MLB Power Rankings: Finding The Drama Over The Final Three Weeks

DENVER - SEPTEMBER 13: Adrian Gonzalez #23 of the San Diego Padres singles against the Colorado Rockies in the fifth inning at Coors Field on September 13 2010 in Denver Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

The 24th 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.

Here's a fun fact for you, using the CoolStandings.com playoff odds. I went ahead and exported every individual team's game log into Excel and then calculated each day's probability swing. For example, on Sunday night, the Rays were 86-56, and had playoff odds of 99.2%. On Monday night, the Rays were 87-56 after beating the Yankees, and had playoff odds of 99.6%. Monday's probability swing for the Rays, then, was +0.4%.

I calculated that change for every day for every team in baseball, and then sorted to find out which days have had the biggest swings. I don't know what I was expecting to find, and I suspect my brain was just trying to figure a way to put off writing this article, but here's what came out. Of the 11 biggest swings - that is, of the 11 days that saw the greatest change in a team's playoff odds - ten of those swings belonged to either the Giants or the Padres.

The biggest swing of them all was September 8th, when the Giants saw their playoff odds drop by 12.8% due to a loss to the Diamondbacks, a Rockies win over the Reds, and a Padres win over the Dodgers. But there have been nine more swings of at least 10.7%, many of them happening over the past calendar month.

The drama, pretty clearly, has been happening in the NL West. That's been the close race with the most intradivisional matchups. The Twins pulled away in the AL Central a month ago. The Rangers pulled away in the AL West six years ago. The Rays and Yankees continue to battle for AL East supremacy, but they've each been playoff locks for as long as I can remember. The Reds and Cardinals had that big series a month ago, but Cincinnati has since pulled away. And while the Braves and Phillies are tight, they haven't actually played each other since early July. It's those head-to-head contests that have the most suspense, and that have the most leverage.

So all eyes, lately, have been on the NL West, where the Padres and Giants continue to battle, and the Rockies have risen from the dead to get involved, too. And all eyes will remain there for at least two more days, as San Diego plays another pair in Colorado before moving on. People seek drama. Drama comes from significance and uncertainty. The games in the NL West right now are significant, and the race is uncertain.

But for those of you who are getting sick of the same teams, or those of you out East who are getting sick of staying up too late, I bring good news: the scene's about to shift. Or at least, the scene's about to split.

See, as mentioned before, the Braves and Phillies haven't played one another for more than two months. The downside of that is that we've missed out on super ultra NL East/Wild Card drama over the past few weeks. The upside of that is that we get to feast on super ultra NL East/Wild Card drama over the weeks to come. Atlanta and Philadelphia both have 17 games left on their slates, and six of those games are head-to-head.  You don't need me to tell you that those are going to be big, big games.

So much of the rest of the season is going to come down to five series, those series being:

1)      San Diego @ Colorado, 9/14-9/15

2)      Atlanta @ Philadelphia, 9/20-9/22

3)      San Francisco @ Colorado, 9/24-9/26

4)      San Diego @ San Francisco, 10/1-10/3

5)      Philadelphia @ Atlanta, 10/1-10/3

All the other games matter too, of course. It isn't only the head-to-head matchups that make a difference in the standings. But it's the head-to-head matchups that make the biggest difference in the standings, and those five series could end up deciding five seasons. Only three of those teams can make the playoffs, and right now, they're all within striking distance of each other.

There are 90 series remaining in the 2010 regular season. These'll be the five to watch. Though it's kind of a bummer that five of the eight playoff positions are already etched in stone, the competition over the remaining three should be sufficiently fierce to keep you occupied and satisfied. Whether you're a fan of a team that's involved or an outside fan seeking excitement, these final three weeks won't be boring. You just have to know where to look.

Enough with that, and on to the rankings:

30. Pittsburgh Pirates

SBN Blog: Bucs Dugout

2010 record: 48-95

Last week's rank: 30

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 30

If you haven't been paying close attention, you might have forgotten (or never known) that Chan Ho Park is a Pirate. On Sunday, though, he won his 123rd career game, tying Hideo Nomo's major league record for Asian-born players. It was only the Pirates' tenth win in their last 35 games.

29. Seattle Mariners

SBN Blog: Lookout Landing

2010 record: 55-89

Last week's rank: 29

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 27

The Mariners are on pace to allow fewer than 700 runs on the season. So they got things half right.

28. Kansas City Royals

SBN Blog: Royals Review

2010 record: 58-85

Last week's rank: 26

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 29

According to CoolStandings.com, the last day on which the Royals' playoff odds swung by at least 1% was July 9th. The last day on which the Royals' playoff odds swung by at least 1% in 2009 was June 18th. Progress.

