MLB Power Rankings: Late-Season Breakdown

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistSeptember 16, 2013

MLB Power Rankings: Late-Season Breakdown

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    There are just two weeks to go in the 2013 MLB regular season, but there are still 15 teams in the running for the 10 playoff spots, as there is a lot to be decided in the days ahead.

    The NL Central title race and both AL wild-card spots look like the two most exciting races to watchespecially the AL wild card, where six teams are separated by a matter of 3.5 games at this point.

    So here is an updated look at the power rankings for all 30 MLB teams in the middle of September, as teams look to make a final push toward the postseason.

Non-Contenders: Nos. 30-26

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    No. 30: Houston Astros (51-98, Previous: 30)

    Last Week's Results: 4-2
    at Seattle Mariners (3-0)
    vs. Los Angeles Angels (1-2)

    The Astros have gotten a breakout season from catcher Jason Castro, and young pitchers Jarred Cosart and Brett Oberholtzer have both pitched great since joining the rotation. However, a third-straight 100-loss season is imminent. The future looks bright with a loaded farm system, but legitimate contention is likely still a few years off.

     

    No. 29: Miami Marlins (55-94, Previous: 29)

    Last Week's Results: 2-6
    vs. Atlanta Braves (1-3)
    at New York Mets (1-3)

    The highlight of the season for the Marlins has been the performance of 21-year-old pitcher Jose Fernandez, and he made his final start of the season on Wednesday, when he allowed one run in seven innings against the Braves. He finishes the season at 12-6 with a 2.19 ERA, and he is the face of a talent young core in Miami.

     

    No. 28: Chicago White Sox (58-91, Previous: 28)

    Last Week's Results: 1-6
    vs. Detroit Tigers (1-2)
    vs. Cleveland Indians (0-4)

    Ace pitcher Chris Sale has been one of the few bright spots for the White Sox this season, and as the team begins to take steps toward rebuilding, the upcoming offseason will be an important one for its future success. Down the stretch, prospects Erik Johnson and Marcus Semien will be vying for a key role on next year's team.

     

    No. 27: Minnesota Twins (64-84, Previous: 27)

    Last Week's Results: 3-4
    vs. Los Angeles Angels (1-0)
    vs. Oakland Athletics (1-2)
    vs. Tampa Bay Rays (1-2)

    Joe Mauer remains among the best pure hitters in all of baseball, and the duo of Andrew Albers and Samuel Deduno has given the team some hope that the starting rotation will be improved next year. Further down the line, 2013 Minor League Player of the Year Byron Buxton and fellow stud prospect Miguel Sano provide plenty of reason for excitement.

     

    No. 26: Chicago Cubs (63-86, Previous: 26)

    Last Week's Results: 3-4
    at Cincinnati Reds (2-1)
    at Pittsburgh Pirates (1-3)

    While it's been another long season in Chicago, the team has already improved on last year's win total of 61, and the ever-improving farm system has it in a position to potentially contend by 2015. After focusing mainly on low-cost, trade chip candidates in free agency last season, the Cubs could look to make a splash in free agency this winter.

Non-Contenders: Nos. 25-21

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    No. 25: New York Mets (67-82, Previous: 24)

    Last Week's Results: 3-5
    vs. Washington Nationals (0-4)
    vs. Miami Marlins (3-1)

    Despite a less-than-stellar record, there have been plenty of positive takeaways for the Mets this season, as right-handers Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler are the real deal and prospects Noah Syndergaard and Rafael Montero are among the best arms in the minors. This winter could be the year they look to make a splash in free agency, and they'll most likely target an impact bat in the outfield. 

     

    No. 24: Seattle Mariners (66-83, Previous: 21)

    Last Week's Results: 1-5
    vs. Houston Astros (0-3)
    at St. Louis Cardinals (1-2)

    Top prospects Taijuan Walker and James Paxton have both pitched well since earning a big league call-up, and they are just the most recent components of what has been a wave of young talent arriving in Seattle this year. How quickly they can mesh together will determine when they return to contention, but the experience they're gaining now could set them up to be the surprise contender of 2014.

     

    No. 23: Colorado Rockies (68-82, Previous: 23)

    Last Week's Results: 2-4
    at San Francisco Giants (1-2)
    at Arizona Diamondbacks (1-2)

    Pitching remains the Rockies' Achilles' heel, but they have been vastly improved this season after losing 98 games last year. Right-hander Jhoulys Chacin has been lights out since the All-Star break, and Jorge De La Rosa has had a nice season, but they will need to fill out the rest of the staff to back their offense if they hope to put together an extended run at contention next year.

