We are now just over a week removed from the MLB trade deadline, and with August waiver trades no longer allowed, contenders will have to make any major roster moves prior to 4.p.m. ET on July 31.
That makes the next week of games extremely important for teams on the fringe of contention.
Will a team like the Texas Rangers push to contend or flip ace Mike Minor for a huge haul? Will the San Francisco Giants stay hot and stand pat or cool off and pivot back to selling? Several teams are facing make-or-break weeks as far as their status as buyers or sellers is concerned.
Meanwhile, a new team has broken into what had long been a clearly defined five-member top tier. That said, everyone is still chasing the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros.
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 San Francisco Giants (7-1) are 14-3 with a plus-47 run differential in the month of July.
That's a stunning turnaround for a team that was 12 games under .500 on May 31 and all but written off as a rebuilding club headed for a trade-deadline fire sale.
With their record back to .500 on the year, they are now tied for second in the NL West standings and just 2.5 games back with four teams to hurdle in the wild-card standings.
In a tight NL Central race, the Milwaukee Brewers (5-2) and St. Louis Cardinals (5-2) continued to keep things close with strong weeks.
Both teams are built to win now, despite some ups and downs this season, so expect them to be among the more aggressive buyers at the deadline.
The Brewers need starting pitching help, especially after losing Brandon Woodruff to a strained oblique Sunday, while the Cardinals need to find a way to add some offensive firepower.
The Oakland Athletics (4-2) continued their steady rise up the rankings by crashing the top-five party and moving into the No. 4 spot.
They have gone 27-13 in their last 40 games with a plus-72 run differential after starting the season with a 30-30 record. With Sean Manaea on the comeback trail and top prospects Jesus Luzardo and A.J. Puk expected to be promoted for the stretch run, they have some significant in-house reinforcement on the way.
The Cleveland Indians (6-1) and Chicago Cubs (4-2) won both of their series last week to solidify their spots inside the top 10, while the New York Yankees (5-2) joined them in posting a pair of series wins to hold off the Los Angeles Dodgers (5-2) in pursuit of the No. 1 spot.
Teams That Disappointed
The Texas Rangers (0-5) all but sealed their fate as deadline sellers last week with series losses to the Arizona Diamondbacks and Houston Astros.
They are now 4-11 with a minus-45 run differential in July after surging up the rankings during an 18-11 month of June.
It's uncertain whether they'll pull the trigger on moving ace Mike Minor, who could be the prize of the trade deadline if he's available.
Likewise, the Colorado Rockies (1-6) now reside in the non-contender category, though they have no clear trade chips and are likely to stand pat.
Last year's Wild Card Game winners have gone a dismal 3-12 with a minus-54 run differential this month to slide below the .500 mark. The pitching staff has been the clear culprit, with an MLB-worst 7.90 ERA in July.
The Tampa Bay Rays (2-5) had been part of the top tier in these rankings all summer, but series losses to the Yankees and Chicago White Sox have knocked them down to the No. 7 spot, and in a tight AL wild-card race, they can't afford an extended slide.
The San Diego Padres (2-4) and Pittsburgh Pirates (2-4) are in an interesting spot as young teams on the fringe of contention but clearly a year away from making a serious push. Closers Kirby Yates and Felipe Vazquez are both hot commodities on the trade market and controllable beyond this year.
Further down the rankings, the Cincinnati Reds (2-5), Seattle Mariners (1-4) and Detroit Tigers (1-6) also lost both of their series last week. From a winning percentage standpoint, the Tigers have now pulled into a virtual tie with the Orioles for the worst record in baseball.
Players of the Week
AL Hitter: Ramon Laureano, Oakland Athletics
Stats: 13-for-24, 6 2B, 2 HR, 2 RBI, 10 R
In an under-the-radar swap of minor leaguers prior to the 2018 season, the Oakland Athletics sent right-hander Brandon Bailey to the Houston Astros in exchange for outfielder Ramon Laureano.
This might wind up going down as one of the best moves of Billy Beane's front-office tenure.
Laureano made his MLB debut on Aug. 3 last season and posted a 129 OPS+ with 12 doubles and five home runs in 176 plate appearances as the team's everyday center fielder the rest of the way, posting 2.1 WAR in the process.
Obvious questions about the sustainability of those numbers arose during the offseason given his modest prospect track record, but he has backed them up in his first full season and emerged as one of the most dynamic young outfielders in baseball.
