The NFL’s return over the weekend stole the spotlight from America’s pastime, but there was plenty of entertaining action in the week that was. Baseball saved its best for last, though, with the Yankees and Mets providing incredible theater in the Subway Series finale on Sunday Night Baseball. Thank goodness Francisco Lindor will call the Big Apple home for the foreseeable future.
The Mets' winning keeps them within arm’s reach of a postseason bid, and thus they remain included in our trimmed-down version of MLB power rankings. As the playoff races rage on, here’s a look at where each contender stands with just three weeks left to play.
17. New York Mets (Last Week: 17)
16. Philadelphia Phillies (LW: 15)
15. St. Louis Cardinals (LW: 16)
14. San Diego Padres (LW: 13)
With three weeks to go, the Padres are a race car falling apart at the seams, with the finish line just barely in sight. San Diego has lost 19 of its last 27 games and hasn’t won more than two in a row over the past month, yet the team is still somehow clinging on to a tie with the Reds for the second wild-card spot despite a weekend sweep at the hands of the Dodgers in which the Padres were shut out twice.
Adding injury to insult, Blake Snell lasted just 11 pitches in Sunday’s game before leaving with a groin injury that will keep him out for an unknown period of time. Snell’s injury comes two days after Jake Cronenworth suffered a fractured finger, which forced Fernando Tatis Jr. to move back to shortstop for the first time since July 30. The road ahead for the Padres does not offer any sort of reprieve, either: San Diego will face the Giants 10 times, as well as the Dodgers, Braves and Cardinals three games apiece. Of the Padres' final 19 games, 13 will come on the road, where they have a .448 winning percentage on the season.
Despite his up-and-down first season with the team, Snell’s injury will have a significant impact. Before Sunday’s brief outing, the former Cy Young Award winner had been in top form as of late. Snell had a 1.85 ERA with 65 strikeouts in 43.2 innings over his previous seven starts, with four of those starts lasting at least seven innings. As San Diego's season has unraveled over the past month, Snell and Joe Musgrove have been the only starters pulling their weight in a thinned-out rotation. Snell’s absence leaves an already shorthanded group even more depleted, and the competition will get only tougher.
So is there any hope for the Friar faithful of reaching the postseason? For one, Cincinnati has come back to Earth as well, losing 12 of their last 18 games. And playing the Cardinals gives an opportunity to stave off another contender, rather than rely on scoreboard watching. Tatis has a .910 OPS with seven home runs in 23 games since coming off the IL, and his MVP narrative would certainly benefit from a strong finish over the next three weeks to lead the Padres to the wild-card game. The Padres have a better record against teams above .500 (34–28) than when facing those with losing records (40–39), so perhaps they’ll rise to the occasion again for the stretch run.
Much of their fate will depend on the eventual diagnoses of Snell and Cronenworth, but there’s no sugarcoating that the current outlook is bleak. There's still time to stop the bleeding, but it’s getting late.
13. Cincinnati Reds (LW: 14)
12. Seattle Mariners (LW: 11)
11. Oakland A’s (LW: 12)
10. New York Yankees (LW: 7)
9. Atlanta Braves (LW: 10)
8. Boston Red Sox (LW: 8)
7. Toronto Blue Jays (LW: 9)
Rejoice, Orioles pitchers—your time facing Blue Jays hitters is nearly done. Toronto finishes the year with a three-game home series against the hapless O’s, at which point several Baltimore arms might be asking for the day off. Toronto scored 44 runs in 23 innings over the last three games of the series, capping it off with a five-home-run outing in Sunday’s 22–7 win. The Blue Jays have won 14 of their last 16 games to surge into the top wild-card spot (along with Boston), setting up what should be a white-knuckle finish to fill out the postseason field.
He almost certainly isn’t going to win the AL MVP Award, but Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s incredible season deserves to be remembered. He’s hitting .372/.426/.663 with eight home runs over his last 21 games, with Sunday’s homer moving him into a tie with presumed MVP favorite Shohei Ohtani for the major league lead (44). On the season, Guerrero is hitting .319/.408/.610. In the Live Ball era (since 1920), only two players in their age-22 seasons have hit more home runs than Guerrero and stayed above the .300/.400/.600 slash line thresholds: Eddie Mathews (47 HRs in 1953) and Joe DiMaggio (46 in 1937). Even if it results in no hardware (or no Triple Crown), Guerrero has turned in one of the finest hitting displays in baseball history for a player this young.
