Division winners solidify places in Power Rankings
Reds, Giants and near-NL East champ Nats hold their spots behind Rangers
There's a little more than a week remaining and some things have begun to crystalize.
The Washington Nationals have clinched a postseason spot and are gunning for the National League East title, which they could wrap up this week. The Cincinnati Reds and San Francisco Giants have already clinched the NL Central and West, respectively.
In the American League, the Texas Rangers own the healthiest division lead, and they could put a bow on the West for the third year in a row by taking care of the second-place A's in a four-game series between the two clubs that begins Monday. The AL East is a dogfight between the Yankees and Orioles, just as the AL Central is between the White Sox and Tigers.
The Wild Card leaders in the NL are the Braves and Cardinals, with the A's and Orioles in those slots in the AL. Other teams with a shot include the Brewers, Dodgers, Angels and Rays and maybe a few other outsiders.
But which is the best team in baseball?
Heading into the final full week of the regular season prior to the half-week in early October that will serve as the precursor to the Wild Card playoffs and Division Series, do we have a clearer picture of who deserves to be the team of top billing when trying to predict a World Series winner?
Is it Washington, even though Stephen Strasburg will not pitch again this year?
Is it Texas, even though Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre have been banged up of late?
What about the Yankees? Do they have enough left in the tank to claim the top prize? Or do the pesky Orioles have that intangible magic that will power them all the way to a ring?
Maybe it's the Reds or Giants, both of whom have been so good in September that they turned their division races into afterthoughts.
Or maybe it's another team just waiting to win seven or eight in a row down the stretch and shock everybody.
For the third season, MLB.com has set up a panel of experts to vote on the top 15 teams each week. Three former Major League players -- Larry Dierker, Mitch Williams and Frank Thomas -- are part of the process, as are columnist Peter Gammons and Carlton Thompson, vice president and executive editor of MLB.com. Former general manager and current MLB.com analyst Jim Duquette, along with MLB.com columnists Mike Bauman, Hal Bodley, Anthony Castrovince, Richard Justice, Matthew Leach and Jesse Sanchez are also part of the group.
Agree? Disagree? The power to rank the teams is yours.
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You have to figure Hamilton will return from his sinus woes with something to prove. The key to the Rangers might be Yu Darvish, who over the past several weeks has been everything they hoped for.
What don't the Reds have? The starting pitching has been solid and consistent and the bullpen brilliant. Joey Votto is back and hasn't really gotten hot yet. This is a dangerous and fun team, and one gets the sense they want to make up for their quick elimination two years ago.
It's hard to argue with the Nationals' shutting down of Strasburg when they've still got Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmermann, Edwin Jackson and emerging Ross Detwiler, not to mention a lineup that's getting healthier by the day.
Give credit to the resolve of the Giants, who lost Melky Cabrera to a performance-enhancing drug suspension, saw the Dodgers reload with huge trades, and just piled on and cruised to the division title. They still have tons of pitching, and if you watched baseball two years ago, you know it can win championships.
The Yankees will take stock in the brilliant effort from CC Sabathia over the weekend and hope that the clutch hits keep on coming. Will Raul Ibanez get big hits in the spotlight of October? Maybe he will.
It's hard to imagine where the Braves would be without Kris Medlen, which is why it makes sense that he's slated to get the ball in the Wild Card game. There's a lot to like about this young lineup and bullpen.
One thing's for certain when it comes to the Orioles: They will not lose in extra innings. OK, maybe they will, but they haven't in their past 16 such games, and they're playing their best baseball down the stretch, which nobody thought they could possibly do.
The Athletics' starting pitching staff is very young and very good, and now their young hitters are learning pretty quickly. It looks as if shortstop Stephen Drew was a brilliant pickup by general manager Billy Beane, and one of baseball's most improbable success stories keeps plugging away.
Losing five in a row heading into Monday is not a great way to win a division. The White Sox will have to play better, and fortunately they'll have a chance to do exactly that in seven consecutive home games that will make or break their postseason push.
Just like last year, the Cardinals are lying in the grass, waiting to pounce. Unlike last year, they don't have Albert Pujols, but Allen Craig has emerged, Matt Holliday and Carlos Beltran have been great and now Chris Carpenter is back on the mound.
It's finally time for Mike Scioscia's crew to see what it's made of. It might be a tad too late, but the Angels seem to have some fight left in them. They'll need another hot streak from Mike Trout and for Mark Trumbo to find his swing again if they are to somehow overcome Oakland in the final 10 days.
Just when it looked like they might finally overtake Chicago, the Tigers were swept in a doubleheader by the Twins. Triple Crown candidate Miguel Cabrera aside, the Tigers need to find more consistency with their pitching and more timely hits.
It's been a rough couple of weeks for the Rays, but they still have the starting pitching to keep them in games. They need more out of Evan Longoria, who's capable of carrying a team offensively, and they need the hitters surrounding him to do more than they've been doing lately.
This is one of the most quietly amazing stories of recent weeks. Ron Roenicke's Brewers just haven't given up, and they're right there in the Wild Card race after a dramatic turnaround. Ryan Braun is having another MVP-like season and could very well help power the Crew to a second straight October appearance.
Will all the trades pay off? Will banged-up Matt Kemp be a late-season hero? There are a lot of questions surrounding the Dodgers but there haven't been any definitive answers. They still have time to make a Wild Card run, even if manager Don Mattingly says he feels it slipping away.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.