MLB Power Rankings: As Pennant Fever Builds, More And More Teams Dropping Out

ST. PETERSBURG - JULY 27: Manager Jim Leyland #10 of the Detroit Tigers watches his team from the dugout against the Tampa Bay Rays during the game at Tropicana Field on July 27 2010 in St. Petersburg Florida. (Photo by J. Meric/Getty Images)

The 18th edition of our MLB power rankings, as voted on by SB Nation MLB bloggers Jim McLennan, Will McDonald, Sam Page, Kyle Lobner, Jeff Sullivan, and Randy Booth. You should probably take these very seriously, because they are uncommonly important.

Take a look around the Major League standings and you'll see that a number of division races are alive and well. Yeah, Texas has a rather considerable lead over Oakland and LAnaheim, but the rest of them are all tight. Atlanta's got three on Philadelphia. San Diego's got two on San Francisco. Chicago's got one on Minnesota. Cincinnati's got a half-game on St. Louis. New York and Tampa Bay are tied. As of this writing, five of baseball's six divisions look like they're going to be coin flips, and what that suggests is that we're in for a wild final two months.

But look a little deeper. Look a little closer. Look at the division races, and then look at the Wild Card.

About a month ago, I talked a little bit about how baseball's races looked pretty consistent with the recent past, in terms of inclusivity and competition. At that time, a number of teams were in or close to playoff position - more than half of the teams in the league. 17 teams were within five games of a playoff spot, as compared to an average of 17.6 over the previous five seasons.

And where do we stand now? Just four weeks later, that number is down to 11. On this date a year ago, that number stood at 17. The year before, it was 14. The year before that, it was 15. The year before that, it was an incredible 21. On August 3rd, 2006, 21 teams in baseball - 70% - were within five games of a playoff spot. On August 3rd, 2010, it's down to 11.

What's happened since early July? It's pretty obvious what's happened. Here are the 17 teams who were within five games, and their records since:

Team

W

L

W%

Giants

18

5

0.783

Rays

16

6

0.727

White Sox

15

7

0.682

Yankees

14

8

0.636

Padres

13

8

0.619

Twins

14

9

0.609

Phillies

14

9

0.609

Cardinals

14

9

0.609

Rangers

12

10

0.545

Reds

12

10

0.545

Braves

11

10

0.524

Red Sox

11

11

0.500

Rockies

10

12

0.455

Angels

8

13

0.381

Dodgers

8

15

0.348

Tigers

7

15

0.318

Mets

6

16

0.273

The Red Sox, Rockies, Angels, Dodgers, Tigers, and Mets have all fallen "out" of it, as defined by my own arbitrary standards. And they've fallen out by going a combined 50-82 while the teams above them went a combined 153-91. Among them, only the Red Sox managed to play .500 baseball, and .500 baseball doesn't cut it in a division with the two best teams in the world.

Now, there are five teams within five games of the playoffs in the American League, and there are six teams within five games of the playoffs in the National League. Those are still races, to be sure. Three of those teams will be left at home come October, while the other eight advance. We don't know which team in the AL Central is advancing to the postseason. We don't know which team in the NL Central is advancing, either. Or maybe they both will, where one takes over the Wild Card. Some degree of mystery and intrigue remain, even as teams have dropped out. And this says nothing about the fact that the five-game threshold was arbitrarily selected, and a team currently on the outside looking in, like Boston or Colorado, could still make a run. Those teams aren't out of it the way that Seattle and Baltimore are out of it.

Even so, strictly because of entertainment purposes, it's kind of disappointing that the standings have aligned the way they have just a month after they looked so promising. That the Rays and the Yankees are tied for the AL East lead loses some of its excitement when you realize that both teams are moving on. The AL West is already all but decided. There are still more teams in contention than teams that can make it, and that lends itself to an exciting final lap, but there's nothing more exhilarating than a stretch run free-for-all, and as is it doesn't seem we have enough teams to pull that kind of thing off.

Here's hoping the Centrals stay tight through the finish.

On to the rankings!

30. Baltimore Orioles

SBN Blog: Camden Chat

2010 record: 32-73

Last week's rank: 30

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 28

A 1-6 week despite playing four against the Royals is quite the feat, but has also given the Orioles a commanding 6.5 game "lead" in the race for the top spot in next year's draft. And while they may not have been able to deal all their pieces at the deadline, the O's did bring in a good piece in Wynn Pelzer from the Padres in exchange for Miguel Tejada.

29. Pittsburgh Pirates

SBN Blog: Bucs Dugout

2010 record: 36-69

Last week's rank: 29

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 30

You could be forgiven if you forgot the Pirates were still around. They've lost five straight and with upcoming games against the Reds, Rockies and Padres, it's hard to believe they'll show signs of life anytime soon. At 13-42, the Pirates are baseball's worst road team, a game and a half worse than the Orioles.

