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As the schedule hurtles towards the final month of the season, most of the division races have sorted themselves out. The real drama is in the Wild Card races in both leagues, with a handful of teams in each fighting over those last two playoff spots.
A quick refresher: my Power Rankings approach takes the three most important components of a team — their offense (wRC+), and their starting rotation and bullpen (50%/50% FIP- and RA9-) — and combines them to create an overall team quality metric. I add in a factor for “luck” — adjusting based on a team’s expected win-loss record — to produce a power ranking.
The Giants and Dodgers continue to elevate themselves over everyone else in baseball. Over the last two weeks, Los Angeles has gone 11–2 and closed the gap with first-place San Francisco to 2.5 games. The only shame is that they’re on course for a first-round matchup in the playoffs; whoever wins the wild card will end up playing whoever doesn’t win the NL West in the win-or-go-home matchup. For the Dodgers, Trea Turner has been a catalyst atop their lineup, but Max Muncy has been driving their offense recently, launching six home runs in August and putting himself into the NL MVP conversation alongside Turner. Those two are just a decimal point behind Fernando Tatis Jr. for the WAR lead in the NL.
The Giants continue to get phenomenal contributions from their pitching staff. Even though Anthony DeSclafani just landed on the Injured List with an ankle injury, Logan Webb is primed to pick up a lot of the slack. He hasn’t allowed more than two runs in a single start since a six-run blowup in Colorado on May 5. San Francisco’s lineup has also gotten a lot healthier recently, too, with Brandon Belt, Evan Longoria, and Tommy La Stella back from their respective injuries.
Tier 2 – On the Cusp of Greatness
In a potential ALCS preview, the Rays won two of three from White Sox last weekend; only a wild 11-inning win on Friday night kept Chicago from getting swept. Rookies are currently driving Tampa Bay’s success right now. Wander Franco had a slow-ish start to his major league career, with a 73 wRC+ over his first 20 games, but since July 22, he’s posted a 145 wRC+, and he’s collected 16 hits in his last 12 games. Randy Arozarena has been even better over that span with a 185 wRC+, and Shane McClanahan has a 2.45 FIP since the All-Star break.
The White Sox are almost through a tough gauntlet of the AL’s best teams, which started two weeks ago with a series loss to the Yankees, followed by three wins in four games against the A’s before another series loss, this time to the Rays. A four-game set in Toronto wraps that up before the schedule eases with dates against the Cubs, Pirates, and Royals.
The Yankees have won a league-high 26 games since the All-Star break, have lost just four times in August, and are on a nine-game win streak. They’ve leapfrogged the Red Sox and A’s in the wild card standings and find themselves just 4.5 games behind the Rays for the AL East lead. But instead of their two major acquisitions at the trade deadline, Joey Gallo and Anthony Rizzo, leading this charge, it’s been the player who looked displaced by their arrival: Luke Voit. Since returning from the IL on August 8, Voit has 16 hits in 13 games, including three home runs last week. He was vocal about his playing time expectations recently, but his bat has spoken for itself.
The Brewers already had the best starting rotation in baseball and a pretty good bullpen to back that up. Now their offense is finally coming to life, going from 4.28 runs per game during the first half of the season to 5.76 per game since the All-Star break. Willy Adames has been a huge part of that surge, but trade deadline acquisition Eduardo Escobar has been excellent since coming to Milwaukee. More importantly, Christian Yelich looks like he’s breaking out of his season-long funk at the plate; over the last two weeks, he’s collected 16 hits, and on Saturday, he blasted two home runs against the Nationals.
There are six teams in Tier 3 that are fighting over three playoff spots, and the Braves have one of them in hand with no real competition at the moment. The Red Sox and Athletics are deadlocked as they fight over the second AL Wild Card spot, though both the Blue Jays and Mariners might have a better shot than the playoff odds give them credit for.
Not even a series sweep against the woeful Orioles could get Boston back on track. After outscoring Baltimore 30–5, the Sox followed that performance by losing three straight to the Yankees. The good news is that Chris Sale has returned to the rotation after missing the last season and a half due to Tommy John surgery, but the big problem lately has been the offense. Despite those 30 runs in three games against the Orioles and another 20 in one game against the Rays two weeks ago, Boston is averaging just 4.53 runs per game in the second half; take out those 50 runs in those four games, and that’s down to a measly 3.47.
Like the White Sox, the A’s are in the middle of a grueling stretch against a bunch of competitive teams. They lost a four-game series against the White Sox to start last week, then dropped two agonizing games to the Giants over the weekend. Things don’t get any easier going forward, either. Up next, they host the Mariners and Yankees, then travel to Detroit and Toronto before playing the White Sox again to start September. There’s brief respite in the middle of the month before Oakland must end the season with alternating series against the Mariners and Astros.