27. Baltimore Orioles

SBN Blog: Camden Chat

2010 record: 56-88

Last week's rank: 28

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 28

In the first half of the season, the Orioles won 29 games for a .330 winning percentage. In the second half, they have won 27 games for a .482 winning percentage. In 32 fewer games, they have won almost as many games in the second half as the first half. So this team does, after all, have some life in it. But will they be able to carry it over in 2011?

26. Arizona Diamondbacks

SBN Blog: AZ Snakepit

2010 record: 57-87

Last week's rank: 27

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 22

After finishing August brightly, Arizona has gone back to the dark side - they've lost three consecutive series, winning just one of their last nine contests and scoring only 22 runs in the process. Injuries haven't helped: Justin Upton has started only one game this month, and Mark Reynolds is trying to play through an injured thumb [frustration at which got him tossed out of Sunday's game in Coors], but is 1-for-26 with 12 strikeouts in September.

25. Washington Nationals

SBN Blog: Federal Baseball

2010 record: 60-84

Last week's rank: 22

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 21

Yunesky Maya, the former Cuban righty of the year, has now made two starts for the Nationals, with mostly poor results. 0-2 so far, Maya has thrown 5 K to 5 BB--not an encouraging sign. It's too early to be drawing conclusions, but the Nationals have to be hoping for better from the soft-tossing defector, with Stephen Strasburg already out of their 2011 rotation. After Maya, it's the enigmatic John Lannan, the TJ-recovering Jordan Zimmermann, 800-year-old Livan Hernandez and señor crappy himself, Jason Marquis

24. Cleveland Indians

SBN Blog: Let's Go Tribe!

2010 record: 58-85

Last week's rank: 25

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 24

Matt LaPorta. Jason Donald. Trevor Crowe. Luis Valbuena. Andy Marte. Michael Brantley. Jordan Brown. These are young or youngish players in the Cleveland lineup with career OPS figures below .700. Asdrubal Cabrera's at .742 for his career, but .666 this season. It's no wonder this team is currently last in the bigs in attendance. It sucks to be bad, but it sucks even worse to be bad with young players playing badly. Hurry back, Carlos Santana.  

23. Chicago Cubs

SBN Blog: Bleed Cubbie Blue

2010 record: 63-81

Last week's rank: 21

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 25

The Cubs have been mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, enter play Tuesday 3.5 games back of the fourth place Brewers, and this weekend GM Jim Hendry was the subject of a fake press release in the Miller Park press box. Yet somehow they're 12-7 since Mike Quade took over and 7-4 in September. With seven more wins, they'd secure their first winning month of the season.  

22. Milwaukee Brewers

SBN Blog: Brew Crew Ball

2010 record: 66-77

Last week's rank: 23

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 20

The Brewers are bad when Rickie Weeks is struggling, and the last few weeks have been no exception: he's hitting just .149/.260/.269 in his last 17 games, with 27 strikeouts in 67 AB. The Brewers are 7-10 over those games. At least they're still drawing fans, though: They're averaging over 34,000 fans per game at Miller Park this season, which is more than the Braves, Reds or Padres can claim.

21. New York Mets

SBN Blog: Amazin' Avenue

2010 record: 71-73

Last week's rank: 18

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 19

Please enter. It's all the Mets have left.

20. Houston Astros

SBN Blog: The Crawfish Boxes

2010 record: 69-75

Last week's rank: 19

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 26

No one came into the 2010 season excited about competing for third place, but Brian McTaggart says the race to finish there is important to the Astros, who enter play Tuesday 2.5 games up on the fourth place Brewers. It's been a pretty inconsistent year for many Astros, but Brett Myers has been exceptionally reliable: he's pitched at least six innings in all 30 starts this season.

19. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

SBN Blog: Halos Heaven

2010 record: 70-73

Last week's rank: 24

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 23

Not that this is ever a fair thing to do, but the Angels are 15-4 against the Seattle Mariners this season, and 55-69 against everyone else. Somewhat interestingly, they've been somewhere between 9-10.5 games behind the Rangers for more than three weeks. More interestingly, it's worth noting that, while the flamethrowing Aroldis Chapman has nine strikeouts and two walks in 6.2 innings, Anaheim's flamethrowing Jordan Walden has 15 strikeouts and two walks in eight innings. Now we just have to figure out how that same guy, with that stuff, only whiffed 41 bats in 49.2 innings in the minors.