     

    No. 22: Toronto Blue Jays (68-81, Previous: 19)

    Last Week's Results: 1-5
    vs. Los Angeles Angels (0-3)
    vs. Baltimore Orioles (1-2)

    There may be no team in a better position to play spoiler than the Blue Jays, as they have one series each against the four other AL East teams who are all still vying for a postseason spot. Winning some important games down the stretch won't offset what has been a terribly disappointing season in Toronto, but it could help them end the season on a high note. 

     

    No. 21: Milwaukee Brewers (65-83, Previous: 25)

    Last Week's Results: 3-3
    at St. Louis Cardinals (1-2)
    vs. Cincinnati Reds (2-1)

    The Brewers have struggled to put together good pitching and hitting this season, as their starting rotation has been improved of late but the offensive attack has tailed off with breakout stars Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura slumping since the break. Where the team goes from here will be interesting, as it could look to rebuild but also still have enough talent to attempt to make a run at contention next year.

Non-Contenders: Nos. 20-16

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    No. 20: San Diego Padres (68-80, Previous: 20)

    Last Week's Results: 3-3
    at Philadelphia Phillies (1-2)
    at Atlanta Braves (2-1)

    The Padres continue their search for five viable starting pitching options, but they have quietly built a solid young core on offense along with a deep farm system that should allow them to continue to make strides in the years ahead. Will Venable's second-half play (.975 OPS, 11 HR, 11 SB) has been a huge surprise, and it earned him a two-year, $8.5 million extension.

     

    No. 19: Philadelphia Phillies (69-80, Previous: 17)

    Last Week's Results: 3-3
    vs. San Diego Padres (2-1)
    at Washington Nationals (1-2)

    Despite the fact that Roy Halladay and his $20 million salary will be off the books this coming winter, the Phillies are still in a tough spot, as they are locked into long-term deals with a number of aging stars on the downswing of their careers. There is still plenty of talent on the roster, and guys like Darin Ruf and Cody Asche could step into bigger roles next year. However, they may hover around .500 at best for the next couple seasons unless they attempt a full fire-sale and try to unload some contracts.

     

    No. 18: San Francisco Giants (69-81, Previous: 22)

    Last Week's Results: 5-2
    vs. Colorado Rockies (2-1)

    at Los Angeles Dodgers (3-1)

    The precipitous decline of the reigning World Series champion Giants this season has been among the biggest surprises in the league. They returned essentially the same team, plus got full seasons from Marco Scutaro and Hunter Pence, which should have meant an improved offensive attack. Instead, they've again struggled to score runs, and their once-dominant pitching staff has been a consistent concern behind Madison Bumgarner. They look like they have some retooling to do moving forward.

     

    No. 17: Los Angeles Angels (72-77, Previous: 18)

    Last Week's Results: 5-2
    at Minnesota Twins (0-1)
    at Toronto Blue Jays (3-0)
    at Houston Astros (2-1)

    The Angels are quietly playing their best baseball of the season right now, going 16-6 in their last 22 games. They have six games left against Oakland and four against Texas, so they have a chance to really throw a wrench into things atop the AL West. A strong finish to the season may be just what this team needs to build off of heading into 2014. Mike Trout remains really, really good at baseball and has been a bright spot all season.

     

    No. 16: Arizona Diamondbacks (75-73, Previous: 16)

    Last Week's Results: 3-3
    at Los Angeles Dodgers (1-2)
    vs. Colorado Rockies (2-1)

    When the Dodgers struggled early, the Diamondbacks looked like the front-runners to come out of a wide-open NL West, but they have hung around .500 for most of the season and were unable to keep things close once the Dodgers got hot. Breakout seasons from Paul Goldschmidt and Patrick Corbin, coupled with their young starting pitching depth and balanced offensive attack from top to bottom, should mean the best is still ahead for the team's current core of players.

15. Texas Rangers (81-67, Previous: 8)

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    Last Week's Results: 0-6

    vs. Pittsburgh Pirates (0-3)
    vs. Oakland Athletics (0-3)

     

    Team Breakdown

    The Rangers are still clinging to the second AL wild-card spot by a half-game over the Indians, but they are undoubtedly the coldest of the 15 teams currently still in contention. They're just 2-11 in their past 13 games, and the A's have built a 6.5-game lead in the AL West as a result.

    They have another tough week ahead with games on the road against the Rays and Royals, but they should be able to finish strong if they can get through that, as they take on the Astros and Angels at home in the season's final week.

