Are the Brewers ready to climb back toward the top of the Power Rankings? After stumbling through most of July, Milwaukee's recent hot stretch has the team just outside of a loaded top-five. The Athletics remain No. 1 thanks to garnering all seven first-place votes, while the Angels and Nationals remain second and third. The Dodgers and Tigers round out the top-five, but Milwaukee is now hot on that quintet's heels.
They're No. 1: Athletics
Score that an error on mastermind Billy Beane: $10 million man Jim Johnson — the team's second-highest paid player — has been designated for assignment after posting a 7.14 ERA and walking 5.1 per nine in 40 1/3 innings. With a bullpen that's second in the AL in ERA (2.98) and first in strikeout-to-unintentional-walk ratio (3.6), they'll never miss him.
Cellar Dweller: Rangers
Losers of 19 out of 23 in July and 29 out of their last 35 since June 16, the Rangers appear more geared towards pursuing the overall number one pick in the 2015 draft than toward saving face. At least that explains the installation of J.P. Arencibia — a career .207/.254/.401 hitter batting batting a crisp .147/.194/.305 through 103 PA this year — as the regular first baseman.
Biggest Riser: Brewers
A 5-2 week not only helped Milwaukee jump four spots in these rankings, to No. 6, but it also enabled the Brewers to reclaim sole possession of first place in the NL Central, albeit by a scant two games. General manager Doug Melvin says he is being aggressive with the trade deadline approaching, but it would be tough to envision Milwaukee making the kind of CC Sabathia-esque deal that would make them the clear favorites.
The biggest help could come if their biggest recent acquisition, right-handed starter Matt Garza, performs up to his capabilities more consistently. Garza signed a four-year, $50 million deal in the offseason but has been mediocre to date, going 7-7 with a 3.87 ERA. He did, however, follow the worst start of his season on July 19 — giving up five runs while recording just one out against the Nationals — with maybe his best five days later, when he allowed just two hits and one run in eight innings against the Mets.
Biggest Faller: Reds
Cincinnati’s place in this spot is due to more than just its struggles last week with the team above. Yes, the Reds were swept in Milwaukee to open the week, but they are now 3-10 in their past 13 games, and won just once last week. While Cincinnati was 1 1/2 games out in the NL Central at the All-Star break, it has now fallen six games behind. If the Reds are to make a move, their best chance may come starting this week. Their next 20 games are against teams that enter Monday with a losing record: The Diamondbacks, Marlins, Indians, Red Sox and Rockies.
A Few Words About The...
Giants: San Francisco took a tumble out of the NL West lead and to the No. 10 spot in our rankings after a rough weekend against the Dodgers. Los Angeles swept a three-game series against its Bay Area rival to increase its division lead to 1 1/2 games; the Giants have now lost four games in a row. Although San Francisco is still in good postseason position — Baseball Prospectus gives the Giants a 69.9 percent chance of playing in October — things are a little precarious, with the team's lead for the second wild card spot just half-a-game over St. Louis. The Giants got a decent debut from their most recent acquisition, as Jake Peavy allowed three earned runs in six innings, striking out five, in his first start for San Francisco on Sunday night. That wasn't the case for fellow new Giant Dan Uggla, who went 0-for-8 with four strikeouts and three errors against the Dodgers.
Blue Jays: Is Toronto's summer slump over? The Jays went 5-2 over the last week, including crucial series wins against the Red Sox and Yankees. That helped Toronto leapfrog New York in the AL East, where the Jays trail the Orioles by three games, and has the team in the second wild card spot by a game over the Bronx Bombers. Toronto won five of six after getting blasted, 14-1, by Boston last Monday, and the offense has led the charge; the Jays scored 36 runs over that six-game stretch. Also boosting the Blue Jays: Rookie Marcus Stroman, who has gone seven innings in three of his last four starts and has a 1.82 ERA in the month of July.
Marlins: Don't write off the Marlins just yet. The early surprise of the season, Miami looked like it had run out of steam after a six-game losing streak in mid-July dropped the team to 8 1/2 games out in the NL East. But the Marlins have ripped off seven wins in their eight games since then, including a 6-1 stretch last week. That's probably not enough to get them back into the division chase, where Miami trails the Nationals by seven games, but the deficit for the second wild card spot is a more manageable 5 1/2 games. The odds are still heavily against the Marlins — their odds are down to 2.9 percent to make the playoffs, in BP's estimation — but Miami is at least making a run at it. A deadline trade for some offense would improve their chances, especially if the Marlins can get some help at first base, where Garrett Jones has posted a mere .551 OPS in July and remains hopeless against left-handers (.483 OPS, 0 HR).