18. Los Angeles Dodgers

SBN Blog: True Blue LA

2010 record: 71-73

Last week's rank: 20

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 15

The Dodgers lost six in a row before recovering to split a four-game series with the Astros. It's the offense which has apparently already checked out to play golf. The last time Los Angeles got more than six runs was August 26; they're averaging barely three per game since, and are hitting just .227 from then through Sunday. They finally cut ties with Ronnie Belliard (who should never have been signed to begin with), but the team is now on pace for only the third losing season in LA since 1992.

17. Florida Marlins

SBN Blog: Fish Stripes

2010 record: 73-70

Last week's rank: 17

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 17

Dan Uggla, with his latest dinger, became the first second baseman to hit 30 homeruns in four seasons. More impressively, he did it in four consecutive seasons. And while it's quite the feat, it also speaks to the confluence of factors that have allowed the hulking Uggla to stay at second base. Looking ahead, whether or not Uggla logs his fifth 30-HR season at second may depend on whether his next team decides to keep him at the position. This offseason is Uggla's last year of arbitration eligibility, so look for the Marlins to move him. 

16. Detroit Tigers

SBN Blog: Bless You Boys

2010 record: 72-72

Last week's rank: 15

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 11

The Tigers have won seven of their last 11 games, and have dropped 1.5 games in the standings. Don't even try it. In more encouraging news: Rick Porcello reported to the minors in June after striking out 33 and walking 22 in 70.1 Major League innings. Since coming back, those figures are 40, 15, and 72.2. The strikeouts are still terrifyingly low, but they've also increased by more than a third, helping lift Porcello from the threshold of death.  

15. Oakland Athletics

SBN Blog: Athletics Nation

2010 record: 72-71

Last week's rank: 16

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 12

Cheers to Oakland Athletic Bobby Cramer, who debuted against the Royals and won the first game of his Major League career at the age of 31, following stops in A-ball, the indy leagues, and Mexico. Jeers to former Oakland Athletic Bobby Crosby, who went from superprospect to MVP candidate to bust to being just about out of baseball by the age of 30. Anyhoo, stories like Cramer's are a big part of what makes mediocre teams watchable down the stretch. Let's face it: a big reason we watch sports is to delight in other peoples' happiness, and few people are happier than Bobby Cramer.

14. St. Louis Cardinals

SBN Blog: Viva El Birdos

2010 record: 74-68

Last week's rank: 14

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 10

If the Cardinals had gotten hot over the last couple of weeks they might have brought the NL Central back into play. Instead they matched the Reds at 5-7 and remain seven games back. Jaime Garcia is a legit NL Rookie of the Year candidate, but he might be running out of gas: He's posted a 5.94 ERA in three September starts, and he's thrown 163 innings in 2010 after pitching just 37.2 in the minors in 2009.

13. Toronto Blue Jays

SBN Blog: Bluebird Banter

2010 record: 73-71

Last week's rank: 13

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 3

Toronto has tailed off as of late, losing five of their last six ballgames. Still, though, they've been consistent all season long putting up big numbers as the No. 4 team in the AL East. Their schedule is a tough way to finish as they'll face Boston, New York and Minnesota in three of their final five series.

12. Chicago White Sox

SBN Blog: South Side Sox

2010 record: 79-64

Last week's rank: 11

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 13

The White Sox look like they're going to take second place with honor, which isn't always the case in the AL Central. Since falling behind, the White Sox have played well enough - they just can't make up any ground. The Sox really need the Twins to play .400 baseball the rest of the way.

11. Cincinnati Reds

SBN Blog: Red Reporter

2010 record: 82-62

Last week's rank: 7

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 16

It's become cliche to pick on the Reds for their attendance woes, but they really are quite remarkable: the Reds drew a season-low 12,061 fans to the park on Monday for their win against Arizona. Even the Padres, whose fans are also much maligned, have managed to sell at least 14,900 tickets for every game this season.

10. Boston Red Sox

SBN Blog: Over The Monster

2010 record: 80-64

Last week's rank: 6

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 6

Rookies, rookies, everywhere! The Red Sox have all but waved the white flag on the season, so seeing the like of Yamaico Navarro, Ryan Kalish, Lars Anderson and Daniel Nava is not rare on your average night. But while the season may be winding down, there is still some excellence in the area: Jon Lester earned his 17th win Monday night with perhaps his best start of the season, an eight-inning, 12 strikeout performance over the M's. Yes, even in a lost season there are bright spots.

9. Texas Rangers

SBN Blog: Lone Star Ball

2010 record: 80-63

Last week's rank: 12

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 9

Nothing quite like a five-game winning streak and a sweep of the Yankees to stop a slump in its tracks. On the plus side, Cliff Lee's eight-inning, one-run performance on Sunday eased a lot of concerns. On the downside, Cliff Lee's three walks made for a season high. Comfortably ahead of the A's and comfortably behind the Twins, these are weird, meaningless games for Texas right now. They could coast, and they could tell people they're coasting, and who could get mad? It's just about getting healthy. That's literally they only thing they have to worry about on the field these days.  

