Red Sox, Braves holding strong atop Rankings
A's, Cards moving up, keeping pressure on in races for home-field advantage
Welcome to the final week of the regular season. Can you believe it's already here?
That's right, the postseason starts next week, and baseball's top teams will start the next phase of their journey toward the sport's biggest prize -- a World Series trophy.
Will your team celebrate a World Series championship at the end of October? Is your favorite the best in baseball now?
It's hard to blame fans in Boston for feeling optimistic this week. The Red Sox have the best record in the American League and are looking to clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. But keep in mind the A's, who clinched their second consecutive AL West title on Sunday, also have their eyes on the ultimate prize.
Don't forget about the Tigers and Rays.
Some still wonder if any team in the AL can match up with the Braves or the Dodgers. And the National League Central boasts a trio of clubs that believe they're primed for a run to the Fall Classic. But which is the best?
Once again, it's time to hear from you, the fans.
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.
Agree? Disagree? The power to rank the teams is yours.
1. Red Sox: After winning the AL East title, Boston is now looking to clinch home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. What's more, there's a chance Jacoby Ellsbury could return from a compression fracture in his right foot this week. At the very least, he expects to be ready for the playoffs.
Last week: 1
2. Braves: The newly crowned NL East champions are an NL-best 92-63 and have their sights set on home-field advantage in the postseason for a couple of reasons. First, the Braves boast an NL-best .702 winning percentage at home this season. Second, winning the division would also allow them to avoid the NL West champion Dodgers or the NL Central winner in the best-of-five NL Division Series.
Last week: 2
3. A's: The A's clinched their second consecutive AL West title on Sunday, and the team has folks in the Bay Area waiting for a memorable "Oaktober." Oakland trails the Red Sox by 1 1/2 games for the best record in the league and home-field advantage in the playoffs. As things stand now, the A's would host Detroit in an ALDS rematch. The Tigers beat Oakland in five games last year.
Last week: 4
4. Cardinals: The Cards officially clinched their spot in the postseason about four hours before taking the field in Milwaukee on Sunday, but they are not satisfied. The magic number for the organization's first division title since 2009 sits at five, with six home games left on the schedule.
Last week: 6
5. Tigers: It's a great time to be a baseball fan in Detroit. The Tigers have six road games left (in Minnesota and Miami) and need two wins to clinch a third consecutive division title. Miguel Cabrera is dealing with a sore groin and Tigers manager Jim Leyland is trying to decide how much to rest the All-Star down the stretch.
Last week: 5
6. Dodgers: The NL West champions were among the first teams to splash into the postseason, clinching the title against the D-backs last week in Phoenix. The Dodgers want to earn home-field advantage in the playoffs, but manager Don Mattingly is also trying to get his regulars some rest down the stretch.
Last week: 3
7. Reds: The Reds, who trail the division-leading Cardinals by two games, have won seven of their last 10 games and have thrust themselves back into the race for the NL Central title. Currently tied with Pirates in the division and NL Wild Card race, the Reds' magic number for a playoff berth is two.
Last week: 10
8. Pirates: There is some uncertainty regarding Pittsburgh's playoff future. Will it host the NL Wild Card Game or will the club play in the NLDS? Will it qualify at all? This much is certain: the Pirates are tied with the Reds in both the NL Central and the NL Wild Card race, and their magic number to clinch a playoff spot is two.
Last week: 7
9. Rays: Tampa Bay has won eight of its last 11, and the club is looking to remain atop the muddled AL Wild Card race. Can the Rays do it? They are one victory away from a four-game sweep of the Orioles. They take on the Yankees and Blue Jays in the final six games of the season.
Last week: 9
10. Indians: Things continue to heat up in Cleveland. The Indians hold one of the AL's two Wild Card slots and sit a half-game behind Tampa Bay. Cleveland owns the league's best record (50-18) against sub-.500 teams and is hoping to finish the season strong against the White Sox and the Twins.
Last week: 11
11. Rangers: A 5-15 start to September isn't what the Rangers had in mind, nor was a stretch with seven losses in 10 games against direct competitors in Oakland, Tampa Bay and Kansas City. But Texas is still hanging in there, 1 1/2 games behind Cleveland with seven left to play. Perhaps most encouraging, those seven games are against the last-place Astros and Angels. The Rangers are a combined 25-6 this season against those two clubs.
Last week: 8
12. Nationals: Washington is two games away from officially falling out of this NL Wild Card race, as St. Louis has locked up a spot and Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are on the verge of doing so. The Nats are five games back with six to go, but they've shown a lot of fight under outgoing manager Davey Johnson, winning nine of their last 10 series. They'll need it as they head to St. Louis to face a Cardinals team that ended their 2012 season.
Last week: 12
13. Royals: Kansas City is not going down without a fight. Just ask Justin Maxwell, whose walk-off grand slam pushed the Royals past the Rangers in the 10th inning on Sunday. The Royals are 3 1/2 games back of a Wild Card spot with seven to play. The bad news is all of those games are away from home, but the good news is they come against the Mariners (68-88) and White Sox (61-94). Either way, the Royals have locked down their first winning season since 2003.
Last week: 15
14. Yankees: It doesn't look good for New York, sitting four games back of a playoff spot with six to play. The Giants dealt the Yankees' Wild Card hopes a nearly fatal blow on Sunday, rewriting what would have been the perfect script for Mariano Rivera Day and Andy Pettitte's final start in the Bronx. Every game is now a must-win, starting Tuesday vs. the Rays at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees will need a lot of help to give Rivera a shot at another postseason save.
Last week: 14
15. Orioles: Baltimore was already facing an uphill battle to reach the playoffs. A four-game losing streak through Boston and St. Petersburg, where the host Rays have a chance to sweep Monday, could finally do in the Orioles. They're 4 1/2 games back with seven remaining. MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus give Baltimore, batting .186 on its current road trip, a less than one percent chance at playing in October.
Last week: 13