MLB Power Rankings: End of Regular Season Edition

Ely Sussman@@MrElyminatorCorrespondent IOctober 4, 2012

MLB Power Rankings: End of Regular Season Edition

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    The balance of power has seismically shifted since I evaluated all 30 MLB teams on Opening Day (click here for those misguided predictions).

    With the baseball schedule momentarily paused following the 2012 regular season, now is the perfect time to revise my rankings.

    Where applicable, I've recognized "pleasant surprises" and "biggest disappointments" of the past six months. Each slide is further embellished with a "team MVP"—the player who finished with the highest Wins Above Replacement value (as calculated by

    The ordering of the top 10—this year's postseason qualifiers—was determined by the likelihood that each wins the upcoming World Series.

    Meanwhile, eliminated franchises have been judged by their potential to contend in 2013.

    Proceed to read Bleacher Report's version of the Major League Baseball hierarchy. As always, you're encouraged to share and explain your own opinion.

30. Houston Astros (55-107)

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    Pleasant surprise: Justin Maxwell (18 HR).

    Team MVP: Lucas Harrell (2.7 WAR).

    The Houston Astros were flirting with a .500 record until they were hit with a heavy dose of reality around Memorial Day. By midsummer, general manager Jeff Luhnow was depleting his roster.

    Impending free agents Carlos Lee and Brett Myers weren't in the club's future plans anyway, but after dealing reputable regulars like Chris Johnson and Wandy Rodriguez, Houston's chances of contending in 2013 have gone from slim to none, especially as it shifts to the American League West.

    Though there's an abundance of youthful players, few of them have high ceilings.

    Expectations were depressingly low entering 2012, so no one really qualified as a "disappointment."

29. Chicago Cubs (61-101)

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    Pleasant surprise: Alfonso Soriano (.499 SLG, 32 HR, 108 RBI).

    Biggest disappointments: Marlon Byrd (.070/.149/.070 in 47 PA), Geovany Soto (.199/.284/.347 in 197 PA), Ian Stewart (.201 AVG, 17 RBI).

    Team MVP: Darwin Barney (4.6 WAR).

    The Chicago Cubs ought to be ecstatic about three-quarters of their infield and their top starting pitchers and...that's about it.

    Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times writes that the team will be active in free agency. Plus, sluggers Bryan LaHair and Alfonso Soriano, who were targeted at the trade deadline, could easily be moved this winter.

    Wholesale changes to the roster are inevitable, but only expect subtle improvement. Most of the Cubs' promising prospects haven't advanced past the lower levels of the minor leagues.

    Rebuilding requires patience.

28. Cleveland Indians (68-94)

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    Biggest disappointments: Derek Lowe (5.52 ERA, 1.69 WHIP, 41 K in 119.0 IP), Casey Kotchman (.229/.280/.333), Justin Masterson (11-15, 4.93 ERA, 88 BB), Grady Sizemore (never played due to injuries).

    Team MVP: Carlos Santana (3.7 WAR).

    Cleveland has gaping holes in its lineup and a pathetic starting rotation.

    Even closer Chris Perez, the leader of a serviceable bullpen, isn't likely to stick around for 2013. His criticisms of fans, ownership and dismissed manager Manny Acta have given the front office extra incentives to put him on the trading block. At least's Jordan Bastian reports that "Pure Rage" is apologetic and interested in remaining with the Indians.

    Of all the underachievers, Casey Kotchman (.233 BABIP) and Justin Masterson (4.93 ERA, 4.16 FIP) have legitimate bounce-back potential. But the former isn't guaranteed to re-sign.

27. Colorado Rockies (64-98)

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    Pleasant surprises: Tyler Colvin (.290/.327/.531 with 18 HR), Chris Nelson (.309 AVG with 53 RBI), Wilin Rosario (28 HR in 426 PA).

