Earlier this season, finding compelling division races was challenging. More than half the division leaders had double-digit advantages over the next-closest team, and it was starting to look like the focus may shift exclusively to the Wild Card races.Times have changed. Only the Cubs have a lead of more than
Earlier this season, finding compelling division races was challenging. More than half the division leaders had double-digit advantages over the next-closest team, and it was starting to look like the focus may shift exclusively to the Wild Card races.
Times have changed. Only the Cubs have a lead of more than 10 games, and in three divisions -- the American League East, AL Central and National League West -- the second-place team is within two games of the leader.
September is still a ways away, but it isn't too early to predict that the race to the finish line is likely to be highly entertaining (and, for fans of a dozen or more teams, highly nerve-racking).
On to this week's Power Rankings...
Biggest jump: The Tigers climbed four spots, from 12 to eight. This isn't solely due to the return of J.D. Martinez from the disabled list, but let's not downplay the importance of the outfielder's return to the lineup. Martinez hit a pinch-hit home run off Chris Sale in his first at-bat back, and then three days later, sealed a 6-5 win over the Mets with a laser throw to the plate to prevent the tying run from scoring. Meanwhile, the Tigers have won 10 of their past 12 games and enter the week only two games behind Cleveland.
Biggest drop: Speaking of the Indians, they dropped four spots, from two to six. They were 2-5 last week, losing three of four to the Twins and two of three to the Yankees. In their past 2 1/2 weeks, the only bright spot was a three-game sweep over the A's at the end of July. As a result, the AL Central is now a two-team race, with the Tigers trending way up.
Power Rankings Top 5:
They've won nine of 10, their lead in the NL Central is back to double digits and they're on pace for 102 wins. We've talked extensively about why the Cubs are so good -- they're loaded, everywhere, and then they added the most impressive bullpen arm in baseball in Aroldis Chapman. But let's use this space to send kudos toward Kyle Hendricks, who is quietly putting together one of the best seasons of all Cubs starters. He's allowed one run in two August starts and has the leagues' second-lowest ERA (2.17). He's allowed five runs since July 1, and three earned runs or fewer in his last 14 starts, dating back to May 22.
The Nats have put themselves in a good spot, winning eight of 12 against two tough opponents in the Giants and Indians and sweeping the last-place D-backs. They spend the rest of August playing lots of games against the Braves, Phillies and Rockies (although the Rockies aren't to be taken for granted anymore, having jumped into the Wild Card race with a nice start to the second half). The Nats have the fourth-highest slugging percentage and OPS in the NL, the second-lowest ERA and the third-lowest WHIP. They also have a very comfortable seven-game lead in the NL East and the second-best record in baseball, behind only the Cubs.
Yu Darvish is slowly becoming the Cy Young-contending Darvish from a few of years ago, which bodes well for a Rangers rotation that is slowly -- very slowly -- putting itself back together again. They're not quite there yet and they'll still have to piece things together a little longer with Lucas Harrell and Co. while they wait for Derek Holland and Colby Lewis to return. But the Rangers are stronger after improving in other areas at the Deadline, and Carlos Beltrán and Jonathan Lucroy both contributed favorably to the Rangers' recent series win in Houston.
The O's recovered from a rather uninspiring end to July with a strong start to August, winning series over the Rangers and White Sox. Not surprisingly, the offense continues to reign supreme -- over those six games, they outscored their opponents, 30-19. Manny Machado put the cherry on top of the fabulous week with a three-homer game Sunday against the White Sox.
5. Blue Jays
The AL East race is likely going down to the wire and will involve three teams, including the Blue Jays, who had an interesting week -- they took three of four in Houston against an over-.500 Astros team, and then lost two of three in Kansas City, where the Royals are well below .500. The Jays' offense has taken a hit recently, but the pitching, for the most part, has been steady -- a good sign when a contending team hits a road block here and there.
The rest of the Top 20:
6. Indians (2)
- Giants (5)
- Tigers (12)
- Dodgers (8)
- Red Sox (9)
- Cardinals (10)
- Marlins (11)
- Mets (14)
- Mariners (17)
- Astros (13)
- Pirates (15)
- Brewers (NR)
- Rockies (16)
- Yankees (20)
- White Sox (19)
All statistics are accurate through the completion of Sunday's games.
Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter.