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MLB Power Rankings: Who Are the World Series Favorites Heading into Final Month?

Nathan PalatskyCorrespondent IISeptember 12, 2011

MLB Power Rankings: Who Are the World Series Favorites Heading into Final Month?

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    The San Francisco Giants are still the defending World Series champions. In the coming months, they will either make a tremendous run at the division, or someone will take that title from them.

    Every team is ranked here, but not every team gets their own slide. There are some grouped together merely because ranking one above the other would be splitting hairs. I'm sure even those groupings will be debated.

    The Rays are the only team in my top eleven to whom I give zero chance of winning the World Series, and that's merely an unfortunate result of their division.

The Bottom Feeders Without Imminent Hope

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    30. Houston Astros
    29. Baltimore Orioles
    28. Chicago Cubs
    27. Minnesota Twins
    26. Seattle Mariners
    25. Florida Marlins
    24. Oakland A's
    23. San Diego Padres

    The Marlins are the only team here that I could see being relevant in the next three years. They have young talent, but Josh Johnson is going to have to stay healthy, their bullpen needs an upgrade and Hanley Ramirez and Mike Stanton have to fulfill their massive potential at the same time.

    The Twins held on to their "contender" dream longer than they should have and lost out on some possible prospects. The Cubs are reaping the benefits of insane contracts to Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Pena and Carlos Zambrano.

Hope Abounds

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    22. Kansas City Royals
    21. Pittsburgh Pirates
    20. Washington Nationals

    The Royals saw their future arrive and show glimmers of their potential this year. This team was always built for 2012 and beyond, but there is certainly reason to visit Kauffman Stadium again. They added to that future potential by signing perhaps the biggest talent in the draft, Bubba Starling.

    The Pirates spent some time above .500 and in first place for a while this year, showing fans their young talent. However, it still boils down to the team needing some consistent pitching before they can take the next step.

    The Nationals are enjoying the return of their ace, Stephen Strasburg, and they have young bats Michael Morse and Ryan Zimmerman leading a promising lineup. Of course, everyone awaits the arrival (probably September 2012) of "The Chosen One," Bryce Harper.

Possibly One Year Away

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    19. New York Mets
    18. Los Angeles Dodgers
    17. Colorado Rockies

    Perhaps no single free agent is as integral to his team's 2012 results as Jose Reyes is to the Mets. I think the Cardinals can be decent without Albert Pujols, if he signs elsewhere, but if Reyes leaves the Mets, things could get a lot worse.

    If the Dodgers get a new owner, they could top the very winnable NL West division in 2012. There is talent on an offense led by MVP-candidate Matt Kemp, along with Andre Ethier and some underrated role players.

    The Rockies are a team that seems to make an August or September run every year to make their season look a lot better than it was over the summer. They may have waited too long this year, and the loss of Ubaldo Jimenez hurts. However, it was the loss of young starters to injury that really derailed Colorado's 2011 season.

The Best Non-Playoff Teams

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    16. Chicago White Sox
    15. Cleveland Indians
    14. Cincinnati Reds
    13. Toronto Blue Jays
    12. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

    The Blue Jays, like the Rays, might need the divisions to realign to have a shot at the playoffs. But they also need consistent pitching to go with their bats. The same can be said for the Reds, though Johnny Cueto is enjoying a breakout season, and Aroldis Chapman might make his move to the rotation in 2012.

    The White Sox were doomed by under-performing sluggers. In theory, a lineup with Adam Dunn, Alex Rios, Alexei Ramirez, Gordon Beckham, Paul Konerko, Carlos Quentin... should dominate, given that Chicago also has underrated pitching. But Dunn has been historically bad, and Rios, perhaps MLB's streakiest hitter, has stayed cold.

    The Angels are headed the other way, with Mike Trout likely to join a young and extremely talented team in 2012 in a full-time role. The pitching is solid with the emergence of Jordan Walden.

The Dark Horses and One Outsider

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    11. San Francisco Giants
    10. St. Louis Cardinals
    9. Arizona Diamondbacks
    8. Tampa Bay Rays

    The Tampa Bay Rays are only 3.5 games out of the Wild Card, but I don't see them catching Boston. It's unfortunate, because they're good enough to challenge anyone in a three- or five-game series.

