The National League East isn't officially a two-team race, but for now, it's looking like it will probably come down to the Braves and Phillies slugging it out for the division crown.
As the only two teams with winning records in that division, Atlanta and Philadelphia have more in common than shared space near or at the top of the standings. They're among the most interesting teams in baseball, not so much for what makes them good -- but for what exposes their vulnerabilities.
The Braves recently reeled off eight wins in a row behind the strength of their offense, but there are still pitching questions. They need help in the bullpen, perhaps more than the rotation, which has a reinforcement on the way in Dallas Keuchel, who should be ready soon.
The Phillies have similar issues with their pitching, though their injury-riddled bullpen appears to be on the mend. That leaves the big question of how to improve the rotation. That could make them big-time buyers when the July 31 Trade Deadline rolls around.
A pile of questions surrounding both teams would suggest no one will run away with this division, and with 13 games remaining between the two -- including seven in the middle of September -- this race is one to keep an eye on.
On to the rankings ...
Biggest jump: The Rangers jumped six spots, from No. 17 to 11. They've won 13 of their past 20 games and sport one of the better records in the American League at 38-33. However, they’re bracing themselves for some possible bad news -- sparkplug Hunter Pence, who is one of the Rangers' leading All-Star candidates, will undergo an MRI for a possible groin injury.
Biggest drop: The Rockies dropped four spots, from No. 11 to 15. The Rockies have had a decent June, but they also have encountered some pretty dramatic bullpen issues, especially over the weekend during their wacky series with the Padres. Twice in three days, the 'pen blew ninth-inning leads, allowing a combined 10 runs in that frame.
Power Rankings Top 5:
1) Astros (1 last week)
The Astros are slowly getting healthy, with several star players inching their way back from the injured list. First up is Jose Altuve, who could return by the time the Astros begin a four-game set at the Yankees next weekend, and George Springer isn't far behind. Carlos Correa and others will be slower to return, but at this point, who's panicking? Without their core set of All-Stars, the Astros have barely blinked. Even with their 12-0 loss to the Blue Jays on Sunday, they're on a 108-win pace -- five better than last year's club-record 103-win mark.
2) Dodgers (2)
After surviving a nail-biter against the Cubs on Sunday night, the Dodgers will open a new week riding high after taking three of four from Chicago, just one Kenley Jansen blown save shy of a sweep. The Dodgers own a National League-best .733 winning percentage (22-8) since May 12, and their dominant starting pitching dates back even further -- since April 25, starters are 26-4 with a 2.20 ERA (71 ER over 290 2/3 IP) and 295 strikeouts, against 40 walks.
3) Twins (3)
The Twins lost Sunday, preventing them from matching the best 70-game start by any team in the past 18 seasons. But they still have the highest winning percentage in the AL, and the second-best win total. They've also homered in 14 consecutive games -- a season high -- totaling 31 long balls over that stretch.
4) Yankees (4)
The Yankees added a big-time offensive reinforcement, acquiring Edwin Encarnacion from the Mariners in exchange for Minor League pitcher Juan Then. That doesn't preclude the Yankees from adding a rotation piece, which they'll likely need for the stretch run, but Encarnacion adds depth to a team that has had to muddle through many injuries to key players. Meanwhile, the Yankees have homered in 19 straight games. In Yankees history, only the 1941 World Champions had a longer such streak (25 games).
5) Rays (5)
The Rays won Sunday, but they still have more work to do. They've dropped four of their past six games, mostly because of ineffectiveness from the rotation, and spotty results from the offense. And they're headed out on a 10-game road trip that will be a challenge every step of the way. First stop: the Yankees for three, followed by the A's for four and the Twins for three. The only non-contender they play between now and the All-Star break is the Orioles.
The rest of the Top 20:
- Braves (10 last week)
- Cubs (6)
- Phillies (8)
- Brewers (7)
- Red Sox (9)
- Rangers (17)
- Indians (16)
- D-backs (13)
- Cardinals (12)
- Rockies (11)
- Padres (15)
- Athletics (14)
- White Sox (NR)
- Nationals (20)
- Mets (19)