By Joe Lemire
September 24, 2012

Forget complaints about whether the second wild card cheapens the playoff system -- maybe we should ask if the inclusion of the AL Central does.

The division-leading White Sox are mired in a five-game losing streak (three at the Angels, two at the Royals) while the Tigers, who trail by one game, were swept in a doubleheader by the Twins on Sunday. The two clubs fell to Nos. 13 and 14, respectively, in this week's Power Rankings behind three teams (Brewers, Angels and Rays) who, if the playoffs started today, wouldn't even qualify.

After all, neither Chicago nor Detroit has a record that's good enough to lead either league's second wild-card race. Similarly, neither club would rank any higher than fourth in either the AL East or AL West, despite the unbalanced schedule's allowance of intra-divisional games that ought to have pumped up their win totals.

Otherwise, it was a mostly quiet week in the top half of the rankings, save for the Brewers' continued ascent and the Athletics' stumble while playing tough road series in Detroit and New York. Maybe the biggest news: There's a new No. 30, as the Rockies' nine-game losing streak has sunk them below the Astros.

NOTES: All stats are updated through Sunday, Sept. 23.

MLB Power Rankings
1 Texas Rangers
Last Week: 1
Last year, Mike Napoli merely hit 30 homers with an OPS over 1.00, not to mention batting .328 with three homers and 15 RBIs in the postseason. Needless to say, his return to the lineup last Saturday was welcome, especially now that he's gone 7-for-18 (.389) with three homers; he is one of 16 players to hit at least 20 home runs in each of the last five seasons. Of course, during Napoli's absence -- Aug. 11 through Sept. 14 -- the Rangers still led the AL in runs.
2 Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 2
Mat Latos' first three starts as a Red were dreadful, but he is 13-2 with a 3.21 ERA and .225 average against in 28 starts since, during which the club is 21-7; that includes his eight shutout innings in Saturday's NL Central-clinching win. His stat line this year is eerily similar to last year's with the Padres -- differences of three innings, three runs, seven strikeouts, zero walks, 0.002 WHIP -- except for ERA and home runs, as Latos has allowed 17 homers at Great American Ballpark this year after allowing eight at Petco last season.
3 Washington Nationals
Last Week: 3
The Nationals clinched a playoff spot last Thursday night -- D.C.'s first since 1933 -- yet manager Davey Johnson opened his postgame press conference by asking, "What's the big deal?" Well, for starters, he kept his job. (He said this spring he could be fired if the Nats didn't.) But now he faces a tough decision at the back of his bullpen: Tyler Clippard has allowed nine runs in his last 7 1/3 innings, whereas Drew Storen has thrown eight shutout innings during same span. Johnson said two will share save chances.
4 Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 4
The Braves have the game's best defensive outfield. According to FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating, centerfielder Michael Bourn is the majors' top run saver (21.3 UZR) and rightfielder Jason Heyward (18.3) is second, regardless of positions, while leftfielder Martin Prado (10.9) is 10th. According to the Fielding Bible's Plus/Minus, Bourn ranks second among CFs (24 runs saved), Heyward is second among RFs (17) and Prado is second among LFs (11).
5 San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 6
At the trade deadline the Giants -- who clinched the NL West title on Saturday -- acquired offense (Marco Scutaro and Hunter Pence) from outside the organization, and they acquired pitching (Tim Lincecum) from within. Their erstwhile ace was 4-11 with a 5.88 ERA in his first 21 starts but, beginning July 31, he is 6-3 with a 3.02 ERA, with eight quality starts in 10 tries. One critical change: his groundball-to-flyball ratio improved from 0.79 to 1.25, an increase of 58 percent.
6 New York Yankees
Last Week: 7
The rotation is back: Ivan Nova struck out eight and allowed two runs in six innings for the win against the Rays in his return to the mound last Sunday; Andy Pettitte threw five shutout innings to beat the Blue Jays in his first game back on Wednesday; and CC Sabathia, who had given up leads in eventual Yankee loss in all three previous September starts, struck out 11 Athletics in eight innings of three-hit ball Friday night.
7 Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 8
The Orioles don't merely have their first overall winning record since 1997 or their first winning record within their division since then, but they have the best intra-divisional record among any of the AL East teams at 37-25, thanks to a 9-9 mark against the Yankees and winning records against the Blue Jays, Rays and Red Sox -- who are also the Orioles' final three opponents of the season. From 1998 through 2011 Baltimore was 383-575 (.400) in AL East games and, from 2008 through 2011, it was even worse: 98-190 (.340).
8 Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 11
The Brewers' 30-year-old outfielder, Norichika Aoki, is making a late push to enter the NL Rookie of the Year conversation thanks to his inspired play in September. He has a .325/.396/.578 batting line in 21 games this month, with 14 extra-base hits, seven steals and 17 runs. He has nine multi-hit games this month, including seven in his recently ended 12-game hitting streak. His .798 OPS this season leads all qualified NL rookies, though the Reds' Todd Frazier has a .849 mark in 446 plate appearances.
9 Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 5
