Power Rankings show playoff picture taking shape
Halos, O's and Nats holding strong as they prepare to make October run
Welcome to the final week of the 2014 regular season. The contenders have separated themselves from the pack. It's time to start dreaming about the postseason in earnest and imagining how your favorite team will fare next month.
Get ready, folks. It's almost October.
Will this be the year the Angels win it all? Or will the Nationals take home the World Series trophy?
How will the Dodgers and Orioles perform in the playoffs? We all know better than to count out the Cardinals and A's, and don't sleep on Seattle.
Which team is the best in baseball?
It's time to hear your voice.
For the fourth consecutive season, MLB.com has set up a panel of experts to vote on the top 15 teams each week. The group includes MLB.com vice president and executive editor Carlton Thompson, executive editor Matthew Leach, columnists Mike Bauman, Hal Bodley, Anthony Castrovince, Richard Justice, Tracy Ringolsby, Phil Rogers and Lyle Spencer along with reporters Alyson Footer and Jesse Sanchez.
What do you think? Agree, disagree? Have your opinion counted by submitting your Power Rankings.
1. Angels: The Halos have run away with the American League West and now have the best record in the Major Leagues. What's more, they've already clinched home-field advantage for the AL Division Series and they're now playing for home-field advantage in the AL Championship Series. Keep an eye on Josh Hamilton, who has been shut down because of rib and chest pain. He is expected to be ready for the playoffs.
2. Orioles: There will playoff baseball for the second time in three years in Baltimore, and that's a good thing for Orioles fans. The O's remain 2 1/2 games behind the Angels for the best record in the AL and home-field advantage throughout the postseason. Nelson Cruz -- who has already set career highs in hits, home runs, RBIs and at-bats -- was named the 2014 Most Valuable Oriole and is poised for another successful postseason.
3. Nationals: The Nats swept the Marlins in four games to cap off an 11-game road trip with a 9-2 mark and continue to build momentum heading into the postseason. Stephen Strasburg has been dominant, but he's not the only starter pitching in. Washington's rotation allowed just 12 earned runs in 71 1/3 innings over the last 11 games.
4. Dodgers: The offense has come to life, winning six games during the recent 10-game road trip through San Francisco, Colorado and Chicago. The Dodgers averaged 7.5 runs per game during that stretch. Matt Kemp leads the league in slugging percentage since the All-Star break and Adrian Gonzalez continues to drive in runs, while Yasiel Puig and Hanley Ramirez are also on hot streaks.
5. Athletics: The last six weeks have been tough for Oakland fans, but the A's still lead the Royals by a half-game for the top AL Wild Card spot, with the Mariners two games back. The A's scored eight runs in a dramatic 8-6 walk-off victory against the Phillies on Sunday, but they still managed only 19 runs in their previous 10 games.
6. Cardinals: The Cards hold a 2 1/2-game lead over the Pirates in the National League Central, thanks in part to seven wins in a nine-game homestand in which they scored 33 runs. The Redbirds came up short in their bid to sweep the Reds over the weekend, but the most pressing issue is a stomach virus that has affected more than 10 players and coaches.
7. Tigers: The resilient Tigers won two out of three against the Royals in a crucial series in Kansas City over the weekend to increase their lead in the AL Central to 1 1/2 games, with seven games to play. Miguel Cabrera is leading his club down the stretch, hitting .413 with seven doubles, six homers, 13 RBIs and 16 runs in 19 games this month.
8. Pirates: The Bucs have won 13 of their last 16 games, which includes two wins over the Brewers over the weekend, to lower their magic number to qualify for the playoffs to three. The Pirates are tied with the Giants in the race for an NL Wild Card spot.
9. Giants: Sunday's loss, the club's sixth loss in eight games, left them tied with Pittsburgh in the NL Wild Card race. The Giants' magic number for clinching a playoff spot is now three, but they didn't help themselves over the weekend, when they were swept by the Padres.
10. Royals: Kansas City's playoff hopes took a slight downturn this weekend, when it dropped a three-game series to the first-place Tigers, but the club salvaged a victory on Sunday to stay within reach. The Royals now finish on the road against Cleveland and Chicago, while Detroit ends the year at Comerica Park against Chicago and Minnesota.
11. Mariners: With the AL West entirely wrapped up, the Mariners' sole focus is on the AL Wild Card. But after dropping the final two games of their weekend series, they're 1 1/2 back of Kansas City for that second spot.
12. Indians: Cleveland is not quite out of it, and the Tribe has a chance this week to play spoiler and work its way back into the mix. Trailing Kansas City by 3 1/2 games, the Indians have three against the Royals (including the conclusion of the Aug. 31 suspended game) starting Monday.
13. Brewers: Milwaukee is officially the team in the NL Wild Card hunt with the lowest chance of making the playoffs, so the odds aren't good -- and the Brewers need a miracle after a tough series in Pittsburgh this weekend. Mike Fiers (6-3, 1.78 ERA) has his work cut out for him against Johnny Cueto (18-9, 2.33) on Monday in Cincinnati.
14. Yankees: With the Yanks all but mathematically eliminated from the playoff chase -- they have a 0.2 percent chance of seeing the postseason -- this final stretch will surely be focused on Derek Jeter's last days in uniform. Joe Girardi expects to play Jeter in every game the rest of the way (including four at Yankee Stadium), and the shortstop has earned it. He's hitting .471 with two doubles, a home run and three RBIs on the homestand.
15. Blue Jays: Toronto is not quite done yet, but the Blue Jays will have their work cut out for them this week starting with a series against another playoff contender in the Mariners on Monday. "If we win every game, there's still a chance," said Jose Bautista.