Now that every team has officially reached or surpassed the 81-game mark, can we start talking about the Wild Card races in earnest?
Sure, there's still a long way to go. The All-Star break is a week away. The Trade Deadline doesn't arrive for another month. Some teams will surge. Others will fade. But right now, the Wild Card races are setting up to provide compelling drama down the stretch.
Even the American League field, which not long ago seemed to be set, has some intrigue at the halfway mark. If the playoffs started today, the Rays would host the Rangers -- yes, those Rangers! -- in the Wild Card Game. Cleveland and Oakland (both a half-game back) and Boston (two games) are in the conversation, too, with the Angels (4 1/2 back) and White Sox (5 1/2) representing the two under-.500 clubs that have the most realistic chance to make a push.
But the National League is where things are really heating up. The Cubs and Brewers are tied for first in the NL Central, so they're on both lists. Below them are no fewer than six teams -- all at or over .500 -- who are either in the lead for the top two spots (Colorado, Philadelphia) or are in striking distance (San Diego, Washington, Arizona and St. Louis).
Like the AL, the NL also has two sub .500 teams -- Pittsburgh and Cincinnati -- who have a chance to make a run.
On to the rankings ...
Biggest jump: The Rangers jumped four spots, from No. 12 to No. 8. Three months ago, the presumption was this year would be one of transition, rather than contention. But the Rangers are shaping up to be one of the more intriguing teams to watch. They finished June with an 18-11 record, the best in the American League, and they're getting healthier too -- Joey Gallo has been back for nearly a week, and Hunter Pence is due back soon, perhaps as early as Tuesday.
Biggest drop: The Cardinals dropped six spots, from No. 11 to No. 17. Their 5-3 win over the Padres Sunday was encouraging, but there's more work to do. They've lost seven of their past 12 games, and during a recent five-game losing streak before Sunday's win, they managed just 10 runs.
Power Rankings Top 5:
1) Dodgers (1 last week)
The Dodgers closed out June with a 19-10 mark, despite going just 3-4 on their recent road trip through Arizona and Colorado. The rotation continues to be the anchor of this ridiculously deep team -- since April 25, Dodgers starters are 28-8 with a 2.66 ERA. They're dominant offensively, too. At Sunday's close, they were in the top 5 in the NL in runs (3rd), hits (4th), homers (2nd) and RBIs (2nd), and are first in on-base percentage, slugging and OPS.
2) Yankees (2)
The Yankees would probably be the first to point out that wins don't need to be pretty to count as wins. An historic, thrilling trip to London included a little on-field wackiness, in the form of 50 runs scored between the Yankees and Red Sox and nearly 10 hours of baseball played over the two days. The Yankees only care that they won both games and are now 13-1 over a two-week stretch. DJ LeMahieu has played a big role, batting .500 (31-for-62) with five homers and 23 RBIs during his 14-game hitting streak.
3) Braves (5)
With Ronald Acuna Jr.'s 20th homer on Sunday, the Braves set a franchise record for home runs in a single month with 56 (the '03 team hit 55). Acuna Jr. has nine home runs and 29 runs scored over his last 29 games. Additionally, All-Star starter Freddie Freeman compiled 33 RBIs in June, setting the club record for the most in a calendar month. The prior mark was shared by Bob Horner (32 in July 1980) and Mark Teixeira (32 in August 2007).
4) Twins (4)
Max Kepler (21) and Eddie Rosario (20) became the second pair of Twins to record 20 home runs before the All-Star break, joining Harmon Killebrew (30) and Bob Allison (21), who did so in 1964. Meanwhile, Luis Arraez just ended a 10-game hitting streak, during which he slashed .471/.550/.529 with 16 hits and six walks and just two strikeouts. That streak tied for the third-longest by an American League rookie this season, two shy of Brandon Lowe’s 12-game streak from April 22-May 8.
5) Astros (3)
The Astros ended a rough stretch of three consecutive series losses with a sweep over the rebuilding Mariners, finishing June with a 15-12 mark. Jose Altuve is starting to heat up -- since returning from a 35-game stay on the IL, he's hitting .292 (14-for-48). He had a three-hit game on Sunday for the 141st time in his career, trying Jeff Bagwell for the second-most in franchise history.
The rest of the top 20:
- Rays (6 last week)
- Cubs (7)
- Rangers (12)
- Red Sox (8)
- Brewers (9)
- A’s (13)
- Rockies (15)
- Phillies (14)
- Indians (16)
- D-backs (10)
- Nationals (17)
- Cardinals (11)
- Padres (18)
- Pirates (20)
- Reds (NR)