The defending world champions have hit a new low in this week's MLB Power Rankings, while the Angels fight with the A's for first place.
From world champion to one of the worst records in baseball: That's the story of the 2014 Boston Red Sox, who are in the midst of one of their worst seasons in recent memory. Their eight-game losing streak has sent them careening toward the basement of this week's Power Rankings as their lost season continues apace.
Up at the top, the Angels held onto first place for a second straight week, but the top-three was a tightly contested field, with Los Angeles edging the Athletics by a point, and the Nationals just a point behind Oakland. The Dodgers and Orioles round out the top-five.
They're No. 1: Angels
Despite losing two of three to Oakland over the weekend, the Angels kept a grip on first place in both our rankings and in the American League West, where they lead the A's by a single game. And Los Angeles won't get much of a breather before another first-place fight; after a three-game series against the Marlins, the Angels welcome the A's into town for a crucial four-game set. Should L.A. escape that series unscathed, the road gets a little easier, with multiple dates against Houston and Texas upcoming. In fact, the Angels will face the A's only once more after this week, with a three-game series in Oakland in the final week of September, while they get 11 tilts combined against the Astros and Rangers.
Cellar Dweller: Rangers
Speaking of Texas, the Rangers remain in the basement, garnering all six last-place votes. And as bad as things have been so far for Texas, it's not going to get any better any time soon. Of the Rangers' 32 remaining games, 25 come against teams with .500-or-better records, including six against the division-leading Angels, seven against the A's, and seven against the Mariners. Texas hasn't lost 100-plus games since 1973, when the Rangers piled up 105 defeats; to avoid that ignominy, the team needs to go 12-20 to finish the season. That doesn't look like too huge an obstacle, but consider that 12-20 would be a .375 winning percentage for a team that's at .388 on the season and .333 since the All-Star break.
Biggest Riser: Dodgers/Rays
There wasn't a whole lot of movement up the rankings this week, with the Dodgers and Rays making relatively modest jumps of two places each. Los Angeles' 4-2 week pushed its NL West lead to 4 1/2 games, as the team is a virtual lock for a playoff spot. Now the task turns to getting to full health. Hanley Ramirez came off of the disabled list on Sunday, and Hyun-Jin Ryu should be activated at month's end. The Dodgers also avoided a big loss with Zack Greinke, as the righthander's sore elbow ended up being nothing major. Ryu's return will be especially welcome, as it will bounce Twins cast-off Kevin Correia from the rotation. After getting shelled by the Mets for five earned runs in three innings on Saturday, Correia has surrendered 10 earned in three L.A. starts.
As for the Rays, their playoff hopes are dead and buried, so the eye is now on the future. To that end, Tampa Bay has to be happy with what Drew Smyly has given the team so far. Since being acquired along with Nick Franklin for David Price on July 31, Smyly has made four starts for the Rays, allowing only five earned runs in 29 innings with 23 strikeouts and six walks. If Smyly can keep that up, and if Jeremy Hellickson's strong return from an elbow injury continues, Tampa Bay's rotation looks to be in good shape for 2015 and beyond.
Biggest Faller: Red Sox
It's not just that Boston has lost eight straight games and will be playing for 2015's No. 1 pick for the rest of the season; it's that the team is also getting disappointing performances from its young core. The rotation is a mess, with rookie starters like Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa alternating good starts with disasters. Jackie Bradley Jr. lost his starting centerfielder job (albeit to fellow prospect Mookie Betts), and Will Middlebrooks continues to struggle at third base. But the most frustrating season has to be that of Xander Bogaerts. The Red Sox's top prospect going into the season, Bogaerts has displayed below-average defense at shortstop and hasn't hit at all, posting a .223/.293/.333 line in 485 plate appearances. Worse, he's now on the seven-day DL with a concussion suffered after taking a pitch off the head. Bogaerts is only 21, so there's plenty of time for him to turn around this slow start to his MLB career. But his performance and those of Bradley, Middlebrooks and others can't be what Boston envisioned back in April.
A Few Words About The...
Blue Jays: It seems like it's been an eternity since Toronto looked like a serious contender. In just over six weeks, the Blue Jays went from a game up in the AL East to eight games behind the Orioles, and are now 6-14 in the month of August after dropping a series to Tampa Bay over the weekend. Worse, Toronto is 5 1/2 games back in the wild-card chase; Baseball Prospects puts their postseason odds at just 2.7 percent. Who's to blame for the Jays' collapse? Try the offense, which has posted a miserable .625 OPS since Aug. 1, the second-worst mark in baseball in that span of time, including disastrous months from Jose Bautista (.730 OPS), Dioner Navarro (.659) and Juan Francisco (.349).
White Sox: The South Siders are bottoming out in August. Last weekend's sweep by the Yankees was the capper on an 0-6 week; Chicago hasn't won back-to-back games since July 31/Aug. 1. Now 6-15 on the month, the White Sox turn their attentions to next season and what needs improving. Second base is an obvious hole; Gordon Beckham hit a mere .221/.263/.336 before being shipped to the Angels in a waiver deal. Preparing for next year may also include a September audition for 2014 first-round pick Carlos Rodon, who has excelled for Triple-A Charlotte, striking out 11 in seven innings over two appearances.
Cubs: Over on the North Side of Chicago, 2014 will come and go without a title, but the Cubs have been better of late. The team swept the Orioles at Camden Yards over the weekend, the Cubs' first sweep since a late June series against the Red Sox and just the team's third sweep all season. And while the likes of Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo have gotten most of the attention, Chicago's pitching has been a revelation in the second half, particularly Tsuyoshi Wada and Kyle Hendricks. Wada took a no-hitter into the sixth against Baltimore on Sunday and has posted a 2.56 ERA with 41 strikeouts in 45 2/3 innings. Hendricks, meanwhile, has been even better since getting the callup from Triple-A on July 22, allowing just six earned runs in 44 2/3 innings.