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Red-hot Cards move up in Power Rankings

MLB.com

In a season where the National League Central race is one of the most interesting in baseball, it would be a bit strange, given their history, if the Cardinals weren't one of the teams vying for the division title.

For most of the first half of the season, it looked like St. Louis was too flawed in too many key areas to be a contender. That appears to have changed over the past couple of weeks, and the Cardinals, recent winners of eight in a row, seem to have rediscovered their mojo through better hitting and improved defense.

In a season where the National League Central race is one of the most interesting in baseball, it would be a bit strange, given their history, if the Cardinals weren't one of the teams vying for the division title.

For most of the first half of the season, it looked like St. Louis was too flawed in too many key areas to be a contender. That appears to have changed over the past couple of weeks, and the Cardinals, recent winners of eight in a row, seem to have rediscovered their mojo through better hitting and improved defense.

Beyond the Rally Cat, which preceded a dramatic grand slam by Yadier Molina, which at that point extended their winning streak to five, the Cardinals are, simply, looking like the Cardinals again. They have Dexter Fowler back and healthy, which is key, and are getting major contributions from rookie Paul DeJong and Tommy Pham. Their defense, a major problem early in the season, has stabilized.

The NL Central is wide open, and while the Cubs are considered by many to be the favorite, it's looking like the Cardinals will be one team -- though perhaps not the only one -- that gives them fits down the stretch. And given the rivalry between these two over the years, that just seems fitting, doesn't it?

Biggest jump: The Angels jumped seven spots, from No. 19 to No. 12. It's amazing to think that a team that has spent more days under .500 than over this season, and is being carried offensively by basically two players (Andrelton Simmons and Mike Trout), is nearing a top 10 ranking and now looks like a very serious Wild Card contender in the American League.

Biggest drop: The Mariners dropped five spots, from 13 to 18. A four-game sweep is never fun; doing it at the hands of a team in your division when both of you are locked into the same Wild Card race is a double-whammy. The Mariners' series loss at home to the Angels didn't knock them out of contention -- they're still only 2 1/2 games out of the second Wild Card spot -- but a better showing could have pushed them ahead of the Angels, who as of Monday afternoon were behind only one team in the Wild Card race -- the Yankees, two games up.

Power Rankings Top 5:

1. Dodgers (1 last week)

On pace for 115 wins, the Dodgers haven't lost a series since the first week in June, when they lost two of three to the Nationals. Since then, they're 16-0-3 in 19 series. Cody Bellinger, the runaway favorite to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award, has 34 homers, one shy of matching Mike Piazza for the most homers in a single season by a Dodgers rookie. Piazza hit 35 homers in 1993 and needed 139 games to get there. Bellinger has 34 homers in 97 games.

2. Red Sox (4)

The Red Sox, winners of 10 of 12 games since the non-waiver Trade Deadline, have elevated their status among our top 5 elite teams, and at this point look stronger than the Nationals and Astros. Among the many contributors is rookie third baseman Rafael Devers, who over 16 games is hitting .339 (21-for-62) with five homers and 12 RBIs. His OPS for the season is 1.074. Among his many highlights over the past week was a dramatic game-tying homer in the ninth inning on Sunday off a 102.8-mph fastball from Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman.

3. Nationals (2)

A sure sign that a team is exceptional is that it can be without its superstar team leader for a long time, perhaps for most of the remainder of the regular season, and not be in danger of relinquishing the division lead. The Nationals caught a huge break with the news that Bryce Harper's ugly tumble at first base last week resulted in little more than a severe bone bruise. He may be back during the regular season, but the focus is getting him healthy for the playoffs. Without him, the Nationals still may win the NL East by double digits.

4. Astros (3)

Houston is in its first truly bad stretch of the season, which says a lot about this team, given the season is 4 1/2 months old. The Astros have eight players currently on the disabled list, including catcher Brian McCann, who was placed the DL on Monday with a sore right knee. They went 5-11 from July 28 through Sunday's win in Texas. This shouldn't come as a surprise; injuries happen to every team, but to be without Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers Jr. and Will Harris, plus Dallas Keuchel and George Springer (who have returned to the active roster) for an extended period will take its toll on any club's win column.

5. Indians (7)

The Indians have started to create a little room in the AL Central race, though they haven't completely shaken the upstart Twins, winners of eight of 10 entering Monday. But things are looking good for the Tribe, which added a key left-hander to its lineup with the addition of Jay Bruce, who has six hits in 15 at-bats (.353) with three RBIs and three walks in four starts with his new team. As for the old favorites, Francisco Lindor has reached base safely in 27 straight games, the longest active streak in the Majors.

The rest of the Top 20:

6. D-backs (8 last week)

7. Rockies (5)

8. Cubs (6)

9. Cardinals (15)

10. Yankees (9)

11. Brewers (10)

12. Angels (19)

13. Royals (11)

14. Twins (17)

15. Pirates (16)

16. Rays (12)

17. Orioles (14)

18. Mariners (13)

19. Rangers (20)

20. Marlins (NR)

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.