August 27, 2012

The Rangers are back on top of the rankings this week, as they bludgeoned the Orioles and Twins, re-taking the top spot through sheer offensive force. The Nationals fall back to third place after dropping four straight to end the week, including a weekend sweep at the hands of the Phillies.

However, the big news of the week again comes out west, as the Dodgers simply will not give up in their pursuit of the NL West title. After getting swept by the Giants to begin the week, Los Angeles continued to flex its financial muscle on Friday, agreeing to take on over $260 million in salary by acquiring Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto from the Red Sox. The Dodgers new ownership has now invested over $400 million in player acquisitions or re-signings since taking over the team in May, and is showing that money may really be no object in their quest to return one of the game's signature franchises to the playoffs.

Whether acquiring several core players from one of baseball's biggest underachievers will really be the key to their October dreams remains to be seen, however. For now, the Dodgers are on the outside looking in, and they'll need Gonzalez and Beckett ? Crawford is out for the season after having elbow surgery ? to perform substantially better in their new uniforms than they did in their old ones.

NOTE: All stats are through Sunday, August 26.

MLB Power Rankings
1 Texas Rangers
Last Week: 3
WAR Winning Percentage: .610; Current Winning Percentage: .591 WAR Wins: 77; Current Wins: 75

Adrian Beltre had a spectacular week that included three home runs in the series finale against the Orioles on Wednesday, three hits (including a home run and a double) in the series opener with the Twins on Thursday and then hitting for the cycle on Friday. He had more extra base hits last week (nine) than the Indians did as a team, and he hit more home runs (five) than 13 different teams did in the last seven days.
2 St. Louis <a href=Cardinals" title="St. Louis Cardinals">
Last Week: 2
WAR Winning Percentage: .610; Current Winning Percentage: .551; WAR Wins: 77; Current Wins: 70

WAR keeps insisting that the defending champs are better than their win-loss record indicates, and weeks like the last one are why the system is so high on the Cardinals. They swept the Astros to begin the week, outscoring them 24-7 in three games, then went to Cincinnati and took two out of three over the weekend, putting up another 18 runs in the process. As a team, St. Louis hit .368/.401/.505 last week, as it continues to assert itself as baseball's top offensive club. The Cards' record might not match up with their underlying numbers just yet, but they've moved into wild card position and are now only six games back of the Reds.
3 Washington Nationals
Last Week: 1
WAR Winning Percentage: .594; Current Winning Percentage: .606; WAR Wins: 75; Current Wins: 77

The pitching remains a strength, but with Bryce Harper in the midst of a prolonged slump, the Nationals are counting on Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Adam LaRoche to provide most of the power and those three didn't hit a single home run last week.
4 New York <a href=Yankees" title="New York Yankees">
Last Week: 4
WAR Winning Percentage: .571; Current Winning Percentage: .583; WAR Wins: 72; Current Wins: 74

A middling 2-4 performance last week -- including a sweep at the hands of the White Sox -- has left the Yankees with just a four game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays in the AL East. With the new playoff system heavily rewarding teams for winning their division by avoiding the wild card play-in game, New York should be heavily motivated to keep its hold on the division title. To keep the Rays at bay, they're going to need more production from Mark Teixeira, who is hitting .256 for the season.
5 Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 5
WAR Winning Percentage: .548; Current Winning Percentage: .597; WAR Wins: 71; Current Wins: 77

Joey Votto is tentatively scheduled to return this weekend, and having him back in the line-up should help take some of the pressure off the pitching staff, which has performed admirably at times but still shows some cracks against better offensive teams.
6 Los Angeles <a href=Angels" title="Los Angeles Angels">
Last Week: 7
WAR Winning Percentage: .543; Current Winning Percentage: .516; WAR Wins: 70; Current Wins: 66

The continuing regression of Mark Trumbo is starting to take its toll on the Angels' offense, as their young slugger is hitting just .202/.250/.298 in August. Even Mike Trout finally looked human last week, batting .259 without a home run. With their pitching still struggling, the Angels can't afford to stop scoring runs.
7 Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 8
WAR Winning Percentage: .542; Current Winning Percentage: .477; WAR Wins: 69; Current Wins: 61

When the highlight of your season is getting rid of four players, you know you've had a bad year, but last week's megatrade was perhaps the best possible outcome Boston could have hoped after the way they've played the last year. The Red Sox will miss Adrian Gonzalez, but Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford were hardly producing, much less justifying their enormous paychecks, and Boston now has a chance to start over with a fresh batch of players and a chance for significantly less drama. The off-season will likely bring even more moves intended to purge the team of underachieving players with large contracts, and the 2013 Red Sox will hardly resemble the 2012 club that has been such a massive failure.
8 Detroit <a href=Tigers" title="Detroit Tigers">
Last Week: 11
WAR Winning Percentage: .543; Current Winning Percentage: .540; WAR Wins: 69; Current Wins: 69

