Winners of eight straight and 10 of their last 11, the Blue Jays have closed the gap in the AL East and have made a big jump in this week's Power Rankings.
Another week brings another first-place finish for the Cardinals in our Power Rankings, but is St. Louis' hold on the top finally weakening? The Cards took five of this week's seven votes for No. 1, but the Royals and Blue Jays are right behind them in the rankings, each earning a first-place votes as they continue to thrive in the second half. Those surges by Kansas City, which placed second, and Toronto, which rose to No. 3, were enough to knock the Dodgers down from third to fourth and drop the Astros from second to fifth.
We're No. 1 We're No. 2: Royals
With the Cardinals in first yet again, we're turning our eye to our second-place team: Kansas City. Unless something really unexpected happens—plagues, locusts and frogs, perhaps—the Royals are going to win the American League Central. Yes, there are still 52 games to play, but the race is virtually over: Kansas City enters the week with a 99.1% chance of winning the division, according to Baseball Prospectus’ playoff odds, and even that might be shortchanging the Royals, who are 11 1/2 games in front of Minnesota—the exact same margin as the five other division leaders combined. They are also the only team in the AL Central to sport a winning record, now that the Twins have fallen into a 6–16 second-half death spiral, the AL's worst mark since the All-Star break.
The Royals didn’t have an especially spectacular week, record-wise, going 4–2, but they nonetheless added 3 1/2 games to their division lead thanks in part to a weekend sweep of the White Sox. On Monday, the fans at Kauffman Stadium will get their first look at newly-acquired Johnny Cueto in a Royals uniform when he starts against the Tigers. Cueto failed to win either of his first two outings since being traded from the Reds, but he nonetheless looked like the front-line pitcher the team had needed, delivering a quality start each time.
Cellar Dweller: Marlins
In posting the majors’ best winning percentage since the All-Star break, the Phillies have not only finally abandoned the cellar to which they had been banished the past nine weeks, but have also moved out of last place in the NL East. Fortunately, the Marlins were there to take Philadelphia’s place both at the bottom of the division and of our rankings, and it’s well-deserved. Miami has the worst winning percentage in the bigs since the Midsummer Classic, going a dreadful 6–17 (.261). Those losses have come in bunches too: a four-game losing streak to start the second half has been followed by subsequent skids of three games, four games and six games, the latter of which was broken with Sunday’s 4–1 win in Atlanta.
The defeats weren’t even the worst part of the Marlins’ week. On Saturday, it was revealed that ace Jose Fernandez has a strained right bicep tendon and will go on the disabled list. Fernandez, the 2013 NL Rookie of the Year, just returned in early July after missing 14 months due to Tommy John surgery and had looked like every bit the franchise cornerstone he had been before going under the knife, posting a 4–0 record with a 2.30 ERA. It’s possible Fernandez could return his season, but his latest injury is far more concerning to Miami’s future than its present.
Big Riser: Blue Jays
Sweeps of the Twins at home and the Yankees in the Bronx have given Toronto 11 wins in its last 12 games, a blue streak that's trimmed the team's AL East deficit from eight games to 1 1/2 and vaulted it from three games back in the race for the second wild card to half a game up for the first. The latter series marked the first time since May 2003 that the Blue Jays have swept a series of at least three games in New York, and behind the scoreless starts of David Price and Marco Estrada (with a little help from the bullpen), it was also the first time the Yanks have been shut out in back-to-back games since 1999—a record-setting streak of 2,665 games, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Overshadowed by those shutouts was R.A. Dickey's latest great effort, as he threw seven innings of one-run ball on Friday. The 40-year-old knuckleballer is amid his best stretch with Toronto, having allowed just five runs in his last 43 1/3 innings.
Not to be lost is the work of the Jays' potent, revamped offense, which leads the majors in both scoring (5.28 runs per game) and slugging percentage (.445). Josh Donaldson bashed five homers last week; he's third in the league with 31, first in runs and RBIs (82 and 83, respectively) and second in WAR (6.3). Jose Bautista went deep three times, giving him 26, and both Edwin Encarnacion and Troy Tulowitzki added a pair of longballs.
Big Faller: Twins
Look, ma, they're regressing! A 3–12 slide has knocked the Twins out of the AL's second wild card spot—where they once held a four-game lead—and below .500 for the first time since May 1. The team is hitting just .221/.277/.391 and scoring 3.9 runs per game amid that skid, but things have been even more brutal on the other end, as Minnesota has allowed 7.3 per game over those 15 games, with its starters getting lit for an 8.44 ERA and 2.0 homers per nine.
The starters were especially awful last week. Over the Twins' last five games, which came against the Blue Jays and Indians, they were outscored 52–25 and allowed at least eight runs in each game. All five starters—rookie Tyler Duffey, Kyle Gibson, Mike Pelfrey, Ervin Santana and Phil Hughes—offered up disaster starts, with more runs allowed than innings pitched. The group's ERA for that turn was 20.68, with only Gibson making it into the fifth inning, and only Duffey, who was making his major league debut, allowing fewer than seven runs. Santana, in his first year with Minnesota after signing as a free agent last December, has been a total dud thus far: He didn't debut until July 5 because of an 80-game PED suspension, and while he's managed four quality starts in his seven outings, he has been roughed up for a 5.40 ERA and 5.52 FIP.