    The Cardinals are six out in the division and 4.5 out in the wild card. The Giants are 8.5 out of the division and 7.5 out of the wild card. Yet, I see both as more likely playoff teams than the Rays. That being said, it seems unlikely any of them rock on in October.

    I am not a believer in the Diamondbacks. I think they win a putrid NL West, and get steamrolled in the NLDS.

No. 7 Detroit Tigers

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    Justin Verlander should be the American League MVP.

    He won't be, but he has run and away and hid with the Cy Young, and that will have to be enough. But what keeps the Tigers from being among the elite title contenders is their lack of a consistent No. 2 starter.

    There is talent in the rotation with Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello possibly serving as the second and third options, but neither inspires unwavering confidence. Meanwhile, the lineup beyond Miguel Cabrera is underrated, with players like Austin Jackson, Jhonny Peralta and Alex Avila producing.

    Can Verlander give you two wins a five-game series? Yes. But can he win three in a seven-gamer? Rest will be a serious question for aces from here on out.

No. 6 Atlanta Braves

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    The Braves are so young, it's scary that they are this good this early. But the rotation of Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens and Brandon Beachy is one nobody will want to face in the playoffs.

    Along with the pitching, their lineup is nothing to sneeze at, with Freddie Freeman enjoying an excellent rookie year, Jason Heyward maturing slowly and veterans around them who are producing.

    The Braves also have two guys in Johnny Venters and Craig Kimbrel who have proven they can take over a close game in pressure situations and shut it down for their team.

No. 5 Milwaukee Brewers

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    The Brewers still have the faint smell of a pretender, taking advantage of injuries to Adam Wainwright and Albert Pujols and an off year from Chris Carpenter to slide into the top spot in the division. That being said, any lineup with Prince Fielder, Ryan Braun and Rickie Weeks is dangerous.

    The pitching is good, but each of their starters has that penchant to get rocked every third or fourth start. So, there is some uneasiness going into the playoffs, where a bad start or two can doom your season.

    There is also potential for the Brewers to be a one-hit wonder as they could potentially lose Fielder during the offseason, and this offense might not have the thunder to compete with a healthy Cardinals (who I still think will keep Pujols) in 2012.

No. 4 Texas Rangers

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    I was one of many writing off the Rangers as a one-dimensional team with the loss of Cliff Lee in the offseason. But CJ Wilson has established himself as a legitimate ace, and they've enjoyed the emergence of Alexi Ogando as well.

    The Rangers will need to watch Ogando's innings leading up to the playoffs if they want him fully available for October. The Rangers bullpen added some needed depth behind Neftali Feliz, and they could surprise some people if the starters put them in a position to win.

    Texas can't get comfortable in the closing days of the season though, as the Angels are still close enough to make them work for it. If they get lazy, the Rangers could be in the crosshairs of a late-season Halo run.

The AL East

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    3. Boston Red Sox
    2. New York Yankees

    For all the media coverage touting Boston as the favorite to play the No. 1 team on this list in the World Series, the Yankees are 3.5 games up in the division, and Derek Jeter is playing inspired baseball since his 3,000th hit came and went.

    Ultimately, if these two squads played 100 games, they might split them 50/50. This will likely come down to a feisty American League Championship Series. The emergence of Ivan Nova and injuries to Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz could tip the scales of a mostly offensive war.

The Favorites

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    Three of the top five starters in baseball might be on the Philadelphia Phillies.

    Roy Halladay is 17-5, with a 2.44 ERA, 1.049 WHIP, 8.7 K/9 and a league-best 7.03 K/BB ratio.

    Cliff Lee is 16-7 with a 2.44 ERA, 1.035 WHIP, 9.0 K/9 and a 5.02 K/BB.

    Cole Hamels is 14-7 with a 2.60 ERA, a league-leading 0.954 WHIP, 7.9 K/9 and 4.28 K/BB.

    The offense is good enough for that rotation. And in the playoffs, you only need three starters. Ryan Madsen has emerged as a reliable closer.

    Just getting one win against that trio might be an accomplishment, but three or four in the matter of a five- or seven-game span? Highly unlikely.

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