By Joe Lemire
August 25, 2011

Consider this an apology to the Angels. Last week at this time the AL West race was declared nearly over, as the Rangers had built a seven-game lead in what was headlined Separation Week.

But the Angels have since won six straight, during which time the Rangers have gone 2-5 to shrink the division lead back to 2 1/2 games. Texas faces Boston for one more game on Thursday and then welcomes Los Angeles to town for three games; if the Halos sweep, they'll be no worse than tied for the division and are treating it like a postseason series, planning to start two of their starting pitchers on three days' rest.

In the NL West the Diamondbacks lead the Giants by only two games, but nearly every other race for a playoff berth seems secure. If baseball had a second wild card implemented for this season, an idea that could become reality next year, the 70-58 Rays (No. 8 in the Power Rankings) would be in a virtual dead heat with the 71-59 Angels (No. 9) for playoff contention. And the Giants (No. 11) would have a slim two-game lead on the Cardinals (No. 14) for the NL's second wild card; instead, St. Louis' season is all but over.

NOTE: All stats are updated through Wednesday, Aug. 24.

MLB Power Rankings
1 Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 1
Everything is generally going so well for the Phillies that when Raul Ibañez missed time with an injury, his replacement, Johny Mayberry Jr., stepped in and (through an admittedly small sample size) exceeded his predecessor's production. Mayberry has started seven of the Phillies' last eight games and gone 10-for-26 (.385) with three homers and 10 RBIs. The versatile Mayberry has started a combined 40 games at the three outfield positions, as well as four starts at first base.
2 Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 4
The Red Sox' potent offense wins games by a lot of big margins -- 26 of their 79 wins have been by at least five runs -- including all four games since Jacoby Ellsbury returned to the lineup last week (and was joined by David Ortiz, who returned Wednesday), so closer Jonathan Papelbon hasn't been needed as much as other closers. But he's 29-for-30 in save chances, the majors' second-best conversion rate among pitchers with more than five saves, and has cut his walk rate from 3.8 BB/9 last year to just 1.4, while improving his strikeout rate from 10.2 K/9 to 11.7. He hasn't allowed a run in his last 14 innings.
3 New York Yankees
Last Week: 3
Back on May 28 rightfielder Nick Swisher was batting .206 with just two home runs in 56 games. Since the slow start, however, he's been who the Yankees expected him to be: Swisher has hit .302 with 16 homers -- including three in two games against his former employer Oakland this week -- in 75 games since, meaning he's reduced his time between homers from one in every 28 games to one every five. Since May 28 Swisher's OPS (.960) is actually a few points better than the OPS of his MVP candidate teammate, Curtis Granderson, during that same time period (.953).
4 Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 2
After's All-Underrated Team was published Wednesday, a few readers wrote in to retroactively nominate Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy, and surely he would have been a worthy selection. Lucroy has been a workhorse, having logged 106 games behind the plate (fourth in the majors and only five behind the leader) despite missing the first 10 this season with injury. He's been solid with the bat, hitting .287/.328/.403 while chipping in eight homers and 50 RBIs. Lucroy is one of eight Brewers with at least 100 hits this season.
5 Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 6
When Chipper Jones hit his 10th home run earlier this month, he became the eighth Brave to reach double-digits this year, the first and so far only club with that many 10+ home-run hitters. No other player on the team has more than five homers, so it's unlikely they'll join one of the 55 clubs in history with nine such players -- the major league record is 11 by the 2004 Tigers -- but either way Atlanta has shown tremendous progress with their power this season. The Braves' 145 homers this season rank second in NL (and seventh in majors) and already exceed their homer totals from 2008 when they hit 130 and 2010 when they hit 139; in 2009 they hit 149, a number they'll soon eclipse.
6 Texas Rangers
Last Week: 5
All five members of the Rangers' rotation -- C.J. Wilson, Alexei Ogando, Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison and Derek Holland -- have at least 10 wins this season, the first time in franchise history that five pitchers have reached that benchmark as starters. And they achieved this milestone in mid-August, with six weeks left to play. Texas may lack the dominant starter they had last year in Cliff Lee, but the rotation remains deep and they've been throwing deep too; their nine complete games are two more than they had last year and their six shutouts are six more than they had in 2010.
