When the Cubs began the second half on a winning tear, it was largely presumed this was simply the beginning of the defending World Series champs' total domination of the National League Central division, now that they were starting to play the way they were expected to before they spent
When the Cubs began the second half on a winning tear, it was largely presumed this was simply the beginning of the defending World Series champs' total domination of the National League Central division, now that they were starting to play the way they were expected to before they spent three months being little more than mediocre.
And while the Cubs do seem to be in better control these days, it's still not time to write off a couple of other teams in the NL Central -- namely, the Milwaukee Brewers, who may have relinquished their spot at the top of the division, but are clearly not shrinking away from the very real notion that this division is entirely winnable.
Through Monday's competition, there were four teams very much in the NL Central race. Cincinnati is the only non-contender. The others are within 4 1/2 games of first place. The Brewers were 1 1/2 games behind the Cubs, followed by the Cardinals (3 1/2 back) and Pirates (4 1/2 back).
Among the division races that have yet to be realistically decided, the NL Central is shaping up as one of the most intriguing heading into the final seven weeks of the season.
Biggest jump: The Orioles jumped five spots, from 19 to 14, thanks to eight wins in 10 games, spanning July 29 through Monday's 6-2 win over the Angels. Baltimore starting pitchers compiled a collective 2.02 ERA over those 10 games, allowing 14 earned runs over 62 1/3 innings.
Biggest drop: Not a lot of movement occurred from last week for the elite or above average teams. The Pirates dropped three slots, from No. 13 to No. 16, and the Twins, who have been sliding in the standings for several weeks, are now No. 17 after checking in at No. 14 last week.
Power Rankings Top 5:
1. Dodgers (1 last week)
After starting the season 22-18, the Dodgers are 57-14, and 44-7 since losing three straight in early June. Their 79-32 record is one game off the pace of the 2001 Mariners (80-32), who own the modern Major League record of 116 wins.
2. Nationals (2)
The Nats have been just so-so for the past three weeks, going 9-8 dating back to July 19 through Monday's win over the Marlins. But like the Dodgers and Astros, the Nationals aren't in a division race -- no team in the NL East has a chance to catch them. The Nats are focused on getting healthy and relaxing a bit now that they have some stability in their bullpen.
3. Astros (3)
The Astros have run into their first true stumbling block of the season, having dropped series to the Tigers and Rays before taking two of three from the Blue Jays. Houston has lost six of 10, which could have been expected, as they're without Carlos Correa, Evan Gattis, Will Harris, Lance McCullers and George Springer, all of whom are on the disabled list. The focus, however, isn't on a division race; they're running away with the AL West. Rather, the urgency is getting all of the key players back in time to regroup heading into October.
4. Red Sox (4)
Since dropping six of eight, the Red Sox have won six in a row, taking both games of a rain-shortened series with the Indians and winning four straight against the White Sox. During their streak, the bullpen has an American League-best 1.40 ERA, having allowed three earned runs over 19 1/3 innings.
5. Rockies (7)
Since their three-game sweep at the hands of the Cardinals, the Rockies have won six of nine and have won three straight series over the Nationals, Mets and Phillies. With four months of games in the books, it's still looking like the NL West will have three teams in the postseason -- the Rockies and Diamondbacks have maintained a stronghold on the top two Wild Card spots for months.
The rest of the Top 20:
6. Cubs (5)
- Indians (6)
- D-backs (8)
- Yankees (9)
- Brewers (10)
- Royals (11)
- Rays (12)
- Mariners (15)
- Orioles (19)
- Cardinals (17)
- Pirates (13)
- Twins (14)
- Braves (18)
- Angels (20)
- Rangers (16)
Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.