28. Seattle Mariners

SBN Blog: Lookout Landing

2010 record: 39-67

Last week's rank: 27

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 27

Equal-opportunity losers, the Mariners allowed themselves to get swept in Chicago, so it was out of the goodness of their hearts that they subsequently allowed themselves to get swept in Minnesota. The M's have scored 14 runs while allowing 45 over seven consecutive losses, and while the Orioles are just too good at losing to let the M's catch up, there's now a six-game gap between the fifth-worst and the fourth-worst team in baseball, meaning that bottom foursome is all but guaranteed to get the top four picks in next year's draft. So congratulations, Seattle - you may not get number one, but it seems the worst you could do is get number four. 

27. Arizona Diamondbacks

SBN Blog: AZ Snakepit

2010 record: 39-67

Last week's rank: 28

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 25

Since July 11, Arizona is 5-13 - all five wins have come against the New York Mets, with the D-backs outscoring the Mets 47-19 in six games. Arizona was among the busiest teams at the deadline, trading two-fifths of their rotation and their Opening Day closer, and seem to be in rebuild mode for 2012 and beyond. Barry Enright has a 2.76 ERA in his first six games - better than any other MLB rookie bar La Strasburg over the same time (min 25 IP).

26. Kansas City Royals

SBN Blog: Royals Review

2010 record: 45-61

Last week's rank: 25

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 26

A stunningly competent trade deadline from Dayton Moore and a good year by the Kansas City farm system has Royals fans hopeful again. Right at the deadline the Royals received a potentially interesting prospect (LHP Tim Collins) in exchange for Rick Ankiel and Kyle Farnsworth. The Royals then promptly extended Ned Yost through 2012, and announced that they were calling up internet hero Kila Ka'aihue. Sure, they then sat Kila on the bench for his first two games so they could continue to play Jose Guillen, but don't worry about the details.

25. Chicago Cubs

SBN Blog: Bleed Cubbie Blue

2010 record: 46-60

Last week's rank: 21

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 23

The Cubs have allowed 10.8 runs per game during their current six-game losing streak, falling behind the Astros and into fifth place in the NL Central. Six games is the longest Cub losing streak since May of 2009.

24. Cleveland Indians

SBN Blog: Let's Go Tribe!

2010 record: 45-61

Last week's rank: 23

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 20

Cleveland had a busy deadline, though there were no blockbusters this time. Gone are Austin Kearns, Kerry Wood, Jhonny Peralta and Jake Westbrook. The Tribe didn't get back a heckuva lot, but then again, they didn't send much away either. In short, the guys they got back are just that, just guys. Nevertheless, assuming Carlos Santana hasn't suffered a catastrophic injury, you can start to see a young core developing in Cleveland. Coming next year: a Grady Sizemore trade.

23. Milwaukee Brewers

SBN Blog: Brew Crew Ball

2010 record: 49-58

Last week's rank: 19

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 21

On any given night, it's impossible to tell which Brewer team is going to show up. In their last eleven games, they've had a five-game winning streak, a five-game losing streak, and an 18-1 win over the Cubs. As least Brewer fans have this, though: the team's decision to hold onto Prince Fielder and Corey Hart at the trade deadline and sign Hart to a long term extension would seem to imply the organization thinks it can contend next season.

22. Washington Nationals

SBN Blog: Federal Baseball

2010 record: 47-59

Last week's rank: 24

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 24

The Nationals, going with the old "puts butts in the seats" excuse, held on the Adam Dunn at the deadline...good luck with that. In slightly less head-scratching news, DC may have the makings of a really good rotation for 2011, with former top-Cuban league pitcher Yuniesky Maya joining the club and young aces Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg throwing without pain after their respective rehabs. 

21. Houston Astros

SBN Blog: The Crawfish Boxes

2010 record: 46-59

Last week's rank: 26

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 29

With Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman moving out this weekend, the Astros are moving full speed into a transitional period for the organization. In an interesting move, they're considering trying Carlos Lee at first base down the stretch. If he'll buy into the change, getting him out of the outfield could increase his value significantly.

20. Detroit Tigers

SBN Blog: Bless You Boys

2010 record: 52-52

Last week's rank: 20

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 16

Detroit is just about done for 2010. The Tigers went from 48-37 to 52-52 in three weeks, and now head back home for a crucial series with Chicago. The last week was especially tough to watch, with the Tigers losing a number of close games to the Rays and Red Sox. Sometimes, you just aren't good enough. At least the Tigers won't have to pay Magglio Ordonez $15 million next season.

19. New York Mets

SBN Blog: Amazin' Avenue

2010 record: 53-53

Last week's rank: 22

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 19

Now 7.5 games out of first place, the Mets have just a 7.5% chance at making the playoffs, per coolstandings.com Those odds, coupled with no moves at the trade deadline, leave Mets fans with just potential firings and Jets/Giants preseason games to look forward to at the end of September. 