7 Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 9
The Tigers' relievers rank 27th in the majors with a 4.23 ERA, which would suggest that their bullpen might be a weakness down the stretch and into the postseason, but that might not be the case. That figure is inflated by some bad performances by the back of the 'pen, when three of the bullpen's most important relievers -- closer Jose Valverde (37-for-37 on save chances), righty set-up man Al Alburquerque and lefty Phil Coke -- all have sub-3.00 ERAs as relievers, while the fourth, Joaquin Benoit, has a 1.83 ERA since May 20. All bullpens have an exaggerated split in performance between wins and losses, but Detroit's is especially pronounced with a 1.88 mark in wins and 6.16 in losses.
8 Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 8
It almost certainly will fall under the category of "too-little, too-late" but the Rays have been the AL's best team in August, starting the month 14-7 with a pair of five-game winning streaks mixed in, but they remain 7 1/2 games behind the wild-card-leading Yankees. Outfielder Desmond Jennings has excelled as Tampa Bay's leadoff hitter in August, batting .338/.404/.588 with 11 runs, four doubles, two triples and four homers over 21 games.
9 Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 13
With the Angels extending Jered Weaver for five years and $85 million -- much less than he could have gotten in free agency a year from now -- the rotation in Anaheim will remain intact for a couple more years. Both Dan Haren and Ervin Santana are under contract through 2012 with '13 club options, and all three are driving the team's success this season. Each has made at least 17 starts of seven or more innings, putting all three in the top dozen in the majors, and each is expected to start against the AL West-leading Rangers this weekend, with Weaver and Santana taking the ball on three days' rest.
10 Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 7
The Diamondbacks' dynamic duo atop their rotation continues to impress. After the team had lost six straight, Ian Kennedy pitched seven scoreless innings against the Nationals for the win on Tuesday, and Daniel Hudson followed with his own gem on Wednesday, as two runs in the ninth prevented him from getting a shutout (he left after 8 2/3 innings). Kennedy has eight starts this season in which he's gone at least eight innings and Hudson has seven -- they join the Phillies (Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels and Cliff Lee) and Angels (Ervin Santana and Jered Weaver) as the only teammates with at least seven such starts apiece.
11 San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 12
Even without closer Brian Wilson, the Giants' bullpen has been on lockdown. Though Ramon Ramirez gave up two ninth-inning runs to lose what had been a tie game on Tuesday, San Francisco's relievers have otherwise all stepped up during Wilson's absence. Ramirez notched a save on Sunday, and Santiago Casilla got one on Wednesday to become the seventh San Francisco pitcher with a save this season, which ties the Cardinals and Dodgers for the most in baseball. Overall the team's bullpen has a 2.87 ERA, which ranks second in the majors, and is 45-of-58 on save chances (77.6 percent), which ranks fourth.
12 Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 15
The Blue Jays continue their post-contention wheeling and dealing, trading infielders Aaron Hill and John McDonald to the Diamondbacks for second baseman Kelly Johnson. While it's unusual for a team not making a stretch-run push to trade for a player approaching free agency, Toronto has two motivations: first, it gets to try out Johnson and see if he can hit AL pitching better than he has the NL this year, and isecond, f Johnson does perform well down the stretch, he stands to become a Type A free agent -- he's currently a Type B by a very small margin -- and net an additional first-round draft pick should he leave this offseason. Once again, GM Alex Anthopolous shows his shrewd understanding of the sport's compensation system.
13 Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 10
The Indians seem to be slowly using up their miracles. After rallying in the ninth inning of a Tuesday matinee to win on a Shin-Soo Choo walkoff homer, Cleveland then got blown out by the Mariners' lowly offense that evening, losing 12-7, and then on Wednesday lost to Seattle again, this time 9-2. In that game starter Josh Tomlin saw his streak of 37 straight starts of at least five innings end -- he gave up six runs on 11 hits in 4 2/3 innings -- and the Tribe started a lineup that lacked (due to various injuries) Choo, Asdrubal Cabrera, Michael Brantley, Jason Kipnis, Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore . . . and had catcher Carlos Santana leave after taking a hard foul ball to the mask.
14 St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 11
The Cubs, Dodgers and Pirates have 57, 60 and 61 wins, respectively, and of those combined 178 victories, seven of them came against the slumping Cardinals in their last nine games. Just as St. Louis hit what seemed to be the soft under-belly of their remaining schedule, the club got cold and quick. The Redbirds scored more than four runs only twice in that stretch -- their two wins -- and in the seven losses batted just .231 with 17 runs.