    Biggest disappointments: Jeremy Guthrie (3-9, 6.35 ERA, 1.69 WHIP, 21 HR in 90.2 IP), Todd Helton (.238/.343/.400 with 7 HR and 37 RBI).

    Team MVP: Rafael Betancourt (2.6 WAR).

    Experimenting with a four-man rotation was only marginally successful. Whether the idea is renewed, the Colorado Rockies pitching staff should be less vulnerable if Jhoulys Chacin and Juan Nicasio are in good health.

    The outfield is also formidable when its regulars are able-bodied.

    On the other hand, you go around the horn and see a bunch of fringe major leaguers. That is, unless it's on a special occasion when Helton and Troy Tulowitzki are not on the disabled list.

26. Miami Marlins (69-93)

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    Pleasant surprise: Justin Ruggiano (.909 OPS, 13 HR, 14 SB).

    Biggest disappointments: Heath Bell (5.09 ERA, 19 SV in 27 SVO), Hanley Ramirez (.246/.322/.428 in 395 PA), Gaby Sanchez (.202/.250/.306 with 3 HR and 17 RBI).

    Team MVP: Giancarlo Stanton (5.4 WAR).

    Quite frankly, the Miami Marlins lack direction.

    Their volatile manager, Ozzie Guillen, is partially to blame for that, but so is ownership. Just a few months into a brand-new, free-spending era, Jeffrey Loria gave up on several major investments.

    In 2013, there will be speed atop the lineup with Emilio Bonifacio and Jose Reyes. Bona fide superstar Giancarlo Stanton is a terrific asset to have further down the batting order. And Mark Buehrle is guaranteed to toss 200-plus innings and record double-digit wins.

    Beyond that, the Fish might be dependent on rookies.

25. Minnesota Twins (66-96)

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    Pleasant surprise: Scott Diamond (12-9, 3.54 ERA, 31 BB in 173.0 IP).

    Biggest disappointments: Nick Blackburn (4-9, 7.39 ERA in 19 GS), Francisco Liriano (3-10, 5.31 ERA, 1.44 WHIP), Tsuyoshi Nishioka (.000/.071/.000 in 14 PA).

    Team MVP: Denard Span (4.9 WAR).

    Unless helped by considerable good fortune, the Minnesota Twins will finish far from the league leaders once again. The pitching staff is in shambles, the middle infielders can't produce with their bats and Joe Mauer is being weaned off his catching duties.


24. Boston Red Sox (69-93)

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    Pleasant surprises: Pedro Ciriaco (.293 AVG, 16 SB), Junichi Tazawa (1.43 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 9.00 K/BB).

    Biggest disappointments: Alfredo Aceves (2-10, 5.36 ERA, 8 BS), Andrew Bailey (7.04 ERA, 6 SV in 9 SVO), Josh Beckett (5-11, 5.23 ERA), Carl Crawford (Tommy John surgery), Jon Lester (9-14, 4.82 ERA).

    Team MVP: Dustin Pedroia (4.6 WAR).

    The world came crashing down on the Boston Red Sox this past summer.

    Despite an Opening Day payroll north of $173 million (h/t USA Today), they sank to the cellar. Such blatant underachieving could cost manager Bobby Valentine his job.

    Fortunately, after dumping most future financial commitments on the Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston has an opportunity to start over and spend more responsibly.

    Jose Iglesias and Ryan Lavarnway won't be counted on to provide much. They have had difficulty transitioning to the big leagues.

23. New York Mets (74-88)

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    Pleasant surprises: R.A. Dickey (20-6, 2.73 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 5 CG), Jonathon Niese (13-9, 3.40 ERA).

    Biggest disappointments: Jason Bay (.165/.237/.299), Johan Santana (6-9, 4.85 ERA).

    Team MVP: David Wright (6.7 WAR).

    We witnessed a changing of the guard in the Big Apple. Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey has established himself as ace of the New York Mets pitching staff.

    Santana has lost his reputation as a franchise savior. In fact, he and Jason Bay will wind up hurting the team by hogging nearly half of its projected 2013 payroll!

