For the fourth straight week, the Cardinals are the week's No. 1 team in our Power Rankings, but there are some surprising names popping up in the top and bottom 10.
As the season nears its midway point, there are a few surprises in the Power Rankings. There are just as many teams in this week's top 10 that didn't make the postseason a year ago—the Astros (No. 4), Blue Jays (No. 6), Rays (No. 7), Cubs (No. 8) and Yankees (No. 10)—as did. Meanwhile, some of the winter's busiest clubs, such as the Mariners, Padres, Red Sox and White Sox, are languishing in the bottom 10. What's worse for that quartet is that there's no sign that better results are coming. Don't expect a sudden flip for these surprise contenders and unexpected bottom feeders.
We're No. 1: Cardinals
Consider this: On May 20, the Pirates were 18–22 and nine games back of the Cardinals for first place in the National League Central. Since that day, Pittsburgh has gone 21-8 and had two winning streaks of seven games—and all that's done is trim St. Louis' division lead to six games.
It's been that kind of season for the Cardinals, who have more or less dominated baseball from this year's first pitch. St. Louis leads the majors in wins (45) and winning percentage (.652) and is just one run behind Toronto for the league's best run differential (+78 to +77). As such, the Cardinals are in first place in our rankings for the fourth straight week and the seventh time already on the year. Of the three other teams to have been No. 1 this season, only the Tigers have claimed the crown more than once. It's a testament to the consistent excellence of this year's Cardinals squad.
Cellar Dweller: Phillies
Just as St. Louis has cemented itself as baseball's best team, Philadelphia is running away with the less-desirable title of worst in the game. The Phillies went 2–5 last week, including a humiliating 19–3 demolition at the hands of the Orioles on June 16, and at 24–47 (.338 winning percentage), they're on pace for a truly wretched 54–108 record. The 2013 Astros are the only other team in the last decade to lose that many games, finishing with a 51–111 mark that season. No Philadelphia team, meanwhile, has lost that many games since 1945, when that year's Phillies went 46–108. In fact, since the National League adopted the 162-game schedule in 1962, no Phillies team has ever lost more than 100 games in a season.
Is there any hope for the Phis to avoid that dubious history? It'll be tough. Philadelphia already has the worst offense in baseball at 3.1 runs per game with a team OPS+ of 77 that's last in the majors, and the pitching staff's 4.43 ERA is the game's fourth-highest. Those figures aren't likely to improve if the Phillies ditch their veterans at the trade deadline, as they should.
Biggest Riser: Reds
This week's rankings didn't see much movement up or down the list, with Cincinnati as the only team to gain at least four spots. The Reds didn't rise very high, though, going from No. 26 to No. 22, and their hopes of contending in the NL Central have long since vanished, as they sit 12 1/2 games back of St. Louis. But at 32–36, Cincinnati is just 5 1/2 games out of a playoff spot, and last week, the Reds took a series each from the Tigers and Marlins.
That said, there aren't exactly many reasons to believe Cincinnati will make any noise in the playoff race this year. It has three starters with an ERA+ of league average or better, but only ace Johnny Cueto (130) should be reasonably expected to keep that going, and as a free agent next year, it would behoove the Reds to move him at the trade deadline for a package of top-flight prospects. Anthony DeSclafani (111) and Michael Lorenzen (109), meanwhile, have some scary peripherals, with DeSclafani striking out just 6.1 per nine and Lorenzen walking nearly as many batters (29) as he's struck out (35).
On offense, Joey Votto has come back to life (158 OPS+) and Todd Frazier has turned into a franchise cornerstone (168). But Billy Hamilton remains awful (a .267 on-base percentage), Brandon Phillips is having a career-worst season at the plate (86 OPS+) and Cincinnati has lost Devin Mesoraco for the year to hip surgery, leaving the Reds with Brayan Pena and his career .656 OPS as the starter at catcher.
Biggest Faller: Padres
Both the Yankees (No. 6 to No. 10) and Padres (No. 19 to No. 23) dropped four spots this week, but we'll put our focus on San Diego, which fired longtime manager Bud Black last week, to no immediate avail. At 34–38, the Padres are a distant fourth in the NL West, sitting six games behind the Dodgers, and are 5 1/2 back in the wild card. The infield is a total mess: Starting second baseman Jedd Gyorko was demoted to Triple A two weeks ago, while third baseman Will Middlebrooks (79 OPS+) and shortstop Alexi Amarista (76) have been two of the majors' worst regulars so far. Things have gotten so bad that San Diego has started giving first baseman Yonder Alonso time at the hot corner—a position at which he'd played just 12 1/3 innings in his career prior to 2015.
The outfield isn't much better. Wil Myers is out for the next two months after undergoing surgery on his left wrist, while Matt Kemp has struggled to a .246/.283/.352 line with just four homers in 300 plate appearances to go with below-average defense in right. Justin Upton is mashing (a team-high 133 OPS+ and 13 homers), but as a free agent this winter, he's not likely to stick in San Diego beyond the end of this year. The Padres may have looked like true contenders this winter after their massive shopping spree, but almost nothing has worked out as planned.