In this week's Power Rankings, the red-hot Cubs make a move up, the Red Sox show off their offense and the ice-cold Angels take a dip.
Birds ruled the roost in this week's Power Rankings, as the Cardinals and Blue Jays occupied the top two spots. St. Louis hangs onto No. 1 for yet another week, picking up four first-place votes, while Toronto moves into second despite seeing its 11-game winning streak end while losing two of three at home to the Yankees over the weekend and entering this week in second place in the American League East. The Royals, Astros and Pirates round out the top five, with the red-hot Cubs right on the heels of their NL Central rivals.
Team of the Week: Cubs
The Cubs have picked a bad time to have a good year. After finishing below .500 the past five years and averaging 92.8 losses per season in that time, Chicago enters the week with the fourth-best record in baseball. Unfortunately for the Cubs, two of the three teams ahead of them—the Cardinals and Pirates—also play in the NL Central. It’s a testament to how good those teams are that even after winning 15 of its last 17 games, including separate winning streaks of six and nine games, respectively, Chicago is still 7 1/2 games back in the division, though it does have a 3 1/2-game lead on the Giants for the second wild-card spot.
So why are the Cubs sixth in our Power Rankings? Before their recent hot streak began, they were just five games over .500, and even now, they rank just ninth in the league in runs scored. They are also overplaying their Pythagorean record by five games, tied for the most in the majors. But Chicago has a good chance this week to keep its winning ways alive and move up even further in the Rankings: Including their Aug. 24 make-up game with the Indians, the Cubs’ next eight games come against three teams—Atlanta, Detroit and Cleveland—that are a combined 24 games under .500.
Team of the Weak: Braves
On Sunday, the Braves beat the Diamondbacks, 2–1, on a walk-off, 10th-inning home run by Cameron Maybin. It was just the second series win in Atlanta’s last seven tries, raising the question of where would this team be if not for its record in close games. With two more one-run wins against Arizona over the weekend, the Braves are now 23–16 in such contests, the fifth-best record in the majors. Only four teams currently holding down playoff spots—the Pirates, Cubs, Cardinals and Royals–have been better.
As it is, Atlanta is closer to last place in the NL East than first, and if you need further won-loss proof that records are deceiving, look no further than Sunday’s starter for Atlanta, Shelby Miller. For the second time this season, the 24-year-old righthander took a no-hitter into the eighth inning or later, and while he at least picked up the win on May 17 despite falling one out shy of history in Miami, this time he had to settle for a no-decision. Miller is still just 5–9 on the season and hasn't won a game since that near no-hitter despite ranking in the top 10 in the NL in ERA (2.43, fifth), fewest home runs per nine (0.47, fifth), fewest hits per nine (7.3, ninth), innings pitched (152, ninth), and WAR for pitchers (4.3, sixth). Of course, he is also 10th in the league in losses, but the All-Star righthander’s first season in Atlanta has been an unqualified success.
Biggest Riser: Red Sox
Boston, which moved up from No. 24 to No. 21 this week, went just 2–3 last week, dropping a pair to the Marlins before taking two of three from the Mariners at home, but those two wins were maybe the most impressive of the Red Sox' season. Over the course of two games, Boston hitters annihilated Seattle pitching, dropping 37 runs on the team's beleaguered starters and bullpen. On Friday, the Red Sox scored 15 runs, beating up starter Mike Montgomery for nine in just 2 1/3 innings; on Saturday, they took it up a notch, ambushing Felix Hernandez for 10 runs in 2 1/3 frames en route to a 22–10 laugher. Those 22 runs are the most a team has scored in a game this season and the highest total since the Yankees plastered the Athletics, 22–9, back on Aug. 25, 2011.
Virtually every Boston hitter had a superb weekend, but no one came out better than Jackie Bradley Jr., who battered the Mariners to the tune of nine hits in 16 at-bats, including two homers, five doubles and eight RBIs. On Saturday, he was a one-man wrecking crew, picking up five hits—both his homers and three doubles—to go with seven runs driven in and 15 total bases, setting a season high for all players in that department. He's just the fifth player in the last five years to record 15 or more total bases in one game and only the eighth player in major league history to pick up five or more extra-base hits in one game. Granted, one of those home runs came off Mariners backup catcher Jesus Sucre, but it was still a much-needed outburst for Bradley, whose season OPS jumped from .608 to .834 over the course of three games. Given his flop last season as Boston's starting centerfielder, Bradley needs more games like Saturday's if he wants to become a regular part of the Red Sox' outfield next year.
Biggest Faller: Angels
Both the Dodgers and the Angels took short drops this week, with Los Angeles' NL squad going from No. 4 to No. 7 and the Orange County team going from No. 9 to No. 12. But the Dodgers remain in first place in the NL West, albeit by just 2 1/2 games over the Giants. The Angels are in a slightly more precarious position: Last week's brutal 1–6 stretch, featuring a sweep by the White Sox and three losses in four games against the Royals, has left Los Angeles out of the playoff picture entirely, with the Angels trailing the Astros by 3 1/2 games in the AL West and the Orioles by half a game for the second wild-card spot. Add it all up, and Los Angeles' playoff chances (according to Baseball Prospectus) have gone from 61.6% on Aug. 10 to a mere 37.9% after Sunday night's walk-off loss to Kansas City.
Of course, the season is far from over for the Angels, but the team's second-half results (12–17 since the All-Star break) don't exactly suggest that they are a threat. Worse, L.A.'s offense has tanked in August: On the month, the team is hitting just .217/.281/.335, with a .616 OPS that ranks dead last in baseball in that span. Unsurprisingly, the Angels' slump coincides with a down turn for Mike Trout, as the reigning AL MVP has hit a putrid .175/.299/.281 in 57 August at-bats and has homered just once in his last 15 games. With Trout looking more like Clark Kent than Superman of late, it's hard to imagine Los Angeles getting back into playoff gear.