MLB Power Rankings: Post September Call-Ups

Ely Sussman@@MrElyminatorCorrespondent ISeptember 2, 2013

MLB Power Rankings: Post September Call-Ups

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    Hold on to your sunflower seeds. It's finally September, the final month of the 2013 MLB regular season, which means active rosters have expanded to infuse extra drama into the playoff races. Following the first prospect promotions and veteran returns from injury, let's update the power rankings to reflect the current competitive environment.

    We'll weigh recent performance more heavily than year-to-date numbers in order to best approximate where the 30 teams rank relative to one another. In other words, don't blindly follow overall win-loss records.

    It's fascinating how much has changed across the baseball world in the past five months, and even compared to Joel Reuter's post-All-Star break rankings, these will seem hardly recognizable.

    *Stats provided by FanGraphs unless otherwise noted, updated through the games of September 1.

30. Miami Marlins (50-85)

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    Last 10 Games: 2-8

    Why They're No. 30

    Rotation leader Jose Fernandez is fast approaching his innings limit, according to's Joe Frisaro, and the remaining starting candidates haven't yet figured out how to strike out major league hitters.

    The Miami Marlins offense is easily the league's least productive. Aside from slugger Giancarlo Stanton, the lineup is laden with overmatched rookies and over-the-hill veterans.

    What to Watch For

    Miami's bullpen looked shockingly adequate around midseason, and none of the key contributors have faded in the second half. Closer Steve Cishek, in particular, is worth observing, both for his funky delivery and recent dominance (no runs allowed in August).

    September Call-Ups

    Chris Hatcher and Zach Phillips, Chris Coghlan activated from the disabled list

29. Houston Astros (45-91)

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    Last 10 Games: 4-6

    Why They're No. 29

    Rookie pitchers like Jarred Cosart and Brett Oberholtzer have provided huge lifts to a Houston Astros roster that used to be far and away baseball's weakest.

    Meanwhile, poor discipline has brought the Astros offense dangerously close to setting a new MLB single-season record for most strikeouts. Of 24 position players with at least one plate appearance for the club this year, only Jason Castro owns an OPS above .800.

    What to Watch For

    Former first-round draft pick George Springer has put up video game-like numbers at Double-A and Triple-A with his otherworldly athleticism. He'll presumably appear in the majors in the coming days.

    September Call-Ups

    Trevor Crowe and Jorge De Leon

28. Minnesota Twins (59-76)

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    Last 10 Games: 4-6

    Why They're No. 28

    These are stats for all the Minnesota Twins pitchers who have made at least 10 starts this season:

    Kevin Correia4.181.415.0
    Samuel Deduno3.831.355.6
    Scott Diamond5.521.553.8
    Kyle Gibson6.531.755.1
    Mike Pelfrey4.861.515.5
    Vance Worley7.211.994.6

    None of them generate strikeouts!

    The club suffered from the same issue in 2012 but made no effort to address it. Minnesota signed Correia for $10 million rather than commit the same to Francisco Liriano, and the team traded for Vance Worley instead of another controllable starter with more upside.

    Meanwhile, many of the Twins' position players (even Joe Mauer) have struggled to put balls in play. That's been a huge detriment considering the large dimensions of Target Field, hence their 28-36 home record, the second-worst among American League teams.

    What to Watch For

    From's Rhett Bollinger:

    Twins catcher Joe Mauer continues to make good progress in his recovery from a concussion suffered on Aug. 19, when he was hit by a foul tip while catching.

    Mauer has been ramping up his workouts and has been hitting off a tee, and he hasn't had any setbacks yet. There's a chance he will be ready to return once the Twins get back from their road trip on Friday, but Twins general manager Terry Ryan wasn't ready to speculate on Sunday.

    The Twins understandably want to proceed cautiously. Justin Morneau, the former AL MVP they recently traded, deteriorated from elite to league average after suffering a concussion.

