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MLB Power Rankings: The Cardinals Have the Pitching to Make a Playoff Run

Here’s where each team stands following last week’s trade deadline.

The trade deadline has come and gone, which means there are no more tectonic shifts left to impact the various pennant races (impactful injuries aside). For the most part, teams are what they are by now, which means reinforcements will be few and far between from now through October.

In this week’s power rankings, we’ll take a look at teams that spanned the spectrum of deadline activity by highlighting two teams that did very little, two that added key pieces and one that reeled in the biggest fish of them all.

30. Washington Nationals (Last Week: 30)

29. Pittsburgh Pirates (LW: 28)

28. Detroit Tigers (LW: 26)

The last-place Tigers didn’t do much at the deadline, shipping off Robbie Grossman to Atlanta and Michael Fulmer to Minnesota, each for a minor league pitcher. They opted to hold onto other veterans who are set to hit free agency this winter, like Wily PeraltaMichael Pineda and Tucker Barnhart, all of whom likely would have fetched modest returns. Detroit is a woeful 7–20 since July 9.

Aug 7, 2022; Detroit, Michigan, USA;  Detroit Tigers starting pitcher Matt Manning (25) pitches in the second inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Comerica Park.

Matt Manning, a first-round pick in 2016, is one of the starting pitchers expected to anchor Detroit’s rotation in the future. For now, he’s one of the few bright spots for the Tigers this season.

With an eye firmly pointed toward the future, Tigers fans are now in the business of searching for silver linings. Sunday brought a welcomed breakthrough from 24-year-old pitcher Matt Manning, who turned in the longest outing of his career with seven scoreless innings against the Rays. After making just two starts in April, Manning landed on the injured list with shoulder inflammation and missed 107 days of the season, according to the Baseball Prospectus IL Ledger. He returned on Aug. 2, going five innings and allowing three runs against the Twins, but as was also the case in his two April starts, he struggled to miss bats (9.6% strikeout rate entering Sunday). That changed in Sunday’s game, when he struck out seven Rays hitters, while allowing just four hits (all singles) and three walks on 95 pitches. The game was scoreless after eight innings, but the Tigers’ bullpen imploded: Tampa Bay scored seven runs in the ninth to win, 7–0.

For the next two months, it will be crucial for Manning and the rest of Detroit’s youngsters (namely Riley Greene and Tarik Skubal)—and perhaps for high-priced veterans brought in this past offseason, Javier Báez and Eduardo Rodríguez—to show some kinds of positive returns. The latter is throwing again and working his way back to rejoining the team after a lengthy absence, while the former has a .710 OPS since the All-Star break. Scintillating gains? Not exactly, but five months into what’s been a woeful year, progress is progress.

27. Oakland A’s (LW: 27)

26. Kansas City Royals (LW: 29)

25. Chicago Cubs (LW: 24)

In perhaps the most puzzling development of the deadline, the Cubs opted to hang on to catcher Willson Contreras and outfielder Ian Happ. Contreras will be a free agent after this season and Happ after 2023, and the pair of All-Stars would certainly have netted a nice return for Chicago’s rebuild. Alas, both stayed put.

Instead, the Cubs shipped off four relievers to contending teams. Perhaps the front office didn’t like the offers it received for Happ and will revisit moving him this offseason or before next year’s deadline, or they will look to sign him to an extension. Not moving Contreras, though, remains a head-scratcher. The Cubs will almost certainly make him a qualifying offer, meaning they’ll be compensated an extra draft pick if he signs elsewhere this winter. But it seems hard to believe that they couldn’t secure a trade return more valuable than that pick from any of the numerous contenders who could use an upgrade at catcher. And if Contreras wants to re-sign? Well, he could still have done so even if he were dealt away.

Chicago Cubs’ Willson Contreras celebrates after hitting a solo home run during the first inning in the first game of a baseball doubleheader against the St. Louis Cardinals Thursday, Aug. 4, 2022, in St. Louis.

After he wasn’t traded, Contreras said he blessed to be able to play for the Cubs for at least two more months.

From a bigger-picture perspective, it seems like the Cubs brass hasn’t settled on just how deep of a rebuild it wants to embark upon. Last year’s trades of Báez, Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo appeared to suggest the end of an era, but the then team spent aggressively on Marcus Stroman and Seiya Suzuki over the winter, and, again, not dealing Contreras and Happ simply doesn’t line up with what a team in this stage of a contention cycle would normally do. Perhaps the larger strategy will become clearer in the offseason. But for now, consider me stumped.

24. Cincinnati Reds (LW: 25)

23. Colorado Rockies (LW: 22)

22. Los Angeles Angels (LW: 23)

21. Miami Marlins (LW: 20)

20. Arizona Diamondbacks (LW: 21)

19. Texas Rangers (LW: 19)

18. Boston Red Sox (LW: 18)

17. San Francisco Giants (LW: 15)

16. Chicago White Sox (LW: 16)

15. Baltimore Orioles (LW: 17)

14. Cleveland Guardians (LW: 14)

13. Tampa Bay Rays (LW: 13)

12. Milwaukee Brewers (LW: 6)

Minnesota Twins relief pitcher Michael Fulmer throws to a Toronto Blue Jays batter during the 10th inning of a baseball game Friday, Aug. 5, 2022, in Minneapolis. The Twins won 6-5 in 10 innings.

