The Braves are on the rise in the NL East and in the Power Rankings, but do they need to make a change from B.J. Upton in centerfield?
Alex Brandon/AP

The second half of the season begins with the Athletics on top of our Power Rankings once again, with the Rangers still mired in last and a clear gap between the contenders and the pretenders.

July 21, 2014

The start of the second half looks just like the end of the first in this week's Power Rankings, which finds the Oakland Athletics in the No. 1 spot for the sixth straight week and the Texas Rangers last for the second week in a row. The A's took all seven first-place votes, while the Angels kept pace at No. 2 by earning all seven second-place votes. The Nationals, Tigers and Dodgers round out the top-five in a week that didn't see much movement but offers a clear picture of the league's best and worst teams.

They're No. 1: Athletics

Oakland opened the second half by taking two of three from the Orioles to remain 1 1/2 games ahead of Los Angeles in the American League West. That's the narrowest division lead in the American League, but the A's will have a golden opportunity to open up some ground with an upcoming nine-game stretch against the Astros and Rangers, the two worst teams in the league. The Angels, meanwhile, will hit the road for seven games against first-place teams in Baltimore and Detroit.

Cellar Dweller: Rangers

Texas received all seven last-place votes, and it's not hard to see why. The Rangers are 1-9 in their last 10 games, 4-16 in their last 20 and 5-25 in their last 30. Coming out of the break, Texas dropped two of three to Toronto, and the schedule won't get easier any time soon, as the Rangers won't face a below-.500 opponent until an early August series with the White Sox. By then, Texas could be in even worse shape, as the team might trade veterans, including Adrian Beltre and Joakim Soria, for prospects.

Which National League teams are buying or selling ahead of deadline?

Biggest Riser: Braves

Atlanta jumped up only three spots this week, from 10th to seventh, but that was enough to make it our big riser. The Braves are currently locked in a tight battle for first place in the National League East with the Nationals, and as each team fights to get the upper hand, you have to wonder how much longer Atlanta will tolerate B.J. Upton's presence in the starting lineup. Upton's OPS+ of 71 is by far the worst mark among the team's regulars and his strikeout-to-walk ratio is a mind-boggling 120/33, or nearly seven to one. Upton has picked it up a little in July, slashing .259/.306/.345 in 63 plate appearances, and the Braves lack any real alternatives in the organization for his spot. But as the release of Dan Uggla last week showed, Atlanta isn't afraid to eat some money if players aren't producing, which means Upton needs to turn things around, and soon.

Biggest Faller: Royals

Has the summer swoon begun for Kansas City? The team stumbled badly in its first series out of the break, getting swept by the Red Sox and scoring just five runs in 27 innings. The Royals have been passed by Cleveland in the AL Central standings and now sit 7 1/2 games back of Detroit in the division and 3 1/2 behind Seattle for the second wild-card spot. While that's not a postseason death sentence, the odds are against K.C. ending its playoff drought, which stretches to 1985; Baseball Prospectus gives the team just a 10 percent chance to make it to the postseason. At 5-10 currently in the month of July, another week of bad results could push the Royals into selling mode, with James Shields likely the biggest prize available.

A Few Words About The...

Giants: It won't take the sting off blowing a 9 1/2-game lead in the NL West, but it seems like San Francisco has stabilized its season. The Giants returned from the break by winning two out of three against the reeling Marlins over the weekend to stay tied for the NL West lead with the Dodgers. The resurgence of Tim Lincecum has helped a lot — including his no-hitter against the Padres on June 25, Lincecum has allowed just four earned runs in his last 37 1/3 innings, with 31 strikeouts and 11 walks — but two recent injuries could send San Francisco back into a spin. The first is Brandon Belt's concussion after being hit by a ball in batting practice, which will land him on the seven-day disabled list. More troubling is Matt Cain's elbow inflammation, which will sideline the righthander indefinitely.

AL East shows signs of getting back on track with impressive weekend

Rays: Tampa Bay is doing its best to climb out of the massive hole it dug itself by the start of summer. Since falling a season-worst 17 games under .500 on June 24, the Rays have won 16 of their last 21 games and opened the second half in style by sweeping Minnesota in a three-game set. The outlook is still grim, however — Tampa Bay is 7 1/2 games out of first in the AL East and six back in the wild card, and it has only an 8.6 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to BP. The Rays' front office faces an even more difficult task than its team does, as Tampa Bay's executives weigh whether or not to deal ace David Price by the July 31 trade deadline.

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