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MLB Power Rankings: Astros Fall but Remain a Top Team

Houston dropped to its lowest spot since late May, but things are looking pretty good for Dusty Baker’s crew.

We’ve been going deep on five teams every week for the last six weeks since our midseason format reset to these power rankings, which means this should mark the point where we’ve covered all 30 teams. It didn’t exactly work out that way, as I decided to hold off on examining the Marlins in lieu of highlighting another team from their division whose fortunes are of much greater relevance to the league at this time. Apologies to the loyal fans of the Fish, who are at least well-conditioned to the feeling of being overlooked by the media. We’ll meet you here, same time next week.

José Altuve running the base path next to a graphic reading MLB Power Rankings

30. Baltimore Orioles (Last Week: 30)

29. Texas Rangers (LW: 28)

28. Pittsburgh Pirates (LW: 29)

27. Arizona Diamondbacks (LW: 27)

I was going to make a “Break up the Diamondbacks!” joke after they went 6–1 against the Padres and the Phillies in perhaps their best stretch of the season, which was highlighted by Tyler Gilbert’s no-hitter. But it was merely a brief respite in a season that went off the rails long ago; Arizona promptly lost a series to the Rockies over the weekend, with Gilbert giving up four runs on nine hits in five innings. The D-Backs still have the worst record in the National League. And they have the second-toughest remaining schedule, per Tankathon. There’s a decent chance they’ll end up with MLB’s worst record despite Baltimore’s jaw-dropping 18-game losing streak.

Aug 15, 2021; Phoenix, Arizona, USA; Arizona Diamondbacks third baseman Josh Rojas (10) scores a run against the San Diego Padres in the third inning at Chase Field.

Josh Rojas has been the best offensive player in the majors (224 wRC+) since the All-Star break.

Let’s try to focus on the positives, starting on offense. Josh Rojas—who was acquired in the Zack Greinke deal back in 2019—ranks first in wRC+ (224) since the All-Star break among players with at least 70 plate appearances, and he is Arizona’s answer to the Dodgers’ Chris Taylor with his versatility around the diamond. Ketel Marte returned from the injured list on Aug. 1 and slashed .310/.380/.535 in 18 games, helping Arizona go 9–11 against a tough slate of opponents heavy on the NL West’s top three teams. Daulton Varsho, a rare 25-year-old who mostly splits time between catcher and center field, has been even better in August with seven homers and a 1.168 OPS, and was a single short of hitting for the cycle Sunday.

If Carson Kelly, who’s missed time with a fractured toe and wrist this season, can come back healthy and hit like he did out of the gate, Arizona has the bones of a sneaky good lineup. The Diamondbacks had the NL’s third highest-scoring offense through May 13, when Kelly broke his toe. Since then, he hasn’t been able to rediscover the groove that made him look like the game’s best offensive catcher.

There aren’t nearly as many bright spots on a pitching staff with an NL-worst 5.21 ERA. Madison Bumgarner has an ERA under 2.00 with a 0.90 WHIP in seven starts since the All-Star break, albeit with a mediocre 6.0 K/9 rate. Before Zac Gallen tossed seven shutout innings against the Rockies on Saturday, he’d logged a 6.23 ERA in 10 starts since returning from an elbow sprain in May. The UNC product must be closer to the guy who recorded a 2.78 ERA in his first 27 career starts for this rotation to maintain hope for the near future. Caleb Smith and Taylor Widener have exhibited concerning control issues in 2021, Gilbert wasn’t seen as having a high ceiling before his no-hitter, and most of Arizona’s top pitching prospects are at least a couple of years away.

26. Chicago Cubs (LW: 26)

25. Minnesota Twins (LW: 23)

24. Miami Marlins (LW: 21)

23. Washington Nationals (LW: 24)

22. Kansas City Royals (LW: 25)

The Royals took three out of four from Houston before sweeping the Cubs last week to climb out of the AL Central cellar, improve their second-half record to 19–15 and provide a nice confidence boost for the clubhouse. In a string of close results, Kansas City used its speed to its advantage by stealing 14 bases in those seven games to bring its season total to an AL-leading 93.

Whit Merrifield and Nicky Lopez, who combined for 13 of those 14 swipes last week, have maintained the club’s aggressive mentality on the base paths in the absence of speedy shortstop Adalberto Mondesi for all but 10 games this season. A string of injuries that have sent Mondesi to the injured list six times since the start of the 2018 season prompted GM Dayton Moore to admit earlier this month that the club can no longer count on the 26-year-old, who led the majors with 99 stolen bases between ’18 and ’20, to hold up over a full season.

Aug 20, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Kansas City Royals catcher Salvador Perez (13) hits a solo home run against the Chicago Cubs during the sixth inning at Wrigley Field.

Salvador Perez could be the first catcher to hit 40 home runs in a season since Javy Lopez had 43 in 2003.