    Jonathon Niese and Scott Hairston quietly exceeded expectations, though the latter could land elsewhere this winter if offered a multi-year deal, a team official tells ESPN NewYork's Adam Rubin.

    I don't have an answer for New York's bullpen woes. But if it's any consolation, Ike Davis and Lucas Duda are bound to boost their numbers.

22. San Diego Padres (76-86)

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    Pleasant surprises: Yasmani Grandal (.297/.394/.469 in 226 PA), Chase Headley (NL-best 115 RBI).

    Biggest disappointments: Jason Bartlett (.432 OPS in 98 PA), Nick Hundley (.157/.219/.245 in 225 PA).

    Team MVP: Chase Headley (5.7 WAR).

    Chase Headley was outstanding in all facets of the game. He'll either be the Padres' leading contributor again or find himself traded for an über-talented package of players.

    Yasmani Grandal and Carlos Quentin deepen the Padres' lineup behind the stud third baseman.

    However, the key to significant improvement is the health of talented arms like Andrew Cashner, Cory Luebke and Joe Wieland. Squeezing 50 starts out of them—as opposed to 15—could be the difference between a competitive campaign and an uneventful one.

21. Toronto Blue Jays (73-89)

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    Pleasant surprise: Edwin Encarnacion (.941 OPS, 42 HR, 110 RBI).

    Biggest disappointments: Francisco Cordero (3-5, 5.77 ERA, 1.81 WHIP), Colby Rasmus (.289 OBP), Ricky Romero (9-14, 5.77 ERA, 105 BB).

    Team MVP: Edwin Encarnacion (4.5 WAR).

    Due to overwhelming injuries, we caught a sneak peek of the 2015 Toronto Blue Jays. Countless prospects were forced into prominent roles despite lacking maturation.

    Brandon Morrow is poised to break out into an All-Star, though it's tough to trust any other member of the starting rotation.

    Expect general manager Alex Anthopoulos to pursue a free-agent arm (via Ken Rosenthal, Fox Sports) and try everything possible to restore enigmatic southpaw Ricky Romero to his former glory.

20. Pittsburgh Pirates (79-83)

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    Pleasant surprise: A.J. Burnett (16-9, 3.43, 2.95 K/BB).

    Biggest disappointments: Nate McLouth (.140/.210/.175 in 62 PA), Jose Tabata (.664, 40 SB%).

    Team MVP: Andrew McCutchen (7.1 WAR).

    The 2012 Pittsburgh Pirates have an embarrassing distinction: the only team in MLB history to climb 16 games above .500 and finish with a losing record.

    Expecting A.J. Burnett and Andrew McCutchen to duplicate their awesome seasons seems unrealistic.

    The next wave of hyped pitching prospects are breaking through. If Jeff Locke's 5.50 ERA is any indication, the process could be pretty turbulent.

    At least the Bucs can assume 20-plus home runs from Garrett Jones, a .750 OPS for Neil Walker and 190 innings from Wandy Rodriguez. Yay consistency!

19. Chicago White Sox (85-77)

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    Pleasant surprises: Jake Peavy (3.37 ERA, 1.10 WHIP in 219.0 IP), A.J. Pierzynski (career-best .827 OPS).

    Biggest disappointments: Philip Humber (7.39 ERA, 1.69 WHIP since perfect game), Brent Morel (.420 OPS, 39 K in 125 PA).

    Team MVP: Chris Sale (5.8 WAR).

    Tough decisions await the Chicago White Sox, as veterans Jake Peavy and A.J. Pierzynski could potentially join 2012 rentals Francisco Liriano, Brett Myers and Kevin Youkilis in free agency. Resources for re-signing them all are somewhat limited following a year of poor attendance at U.S. Cellular Field.

    The club's cheapest everyday players, Gordon Beckham and Dayan Viciedo, were underwhelming this past season. Neither belong above the sixth spot in the batting order.

