We've arrived at the All-Star break of the 2019 MLB season, which means we're now just a few weeks away from the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
For teams on the fringe of contention, the next 20 or so games could mean the difference between buying and selling this summer. But first, the baseball world will turn its attention to the Midsummer Classic at Progressive Field in Cleveland.
At the All-Star break last season, the San Francisco Giants were ranked ahead of the Atlanta Braves in our power rankings, while the Seattle Mariners and Philadelphia Phillies both held spots inside the top 10. The point being, a lot can still change between now and the end of the year.
It's important to remember these rankings are a fluid process. Teams will 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 are the rankings:
Teams That Impressed
The biggest riser by far this week was the Pittsburgh Pirates (5-2) who climbed six spots and into the upper half of the rankings after series wins over a pair of division rivals in the Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers.
It's been an up-and-down season in Pittsburgh, and there are still some fairly significant questions surrounding the starting rotation. But the offense has been firing on all cylinders, and Josh Bell (1.024 OPS, 27 HR, 84 RBI) has emerged as one of the most feared sluggers in baseball.
At 44-45, they're just 2.5 games back in a cluttered NL Central, and they have as much momentum as any team in the division heading into the break.
The Cleveland Indians (5-0) continued to climb with an undefeated week, while the Oakland Athletics (4-2), Washington Nationals (5-1) and Boston Red Sox (5-1) each vaulted several teams to claim a spot inside the top 10.
The Nationals looked like potential sellers when they entered the month of June with a 24-33 record, but they've gone 23-9 since to pull within six games of the NL East-leading Atlanta Braves (4-2), who kept pace by winning both of their series last week.
The Houston Astros (4-1) rebounded nicely from a rough week that knocked them out of the top spot, and they could regain the No. 1 position in short order with a strong start to the second half.
Further down the rankings, the San Francisco Giants (5-1) swept the San Diego Padres and took two of three from the St. Louis Cardinals to improve to 7-3 in their last 10 games. That shouldn't dissuade them for a second from selling aggressively at the deadline, but it's been a welcome reprieve for a team that has posted a minus-70 run differential on the year.
Teams That Disappointed
The Colorado Rockies (0-5) enter the break mired in a six-game losing streak, and they've gone 4-11 with a minus-21 run differential in their last 15 games.
Starting pitching has been the issue, as has so often been the case since the team's inception in 1993, and that will need to change quickly if they hope to stay in the playoff hunt.
The Texas Rangers (2-4) and Chicago Cubs (2-4) also dropped out of the top 10.
The Rangers lost two of three to the Los Angeles Angels and Minnesota Twins, while the Cubs dropped three of four against the Pirates before splitting a two-game set with the crosstown rival Chicago White Sox.
Luckily for the Cubs, the Milwaukee Brewers (2-5) also struggled last week, which means the North Siders will enter the break clinging to a half-game lead in a wide-open NL Central division where all five teams are within five games in the standings.
At the bottom of the rankings, the Miami Marlins (1-5), Seattle Mariners (2-4), Toronto Blue Jays (3-4), Kansas City Royals (1-6) and Detroit Tigers (1-5) each dropped both of their series last week. All of those teams should be sellers at the deadline.
Players of the Week
AL Hitter: Yuli Gurriel, Houston Astros
Stats: 9-for-21, 1 2B, 6 HR, 13 RBI, 8 R
The Astros have played five games in the month of July and Yuli Gurriel has homered in each of them, including a two-homer game on July 2 and a grand slam on Sunday.
During that span, he's raised both his slugging percentage (+.059) and OPS (+.070) by a staggering amount, and his overall season line now stands at a respectable .277/.314/.482 with 14 home runs and 50 RBI.
Going back to last week, Gurriel had a pair of walk-off hits, and he enters the break working on a nice 11-game hitting streak.
For an Astros team that already has a loaded offensive attack that has only gotten better with the emergence of Yordan Alvarez, this red-hot stretch from Gurriel has just been another layer of icing on the cake.
The 35-year-old Gurriel entered the season with career highs of 18 home runs and 85 RBI, so he should have a great chance of surpassing both marks in the second half as long as he stays healthy.
