Power Rankings: In race for No. 1, Astros, Dodgers fend off new rivals

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Until one of the superteams goes on a tear, we seem to have settled into a fairly stable situation. The Dodgers and Astros are going to spar for No. 1, as they did again this week, splitting our first-place votes 3-2 to keep the Dodgers atop MLB’s pecking order. Then we have the Twins, Yankees, Rays and Cubs jostling for position among the best teams behind our dynamic duo. And then things get really interesting.

That’s because we’re starting to see some extreme stratification. The Brewers and Phillies might be the best of the rest beyond the big six, and there may not be much hope for the seven decisively bad teams. But even splitting all of them out, you’ve got 15 different teams bouncing around .500 who can’t be counted out yet. Which creates an interesting problem — whose gains and whose track records seem likely to stick? The Rockies swayed our voters, barely convincing them they belong in the conversation for top 10; on points they’re basically tied with the Braves. But go all the way down to No. 23, and the White Sox are just two games under .500.

So on the one hand, almost every team is just a win streak away from shaking things up. But until that happens, there’s a lot of parity reflected in these Power Rankings. Despite no team moving up or down more than two slots this week, this won’t stick — it can’t, can it? Somebody’s going to get hot and tear through their schedule, and somebody’s bid to win is going to come apart at the seams (just like the Mariners’ already has). But does that mean shaking up the top 10 even more dramatically than seeing just one team, the Rockies, get there? Or even threatening to unseat the Dodgers or Astros from their perches at the top? We’ll have to see.

For Week 10, our panel of voters was composed of Bradford Doolittle, Christina Kahrl, Eric Karabell, Tim Kurkjian and David Schoenfield.

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Finally, the Astros’ injury stack left them no choice but to recall power-hitting phenom Yordan Alvarez from Triple-A Round Rock. Alvarez, 22, was hitting .343/.443/.742 in the minors with 23 homers and 71 RBIs in 56 games. A lefty hitter, Alvarez has shown virtually no platoon split this season. If he starts mashing anywhere near the level he was in Triple-A, it will be tough to get him out of the lineup, even on an Astros roster that is over-stuffed when everyone is healthy. — Bradford Doolittle

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Jorge Polanco leads the club in WAR but Eddie Rosario leads in home runs and runs batted in, and he should soar to career-best marks in each category. Rosario has yet to knock in 80 runs in a season; he could be on his way to 130 or so if his pace keeps up. Sure, Rosario has certainly improved against left-handed pitching, but this is also about taking advantage of run-producing opportunities. Rosario should be an AL All-Star. — Eric Karabell

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The Rays were reportedly among the near-missers in the Kimbrel sweepstakes, with The Athletic reporting that Tampa Bay offered the reliever three years for $39 million. While a fully functional Kimbrel would help any team, the Rays carefully monitor their spending, and may have dodged a bullet. As it stands, the Rays’ bullpen metrics are all fine. If Tampa Bay was willing to expand its payroll by whatever amount for Kimbrel, the Rays can now focus on using some of that to afford a trade for a bat, preferably a DH type who wouldn’t affect Tampa Bay’s excellent defense. — Doolittle

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Craig Kimbrel’s importance to the Cubs’ bullpen will likely come more from the spillover effect of his presence than the actual work he does as a ninth-inning lead protector. Much has been made of the Cubs’ 12 blown saves this season, more than all but three other teams in the majors. However, just five of those blown saves occurred in the ninth inning and in two of those instances the Cubs ended up winning the game. Chicago’s bullpen metrics have been more average than terrible. Kimbrel, if effective, will make it easier for Joe Maddon to piece together matchups in advance of the ninth. Still, the real validation of the Kimbrel signing will come in October, not before. — Doolittle

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Jay Bruce is certainly enjoying life back in the NL East after a brief sojourn to the AL West, and he should continue to play regularly in left field and supply power numbers after Andrew McCutchen was lost for the season with a knee injury. The Phillies might have initially acquired Bruce for a part-time role, but the situation quickly changed, as Bruce seems well on his way to his sixth 30-homer campaign. — Karabell

By Game Score, Chris Sale’s start last Wednesday was the best of his career: A complete game shutout with 12 K’s, no walks and three hits (all singles). Since the start of May — when Chris Sale panic was at its shriekiest volumes — the Red Sox ace has a 2.28 ERA, 78 strikeouts in 47 innings, and at least 10 K’s in all but one outing. And he’s doing it with fastball velocity that’s still, even since May 1, about 2 mph lower than last year. — Sam Miller

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Things can certainly change quickly in baseball. After finishing fourth in the NL Cy Young race in 2018, Kyle Freeland struggled to the tune of a 7.13 ERA in 12 starts this year. Meanwhile, the Rockies coaxed seven one-run innings out of Freeland’s replacement, Peter Lambert, in a 3-1 victory over the Cubs on Thursday, and the team has gotten five quality starts in nine games from its rotation since Freeland’s May 31 demotion to Triple-A. — Tristan H. Cockcroft

The Cardinals’ inconsistency on offense — as well as in the win and loss columns — during the past month can be traced largely to the team’s struggles at the top of the lineup. Since May 20, the team’s .270 wOBA combined from their Nos. 1-3 hitters ranks dead last in baseball, and since that date, Paul DeJong has batted just .109/.234/.218. — Cockcroft

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The Rangers have given 140 innings to pitchers with ERAs over 6.00 this year — collectively, those innings have yielded 142 runs — and yet, if the season ended today, the Rangers would be in the playoffs as the second wild card. — Miller

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From the first pick to the late-round steals, keep up with the players your team just made a part of its future plans.

