Coco Crisp (center) had a walk-off hit last Saturday that helped Oakland go 5-2 for the week, with series wins against the Rangers and Red Sox.
Tony Avelar/AP
By Staff
June 23, 2014

Another week, another first-place finish for the Athletics, who once again grabbed all seven votes for the top spot. Hard on their heels are the Brewers, who jumped from fifth to second, pushing the Giants down to third place. The Angels remained at No. 4, with the resurgent Cardinals rounding out the top-five.

They're No. 1: Athletics. For the second week in a row, Oakland is the unanimous No. 1 on our list. It's not hard to see why: The A's have the best record in the majors at 47-29 (.618) and the best run differential (+135) by a whopping 86 runs over the Giants (+49). Oakland took two of three from the rival Rangers and three of four from the Red Sox this week, and nearly rallied to sweep Boston on Sunday before losing in extra innings. The A's now have a five-game lead over the Angels in the American League West, the second-largest advantage for any division frontrunner, just a half-game behind the Brewers' 5½-game edge on the Cardinals in the National League Central.

Cellar Dweller: DiamondbacksTrue Grit took another hit, as Arizona lost five of seven to the Brewers and Giants. One loss to Milwaukee came in part because of a focus on "tough-guy points," when manager Kirk Gibson ordered the retaliatory plunking of Brewers star Ryan Braun, followed immediately by fistbumps when the offending pitcher, Evan Marshall, was ejected and then — d'oh! — Jonathan Lucroy's go-ahead grand slam. The Snakes are now 15 games under .500 and 15 games behind in the NL West, so one has to think that the end of the Kevin Towers/Gibson regime is approaching. When Josh Byrnes and A.J. Hinch were dispatched as general manager and manager, respectively, in mid-2010, Arizona was 17 games under .500 (31-48) and 15½ out.

Biggest Riser: RedsWith eight wins in its last 11 games via series victories over the Brewers, Pirates and Blue Jays, Cincinnati has climbed to .500 and into third place in the NL Central, though it actually lost half a game in the division race in the process. Billy Hamilton has heated up (.324/.354/.527 this month) to secure his spot atop the Reds' lineup, while both Jay Bruce and Ryan Ludwick have returned to the land of the living. The former has hit .279/.346/.544 in June, compared to .197/.314/.318 prior, while the latter has produced a sizzling .410/.452/.692 line in part-time play after batting just .246/.314/.352 through May. Not everybody is red-hot; Tony Cingrani has been sent to Triple A Louisville after getting raked for a 5.81 ERA with 18 walks in 31 innings since returning from the disabled list in mid-May, but at least his demotion heralded the arrival of Jumbo Diaz.

Biggest Faller: RockiesWhat a week for Colorado. In their six games, all losses, the Rockies were outscored by 25 runs, were no-hit by Clayton Kershaw in one of the most dominant pitching performances in major league history last Wednesday, gave up three runs on a wild pitch on Saturday and made 10 errors. If there's any solace to be had, it's that they faced two good teams, the Dodgers and Brewers, avoided a major injury and Nolan Arenado (broken finger) could begin a rehab assignment soon. Still, Colorado's monthly winning percentages now read like this: .571, .462, .300. Hate to say we told you so.

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Angels: C.J. Cron is ready for his close-up. The 24-year-old rookie homered in three straight games to help the Angels sweep the Rangers at home after dropping road series to both the Indians and Braves, taking over the league's No. 2 spot in run differential (+42) in the process. Through 116 plate appearances, Cron is hitting .286/.310/.536, a strong enough showing that the brass unconditionally released the struggling Raul Ibañez (.157/.258/.265) on Sunday in order to carve out more playing time.

Is this the end of the line for the 42-year-old Ibañez? From here, he seems likely to get one more shot, given that just last season, he bopped 29 homers and has both a history of providing power off the bench (think 2012 postseason) and a great reputation in the clubhouse. Don't bet on him to give up; this is a man who persevered to rack up 289 homers from age 29 onward after hitting just 14 prior.

Cardinals: St. Louis was dealt a major blow on Sunday when both Michael Wacha and Jaime Garcia hit the disabled list with shoulder injuries. That Garcia's surgically-repaired left shoulder is aching again isn't a huge surprise given that the joint has bothered him since early 2012. The stress reaction in Wacha's right shoulder, however, is a major concern. There's no fracture there, but there's also no timetable for his (or Garcia's) return, meaning the Cardinals will be without their No. 2 starter indefinitely.

This could be an opportunity for Carlos Martinez, who made a spot start in place of Adam Wainwright a week ago and remained in the rotation this past weekend, to become a permanent member of the starting staff. Tyler Lyons, who just returned to Triple A from his own shoulder issue, is likely to fill the other spot. St. Louis also disabled Kolten Wong on Saturday due to yet another shoulder injury, one that has been blamed for his struggles at the plate this year. These injuries have taken some of the steam out of the Cardinals' surge. They had won eight of nine through last Tuesday, but were just 2-3 over the remainder of the week.

Blue Jays: Having gone 3-7 on a road trip through Baltimore, the Bronx and Cincinnati, Toronto has now lost 11 of 15, shrinking its AL East lead from a generous six games to a measly 1½. The Jays have lost more than that along the way, as both Brett Lawrie and Jose Bautista left Sunday's loss to the Reds with injuries.

Lawrie suffered a fractured right index finger after being hit by a Johnny Cueto pitch. Though his overall numbers don't look like much, Lawrie had shaken off an all-or-nothing April (.192/.243/.384 with six homers and little else) to hit .277/.333/.440 since. He could be out three to six weeks, a loss that leaves Toronto with a platoon of Munenori Kawasaki and Steve Tolleson at second base (where Lawrie had seen considerable time in recent weeks) and Juan Francisco at third. As for Bautista, he left with a left leg injury that required an MRI, results of which are pending at this writing. The slugger is hitting .305/.433/.526 with 15 homers and an AL-best 59 walks (he also leads the league in OBP). Limited to just 210 games over the past two seasons, he has yet to miss a game this season.

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