18. Kansas City Royals (72-90)

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    Pleasant surprise: Jeremy Guthrie (3.16 ERA in 14 GS).

    Biggest disappointments: Eric Hosmer (.232/.304/.359), Jonathan Sanchez (1-6, 7.76 ERA, 44 BB in 53.1 IP).

    Team MVP: Alex Gordon (6.1 WAR).

    The Kansas City Royals are going to spend considerable cash on starting pitching during the offseason. That promise comes directly from owner David Glass (via the Kansas City Star).

    With Danny Duffy and Joakim Soria returning from elbow injuries, they'll have the luxury of depth.

    The primary concern for K.C. has to be corner infielders Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. Neither will reach his high ceiling without better plate discipline.

    However, Salvador Perez is a breakout candidate who could seize the title of the AL's No. 1 catcher. And outfielder Wil Myers has all the tools to hit the ground running in his first MLB summer.

17. Arizona Diamondbacks (81-81)

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    Pleasant surprises: Aaron Hill (.302/.360/.522 with 26 HR and 85 RBI), Wade Miley (16-11, 3.33, 1.18 WHIP, 3.89 SO/BB).

    Biggest disappointments: Stephen Drew (.193/.290/.311 in 155 PA), Daniel Hudson (7.35 ERA, Tommy John surgery).

    Team MVP: Aaron Hill (4.8 WAR).

    There has perhaps never been a worse offseason to be seeking a starting shortstop. The market will contract even more if Marco Scutaro re-signs with the San Francisco Giants.

    Like some aforementioned teams, the Arizona Diamondbacks are simultaneously easing several young pitchers into the big leagues. Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs may eventually become Cy Young Award candidates, but their 2013 results won't necessarily reflect that.

    The D-Backs could take a step backward, as ESPN's Buster Olney insists that at least one of their outfielders will be dealt (ESPN Insider access required).

16. Seattle Mariners (75-87)

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    Pleasant surprise: Hisashi Iwakuma (8-4, 2.65 ERA as starter).

    Biggest disappointment: Dustin Ackley (.226/.294/.328 in 668 PA), Jesus Montero (.260/.298/.386 with -0.9 defensive WAR).

    Team MVP: Felix Hernandez (4.7 WAR).

    Former top prospects Dustin Ackley and Jesus Montero were pitiful this past summer, and first baseman Justin Smoak didn't turn it on until mid-September. Even worse, utility man Chone Figgins is owed $8 million to ride the bench.

    But there's optimism for the sputtering offense. Seattle Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik unveiled plans to shrink Safeco Field in 2013 and "create an environment that is fair for both hitters and pitchers." His announcement is music to the ears of Nick Swisher and other free-agent sluggers.

    The pitching staff has the potential to thrive despite the alterations.

    King Felix is just entering his prime, and Japanese standout Hisashi Iwakuma is interested in re-signing, reports Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times. Moreover, Tom Wilhelmsen has quietly emerged as one of the league's top closers.

15. Tampa Bay Rays (90-72)

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    Pleasant surprises: Jake McGee (5-2, 1.95 ERA, 0.80 WHIP, 73 SO in 55.1 IP), Fernando Rodney (MLB record 0.60 ERA, 48 SV in 50 SVO).

    Biggest disappointment: Carlos Pena (.198 AVG, 181 SO).

    Team MVP: David Price (6.4 WAR).

    Rodney is a due for a major regression next summer. Of course, he could still serve as a competent reliever.

    Tampa Bay Rays pitchers are utterly dominant, and their margin for error will shrink as B.J. Upton mulls multi-year offers from other clubs.

    GM Andrew Friedman has the daunting task of finding adequate players to fill holes at first base and designated hitter. Evan Longoria and Ben Zobrist cannot generate enough runs on their own.

