Pirates rising toward top of Power Rankings
Bucs make biggest jump after taking four of five from Cardinals
This week's edition of the MLB.com Power Rankings is easy enough: Four first-place teams -- a pair of them who own the two longest current winning streaks in baseball -- round out the top four spots.
The Red Sox, leading the American League East, held steady in the No. 1 spot, but the Pirates, coming off an impressive series win against the division-rival Cardinals this week to take over first place in the National League Central, moved up a lofty five spots to No. 2.
Those two squads are followed by the Braves, winners of 10 straight, and the Tigers, winners of eight in a row. The Rays, just a game back of the Red Sox in the AL East, are fifth.
The Cardinals, who hold the NL's top Wild Card spot, fell from second to sixth this week. Trailing them are the first-place A's and Dodgers. The Indians and Rangers round out the Top 10.
The AL Central features three of the hottest teams in the game, with the Tigers, Indians and Royals all going 9-1 over their last 10 games. Cleveland and Detroit square off for a pivotal four-game series at Progressive Field beginning Monday. The Royals, 7 1/2 games back of first-place Detroit, moved up two spots from No. 15 to No. 13 this week.
The Reds, Orioles and Royals make it three third-place teams in a row from No. 11-13, ahead of the fourth-place Yankees at No. 14. New York is 9 1/2 back of Boston in the contentious AL East.
The D-backs, suddenly 5 1/2 back of the Dodgers in the NL West, dropped a spot to 15th.
For the third season, MLB.com has set up a panel of experts to vote on the top 15 teams each week. Three former Major League players -- Larry Dierker, Mitch Williams and Frank Thomas -- are part of the process, as are columnist Peter Gammons and Carlton Thompson, vice president and executive editor of MLB.com. Former general manager and current MLB.com analyst Jim Duquette, along with MLB.com columnists Mike Bauman, Hal Bodley, Anthony Castrovince, Richard Justice, Matthew Leach and Jesse Sanchez are also part of the group.
What do you think? Agree, disagree? Have your opinion counted by submitting your Power Rankings.
1. Red Sox: We're sticking with the status quo in this week's top spot as the Red Sox held steady atop the AL East and the MLB.com Power Rankings. At 68-45 -- easily the AL's best record -- the Red Sox are just one win shy of their win total from last season. It's Aug. 5. Talk about a turnaround.
Last week: 1
2. Pirates: A late-July/early-August series will rarely make or break a season, but a five-game set against a division rival and perennial playoff contender sure could do wonders for the Pirates' confidence and their standing in the NL Central. It definitely made a difference in this week's Power Rankings. After taking four of five from the Cardinals this week, the Bucs' .604 winning percentage is the best in baseball.
Last week: 7
3. Braves: Atlanta's 10-game winning streak has only widened the canyon in the NL East. If the Braves can increase that streak this week against the Nationals, their lead in the division will also inflate. Atlanta has improved its road record this season to 29-30, providing a nice complement to a fantastic 38-15 mark at Turner Field. The Braves, at plus-116, are the only team in their division with a positive run differential.
Last week: 6
4. Tigers: There's no place like home for the first-place Tigers, who just wrapped up an 8-0 homestand at Comerica Park with a sweep of the White Sox. Detroit will be put to the test this week with a critical series against the second-place Indians.
Last week: 5
5. Rays: Tampa Bay is holding steady, fighting for the AL East crown after a huge July spurt that catapulted the club right into Boston's rearview mirror. Rays pitchers are fourth in baseball with 13 shutouts and second with a .235 opponents average. Since returning from the disabled list in early July, David Price is 5-1 with a 1.57 ERA.
Last week: 3
6. Cardinals: It's no coincidence that as the Pirates' stock soared this week, the Cardinals' plummeted. St. Louis, which possesses the NL's top Wild Card spot, may be down after dropping four of five to the Pirates in Pittsburgh this week, but the Cardinals are definitely not out. The two teams will meet again next week, and St. Louis' deficit in the division is only 1 1/2 games.
Last week: 2
7. A's: Their lead in the AL West narrowed a bit this week with a home series loss to the rival Rangers, but the A's still have a 2 1/2-game lead. It figures to be a two-horse race in the division, which could really boil down to an arms race. The Rangers added starting pitching before the non-waiver Trade Deadline to compete with the A's staff, which is fourth in baseball with a .241 opponents batting average and third with 67 quality starts.
Last week: 4
8. Dodgers: Finally, they are who we thought they were. The Dodgers are rounding into the West Coast power everyone expected them to be when they assembled this group of talent, and they look poised to run away with the NL West. A month ago they were 3 1/2 games back of the D-backs, and now they're 5 1/2 games ahead of them. But Hanley Ramirez's health -- he had to leave Sunday's game in Chicago after hurting his right shoulder -- is paramount.
Last week: 8
9. Indians: As good as the Tigers have been, the Indians have been good enough to keep them in sight. Every time it seems like Detroit is poised to pull away, Cleveland runs off a streak of its own and keeps the AL Central up for grabs. The Tribe still has to worry about the Royals, too, but a four-game series against the Tigers this week in Cleveland could make some waves in the standings. The Indians are 3-9 against the Tigers this year, and have been outscored, 78-48.
Last week: 11
10. Rangers: Texas is a half-game out of the second AL Wild Card spot, but it figures to be a tight race with Baltimore, New York and Tampa Bay, just for starters. The Rangers certainly helped their cause within their division with a series win in Oakland this weekend, and continue their trip through the AL West this week with games in Anaheim and Houston. Additional series this month against the Brewers, Mariners, White Sox and Twins should work in Texas' favor.
Last week: 12
11. Reds: Cincinnati is the top third-place team in this week's Power Rankings, falling two spots since the July 29 edition. But the Reds are well within striking distance in the NL Central (4 1/2 games back of Pittsburgh) and are well ahead of the Nationals for the second NL Wild Card spot. Could we see three teams from the NL Central in this year's playoffs?
Last week: 9
12. Orioles: It looks as if there will be at least one Wild Card spot to be had by an AL East club, and the Orioles are currently the most likely candidate for a second. This month starts out pretty easy -- series against the Padres, Giants, D-backs and Rockies -- before they really have to put the pedal to the metal to finish August -- against the Rays, A's, Red Sox and Yankees.
Last week: 10
13. Royals: Just like the Indians won't let the Tigers get away, the Royals won't let the Tigers and the Indians get away. Kansas City still sits in third place in what was known for most of the season as a weak division. But the AL Central now possesses three of the hottest teams in baseball at the top, with Kansas City reeling off nine wins in its last 10 games.
Last week: 15
14. Yankees: New York could got hit by another injury bug on Sunday, when Derek Jeter strained his right calf. His status is uncertain, as is Alex Rodriguez, who's expected to appeal any suspension he might receive from the Biogenesis investigation.
Last week: 13
15. D-backs: It may not be entirely any fault of their own, but the D-backs could quickly find themselves fading fast in the NL West. The Dodgers have suddenly turned into the team many expected them to be this season and Arizona is suddenly 5 1/2 games in the rear-view mirror. This trip through the AL East (a series split against the Rays, series loss to the Red Sox and two more games against Tampa Bay this week) isn't making things any easier.
Last week: 14