    The starting rotation behind Yu Darvish has been the biggest reason for their recent struggles, and the Rangers have to step up if they are going to have any chance of holding on and making it to the postseason.

     

    This Week's Opponents

    at Tampa Bay Rays (4)
    at Kansas City Royals (3)

14. Baltimore Orioles (79-70, Previous: 14)

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    Last Week's Results: 3-4

    vs. New York Yankees (1-3)
    at Toronto Blue Jays (2-1)

     

    Team Breakdown

    The Orioles dropped three of four to the Yankees in a big series last week, but remain just 2.5 games back in the AL wild-card race with perhaps their biggest week of the season coming up, as they are getting set to take on the Red Sox and Rays on the road.

    Their offensive attack remains capable of carrying the team, even with a few guys struggling right now, but the inconsistency of their starting rotation is still their biggest flaw.

    The trio of Scott Feldman, Miguel Gonzalez and Chris Tillman have pitched well over the past month or so, but Bud Norris, Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen need to step up as well.

     

    This Week's Opponents

    at Boston Red Sox (3)
    at Tampa Bay Rays (3)

13. Kansas City Royals (78-71, Previous: 13)

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    Last Week's Results: 3-3

    at Cleveland Indians (2-1)
    at Detroit Tigers (1-2)

     

    Team Breakdown

    An 8-2 stretch to close out August and kick off September saw the Royals climb from 64-64 to 72-66, as they went from hanging around on the outskirts to becoming legitimate wild-card contenders.

    However, they have an uphill battle ahead of them, with 3.5 games to make up in the standings and four teams to pass. Things don't get any easier this coming week either, as they are set to take on two teams who also playing for their lives in the Indians and Rangers, albeit at home.

    If they can manage to get past this week within reach of a wild-card spot, they close the season against the Mariners and White Sox. And like the other teams towards the bottom of the contenders' list here, a lot of that will depend on whether their starting rotation can step up.

     

    This Week's Opponents

    vs. Cleveland Indians (3)
    vs. Texas Rangers (3)

12. New York Yankees (79-71, Previous: 11)

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    Last Week's Results: 3-4

    at Baltimore Orioles (3-1)
    at Boston Red Sox (0-3)

     

    Team Breakdown

    After a getting the best of the Orioles in a big four-game series to kick off last week, the Yankees were swept at the hands of the rival Red Sox, putting them three games back in the AL wild-card race.

    They're in a great position to make a push this coming week with series against the sub-.500 Blue Jays and Giants. Then, after a huge series with the Rays to kick off the season's final week, they close with three games against the Astros.

    It's been a trying year for the Yankees since before the season even started, as they have dealt with more injuries and distractions than any team in baseball. The Alex Rodriguez controversy still hangs over them, but it would be hard not to be impressed if they can finish off this comeback and reach the postseason.

     

    This Week's Opponents

    at Toronto Blue Jays (3)
    vs. San Francisco Giants (3)

11. Tampa Bay Rays (81-67, Previous: 10)

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    Last Week's Results: 3-3

    vs. Boston Red Sox (1-2)
    at Minnesota Twins (2-1)

     

    Team Breakdown

    The Rays are just 7-14 in their last 21 games, and what once looked like a firm hold on the top AL wild card-spot is now a tenuous grasp at best, as they are now tied with the Rangers atop the standings.

    They'll match up against those Rangers to kick off the week, followed by a three-game series with an Orioles team that is just 2.5 games behind them. They then finish off the season with a road trip against the Yankees and Blue Jays as they look to hold onto a wild-card spot.

    They're hitting just .233 and averaging 3.3 runs per game since the start of September, as Wil Myers is the only everyday player batting over .260 this month. That will need to change quickly, as they have the pitching to contend but can't expect their staff to do it all.

     

    This Week's Opponents

    vs. Texas Rangers (4)
    vs. Baltimore Orioles (3)

10. Washington Nationals (79-70, Previous: 15)

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    Last Week's Results: 6-1

    at New York Mets (4-0)
    vs. Philadelphia Phillies (2-1)

     

    Team Breakdown

    Despite the fact that they remain 4.5 games out of a postseason spot, the Nationals crack the top 10 in this week's rankings because they are arguably the hottest team in baseball right now.

    They're 19-6 over the past 25 games, putting them in a position to turn what has been a disappointing season that has fallen well short of expectations into a postseason trip. If they can win their series with the Braves and take care of business against the Marlins, they could end up being neck-and-neck with the Cincinnati Reds heading into the final week.

