Winning Percentage: .464; WAR Wins: 48; Current Wins: 51
For a brief moment last weekend, the Mariners actually had a positive run differential for the year after a nice 8-2 stretch. Seattle has gotten another Cy Young-worthy season from Felix Hernandez, but time is running out for them to build a contending team around their star performer. While the Mariners did not move any of their other starting pitchers at the trade deadline, there is still a possibility that they trade one or more of them before the August 31 waiver wire deadline. They have several well-regarded minor league pitching prospects that should be ready to move up to the majors in the next year or two and take the place of anyone who gets traded.
25 San Diego <a href=Padres" title="San Diego Padres">
Last Week: 26
WAR Winning Percentage: .435; Current Winning Percentage: .418; WAR Wins: 48; Current Wins: 46
The Padres opted to hold onto one of the top trade chips in Chase Headley, which was one of the more surprising decisions of the trade deadline. It is certainly an interesting strategy being deployed in San Diego, as rather than move their most valuable trade targets, they either held onto them or signed them to extensions, as both Carlos Quentin and Huston Street received new contracts. We will see how this strategy unfolds over the next few years.
26 Colorado <a href=Rockies" title="Colorado Rockies">
Last Week: 27
WAR Winning Percentage: .424; Current Winning Percentage: .358; WAR Wins: 45; Current Wins: 38
The Rockies are convinced that their offense and bullpen will be good enough next year to compete, so they decided to do very little at the deadline. They still don't have nearly enough pitching, however, and should look to find out what they have with young starters rather than giving a veteran like Jeff Francis consistent starts.
27 Cleveland <a href=Indians" title="Cleveland Indians">
Last Week: 22
WAR Winning Percentage: .422; Current Winning Percentage: .463; WAR Wins: 46; Current Wins: 50
For most of the season the Indians were ranked lower in these rankings than their actual record suggested, but even we did not expect this type of a drop off. After going 1-9 over their past 10 games the Indians now have the worst run differential in the division and have fallen completely out of the AL Central race.
28 Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 28
WAR Winning Percentage: .412; Current Winning Percentage: .406; WAR Wins: 44; Current Wins: 43
It was certainly a struggle, but the Cubs did manage to move Ryan Dempster before the deadline and also received a solid prospect in Arodys Vizacaino in their trade with the Braves. The Cubs are going with their youth over the final two months of the year, as almost their entire lineup is filled with prospects.
29 Minnesota <a href=Twins" title="Minnesota Twins">
Last Week: 29
WAR Winning Percentage: .403; Current Winning Percentage: .435; WAR Wins: 43; Current Wins: 47
After hitting his seventh home run of the season late week, Joe Mauer is quietly having typical Mauer season, with an on-base percentage above .400 and a wRC+ of 136, just better than his career mark of 133. After a poor injury-riddled season in 2011, it is at least a positive for the Twins that Mauer seems to be back on track, considering he is still owed $115 million over the next five seasons.
30 Houston <a href=Astros" title="Houston Astros">
Last Week: 30
WAR Winning Percentage: .363; Current Winning Percentage: .330; WAR Wins: 40; Current Wins: 36
The Astros have lost 30 of their past 34 games, which is simply an astonishing number. Houston's lineup does not even resemble the poor lineup that it ran out to start the season after trading a number of players or moving to younger players as the season has advanced. Even so, Jeff Luhnow has done a good job as the general manager in acquiring prospects over the past two years and building for the future.

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