15 Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 14
Paul Konerko continues his career revival. After three decent seasons that were nevertheless below his high standards from 2007-09, Konerko has logged arguably the two best seasons of his career in 2010 and now 2011 with personal bests in OPS: .977 last season and now .948. This season he leads the White Sox in nearly every meaningful offensive category -- home runs (28), RBIs (86), walks (64), average (.314), OBP (.398) and slugging (.550) -- and also reached a major milestone Tuesday night by notching his 2,000th career hit.
16 Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 16
Few managers have meddled with their lineups -- whether by whim or by necessity -- like Cincinnati's Dusty Baker, who has employed 114 lineups in 130 games. Two recent quirks were giving light-hitting Miguel Cairo his third career start as the cleanup hitter on Tuesday and, more significantly, shifting second baseman Brandon Phillips to leadoff. Since Phillips started batting first eight games ago, he's gone 15-for-35 (.429) with a homer and seven runs. No. 3 hitter Joey Votto has simultaneously caught fire, going 12-for-24 (.500) with five homers and eight walks in those same games.
17 Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 20
The Rockies, struggling to find their long-term solution at third base, acquired Kevin Kouzmanoff, who has long been a very good fielder who hits for power and not much else, averaging 21 homers per 162 games played with a .421 slugging percentage but only a .300 OBP. And Colorado would have done well to get Wandy Rodriguez, whom the Astros reportedly decided not to trade. Rodriguez is more expensive than Ubaldo Jimenez, whom the Rockies traded to the Indians before last month's trade deadline, but their numbers the past three and a half years show similar performance. Since the start of 2008 Jimenez is 53-42 with a 3.69 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and 724 strikeouts in 782 1/3 innings; over the same time period Rodriguez is 43-40 with a 3.35 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and 627 strikeouts over 685 innings.
18 Washington Nationals
Last Week: 18
Any way you dissect it, the Nationals' Michael Morse is having a remarkable season -- and thus is the MVP of's All-Underrated Team -- but no stat stands out more than this: his OPS while playing first base (1.010 through Wednesday) leads all major leaguers at the position. Morse admittedly got a late start, only becoming a regular there after Adam LaRoche was injured in late May, but his production since then has been unmatched.
19 Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 19
The most surprising entry on the top-10 list of players who have the most at bats without hitting a home run is Pirates corner outfielder Matt Diaz, who has 214 at bats and zero homers. Diaz had grown so tired of folks pointing it out to him that he told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review a couple weeks ago, "I've pretty much given up. I will not try to hit a homer for the rest of the year. If they come, they come." He's also slugging just .327, a disappointing lack of power for the man who signed a two-year deal, but does lead the club in pinch hits (11) and pinch-hit RBIs (seven).
20 Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 23
Everyone knew the A's had great pitching, but one of their top performers so far this year is one few had heard of before the year. Oakland starter Guillermo Moscoso, the former Ranger and former Tiger farmhand. Moscoso has made 17 appearances (15 starts) with a 3.28 ERA, only a few hundredths off the rotation's leader, Gio Gonzalez (3.24). Moscoso may not strike out many (5.2 K/9), but he's a flyball pitcher in a flyball park. His groundball-flyball ratio of 0.35 is by far the lowest on the team, but Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum has the AL's lowest home-run rate (1.25 per game).
21 New York Mets
Last Week: 17
In the last two weeks the Mets have played three series against the NL's division leaders (Diamondbacks, Brewers and Phillies) and went 1-8, a surprisingly poor performance given that New York had been holding their own against baseball's best. Before this recent stretch the Mets had played all six teams that led their divisions through the weekend and had gone 15-14 against them. At the time they had a worse record against everyone else: 43-46.
22 San Diego Padres
Last Week: 27
According to the Bill James statistic to gauge hot hitters -- in short, each hitter starts at a room temperature of 72 degrees and moves up or down based on performance -- Padres catcher Nick Hundley was the hottest hitter in baseball on Tuesday morning at 114 degrees. That followed a nine-game stretch in which Hundley had a pair of three-hit games and one four-hit game for a total and, in all, went 16-for-31 (.516) with four doubles, four triples and two homers. During his hot streak, the Padres as a team got hot, winning five straight.
