In the final Power Rankings of the first half, the Oakland Athletics take first place yet again, while the division rival Rangers continue fall into last place.
As expected, major league baseball's best team at the end of the first half is our No. 1 team in the Power Rankings yet again. With a team-record 59 wins at the All-Star break, the Oakland Athletics pulled down all seven first-place votes to take the rankings' top spot for the fifth straight week. Just like in the American League West, the Angels are just behind the A's, with the Tigers, Dodgers and Nationals completing the top-five.
They’re No. 1: Athletics
Oakland may have the best winning percentage in baseball (.621) and the biggest cushion for reaching the postseason (eight games), but it also has the smallest division lead in the American League. The A’s are just a 1 1/2 games in front of the Angels in the AL West, even after taking three of four last week from their Bay Area rivals in San Francisco. How the West will be won will prove one of the most intriguing storylines of the second half. These two teams are currently the best in baseball, but one of them will be relegated to the Wild-Card Game in the American League, where their championship dreams could be dashed after just a single game.
Cellar Dweller: Rangers
Given the multitude of injuries (Prince Fielder, Derek Holland) and underperformances (Shin-Soo Choo and Colby Lewis) that have plagued Texas all season, perhaps we should be impressed that it took this long for the Rangers to reach the bottom of the rankings. They were a .500 team as recently as June 16, but they’ve been horrific since, going an almost-impossible 3-22 and taking an active eight-game losing streak into the All-Star break.
Philadelphia is to be commended for jumping four spots this week, but that hasn’t helped it climb out of the bottom-third of these rankings or out of last place in the NL East. The team to keep an eye on here, then, is Baltimore, which surged into the break by winning 10 of its last 13 games to open up a surprising four-game lead in the AL East. The Orioles will get an immediate test in the second half, traveling out West for a 10-game road trip that opens with a pair of three-game series against the A’s and Angels, respectively.
Biggest Faller: Marlins/Rangers
Texas’ nosedive was examined above — again: 3-22 — so let’s focus on Miami, which ended the unofficial first half by losing five of six to fall to a season-worst six games under .500. Don’t cry too hard for the Marlins — they still have Giancarlo Stanton, after all — but save a few tears for Casey McGehee. He spent all of last season in Japan playing for the Rakuten Golden Eagles, then came back to MLB and leads all NL third basemen in batting average, on-base percentage and RBIs, as well as the entire league in hits. Yet McGehee was snubbed for the NL All-Star team not once, but twice. The first came when he was not picked as a reserve in the initial roster selection on July 6, and the second came last week, when the Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo won the fans’ Final Vote, even after McGehee told USA Today of possibly making his first Midsummer Classic, “I’d be lying to you if I told you I wouldn’t be ecstatic.”
A Few Words About The...
Angels: Our No. 2 team in the rankings is also the No. 2 team in the AL West, and in both cases, it's very close. Los Angeles snagged all but one second-place vote to finish only 10 points behind Oakland, and its 57 wins are only two fewer than the Athletics' 57. Why are the Angels flying so high? The resurgence of Albert Pujols and the emergence of Garrett Richards have helped, but the biggest reason is the latest incredible season of an already incredible career being enjoyed by Mike Trout. The 22-year-old leads the AL in OPS (1.005 OPS, which leads the AL) and OPS+ (182 OPS+, the best in baseball) and is slashing .310/.400/.606 with 22 home runs. It's no wonder he's about to participate in his third All-Star Game in as many seasons.
Brewers: Milwaukee must be immensely thankful for the All-Star break, coming off one of the worst stretches of its season: 2-8 in its last 10 games, including a seven-game losing streak that was snapped Sunday. That's reduced the team's NL Central lead to just one game over the Cardinals, who thrashed Brewers pitching over the weekend to take two of three at Miller Park. Top prospect Jimmy Nelson, who was given the start last Saturday in place of the ineffective Marco Estrada, took the latest pummeling, allowing eight runs (six earned) in 4 1/3 innings. And things won't get any easier in the second half: Milwaukee comes out of the break with a three-game set against the NL East-leading Nationals, then has three games against the surging Reds. That stretch will determine whether or not the Brewers hang onto first place, where they've been every day since April 5.
Mets: There's no real hope of playoff contention in Queens this season — New York goes into the All-Star break trailing in both the NL East and the wild-card standings by seven games — but the Mets are trending in the right direction. They've won eight of their last 10 to pull ahead of the flatlining Marlins in the division and are now only five games shy of .500. What's more, the team's offense has rebounded dramatically; New York is averaging five runs per game in July, up from a brutal 3.75 in the month of June. Key to that surge has been David Wright, who posted a mere .715 OPS in June but has come alive in July, hitting .364/.447/.667 in 38 plate appearances.