Stephen Drew is starting to show signs of his old self. Some 14 months after he broke his ankle, Drew is again hitting consistently. He's 12-for-37 (.324) with three homers over his last eight games, with four multi-hit games. It hasn't quite been enough for Oakland, however, which started a 10-game road trip against three likely playoff entrants by going 2-4, scoring just 14 runs in those losses.
10 Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 10
Since the day Mike Trout hit his first homer this year, May 5, no team in baseball has scored more runs than the Angels, who have plated 633. Trout is the leading candidate for the AL MVP; Albert Pujols now has 30 HRs and 100 RBIs; Mark Trumbo, Kendrys Morales and Torii Hunter all have an OPS greater than .800 with a combined 68 homers. But those games in April and early May count the same, when the Halos were 10-17 with 93 runs (third-worst in the AL), a hole they haven't been able to climb fully out of.
11 St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 13
It's hard to believe that a starter who's 16-3 has had mediocre run support, but it's true of Kyle Lohse, who has that record despite the 22nd best most support among the 47 qualified NL pitchers. Lohse, who has a 2.77 season ERA, went 2-0 last week after throwing seven shutout innings against the Astros and allowing three runs in six innings to the Cubs, but he has had nine no decisions this year in which he gave up zero, one or two earned runs while completing at least six innings.
12 Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 14
The Rays finally showed some sting. In finishing the week with five straight wins, Tampa Bay slugged 10 homers and scored 46 runs, scoring 11 or more runs in three of them, which is something they had only done five other times all year. It was the most runs the Rays have eve scored in a five-game winning streak during their history, but the offensive output may have come too late for a playoff push.
13 Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 9
Adam Dunn may be an all-or-nothing hitter, and for most of the season his White Sox teammates have been all-or-little when it comes to base hits. The club has hit 197 home runs and only 220 doubles, a difference of 23 that ranks among the smallest margins in recent history; the 1999 Mariners had only 19 more doubles than homers, while the 2004 Dodgers were also +23. A.J. Pierzynski (26 HRs, 17 2Bs), Kevin Youkilis (15 HRs, 7 2Bs), Dayan Viciedo (21 HRs, 17 2Bs) and Dunn (39 HRs, 19 2Bs) have all contributed more homers than doubles. In its current five-game losing streak, however, Chicago has hit only two homers.
14 Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 12
The Tigers' defense continues to be a liability. They rank last in the AL in Baseball Prospectus' park-adjusted defensive efficiency and, after making eight errors in their last seven games, have a record of 26-42 in games when they commit at least one error. Detroit, which has allowed the league's second-most unearned runs this season, has allowed at least one unearned run in each of its last five losses.
15 Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 15
It's hard to find good help. The Dodgers reinvented a lot of their roster in trades this summer, but Shane Victorino has an OPS hovering around .600; Adrian Gonzalez had an OPS around .675 and hadn't homered since his first at bat as a Dodger, until hitting two longballs on Sunday; Hanley Ramirez, after a hot start with 10 HRs in L.A., is 14-for-67 (.209 BA, .486 OPS) with no homers in his last 17 games; and starter Joe Blanton has a 5.57 ERA in nine starts. Josh Beckett has actually made the steadiest contributions: 3.45 ERA in 31 1/3 innings over five starts with a nearly 3-to-1 K/BB ratio.
16 Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 18
Okay, so RBIs have been denigrated in baseball circles because hitters will bat with varying numbers of runners on base, but looking at the percentage of runs driven in sheds some light on the numbers -- and makes Arizona catcher Miguel Montero look good. He ranks second in the majors to only Josh Hamilton in percentage of runners driven in from first base (12.0 percent), ranks 15th in driving in runners from second (23.5) and 18th in plating teammates from third (44.6).
17 Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 17
Jimmy Rollins has hit 22 home runs, which is seven more than any active Phillie. (Hunter Pence had 17 before he was traded to the Giants.) If Rollins finishes the year as the club leader, he'll become only the third shortstop of the past five seasons to lead his team, joining Troy Tulowitzki, who has twice led the Rockies, and Hanley Ramirez, whose 33 homers paced the Marlins in 2008.
18 Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 22
So what happened to Eric Hosmer this season? There's no easy answer, of course, especially when his plate discipline seems to have improved this year: according to, he's swinging at 3.3 percent fewer pitches outside the strike zone while maintaining the same overall contact rate. The type of contact, however, might be the issue, as his groundball-to-flyball rate has increased roughly 23 percent, from a 1.57 to a 1.93. Hosmer has a .678 OPS after posting a .799 mark last year.
19 San Diego Padres
Last Week: 16
No player has accounted for a greater percentage of his team's runs than Chase Headley, whose 103 runs created are 16.7 percent of the Padres' 617 runs this season. Headley's breakout year includes 28 doubles and 29 homers, giving him a chance of becoming the eighth Padre with 30 of each, joining the likes of Adrian Gonzalez (three times), Phil Nevin (twice), Ryan Klesko, Ken Caminiti, Steve Finley, Fred McGriff and Gary Sheffield.
20 Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 21
