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For much of the year, the battle between the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees for AL East supremacy was one of the biggest storylines in baseball.
Now, with the Red Sox pulling away, it’s the AL West that is shaping up to be the most compelling race for a division title.
The Houston Astros still sit atop the standings, but after they were swept by the Seattle Mariners over the weekend, things have gotten considerably closer between those two teams as well as the upstart Oakland Athletics.
The NL Central and NL West are also far from decided, which should make for an exciting final two months of the season.
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 heading into the rest of this week’s action:
Teams That Impressed
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The Seattle Mariners closed out last week with a surprise sweep of the first-place Houston Astros. It was a hard-fought series, with the four games decided by a total of seven runs. It should also serve as a preview for what’s shaping up to be an exciting final month of action in the AL West.
Erasmo Ramirez tossed five scoreless innings Sunday in his first appearance since April 27. He’ll replace Felix Hernandez in the rotation after the franchise icon and his unsightly 5.73 ERA was moved to the bullpen.
It was business as usual for the Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees last week, as the clubs went 6-1 in a pair of series against sub-.500 teams.
The Red Sox enter the week with an impressive 43-15 record against the rest of the AL East—by far the best in-division record in baseball this season—and that should bode well as they push toward 100 wins.
The Cleveland Indians already have a 12-game lead in the AL Central and another division title in the bag, but they still haven’t played up to their potential. With an 8-3 record and a plus-19 run differential in August, it looks like they may finally be hitting their stride.
The Chicago Cubs (4-2), St. Louis Cardinals (5-1) and Pittsburgh Pirates (4-3) all posted winning records last week, and there are now four teams within eight games of first place in the NL Central.
The Cardinals have the best in-division record at 33-25, despite sitting in third place in the standings, so that’s something to keep an eye on as they look to keep things rolling.
The San Diego Padres (4-2) and New York Mets (4-2) were the other two teams to win both of their series last week.
While the Mets knocked off a pair of non-contenders in the Cincinnati Reds and Miami Marlins, the Padres beat the teams that were ranked No. 5 (Milwaukee Brewers) and No. 6 (Philadelphia Phillies) in last week’s rankings, so a tip of the cap to the Friars.
Teams That Disappointed
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Aside from their respective series losses to the Padres, the Milwaukee Brewers and Philadelphia Phillies both lost their other series last week.
That was enough to send them tumbling out of the top 10 in the rankings, and if the season ended today, the two teams would meet in the NL Wild Card Game.
The Brewers are now 4-7 with an ugly minus-27 run differential in August, and with the rest of the NL Central contenders playing well, they’re in danger of falling out of the postseason picture.
It was a tough weekend overall for contenders, as the Houston Astros (vs. SEA), Arizona Diamondbacks (vs. CIN), Brewers (vs. ATL), Phillies (vs. SD) and Washington Nationals (vs. CHC) all suffered series losses.
Beyond that, things went largely as expected last week.
The Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals and Baltimore Orioles went a combined 3-16 at the bottom of the rankings, and those three teams are now 10-24 with a minus-69 run differential so far this month.
MVPs of the Week
Hitter: J.D. Martinez, Boston Red Sox
Stats: 13-for-28, 5 2B, 4 HR, 11 RBI, 7 R
All that is standing between J.D. Martinez and a run at the Triple Crown right now is teammate Mookie Betts and his .350 batting average.
“I would love him to win the Triple Crown, but if he wins the batting title, that means the other guy got into a slump,” manager Alex Cora told reporters. “I like the way it is now, honestly.”
As it stands, Martinez is hitting .333/.401/.669 with 33 doubles, 37 home runs, 104 RBI and 87 runs scored, giving him the MLB lead in both home runs and RBI.
He also leads the AL in hits (145), slugging percentage (.669) and total bases (291).
He’s been nothing short of a game-changing addition for a Boston Red Sox team that has been perched atop these power rankings for weeks now.
It will be interesting to see how things shake out when it comes to AL MVP voting. Both Martinez and Betts have compelling cases but could wind up splitting votes.
Pitcher: Dereck Rodriguez, San Francisco Giants
Stats: 2 GS, 1-0, 0.64 ERA, 14.0 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 11 K
What a find Dereck Rodriguez has been for the San Francisco Giants.
The son of Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez, he was originally drafted as an outfielder by the Minnesota Twins back in 2011. It was not until the 2013 season that he made the full-time move to pitching.
Despite going 10-6 with a 3.27 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 121 strikeouts in 143.1 innings between High-A and Double-A last season, the Twins let him walk as a minor league free agent, and he caught on with the Giants.
The 26-year-old made his MLB debut on May 29 and has gone 6-1 with a 2.25 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and 65 strikeouts in 80 innings over 12 starts and two relief appearances, including a pair of stellar seven-inning outings last week.
Those numbers also come with strong peripherals, including a 3.14 FIP.
He might come down to earth a bit once his .264 BABIP levels off, but overall, it looks like the Giants have found an excellent diamond in the rough and one they’ll control for the next six seasons.
It’s not out of the question that he walks away with NL Rookie of the Year honors.
Video Highlights of the Week
Longest Home Run: Starling Marte, Pittsburgh Pirates (453 feet)
Starling Marte is well on his way to the best season of his career from a power standpoint.
Known more for his speed on the bases and defense in the outfield, he entered the season with a modest career high of 19 home runs, which he hit back in 2015 as part of a 5.3-WAR season.
With this 453-foot blast off Colorado Rockies starter Chad Bettis, his season total stands at 17.
That’s accompanied by a career-best .192 ISO, and he’s also hitting more fly balls (33.5 percent) and making more hard contact (35.6 percent) than ever before.
If the Pittsburgh Pirates are going to chase down a playoff spot, Marte will need to keep swinging a big bat the rest of the way.
Best Defensive Play: Ramon Laureano, Oakland Athletics
That’s as strong and accurate a throw as you’ll ever see from a center fielder.
The throw was measured at 321 feet and it could not have been more on the money to complete the double play at first base.
Equally impressive was his speed to track down the fly ball in the first place.
Laureano was only recently promoted from Triple-A, where he was hitting .297/.380/.524 with 12 doubles, 14 home runs and 11 stolen bases on the year.
Center field has been a bit of a revolving door for the Athletics this season, but it looks like they found a solution in the 24-year-old who was acquired from the Astros in November.
Must-See Upcoming Matchup
Houston Astros vs. Oakland Athletics (Friday-Sunday)
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The Astros have gotten the best of this head-to-head matchup so far this season with a 9-4 record and a plus-34 run differential.
However, it was the Athletics who came out on top last time they squared off, taking three of four in Houston at the beginning of July.
This series could very well determine who holds the No. 3 spot in these rankings next week.
The Astros will trot out Charlie Morton (12-3, 2.88 ERA, 1.15 WHIP), Dallas Keuchel (9-9, 3.43 ERA, 1.24 WHIP) and Justin Verlander (11-7, 2.50 ERA, 0.91 WHIP), so the Oakland will be put to the test.
Meanwhile, the Athletics will turn to surprise veterans Edwin Jackson (4-2, 2.48 ERA, 1.03 WHIP) and Trevor Cahill (4-2, 3.39 ERA, 1.10 WHIP) in the first two games and lefty Sean Manaea (10-8, 3.50 ERA, 1.05 WHIP) in the finale.
Oakland ranks 28th in the majors in attendance this season, but the Coliseum will be rocking this weekend.