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Red Sox rock to top of Power Rankings

A's, Cardinals hot on Boston's heels as MLB season winds down

One thrilling weekend against the Yankees in New York during the first weekend of September does not a season make, but it's hard to blame the Red Sox faithful for being ecstatic these days.

The Red Sox won three of four against their division rivals, racking up 37 runs in the process. Boston's starting pitching has been solid as usual, and the offense, led by Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino, has been explosive. Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury does have a compression fracture in his right foot, but he is expected to return before the end of the season.

The Red Sox have the best record in the big leagues, but are they the best team in baseball? Is Boston even the best team in the American League? Fans in Oakland, Detroit and Arlington might have something to say about that.

Over in the National League, does any team match up with the Cardinals or Braves? Which team in the NL Central is really the best?

That's where you come in.

For the third season, 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 Former general manager and current analyst Jim Duquette, along with 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: Does your favorite team fear the beard(s)? Maybe it should. The Red Sox have the best record in the big leagues, and they have folks in Boston believing this could be the year they win it all. The pitching staff has been strong all season, and it will be bolstered by the return of Clay Buchholz this week, while Victorino is on an absolute tear.
Last week: 3

2. A's: First-place Oakland has won six of its eight September games and might be poised to run away with the AL West. The A's have six games remaining against the Twins and 12 against AL West foes. What's more, the once-dominant bullpen has regained its familiar form after a tough stretch.
Last week: 6

3. Cardinals: The NL Central leaders wrapped up a three-game sweep of the Pirates in St. Louis on Sunday to complete a tough stretch against division opponents. Here's why Cardinals fans are feeling confident: Of the 19 remaining games, 12 are at home. Moreover, just three of those games -- a home set against the Nationals -- come against a club with a winning record.
Last week: 7

4. Dodgers: Don Mattingly's crew has lost four in a row, but that came after it won six in a row, and it still boasts a considerable lead in the NL West standings. Nobody is panicking in Los Angeles, especially not staff ace Clayton Kershaw, who said the club can learn from the September losses, and that it's only going to make them better in October.
Last week: 1

5. Tigers: Detroit has lost five of its past seven games, but Max Scherzer, who leads the big leagues with 19 wins, will take the mound Tuesday. The offense has been inconsistent lately, managing just five runs and six hits in the final two games against the Royals over the weekend, but a healthy Miguel Cabrera will be the perfect remedy during the final weeks of the season.
Last week: 2

6. Braves: Why are Atlanta fans so happy? The Braves have the best record in the National League, an ever-shrinking Magic Number and they are making a push for home-field advantage in the postseason. However, manager Fredi Gonzalez said he's not looking too far ahead, deciding not to line up his starting rotation for the playoffs. He would like to see more offense from shortstop Andrelton Simmons, and he might move him up in the order down the stretch.
Last week: 4

7. Reds: Cincinnati won three of four from St. Louis, and then pulled off a three-game sweep of the Dodgers. The speedy Billy Hamilton has had an immediate impact on the basepaths, and he looks to continue that trend during the final weeks of the season.
Last week: 9

8. Rangers: Texas dropped series to the A's and Angels last week, falling 1 1/2 games behind Oakland in the AL West. But the Rangers still hold a three-game lead over the Rays in the Wild Card standings, and they'll have a prime opportunity to take back control of the West this weekend, when the A's come to Arlington for a three-game series.
Last week: 8

9. Pirates: After a four-game losing streak, Pittsburgh is still looking for win No. 82. The Pirates were knocked out of the NL Central lead by the Cardinals, who swept the Bucs over the weekend by a combined score of 26-10. They've still got a playoff spot nearly locked up, though, and they enter the week with a single percentage point lead over the Reds for the first Wild Card.
Last week: 5

10. Rays: The good news for Joe Maddon's squad is it doesn't have to go back to the West Coast this season. The better news is this: Despite a 3-7 swing through Oakland, Anaheim and Seattle, Tampa Bay would still be in the playoffs if the season ended today. This week's series against the Red Sox, 7 1/2 games up in the AL East, will either make or break their waning hopes at the division title.
Last week: 10

11. Orioles: Baltimore entered last week two games behind Tampa Bay, and it starts a series with New York on Monday still two games back in the Wild Card chase. The Orioles can push the Yankees out of contention in this four-game series, but they're still deadlocked with the Indians and need to gain ground on the Rays. The key stretch is Sept. 17-23: three games in Boston, and then four at Tropicana Field.
Last week: 11

12. Yankees: This might be the Bombers' biggest week of the season, as they'll hit the road for seven games in Baltimore and Boston. The Yankees are just 2 1/2 games behind the Rays for the second Wild Card spot and a half-game back of the Orioles and Indians. There are questions facing New York, though. Can the bullpen protect a lead when it counts? And will the Yankees be able to turn to Derek Jeter at all during their playoff push?
Last week: 12

13. Indians: We've been hearing all season about how favorable Cleveland's September schedule is. Well, Kansas City might have something to say about that. Two games behind the Rays for the second AL Wild Card, the Indians are still just 1 1/2 up on the Royals, who they'll host for three games this week, and then will face at Kauffman Stadium next week. If they come out of those games on top, they'll need to beat up on the White Sox, Astros and Twins.
Last week: 14

14. Royals: The Royals are set to play nine straight against the Indians and Tigers -- and then they have to deal with the Rangers. They're still hanging 3 1/2 games behind the Rays for a playoff spot, but they'll need a strong finish against some quality ballclubs to break into the field.
Last week: 13

15. Nationals: Eight games back with 20 to play? Washington will need something of a miracle to capture that second NL Wild Card spot. It certainly wouldn't hurt their cause to sweep the below-.500 Mets and Phillies this week. Will Bryce Harper be healthy enough to help? We'll see.
Last week: 15