1. Pittsburgh Pirates 51-30
There is no better story in baseball this year and no hotter team than the Pirates right now. Winners of nine in a row, Pittsburgh has the best record in the league thanks to stellar pitching (3.11 team ERA) and a smoking hot Pedro Alvarez, who finished the month of June with a .309 average to go along with 10 home runs and 24 RBI. They’ve fooled us before with second-half collapses in each of the past two years, but I’m drinking the Kool-Aid once again. At this point, I don’t think it’s a question of whether or not the Pirates can secure their first winning season since 1992, it’s only a question of how deep they can go in the postseason.
2. Boston Red Sox 50-34
Boston continues to set the pace in a crowded AL East and they’ve done it without Clay Buchholz and with plenty of late-inning bullpen drama. After dropping three of four in Detroit last week, the Red Sox came home and swept two games from Colorado before taking three of four against Toronto, who had come in white-hot. It’s been the old guys who have contributed heavily of late. David Ortiz (.317/.404/.604) has 16 home runs and 57 RBI in just 67 games this year, and Koji Uehara has been nearly perfect over his past nine games, allowing only a hit and a walk through 8.2 innings. Uehara, who has assumed closing duties, has fanned 14 during that stretch and saved three games last week.
3. St. Louis Cardinals 49-32
The Cardinals fell out of first place thanks to a 2-3 week to begin their eight-game road trip that will wrap up with a trip to Anaheim on Tuesday. Adam Wainwright continues to makes his case as a top hurler in the National League, but phenom Shelby Miller has taken the loss in three of his past four starts, posting an ugly 6.38 ERA during that stretch. The offense is still strong, but St. Louis’ starting pitching hasn’t been as consistent in recent weeks.
4. Baltimore Orioles 47-36
Winners of four straight, Baltimore has climbed back to within 2.5 games of the front-running Red Sox. Chris Davis gets all the press, as he should with 31 home runs and 80 RBI already, but Manny Machado is having a season for the ages as well, especially when you consider that he’s still just 20 years old. The news just keeps getting better for the O’s, as they got second baseman Brian Roberts back as of Sunday when they finished off a sweep of the Yankees.
5. Texas Rangers 48-34
After dropping six straight mid-month, the Rangers have rattled off 10 wins in their last 13 games to overtake first place in the AL West. Nelson Cruz has more than picked up the slack offensively, with 20 home runs and 61 RBI and is on pace for perhaps his best season at the plate.
6. Atlanta Braves 48-34
The Braves swept Arizona over the weekend, but the recent run of success is simply a continuation of a roller coaster run for the team. Atlanta has gone just 11-12 over its past 23 games. Ace left hander Mike Minor still holds a sub-3.00 ERA, but is 0-1 over his past three starts, posting 5.40 ERA during that span.
7. Oakland Athletics 48-35
The A’s wrapped up a 4-1 week with a series win over the visiting Cardinals, which was a nice way to rebound from a putrid road trip the week before that saw them drop four games in the standings to Texas. Bartolo Colon is turning back the clock and putting himself in the conversation of potential all-star game starters with a 10-2 record and 2.79 ERA. He also leads the league in fewest walks per nine innings and is the only AL hurler to fire multiple shutouts this season.
8. Cleveland Indians 44-38
By dismantling the White Sox over four straight games, the Tribe has climbed back into a virtual tie with Detroit atop the AL Central. Second baseman Jason Kipnis is riding a 12-game hitting streak, but his success runs far beyond that. Over his past 22 contests, Kipnis has posted a Puig-like .455/.550/.779 line.
9. Los Angeles Dodgers 38-44
The Dodgers are still sitting in the basement of the NL West, but have surged to within four games of the division lead. Phenom Yasiel Puig posted a four-hit game on Sunday as the Dodgers took the series from Philadelphia. Puig is only the second major leaguer in history to have 44 hits through his first 100 at bats. He could go hitless in his next 45 at bats and still be batting .300 on the season.
10. Los Angeles Angels 39-43
After a demoralizing loss in the late innings versus Pittsburgh last Sunday, the Angels took to the road for a six-game trip and came back with six victories this week. The first three came in Detroit, where the Angels completed a season sweep of the Tigers, but the more impressive sweep might have been in Houston given that Los Angeles was just 2-7 against the Astros coming in. Josh Hamilton is showing signs of waking up at the plate, collecting nine hits in his past 21 at bats.
11. Detroit Tigers 43-37
Despite dropping five of their last six, the Tigers still hold the second-best run differential in the American League. It’s been a wacky season for Detroit, who is just 1-27 when trailing after six innings this season. That’s more a testament to the soft underbelly of the Tigers bullpen than it is a slam on the vaunted lineup, but the offensive numbers from the seventh inning on are among the worst in baseball as well. Even Miguel Cabrera is merely great (.885 OPS) from the seventh inning on, while he’s super-human in innings one through six.
12. Cincinnati Reds 46-36
Losers of seven of their past nine, the Reds need look no further than the batters box to find the problem. They’ve averaged fewer than three runs per game during that run and suffered through back-to-back shutouts this week. Brandon Phillips has been chief among the offensive offenders, hitting a paltry .156/.191/.222 over his past 11 games.
13. Tampa Bay Rays 43-39
A series win against the visiting Tigers is always welcome, but the Rays lost star third baseman Evan Longoria when he pulled up with a foot injury on Friday. Tampa hopes Longo can avoid a DL trip, but even if he can’t there are reasons to like what the Rays are doing of late. Outfielder Wil Myers continues to impress, posting a .296 average with three homers and nine driven in during his first dozen big league games.
14. Arizona Diamondbacks 42-39
The D-backs lead a tight pack in the AL West, but they are trending in the wrong direction. In the midst of a 10-game East Coast swing, the Diamondbacks have dropped five of the first six as they head to New York for four games this week. All told, Arizona has lost eight of their last nine on the road.
15. Toronto Blue Jays 40-41
After winning 11 straight to climb back into the conversation, Toronto sleepwalked through a 2-5 divisional road trip with the only bright spot being that Jose Bautista seems to be snapping out of a lengthy slump. He’s clubbed three homers in the past two games and is six-for-his-past-13 at the dish.