14. Milwaukee Brewers (83-79)

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    Pleasant surprises: Norichika Aoki (.288 AVG, 10 HR, 50 RBI, 30 SB), Jonathan Lucroy (.881 OPS).

    Biggest disappointments: John Axford (5-8, 4.74 ERA, 9 BS), Randy Wolf (3-10, 5.69 ERA, released on birthday).

    Team MVP: Ryan Braun (7.0 WAR).

    In 2012, the Milwaukee Brewers were the only National League team that combined to score and allow more than 1,500 runs at a reasonable altitude (Colorado Rockies excluded).

    Expect them to repeat that feat with all of their top batters already under contract and an inexperienced starting rotation.

    Closer John Axford must earn back the trust of his teammates after single-handedly screwing them over in the wild-card race.

13. Philadelphia Phillies (81-81)

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    Pleasant surprises: Juan Pierre (.307 AVG, 37 SB), Carlos Ruiz (.325/.394/.540 with 16 HR).

    Biggest disappointments: Roy Halladay (4.49 ERA, worst since 2000), Ryan Howard (.718 OPS, 99 SO in 292 PA).

    Team MVP: Cole Hamels (4.8 WAR).

    Picking up Carlos Ruiz's team option is just "a formality" for Philadelphia Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. (via's Jim Salisbury). When healthy, he was arguably the best catcher in Major League Baseball.

    Still, this club has gaping holes.

    Howard posted career lows in all significant offensive categories. Former top prospect Domonic Brown showed no improvement from 2011. The middle relievers did an awful job setting up Jonathan Papelbon and an excellent job blowing leads in Cliff Lee's outings.

    The Phillies will be challenged to complete their roster considering that almost $125 million is tied up in eight key players.

12. Los Angeles Dodgers (86-76)

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    Pleasant surprises: Luis Cruz (.297 AVG), A.J. Ellis (.786 OPS, 13 HR, 52 RBI, 32.7 CS%).

    Biggest disappointment: James Loney (.344 SLG).

    Team MVP: Clayton Kershaw (6.2 WAR).

    This ought to be the slogan for the 2013 Los Angeles Dodgers: too big to fail.

    New ownership has no reservations about exceeding the luxury tax threshold, writes Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times. They've already crossed it, but plan to keep spending, particularly in the area of starting pitching.

    L.A.'s roster was revamped this past July and transformed again in late August. Fewer transactions will foster a calmer clubhouse environment and lead to better results.

    There won't be a more dangerous offensive foursome in the Senior Circuit than Andre Ethier, Adrian Gonzalez, Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez.

11. Los Angeles Angels (89-73)

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    Pleasant surprise: Ernesto Frieri (4-2, 2.32 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 23 SV in 26 SVO).

    Biggest disappointments: Peter Bourjos (.606 OPS in 195 PA), Ervin Santana (9-13, 5.16 ERA, 39 HR allowed).

    Team MVP: Mike Trout (10.7 WAR).

    Rather than dwell on their failure to achieve lofty preseason objectives, the Los Angeles Angels are building a juggernaut for 2013.

    Zack Greinke and the front office have mutual interest in a mega deal. Also, right-hander Dan Haren wants to stay on board, potentially for less than his $15.5 team option (via Mike DiGiovanna, Los Angeles Times).

    Players traditionally improve between their age-20 and age-21 seasons. Barring injury, that will hold true for Mr. Trout.

    The Halos should be playoff-bound.

10. Baltimore Orioles (93-69)

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    Pleasant surprises: Chris Davis (33 HR, 85 RBI), Miguel Gonzalez (9-4, 3.25 ERA, 2 SB allowed), Nate McLouth (7 HR, 12 SB in 55 G).

    Biggest disappointment: Brian Roberts (.415 OPS in 17 G).

    Team MVP: Adam Jones (3.5 WAR).

    What an inspiring effort from a franchise that had such a dreary forecast prior to Opening Day.