Of course, Toronto is far from just a one-man show. This is one of the most talented teams in the league that has the misfortune of playing in the most stacked division. The Blue Jays' run differential is third-highest in the AL and nearly identical to the division leader Rays'. Toronto ranks second in the AL in runs scored and has enviable rotation depth, headlined by surprise Cy Young Award contender Robbie Ray.
Watch MLB games online all season long with fuboTV: Start with a 7-day free trial!
The Blue Jays' potential undoing will likely be its bullpen, which ranks 25th in the majors in fWAR and 16th in win probability added. That’s a weakness that tends to get exploited over the course of a playoff series, though Toronto will almost surely have to navigate the wild-card game first. Securing home field advantage for that game is priority No. 1 over the next three weeks, which feature six games against Tampa Bay and three at home against the Yankees.
6. Chicago White Sox (LW: 6)
5. Houston Astros (LW: 5)
4. Milwaukee Brewers (LW: 4)
The Brewers are 36–16 since the All-Star break, turning the race for the NL Central crown into, well, not much of a race at all. Milwaukee was four games up on the Reds coming out of the break, and now have a magic number of five to clinch the division. The Brew Crew should get there soon enough, as they’ve won 11 of their last 14 games.
Corbin Burnes’s eight no-hit innings Saturday as part of a combined no-hitter epitomized why he could emerge from a crowded field to win the NL Cy Young Award. He’s 7–0 with a 1.94 ERA and 102 strikeouts in 83.1 innings over his last 13 starts, allowing just three home runs during that span. He’s one of four Brewers starting pitchers with sub-3.00 ERAs, along with Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta and Eric Lauer (Lauer has four relief appearances this season but owns a 2.91 ERA over 16 starts).
That loaded rotation is the lead reason why Milwaukee is a popular dark-horse pick to win the World Series. The Brewers' bats have come alive of late, scoring 10 or more runs in three of their past five games. The lineup has depth, with outfielders Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain and Avisaíl García all heating up at the right time. If that group can ride the wave into October, the Brewers have a great shot at returning to the World Series for the first time in nearly 40 years.
3. Tampa Bay Rays (LW: 3)
2. Los Angeles Dodgers (LW: 2)
It’s hard to feel too much sympathy for a franchise with as much good fortune as the Dodgers, but take a moment to examine their plight. They’re on pace for 102 wins this season, which would stand as the fifth-most in the team’s storied history. A July 30 loss to the Diamondbacks dropped the defending champions to 62–43, three games behind the Giants for first place in the NL West. Since then, the Dodgers added Max Scherzer and Trea Turner, have won 29 out of 39 games and are ... still 2.5 games behind the Giants.
San Francisco remains a marvel, an unceasing machine that has far exceeded preseason expectations to turn in one of the most remarkable regular seasons in recent memory. Los Angeles boasts the most awe-inspiring collection of talent in the league. For months, it’s felt like a foregone conclusion that, eventually, that talent would win out and save the Dodgers from having to play in the wild-card game. But the number of games left on the schedule are dwindling in a hurry, and the two teams don’t face each other again from this point forward. With each passing day and every apparently inevitable Giants win, Los Angeles inches closer to starting the playoffs with a win-or-go-home game to begin its title defense.
Aside from the existential dilemma described above, it was another impressive week for the team that’s strung together an endless parade of impressive weeks over the past decade or so. Scherzer stole the show Sunday, notching his 3,000th career strikeout and taking a perfect game into the eighth inning against the Padres. There will be no shortage of accolades and regular-season entries into the Dodgers’ 2021 highlight reel. Without the benefit of a slump from the rival Giants, though, this seemingly unbeatable team will have to put that notion to the test on the first day of the playoffs.
1. San Francisco Giants (LW: 1)
More MLB Coverage:
- Here Come the Phillies—Can They Rally and Close?
- Marvin Miller: The Late, Reluctant Hall of Fame Inductee
- How MLB Squashed Its Fake-Memorabilia Problem
- Who Is the Next Miguel Cabrera?
Sports Illustrated may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website.