The Tigers and Royals are going in opposite directions in this week's Power Rankings, with one team rising high and the other team taking a fall.
When last week began, the surging Royals were flying high atop the American League Central, while the fading Tigers were scrambling to keep hold of a playoff spot. But thanks to a hot week from Detroit and a cold one by Kansas City, the Royals now find themselves staring back up at the Tigers in the division as they try to fend off the Mariners in the wild-card race.
Detroit's return to the top of the Central lands them in the top-five of our Power Rankings, knocking out the still-slumping Athletics. The Angels remain firmly at No. 1, with the Orioles, Nationals and Dodgers holding steady from last week at Nos. 2, 3 and 4, respectively.
They're No. 1: Angels
The race is on for 100, as Los Angeles looks to clinch its first 100-win season since 2008 and just the second in its 54-year history. At 93 wins with 13 games left, the Angels need to go just 7-6 to get to 100; anything better than that would set a franchise record for wins. It won't be an easy road, however. L.A. still has seven games left against Seattle, which is desperately fighting with the Royals for the second wild-card spot, as well as three games remaining against Oakland, which is looking to shore up its position as the first wild card.
If the Angels can hit the 100-win mark, they'll be the first team to do so since the 2011 Phillies, who went 102-60 but fell in the National League Division Series to the Cardinals; the last AL team to reach the century mark for victories was the 2009 Yankees squad that won the World Series.
Cellar Dweller: Rangers
Texas checks in at No 30 for the 10th straight week, but at least the Rangers showed some life by sweeping the Braves in three games in Arlington over the weekend. It was the first sweep for Texas since the first month of the season, when it took three straight from Oakland between April 21 and 23. Of course, even those wins didn't come without the one frustrating constant of this Rangers season: injuries. In Sunday's series finale, outfielder Michael Choice came up lame rounding first base on a double, then left the game with what the team called a strained left hamstring. At this rate, Texas might start putting fans onto the field to close out what has been a miserable season.
Biggest Riser: Tigers
Detroit moved up five spots this week and, more importantly, back into first place in the AL Central, where it now has a 1 1/2-game lead on the Royals. That's the smallest division lead in the majors -- so why does it feel like a fourth consecutive division title is a question of when, not if, for the Tigers?
Perhaps it's because they just rolled through a 6-1 week that included taking two out of three from now second-place Kansas City. Perhaps it's because Detroit is now 11-5 against the Royals, which makes this weekend's three-game showdown in K.C. seem less dramatic than it should. And perhaps it's because the Tigers face nothing but division rivals the rest of the season, against whom they are 36-27 so far this year, and wrap up the regular-season schedule with a seven-game homestand against the White Sox and Twins, who are a combined 35 games out of first.
Biggest Faller: Royals
One more victory will give Kansas City just its third winning season in the last 19 years, and the first time the club has posted back-to-back winning seasons in non-strike years since 1988 and '89. Merely topping .500, of course, is hardly the Royals' goal. They are aiming to end the franchise's 29-year postseason drought, the longest in the majors, but didn’t help matters by going just 2-5 last week, which resulted in a drop of five places in these rankings. Losing two out of three in Detroit to the Tigers, their chief competitors for the AL Central crown, was bad enough, but going 1-3 against the last-place Red Sox at home could be the series that dooms Kansas City's division title hopes.
The Royals have a pair of three-game sets at Kauffman Stadium this week, against the White Sox and Tigers, that could decide whether they spend the final week of the regular season battling for a division title, a wild-card spot, or — if they repeat last week’s dismal showing — nothing at all.
A Few Words About The...
Athletics: Oakland looked all but dead after losing three of four to the White Sox last week, but the A's rallied to take two of three from the Mariners in a crucial wild-card series over the weekend. That wasn't enough to keep them in the top-five of our Rankings, but it might end up being the difference in the postseason race. The A's now have a 1 1/2-game cushion over the Royals in the wild-card chase and boast a 98.5 percent chance of making the playoffs, according to MLB.com. Even better for Oakland, its schedule softens considerably in the season's final two weeks, thanks in large part to seven games against last-place Texas. In fact, the only above-.500 team the A's face the rest of the way is the Angels, in a three-game set starting on Sept. 22. By that point Los Angeles will have little to play for to enhance its own postseason resume, given that it will likely have long since clinched the AL West and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs.
Braves: There's bad, there's awful and then there's the Braves in the last week. At a do-or-die point in the season, Atlanta completely flopped, going 1-5, including a humiliating sweep against the terrible Rangers. On top of that, the Braves dropped two of three to the Nationals, virtually ending their NL East title hopes. They enter this week four games back of the second wild-card spot with just 13 games left and are just a single game over .500. That's a far cry from last year's team, which own 96 games and the NL East title by 10 games over Washington. Most of the blame for Atlanta's year-over-year collapse goes to its offense: The Braves went from 4.25 runs scored per game last season to 3.66 this year, and are on pace to finish with nearly 50 fewer home runs in 2014 than they hit in 2013.
White Sox: Chicago's postseason hopes long ago disappeared, but the team is trying to close out 2014 on a high note. The White Sox went 5-2 last week, including a series win over Oakland; it's a nice turnaround from a dismal 9-19 August and a 1-4 start to September. Unsurprisingly, Jose Abreu has led the charge, as the Cuban slugger hit .360/.448/.720 in 29 plate appearances last week. He also picked up his 100th RBI of the season, making him the first rookie since Ryan Zimmerman in 2006 to reach that milestone. Abreu is the first player since Albert Pujols in 2001 to hit at least 30 homers and drive in 100 or more runs in his first season in the bigs.