23 Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 24
Since 1918 only three major-leaguers -- the Padres' Enzo Hernandez in 1971, the Giants' Bill North in 1980 and the Marlins' Luis Castillo in 2000 -- have had at least 500 plate appearances in a season and accumulated fewer than 20 RBIs, but it's possible Dodgers infielder Jamey Carroll could join them. Through Wednesday Carroll has 427 plate appearances and only 11 RBIs. According to, the average major-leaguer with 427 PAs will bat with 268 runners on base and have 48 RBIs; Carroll has batted with 205 runners on base.
24 Florida Marlins
Last Week: 21
A wager: Ricky Nolasco will forever be the career strikeout leader for the Florida Marlins. The 28-year-old, six-year righthanded starter had eight strikeouts Tuesday night to pass Dontrelle Willis with 765 whiffs. With the franchise planning to change its name to the Miami Marlins in the offseason, Nolasco's grasp on the lead during the club's nascent Florida years seems secure, though he needs five wins to tie Willis with 68 victories, a mark he likely won't achieve. In other strikeout news, Nolasco's teammate Javier Vazquez passed Hall of Famer Don Drysdale for 31st place on the alltime list with 2,494.
25 Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 22
The nine-year era of Jim Hendry as Cubs' GM ended last Friday. It will probably be remembered mostly for how it ended -- too many onerous contracts given to aging players -- but his three division titles should not be completely forgotten. Owner Tom Ricketts has noted a preference for Hendry's replacement to have three tenets: a commitment to player development, an analytic background and experience with a team that has a winning culture. Earlier this year's Will Carroll compiled a list of the next generation of GMs, a list from which Ricketts likely will pick.
26 Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 26
In the first 12 games of the Mariners' 17-game losing streak in July, the team scored a total of 27 runs, which is just one more than they scored in three games over two days this week. In those 12 particularly anemic offensive games, only 17 times did a Mariner have multiple hits in a game, getting as many as three hits in a game only four times and never having a four-hit game. In splitting a Tuesday doubleheader and winning a rout on Wednesday, Seattle scored 26 runs in three games and had 14 instances of a player getting multiple hits, including five three-hit games and one four-hit game.
27 Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 28
The 57 wins in lefthanded starter Bruce Chen's career are pretty evenly distributed with a range of five wins in July to 11 wins in March . . . except for one glaring anomaly: 18 wins in August. Chen is now 4-1 with a 3.68 ERA in five August starts this year and is 18-9 with a 3.89 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in 33 career August starts; the ERA and WHIP are also his best marks of any month. Oddly, his strikeout rate that month (6.6 K/9) is his worst.
28 Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 25
The Twins have the majors' eighth-highest batting average with a man on third and fewer than two outs (.335) and it's a good thing, too, because the team is on pace to hit the fewest sacrifice flies in 40 years. Minnesota has scored on 18 sacrifice flies to date, which projects to 23 by the end of the year, which would be the fewest in a 162-game season since the 1971 Padres hit only 19. It's primarily the result of the Twins being a grounded team: they've hit the fewest percentage of their batted balls (33.2) into the air of any AL team.
29 Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 29
For better or worse, the Orioles are baseball's most homer-dependent team. They've driven in 227 runs on their 149 homers, which accounts for 42.4 percent of their total 536 runs this season. Such dependency is not necessarily a bad thing -- Nos. 2-4 in scoring runs via the homer are the playoff-contending Braves, Diamondbacks and Brewers -- though it means scoring runs can sometimes be fickle against a groundball pitcher or in bad weather.
30 Houston Astros
Last Week: 30
Give Brad Mills credit for ingenuity. In Tuesday's game against the Rockies, Mills, the Astros' manager, summoned lefty reliever Wesley Wright to face lefty batter Carlos Gonzalez, who fouled out. The Rockies' next three hitters were feared righty slugger Troy Tulowitzki and then two more dangerous lefties, Todd Helton and Seth Smith, so Mills moved Wright to rightfield while a righty reliever, David Carpenter, came in to retire Tulowitzki. Wright then returned to the mound and got Helton, standing Smith on deck. Houston was mathematically eliminated from the postseason on Monday, but at least it hasn't stopped trying to find creative ways to win.

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