Seattle has a difficult enough time getting runners on base -- a .294 OBP that ranks dead last in the majors -- but it is also the AL's worst baserunning team, according to Baseball Prospectus' BRR (baserunning runs), which says the Mariners have cost themselves nearly nine runs with their work on the basepaths. Seattle is around the league-average in stolen-base success rate but in the bottom-five in the majors in taking the extra base (first to third on a single, for instance), according to
21 Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 19
Two weeks ago, this space detailed how poor the Pirates were at stealing bases. Well, they have improved somewhat -- stealing seven in their last nine tries -- though they still rank last in the majors for the season (57.4 percent). More glaring is how poor Pittsburgh has defended other clubs from stealing. The Brewers stole 12 in 13 attempts in a three-game series last week, and overall opponents are 146 for 158 (92.4 percent) against the Pirates, the highest success rate opponents have had against any one club since 2007.
22 New York Mets
Last Week: 24
Poor situational hitting has been a well-publicized scourge of their cross-town rivals, the Yankees, but it has afflicted the Mets even worse. New York's NL entry has the majors' worst batting average with a man on third and less than two outs (.246), with only 30 sacrifice flies, which is tied for third-fewest in the game. In all situations with runners in scoring position, the Mets' average (.240) and OPS (.704) are in the majors' bottom third.
23 Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 26
In a difficult season, at least the Red Sox have had a revelation in their bullpen, as Junichi Tazawa has been dominant. He's allowed just one run in his last 12 appearances, striking out 16 while allowing only three hits and one walk and working in some high leverage (three holds). On the season the 26-year-old righthander has a 1.58 ERA in 40 innings with a 43-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio -- not a bad return given the club's extensive and, at times, difficult scouting efforts.
24 Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 27
The Twins continued to boast a great skill of making contact. They rank first in the majors in both lowest percentage of swings that miss (18.4 percent) and greatest percentage of swings that put the ball in play (44.0 percent); on the latter count they also ranked first last year and second the year before that. This season, however, Minnesota has seen that translate into more offense, ranking seventh in the AL in runs and ninth in OPS after finishing 13th in both of those categories last season.
25 Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 20
The Blue Jays' season is not ending well -- and not just because of last week's flap in which shortstop Yunel Escobar was suspended after writing a homophobic slur on his eye black. Toronto was swept by the Yankees and the Rays; after starting the season 51-49 through 100 games, the Jays have gone just 15-35 since, including an active six-game losing streak.
26 Miami Marlins
Last Week: 23
A USA Today report last week indicated that the team's VP of baseball ops, Larry Beinfest, was likely to be dismissed at season's end, but it's worth noting that his two biggest offseason signings have worked out so far. (The third, closer Heath Bell? Not so much.) Shortstop Jose Reyes has a .779 OPS (three points shy of his career standard) is the only player in the majors with at least 30 doubles, 10 triples, 10 homers and 30 stolen bases, and starter Mark Buehrle has had a classic Mark Buehrle season: 3.84 ERA (0.01 off career rate), 194 1/3 innings, a 1.9 BB/9 and the second-best WHIP (1.19) of his career.
27 Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 25
Cubs second baseman Darwin Barney is doing more than just close in on a major league record. Barney has gone 138 consecutive error-free games at second base -- three shy of Placido Polanco's record of 141 -- and on Friday he spoiled both the season debut of Chris Carpenter and hurt the rival Cardinals' playoff chances with a game-tying, two-out, two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth.
28 Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 28
Shin-Soo Choo surely has one of the wider divides between success against righthanded pitching (.926 OPS) and against lefties (.564 OPS). The mark against righties ranks 10th in the majors; the number versus lefthanders is 182nd out of 185 qualifiers. It's an odd diversion after his numbers last year were much closer (.757 vs RHP; .688 vs. LHP).
29 Houston Astros
Last Week: 30
The Astros are the anti-Orioles in several ways, but one glaring difference is success rate in one-run and extra-inning games. While Baltimore is winning both at historic rates -- when most teams, regardless of talent, tend to gravitate toward a .500 record -- Houston is 16-26 in one-run games and 1-11 in extra-inning affairs. A good manager can influence those records somewhat (and team depth certainly helps in extras), and the Astros are actively interviewing candidates for their next skipper.
30 Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 29
The Rockies have started 13 different pitchers this season, and only one has a winning record. Guillermo Moscoso is 3-2 in 20 appearances and only three starts and, notably, none of his wins this year have come as a starting pitcher. Such is life for Colorado pitchers under this year's experimental rotation and pitch limits, which the club announced last week would be modified next year. Starters have only completed five innings 34 times since the June 19 change, with a 5.59 ERA; they are 12-35 since.

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