    September Call-Ups

    Alex Presley

27. Chicago White Sox (56-79)

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    Last 10 Games: 5-5

    Why They're No. 27

    The Chicago White Sox plummeted into last place quickly due to a stagnant offense and thin starting rotation. Moving Jake Peavy and Alex Rios, as you would suspect, has done nothing to alleviate those problems.

    At age 37, captain Paul Konerko is finally deteriorating, while catcher Tyler Flowers has failed to fill the A.J. Pierzynski void as was anticipated.

    At least the White Sox still have Addison Reed and Chris Sale.

    What to Watch For

    Avisail Garcia, Chicago's main acquisition in the Peavy trade, is batting .354/.391/.488 in his new laundry. Fans want to see more of that to help them forget about this brutal experience.

    September Call-Ups

    Bryan Anderson and Charlie Leesman

26. Milwaukee Brewers (59-77)

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    Last 10 Games: 4-6

    Why They're No. 26

    Ryan Braun's absence, Corey Hart's season-ending surgery and the knee issues plaguing Aramis Ramirez combined to decimate a once-promising lineup. The Milwaukee Brewers have been limited to one run or fewer in 31 of their games this season.

    Yovani Gallardo has barely resembled the rotation ace we knew from 2009 to 2012. The right-hander hasn't recorded more than seven strikeouts in any start this year.

    If not for the excellent individual efforts of Carlos Gomez (.286/.341/.508, 19 HR, 32 SB) and Jean Segura (.301/.335/.436, 12 HR, 38 SB), the Brewers would be doomed to finish in the NL Central cellar.

    What to Watch For

    With Rickie Weeks (torn hamstring) out until 2014, rookie second baseman Scooter Gennett is emerging as a legitimate producer. Sustaining his .914 OPS through September's end could make Weeks expendable.

    Leadoff man Norichika Aoki is also a joy to watch because of his peculiar batting stance and surreal contact skills (only 32 strikeouts in 558 plate appearances).

    September Call-Ups

    Donovan Hand

25. Toronto Blue Jays (62-75)

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    Last 10 Games: 5-5

    Why They're No. 25

    The bullpen has been an obvious strength for the Toronto Blue Jays in 2013. Too bad it seldom gets to protect leads in the final innings.

    Talented starters like Josh Johnson and Brandon Morrow missed large chunks of the summer due to arm injuries and failed to perform up to their capabilities when healthy. The Blue Jays also overestimated Ricky Romero's bounce-back potential and R.A. Dickey's ability to transition from the Senior Circuit.

    Adding to the adversity, Toronto's entire Opening Day outfield—Melky Cabrera, Colby Rasmus and Jose Bautista—has landed on the disabled list.

    What to Watch For

    So far, not much production from second-half call-ups. Anthony Gose, Kevin Pillar and Moises Sierra each have a sub-.600 OPS for the Blue Jays. Securing a role on the 2014 active roster hinges on one of them getting into a rhythm down the stretch.

    Every Edwin Encarnacion plate appearance is captivating as the slugger duplicates the numbers from his breakout 2012 campaign.

    September Call-Ups

    Steve Delabar and Dustin McGowan activated from the disabled list

24. San Diego Padres (60-76)

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    Last 10 Games: 4-6

    Why They're No. 24

    Andrew Cashner and Eric Stults have been genuinely serviceable starting pitchers for the San Diego Padres; everybody else has not.

    The club put too much trust in Clayton Richard and Edinson Volquez coming off decent seasons. When both suffered huge regressions, the Padres had no answers.

    Beyond that, Carlos Quentin hurt his knee (again), Everth Cabrera got caught up in the Biogenesis scandal and Chase Headley nose-dived from a .875 OPS in 2012 to a .699 OPS.

    What to Watch For

    Closer Huston Street has a scoreless streak that dates back to June 26. He'd make a logical trade candidate this winter if that brilliance continues.