Thankfully, the franchise has Bobby Witt Jr. waiting in the wings to take over at shortstop (and perhaps push Mondesi to a different position regardless of his health status). The No. 2 pick of the 2019 draft has torn up Triple-A pitching to the tune of a .934 OPS in his first 29 games with the Omaha Storm Chasers (an 80-grade minor league team name and mascot), and he would probably already be up in the bigs if Kansas City were in the playoff race. Whenever he arrives, his bat will pack an added punch to a lineup that ranks last in the AL with 124 home runs and above only the Orioles and Rangers with 4.1 runs per game. Don’t blame Salvador Perez, who ranks fourth in MLB with 32 homers and is on pace to become the first catcher to launch 40 bombs since Atlanta’s Javy Lopez hit 43 in 2003.

The pitching staff hasn’t given Royals fans much to write home about, either, ranking 26th with a 4.80 ERA and 21st with 8.5 fWAR. Kansas City’s top four starters all held ERAs above 5.00 before Kris Bubic’s no-hit bid against the Cubs on Sunday barely got the 24-year-old lefty below that threshold. (He ended up allowing two runs on one hit through 6 1/3 innings.) Rookies Carlos Hernández and Daniel Lynch recently have held their own, however, combining for a 2.91 ERA in 12 starts since the All-Star break. Hernández set career records with seven innings and eight strikeouts against the Cubs on Sunday to provide a glimpse of his potential and elicit Royals manager Mike Matheny to praise the right-handed Venezuelan as having “as good of a four-pitch mix of any of the young players I’ve seen.” Matheny moved to a six-man rotation to try and get extended looks at those youngsters while folding in Brady Singer, the former first-round pick who’s endured a sophomore slump and recently returned from a break caused by shoulder fatigue. Kansas City needs Singer and 2020 No. 4 pick Asa Lacy to maximize their potential for the Royals to replicate the homegrown success of their ’15 World Series team.

21. Colorado Rockies (LW: 22)

20. Detroit Tigers (LW: 20)

19. Los Angeles Angels (LW: 18)

18. Cleveland (LW: 19)

17. New York Mets (LW: 17)

At the end of July, the Mets were in first place with a four-game lead over the Braves and a 71.6% chance of making the playoffs, per FanGraphs. Now, they’re in third place, seven games back of the division-leading Braves (with the same deficit in the wild-card race) and as close in the loss column to the tanking Nationals as they are to Atlanta. New York has gone 7–17 over its last 24 games to fall under .500 and fulfill the collapse many had been waiting for as the lineup cycled through hitting coaches—both real and imaginary—and struggled to score runs all year long despite the headline-grabbing offseason spending spree.

As team owner Steve Cohen so helpfully pointed out last week, it’s hard to understand how professional hitters can be this unproductive. There’s still time for the offense’s many struggling bats to turn things around, but the projection systems aren’t optimistic. FanGraphs gives Luis Rojas’s crew a 5.3% chance of qualifying for the postseason, while Baseball-Reference’s estimate is even more grim at 1.2%.

The Mets are nearing the end of their brutal 13-game stretch against Dodgers and Giants, which has thus far produced a 2–8 record with five one-run losses. Sunday did bring the return of Javier Báez from the injured list, and after mostly struggling in his first 10 games with his new team, the former Cub helped spark New York’s first victory against Los Angeles this year.

Aug 19, 2021; Los Angeles, California, USA; New York Mets starting pitcher Taijuan Walker (99) against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the second inning at Dodger Stadium.

Taijuan Walker, who made his first All-Star team this season, is 0–5 with a 7.49 ERA in seven starts since the break.

Francisco Lindor is also set to come off the injured list any day now, and Noah Syndergaard threw a live bullpen session to replenish hope of a September boost to the bullpen. Thor isn’t expected to return to the rotation, since there isn’t likely to be enough time to build his arm back up. That makes the health of Jacob deGrom an even more pressing issue. Once the team’s strength, the rotation has crumbled without its ace, posting a 4.18 ERA (21st in MLB) and just 0.9 fWAR (24th in MLB) since the All-Star break. A first-time All-Star this year, Taijuan Walker has recorded a ghastly 7.49 ERA and a poor 1.67 K/BB ratio in seven starts since making the trip to Denver. Rich Hill, the lone addition to the pitching staff before the trade deadline, has yet to win as a Met while registering a 5.06 ERA and just 16 strikeouts in six appearances with his new team. Carlos Carrasco has averaged just more than three innings per start while giving up nearly a run per inning in five outings since returning from injury.

What once seemed like a rich collection of arms has been exposed as a shallow, injury-prone bunch that needs to live up to its previous billing if the Mets are to avoid a tense offseason full of questions about the future.