18. Los Angeles Dodgers

SBN Blog: True Blue LA

2010 record: 54-52

Last week's rank: 14

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 18

The defense of their NL West title is on life-support, True Blue LA saying, "Barring a miracle, this season is over". They scored only eleven runs last week, losing five straight to the Padres and Giants, and fell eight back in the division. Then they started this week off by losing to the Padres again, and cannot afford to lose any more ground. They need to get their offense going - LA scored two or fewer in nine of the last 12 games, and no more than five in over three weeks.

17. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

SBN Blog: Halos Heaven

2010 record: 54-53

Last week's rank: 16

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 22

The Angels dropped to nine back of Texas on Saturday night, which was the first time they'd been nine games out of the division since the end of 2003. So that should tell you a little something about the current state of the team. An 18-9 June was almost completely undone by a 9-17 July, and now the whole clubhouse gets to deal with the unusual situation of being on the outside looking in for the rest of the year. On the plus side, with Dan Haren hanging around, it won't take a whole lot of work to build them back into a contender by next March.

16. Oakland Athletics

SBN Blog: Athletics Nation

2010 record: 53-52

Last week's rank: 12

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 13

Oakland pitchers have allowed a .613 OPS at home, with a 2.4 K/BB ratio and a rate of one home run per 58 plate appearances. Oakland pitchers have allowed a .797 OPS on the road, with a 1.9 K/BB and a rate of one home run per 29 plate appearances. I don't want to sit here and suggest that Billy Beane built his entire run prevention unit around the ballpark, but that's a pretty incredible split.

15. Colorado Rockies

SBN Blog: Purple Row

2010 record: 55-50

Last week's rank: 17

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 11

After running their losing streak to eight, Colorado turned it around, winning four straight, including a sweep of the Cubs, featuring an inning where the Rockies scored 12 runs with two out, sending 18 to the plate and got 11 straight hits. But is it too late? While they're 5.5 back of the Giants - not insurmountable - the Phillies and Reds are also ahead of them. They'll need to put together more winning weeks, and four games in Pittsburgh might well help.

14. Florida Marlins

SBN Blog: Fish Stripes

2010 record: 53-52

Last week's rank: 15

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 14

Somewhat surprisingly, the Marlins were buyers of sorts at the deadline, trading RHP Rick VandenHurk to the Orioles for veteran reliever LHP Will Ohman. Even if they don't make a run at the Braves, the Fish are probably hoping Ohman's 3.30 ERA will lead to some draft pick compensation at the season's end. Meanwhile, Marlins fans can breathe a sigh of relief as fan-favorites Cody Ross and Dan Uggla are staying in Miami for at least another half-season.

13. Toronto Blue Jays

SBN Blog: Bluebird Banter

2010 record: 55-51

Last week's rank: 18

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 5

Despite having some of the most desired pieces in the majors, the Jays stood pat at the deadline, and may be content to collect a bounty of draft picks in the offseason. Perhaps this should not be a surprise, though, as the Jays' recent focus on scouting suggests a new organizational strategy from the blue birds. The fact that a strong week despite a pair of losses to the Indians just put them further back in the playoff race should be proof enough that they cannot contend in this strong division, so it's not like they're looking to make a run, realistically.

12. Cincinnati Reds

SBN Blog: Red Reporter

2010 record: 60-47

Last week's rank: 11

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 15

The Reds have won seven of ten to reclaim the lead in the NL Central and climb to a season-high 13 games over .500. They haven't finished a season over .500 since 2000, and haven't been this far over .500 since winning 96 games in 1999. Remember the Scott Williamson days? Those were the Scott Williamson days.

11. Philadelphia Phillies

SBN Blog: The Good Phight

2010 record: 57-48

Last week's rank: 13

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 12

Hoping for a repeat of the Cliff Lee trade from last season, Ruben Amaro Jr. landed Roy Oswalt, the big prize of last week's deadline. Taking the East, however, will be a bigger task this year, with a much stronger Braves team in first. The Phils also parted with a key piece of last year's stretch run, J.A. Happ, in the Oswalt trade. Luckily, they've got their response to Jason Heyward - and baseball's top prospect in wake of the Strasburg call-up - in Domonic Brown. 

10. Atlanta Braves

SBN Blog: Talking Chop

2010 record: 60-45

Last week's rank: 6

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 7

Atlanta didn't acquire the "big-name" outfielder or pitcher many fans were clamoring for at the deadline, but Rick Ankiel and Kyle Farnsworth may yet be useful. With Nate McLouth on a bus to AAA Gwinnett, Ankiel gives the Braves another option for center field, leaving Melky Cabrera back in the platoon situation where he's most suited. And despite the derision from Yankee fans, Kyle Farnsworth is a good reliever, ready to join an already stacked bullpen. Martin Prado is hurt, but his injury isn't as nearly as crippling as the Phillies' loss of their second baseman. 

