Power Rankings: New club streaks into Top 5
Mariners rise coming off back-to-back series sweeps
The main argument in favor of the one-game Wild Card playoff goes something like this: If you don't want to play in a one-game playoff, win your division. And if you're not good enough to win your division ... well, tough.
It's a mostly justifiable rationalization, though this year, losing the Wild Card Game might seem like a slightly crueler fate.
Currently, four teams are on pace to exceed 100 wins. If things continue this way, two of those teams will be in danger of capping their tremendous regular-season finishes with a one-and-done exit from the postseason.
The Astros, Mariners, Yankees and Red Sox are on a path to exceed 100 wins. On the current pace, the Astros and Yankees would win their divisions, and the Red Sox and Mariners would play the American League Wild Card Game. One 100-win team will go on; the other starts its offseason vacation the next day.
This could turn the weeks leading up to the non-waiver Trade Deadline into great theater. Teams desperate to avoid second place may be inclined to overpay for top commodities, much to the delight of the lesser teams in sell mode.
July may end up producing as much drama as September. Stay tuned.
Biggest jump: Not a lot of movement upward this week. Two teams jumped two spots: the Mariners, from No. 7 to No. 5, and the Cubs, from No. 9 to No. 7. The Cubs recovered from a four-game sweep in Cincinnati to win five of their next seven, splitting a four-game set with the Dodgers and sweeping the Twins. Chicago's offense has bounced back in a big way, scoring at least 10 runs in each of the past four games.
Biggest drop: The Braves dropped five spots, from. No. 4 to No. 9. There's not much to read into this -- the Braves are still one of the best teams in the National League, with an admirable lead in the division. Their positioning probably has more to do with other teams having been more dominant in the past week to 10 days. The Braves, prior to sweeping the Cardinals in St. Louis, lost two of three to Baltimore and Cincinnati. Still, Atlanta should be lauded for its 3.68 cumulative ERA -- sixth lowest in the NL -- and a league-best 3.35 ERA among starting pitchers.
Power Rankings Top 5
1. Astros (1 last week)
The Astros quietly lost three of four to the Rays over the weekend, scoring seven runs in the entire series. They're without Carlos Correa at least until the end of the week, and they haven't gotten much production out of George Springer, who was in a considerable slump before he was held out of the lineup Sunday for precautionary health reasons. Not every Astros hitter is struggling though -- Alex Bregman has homered in five of his past seven games, hitting .464 (13-for-28) with 10 extra-base hits and 10 RBIs. And Evan Gattis homered twice on Sunday to raise his season total to 17.
2. Yankees (2)
The weekend series with the Red Sox produced three lopsided wins, two of which went in the Yankees' favor. They scored 19 runs in their two wins over Boston and dropped an 11-0 decision in between. Entering Sunday's game, the Yankees needed four homers to set a franchise record for the most by the All-Star break. They reached that by the fourth inning, launching a total of six home runs -- three by Aaron Hicks -- in a rout of the Red Sox. The Yankees have 54 wins at the midpoint of their season for just the second time since the AL went to a 162-game schedule in 1961. The 1998 Yanks won 61 of their first 81.
3. Red Sox (3)
After a stretch of series with the Mariners, Angels and Yankees, Boston's schedule eases up a bit following an upcoming road series with the Nationals. They'll head into the All-Star break with 10 games against sub-.500 teams -- the Royals, Rangers and Blue Jays. This presents a good opportunity for select starting pitchers not named Chris Sale to get on track, and for Boston's potent lineup to do even more damage. Heading into Sunday's finale with the Yankees, J.D. Martinez was hitting .432 (16-for-37) with 12 RBIs over his past nine games, and Rafael Devers was hitting .354 (17-for-48) with 14 RBIs over his past 12 games.
4. Brewers (5)
The Brewers have admirably held their own in one of the more competitive divisions in baseball, but they will need to make a push during their upcoming homestand in order to hold off the surging Cubs. This will be challenging, considering the homestand ends with four games against the first-place Braves. The Brewers, who surely will be scouring the trade market for a reasonably priced starting pitcher, should be pleased with how their pitching has fared in the first half of the season -- their starters' WHIP of 1.22 is third-best in the NL, while the bullpen's 1.23 WHIP is fourth-best.
5. Mariners (7)
The Mariners, riding a seven-game winning streak after sweeping Baltimore and Kansas City, have won 35 of their past 52 games, dating back to May 8 -- the day James Paxton no-hit the Blue Jays. They're a half-game behind the Astros in the AL West as they reach an odd part of the schedule during which they'll play 12 games only against the Angels and Rockies. Offensively, Nelson Cruz has been a huge contributor, launching 10 homers and driving in 20 runs over 20 games since June 9.
The rest of the Top 20
6. Indians (6 last week)
7. Cubs (9)
8. D-backs (8)
9. Braves (4)
10. Dodgers (10)
11. Phillies (11)
12. Nats (12)
13. Cardinals (14)
14. A's (15)
15. Angels (13)
16. Giants (17)
17. Rays (18)
18. Pirates (NR)
19. Rockies (16)
20. Blue Jays (NR)