    September Call-Ups

    Tommy Layne and Chris Robinson

23. Chicago Cubs (58-78)

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    Last 10 Games: 4-6

    Why They're No. 23

    The Chicago Cubs bullpen immediately underachieved once the season began. Shawn Camp, Kyuji Fujikawa and Carlos Marmol all proved to be unqualified for high-leverage situations.

    Offensively, the Cubs haven't made an effort to work deep counts. Starlin Castro, in particular, shows virtually no selectivity, and that's largely why he has regressed to a .242/.282/.344 batting line.

    What to Watch For

    Remember the late-inning relief issue that derailed the team earlier this year? Right-hander Pedro Strop could be a remedy. Since being acquired from the Baltimore Orioles in July, he's been overpowering.

    It's also exciting to see veteran role guys like Dioner Navarro and Nate Schierholtz taking full advantage of their opportunities.

    September Call-Ups

    Alberto Cabrera; Ryan Sweeney and Luis Valbuena activated from the disabled list

22. San Francisco Giants (61-75)

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    Last 10 Games: 5-5

    Why They're No. 22

    The San Francisco Giants built their micro-dynasty around starting pitching and bullpen depth, and both betrayed them in 2013.

    This has arguably been the worst performance of Barry Zito's nightmarish seven-year contract (165 hits allowed in 124 innings). Rather than offsetting his mediocrity, Matt Cain and Ryan Vogelsong also took big steps in the wrong direction after several excellent seasons.

    While Brandon Belt and Hunter Pence have marginally improved since 2012, Angel Pagan and Pablo Sandoval couldn't replicate their production from the previous year.

    What to Watch For

    With Zito and Tim Lincecum headed for free agency, the Giants must determine what viable starting options (if any) can come from the farm system.

    September Call-Ups

    Tony Abreu activated from the disabled list

21. New York Mets (62-73)

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    Last 10 Games: 4-6

    Why They're No. 21

    Jonathan Niese has impressed since returning from the disabled list, and the New York Mets starting rotation looks respectable, even without Matt Harvey.

    That said, the club's lineup doesn't give it enough leads to work with. Run production from the shortstop and catcher positions has been nonexistent for most of this season, and with David Wright injured, there isn't enough talent to compensate.

    Although superior to what we've witnessed from previous Mets teams, this bullpen is still inadequate. That's particularly evident with Bobby Parnell sidelined.

    What to Watch For

    Wright told Kristie Ackert of the New York Daily News that he's gradually progressing in rehab from a hamstring strain. Until he returns, though, Mets fans have little motivation to show up at Citi Field.

    The captain was enjoying a terrific year prior to the injury with 16 home runs and a .904 OPS.

    September Call-Ups

    Vic Black and Zach Lutz; Tim Byrdak activated from the disabled list

20. Philadelphia Phillies (62-75)

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    Last 10 Games: 5-5

    Why They're No. 20

    The Philadelphia Phillies finally traded Michael Young, a move that honestly doesn't impact their present or future.

    The slim chance that this club had of contending despite its bloated contracts hinged on the contributions of low-cost, free-agent pickups. Unfortunately, Delmon Young hit only .261/.302/.397 with brutal fielding, and Mike Adams and John Lannan couldn't stay healthy and weren't effective regardless.

    What to Watch For

    All eyes should be on Roy Halladay, who has completed his comeback from shoulder surgery. However, it's unclear at this point whether he'll ever again merit a slot atop a starting rotation.

    Overall in 2013, he has posted a hideous 7.94 ERA and 2.2 HR/9.

    September Call-Ups

    Cesar Hernandez and Michael Martinez

19. Seattle Mariners (62-74)

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    Last 10 Games: 3-7

    Why They're No. 19

    Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma haven't maintained their awesomeness into the second half, and, predictably, neither has Raul Ibanez.

    The Seattle Mariners are becoming increasingly reliant on rookies, though none of them contribute significantly above replacement level.

