The Angels have come alive in the last week to move into the top 10 of the Power Rankings, where the Cardinals rule once again and the Reds take a big tumble.
There's just one week left in the first half of the 2015 season, and while the Cardinals have been consistently dominant, they now have some familiar company at the top of the Power Rankings. St. Louis is No. 1 for the sixth straight week, but the Pirates jumped to the No. 2 spot this week and the Cubs are up to No. 9, giving the NL Central three teams in the top 10, the only division that can make such a claim. There was other notable movement in that portion of the rankings, too: the Royals fell out of the top five, while the red-hot Angels soared into the top 10.
We're No. 1: Cardinals
St. Louis finally experienced some slight turbulence on its otherwise smooth flight through the first half, enduring its first four-game losing streak of the season last week before beating the Padres on Saturday and Sunday to salvage a split of their four-game series. The one potential pitfall that could derail the team that leads the majors in ERA was on display in those four straight defeats: difficulty scoring runs. The Cardinals plated just one run in three of those four losses and combined for six in the four games overall. For the season, St. Louis ranks 22nd in the majors in runs scored.
Nevertheless, the Cardinals still have the largest division lead in baseball, topping the NL Central by six games, and they are still the only team in the majors to have reached the 50-win mark. St. Louis has a busy week ahead of it: eight games in seven days, all on the road, thanks to a Tuesday doubleheader in Chicago. But barring a major breakdown, the Cardinals will enter the All-Star break just where they have been all year: the hands-down best team in the game.
Cellar Dweller: Phillies
Apparently, things can get worse for the Phillies. Despite having an almost iron grip on the label of Worst Team in Baseball when the week began, Philadelphia started its week with six straight losses, and even after shutting out the Braves on Sunday, the Phils are now just 28–56, meaning they have lost exactly two of every three games they've played. Philadelphia is the only team in the majors that has yet to reach 30 wins, and the Phillies trail the Marlins, the next-worst team in the bigs, the Marlins, by 7 1/2 games in the NL East standings. And yes, things can, and perhaps will, continue to get worse for Philadelphia, which will close a wretched first half with a seven-game West Coast road trip against the NL West’s two best teams, the first-place Dodgers and the defending world champion Giants.
Biggest Riser: Angels
It's been a dramatic turnaround for the Angels, who have ripped off wins in seven of their last eight games to pull to within three games of the Astros in the AL West and into first place in the wild card race. Despite the exit of general manager Jerry Dipoto after a reported power struggle with manager Mike Scioscia, Los Angeles went 5–1 last week, taking two of three from the Yankees in Anaheim before sweeping the Rangers in Texas.
It's been the offense carrying the Angels of late, especially against the Rangers. Los Angeles hitters battered Texas hurlers to the tune of 33 runs in three games, including a 13–0 rout on Saturday. The Angels' lineup is slowly showing signs of life beyond Mike Trout (a team-high 174 OPS+) and Albert Pujols (leading the club with 25 homers): Kole Calhoun tore opposing pitchers apart last week and has hit .308/.321/.654 in his last seven games, while Erick Aybar has hit a sterling .478 in his last 23 at-bats. Now the Angels need to get David Freese, C.J. Cron and Matt Joyce going as well.
Biggest Faller: Reds
As noted above, the NL Central looks like the best division in baseball; it is the only division with more than one team at least eight games over .500, and it boasts three such clubs. It is also the only division with more than one team at least eight games under .500, which is bad news for the Reds and Brewers. Cincinnati is a newcomer to the latter club, having lost seven of its last nine to end any real hopes of contention. The Reds are a whopping 16 1/2 games behind the Cardinals in the NL Central, and their wild card prospects (eight games out) aren't much better.
What's worse, Milwaukee's recent hot streak of eight straight wins and 11 in 13 games has left Cincinnati just two games out of the cellar. The Reds haven't finished in last place since 1983, when they were still in the NL West.
Cincinnati will likely look very different by season's end because it will surely begin a rebuilding process at this year's trade deadline. Starter Johnny Cueto is the most obvious candidate to be dealt, but unfortunately for Reds fans, they won't get a chance to fete their ace at this year's All-Star Game in the Queen City. Cueto, whose 2.84 ERA makes him a virtual lock to make the NL's All-Star roster, is scheduled to pitch on the final day of the first half, which would make him ineligible to participate in the Midsummer Classic. Cincinnati then opens the second half on a seven-game road trip before returning to Great American Ball Park for six games during deadline week, which could be the final chance for Reds fans to see Cueto pitch for the only team he's played for in his eight-year career.