With a 5-1 week, the Tigers have jumped three places in these rankings, but believe it or not, they actually lost a game in the AL Central standings to the streaking White Sox who have won six straight games. However, Detroit has to be encouraged by its recent play, especially on the pitching side, where the team posted a 1.77 ERA over the last week. Specifically, Max Scherzer's results are finally matching his stuff, as he made two dominating starts, and Anibal Sanchez finally showed some flashes of the pitcher he was in Miami in the first half of the season. If the Tigers can get those two throwing effectively down the stretch, they're going to be tough to keep out of the playoffs.
9 Atlanta <a href=Braves" title="Atlanta Braves">
Last Week: 9
WAR Winning Percentage: .539; Current Winning Percentage: .570; WAR Wins: 69; Current Wins: 73

Jason Heyward had as many home runs (four) as the rest of his teammates combined last week, and he's put any questions about his power outage from last season to rest. Now, the Braves just need to figure out how to get Dan Uggla (.105/.261/.158 last week) hitting again.
10 San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 10
WAR Winning Percentage: .535; Current Winning Percentage: .555; WAR Wins: 68; Current Wins: 71

The Giants have to hope that their sweep of the Dodgers to begin last week wasn't a case of winning the battle but losing the war, as that result almost certainly factored into Los Angeles' decision to make the blockbuster deal with Boston a few days later. However, they'll take the two game division lead they opened up this week, which has put them back in division favorite position. If they can counter the Dodgers' move by picking up a leftfielder before the second trade deadline passes on Friday, they'll be in decent position to hold off their free-spending rivals.
11 Arizona <a href=Diamondbacks" title="Arizona Diamondbacks">
Last Week: 6
WAR Winning Percentage: .532; Current Winning Percentage: .500; WAR Wins: 64; Current Wins: 64

A week ago, it looked like the Diamondbacks might be set to make a run, but they only managed two wins against the last-place Marlins and fourth-place Padres, and their playoff odds took a significant hit with this missed opportunity. They're now seven games back of the Giants in the NL West and 6 ½ behind St. Louis for the second wild card spot. For the D-backs, last week may have been their big chance to make a move, and they squandered it.
12 Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 12
WAR Winning Percentage: .529; Current Winning Percentage: .551; WAR Wins: 67; Current Wins: 70

The Rays pitching continues to be insanely good. Last week their starters posted a 2.13 ERA and six of their seven relievers went unscored upon. Even their substitute fifth starter, Alex Cobb, tossed a shutout last week.
13 Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 13
WAR Winning Percentage: .517; Current Winning Percentage: .539; WAR Wins: 66; Current Wins: 69

If you're a Dodgers fan, it's hard to tell whether last week was a win or a loss. Getting swept by the Giants and falling two games back in the division race is a clear negative, but replacing the inept James Loney with a star first baseman like Adrian Gonzalez is a significant upgrade, and the ownership group continues to show that they'll do whatever it takes to win. However, the trade also left the Dodgers already committed to $193 million in salaries for 2013, and if they don't end up with a playoff spot this year, they might regret spending so freely for underachievers when free agency rolls around. The Dodgers bet big on winning in 2012 ? now they have a month to make it happen.
14 Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 15
WAR Winning Percentage: .563; Current Winning Percentage: .512; WAR Wins: 65; Current Wins: 71

By win-loss record, the White Sox are the hottest team in baseball, going undefeated last week with sweeps over the Yankees and Mariners. However, WAR is less impressed, as they won all three games over Seattle by a single run, and needed the good fortune of two outfielders colliding on the final play of Friday night's game to ensure that victory. The final standings are all that matters, though, and the Sox enter the last week in August with a 2 ½ game lead in the AL Central.
15 Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 16
WAR Winning Percentage: .509; Current Winning Percentage: .477; WAR Wins: 65; Current Wins: 61

If the Phillies could have played like this earlier in the year, perhaps they wouldn't have needed to be sellers at the deadline. A 5-2 week, including a sweep of the Nationals, showed that this roster can still succeed. In typical Philadelphia style, the pitching was fantastic and the offense was good enough. Kevin Frandsen (.444/.545/.556) and Erik Kratz (.350/.375/.550) were the week's hitting stars, and while neither is in the Phillies' future plans, they provided some rare production from the team's role players, something Philadelphia has sorely lacked all year.
16 Pittsburgh <a href=Pirates" title="Pittsburgh Pirates">
Last Week: 14
WAR Winning Percentage: .501; Current Winning Percentage: .535; WAR Wins: 61; Current Wins: 65