AL Pitcher: Charlie Morton, Tampa Bay Rays
Stats: 2 GS, 2 W, 12.2 IP, 9 H, 2 ER, 2 BB, 22 K
It's not often that the frugal Tampa Bay Rays splurge in free agency. When they do, it has to work out in their favor, especially if it's a multiyear deal.
So far, the two-year, $30 million deal it took to sign Charlie Morton looks like a steal.
The 35-year-old enters the break as the AL ERA leader (2.32) while also checking in near the top of the league in WHIP (1.03, fifth), strikeouts (142, t-fifth), opponents' batting average (.196, third) and innings pitched (112.2, ninth).
Morton has allowed three or fewer earned runs in 17 of his 19 starts, including twice last week when he struck out 12 over seven innings of one-run ball against the Baltimore Orioles on Tuesday and then held the New York Yankees to five hits and one earned run with 10 punchouts in 5.2 innings on Sunday.
"I feel good about my body of work in the first half," Morton told reporters. "For the most part, I've been able to keep the team in games and worked deeper into games the past month. But it's the first half and you've got a long way to go."
A run at AL Cy Young honors is not out of the question if he keeps it up, especially considering what he's meant to the Tampa Bay staff with Blake Snell (4.70 ERA) taking a step backward and Tyler Glasnow missing time to injury.
NL Hitter: Adam Frazier, Pittsburgh Pirates
Stats: 18-for-30, 7 2B, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 11 R
In his first season as an everyday player, Adam Frazier is thriving.
After performing well in a super-utility role the past two seasons with a combined 4.5 WAR while playing seven different positions, Frazier has settled in as the team's everyday second baseman in 2019.
Following his 18-hit performance last week, he's now batting .287/.341/.416 with 28 extra-base hits and 49 runs scored.
While he has hit just four home runs, his contact skills have made him one of the toughest players in baseball to strike out. In fact, his 11.7 percent strikeout rate is 10th-lowest among 156 qualified hitters in both leagues.
His teammates Josh Bell (8-for-26, 1 2B, 5 HR, 14 RBI) and Colin Moran (12-for-23, 2 2B, 1 HR, 5 RBI) were also in the mix for NL hitter of the week honors, which should tell you all you need to know about how things went for the Pirates last week.
NL Pitcher: Luis Castillo, Cincinnati Reds
Stats: 1 GS, W, 7.2 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 9 K
When he's at his best, Luis Castillo stacks up to any pitcher in baseball in terms of pure stuff and the ability to steamroll an opposing lineup.
The Cincinnati Reds breakout ace wrapped up the first half among the NL leaders in ERA (2.29, second), WHIP (1.08, eighth) and strikeouts (124, t-ninth), and his .169 opponents' batting average was bested only by Justin Verlander (.168) among qualified pitchers in both leagues.
He took a no-hitter into the seventh inning against a good Milwaukee Brewers team on Thursday, ending a brilliant first half on a high note.
"I think it's the best outing in all my career. I felt really good out there," Castillo told reporters.
The 26-year-old recorded 11 quality starts in 18 games, and he allowed more than five hits in a start just twice. He has no-hitter potential every time he takes the mound, and it may be just a matter of time before everything clicks and he blanks an opponent.
Must-See Upcoming Matchup
Minnesota Twins vs. Cleveland Indians (Friday-Sunday)
The Minnesota Twins have been perched atop the AL Central standings for most of the year, and their division lead had swelled to a season-high 11.5 games on June 2.
While they still hold a 5.5-game lead, there's little question who has been the better team since that high-water mark for the Twins:
- CLE: 21-8, +43 run differential
- MIN: 16-15, +7 run differential
The Indians have the best record in baseball since June 2, and while it's easy to point to the mediocrity of the rest of the division as a steppingstone for that success, the Twins are facing those same teams.
What better way to set the tone for what could be an exciting second-half race than with a head-to-head battle coming out of the All-Star break?
They've split the season series 3-3, which means they will face off 13 times in the second half, starting with a three-game series in Cleveland this coming weekend.
Both teams will have a chance to reset their starting rotations, and they have been two of the best in baseball. The Twins rank fifth in starters' ERA (3.78), and the Indians are not far behind in 12th (4.25).
The All-Star Game will be a tough act to follow at Progressive Field, but this three-game series is worth a watch.