1. Detroit Tigers (64-45) +5
Winners of eight in a row and 11 of their last 12 and nearly all of that run has taken place while the best hitter on the planet, Miguel Cabrera, has been out with injury. Shortstop Jhonny Peralta is expected to be suspended as early as Monday, but Detroit may actually be a better overall team if that happens and Jose Iglesias slides in to his place on the left side of the infield. The Tigers, as a staff, lead the majors in ground balls percentage as it is. How good will this team be with a shortstop who can actually get to a ground ball on occasion?
2. Pittsburgh Pirates (67-44) +3
The Pirates made a statement last week in taking four of five from St. Louis and turning a 1.5 game deficit into a lead of the same margin. A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano might be the best one-two going in the National League these days and Mark Melancon has made a seamless transition to the ninth inning.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers (61-49) +4
The Dodgers have won 14 straight road games, which is ridiculous, and 20 of their last 37 games. Oh, and Matt Kemp hasn’t been a factor basically all season. Hanley Ramirez is reminding everyone why he was considered the next great superstar not all that long ago.
4. Atlanta Braves (67-45) +4
Tough crowd this week. The Braves have won 10 straight games and easily hold the widest division lead, but they only rank fourth this week. That’s a much bigger testament to the teams ahead of them than it is to the Braves. This is the best team no one is talking about, and they got better at the trade deadline.
5. Boston Red Sox (68-45) -3
They have the most wins in baseball and a one game lead in the AL East and went 7-3 over their last 10 games. The Sox have shown late-inning fight, but their bullpen issues look less resolves than they’d hope at this point.
6. St. Louis Cardinals (65-45) -5
The Cardinals have scored at least 13 runs in three of their last four games, but that performance follows a seven-game losing skid against Atlanta and Pittsburgh. It’s hard to rank the Cards ahead of either of those clubs right now, despite the best run differential in the game.
7. Cleveland Indians (62-49) +3
I’m starting to think this Francona guy can manage a bit. The Tribe looks like they aren’t folding the tent anytime soon. Ryan Raburn and Yan Gomes have very quietly been two of the best off-season pickups for any team in the sport. Raburn has belted 13 home runs in roughly 180 at bats and Gomes is hitting .298/.325/.523 while trowing out 55 percent of attempted base stealers.
8. Tampa Bay Rays (66-45) -4
This team doesn’t have a lot of stars, but it also doesn’t have a lot of flaws. Yunel Escobar was the guy nobody wanted coming off a turbulent run with Toronto, but he’s been a choir boy in Joe Maddon‘s clubhouse and has been one of the better two-way shortstops in the game this year.
9. Oakland Athletics (64-47) -6
Oakland’s late-inning relief has been lights-out all season long and their bullpen might get a little deeper as southpaw Brett Anderson prepares to return from a broken foot that can kept him out since June.
10. Kansas City Royals (56-52) +5
I said before the deadline that the Royals should be selling in preparation for a run in 2014 and since then, it seems all they’ve done is win. Fat lot of good it’s done them though. Despite winning 11 of their last 12, they’ve gained exactly zero games on the division-leading Tigers, who have rattled off 11 of 12 themselves.
11. Texas Rangers (62-50) +1
The Rangers have been on fire at the dish of late and walked-off the Angels on three straight nights last week. Nelson Cruz is making an impact with three homers in his last five games, but those might have to last awhile, as Cruz is expected to miss the rest of the regular season when Biogenesis suspensions come down this week.
12. Baltimore Orioles (61-51) -1
Chris Davis and Manny Machado have both cooled considerably since the all-star break, but GM Dan Duquette has augmented the pitching staff enough to keep the O’s in the race until those bats can heat back up.
13. Cincinnati Reds (61-51) -4
Ryan Ludwick continues to work his way back to Cincinnati, and the Reds could get even better with the possible returns of Johnny Cueto, Shawn Marshall, and Jonathan Broxton. They would have been hard-pressed to add those kind of pieces through a July deadline deal.