    Bringing in the Safeco Field walls hasn't had the desired effect, as the M's rank toward the bottom of the American League in numerous offensive categories.

    What to Watch For

    Danny Farquhar and Tom Wilhelmsen are set to battle for the "closer of the future" label down the stretch. Meanwhile, Kendrys Morales and Kyle Seager seem like ideal contract extension candidates.

    September Call-Ups

    Tom Wilhelmsen

18. Los Angeles Angels (63-72)

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    Last 10 Games: 8-2

    Why They're No. 18

    Mike Trout is proving that last year was no fluke. His 1.007 OPS and ability to affect games in other ways makes him baseball's best individual player, and he's actually heating up under non-competitive circumstances,'s David Schoenfield tweets.

    The Los Angeles Angels bullpen still reeks, but at least Jered Weaver (3.30 ERA) and C.J. Wilson (3.35 ERA) are who we thought they were.

    What to Watch For

    The team already dealt Alberto Callaspo, but it could make another one of its veteran infielders expendable if Grant Green hits well in everyday duty. The 25-year-old has slashed .289/.365/.342 since arriving from the Oakland Athletics.

    September Call-Ups

    Ryan Brasier

17. Colorado Rockies (65-73)

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    Last 10 Games: 6-4

    Why They're No. 17

    It's the season's final month, and Michael Cuddyer still boasts a .328/.389/.540 batting line with National League batting average leader Chris Johnson in his crosshairs. Troy Tulowitzki isn't far behind; plus, the shortstop continues to sparkle defensively.

    Alas, the right side of the infield has been awful, and filling in for an injured Carlos Gonzalez was never expected to be easy.

    While Jhoulys Chacin and Jorge De La Rosa have bounced back from difficult years, the back end of the starting rotation remains a major source of frustration.

    What to Watch For

    Rafael Betancourt is expected to retire after tearing his ulnar collateral ligament, per Troy E. Renck of the Denver Post, which means the Rockies need a new closer. Let's see how Rex Brothers handles his audition.

    September Call-Ups

    Josh Rutledge; Tyler Chatwood activated from the disabled list

16. New York Yankees (72-64)

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    Last 10 Games: 5-5

    Why They're No. 16

    CC Sabathia has shown no signs of emerging from his season-long slump, while Derek Jeter is clearly playing at less than 100 percent. Even so, the New York Yankees don't have much of a choice but to use them regularly down the stretch.

    Ivan Nova and Andy Pettitte both looked incompetent earlier this summer, though lately they've led the Yankees rotation.

    What to Watch For

    The elephant in the clubhouse is Robinson Cano's future with the team. He's enjoying another dominant season, so the front office might make an exception to its usual negotiating procedure and attempt to extend his contract prior to the start of free agency.

    September Call-Ups

    David Adams, Dellin Betances, Cesar Cabral, Brett Marshall and J.R. Murphy

15. Arizona Diamondbacks (69-66)

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    Last 10 Games: 4-6

    Why They're No. 15

    Besides Patrick Corbin, Wade Miley and Brad Ziegler, the Arizona Diamondbacks pitching staff is in utter disarray. Although the front office was lauded for its multi-year signing of Brandon McCarthy, he's been consistently hit hard.

    Paul Goldschmidt and Aaron Hill stand out as the only elite hitters on the roster. Jason Kubel (now with the Cleveland Indians) and Miguel Montero have been unforeseen liabilities, while first-half phenoms like Didi Gregorius and Gerardo Parra couldn't sustain their All-Star-caliber production.

    What to Watch For

    Top pitching prospect Tyler Skaggs is much better than his 5.12 ERA would lead you to believe. We'll soon find out what he has learned from a demotion to Triple-A.

    September Call-Ups

    Tony Sipp and David Hernandez

14. Washington Nationals (69-67)

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    Last 10 Games: 7-3

    Why They're No. 14

    When healthy, Bryce Harper and Jayson Werth have been excellent atop the batting order. Fortunately for the Washington Nationals, both appear to be at 100 percent at this crucial point of the season.

