The Oakland A's can't actually win the American League West ... or can they?
The easy answer is no; while the A's have had a phenomenal six-week stretch, they couldn't possibly surpass the mighty Astros, owners of the second-highest win total and the most powerful starting rotation in baseball.
The A's have been really good, for a long time. How long? Long enough for them to have narrowed several gaps -- they're four back in the AL West, 2 1/2 ahead of the Mariners in the AL Wild Card race, and -- wait for it -- they're creeping close enough to the Yankees to at least start having the conversation about possibly hosting the AL Wild Card Game.
Dating back to June 16, Oakland is 33-10 -- a .767 winning percentage. Overall, the A's are a Major League-best 21-9 in one-run games, and they are the only team with an unbeaten mark when leading after the seventh (45-0) and eighth (53-0).
The Astros, meanwhile, are playing without Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, Brian McCann, Lance McCullers, Chris Devenski and, maybe, George Springer.
Can the A's win the AL West?
On to the Power Rankings...
Biggest jump: The Braves jumped four spots, from No. 13 to No. 9. Atlanta's bullpen hasn't been perfect, but it's been pretty impressive, having allowed two runs over 24 1/3 innings, over a seven-game span. Relievers have struck out 24 and allowed 15 hits and three walks over that period. Lefty A.J. Minter blew a save on Sunday, but it ended a string of eight saves in eight opportunities since he took over as closer when Arodys Vizcaino went on the DL. Also, new additions Brad Brach and Jonny Venters have combined to throw six scoreless frames since joining the Braves.
Biggest drop: The Mariners and Yankees each dropped four spots -- Seattle, from No. 12 to 16, and New York from No. 3 to 7. Dating back to July 4, only the Padres (7-20) have a worse record than the Mariners (9-17). For much of the season, Seattle was winning games by the skin of its teeth, squeaking by in a slew of one- and two-run games, while nearly breaking even in terms of run differential. Now, the Mariners sit at -19, which partly explains how the A's were able to catch them, and surpass them, in the AL Wild Card standings.
Power Rankings Top 5
1. Red Sox (1 last week)
After sweeping the Yankees in four games over the weekend, the Red Sox have outscored opponents by 72 runs (161-89) over a 23-5 stretch. Entering Sunday's game, Boston was second in the AL with a 3.45 ERA, and its starters had the third-lowest ERA (3.49) and WHIP (1.18). Offensively, the Red Sox led the AL by slashing .269/.536/.459. They're also first in RBIs, doubles and runs scored, and they have the second-highest run differential at plus-190.
2. Astros (2)
The Astros won have won four of their past five games, a welcome turn of events for the defending World Series champs after dropping six of their previous seven. Entering their finale with the Dodgers on Sunday, which they lost, 3-2, they led all teams with a 3.03 ERA, a 1.07 WHIP, 1,185 strikeouts and a .212 opponents' batting average. Houston's lead in the AL West, however, is down to four games, and it is dealing with a rash of injuries to key players -- most recently McCullers, who is on the DL with an elbow issue, and Springer, whose status is questionable after he left Sunday's game with a jammed thumb from sliding headfirst into second base.
3. Cubs (4)
Despite a 10-6 loss to the Padres on Sunday, the Cubs have been playing very well at home, winning 22 of their past 33 games at Wrigley Field. The bullpen ran into a hiccup on Sunday when it yielded five late-inning runs to San Diego, but prior to that, Chicago's relievers had posted a 2.54 ERA over 13 games. Offensively, Javier Baez remains red-hot. On Sunday, he hit his career-high 24th homer and drove in his 86th run of the season. Baez has 11 hits in 28 at-bats over his past seven games, with three homers and nine RBIs.
4. Indians (5)
Jose Ramirez has reached base safely in 21 consecutive games, logging 25 hits in 69 at-bats with nine homers, 23 RBIs and 18 runs scored. He crushed his 33rd homer of the year on Sunday against the Angels, pulling into a tie with Boston's J.D. Martinez for the Major League lead. Ramirez also has a Major League-best 12 homers in the first inning.
5. Phillies (8)
Aaron Nola's 2.37 ERA is third lowest in the National League among qualifiers, behind Jacob deGrom (1.85) and Max Scherzer (2.33). How good is Nola? His ERA actually went up a tick after he turned in another solid start Sunday, holding the Marlins to two runs over six innings. In Nola's past eight starts, he has a 2.05 ERA, having allowed 12 earned runs over 52 2/3 innings with 13 walks and 47 strikeouts.
The rest of the top 20
6. Dodgers (6 last week)
7. Yankees (3)
8. A's (7)
9. Braves (13)
10. D-backs (9)
11. Brewers (10)
12. Nationals (15)
13. Rockies (11)
14. Pirates (14)
15. Cardinals (17)
16. Mariners (12)
17. Rays (16)
18. Giants (NR)
19. Angels (19)
20. Reds (18)