In this week's Power Rankings, the Pittsburgh Pirates keep rising, the Athletics' hold on the top spot loosens and the Braves take a tumble.
Make room for the Pirates, who are shooting up our rankings as they claw their way back into contention. Pittsburgh broke into the top-10 this week and has a chance to rise even higher if it can stay on its scorching summer pace. For now, the Athletics remain our No. 1 team, but their grip on the top spot has loosened slightly, with the Angels just two points off Oakland's lead. The Dodgers, Tigers and Nationals round out the top five.
They’re No. 1: Athletics
Perhaps you heard about the shiny new lefthanded ace Oakland acquired from Boston last week. However, Jon Lester’s strong debut — 6 2/3 IP, three earned runs allowed in a win last Saturday over Kansas City — was a rare highlight in an even more rare lousy week for the majors’ best team. The A’s won just one other game despite playing the lowly Astros and middling Royals. The upcoming schedule remains soft, with a seven-game homestand against the Rays — who of course traded their own ace southpaw to Detroit just hours after Lester went across the country — and Twins. Oakland’s AL West lead is down to a single game, and with another sub-par week that lead, and its eight-week run atop the Power Rankings, could be history by next Monday.
Cellar Dweller: Rangers
The Rangers lost all three games to the Indians over the weekend, continuing their miserable stretch that has seen them get swept six times since the start of summer alone. Along the way, they lost games 12-11 and 12-2, en route to a 5.50 team ERA for the week that was abysmal even by their standards (4.88 for the season, worst in the American League and next-to-worst in the majors).
Biggest Riser: Pirates
Pittsburgh has very quietly been playing like the postseason contender it was expected to be for quite some time now. Since June 1, the Pirates have the best winning percentage in the National League at .607. Not surprisingly, then, they enter the week just 1 1/2 games out in the NL Central and one-half game behind for the second wild-card spot.
The Bucs wrapped up a 5-5 road trip against three NL West teams by splitting a four-game series in Arizona with the woeful Diamondbacks. At least they escaped with their lineup intact. On Saturday night, Andrew McCutchen was drilled in the back as retaliation for the accidental plunking of D-backs star Paul Goldschmidt the previous night. Goldschmidt will likely miss the rest of the season with a fractured hand. McCutchen, thankfully, appears to be fine, and the reigning (and future?) NL MVP will be able to continue helping his team’s run toward another October appearance.
Biggest Faller: Braves
Atlanta was our Biggest Riser just two weeks ago, a week that ended with the team 10 games over .500 and tied for first in the NL East with the Nationals. The Braves then immediately lost four out of five, and after a brief resurgence, have now lost six straight, their longest skid of the season. They enter the week trailing Washington by 3 1/2 games in the division and, even worse, they’re no longer in playoff position at all, sitting two games out in the wild card.
Atlanta, which has batted a meager .169 during its losing streak, has a great chance to turn things around, however. It travels to D.C. for a showdown with the Nats next weekend, the first of three series left this season with its closest rivals and a team the Braves have beaten seven out of 10 times so far this year.
A Few Words About The...
Dodgers: Los Angeles had a good week despite dropping a weekend series to the Cubs, but it was Matt Kemp who really shone. The Dodgers' leftfielder bashed five homers in six games, including two against the Braves on July 29, lifting his season total to 13 on the year. That torrid stretch — part of a nine-hit, nine-RBI week for Kemp — upped his season line to .285/.350/.472. It also pushed Andre Ethier to the bench, with Don Mattingly going with an outfield of Kemp in leftfield, Yasiel Puig in center and a platoon of Carl Crawford and Scott Van Slyke in right. How long that arrangement lasts remains to be seen, but the Dodgers have to be happy that Kemp is showing signs of pulling out of his season-long slump.
Yankees: Yes, New York took two of three from a Red Sox team that's more or less packed it in for 2014, and the Yankees are just 1 1/2 games out of the second wild-card spot in the AL. But that didn't keep the Bronx Bombers from sliding a bit down our rankings. It's not hard to see why: New York dropped a series to lowly Texas to start the week, and even in that series win over Boston, the Yankees didn't exactly look like contenders, getting beat by rookie Anthony Ranaudo on Friday and falling behind 7-4 on Sunday before rallying off the eminently hittable Clay Buchholz. At least New York's July additions have been useful so far: Brandon McCarthy has posted a 2.55 ERA in 24 2/3 innings, and Chase Headley's defense has been impeccable at third base.
Padres: Is San Diego providing its fans a little hope for the future? Since the All-Star break, the Padres are 10-6, including a 5-2 stretch last week that included a sweep of the reeling Braves. San Diego even scored in double-digits twice last week, the first time all season the Padres have done that twice in a seven-day span. In fact, San Diego has managed 10-or-more runs in a game only four times all year.
Notable in that stretch is the emergence of Tommy Medica, who has started getting time at first base and in leftfield in place of Yonder Alonso and the injured Carlos Quentin, respectively. Last week, Medica picked up eight hits in 16 at-bats, including a two-homer, five-hit game against Atlanta on Aug. 1. His 135 OPS+ has come in some limited playing time (just 170 plate appearances this year), but he's shown some solid power, with seven homers this season.