The Blue Jays held off the Cardinals for first place in this week's Power Rankings, with the NL East champion Mets rising into the top five.
With one week left in the regular season, the Blue Jays remain the No. 1 team in the Power Rankings, capturing six of seven first-place votes to hold off the Cardinals for a third straight week. St. Louis remains in second place just ahead of the Pirates, with the Mets jumping into the top five at No. 4 after clinching the NL East over the weekend. The AL Central champion Royals round out the top five.
Team of the Week: Blue Jays
The wait is finally over in Toronto: On Saturday, the Jays officially clinched a postseason spot for the first time in 22 years by beating the Rays, 10–8. The win guarantees that Toronto will at least make it to the Wild-Card Game, but with a four-game lead on the Yankees for first place in the AL East with just seven games to go for each team, it's safe to assume that the Jays will be playing in October as a division champion.
The AL East crown is a fitting reward for one of the best second-half runs in recent memory. Since the All-Star break, the Blue Jays are a staggering 45–19, or a .703 winning percentage, and have outscored their opponents by 140 runs. The team's current run differential of +222 is far and away the best in baseball (the Cardinals are second at +127), and only 13 other teams in the wild-card era (1994–2015) have outscored their opponents by 200 or more runs over an entire season; the '98 Yankees are tops in that span with a +309 mark. Anyway you slice it, the Jays have been dominant like few other teams in the last two decades, and both their playoff berth and No. 1 ranking this week are well earned.
Team of the Weak: Phillies
The last week of the season offers little drama for Phillies fans, but it can still be a productive one for Philadelphia. At 59–97, the team has a three-game lead on Atlanta for the worst record in baseball; a 2–4 record or worse over the final six games of the year will lock up the No. 1 pick in next year's draft for the Phillies. Having to suffer the indignity of 100-plus losses will be a tough pill for management and fans to swallow, but that first overall pick should help enrich a farm system that has already grown stronger after the Phillies dealt off their high-priced veterans for prospects this summer.
Make no mistake: Next year's Phillies team won't be a good one. But the second half offered plenty of hope that the seeds of the next contender have already been planted. Maikel Franco posted a 123 OPS+ in 326 plate appearances before a wrist injury cut short his season. Aaron Nola had a 112 ERA+ in 77 2/3 innings down the stretch in his first taste of big-league action. Ken Giles proved he can be a shutdown closer: Since Aug. 1, he's allowed just one earned run in 20 1/3 innings and struck out 25. When Phillies fans look back on the 2015 season, there won't be many highlights, but they can at least feel confident that better days should be ahead.
Big Riser: Mets
Fresh off their first NL East title since 2006, the Mets jumped three spots in this week's rankings, going from seventh to fourth. Like the Blue Jays, the division crown is a much-deserved reward: New York has gone 42–25 in the second half, a .627 winning percentage, to blow past the Nationals in the East and earn a playoff spot for the first time in nine years.
With the hard work of clinching the division behind them, the Mets now have two new goals before the season ends: Gain home field advantage in the NLDS against the Dodgers—New York is currently 1 1/2 games ahead of Los Angeles in the standings—and settle on a postseason rotation. Already, manager Terry Collins has announced that Matt Harvey, Jacob deGrom and Noah Syndergaard will start the first three games of the playoffs. What remains to be seen is who of Steven Matz, Bartolo Colon or Jonathon Niese will take the fourth spot. Niese is apparently already out, as he'll reportedly be working out of the bullpen during the final week of the season, leaving the battle between the rookie Matz and the veteran Colon.
Big Faller: Mariners
There wasn't much downward movement in this week's rankings, so let's focus on Seattle, which dropped two places (18th to 20th) and is currently mired in a five-game losing streak. The Mariners are in no danger of finishing last in the AL West—the Athletics are nine games worse—but the team is a lock to finish below .500 for the fifth time in the last six seasons of play. Officially eliminated from playoff contention over the weekend, all that's left for the Mariners is to play out the string of another disappointing season.
There are plenty of people to blame for the Mariners' down season, and as the team gets set to introduce Jerry Dipoto as its new general manager, expect manager Lloyd McClendon to feel the heat for his team's underperformance. But statistically, special attention should be paid to Seattle's catchers, who put together one of the worst collective performances in major league history. On the season, Mariners backstops hit an incredible .154/.201/.255 for a putrid .456 OPS; by comparison, the Giants' pitching staff hit .167/.186/.291, or a .477 OPS. Since 1914, only two teams have ever had a non-pitcher position collectively hit as poorly as Mariners catchers did over 100 or more games: The Tigers' shortstops in 1977 (.447 OPS) and the Giants' shortstops in '68 (.436). Suffice to say, Dipoto will need to make catcher a priority on his off-season shopping list.