    On the other hand, Dan Haren's inconsistency and the bullpen's frustrating struggles get in the way of significant hot streaks.

    The Nats have grossly underachieved with runners in scoring position, hence a run total inferior to that of the New York Mets.

    What to Watch For

    Ryan Zimmerman's throwing has become less of an issue since a barrage of errors during the opening months. If Washington's defense isn't giving the opposition extra outs, Harper and Werth could carry the club to September success and keep that flicker of playoff hope burning.

    September Call-Ups

    Erik Davis, Ian Krol and Sandy Leon

13. Baltimore Orioles (72-63)

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    Last 10 Games: 5-5

    Why They're No. 13

    Chris Davis and Manny Machado have obviously been outstanding this season. However, as both regress to reality, center Adam Jones has quietly steadied the Baltimore Orioles lineup.

    Just like the 2012 edition of this team, there's no true No. 1 starter in the rotation. Wei-Yin Chen was supposed to be that guy, but his command is becoming problematic down the stretch.

    MLB blown saves leader Jim Johnson also prevents the O's from flying into the top 10.

    What to Watch For

    Buck Showalter has had a revolving door at designated hitter this summer. With a .917 OPS in 97 plate appearances, maybe Danny Valencia has finally risen above the other candidates.

    Wilson Betemit and Mike Morse still figure to get opportunities at that spot this month.

    September Call-Ups

    Wei-Yin Chen, Steve Clevenger and Chris Snyder

12. Cleveland Indians (72-64)

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    Last 10 Games: 4-6

    Why They're No. 12

    The Cleveland Indians have a dependable bench and generally excellent defense.

    The composition of their "Bullpen Mafia" has changed a bit under new manager Terry Francona. Nonetheless, it's been an impressive unit, ending with veteran Chris Perez.

    Michael Bourn and Asdrubal Cabrera both continue to disappoint from a statistical perspective. Thankfully, Justin Masterson's resurgence (3.49 ERA in 188.1 IP) compensates for their mediocrity.

    What to Watch For

    Cleveland hammered out a trade for Jason Kubel during the weekend. He has frankly been pathetic in 2013, but he's only one year removed from 30 home runs and an .833 OPS.

    September Call-Ups

    Carlos Carrasco, Preston Guilmet, Nick Hagadone, C.C. Lee, Vinnie Pestano, Jose Ramirez, Clay Rapada, Kelly Shoppach, Josh Tomlin and Blake Wood

11. Kansas City Royals (70-66)

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    Last 10 Games: 6-4

    Why They're No. 11

    All those first-half losses will probably come back to bite the Kansas City Royals as they desperately fight for a postseason berth.

    Even if it's too little, too late, we cannot ignore their recent high level of performance.

    James Shields has pitched exactly as advertised. He's already at 196 innings with a stellar 3.03 ERA. Fellow right-hander Ervin Santana also continues to surprise coming off a forgettable 2012 season, and Tommy John survivor Danny Duffy is bolstering the rotation as well.

    Replacing the suspended Miguel Tejada, Emilio Bonifacio has been a valuable spark plug since coming over from the Toronto Blue Jays.

    What to Watch For

    Backstop Salvador Perez isn't quite meeting lofty expectations in his first full MLB season, but a strong August suggests he may deepen the Royals lineup in September against divisional foes.

    September Call-Ups

    Francisley Bueno and Brett Hayes

10. Cincinnati Reds (76-61)

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    Last 10 Games: 4-6

    Why They're No. 10

    Brandon Phillips has achieved a career high in runs batted in thanks to awesome success with runners in scoring position. Then again, he seldom begins rallies on his own (.213/.250/.365 with the bases empty).

    First baseman Joey Votto is the best hitter that nobody talks about, while Shin-Soo Choo has served as a terrific leadoff hitter for the Cincinnati Reds (although he's also a defensive liability).

