Power Rankings: Is this club pulling away?

August 26th, 2019

The National League Central race has been compelling all season, mainly because it's the only division where three teams have legitimately been in this thing all season, and at no point have any of the three clubs fallen off dramatically, only to have to claw their way back.

But this division often was centered around mediocrity. That's not to say that the Cubs, Brewers and Cardinals have not had had strong stretches at various times through the season. It's just that none of them ever put together an extended run of dominance that allowed them to take firm control of the division lead.

Until now. Maybe.

The first-place Cardinals, fresh off a four-game sweep of the Rockies, are on quite a run. We'll know a little more three days from now, when St. Louis has completed a road series with the Brewers (currently 4 1/2 games back), but the Cardinals are surging when the others are merely treading water. They have won an MLB-best 13 of 16 games since Aug. 9.

If they can pad their lead a little more during a Reds-Giants-Pirates-Rockies stretch coming up, they may have some wiggle room when the schedule toughens up in the second half of September.

Biggest jump: The A's jumped five spots, up to No. 6. They dropped a two-game weekend set to the Giants, but that should do nothing to diminish the shine of sweeping the Yankees at home, just after taking three of four from the Astros. Oakland has won 13 of 20 games in August, and since the All-Star break, the A's are 24-14.

Biggest drop: The Indians dropped five spots to No. 11. Losing Jose Ramirez, who will have surgery to repair a broken bone in his hand, is a huge blow to the Indians, who are, to put it simply, very good when Ramirez is contributing offensively and not so good when he's not. The Tribe is 38-7 when Ramirez records at least one RBI, and 38-48 when he does not. Ramirez was slashing .327/.363/.705 after the All-Star break, which, not so coincidentally, is also around the time the Indians started to heat up.

1. Dodgers (1 last week)

They lost two of three to the Yankees over the weekend in what could have been a World Series preview, but with the best record in baseball and a magic number of 12, the Dodgers remain in the top spot of our Power Rankings. Their schedule gets a lot easier coming up -- for the next two weeks, they'll play only teams in the NL West, which the Dodgers are running away with, and when that stretch ends, they'll play three games at Baltimore.

2. Astros (2)

The Astros need to play at just a .500 clip for the remainder of the season to end up with 100 wins for the third season in a row, and it's likely they'll keep their foot on the gas the rest of the way in an effort to gain home-field advantage in the postseason. The Astros' 85-47 record can be attributed to a slew of players, but this week, let's focus on Alex Bregman, who has reached base safely in 19 consecutive games and is slashing .392/.484/.797 with six homers and 27 RBIs in August. His RBI total leads all of baseball this month.

3. Yankees (3)

With three more homers Sunday, the Yankees have 61 roundtrippers in August, a Major League record for the most homers in any month. And they still have five games left before the calendar flips to September. Aaron Judge, who homered in Sunday's finale with the Dodgers, has been especially hot lately, batting .364 (12-for-33) with four homers, three doubles and six RBIs in his past eight games. Gio Urshela has had a fantastic month to add to a great season -- over his past 27 games, he's hitting .422 (46-for-109) with eight homers and 21 RBIs.

4. Braves (5)

The Braves matched their season high with a ninth straight win on Sunday, en route to a sweep of the Mets. Dallas Keuchel was brilliant in Sunday's finale, throwing seven shutout innings while striking out seven. During the nine-game winning streak, the Braves' bullpen has allowed two runs over 28 1/3 innings for a 0.64 ERA, though their streak of 25 consecutive scoreless innings ended when Mark Melancon allowed a run Sunday. Prior to this stretch, the Braves' bullpen had the worst second-half ERA at 7.13.

5. Twins (4)

This was supposed to be an easier part of their schedule, with the Twins spending two weeks playing no one but the White Sox and Tigers. Chicago, however, took two of three early last week before the Twins rebounded and won two of three vs. Detroit. Still, the Twins' offense, for the most part, is humming, and we may see them pull away in the AL Central a little, due mostly to the Indians' loss of Ramirez.

The rest of the Top 20:

6. A's (11)
7. Rays (7)
8. Cardinals (10)
9. Cubs (9)
10. Nationals (8)
11. Indians (6)
12. Mets (12)
13. Brewers (14)
14. Red Sox (15)
15. Phillies (13)
16. D-backs (16)
17. Giants (17)
18. Reds (18)
19. Rangers (20)
20. Angels (NR)