    Ryan Zimmerman has seven home runs in his last 10 games, while Wilson Ramos has 17 RBI over that same span, as what has been a sub-par offensive attack for much of the season has finally come to life. They're the highest-scoring offense in the NL this month, and their staff has a 2.69 ERA in September to slot just behind the Cardinals.

     

    This Week's Opponents

    vs. Atlanta Braves (3)
    vs. Miami Marlins (4)

     

9. Cincinnati Reds (84-66, Previous: 2)

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    Last Week's Results: 2-4

    vs. Chicago Cubs (1-2)
    at Milwaukee Brewers (1-2)

     

    Team Breakdown

    After climbing all the way to No. 2 in last week's rankings after a 6-1 week against the Cardinals and Dodgers, the Reds laid an egg this past week against NL Central cellar-dwellers Chicago and Milwaukee, and the Nationals have continued to pull even closer to them for the second wild-card spot.

    A three-game series with the Astros should give them a chance to pad their current 4.5-game lead over Washington before a big series with the Pirates in Pittsburgh. They then close out the season with with three games against the Mets and another three at home against those same Pirates.

    Johnny Cueto will take the mound on Monday for the first time since June 28. And it will be just in time, as Tony Cingrani battled back spasms last time out and left in the second inning.

     

    This Week's Opponents

    at Houston Astros (3)
    at Pittsburgh Pirates (3)

8. Cleveland Indians (81-68, Previous: 12)

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    Last Week's Results: 5-2

    vs. Kansas City Royals (1-2)
    at Chicago White Sox (4-0)

     

    Team Breakdown

    A sweep of the White Sox to close out last week has the Indians at 7-3 in their last 10 games and just a half-game back in the AL wild-card standings entering the week.

    They may have the easiest remaining schedule of any contender, as they have a tough three-game series with the Royals in Kansas City but finish against the Astros, White Sox and Twins.

    Ubaldo Jimenez has turned in five straight quality starts, going 3-2 with a 1.57 ERA and 11.0 K/9 over that span. In fact, the entire staff has pitched very well of late.

    The balanced offense continues to find ways to score runs too, with Ryan Raburn being the recent hero after tallying 15 RBI in his last eight games.

     

    This Week's Opponents

    at Kansas City Royals (3)
    vs. Houston Astros (4)

7. Los Angeles Dodgers (86-63, Previous: 4)

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    Last Week's Results: 3-4

    vs. Arizona Diamondbacks (2-1)
    vs. San Francisco Giants (1-3)

     

    Team Breakdown

    The Dodgers are one of three teams that currently have a magic number to clinch their division (four), though they have been stuck there for some time now after dropping three straight to the Giants at home to close out the week.

    They take on the Diamondbacks, the team trailing them by 10.5 games in the standings, for a four-game series to open the week as they look to lock up the NL West title before the weekend.

    This team has likely already turned its focus to the postseason, where the trio of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Ricky Nolasco looks to be as formidable as any in baseball right now.

    Offensively, Hanley Ramirez continues to lead the way, and he would likely be an NL MVP candidate had he not missed so much time early in the year.

     

    This Week's Opponents

    at Arizona Diamondbacks (4)
    at San Diego Padres (3)

6. Detroit Tigers (86-63, Previous: 7)

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    Last Week's Results: 4-2

    at Chicago White Sox (2-1)
    vs. Kansas City Royals (2-1)

     

    Team Breakdown

    The Tigers' magic number still stands at nine, as they have been unable to pull away from the Indians all season. Still, they look like a safe bet to make the playoffs, and they took care of business against two teams they should beat last week.

    They play sub-.500 teams the rest of the way, taking on the Mariners and White Sox at home this week before going on the road against the Twins and Marlins to finish up the season. As a result, they still have a chance to secure home-field advantage in their ALDS matchup.

    Anibal Sanchez has been rolling of late, and he will look to lock down the AL ERA title with a few more strong outings, while Max Scherzer will make another attempt at win No. 20 his next time out.

    The biggest concern here for the Tigers down the stretch is getting Miguel Cabrera as close to 100 percent as possible for October.

     

    This Week's Opponents

    vs. Seattle Mariners (4)
    vs. Chicago White Sox (3)

5. Pittsburgh Pirates (87-62, Previous: 9)

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    Last Week's Results: 6-1

    at Texas Rangers (3-0)
    vs. Chicago Cubs (3-1)

     

    Team Breakdown

    With two weeks to go, the Pirates are in a dead heat with the Cardinals atop the NL Central in what has been a fantastic back-and-forth battle all season and may very well go down to the last day of play.