All season long, people have been telling the Pirates that they couldn't keep this up, and didn't have the talent to hang with the Reds and Cardinals in the NL Central. This week, it finally looked like the naysayers were right, as the Pirates lost five of six games and scored just 17 runs in the process. The offense relies heavily on star centerfielder Andrew McCutchen to produce, and after a sizzling summer, he's finally run into a cold streak, hitting just .160/.222/.160 last week. With McCutchen scuffling, there just aren't enough other pieces to pick up the slack, and the Pirates now find themselves looking up at the Cardinals in the wild card chase. Their three-game series in St. Louis this week will have a huge impact on their chances of staying in the race.
17 Oakland <a href=Athletics" title="Oakland Athletics">
Last Week: 17
WAR Winning Percentage: .499; Current Winning Percentage: .548; WAR Wins: 63; Current Wins: 69

The A's continue to surprise, outperforming their expected record by winning more than their fair share of close games. Saturday's 5-4 victory over the Rays was their 20th one-run win (in 35 tries), and their 9-3 record in extra innings is a large reason why they've been able to stay in contention with what WAR thinks has been a fairly average performance.
18 Milwaukee <a href=Brewers" title="Milwaukee Brewers">
Last Week: 19
WAR Winning Percentage: .496; Current Winning Percentage: .468; WAR Wins: 63; Current Wins: 59

While it seems unlikely that the BBWAA will want to bestow a second straight MVP award on Ryan Braun, you can make a pretty good case that he's having as good a season this year as he did last year. His offensive numbers are down slightly, but his defense has improved to the point where he's now a legitimate asset in leftfield, something that you could never say before, and with 34 home runs and 20 stolen bases he's got a shot at reaching the 30-30 club for the second straight year. While Braun is primarily thought of as a power hitter, he's evolved into one of the game's best all-around players, and now contributes in every aspect. Too bad the same can't be said for the rest of his teammates this year.
19 New York <a href=Mets" title="New York Mets">
Last Week: 18
WAR Winning Percentage: .494; Current Winning Percentage: .461; WAR Wins: 63; Current Wins: 59

How bad has it gotten in Queens? Well, the Mets were swet at home by the woeful Rockies in a four game set and then actually outscored by the Astros last week, a feat which seems nearly impossible given the Witness Protection Program product that Houston is currently putting on the field. In the "you-know-its-bad-when" department, pitcher Matt Harvey had as many hits this week as second baseman Daniel Murphy.
20 Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 21
WAR Winning Percentage: .465; Current Winning Percentage: .548; WAR Wins: 59; Current Wins: 69

Baltimore continues to win close games and lose blowouts, which is generally not a recipe for success, but has added up to an additional 10 wins for the Orioles over their expected record. The next few weeks will be the real proving ground, however, as 14 of their next 17 games come against the Yankees, White Sox and Rays.
21 Miami Marlins
Last Week: 22
WAR Winning Percentage: .464; Current Winning Percentage: .450; WAR Wins: 60; Current Wins: 58

There's not a lot left for the Marlins to play for, so Giancarlo Stanton is just keeping things interesting by hitting as many epic home runs as possible. Included in the five bombs he hit last week were a 442-foot blast against Arizona, a 434-footer off the Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw, and a 437-footer off L.A. Stanton may be the most entertaining spectacle in the sport, and anyone not taking advantage of the opportunity to watch him mash baseballs is really missing out on some fun.
22 Kansas City <a href=Royals" title="Kansas City Royals">
Last Week: 20
WAR Winning Percentage: .461; Current Winning Percentage: .444; WAR Wins: 58; Current Wins: 56

At this point, you wonder if it's going to take a court order to get the Royals to replace Jeff Francouer in rightfield. After another miserable week -- he had two hits in 22 trips to the plate -- he's now at -1.9 WAR, making him baseball's worst player this season by a pretty healthy margin. There's no salvaging the two-year contract the Royals gave Francouer last winter, but at the very least, they don't have to let him continue to block top prospect Wil Myers, who has spent the summer lighting up Triple-A pitching.
23 Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 23
WAR Winning Percentage: .452; Current Winning Percentage: .405; WAR Wins: 57; Current Wins: 51