    Inexplicable dominance in extra-inning games has been enough to keep the Baltimore Orioles alive this long. However, an ordinary plus-seven run differential is more reflective of the team's actual ability.

    Therefore, expect a major regression next year and a quick exit from these upcoming playoffs.

9. Detroit Tigers (88-74)

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    Pleasant surprises: Andy Dirks (.322/.370/.487), Austin Jackson (.300/.377/.479 with 16 HR).

    Biggest disappointment: Brennan Boesch (.659 OPS, 104 SO).

    Team MVP: Justin Verlander (7.5 WAR).

    Unless Verlander is going to take one day of rest between postseason starts and toss shutouts every time, I don't have faith in the Detroit Tigers.

    Just look at their bullpen. Jose Valverde hasn't been missing bats at all in 2012, and Joaquin Benoit and Phil Coke are slumping at the most inopportune time.

    AL Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera has carried the Tigers to a playoff berth, but he's got limitations.

8. Texas Rangers (93-69)

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    Pleasant surprise: David Murphy (.304/.380/.479).

    Biggest disappointments: Derek Holland (4.67 ERA, 32 HR allowed, lost Game 162), Roy Oswalt (5.80 ERA, demoted to bullpen), Michael Young (.682 OPS with 8 HR).

    Team MVP: Adrian Beltre (6.6 WAR).

    These aren't your Irish twin's Texas Rangers.

    The 2011 team that came within one strike of a World Series title was getting more production out of Michael Young and Ian Kinsler.

    There are plenty of potential starting pitchers on the staff, but few consistent ones. After Matt Harrison, Yu Darvish is probably the best guy Ron Washington can call to the mound, and he needed four months to get his act together.

7. Oakland Athletics (94-68)

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    Pleasant surprises: Ryan Cook (6-2, 2.09 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 80 SO in 73.1 IP), Brandon Moss (.596 SLG).

    Biggest disappointments: Kurt Suzuki (.218/.250/.286 with 1 HR), Jemile Weeks (.221 AVG, .609 OPS).

    Team MVP: Josh Reddick (4.5 WAR).

    I've given up trying to explain the Oakland Athletics.

    How did they convert Sean Doolittle from position player to formidable setup man? Why do they refuse to use veteran starting pitchers? And where on earth can I find Moss as good as theirs?

    Sweeping the Texas Rangers to clinch the AL West crown left the bullpen completely drained. Such a circumstance would have doomed the A's in the playoffs had they fallen short in Game 162.

    Instead, with a couple days to recuperate prior to the Division Series, I like the odds of their miraculous run continuing.

6. Atlanta Braves (94-68)

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    Pleasant surprise: Kris Medlen (9-0, 0.97 ERA, 0.80 WHIP in starter).

    Biggest disappointments: Brian McCann (.230/.300/.399), Dan Uggla (.220/.348/.384).

    Team MVP: Michael Bourn (5.9 WAR).

    Starting Kris Medlen has assured an Atlanta Braves victory 23 consecutive times dating back to 2010.

    However, none of those experiences can prepare him for the craziness of a one-game playoff.

    Late-inning relievers Jonny Venters, Eric O'Flaherty and Craig Kimbrel were well-maintained this summer. If Medlen gets through seven frames, the team is home free.

    A stout defense featuring Michael Bourn, Jason Heyward, Brian McCann and Andrelton Simmons seldom makes mistakes. But sometimes, you just get out-played by a hotter opponent.

5. St. Louis Cardinals (88-74)

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    Pleasant surprises: Allen Craig (22 HR, 92 RBI, .876 OPS), Lance Lynn (18-7, 3.78 ERA, 180 K).

    Biggest disappointment: Lance Berkman (three stints on disabled list).

    Team MVP: Yadier Molina (6.9 WAR).

    You would need to go back more than three weeks to find a contest that the St. Louis Cardinals lost by more than three runs.

    They will continue to compete on a nightly basis thanks to a deep pitching staff. Even rookies Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal are thriving.

