As we get set to enter the final month of the 2018 MLB season, teams on the fringe of contention and residing in the middle of the pack in our weekly power rankings continue to jockey for position.
The St. Louis Cardinals, Atlanta Braves and Tampa Bay Rays did the most to further their postseason cause. Meanwhile, the NL West continues to be a three-team toss-up, and the AL West, NL Central and NL East titles all still have multiple teams battling for their postseason lives. That should make for an exciting final month of action.
For now, just remember these rankings are fluid. Teams rise and fall based on where they were ranked the previous week. If a team keeps winning, it will keep climbing—it's as simple as that.
Here's where all 30 teams stand:
Teams That Impressed
The Tampa Bay Rays are making a strong push to climb back into the postseason picture. With a 7-0 week that included sweeps of the Kansas City Royals and division-leading Boston Red Sox, they're now nine games back in the wild-card standings.
That surge back to relevance comes thanks to a 13-4 stretch that saw them improve their record from .500 to nine games over. They still have just a 0.2 percent chance of reaching the postseason, according to FanGraphs, but they're back from the depths of 0.0 percent where they resided not long ago.
The St. Louis Cardinals also put together a strong week to strengthen their playoff hopes. A three-game sweep of the Los Angeles Dodgers and a weekend series win over the Colorado Rockies was enough for them to climb three slots into the No. 2 spot among NL teams.
Once as many as 8.5 games back in the NL Central standings, the Cardinals have used a 19-5 month that includes a plus-53 run differential to pull within four games of the Chicago Cubs. They also hold the top spot in the wild-card standings by a half-game over the division-rival Milwaukee Brewers.
The Houston Astros (5-1) and Oakland Athletics (5-2) kept pace in the battle for AL West supremacy, and they're on a collision course with three games this week. The Chicago Cubs (5-1) and Milwaukee Brewers (4-2) joined the Cardinals in winning both of their series, as the NL Central has three teams within five games of the division lead.
Further down the rankings, the Toronto Blue Jays (5-1) and Chicago White Sox (5-2) were the only other teams to win both of their series. They may be out of the postseason hunt, but they can still play the role of spoiler.
Teams That Disappointed
An 11-12 month that includes a 2-6 stretch heading into play Monday has sent the Philadelphia Phillies from a half-game up in the NL East standings to three games behind the rival Braves.
The bullpen has shown significant cracks in recent weeks, and the offense has gone cold to the tune of a .712 OPS in August that ranks 22nd in the majors. They still have seven games remaining against the Braves, including a three-game series in Philadelphia to close the season, but they need to turn things around quickly.
Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Pirates had a few more nails driven into their coffin with a 1-5 week against the Braves and Brewers. Since rocketing up the standings with a red-hot finish to July that led them to buy at the trade deadline, they've gone 8-15 to fall 8.5 games back in the wild-card standings.
That said, Chris Archer and Keone Kela were more than just rental arms, so their proactive approach on the trade market will still benefit their hopes of contending in 2019.
The Los Angeles Angels (0-5), Minnesota Twins (2-5), Texas Rangers (2-4), Cincinnati Reds (1-6), San Diego Padres (1-5) and Baltimore Orioles (0-7) also lost both of their series last week, as it was a tough week for non-contenders looking to play spoiler.
The Orioles are 37-94, putting them on pace to lose a staggering 116 games.
MVPs of the Week
Hitter: Kendrys Morales, Toronto Blue Jays
Stats: 11-for-23, 7 HR, 12 RBI, 8 R
Designated hitter Kendrys Morales set a Toronto Blue Jays franchise record when he became just the seventh player in MLB history to homer in seven straight games.
The MLB record of eight is shared by Ken Griffey Jr., Don Mattingly and Dale Long, according to ESPN Stats & Info, and the last player to homer in seven straight was Kevin Mench of the Texas Rangers in 2006.
Morales was hitting below .200 on June 6 and was starting to look like a candidate to be released, despite having a year left on his contract.
However, he's hitting .301/.389/.584 with 10 home runs and 23 RBI in 131 plate appearances since the All-Star break.
The Blue Jays will face the last-place Baltimore Orioles on Monday, with right-hander David Hess slated to make the start for the O's. Morales is 4-for-6 with a home run against Hess this year, so he should have as good a chance as any to extend his streak and tie the MLB record.
