Power Rankings: Mets crack the Top 5
As we enter the stretch run of the weekly MLB Power Rankings, the division-race landscape is shifting just a bit. The National League Central, which most figured the Cardinals would run away with, is becoming a little less definitive. The American League West looks to be a two-team race between the Astros and Rangers. The Blue Jays handled the Yankees with ease over the weekend, but a 3 1/2-game lead is not insurmountable with three weeks remaining in the season.
But the most compelling race has to be for the two AL Wild Card spots, a race that is looking like a four-team race that includes an under-the-radar contender in Minnesota. The Twins are one game behind the Rangers for the second Wild Card spot, and the Angels are only two games behind the Twins.
The Twins have been quietly interesting. Their hot start garnered a lot of attention, but when they fell back to the pack a little in the middle of the season, the sentiment was, "Well, they're playing more at their level now. They were never that good."
Well, here they are, six games over .500 with a semi-favorable schedule coming up. They play the last-place Tigers six more times -- three games at home this week, three in Detroit Sept. 25-27. They end the season with three home games against the Royals, who will more than likely be in resting mode while getting ready for the playoffs.
Biggest rise: Two teams jumped three spots -- the Mets, from eight to five, and the Indians, from 17 to 14. We will gush about the Mets in our Top 5 rundown, so let's use this space to pay quick homage to the Indians, who seemed to be going nowhere for a long stretch -- several months, really -- but have worked their way back into the AL Wild Card picture. The Indians are one of those fringy Wild Card contenders that maybe aren't really in it, but are close enough to be in the conversation. Given where they started, it's notable.
Biggest fall: Washington was 10th and is now 16th, and this should come as no surprise. The Nationals had a dreadful series against the Mets last week, which might not have mathematically knocked them out of the division race, but ... close enough. The Nationals have had their injury issues, sure, but it's still stunning that the team most expected to win the World Series likely won't be playing in the postseason.
The MLB.com panel's top 5:
1. Cardinals: Stating the obvious, this has not been a good month for the Cardinals, who not long ago were on pace to coast to 105 wins and leave the rest of the division in the dust. Now they're a mere 2 1/2 games ahead of the Pirates. It would be easy to look at the schedule and think St. Louis may have a bit of a break ahead, with a three-game series against Milwaukee this week. But ... That's what most of us were thinking when the Cards made their recent visit to Cincinnati -- where they lost four of five.
2. Blue Jays: The best part of September? Head-to-head matchups between teams fighting for the division. And the Blue Jays did exactly what they needed to do while visiting Yankee Stadium over the weekend, taking three of four and creating some much-needed space in the AL East race. They're up by 3 1/2, but more significant, they are surging at a time when the Yankees (not including Brett Gardner) appear to be running out of steam. Losing Troy Tulowitzki for a minimum of two to three weeks could hurt, though.
3. Pirates: Although September is usually dedicated to teams playing mostly intradivision series, the Pirates oddly have a weeklong stretch against two NL West teams starting next weekend. Whether this is a good thing (four games at the Rockies) or a not-so-good thing (three games at the Dodgers) remains to be seen, but the real intrigue this week lies with the Bucs' upcoming series, at home, against the Cubs. They play each other four times in three days, beginning with a split doubleheader on Tuesday.
4. Royals: The Royals have earned a Top 5 spot throughout the season for obvious reasons, but they're not exactly finishing this thing with a bang, having lost their last three series. Still, they're in no danger of not winning the AL Central, but there are concerns. The biggest has to be Johnny Cueto, who hasn't been good in a while, having allowed 28 earned runs over his last five starts.
5. Mets: The Mets are playing better than any team in baseball right now. They're 9-3 this month, are riding a seven-game winning streak and put together an epic series against the Nationals last week that all but knocked the preseason projected NL East winners right out of the race. So yes, right now, the Yoenis Cespedes-led Mets look invincible, or, at the very least, unbeatable. The Amazins have cracked the Top 5, up from eight last week, and they're rightfully ahead of the Cubs, Dodgers and Astros. Yes, we thought the NL East would be a runaway race for one team. Just not this one. Isn't baseball grand?
The rest of our top 20: 6. Cubs (6); 7. Dodgers (5); 8. Astros (7); 9. Yankees (9); 10. Rangers (11); 11. Giants (13); 12. Twins (12); 13. Angels (14); 14. Indians (17); 15. Rays (16); 16. Nationals (10); 17. Orioles (15); 18. D-backs (18); 19. Red Sox (NR); 20. White Sox (20)