- We know that the Red Sox, Astros and Yankees are the class of the AL. But the A's aren't just a surprise anymore, they're a legitimate contender.
It's August and the Twins are closer to first place in the AL Central than the Yankees are to first place in the AL East. Pretty crazy, right? We're nearing the home stretch, so let's get to this week's Power Rankings.
TIER SIX: CELLAR DWELLERS
30. Kansas City Royals (34–78)
How bad is this pitching staff? Let us count the ways! It features MLB’s worst ERA (5.34), worst FIP (4.84), worst WHIP (1.51)... though it’s only second-worst in home run rate and strikeout rate, which is what will have to pass for a bright spot here.
29. Baltimore Orioles (34–78)
The Orioles split a two-game series with the Yankees last weekend, bringing their overall record against the team this season to 6–6. A .500 record might not sound like a grand sign of success, but with this team—it is.
28. Chicago White Sox (41–71)
The White Sox, at long last, completed their first sweep of the year by taking three games last weekend against the Rays. Every win came by just one run, and one of them required extra innings. But when your 30 games under .500, a sweep is a sweep.
27. Miami Marlins (47–67)
The bad: Miami just finished a six-game losing streak, tied for their longest of the season, after being swept by Atlanta and Philadelphia. The good: This streak included their shortest game of the year! Two hours, 20 minutes. Maybe there’s no such thing as a loss that feels good, but this was an efficient one.
26. San Diego Padres (44–70)
The Padres snapped a seven-game losing streak last weekend by splitting a four-game series with the Cubs. They outscored Chicago 24–17 and gave Jon Lester his second-worst start of the year, scoring five runs off eight hits in five innings. Still, they’re further out of first place than any other team in the National League. Fun weekend, though!
TIER FIVE: COULD BE WORSE...
25. New York Mets (46–64)
Last Friday, Jacob deGrom allowed two runs in eight innings of work against the Braves. He struck out nine and walked just one. And, of course, he lost. The Mets fell, 2–1, and have now lost five of their last seven.
24. Detroit Tigers (47–66)
The Tigers are the American League’s only team with a sub-.300 OBP. They walk less than anyone else (6.8% of plate appearances) and swing more. A big part of that? The fact that they try on 35% of pitches outside the zone. No team in the last decade has swung on pitches outside the zone at such a high rate. If they keep chasing like this … Detroit could be chasing history.
23. Cincinnati Reds (49–64)
Please do not let Lucas Giolito’s implosion distract you from the fact that Homer Bailey has been building a similar case for the worst starting pitcher of 2018. Or, at least, Bailey was building such a case until last week. Facing Detroit, he allowed just two runs in eight innings, the deepest that he’d gone into a game this year. It was his best start of the season, lowering his 6.29 ERA to 5.87, which will make claiming the title of “worst starter” that much tougher. Don’t worry, though—he snapped right back to his usual self on Monday night against the Mets, giving up five runs off eleven hits in under four innings. The ERA is back over 6.00.
22. Texas Rangers (49–65)
The Rangers have not been great over the past month, just as they haven’t been good at any point this year. But over the last two weeks, they’ve had a very good offense. In that time, they lead baseball in home runs (22) and are fourth in OPS (.818). Rougned Odor hasn’t just been looking better than he ever has, he’s been looking better than most everyone. The team’s upcoming schedule against the Mariners, Yankees and Diamondbacks, however, might put a damper on all this.
21. Toronto Blue Jays (51–60)
The Blue Jays can’t claim any significant role in their own division, but last week, they did take on a pretty crucial function in the AL West. First, they lost three games to the Athletics, and then, they won three of four against the Mariners. Toronto isn’t the reason that Oakland went from two games behind Seattle to two-and-a-half ahead in the span of a week, but they sure are a reason.
TIER FOUR: MEH
20. Minnesota Twins (52–59)
Minnesota won its first three games that the newly-acquired Logan Forsythe started at second base. This probably has much more to do with the fact that all three of those games were against Kansas City than with Forsythe.
19. Los Angeles Angels (56–58)
Kole Calhoun began the season with one of baseball’s worst offensive starts ever. Through April and May, he had a .374 OPS. (Yes, that’s his OPS, not his OBP or SLG. There wasn’t a number over .200 anywhere to be found in his triple-slash.) Then, he went on the disabled list with an oblique injury, and upon his return, he started raking. Since returning, the right fielder has posted a .973 OPS. In 50 games before his injury, he had one home run. In 40 games since, he’s had 13. It’s not an exaggeration to say that he’s looked like a different player. The Angels, unfortunately, look different now, too. In May, they were potentially legitimate contenders. Now they… are not.