    With Tony Cingrani and Johnny Cueto both currently injured, the rotation clearly doesn't resemble one you'd expect to see from a true contender.

    What to Watch For

    Until a few weeks ago, right-hander Mike Leake was seemingly enjoying a career year. However, he has yielded four-plus runs in each of his past four starts.

    That slump needs to stop immediately, especially with no timetable set for Cingrani's activation.

    September Call-Ups

    Billy Hamilton, Curtis Partch, Derrick Robinson, Henry Rodriguez and Neftali Soto; Corky Miller activated from the disabled list

9. Tampa Bay Rays (75-60)

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    Last 10 Games: 3-7

    Why They're No. 9

    Let's not sugarcoat the situation: The Tampa Bay Rays have been cold and no longer have the ability to acquire impact players from outside the organization.

    They can trust Evan Longoria and David Price, their star third baseman and established ace, to produce at an elite level down the stretch. Ben Zobrist will continue to reach base, while Yunel Escobar, Desmond Jennings and Jose Molina will all serve as defensive assets.

    Nonetheless, there ought to be concern about the rotation's depth and Fernando Rodney's reliability in the ninth inning (3.72 ERA, 5.3 BB/9).

    What to Watch For

    Dynamic outfielder Wil Myers has only two extra-base hits since Aug. 16. Will he overcome this adversity and finish his rookie campaign on a positive note? And will Joe Maddon lose patience with him?

    September Call-Ups

    Chris Gimenez, Josh Lueke and Delmon Young; Luke Scott activated from the disabled list

8. Oakland Athletics (78-58)

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    Last 10 Games: 7-3

    Why They're No. 8

    Jarrod Parker's struggles at the onset of 2013 were well documented, but he has quietly blossomed into an ace during the dog days of summer. In August, he posted a 2.23 ERA with a 3.40 K/BB ratio.

    Although Josh Donaldson and Jed Lowrie have been excellent at the plate, the same cannot be said of last year's top sluggers, Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick. Neither has an on-base percentage above .300.

    It's probably a good problem to have, but three starting-caliber catchers (John Jaso, Derek Norris and Kurt Suzuki) will audition for placement on the Oakland Athletics' playoff roster.

    What to Watch For

    Bartolo Colon, who pitched fabulously prior to a brief DL stint, contributed five solid innings in his return to the starting rotation. The 40-year-old's final few performances will impact whether the A's can leapfrog the Texas Rangers in the AL West.

    September Call-Ups

    Michael Choice, Pedro Figueroa, Andy Parrino and Jemile Weeks

7. Texas Rangers (79-57)

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    Last 10 Games: 6-4

    Why They're No. 7

    This is one of the few times in Texas Rangers history that the club's pennant hopes hinge on its pitching staff and defense rather than what happens at the plate. Texas has averaged 4.5 runs per game in 2013, although it scored nearly six per contest during the month of August.

    Yu Darvish has taken huge strides since his rookie year. He leads baseball in strikeouts and deserves legitimate consideration for the AL Cy Young Award.

    Close matchups frequently end in Texas victories thanks to a deep bullpen. Five different relievers have maintained a sub-3.00 earned run average through 40 or more appearances, and now Neftali Feliz has arrived as a reinforcement.

    What to Watch For

    The organization won't follow the example set by the 2012 San Francisco Giants. They bravely—and perhaps foolishly—did not utilize Melky Cabrera during their playoff run when he regained eligibility following a PED suspension.

    Skipper Ron Washington tells the Dallas Morning News that banned outfielder Nelson Cruz will be welcomed back once his 50-game punishment is complete. He contributed an .841 OPS and 27 home runs prior to disappearing.

    September Call-Ups

    Jim Adduci, Cory Burns and Robinson Chirinos; Lance Berkman, Neftali Feliz, Michael Kirkman and Nick Tepesch activated from the disabled list

6. Pittsburgh Pirates (79-57)

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    Last 10 Games: 5-5

    Why They're No. 6

    The Pittsburgh Pirates have had a knack for choking down the stretch in recent years, but that isn't really a concern in 2013.

