Bullpen causes Nats' Power Rankings tumble

Astros take No. 1 spot from Dodgers, Indians vault into top 5

July 4th, 2017

It's been a while since the Nationals haven't appeared as one of the top five teams in our weekly Power Rankings, but given the struggles of their bullpen, it would be hard to justify that they are, as currently constructed, better than the Diamondbacks or Red Sox.

The Nats lead the National League in just about every major offensive category except for home runs, where they're second to the Brewers. Their starting pitching is also stellar, topping the league with 541 strikeouts, while placing third with a 3.64 ERA. Their starters are also first with 9.48 strikeouts per nine innings ratio (hello, Max Scherzer!), and are second with a 1.19 WHIP.

But the bullpen is worrisome. It is last in the league with a 5.16 ERA. Nationals relievers collective 211 strikeouts are also a league low. The only area where they are near the top is blown saves -- they have 14 of those.

This likely won't affect their ability to win the NL East -- currently, they are the only team above .500 and have a nice eight-game advantage. But if they don't get some bullpen help before the Trade Deadline, it's hard to imagine them having much luck in October, a month that has so far produced zero series wins for this franchise.

The Nats have caught a break by playing in a weak division, but until they fix their bullpen issues, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to consider them an elite, top-five team.

Biggest jump: After they were swept by the Twins at home, the Indians took three of four from the Rangers and two of three from the Tigers. That was enough to earn them top 5 status, jumping four spots, up from No. 9. They could further cement their standing as the top team in a division we thought they were going to run away with (but haven't done yet) with a favorable schedule heading into the All-Star break. They host the struggling Padres, before ending the first half with a three-game set with reeling Detroit.

Biggest drop: The Twins have lost six of their past nine games, but they did avoid dropping to .500 for the first time since April 30 with their win over the Angels on Monday. Still, their recent slide dropped them in the rankings, from No. 8 to No. 12.

Power rankings Top 5:

1. Astros (2 last week)

Chances are the Astros and Dodgers will swap the top two spots often throughout the remainder of the season. This week, it's Houston's turn to claim No. 1. The Astros have won 10 of their past 13 games and have scored 85 runs during that span, averaging 6.5 runs per game. , one of five Houston All-Stars, is hitting .408 (20-for-49) during a 12-game hitting streak. The Astros as a team have hit a double in a franchise-record 40 consecutive games.

2. Dodgers (1)

The Dodgers, with just one fewer win than the Astros, have the best record in the National League at 55-29 after a stretch during which they have won 20 of 24. They've hit 54 home runs over those 24 games. On the pitching side, everything is going well -- they lead the NL with a 3.22 ERA, 803 strikeouts and a .225 opponents' batting average. They've also issued the fewest number of walks (229).

3. Diamondbacks (4)

The D-backs keep climbing the ladder, landing in the No. 3 spot after moving into the top 5 last week. Arizona's 18 wins in its past 24 games can be attributed to a lot of stellar performances, including from a bullpen that posted a 2.22 ERA during that time. has allowed two runs -- one earned -- over his past 21 appearances, spanning 20 1/3 innings, since the start of May. has allowed two earned runs during 19 1/3 innings over his past 21 appearances.

4. Red Sox (6)

Boston re-emerges in the top five after a nice offensive showing, having scored 49 runs in seven games heading into its series opener with the Rangers on Monday. was hitting .483 with three homers, eleven RBIs and 10 runs scored during that seven-game stretch, while was hitting .375 with five extra-base hits and seven runs scored over his past 10 games.

5. Indians (9)

The Indians are still dominating the division, but signs are pointing toward them having a good second half after a nice stretch pre-All Star break. Winners of 13 of 19, Cleveland's starters are 10-2 with a 3.39 ERA during that stretch. They are led, of course, by , recently named American League Pitcher of the Month after posting a 1.23 ERA over 43 innings in July. He struck out 64, walked seven and posted a 0.67 WHIP.

The rest of the Top 20:

6. Nationals (3)

7. Rockies (5)

8. Brewers (10)

9. Yankees (7)

10. Rays (12)

11. Cubs (11)

12. Twins (8)

13. Rangers (13)

14. Royals (14)

15. Angels (17)

16. Mariners (15)

17. Cardinals (NR)

18. Orioles (16)

19. Braves (NR)

20. Mets (NR)