18. San Francisco Giants (57–57)
The Giants didn’t do much at last week’s trade deadline, but they did provide one of the funniest rumors: “Giants have let Yankees know Jeff Samardzija is available.” Ah, yes, the rotation help that every contender craves. Jeff Samardzija, trying to make his way back from a shoulder injury to continue a season in which he’s posted a 6.25 ERA and 5.44 FIP. How generous of San Francisco to let everyone know they’d be willing to part with him!
17. Tampa Bay Rays (56–56)
The Rays’ recent record: they won two of three against the Yankees, lost three of four to the Orioles, won three against the Angels, lost three against the White Sox. In other words, just some more strange action in a season of unlikely wins and bad losses.
16. Pittsburgh Pirates (57–56)
Since the 11-game win streak that propelled the team into the fringes of the playoff picture, Pittsburgh is 4–7. Their odds were slim to begin with here, but dropping two of three games over the weekend against division rival and fellow long-shot wild-card-competitor St. Louis didn’t help.
TIER THREE: A-OK
15. St. Louis Cardinals (58–55)
Matt Carpenter has three home runs and two doubles in his last four games. That’s a good long weekend—but one part of what’s been a very good month, one in which he just might have been the best hitter in baseball. Over the last four weeks, Carpenter has posted a 1.379 OPS. No one else has gotten within 100 points of that. He’s hit 13 home runs in that time, while only one other player has reached 10. The Cardinals have continued along at the same pace—13–13 in those four weeks—but at least they have Carpenter.
14. Washington Nationals (57–54)
Since their buy-or-sell moment of reckoning at the trade deadline, Washington has won five of six. They also traded Shawn Kelley to Oakland a few days after the reliever threw his glove down in frustration during a blowout victory against the A’s. General manager Mike Rizzo publicly reprimanded Kelley, designated him for assignment and described him as “in the way” of the Nationals’ goals. So, no, a tiny bit of winning hasn’t brought any relief to the team’s dramatic season, which still has them just on the far outskirts of a crowded playoff race.
13. Colorado Rockies (60–52)
The Rockies have lost five of their last eight, and three of those five losses were walked off. In other news, yes, their bullpen is still a mess. But Colorado fans can take a little solace in the fact that the relief corps’ lone bright spot, Adam Ottavino, is brighter than ever—he pitched beautifully in all three of those walk-off losses. Just try not to look at what happens when he hands the ball over to Wade Davis and Jake McGee.
12. Atlanta Braves (60–48)
The Braves went 10–13 in July, their only month of the season so far with a losing record. The starting rotation posted a collective 4.99 ERA after previous stand-out starters like Mike Foltynewicz and Sean Newcomb hit rough patches. The second half of the month was better than the first, however, and Atlanta must hope that the upward trend there continues if they want a chance to regain a hold on first place for the first time in three weeks.
11. Arizona Diamondbacks (63–51)
After handing sole control of first place to the Dodgers for two weeks, the Diamondbacks have taken it back. This week should give them a solid shot to keep it, with upcoming series against the sad trio of the Reds, Rangers and Padres.
TIER TWO: BEST OF THE REST
10. Cleveland Indians (62–49)
Mike Trout’s pursuit of a historic season has made it easy to overlook the stellar campaign of Jose Ramirez. Don’t. After a red-hot July, Ramirez is nearing Trout by Baseball-Reference WAR (7.4 to 7.8) and really nearing him by FanGraphs WAR (7.5 to 7.6). He boasts baseball’s best walk-to-strikeout rate; he’s tied for the lead in home runs; he’s likely on his way to MLB’s first 30-30 season in six years. (He currently has 33 home runs and 26 stolen bases.) All this is to say that with their division race already essentially sewn up, Cleveland’s most interesting question down the stretch just might be whether Ramirez can catch Trout.
9. Philadelphia Phillies (63–49)
The Phillies almost made the Red Sox look human. In one game, they beat them, 3–1, off a sharp start by Jake Arrieta. In the other, they went to extra innings, finally falling in the thirteenth on a ground-rule double from Blake Swihart. On paper, it’s just a split two-game series, but Boston has been so good lately that it almost feels like a little more than that for Philadelphia. What’s more important than that? The fact that this team has now held a share of first place for an entire month in the NL East.