9. St. Louis Cardinals

SBN Blog: Viva El Birdos

2010 record: 59-47

Last week's rank: 7

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 10

The Cardinals might have overpaid by giving up Ryan Ludwick for Jake Westbrook, who had a 4.65 ERA as an Indian and is a free agent following the season, but with Brad Penny's return uncertain they needed to do something to shore up the rotation and ensure that they're not forced to rely upon the likes of Jeff Suppan again anytime soon.

8. Chicago White Sox

SBN Blog: South Side Sox

2010 record: 59-45

Last week's rank: 10

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 9

The Southsiders are in a real race now. There are times when a good week can really mean something in the AL Central, but that wasn't quite the case for Chicago. The White Sox went 6-1, and still lost ground to the Twins, who won eight straight. The Sox never added that big bat that they were seeking, but the offense nevertheless had a good week against two solid run-prevention units. After looking like he might lose the closer's job, Bobby Jenks responded with two converted saves in a row.

7. Boston Red Sox

SBN Blog: Over The Monster

2010 record: 60-46

Last week's rank: 8

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 4

The Red Sox have relied on comeback after comeback to manage a 5-2 record on the week. Unfortunately, that hasn't been enough to even keep pace with the Rays, and a deadline that did nothing to help the major league team and its beleaguered bullpen (in fact, the Red Sox even sold one of the few relievers who had been any good the past few months in Ramon Ramirez) could be interpreted as a white flag by some. If there's any bright side, it's that top prospect Ryan Kalish has hit the ground running in the major leagues, and Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury are not far from returning.

6. Texas Rangers

SBN Blog: Lone Star Ball

2010 record: 61-44

Last week's rank: 4

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 8

0, 0.5, 1, 2, 3, 8. Those are the current gaps between first- and second-place teams in each division. Guess which number belongs to Texas? Even after losing two of three to the Angels over the weekend, the Rangers are still the first team in baseball that can turn its attention from winning the division to something a little more lofty. Hell, with 12 left against Seattle and four more against Baltimore, some decidedly optimistic fans may even start talking about finishing with the league's best record.

5. Minnesota Twins

SBN Blog: Twinkie Town

2010 record: 59-47

Last week's rank: 9

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 3

Minnesota won eight straight against the Pardoner's Row of the Orioles, Royals and Mariners. Unfortunately, the schedule then sent the Twins south to Tampa. Over the course of that streak, the Twins picked up 2.5 games on the White Sox, who also got the good fortune of playing the Mariners. In shocking news, Mauer and Morneau are both banged up. That's never happened.

4. San Francisco Giants

SBN Blog: McCovey Chronicles

2010 record: 61-45

Last week's rank: 5

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 17

San Francisco went 5-2 last week to pull within two games of the Padres, and they possess a two-game edge in the NL wild-card race. But it hasn't been easy for the Giants - their past six victories have all been by two runs or fewer. Matt Cain finally beat the Dodgers, getting his first W in his 15th start against them. Road series against the Rockies and Braves beckon this week, with the four-game set in Atlanta certainly no pushover for San Francisco.

3. San Diego Padres

SBN Blog: Gaslamp Ball

2010 record: 62-42

Last week's rank: 3

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 6

San Diego continues to play just well enough to hold on at the top. A 3-3 week at home against the Marlins and Dodgers wasn't brilliant, but it kept them in the lead, and then they kicked off a Los Angeles/Arizona road trip with a convincing win Monday night. In his last eight starts - around an allegedly sneeze-induced stint on the DL [yeah, right...] - Mat Latos is 6-0 with a 1.40 ERA.

2. New York Yankees

SBN Blog: Pinstripe Alley

2010 record: 66-39

Last week's rank: 1

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 2

The Yankees picked up Lance Berkman, Austin Kearns, and Kerry Wood at the trade deadline for practically nothing, setting them up for another playoff run, so what could be wrong? How about a 3-4 week allowing the Rays to finally catch up and tie for the division lead? Even though both teams are going to make the playoffs, this is going to be a heck of a finish.

1. Tampa Bay Rays

SBN Blog: DRays Bay

2010 record: 66-39

Last week's rank: 2

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 1

Despite a relatively quiet deadline, the Rays are in the midst of a 9-1 stretch that has seen them build a 6.5-game lead on the Red Sox for a playoff spot, and even catch up to the Yankees to tie for the division lead. Though Chad Qualls may not have been the big bat they were hoping for, with a top defense behind him, the former closer should see some significant improvement as his ridiculous .429 BABIP starts taking a dip towards normal levels. A strong debut from top prospect Jeremy Hellickson has to have the Rays feeling confident about their future, as well.

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