16. Philadelphia Phillies (LW: 15)

15. St. Louis Cardinals (LW: 16)

14. Toronto Blue Jays (LW: 11)

13. Seattle Mariners (LW: 13)

12. San Diego Padres (LW: 8)

11. Cincinnati Reds (LW: 14)

10. Boston Red Sox (LW: 9)

9. Oakland A’s (LW: 7)

The July acquisition of Starling Marte was a bit surprising at the time, given Oakland’s relatively settled outfield situation and more obvious need at shortstop. The steadfast commitment to Elvis Andrus and his 65 wRC+ (by far the worst mark among qualified AL shortstops) remains a mystery. But in the wake of Ramon Laureano’s suspension, Marte has proved to be an invaluable asset in the two-hole of the A’s lineup between Mark Canha and Matt Olson.

Aug 19, 2021; Chicago, Illinois, USA; Chicago White Sox second baseman Danny Mendick (20) misses the tag on Oakland Athletics center fielder Starling Marte (2) during the fifth inning at Guaranteed Rate Field.

Starling Marte is 17-for-17 on stolen base attempts since the A's traded for him in late July.

The 32-year old has slashed .358/.392/.505 in 22 games with Oakland while exhibiting the best plate discipline of his career. He’s also gone absolutely bonkers on the base paths, going 17-for-17 on stolen base attempts (the equivalent of a 125-steal season) to take over the MLB lead with 39 swipes. Fellow deadline additions Josh Harrison—Marte’s former longtime teammate on the Pirates—and Yan Gomes have both provided solid depth, with the trio accounting for five of Oakland’s six hits in Friday’s win over San Francisco.

Despite the contributions of the newest Athletics, Oakland lost its series against the White Sox and Giants last week to fall into a tie with Boston for the AL’s second wild-card spot. This coming week is a massive one, with the A’s playing host for a two-game set against Seattle (three games back in the wild-card race) and a four-gamer against the Yankees, who’ve taken over the wild-card lead with an MLB-best 26–9 record in the second half. It won’t get all that much easier from there, as they face the league’s fifth-toughest schedule going forward. That includes six games against the division-leading Astros, whom they trail by 3.5 games.

The task was made even more difficult by Chris Bassitt’s scary on-field incident last week that resulted in surgery for several displaced facial bones. The A’s have yet to reveal a timetable for his return, but they are expected to before the end of the month. Oakland’s rotation has been a strength all season, with none of the usual five starters holding an ERA above 4.00 and the unit’s 3.33 ERA since All-Star break ranking second in the AL, behind only the Yankees. But the exchange of Jesús Luzardo for Marte leaves Oakland with little depth behind its current crop of starters.

8. Atlanta Braves (LW: 12)

7. New York Yankees (LW: 10)

6. Chicago White Sox (LW: 6)

5. Houston Astros (LW: 3)

Houston rebounded from a befuddling series loss to Kansas City to batter the Mariners by a combined score of 30–10 in a weekend set at Minute Maid Park. Despite the Astros’ dropping to their lowest spot in our rankings since late May, it’s hard not to feel as if they’re primed for another run deep into October.

The Astros boast MLB’s highest-scoring offense at 5.4 runs per game and the lowest strikeout rate (19.8%), and are set to imminently welcome back Alex Bregman from his lengthy stint on the injured list with a quad strain. Kyle Tucker’s promising 2020 campaign has carried over into a full season. Mainstays and league heels José Altuve, Carlos Correa and Yuli Gurriel have alternated hot streaks and are all hovering right around the .850 OPS mark. Yordan Alvarez has a 1.006 OPS over the last month, fourth best in the AL.

Aug 21, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Astros designated hitter Yordan Alvarez (44, right) is congratulated by Houston Astros shortstop Carlos Correa (1, left) after hitting a three-run home run against the Seattle Mariners during the third inning at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros have the best scoring offense in the majors (5.4 runs/game), with Carlos Correa (left) and Yordan Alvarez among their most feared hitters.

They’ll soon be able to go seven deep on reliable potential starters with José Urquidy on schedule to rejoin the rotation when rosters expand on Sept. 1—or maybe six, depending on how you feel about Jake Odorizzi. The unit has posted the second-best ERA (3.48) in MLB, with Odorizzi as the only regular starter with one above 3.50. Houston is also the AL’s best defensive team by fielding percentage (.989) and the second-best defensive team by fWAR, behind only the Rays.

The club’s most clear potential Achilles heel, its bullpen, was remedied with the additions of Kendall Graveman, Phil Maton and Yimi Garcia at the trade deadline. Houston’s relievers recorded a 4.15 ERA before the trade and boast a 2.82 ERA since, good for fifth-best in the league over that span.

So, yeah, things are looking pretty good for Dusty Baker’s crew. That might stick in the craw of many fans, but every good story needs a villain.

4. Tampa Bay Rays (LW: 4)

3. Milwaukee Brewers (LW: 5)

2. Los Angeles Dodgers (LW: 2)

1. San Francisco Giants (LW: 1)

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