8. Seattle Mariners (65–48)
Last week, Seattle slipped into third place for the first time since mid-May. Over the last month, their starting pitching has come dangerously close to collapse, with a 5.01 ERA in that time. Since Wade LeBlanc signed a contract extension on July 3, his early-season success has tapered; the lefty allowed seven runs and failed to make it out of the fifth inning in his most recent start. Felix Hernandez’s spot in the rotation has appeared in danger since he returned from the disabled list last month. James Paxton can’t consistently perform at his peak level, and he dealt with an injury of his own last month. Only Marco Gonzales has held steady lately, and it’s increasingly apparent that the team will need more than that to end their playoff drought.
7. Milwaukee Brewers (65–50)
In the two games immediately after Milwaukee failed to acquire the pitching that they needed at the trade deadline, they first lost an extra-inning walk-off and then got blown out, 21–5. It was only two games, sure, but two games make a difference in a division race this tight—and, at any rate, they’ve since gone out to pick up an extra pitcher in San Diego’s Jordan Lyles.
6. Los Angeles Dodgers (62–51)
The Dodgers had their biggest margin of victory yet last week, a 21–5 drubbing of Milwaukee. They also had their biggest margin of defeat, a 14–0 loss to Houston. And so a team with what should be one of baseball’s best offenses and one of its best pitching staffs remains unable to take a solid, lasting grip on first place.
TOP TIER: CREAM OF THE CROP
5. Oakland Athletics (67–46)
In the space of a month, Oakland has gone from the fringes of the playoff race—ten games back in the division, seven-and-a-half back in the wild card—to the red-hot center of it. The Athletics now have a comfortable hold on a wild card berth. While it’s unlikely that they’ll have a chance to catch first-place Houston, at four games back right now, it isn’t insane to dream about it.
What’s the most surprising part of this run? That Oakland’s pitching has been such a crucial part of their success so far. The Blake Treinen-led bullpen has been strong throughout. But with an injury-stricken rotation, they’ve lately been relying on a collection of starters that includes Edwin Jackson, Sean Manaea, Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson. That’s not the most inspiring group of names, but it’s been an effective one. In the last 30 days, Oakland’s 2.87 ERA has been the best in baseball. Only Boston has allowed fewer home runs. This team’s power at the plate has long been apparent, but now they’re showing the same prowess on the mound, even with their biggest names (Daniel Mengden, Kendall Graveman and Andrew Triggs) on the disabled list—and they’re emerging as a top-tier team as a result.
4. Chicago Cubs (65–47)
On Sunday, Javier Baez went 2-for-5 with a double and a home run. Sweet game, but he can do better. Like Friday, when he went 2-for-4 with a triple and a home run. Or like last Tuesday, when he went 3-for-4 with a three-run home run. Or … you get the point, he’s been otherworldly lately. And that’s without even addressing the other parts of his game, like this absolutely bonkers slide.
3. New York Yankees (69–42)
The Yankees’ most demoralizing loss of the last two weeks came when they blew a ninth-inning lead over the Red Sox on Sunday Night Baseball, handing Boston the final win in a four-game sweep that gave them the biggest division lead in baseball. That was demoralizing in a fundamental, textbook-perfect sense. But there’s a close second here! In the first game of a double-header just before the trade deadline, the Yankees lost to the Royals, 10–5. Allowing 10 runs to one of baseball’s worst offenses? Bad. Allowing that off your best pitcher? Worse. It was one of a string of poor performances from Luis Severino, who’s been stumbling in recent weeks after previously looking like a favorite for the Cy Young. Anyway, the point: plenty of demoralizing loss to go around over here! Make no mistake about it, this is still one of baseball’s very best teams. But the last two weeks have been rough indeed.
2. Houston Astros (72–42)
After throwing four scoreless innings on Saturday, Lance McCullers left the mound. The situation wasn’t great. He was suffering from elbow discomfort, which would result in a trip to the disabled list for the next morning. The Astros’ rotation had been crazy good all year, but they’d also been crazy lucky—or, at least, crazy healthy, which can feel like the same thing when it comes to pitchers. McCullers’ injury was the first for Houston’s 2018 rotation, which had started just the same five pitchers this season and no one else. (No team had been able to make that work for a full season since 1998.) Now, that streak looked like it might be over, and, in the meantime, there was a more pressing order to attend to. The Astros were clinging to a 1–0 lead against the Dodgers.
The bullpen took over, and the offense exploded. Houston went on to win, 14-0.
1. Boston Red Sox (79–34)
The Red Sox haven’t lost two games in a row since mid-June. They’re 11–3 since the All-Star break, including, of course, last weekend’s four-game sweep of the Yankees. What had previously looked like an all-time great race in the AL East now looks almost like a foregone conclusion. Boston is fully in charge here, and the team isn’t even playing at full strength. If this is what they’ve done with a sizeable contingent on the disabled list, it should be downright terrifying to picture what they might be capable of in October.