In this week's Power Rankings, the Cardinals take first yet again, the Braves hit a new low, the Indians mount a late charge and the Tigers continue to slide.
There's just over one month left in the regular season, and the Cardinals are showing no signs that they'll be letting go of the No. 1 spot in our Power Rankings. This week, St. Louis held off the AL East-leading Blue Jays for first place by a single point to keep the top spot they've held all summer. Toronto remained at No. 2, with the Royals, Pirates and Astros once again rounding out the top five. But though there wasn't much movement in the upper echelon of the rankings, there were plenty of changes throughout the rest of the standings, including a big drop for a former contender and a late charge out of Cleveland.
Team of the Week: Cardinals
The race is on for St. Louis to reach 100 wins, which would make it the first team to do so since the 2011 Phillies. Last week, the Cardinals went 6–1 and now have 84 victories with 32 games remaining through Sunday. Some quick math will tell you that all St. Louis has to do to reach the century mark, then, is go .500 or better over the rest of the season—which should be a simple task for a team whose lowest monthly winning percentage was July's .556 (15–12) and which has gone 28–13 since the All-Star break, a winning percentage of .683. At the Cardinals' current .646 pace, they would finish with 104 wins, the most victories by any team in the majors since St. Louis went 105–57 en route to the National League pennant in 2004. It would also be the Redbirds' second-highest win total since World War II, outpacing 2005's 100-win squad.
Despite that tremendous run, however, St. Louis's postseason future is undetermined. The Cardinals are a virtual lock for the postseason—Baseball Prospectus puts their playoff odds at 100%—but the team's NL Central lead is only 4 1/2 games over the Pirates, and St. Louis still has six games left against Pittsburgh before season's end. The odds are still in the Cardinals' favor to claim their third straight division title, but the team may end up needing every win it can get over the next four weeks. In other words, 100-plus victories wouldn't just be nice for St. Louis; they might be crucially important.
Team of the Weak: Braves
It's all fallen apart in Atlanta: The Braves went 1–5 last week to drop to No. 29 in the Power Rankings and have completely collapsed in the second half. Since the All-Star Game, the team has gone a wretched 12–29 and been outscored by nearly 100 runs; Atlanta's run differential on the season is now a putrid -136, better only than the Phillies (-162) in all of baseball. Last weekend the Braves were swept by the Yankees in three embarrassing games: New York hammered Atlanta pitching for 38 runs, including a 20–6 laugher on Sunday to finish the series. Things got so bad for the Braves during a 15-4 loss on Friday that they sent outfielder Jonny Gomes to the mound in the ninth inning for his first career pitching appearance; the righty was smacked around for the last two of the Yankees' runs, the first coming via a long homer from outfielder Chris Young, though he did strike out pitcher Bryan Mitchell to finish the frame.
Of even bigger concern to Atlanta has to be the decline of its real pitchers, especially Julio Teheran. The Colombian righty shined last year, posting a 2.89 ERA and 126 ERA+ in 221 innings, but he's seen a dramatic reversal of fortune in '15, with his ERA ballooning to 4.62 and his ERA+ plummeting to 82. It's no fluke, either; Teheran's walk rate and home-run rate have both shot up from last season (3.2 BB/9 and 1.3 HR/9 compared to 2.1 and 0.9, respectively, in '14), leaving him with a 4.56 FIP. On Sunday, he surrendered eight runs and three homers in 4 1/3 innings. His drop-off is part of a worrisome trend for Atlanta with its young pitchers: A team that once boasted Teheran, Kris Medlen, Mike Minor and Alex Wood in the rotation is left with just Minor and Teheran (Medlen now pitches for the Royals, Wood for the Dodgers), neither of whom have an ERA below 4.50.
Big Riser: Indians
Cleveland refuses to go quietly into that good night. The Indians have ripped off five straight wins and eight in their last 10 games, going 5–1 last week and sweeping the Brewers and Angels to jump from No. 18 to No. 14 in this week's Power Rankings. More importantly for Cleveland, the team has made a late charge into the AL wild-card race and now sits five games back of the second spot, which is currently occupied by the Rangers.
Despite that recent hot streak, the Indians' playoff odds still sit at just 12.7%, according to BP, and they remain behind four teams in the race for the second wild card. But two of those squads are the Angels and Rays, who have stumbled through the second half and may be falling out of the race. Even better for Cleveland, one of the teams it trails is the Twins, who the Indians will face seven times in the final month of the season. It's a long shot, but Cleveland has at least given its fans a reason to keep watching down the stretch. And if the offense can keep humming along—the team's .764 OPS in August is the AL's sixth-highest mark on the month—then the Indians may yet stay in the race the rest of the year.
Big Faller: Tigers
Before this season, few people would have predicted that this would be Detroit's fate at the end of August: last place in the AL Central it won the past four years, a record 10 games under .500 and the second-worst run differential in the AL (-73, ahead of only Seattle's -91). The Tigers have lost four straight and nine of their last 11, going 1–6 last week to fall from No. 19 to No. 24 in the Power Rankings. Those final three defeats came in Toronto, which scored 29 runs last weekend against Detroit, including a 15-1 demolition on Saturday.
Unsurprisingly, that pitching is mostly to blame for the Tigers' slide into the basement. The team has given up 227 runs in a 16–26 second half, or 5.4 runs per game; its 5.17 ERA in the month of August is second-worst in the AL (once again ahead of the Mariners, who are at 5.50). Things have gotten so bad for Detroit that it dug up 38-year-old veteran Randy Wolf from the minor leagues last week to plug a hole in its leaky rotation; the lefty has made two starts, pitching 14 innings and giving up five runs, four earned. That's likely enough to make him the Tigers' second-best pitcher behind Justin Verlander; with Anibal Sanchez and Daniel Norris on the disabled list, Detroit has been reduced to the likes of Wolf, Alfredo Simon (5.09 ERA), rookie Matt Boyd (5.40) and the wonderfully-named Buck Farmer (8.21) to fill out arguably the AL's worst starting five.