14. New York Yankees (57-53) –
They are getting healthier with the return of Curtis Granderson, but the roster is still very old and undermanned. Adding the Alex Rodriguez mess to the clubhouse certainly can’t help. This is a veteran team that can put distractions to the side, but the hill is too big to climb this year.
15. Arizona Diamondbacks (56-55) -2
Arizona has established themselves as the best of the rest in the West, after the Dodgers run roughshod over the competition, that is. No shame in where the D-backs are and they might have made a run at holding the L.A. off a little while longer if not for the leaky bullpen.
16. Washington Nationals (54-57) –
Things have not gone as planned in Davey Johnson‘s final year at the helm, but catcher Wilson Ramos has been outstanding since returning from injury. Just one more bright spot for this franchise as they move ahead. 2012 was no fluke: the Nats will contend again. If not this year, next.
17. Seattle Mariners (52-59) –
There is a lot to like about some of the young hitters on this roster and while things like that have been said before in Seattle, guys like Kyle Seager and Justin Smoak are setting the tone as young veterans on this team and with talent like Nick Franklin, Mike Zunino, and Brad Miller ready to follow suit, the M’s could contend sooner rather than later.
18. San Diego Padres (52-60) +4
Maybe no team has fluctuated in the rankings over the past two months like the Padres have. At 41-41 they were among the surprise stories of the year, then they dropped 11 straight games and looked terrible. Now winners of seven of 10, the Friars are back on the upswing.
19. Toronto Blue Jays (51-60) –
Josh Johnson is 1-8 with a 6.60 ERA this year and he might not even be the biggest disappointment in this rotation. That kind of pitching is tough to overcome.
20. Colorado Rockies (52-61) –
Lots of things to like about the way Walt Weiss has handled the team, especially after the craziness the club pulled with their starting pitchers last year. With Jorge de la Rosa, Tyler Chatwood, and Juan Nicasio, there is the beginnings of a decent rotation in Denver.
21. Los Angeles Angels (51-59) –
22. Minnesota Twins (48-60) +2
The Twins are not accepting mediocrity! At least that’s the message in sending down Scott Diamond and Aaron Hicks. Diamond pitched over his head last year and has come back to Earth, but there is no reason at all to ship Hicks back to the minors at this point in the season, especially after you rode him through a horrendous first month-and-a-half. Let the kid learn to make adjustments in the big leagues, what do you have to lose?
23. Chicago Cubs (49-62) -5
The Cubs were bound to slip backward as they dealt away some of their better major league pieces and that’s what has happened. What also happened is that Junior Lake has made a very strong first impression. He’s kind of the anti-Brett Jackson, I guess.
24. San Francisco Giants (49-61) +2
This team won the World Series last year and also in 2010. That’s important to remember for Giants fans right about now.
25. New York Mets (49-60) -2
David Wright will miss three to four weeks with a hamstring. The Mets weren’t contending anyway, but that one hurts.
26. Philadelphia Phillies (50-61) -1
Ruben Amaro wouldn’t part with Carlos Ruiz or Michael Young at the deadline even with the Yankees offering to take on all of Young’s contract and with Ruiz posting a .605 OPS in his age-34 season. Oh, and they want to give third base prospect Cody Asche full-time at bats. Yeah, makes total sense to hold on to these guys.
27. Milwaukee Brewers (47-64) –
I want to focus on the positives: Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura have been outstanding and Nori Aoki has proven a capable regular. That said, GM Doug Melvin has a lot of re-tooling to do for next year, starting with a new right side of the infield.
28. Miami Marlins (43-67) –
Don’t look now, but the Marlins are 29-25 since the start of June and they’ll be a club no contender wants to play down the stretch. A lot of young talent in South Florida, even if nobody comes out to watch.
29. Houston Astros (36-74) +1
30. Chicago White Sox (40-69) -1
Ten straight losses for the Southsiders have dropped them below Houston in our rankings, but Chicago was more than competitive in a series sweep in Detroit this past weekend. Chicago held Detroit to just eight runs in the three games, but managed only three themselves.