Maybe the 2018 season wasn't supposed to go this well for the Braves and Phillies, but with the final stretch having officially arrived, the National League East division title clearly will go to one of these two upstart teams.
The Nationals had a lot to do with this. As their disastrous season unfolded, the Braves and Phils took advantage of an opportunity to use 2018 not as the finishing touch of a long, successful rebuilding project, but instead as a way to show none of this is a fluke.
This could make for a riveting final few weeks of the season.
Yes, Atlanta is four games ahead of Philadelphia in the NL East standings. But that could change. These two will face each other seven more times, all in the final 11 days of the regular season.
The Braves host the Phillies for four games Sept. 20-23, and Philadelphia ends the season at home with Atlanta from Sept. 28-30.
Also, strength of schedule may be a factor. The Phils begin a stretch of 15 games on Monday against sub-.500 teams (yes, the Nationals are now in that category), while the Braves have a tough week ahead, with three against the Red Sox and four at the D-backs.
On to the Power Rankings ...
Biggest jump: The Dodgers jumped four spots, from No. 13 to No. 9. It's unlikely that they'll pull away in the wacky NL West race, but through myriad challenges in the second half, including closer uncertainty and bullpen inconsistency that caused several deflating losses, the Dodgers are in a fine position heading to the stretch run. Since a sweep by the Cardinals two weeks ago, Los Angeles has won eight of nine, including a 3-1 series win over the D-backs over the weekend.
Biggest drop: The Rockies dropped five spots, from No. 10 to No. 15. The same applies for Colorado as the other contenders in the NL West -- though not particularly consistent, the Rockies have played well enough to maintain their standing as the real deal in their division. They also have several chances to surpass the teams they've been neck-and-neck with. They have six games remaining with the Dodgers, and seven with the D-backs. In fact, they won't play a non-division opponent until the final homestand, when they host the Phillies and Nationals.
Power Rankings Top 5
1. Red Sox (1 last week)
The Red Sox have been little more than mediocre for just about three weeks and likely never thought they'd split a four-game set with the rebuilding White Sox to begin the final month of the regular season. Still, Boston, 50 games over .500, has yet to have its first-place positioning challenged in any real way. In their past four wins, the Red Sox scored 37 runs, due in part to Mookie Betts, who before going 0-for-3 Sunday had 10 hits in 20 at-bats with two doubles, two homers and six RBIs during a six-game hitting streak.
2. Astros (2)
Has Alex Bregman done enough to sneak into the American League MVP Award conversation? His numbers suggest he has. Bregman has reached base safely in 30 consecutive games -- the longest active streak in baseball -- and he's scored 21 runs over that stretch. He's also reached base safely in 90 of his past 92 games.
3. Yankees (3)
The Yankees' playoff picture, once they actually reach October, is a little less clear, given the recent news that closer Albertin Chapman's return from a knee injury isn't necessarily imminent. Also, the absence of Aaron Judge has taken its toll. That said, it shouldn't be too difficult for them to keep pace as the top Wild Card team, and they've been playing better lately, winning 11 of their past 16. The Yanks are also on pace to tie the 1997 Mariners' single-season team home run mark of 264.
4. Cubs (4)
The Cubs, facing several of the league's top starting pitchers in the past week, are playing some of their best baseball. They've built a five-game lead in the NL Central, are a season-high 26 games above .500 and are receiving top-notch offense from a lineup that is thriving with the addition of Daniel Murphy, who, along with NL MVP Award candidate Javier Baez and Anthony Rizzo, launched home runs off NL Cy Young Award candidate Aaron Nola in landslide win on Sunday. The Cubs are winners of 10 of their past 12 games.
5. A's (5)
The A's, even with their recent losses, continue to be one of the most fascinating stories of the season, and certainly of the second half. They're piecing together a rotation that's been decimated by injuries, yet they've kept pace with a defending World Series champion team considered to have the strong starting staff in baseball. The A's had their first "easy" win in a while on Sunday, topping the Mariners, 8-2. Logically, Oakland should be far behind Houston in the AL West by now. Realistically, the A's are probably not going away.
The rest of the Top 20
6. Indians (6 last week)
7. Braves (7)
8. Cardinals (8)
9. Dodgers (13)
10. D-backs (9)
11. Phillies (11)
12. Brewers (12)
13. Rays (15)
14. Mariners (14)
15. Rockies (10)
16. Nationals (16)
17. Pirates (18)
18. Giants (19)
19. Angels (17)
20. Reds (NR)