On the strength of an 11-game win streak and the majors' best offense, the Toronto Blue Jays have rocketed into the top five of this week's Power Rankings.
The Cardinals continue to dominate this season's Power Rankings, taking first place for the third straight week, but it's another bird flying high this week. On the strength of an 11-game winning streak, the Blue Jays have jumped into the top five, emerging as one of the American League's most dangerous teams in the process. Toronto's hot stretch wasn't enough to dislodge St. Louis from No. 1—the Cardinals picked up all seven first-place votes this week—or knock the Dodgers out of second. But the Jays were able to push their way into third, with the Royals sitting steady at fourth and the Pirates dropping to fifth.
We're No. 1: Cardinals
Are cracks starting to show in St. Louis' foundation? The Cardinals started the week with a stumble, dropping two of three to the lowly Rockies before recovering by taking both games of a rain-shortened series against the Royals. St. Louis still has the majors' best record at 41–21 and a comfortable six-game lead in the NL Central, but it lost two key contributors last week to injury. First it was Matt Holliday, who went down with a quad strain on June 8 and was placed on the disabled list the next day. Later that week, Lance Lynn joined Holliday on the shelf, with a forearm strain landing him on the 15-day DL.
Of the two, it seems as if Lynn will be out only a short time, but Holliday's timetable remains uncertain. It's a tough blow given the 35-year-old's stellar season to date: .303/.417/.421 in 218 plate appearances, good for a 131 OPS+, the third-highest mark among St. Louis' regulars. For now, the Cardinals will move on with Randal Grichuk taking Holliday's spot in leftfield, but they will need the likes of Jhonny Peralta and Matt Carpenter to continue to carry the load offensively, and for Yadier Molina (79 OPS+) and Jason Heyward (88) to contribute more. Most of all, however, St. Louis needs to avoid further injuries. Holliday, first baseman Matt Adams and pitchers Lynn and Adam Wainwright are all already on the DL; the Cardinals likely can't afford for another big name to join them.
Cellar Dweller: Phillies
Just when you think Philadelphia has hit rock bottom, it keeps finding new lows. The Phillies went 0–6 last week, getting swept by the Reds and Pirates on the road, and they are now just 3–9 in June. They have now scored just 11 runs in that losing streak, including two shutouts, and are averaging a mere 3.1 runs per game on the season with a team OPS of .638. To put that in context, only five clubs in the last 23 years have posted an OPS of .640 or lower for a season, and that .638 mark would be the lowest figure for a Philadelphia team since the 1968 Phillies hit a horrid .233/.294/.333 overall.
For Phillies fans, the focus now is on getting as much value as possible for the team's veterans before the trade deadline. Whether general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. will actually move his top prize—ace lefthander Cole Hamels—remains to be seen, but it's a safe bet that, at the very least, closer Jonathan Papelbon will be finishing games for a new team by Aug. 1. The veteran reliever has been linked to the Blue Jays and Cubs in recent weeks, and it would behoove Philadelphia to move Papelbon before other teams decide to sell off their closers or relievers. Papelbon should fetch a nice bounty in prospects, too: His 1.05 ERA is his lowest mark since he posted a 0.92 figure for the Red Sox in 2006, and his strikeout-per-nine ratio is 10.5, his best since whiffing 11.8 per nine in '12.
Biggest Riser: Blue Jays
Is the Great White North finally going to see an end to its playoff-less drought? This year's Toronto team looks like a real contender thanks to its recent win streak, in which the Blue Jays have demolished all comers. Over Toronto's last 11 games, its lineup has scored a ridiculous 88 runs, including 31 in a three-game obliteration of the Red Sox over the weekend. For the season, the Jays lead the majors in runs per game at 5.56, are third in baseball in home runs (79) and are tops in the game in OPS (.784) and OPS+ (119). Toronto's run differential of +71, meanwhile, is the best in the majors, ahead of even the Cardinals, who are second at +68.
Six of the Blue Jays' nine regulars have an OPS+ of 107 or better, with Josh Donaldson (162), Russell Martin (149) and Jose Bautista (144) leading the way. What's scary, however, is how much better Toronto's offense could be, as the team has received relatively little so far from Edwin Encarnacion. The slugging first baseman is second on the team in home runs with 13, but his .770 OPS is his lowest mark since 2009, and his 115 OPS+ is the worst he's posted in four years. Injuries have hampered Encarnacion, who's dealt with shoulder and hamstring pains, but he's showing signs of life this month: Since the start of June, he's hit .360/.452/.560 in 31 PA, albeit with just one homer. If he can get healthy and hot, the Jays' lineup is going to be almost impossible to beat, and could carry Toronto to its first postseason berth since 1993.
Biggest Faller: Twins
The most surprising team of 2015 has hit its first sustained rough patch, as Minnesota dropped five of six last week and fell out of first place in the AL Central, going from No. 8 to No. 17 in this week's rankings. Now 1 1/2 games back of the Royals in the division, the schedule doesn't get any easier for the Twins, who open the week with four games against the Cardinals (two in St. Louis) before hosting the Cubs this weekend.
Offense, or the lack thereof, has been Minnesota's biggest problem, with the team averaging just 2.9 runs per game in June. Brian Dozier has been solid this month (.292/.333/.625 with four homers), but the rest of the lineup has gone cold. Torii Hunter and Joe Mauer each have an OPS under .600 since June 1; Trevor Plouffe has whiffed 13 times in 47 at-bats and is hitting just .128; and Kurt Suzuki has a miserable .399 OPS and no extra-base hits in his last 39 at-bats. The callup of top prospect Byron Buxton should give the Twins' lineup a jolt, especially given the team's troubles in centerfield (.585 OPS at the position on the season), but it'll take more than Buxton to get Minnesota back on the right path.
The Cardinals continue to dominate this season's Power Rankings, taking first place for a third straight week, but it's another bird flying high this week. On the strength of an 11-game winning streak, the Blue Jays have vaulted into the top five, emerging as one of the American League's most dangerous teams in the process. Toronto's hot stretch wasn't enough to dislodge St. Louis from No. 1—the Cardinals picked up all seven first-place votes this week—or knock the Dodgers out of second. But the Jays were able to push their way into third, with the Royals sitting steady at fourth and the Pirates dropping to fifth.