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Power Rankings: 2 contenders make big leaps

Mariners, Nationals on the upswing
MLB.com @alysonfooter

Raise your hand if you predicted that 50-plus games into the season, the Astros and Brewers would have identical records.

There's nothing unusual about seeing the defending World Series champions sitting atop their division, as the Astros are in the American League West, with a 34-20 record. But the Brewers have perhaps exceeded the very reasonable but modest expectations that were placed on them when the season began -- they were considered contenders, but were presumed to be the chaser, and not one being chased, in a National League Central that is shaping up as a four-team race.

Raise your hand if you predicted that 50-plus games into the season, the Astros and Brewers would have identical records.

There's nothing unusual about seeing the defending World Series champions sitting atop their division, as the Astros are in the American League West, with a 34-20 record. But the Brewers have perhaps exceeded the very reasonable but modest expectations that were placed on them when the season began -- they were considered contenders, but were presumed to be the chaser, and not one being chased, in a National League Central that is shaping up as a four-team race.

The Brewers, 8-2 in their past 10 games, have won four in a row and have created some space in the division, leading the next-closest threat, the Cubs, by 4 1/2 games.

Meanwhile, the AL West also continues to feature several contenders, including the Mariners, who are only one game behind the Astros. Through 54 games in 2017, Houston's lead in the division was 11 games, and it never dipped below a double-digit advantage the rest of the season.

Times have changed. Through Monday's games, four teams in the division had winning records, including the upstart A's, who are two games over .500 and 6 1/2 games behind the Astros.

Biggest jump: The Nationals jumped five spots, from No. 12 to No. 7. Nats starters have given up three or fewer runs in 45 of 53 games this season, including 26 of their past 27 games. Washington's bullpen has also kept pace, having given up just three runs in 19 1/3 innings over the past seven games. After trudging through that rain-soaked week that produced one weather-related suspension, two postponements, a doubleheader and no wins, the Nationals have won six of seven.

Biggest drop: The Cubs dropped five, from No. 6 to No. 11. This may be a tad harsh -- they're 3-3 in the past week and have played well since dropping a two-game series to the Indians, during which they were outscored, 11-1. They've also managed to climb in the very tight NL Central standings and are now in second place, 4 1/2 games behind the Brewers. Individually, Albert Almora Jr. is having quite a run -- in his past 13 games, he's hitting .429 (18-for-42) with six extra-base hits.

Power Rankings Top 5

1. Red Sox (3 last week)
The back-and-forth between the Red Sox, Yankees and Astros continues. It's hard to argue with the Sox nabbing the top spot this week, given they're 9-3 in their past 12 games and have been getting major production both offensively and from their pitching. In his past 19 home games, J.D. Martinez has 27 hits in 72 at-bats with nine homers and 20 RBIs. Andrew Benintendi has homered four times in his past eight games and in his past 12, he has gone 18-for-43 with five homers and 16 RBIs. Pitching-wise, Boston's relievers have allowed three runs over their past 32 2/3 innings, for a 0.83 ERA.

Video: TOR@BOS: Benintendi's homer paces a 5-run 4th inning

2. Yankees (1)
The Yankees, who lost to the Astros, 5-1, in their series opener on Monday, have won 24 of their past 32 games, including taking two of three from the Angels over the weekend. Gleyber Torres, who was moved up to fifth in the batting order, had exactly 100 Major League at-bats entering the series opener with Houston. At that point, he had nine home runs, 24 RBIs and a .620 slugging percentage, with a 1.004 OPS.

3. Astros (2)
Jose Altuve just had a blistering weekend in Cleveland, where he hit safely in 10 consecutive plate appearances, logging hits in his final two at-bats on Friday, going 4-for-4 on Saturday and 4-for-6 on Sunday. That bested his own franchise record of eight straight hits, which he set last season. In his past 12 games, Altuve is hitting .412 (21-for-51) with two homers, 12 RBIs and four stolen bases.

Video: Altuve makes Astros history with 10 hits in 10 ABs

4. Brewers (5)
The Brewers have won 10 of their past 12 games, and their bullpen has allowed nine earned runs over 47 1/3 innings for a 1.71 ERA and .175 opponents' batting average over that span. Milwaukee also has the lowest bullpen ERA in the Majors this season at 2.45. Josh Hader continues to dominate -- he has struck out 62 of 109 batters faced in 2018, a 56.9 percent rage. The only other pitcher with at least 30 innings pitched and who has struck out 39 percent of batters faced is Houston's Gerrit Cole (39.4 percent).

Video: MIL@MIN: Hader strikes out 6 for final 6 outs

5. Braves (4)
The Braves continue to be one of the best stories in the season's first half, but they'll have to find a way to continue winning without sparkplug Ronald Acuna Jr., who will be out at least a couple of weeks with a mild ACL sprain in his knee. Atlanta can lean on several veterans, however, including Freddie Freeman, who is riding an 18-game on-base streak during which he is hitting .397 (27-for-68) with 14 RBIs. Nick Markakis is hitting .381 (40-for-105) with 19 RBIs and 17 runs scored in his past 26 games.

The rest of the Top 20
6. Mariners (10 last week)
7. Nationals (12)
8. Phillies (7)
9. Angels (9)
10. Cardinals (8)
11. Cubs (6)
12. Indians (13)
13. Rockies (15)
14. Dodgers (17)
15. Diamondbacks (11)
16. Pirates (14)
17. Athletics (18)
18. Giants (20)
19. Mets (16)
20. Blue Jays (19)

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.