Fulmer has yet to allow a run in his three appearances with the Twins since the Tigers traded him last week.

11. Minnesota Twins (LW: 10)

The Twins needed pitching help to fend off the rest of the pack in the AL Central, and they spent a pretty penny for it. But they emerged with impact arms in starter Tyler Mahle and relief pitchers Jorge López and Fulmer, and are now in the best position to reclaim the division crown after last season’s implosion.

The early results for the acquired arms have been mixed: López is 1-for-2 in save opportunities, while Fulmer has tossed three scoreless outings. Mahle allowed four runs in six innings with five strikeouts in his first start with the team, though he did give up three homers. Most importantly, though, the Twins have won each time one of these three has pitched.

The pitching additions will pay dividends on the road to the playoffs, but also worth singling out here is the progression of outfielder Nick Gordon. After struggling in his first crack at big-league pitching last season, the former first-round pick has rounded into form. He’s batting .324/.381/.527 since the start of July, with 11 extra-base hits and two stolen bases. Gordon is making hard contact much more frequently these days, and his strikeout rate has been trending back toward league average after hovering north of 30% earlier this year.

10. Seattle Mariners (LW: 9)

9. Philadelphia Phillies (LW: 11)

8. San Diego Padres (LW: 8)

Woof, talk about a rough start. The Juan Soto era in San Diego was met with plenty of well-deserved fanfare, and got off to a rousing start with a 9–1 win over the Rockies in front of a sellout home crowd. Then, reality struck in the form of a divisional rival Death Star.

Juan Soto went 2-for-8 with three walks in his first series against the Dodgers since he was traded to the Padres.

Soto went 2-for-8 with three walks in his first series against the Dodgers since he was traded to the Padres.

As much as the Padres bulked up at the deadline—and bulk up they did, with the additions of Soto, Josh BellJosh Hader and Brandon Drury—the Dodgers are still the Dodgers, boasting a more talented roster than any other team in the league. Los Angeles outscored San Diego 20–4 in the three-game sweep, pouring water all over the Padres’ premature victory lap.

Of course, San Diego fans don’t need reminding that it was around this time last year that everything began to fall apart. The Padres were 67–49 on Aug. 10, 2021, before they dropped 21 of their next 29 games and, incredibly, missed the playoffs. This year’s roster is simply too complete to suffer the same fate, especially with Fernando Tatis Jr. out on a minor-league rehab assignment and close to returning from the wrist injury that has forced him to miss San Diego’s first 111 games (and counting). The gulf between the Padres and Dodgers may seem vast at the moment, but here’s a silver lining: the Friars will get nine more cracks at Los Angeles during the regular season, and things surely can’t go any worse than they just did.

7. Toronto Blue Jays (LW: 7)

6. St. Louis Cardinals (LW: 12)

The biggest risers this week are the streaking Redbirds, who are riding a seven-game winning streak that includes a three-game sweep of the Yankees over the weekend. After leaning on superior pitching to begin the streak—the Cardinals gave up a total of eight runs during the first six games with three shutouts—they won a slugfest on Sunday, topping New York, 12–9, score thanks to four-RBI performances from Nolan Arenado and Paul DeJong.

Instead of diving head first into the Soto Sweepstakes, St. Louis focused on adding pitching before the deadline: It swapped center fielder Harrison Bader for former Yankees lefthander Jordan Montgomery and acquired veteran lefty José Quintana and righty reliever Chris Stratton from the Pirates. Montgomery’s first start with his new team came against his old one, and he didn’t disappoint, firing five shutout innings against the Yankees on Saturday with just two hits (both singles) allowed. Quintana debuted against the Cubs on Aug. 4, fanning seven with one run allowed in six frames.

Cardinals starting pitcher Jordan Montgomery (48) pitches against the Yankees, his former team, less than a week after getting traded from New York to St. Louis.

After tossing five scoreless innings against his former team in his Cardinals debut, Montgomery improved his ERA to 3.53 across 22 starts this season.

With a two-game lead in the NL Central, the Cardinals have a chance to take a firm hold of the division as the schedule softens over the next several weeks. Only eight of the team’s next 40 games are against teams that currently have winning records. There are still more than eight weeks left in the regular season, so St. Louis still has a long way to go to secure a playoff spot. But thanks to some aggressive (and creative) deadline deals, this team appears to have the arms necessary to make it there.

5. Atlanta Braves (LW: 5)

4. New York Yankees (LW: 2)

3. Houston Astros (LW: 3)

2. New York Mets (LW: 4)

1. Los Angeles Dodgers (LW: 1)

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