The final week of the regular season brings with it the end of Power Rankings, which sees a pair of familiar teams leading the way and bringing up the rear. Up top, the Angels take first place for a fifth consecutive week, as the AL West champions aim for 100-plus wins and homefield advantage through the playoffs. The Nationals and Orioles sit in the second and third spots, with the Dodgers holding steady at fourth and the Cardinals jumping the Tigers for fifth place.
They're No. 1: Angels
It's been a banner year for Los Angeles, which will end the season with a division title and goes into the postseason as the likely World Series favorite. There'll also be some hardware handed out to Angels star Mike Trout, who is all but certain to take home his first AL MVP award. It'll be the first MVP for an Angels player since Vladimir Guerrero was named the league's best in 2004, and only the third MVP win in franchise history (Don Baylor was the other, in 1979). The 23-year-old Trout will also be the first player since Cal Ripken in 1983 to be named MVP before the age of 24.
Cellar Dweller: Diamondbacks
It's back to the basement for Arizona, which is ending its season on a serious down note. The Diamondbacks are mired in a six-game losing streak and have lost 15 of their 20 games in September, dropping them past the Rockies into last place in the NL West. At 62-94, Arizona has a half-game lead on Colorado for the worst record in baseball, which would at least reward the Diamondbacks with the first overall pick in next year's draft. That will be of little consolation to this year's team, however, and particularly manager Kirk Gibson, who seems likely to follow now-former general manager Kevin Towers out the door.
With all due respect to the Padres, our attention here is on the team that is both over .500 and in playoff position. Pittsburgh won five of six last week, including two of three against the Brewers to all but knock them out of the postseason race. The big question remaining for the Pirates is whether or not they will host the Wild Card Game at PNC Park, just as they did last year in what was one of baseball's best postseason environments in years.
Pittsburgh enters the week tied with San Francisco atop the wild-card standings at 84-71 and owns the tiebreaker over the Giants by virtue of having gone 4-2 against them this season. The Bucs are on the road this week with four games in Atlanta and three in Cincinnati, but they are just 33-41 on the road this year and only 7-12 combined against those two teams.
Regardless of where that game takes place, it's long since time to credit Pittsburgh for its outstanding year. It has been overshadowed compared to last year, when its pursuit of the franchise's first winning record and postseason berth in 21 years was arguably baseball's most compelling storyline, but securing a second straight postseason trip is a noteworthy accomplishment.
Biggest Faller: Giants/Blue Jays
We'll tackle the Blue Jays a little later on, but here, let's zero in on the playoff-bound Giants. That is, we're pretty sure they're playoff bound.
San Francisco went 2-5 last week and is now tied for the wild-card lead with the Pirates. There is plenty of good news for the Giants, though. They still have a 4 1/2-game cushion on the rapidly fading Brewers for a postseason berth, and they are only one-half game worse in the NL West standings than they were before their awful week began. A sweep of a three-game set against the first-place Dodgers this week could get San Francisco in position to steal the division title heading into the final weekend of the regular season.
While that is unlikely, this has nonetheless been an impressive turnaround season for the Giants, who followed up their 2012 World Series triumph — its second in three years — by winning just 76 games in 2013. They’ve already blown past that number this year, and the result will be their seventh postseason appearance in the Wild-Card Era.
A Few Words About The...
Cardinals: St. Louis popped into the top-five this week on the strength of a 4-2 week that included a big series win over Milwaukee. With the Brewers officially eliminated from division contention, the only team left to challenge the Cardinals for a second straight NL Central title is the Pirates, who would have to make up 2 1/2 games without the benefit of any head-to-head games against St. Louis. It's been a brilliant September for the Cardinals, who are 14-6 on the month, but the team needs to get some of its big bats woken up for the playoffs. Matt Carpenter, Yadier Molina and Matt Adams have each posted an OPS under .650 in September; those three need to be at peak performance if St. Louis wants to make another World Series run.
Blue Jays: Our other big faller of the week, Toronto's playoff hopes are all but gone thanks to a 1-6 week, including a brutal four-game series against the Yankees that saw the Blue Jays score just 13 runs in 36 innings. At 6 1/2 games out in the AL wild-card race, the Jays' playoff odds are down to zero, and their tragic number is a mere two. Will Toronto's second-half collapse cost manager John Gibbons his job? General manager Alex Anthopoulos was somewhat unclear on that when asked by reporters last week. Gibbons is under contract for next season, and he's likely to be given one more shot to get the Jays into the playoffs. But another year without October baseball in Toronto will likely be the end of the line for Gibbons — and possibly Anthopoulos as well.
Padres: San Diego is finishing its season strong, sweeping the Giants last week and going 6-1. Though the Padres are just 10-10 in September, they've held their own since the All-Star break, going 33-27 in that span. What's more, San Diego could end up having a big say in the NL West race. Last weekend's sweep of San Francisco took a big chunk out of the Giants' division title hopes, and the two teams will meet again in the season's final four games at AT&T Park later this week. If the Giants can sweep the Dodgers in a three-game set in Los Angeles, the Padres could be the difference between a San Francisco NL West crown and a do-or-die Wild Card game.