A snapshot of the Rockies' problems: They completed their first four-game road sweep of the year against the Mets on Thursday but on Sunday were shut out by the Cubs' Chris Volstad, who took an 0-9 record and 6.88 ERA into the game. At least Colorado should get star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki back in the lineup soon.
24 San Diego Padres
Last Week: 26
WAR Winning Percentage: .445; Current Winning Percentage: .457; WAR Wins: 57; Current Wins: 59

And the best record in the NL last week goes to? the San Diego Padres! Sweeps over the Pirates and Diamondbacks led to a 6-0 week. The reason for the uptick? Everyone is hitting right now. Will Venable led the charge this week with a .476/.522/.714 line for the week, but each of the seven regulars who had 20 or more plate appearances last week posted an above-average batting line. By getting production up and down the line-up, the Padres were able to roll up 33 runs while only giving up 15, so those six wins were well-deserved.
25 Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 24
WAR Winning Percentage: .442; Current Winning Percentage: .477; WAR Wins: 57; Current Wins: 61

Seattle's eight-game winning streak came to an end last week with three close losses in Chicago, and while the losses should provide a reality check to any fans hoping the Mariners would make a late wild card run, they should be encouraged that the team is actually playing better baseball. Also, remember the name Mike Zunino ? he was the team's top pick in June's amateur draft, and is currently destroying Double-A pitching just a few months after finishing his college career. He could provide a much-needed bat to Seattle's lineup by next season.
26 Toronto <a href=Blue Jays" title="Toronto Blue Jays">
Last Week: 25
WAR Winning Percentage: .430; Current Winning Percentage: .444; WAR Wins: 54; Current Wins: 56

The Blue Jays are sinking like a rock, as they went winless last week and are now 5-18 in August. Jose Bautista returned from the disabled list, played two games, and is now likely headed back to the DL for the remainder of the season. Colby Rasmus struck out in 13 of his 22 trips to the plate last week. Still, those players aren't even the team's biggest areas of concern. Priority number one this offseason for Toronto is going to be figuring out whether they can fix talented-but-struggling youngsters like Rasmus and starting pitcher Ricky Romero, who managed to issue eight walks without striking out a batter in his start against the Tigers on Aug. 21.
27 Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 28
WAR Winning Percentage: .423; Current Winning Percentage: .433; WAR Wins: 54; Current Wins: 55

Shin-Soo Choo's slump continues to be a concern for Cleveland, as the team essentially admitted last week that it would be looking to trade him over the winter rather than let him leave as a free agent after next season. In order to get as much as possible in return for their rightfielder, the Indians need Choo to perform down the stretch, and getting three singles in 24 trips to the plate as he did last week won't cut it.
28 Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 27
WAR Winning Percentage: .417; Current Winning Percentage: .409; WAR Wins: 53; Current Wins: 52

Minnesota enters the week having lost 14 of its last 17 contests, and any hope of finishing strong sems to have been extinguished. With a rotation consisting of names like DeVries, Hendriks and Deduno, it's an open question whether season ticket holders could even name the team's starting pitcher on a given night. The Twins have a long history of finding good young pitching in their farm system, and they're going to need to tap into that to get back to contention, because the current group is cover-your-eyes bad.
29 Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 29
WAR Winning Percentage: .414; Current Winning Percentage: .389; WAR Wins: 52; Current Wins: 49

Good news: Young outfielder Brett Jackson hit .250/.429/.688 last week, showing real power and some flashes of the talent that made him perhaps the Cubs top hitting prospect before he was called up to the majors in early August. Bad News: Young infielder Josh Vitters hit .125/.176/.375 and actually raised his batting average on the season to .102, continuing the question of why he's currently in the majors after being underwhelming in Triple-A at age 22. While Jackson may be playing himself into a starting job in 2013, Vitters is showing that he needs more seasoning in the minors, and the Cubs simply have to hope this poor debut doesn't sour his confidence too much.
30 Houston Astros
Last Week: 30
WAR Winning Percentage: .364; Current Winning Percentage: .313; WAR Wins: 47; Current Wins: 40

It's hard to say many positive things about the roster the Astros are currently putting on the field, so instead, I'll offer Houstonians some hope based on the last baseball team we saw that was this dreadful ? the 2003 Detroit Tigers. That team went 43-119, setting an American League record for losses in a season, and establishing a benchmark that will be tough for even this Astros group to beat out. In 2004, the Tigers went 72-90, improving by a 29 win margin, and in 2006, they were in the World Series. That's not to say the Astros will chart a similar path, but as bad as things are right now, baseball is a fickle sport, and tides of change can move fairly rapidly.

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