He's now hitting a gaudy .434/.484/.962 with seven doubles and seven home runs in 64 plate appearances this month after his impressive performance last week.
With that, he's now batting .284/.334/.518 with 20 home runs and 12 steals, which—coupled with his highlight-reel defense and cannon arm in center field—has made him an integral part of an Oakland team that has been steadily climbing these rankings all summer.
AL Pitcher: Mike Leake, Seattle Mariners
Stats: 1 GS, W, 9.0 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 1 BB, 6 K
The long MLB season is all about adjustments.
On July 12, Mike Leake endured the worst start of his MLB career, allowing eight hits and seven runs (four earned) while recording just two outs against the Los Angeles Angels.
Seven days later, against that same Angels team, he was nearly perfect.
The 31-year-old went 24 up and 24 down before Luis Rengifo snuck a single through the right side of the infield to lead off the ninth inning. A walk to Kevan Smith followed, but Leake quickly settled down and retired the next three batters to preserve the shutout, striking out Mike Trout to end the game.
It was the second shutout of his 10-year career and his second complete game of the season.
"It was fun. As you get closer, you get the shakes and you kind of have to calm yourself down," Leake told reporters. "But other than that, it's just a matter of making your pitches."
It also served as an impressive audition for contenders, as Leake is a candidate to be dealt ahead of this year's trade deadline.
A tip of the cap to Kansas City Royals right-hander Glenn Sparkman, who threw a five-hit shutout against the Chicago White Sox on Tuesday.
NL Hitter: Mike Yastrzemski, San Francisco Giants
Stats: 13-for-34, 3 2B, 3B, 4 HR, 9 RBI, 8 R
Mike Yastrzemski hit .250/.339/.414 with 28 doubles, 10 home runs and 60 RBI in 491 plate appearances between Double-A and Triple-A during the 2018 season.
Not exactly eye-popping numbers, especially for a 27-year-old.
However, the San Francisco Giants' new team president Farhan Zaidi saw something, acquiring Yastrzemski from the Baltimore Orioles in March in exchange for right-hander Tyler Herb.
After hitting .316/.414/.676 with 12 home runs in his first 40 games at Triple-A, he finally made his MLB debut on May 25 and has emerged as a steady contributor in an improved outfield.
He capped off his impressive performance last week with a walk-off home run in the 12th inning of Sunday's game against the New York Mets.
The rookie is now hitting .259/.303/.500 with eight doubles, nine home runs and 27 RBI in 176 plate appearances, making his case to be a part of the team's long-term plans.
NL Pitcher: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
Stats: 2 GS, W, ND, 12.0 IP, 6 H, 1 ER, 3 BB, 17 K
After failing to turn in a quality start in back-to-back outings to close out June, Clayton Kershaw has returned to form.
He allowed four hits and one earned run in six innings against the Philadelphia Phillies on Monday for his eighth win of the season and then struck out 10 while allowing just two hits in six scoreless frames in a no-decision against the Miami Marlins on Saturday.
With that, he now has a 0.95 ERA in three starts this month, and he's lowered his season ERA to 2.84, which is good for seventh among all qualified starters.
So why didn't he pitch beyond the sixth inning in either start last week?
"Where we're at, for me, it makes no sense to push him," manager Dave Roberts told reporters. "I've been very consistent with that for four years. But I appreciate him wanting to go back out there."
With a commanding 16-game lead in the NL West standings, he has a point.
Must-See Upcoming Matchup
Chicago Cubs vs. San Francisco Giants (Monday-Wednesday)
While the Giants are undeniably on a roll, last week's stellar performance came against a Colorado Rockies team that's in a free fall right now and a New York Mets squad that has already bottomed out.
As such, their upcoming series with the Chicago Cubs will be an excellent gauge of where they stand against a legitimate NL contender.
The Cubs have also been playing good baseball of late, logging three straight series wins during a 7-2 homestand. The strong showing at home is nothing new. They've played significantly better at Wrigley Field all season with a 36-18 record at home compared to an 18-27 record on the road.
Tuesday's game will feature Yu Darvish—coming off arguably his best start in a Cubs uniform—against Madison Bumgarner, who went nine innings last time out, while Wednesday's matchup will have seasoned veteran Jon Lester squaring off against rookie upstart Tyler Beede.
This series should be a useful barometer for both teams ahead of the trade deadline.