8. San Francisco Giants

SBN Blog: McCovey Chronicles

2010 record: 81-63

Last week's rank: 10

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 18

The Giants are 9-3 in the past dozen games, winning four consecutive series, including a huge one at Petco over the weekend against the Padres, putting them into a virtual tie on top of the division. Only two of their final six series are against teams currently with winning records, so the schedule favors San Francisco down the stretch. And Tim Lincecum is back: in three September starts, he is 3-0 with a 2.08 ERA. Even more impressive, his K:BB ratio over those games is a startling 29:2.

7. San Diego Padres

SBN Blog: Gaslamp Ball

2010 record: 81-62

Last week's rank: 8

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 7

Is the slump over, or are we still in the midst? Monday night's effort in Colorado snapped a streak of 16 consecutive games in which the Padres failed to exceed four runs scored, the longest such single-season streak in the majors since the Tigers went 17 in late 2002. They lost three of four over the weekend against the Giants, managing a total of five runs, and were held to a line of .180/.248/.295 in the series. Now they're in this crucial set against the Rockies, and though Monday's win brightens the picture, two more losses would make everything dark once again.

6. Colorado Rockies

SBN Blog: Purple Row

2010 record: 79-65

Last week's rank: 9

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 8

Still the hottest team in baseball. Despite Monday's loss, Colorado was the winner of ten straight games, a streak that pulled them from 7.5 games back in the NL West to 1.5 (now 2.5), and saw their playoff odds go from 1.7% to 21.1% (now 12.6%). The "magic" of Coors Field continues to happen - they're averaging six runs per game there, compared to only 3.5 on the road. They're now in an eighteen-game stretch against the NL West, so the Rockies' fate is largely in their own hands the rest of the way.

5. Atlanta Braves

SBN Blog: Talking Chop

2010 record: 83-62

Last week's rank: 4

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 5

Derek Lowe picked a weird age, but fortunate month, to strike out a career-high 12 batters. His shutout against the Nationals begins a crucial tour of their division for the Wild Card-leading Braves, with games against the Marlins, Phillies, and Mets still to come. Fortunately for Atlanta, six of said games are versus the ever-last place Nats. The division will likely be decided, though, September 20-22, when the Bravos play at Philly.  

4. Philadelphia Phillies

SBN Blog: The Good Phight

2010 record: 84-61

Last week's rank: 5

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 14

Who is the Phillies' MVP, who's propelled the Phillies to first place, despite several slumping and injured stars? Roy Halladay? His 2.44 ERA in 228 innings (so far) is unparalleled and will likely earn him another Cy Young award. Jayson Werth? When Howard, Utley and Rollins faltered, Werth hit and stayed in the lineup. Here's a wildcard: Roy Oswalt. He's posted a 1.98 ERA in 63 innings with the Phillies, largely propelling their stretch run. No, all wrong. Wilson Valdez is the Phillies' MVP

3. New York Yankees

SBN Blog: Pinstripe Alley

2010 record: 87-57

Last week's rank: 1

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 1

After winning eight straight, the Yankees have dropped seven of their last eight games including Monday night's heartbreaker to Tampa Bay. The final two games of the series will be pivotal for New York before traveling to Baltimore for a three-game set. Unlike Tampa Bay, the Yankees' final stanza of games is not a cakewalk: after a four-game set with the Rays, the Yankees finish the season with six games against Boston and three against Toronto.

2. Minnesota Twins

SBN Blog: Twinkie Town

2010 record: 85-58

Last week's rank: 2

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 4

Minnesota's general refusal to lose leaves the Twins with not only full control of the AL Central, but a decent chance of finishing with home field advantage for a series or two in the playoffs. A 10-2 run has Minnesota at 85 wins, just two back of the AL East powers. In theory, the three-game set against the White Sox that kicks off Tuesday night is a big series, but even a sweep would still leave the Twins in commanding position.  

1. Tampa Bay Rays

SBN Blog: DRays Bay

2010 record: 87-56

Last week's rank: 3

Last week's Beyond The Box Score rank: 2

Thanks to a recent and rare stutter by the Yankees, the Rays are looking good in first place in the AL East. Monday night was huge for both clubs as David Price and CC Sabathia battled against each other, with the Rays finally taking a 1-0 win the 11th inning. The Rays/Yankees have two more games in this series before the Rays take on the Angels for three then back to New York for a four-game set. The Rays may have the edge, though, as their final 10 games are against Seattle, Baltimore and Kansas City.

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