    They're done playing the Cardinals this season, but six of their remaining 13 games are against the Reds, including a three-game series in Cincinnati to close out the campaign. The Reds are just 2.5 games back, so there is a chance it could be a three-horse race heading into that final weekend.

    The Pirates offense continues to be driven by MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen, while August acquisitions Marlon Byrd and Justin Morneau should continue to make a positive impact as well.

    Deciding who fills the No. 4 starter spot in October may be their biggest remaining question mark. 

     

    This Week's Opponents

    vs. San Diego Padres (4)
    vs. Cincinnati Reds (3)

4. Atlanta Braves (89-60, Previous: 5)

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    Last Week's Results: 4-3

    at Miami Marlins (3-1)
    vs. San Diego Padres (1-2)

     

    Team Breakdown

    With a magic number of four and the best record in the NL by two games at the moment, the Braves still have plenty to play for down the stretch despite the fact that they've had a strong hold on the top spot in the NL East for most of the season.

    After three games with the red-hot Nationals, they close the year against the Cubs, Brewers and Phillies, so they look like a good bet to hold onto that top seed in the NL and the home-field advantage that comes along with it. 

    Kris Medlen has pitched great of late, looking like the staff ace heading into October, and the lights-out back end of the bullpen will give them an advantage in the postseason as well. The Jason Heyward injury has been a blow, but the offense is led by MVP candidate Freddie Freeman.

     

    This Week's Opponents

    at Washington Nationals (3)
    at Chicago Cubs (3)

3. St. Louis Cardinals (87-62, Previous: 6)

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    Last Week's Results: 4-2

    vs. Milwaukee Brewers (2-1)
    vs. Seattle Mariners (2-1)

     

    Team Breakdown

    Of the three teams still vying for the NL Central title, the Cardinals undoubtedly have the most favorable schedule, as they are finished with the Reds and Pirates and a three-game series with the Nationals to open next week represents their only remaining games against a team over .500.

    While they are in a good position to win the division and are essentially a lock to reach the postseason, there are still some questions to be answered in St. Louis.

    Chief among them is how the starting rotation lines up for the postseason behind Adam Wainwright and, presumably, Shelby Miller. Joe Kelly, Lance Lynn, Michael Wacha and perhaps even Jake Westbrook would fill things out from there.

    They also need to get Allen Craig healthy, as having Matt Adams in the lineup hurts their depth.

     

    This Week's Opponents

    at Colorado Rockies (4)
    at Milwaukee Brewers (3)

2. Oakland Athletics (88-61, Previous: 3)

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    Last Week's Results: 5-1

    at Minnesota Twins (2-1)
    at Texas Rangers (3-0)

     

    Team Breakdown

    The A's are 17-5 over the past 22 games, as they have built a 6.5-game lead in the AL West and are among the hottest teams in baseball right now. They have not won back-to-back division titles since 2002 and 2003.

    They close the year against the Angels, Twins and Mariners, and while they may not be able to catch the Red Sox for best record in the AL, they have a chance at obtaining home-field advantage in the ALDS. 

    Josh Donaldson and Brandon Moss have been carrying the offense the past month, while Bartolo Colon is back healthy and still has a chance at the AL ERA title thanks to a four-start stretch in which he's gone 2-1 with a 1.13 ERA.

     

    This Week's Opponents

    vs. Los Angeles Angels (3)
    vs. Minnesota Twins (4)

1. Boston Red Sox (92-59, Previous: 1)

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    Last Week's Results: 5-1

    at Tampa Bay Rays (2-1)
    vs. New York Yankees (3-0)

     

    Team Breakdown

    After losing 93 games last season, the Red Sox have had a remarkable turnaround this year, as they were the first team to 90 wins and have built a commanding 9.5-game lead in the AL East.

    They have six games left against the Orioles, but they also play the Blue Jays and Rockies. And if they can go 8-3 the rest of the way, they would secure just their fourth 100-win season in franchise history and their first since 1946. 

    Getting Clay Buchholz back should only make the team better heading into October, as he's picked up right where he left off with 11 scoreless innings over his first two starts since returning. Meanwhile, closer Koji Uehara continues to dominate in the ninth inning, having not allowed an earned run since June 30.

     

    This Week's Opponents

    vs. Baltimore Orioles (3)
    vs. Toronto Blue Jays (3)