Retooled at deadline, red-hot Houston Astros surge into second place in SI.com's MLB power rankings.
The trade deadline has passed, and with it came a wave of change for this season's top contenders. But this week's Power Rankings reminded us of the one constant in baseball this year: The Cardinals are the game's No. 1 team. For an amazing ninth week in a row, St. Louis snagged first place in the rankings, holding off the new-look Astros, who surged into second place. The Dodgers, Royals and Yankees round out the top five.
We're No. 1: Cardinals
Still in possession of baseball's best record (67–38, a .638 winning percentage) and a comfortable 5 1/2-game lead in the NL Central, the Cardinals didn't do anything drastic during the deadline, choosing only to bolster their bullpen with the additions of former closers Jonathan Broxton and Steve Cishek and adding a bat to the first base/corner outfield mix in Brandon Moss. The latter may prove to be a crucial player down the stretch for St. Louis, which lost Matt Holliday to a right quad strain and will be without the burly leftfielder for an unknown amount of time. Moss has already contributed in Holliday's absence; his pinch-hit–walk-off single on Sunday gave the Cardinals a 3–2 victory over the Rockies and the series win.
Moss will undoubtedly be asked to play a larger role with Holliday gone, but it's another outfielder who may make the biggest difference going forward: Randal Grichuk. The former Angels first-round draft pick, who homered on Sunday to put St. Louis on the board first, has been a revelation for the Cardinals this season, hitting a stellar .288/.338/.564 with 12 home runs and a 145 OPS+ in 263 plate appearances. What's more, he's ably filled in at all three outfield positions and now mans centerfield as the team waits for Jon Jay to return from a wrist injury. If Grichuk can keep up his hot hitting and if Moss can rebound from his dismal numbers with Cleveland (.217/.288/.407), the Cardinals should be able to paper over the loss of Holliday without too much trouble.
Cellar Dweller: Phillies
Just as the Cardinals maintain an iron grip on first place, so do the Phillies continue to languish in last, earning five of this week's six votes for 30th. That's despite Philadelphia's unexpected performance in the second half: Since the All-Star break, the Phillies are 12–3, the best record in baseball. What's more, the team has scored 80 runs in those 15 games, a whopping six runs per contest, which is a far cry from the 3.38 the Phillies were averaging in the first half. All of that has added up to a 41–65 record that, while still the worst in the majors, is only 2 1/2 games worse than the Marlins.
Some of Philadelphia's newfound offense is coming from sources who won't be able to keep it going much longer—Jeff Francoeur (1.522 OPS since the All-Star break) and Odubel Herrera (.980) are poor bets to be offensive mainstays. But the Phillies have to hope that the production of two players in particular—Domonic Brown and Ryan Howard—is for real. Sent down to the minors to begin this year after a brutal 2014 season (.235/.285/.349, 77 OPS+), Brown was brought up on June 14 and started slow but has caught fire since the break, hitting .320/.346/.500 in 14 games. Howard, meanwhile, has come alive to the tune of a .327/.407/.577 mark in that same span, including a team-high 15 RBIs. Brown's resurgence would be a crucial part of the Phillies' future, while any production from Howard could help facilitate an August waiver deadline deal to ship his onerous contract out of town.
Big Riser: Astros
The deadline moves of the busy Astros are quickly paying off. Last week, Houston won five of its six games, including a crucial three-game sweep of the Angels to vault the team back into first place in the AL West. The Astros now hold an impressive four-game lead on Los Angeles for the division. The team's impressive young core—Carlos Correa, Dallas Keuchel, Jose Altuve, Lance McCullers—is a big reason for Houston's success, but the additions of veterans Scott Kazmir and Carlos Gomez could prove to be decisive in the Astros' quest for a playoff spot.
Gomez, acquired last Thursday for a package of prospects, hasn't made much of an impact yet for his new team, though he does have four hits in his first 14 at-bats. Kazmir, however, has been a truly brilliant addition on the part of general manager Jeff Luhnow. The lefty has yet to allow a run for Houston, going 14 2/3 scoreless innings across his first two starts, including a brilliant turn against the Angels. Facing one of his old teams, Kazmir blanked Los Angeles over 7 2/3 innings, striking out five against three hits and three walks. His addition solidifies a rotation that was already strong with Keuchel and McCullers and provides Houston with a much-needed No. 2 starter who can follow Keuchel in a playoff series. And making the postseason seems like a certainty for Houston: The team's playoff odds are now a whopping 95.4%, according to Baseball Prospectus.
Big Faller: Angels
As it turns out, Houston's jump up the rankings dislodged Los Angeles from its top-five perch, with the Angels crashing down to 10th on the heels of a six-game losing streak. Now four games behind the Astros in the AL West, Los Angeles' playoff chances aren't totally shot—the Angels lead the Wild Card by a game over the Twins and still have a 66.3% chance of making the postseason, by BP's odds. But the team's losing streak has cut its margins significantly. Even worse, the Angels did little to improve themselves at the trade deadline, adding only a trio of reserve outfielders in Shane Victorino, David Murphy and David DeJesus.
Those three should help shore up leftfield, which has been a persistent weakness for Los Angeles this season. But the rotation took a hit with the loss of C.J. Wilson to an elbow injury, one that may cost him the season. With Wilson joining Jered Weaver on the disabled list, the Angels will have to get better results from Matt Shoemaker (86 ERA+) and Garrett Richards (108) while hoping that rookie Andrew Heaney (1.97 ERA, 186 ERA+ in 45 2/3 innings over seven starts) can continue his early success. Otherwise, the gap in the West will just get bigger and bigger, while that lead in the Wild Card will only shrink.