In this week's Power Rankings, the Blue Jays knock the Cardinals out of first, the red-hot Mets surge into the top five and the Nationals take a tumble.
After 15 consecutive weeks—several of which involved close calls—the Cardinals have finally been dethroned as the No. 1 team in our Power Rankings. St. Louis' 2–5 skid last week opened the door for the surging Blue Jays, who picked up six of eight first-place votes, to move into the top spot. The Cardinals aren't even the highest-ranked team from their own division. The Pirates, who are now just 2 1/2 games behind St. Louis in the NL Central, went 5-2 and are now No. 2, with the Cardinals falling to No. 3, the red-hot Mets rocketing to No. 4 and the Royals rounding out the top five.
Team of the Week: Blue Jays
All hail Toronto, which in addition to topping the Power Rankings now holds a 3 1/2-game lead in the American League East over the Yankees. The Blue Jays took three of four from New York in the Bronx this weekend to give themselves a comfortable cushion in the division as the team seeks to snap a 22-year postseason drought. Toronto's trip to the playoffs is seemingly a lock; by Baseball Prospectus' odds, the Jays have a 100% chance of making it to at least the Wild-Card Game and a 91.2% chance of winning the East.
It's been a brilliant second half for the Jays, who have gone 37–15 since the All-Star break and 29–10 since the start of August. But Toronto will now have to defend its division lead without shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, who will miss at least the next 2–3 weeks with a small fracture in his left shoulder blade. Tulowitzki, who hurt his shoulder in a collision with centerfielder Kevin Pillar in the first game of Saturday's doubleheader sweep at Yankee Stadium, was hitting just .232/.314/.368 in 175 plate appearances with the Jays, but even amid that slump, he's a far cry better than the options to replace him: Ryan Goins (81 OPS+) and veteran Cliff Pennington (just four hits in 39 at-bats across 17 games with Toronto this season). Goins at least has a .773 OPS since Aug. 1, but to make the most of their postseason, the Blue Jays need a healthy Tulowitzki back in the lineup.
Team of the Weak: Reds
Cincinnati just keeps sliding. Only three seasons removed from an NL Central title, the Reds find themselves out of the playoffs for a second straight year, languishing in last place in the division and now officially eliminated from contention. They did win three of four against the Cardinals at home last week, but it's not nearly enough: At 60–82, Cincinnati has the fourth-worst record in baseball, and at its current pace, it will finish the year with 94 losses, the team's most since going 66–96 in 2001.
It's not hard to see what's gone wrong for the Reds this year. Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake, the team's top two starters at the start of the season, were both dealt at the trade deadline. All-Star catcher Devin Mesoraco played in just 23 games before a hip injury ended his season. And Billy Hamilton (.227/.274/.290, 55 OPS+) was one of baseball's worst offensive regulars despite his 56 steals. But there was some good that came out of this season in the Queen City. Joey Votto (.315/.459/.555, 176 OPS+) re-established himself as one of the game's best hitters, and Todd Frazier (.260/.311/.515, 33 HR) built on his breakout 2014 season, albeit while slumping in the second half (.223/.270/.403 since the All-Star break). In the rotation, Anthony DeSclafani (3.67 ERA) and Raisel Iglesias (104 strikeouts in 95 1/3 innings) have shown flashes of No. 1 stuff.
It's unlikely 2016 will be much better than this year. But with those players in place and some strong off-season moves, the Reds may be able to reverse their trajectory.
Big Riser: Mets
The Mets can start counting down the days until October. They boast a staggering 9 1/2-game lead over the Nationals in the NL East and are cruising toward their first division title since 2006. BP's odds have New York with a 99.8% chance of winning the East and making the playoffs, and the team's magic number to eliminate Washington is 11, tied with the Royals for the lowest in baseball. Currently on a seven-game winning streak and with a 35–19 second-half record, the Mets jumped from No. 9 to No. 4 in this week's Power Rankings.
Everyone will point to Yoenis Cespedes as the reason for the Mets going from also-rans to division champs, and it's easy to see why: The Cuban slugger has hit a remarkable .308/.353/.680 in 40 games since joining New York, with 16 homers and 41 RBIs. But he's not alone in taking the Mets to the top. Travis d'Arnaud has come back from injury to hit .296/.383/.565 in the second half; his .949 OPS is tops among all regular catchers in baseball in that span. Curtis Granderson has posted a .403 on-base percentage atop the Mets' lineup since the All-Star Game and is second to Cespedes in second-half home runs on the team with 10. Rookie Michael Conforto, meanwhile, has shown no signs of struggling at the major-league-level, hitting .290/.371/.540 with seven homers in the second half. Add it all up, and the Mets' offense has become one of the game's best. After ranking 29th in the league in OPS (.660) before the All-Star break, New York ranks second (.797) since that time.
Big Faller: Nationals
As the Mets rise, so fall the Nationals, who dropped from No. 10 to No. 15 this week and need a miracle to make the playoffs. Last week's three-game sweep at the hands of the Mets killed Washington's NL East hopes, and the team is even farther back in the wild card, sitting 10 games out of the second spot. BP gives the Nats a mere 0.3% chance of reaching the postseason, and even that might be generous for a team that has looked dead since the start of August; the Nationals are just 18–23 in that time and have lost 10 1/2 games in the standings.
There will be plenty of time to dissect just what went wrong for Washington, but of equal concern has to be 2016 and beyond. Of the team's regulars, three—shortstop Ian Desmond, centerfielder Denard Span and starting pitcher Jordan Zimmermann—are set to hit free agency this winter, with former fifth starter Doug Fister also reaching the end of his time with the Nats. The team also has arbitration raises coming for starter Stephen Strasburg and catcher Wilson Ramos, and not a lot of room to work with; Washington already has $94.4 million of guaranteed money committed to just seven players next year, with another $13.5 million in options on the books as well. Ryan Zimmerman (0.8 WAR) and Jayson Werth (-1.4) are due $35 million in 2016, and new closer Jonathan Papelbon will get $11 million. In short, the Nationals will need to get creative financially to improve on this season's disappointing results.