Over in the NL, for the first time this season, the Padres are not in possession of a playoff spot. Despite a fairly easy schedule over the last two weeks, San Diego has lost nine of its last 13 games, including dropping a four-game series against the Diamondbacks, getting swept by the Rockies in Colorado, and barely avoiding another sweep against the Phillies last weekend. As tough as Oakland’s schedule is, the Padres’ is worse: They have to play the Dodgers and Giants a combined 19 times, plus single series against the Astros, Braves, and Cardinals.
The Braves haven’t been as hot as the Yankees, but they do have an NL-best 24 victory since the All-Star break and a nine-game win streak. That’s come against the likes of the Nationals, Marlins, and Orioles, so they’re taking care of business against the opponents they’re supposed to. A big test comes this week, with two games against the Yankees, three against the Giants, and then a seven-game road trip to face the Dodgers and the Rockies in Coors.
A four-game sweep of the Marlins last weekend gave the Reds sole possession of the second wild card, and with a schedule that’s far less daunting than the Padres — plenty of dates against the Pirates and Cubs — they’re now in the driver’s seat for that last playoff spot. Despite missing one of their best hitters in Jesse Winker, Cincinnati is getting fantastic production from NL Rookie of the Year frontrunner Jonathan India and recently welcomed Mike Moustakas off of the IL. Mychal Givens and Michael Lorenzen, meanwhile, have done well to stabilize the bullpen, the weakest part of the roster, and the Reds should be getting Tejay Antone back from the IL this week to add some more relief help.
The Mets’ fall from first has been extremely quick; facing the Dodgers and Giants ten times over the past two weeks will wreck any team’s record, and they still have three more against San Francisco coming up this week. With Jacob deGrom out indefinitely, plenty of other injury issues plaguing their pitching staff, and Atlanta suddenly hot, New York will need a miracle to climb back into the NL East race. The Phillies are in less dire straits, though they’ve also gone cold; after winning eight in a row to climb to the top of the division, they’ve won just four games since and have also fallen well behind the Braves in the standings.
The Mariners suffered through an ugly series in Houston last weekend, exposing just how far behind their division rival they are. Seattle was outscored 30–10 in three games and only avoided a sweep with a come-from-behind win on Sunday afternoon. Though the Mariners are still three games back in the wild card race, they control their own destiny somewhat: Through the end of the season, they will play the A’s nine times, the Astros six times, and the Red Sox three times, and the rest of their opponents are currently below .500.
Out of nowhere, the Cardinals have pushed themselves back into the periphery of the playoff conversation; they’re just 4.5 games back of the second wild card and brought Jack Flaherty and Miles Mikolas off the IL last week. They did lose their weekend series against the Pirates, which isn’t a good sign, but they had won six straight prior to that. On offense, they’re being led by a resurgent Paul Goldschmidt, who’s collected 11 multi-hit games in August and posted a 163 wRC+ over the last two weeks.
Not only have fans in Detroit enjoyed some promising performances from their young core this summer, but they also got to watch Miguel Cabrera hit his 500th home run on Sunday afternoon. And as the Tigers look to break out of their rebuilding cycle — perhaps as soon as next year — their fans will have another historic milestone to look forward to from Cabrera, who will likely collect his 3,000th hit sometime in early 2022.
The Rockies showed just how disruptive they could be in NL West standings by sweeping the Padres in three games earlier last week. They’ve played so well at home and so poorly on the road that they’re essentially playing spoiler just half the time. Two homestands remain in the season, with the Braves, the Giants (twice), and the Dodgers all traveling to Coors Field for a date with Mr. Hyde. Dr. Jekyll, though, will travel to Los Angeles in August and Atlanta and Philadelphia in September.
The Royals’ reluctance to tear everything down at the trade deadline gave them the opportunity to play spoiler against AL contenders. The Astros were their latest victim, with Kansas City nearly pulling off a four-game sweep last week. Another matchup with Houston awaits before a trip to Seattle for four games this weekend.
An ugly 18-game losing streak has pushed the Orioles behind the Diamondbacks for the worst record in baseball. The good news is that would give them the first pick in the 2022 draft. The bad news — or good depending on your perspective — is that Baltimore plays its division rivals a lot to close the season: three against the Rays, six against the Yankees and Red Sox, and ten against the Blue Jays. All those games are going to have a sizable impact on the AL East standings.
Overall Power Rankings