Pitcher: Kevin Gausman, Atlanta Braves
Stats: 2 GS, 2-0, 13.0 IP, 5 H, 0 ER, 3 BB, 10 K
What a pickup Kevin Gausman has been for the Atlanta Braves.
"I can't say enough. He's exceeded expectations," manager Brian Snitker told reporters. "He's fit right in in the clubhouse and on the field. He's been awesome to have here."
In five starts since coming over from Baltimore at the trade deadline, Gausman has gone 4-1 with a 1.69 ERA and 0.88 WHIP while holding opponents to a .184 batting average.
He tossed a gem against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday, allowing four hits over eight scoreless innings, and he extended his scoreless streak with five shutout frames against the Miami Marlins on Sunday.
The 27-year-old is under team control through the 2020 season, so he has a chance to be a major piece of the long-term puzzle for the Braves.
At the same time, he's given the Braves an established veteran starter to pair with Mike Foltynewicz at the top of the rotation as they look to secure a playoff spot this season.
When the dust settles, that trade could wind up being the most impactful deal of the 2018 deadline.
Video Highlights of the Week
Longest Home Run: Javier Baez, Chicago Cubs (481 feet)
Javier Baez continues to be must-see TV every time he steps onto a baseball diamond.
He's having a breakout season that has seen him go from valuable super-utility player on a Chicago Cubs team that's loaded with young talent to arguably the most indispensable player on the roster and an NL MVP candidate.
The 25-year-old ranks among the NL leaders in batting average (.296, 11th), slugging percentage (.575, third), OPS (.903, T-eighth), hits (142, T-10th), doubles (34, fifth), home runs (28, eighth), RBI (97, first), runs (79, 11th), steals (21, T-seventh) and total bases (276, first).
He can now add to that list the second-longest home run of the season—a 481-foot bomb Thursday off Cincinnati Reds starter Anthony DeSclafani.
"I didn't feel it off the bat, really," Baez told reporters. "I think that was one of my dreams, to hit a ball like that with the wind blowing out. Finally, we got it. I think this is game No. 7 that the wind is blowing out here in Chicago. We've been crushing balls here since April and they don't go anywhere with the wind blowing straight in. It feels great to hit a ball that good."
Best Defensive Play: Ronald Acuna Jr., Atlanta Braves
With his five-game home run streak still fresh in our memories, Ronald Acuna Jr. continues to make an impact for the contending Atlanta Braves that belies his age.
The 20-year-old phenom is hitting .290/.358/.570 with 21 doubles, 21 home runs and 11 steals in 14 attempts, putting him among the front-runners for NL Rookie of the Year honors, despite the fact that he didn't debut until the end of April and then missed a full month with a knee injury.
On top of his tremendous offensive prowess, he's also given the Braves a boost with his glove, tallying 4 DRS while showing the instincts, range and closing speed that made him a center fielder in the minors.
All that was on full display on this play, as he came flying out of his post in left field to rob Starlin Castro of what looked like a sure hit with an impressive diving, tumbling catch.
He's a five-tool talent, and while he's made his presence felt, there's a good chance he's only scratching the surface of his long-term potential.
Sit back and enjoy the show, Braves fans.
Must-See Upcoming Matchup
Oakland Athletics vs. Houston Astros (Monday-Wednesday)
This matchup has been highlighted more than once in this section so far this season, and it continues to be perhaps the most compelling in-division battle of the year.
The reigning World Series champions against the upstart, small-market team that has blown past expectations to emerge as a bona fide contender. What's not to like?
The Astros still hold a 10-6 lead in the season series, but Oakland has taken five of the last seven, including three of four last time they met in Houston at the beginning of July.
It will be Gerrit Cole (11-5, 2.73 ERA, 1.01 WHIP), Charlie Morton (13-3, 3.05 ERA, 1.17 WHIP) and Dallas Keuchel (10-10, 3.54 ERA, 1.25 WHIP) on the mound for the Astros, while the A's will counter with the rejuvenated veteran trio of Brett Anderson (3-3, 3.47 ERA, 1.19 WHIP), Edwin Jackson (4-3, 2.97 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) and Trevor Cahill (5-3, 3.44 ERA, 1.09 WHIP).
Houston will enter the series with a slim 1.5-game lead in the AL West standings, so the division is on the line at Minute Maid Park.