    Veteran starting rotation leaders A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano have shown no signs of significant fatigue. They continue to rack up impressive strikeout totals and deny the opposition from reaching base by any means.

    Then there's Andrew McCutchen. By batting .317/.395/.501 with 17 home runs and 6.5 fWAR, he'll very likely wind up with the NL MVP award.

    Closer Jason Grilli was so integral to Pittsburgh's early success this season, but he suffered a forearm strain shortly after the All-Star break. Thankfully for Steel City fans, Tom Singer of reports that the 36-year-old has started a minor league rehab assignment.

    What to Watch For

    During the week prior to the August waiver trade deadline, the Bucs plugged several roster holes with impending free agents. They snagged John Buck and Marlon Byrd from the New York Mets, as well as Justin Morneau from the Minnesota Twins.

    Byrd's performance is arguably the most important because he arrived with the best season stats of the trio, not to mention he's being tasked with replacing Starling Marte in the everyday lineup.

    September Call-Ups

    Kyle Farnsworth and Kris Johnson; Travis Snider activated from the disabled list

5. Atlanta Braves (83-53)

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    Last 10 Games: 6-4

    Why They're No. 5

    The Atlanta Braves feature several gifted fielders and have fared extremely well by advanced defensive metrics. They rank first among true National League contender—thus excluding the Arizona Diamondbacks—in both Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating.

    Jason Heyward, however, is a huge part of that, and he was also hitting at an All-Star-caliber level in the weeks prior to suffering a broken jaw. The Braves cannot place any higher in these rankings until it's confirmed that he'll resume baseball activities with ample at-bats to get his timing back.

    Although there aren't any weak links in the Braves starting rotation, its current members have only combined to make one career postseason start (Kris Medlen in 2012 NL Wild Card Game).

    Atlanta would barely crack the top 10 without closer Craig Kimbrel, who has an extraordinary 0.95 earned run average this season. In 25 appearances since suffering a loss on July 4, he hasn't allowed a single run. The opposition owns an anemic .279 OPS against him in that span with 35 strikeouts compared to five walks.

    What to Watch For

    One of the sport's breakout stars, Chris Johnson, is in the hunt for the NL batting title. Even more significant than his gaudy .333 average, the third baseman has made the necessary adjustments to produce against left-handers while putting more balls in play than in any other stage of his career.

    September Call-Ups

    Freddy Garcia and Kameron Loe

4. St. Louis Cardinals (79-57)

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    Last 10 Games: 6-4

    Why They're No. 4

    The clutch gene isn't always something you're born with.

    The St. Louis Cardinals have been maximizing production with runners in scoring position by using an approach that's predicated on using the whole field rather than trying for home runs. The "hit 'em where they ain't" philosophy we observe from Matt Carpenter, Allen Craig and others allows them to sustain an unusually high BABIP.

    The only helpless batter in the St. Louis lineup is shortstop Pete Kozma, and manager Mike Matheny smartly relegated him to the eighth spot.

    Homegrown relievers like Trevor Rosenthal and Kevin Siegrist have been absolutely fantastic in 2013, and veterans Randy Choate and Edward Mujica have provided stability in the later innings.

    What to Watch For

    Lance Lynn has pitched terribly in his past four outings, bloating his overall earned run average and batting average against. Perhaps the Cards would consider a three-man playoff rotation if he fails to turn things around.

    September Call-Ups

    Adron Chambers; Tony Cruz activated from the disabled list

3. Detroit Tigers (80-57)

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    Last 10 Games: 6-4

    Why They're No. 3

    Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez have been every bit as dominant as Justin Verlander and Scherzer were atop the 2012 Detroit Tigers rotation. That team, of course, advanced all the way to the World Series.