    Veteran outfielder Carlos Beltran has snapped out of a midsummer slump, and Yadier Molina is among the best all-around players in baseball.

    The frightening reality: These 2012 Cards are more dangerous than last year's World Series champs.

4. San Francisco Giants (94-68)

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    Pleasant surprises: Marco Scutaro (.362/.385/.473 in 268 PA), Barry Zito (15-8, 4.15 ERA).

    Biggest disappointments: Melky Cabrera (50-game PED suspension), Tim Lincecum (10-15, 5.18 ERA, 17 WP).

    Team MVP: Buster Posey (7.2 WAR).

    One year removed from a devastating leg injury, Posey has made a strong case for National League MVP. He was essential to the San Francisco Giants' Fall Classic journey in 2010, and they'll be leaning on him again this October.

    Acquiring Marco Scutaro at the non-waiver trade deadline is looking like the wisest midseason move we saw around Major League Baseball.

    Manager Bruce Bochy has given Lincecum a vote of confidence by inserting him into the postseason rotation. The Freak's struggles in 2012 make that decision tough to justify.

    The deep bullpen will need to bail him out of trouble.

3. Washington Nationals (98-64)

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    Pleasant surprises: Ian Desmond (.292/.335/.511 with 25 HR), Bryce Harper (.477 SLG, 22 HR, 18 SB), Adam LaRoche (.853 OPS, 33 HR, 100 RBI).

    Biggest disappointments: Brad Lidge (9.64 ERA, released), Chien-Ming Wang (6.68 ERA, 2.01 WHIP, 1.00 K/BB).

    Team MVP: Bryce Harper (5.0 WAR).

    Thanks to a well-rounded roster, the Washington Nationals can make it deep into the postseason while Stephen Strasburg sits idly by.

    Closer Drew Storen has returned to pre-injury form, and Michael Morse's power stroke is officially back (four HR and 10 RBI in last six regular season games).

    Bryce Harper is sizzling too, but it's imperative that the 19-year-old doesn't shrink on the international stage. After all, he didn't appear comfortable during July's All-Star Game.

    Inexperience is a potential issue, especially for the four starting rotation members. Edwin Jackson, the only one who has previously been in this position, was a liability on the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals.

2. New York Yankees (95-67)

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    Pleasant surprises: Eric Chavez (.908 OPS with 16 HR vs. RHP), Andy Pettitte (lowest ERA and WHIP since 2005), Rafael Soriano (2.26 ERA, 42 SV in 46 SVO).

    Biggest disappointments: Ivan Nova (5.02 ERA, 28 HR allowed), Michael Pineda (overweight, missed season with shoulder injury).

    Team MVP: Robinson Cano (7.6 WAR).

    Speaking of red-hot superstars, the New York Yankees claimed AL home-field advantage behind Robinson Cano (nine straight multi-hit games) and CC Sabathia (three straight eight-inning starts).

    Andy Pettitte, Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda comprise the most imposing trio of starters on any 2012 playoff team.

    Members of their bench, like Eric Chavez and Brett Gardner—who's finally back in the swing of things—could be starters for several of their potential opponents.

1. Cincinnati Reds (97-65)

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    Pleasant surprises: Aroldis Chapman (1.51 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 122 K in 71.2 IP), Ryan Ludwick (.531 SLG).

    Biggest disappointments: Devin Mesoraco (.212/.288/.352), Drew Stubbs (.610 OPS in 544 PA).

    Team MVP: Johnny Cueto (5.8 WAR).

    The Cincinnati Reds have been thoroughly tested.

    They played 50 games without MVP-caliber slugger Joey Votto and ran away with the NL Central title. While Dusty Baker battled a mini-stroke, they went 7-4.

    Why does Cincinnati rank No. 1?

    Terrific fielders at nearly every position. Power from both sides of the plate. Efficient starting pitchers. Baseball's best bullpen.

    The Reds should be favored in any potential postseason matchup.