    Jim Leyland's lineup is incredibly deep, centered on the world's finest hitter, Miguel Cabrera. Outfielder Torii Hunter looks more dangerous in the batter's box at age 38 than he did in his physical prime. Although he slumped for several months, Victor Martinez is a few productive nights away from joining them in the .300 club (17 hits in past eight games).

    Don't overreact to Joaquin Benoit's choke job on Sunday against the Cleveland Indians. He's still an excellent reliever. Bruce Rondon and Drew Smyly have solidified the setup roles leading up to him.

    What to Watch For

    "We have not made any decisions" regarding Jhonny Peralta's playing status, general manager Dave Dombrowski tells Chris Iott of

    The shortstop was batting .305/.361/.461 in 104 games prior to accepting a suspension for his involvement with the Biogenesis clinic. He's eligible to return for the final weekend of the regular season.

    September Call-Ups

    Nick Castellanos, Evan Reed and Danny Worth

2. Boston Red Sox (82-56)

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    Last 10 Games: 8-2

    Why They're No. 2

    There's nothing even resembling a landing spot in the Boston Red Sox lineup.

    Daniel Nava, David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia all have elite on-base skills. Jacoby Ellsbury and Shane Victorino aren't far behind, and they can also wreak havoc on the basepaths (combined 69-of-76 in stolen base attempts).

    Although often hard-pressed to make contact, Mike Napoli and Jarrod Saltalamacchia always have the potential to go deep. Even rookie infielder Xander Bogaerts is slashing .316/.350/.368.

    Sitting out the 2012 season has done wonders for right-hander John Lackey (3.19 ERA, 134 K in 155.0 IP). Jake Peavy is already getting acclimated to his new surroundings, and Jon Lester has caught fire at the best possible time.

    This Red Sox roster isn't necessarily as talented as others we've seen this millennium, but its well-roundedness justifies placement above all other American League contenders.

    What to Watch For

    Clay Buchholz was pretty near unbeatable during the early portion of this campaign, posting a 1.71 ERA and 1.02 WHIP en route to winning each of his first nine decisions. Per Mike Scandura of the Boston Globe, it sounds like he's one rehab start away from returning to the starting rotation.

    In lighter news, Big Papi is closing in on a neat milestone: 2,000 career hits. Only 274 players in MLB history have accomplished that feat.

    September Call-Ups

    Quintin Berry, Rubby De La Rosa and Ryan Lavarnway; Brandon Snyder activated from the disabled list

1. Los Angeles Dodgers (81-55)

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    Last 10 Games: 7-3

    Why They're No. 1

    Clayton Kershaw is definitively the best pitcher in Major League Baseball at the moment, and Zack Greinke is legitimately in contention for the label of second-best (especially when you factor in his hitting prowess). In 10 of his past 11 starts, the highly paid right-hander has lasted six-plus innings while allowing two earned runs or fewer.

    Yasiel Puig's mid-July struggles seem like a distant memory. If not for Miguel Cabrera, he and shortstop Hanley Ramirez would lead the majors in batting average (minimum of 250 plate appearances).

    Despite Brandon League's incompetence, the Los Angeles Dodgers have no shortage of fearsome relievers. Brian Wilson hasn't yet surrendered a run this summer, and Paco Rodriguez and Kenley Jansen have been nearly untouchable in 2013, combining for 157 strikeouts versus only 25 walks.

    What to Watch For

    Mark Saxon of reports that Matt Kemp's return from the disabled list is being delayed while he regains the necessary timing to produce at the plate. The Dodgers outfield is already loaded, but adding more depth at the position in the form of the 2011 NL MVP runner-up would all but ensure October success.

    The call-up of Dee Gordon and acquisition of Michael Young will require manager Don Mattingly to spend a few sleepless nights deciding the composition of his playoff roster.

    September Call-Ups

    Drew Butera, Stephen Fife, Dee Gordon, Peter Moylan and Scott Van Slyke