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During his 10-year career in the majors, Carlos Santana has had to be many things. He has been a leadoff hitter and a cleanup man, and he’s played all five corners — catcher, third and first base, right and left field. The one thing he hasn’t done is go to an All-Star Game, but as the AL’s OPS leader among first basemen with a considerably longer track record for success than rivals like C.J. Cron or Luke Voit, this might be the year he changes that. — Kahrl

Rookie Fernando Tatis Jr. returned to the lineup on Thursday, playing a big part in the team’s 5-4 Friday win over the Nats with a home run and a stolen base. He has been a valuable catalyst out of the leadoff spot, as the team is 18-14 in his healthy games on the roster, and winners of seven out of their past eight in which he began the game in that lineup spot. — Cockcroft

Ketel Marte is outslugging Bryce Harper, hit the longest home run in baseball this year, and on Sunday passed his career high for home runs with his 15th. He’s also listed at 165 pounds, the fourth lightest hitter in the majors, just behind Billy Hamilton and tied with Terrance Gore. A big moment for little guys, or an indictment of supposed “listed” weights? — Miller

Rookie first baseman Pete Alonso continues to threaten historic marks in terms of hitting for power by a first-year player, but his current home run pace is also well ahead of the organization’s overall mark for a season. Carlos Beltran (2006) and Todd Hundley (1996) each hit 41 in a season for the Mets. Nobody has hit more, from Dave Kingman to Darryl Strawberry and Mike Piazza. Alonso is truly special. — Karabell

Anthony Rendon remains among the MLB leaders with an OPS over 1.000 — which means he may finally be headed to his first All-Star Game. Let’s see why/how that has happened:

2014: 18th in NL in OPS in first half, 13 HR, 53 RBIs; beat out by Todd Frazier, Nolan Arenado and Kris Bryant
2015: Injured (played just 18 games)
2016: Didn’t have a good first half (.254, 9 HRs, 33 RBIs)
2017: .304/.407/.552, 16 HRs, 54 RBIs (seventh in OPS); beat out by Arenado, Jake Lamb and Justin Turner
2018: .285/.352/.526, 15 HRs, 45 RBIs; beat out by Arenado and Eugenio Suarez

Schoenfield

No Angels pitcher boasts more wins than lefty Tyler Skaggs, but the organization likely expected much better than a 4.97 ERA and two quality starts in 11 chances, too. Skaggs, 27 and acquired from Arizona in the winter of 2013, still has yet to finish a big league season with an ERA better than 4.00, and has only once made 20 starts in a season. The Angels remain desperate for rotation improvements. — Karabell

It’s time to start thinking about Lucas Giolito as a Cy Young candidate and stop marveling at the suddenness with which he turned around his early-career inconsistency. Giolito dominated the Royals on Saturday and has won his past seven starts with a 0.88 ERA and .385 OPS allowed during that span. Giolito leads all AL starters with 3.0 fWAR on the season. This week, the White Sox host Giolito’s original team, the Nationals, though he’s not slated to start. Lucky thing for Washington. — Doolittle

If relievers end up being the hottest commodity at this year’s trade deadline, Farhan Zaidi might be a very busy man in his first deadline as the Giants’ head honcho. While the focus is on Madison Bumgarner, the Giants have a quartet of veterans with closing experience in lefties Will Smith and Tony Watson and righties Mark Melancon and Sam Dyson, giving him enough bargaining chips to be a one-stop shop for contenders with bullpen problems. — Kahrl

The Blue Jays had the second-worst May in franchise history; now, they’re having their second-worst June. All that’s left now is the trading, and closer Ken Giles (1.08 ERA, 1.15 FIP, a free agent after 2020) will be in more headlines over the next month than “Local Man,” “Millennials” and “New Research Finds.” — Miller

It was a tough week to be a Mariners outfielder: Mitch Haniger landed on the IL with a ruptured testicle and Braden Bishop with a lacerated spleen. Combined with the Jay Bruce trade, that meant a new outfielder in Mac Williamson. Throw in a couple a new pitchers as well — former Mariner Andrew Moore and Tayler Scott, who became the first South African pitcher in the majors — and the Mariners have now used 50 different players. I’m beginning to wonder if Jerry Dipoto has an undiagnosed medical condition that means he can’t help but make all these transactions. The MLB record is 64, set by the 2014 Rangers, so the Mariners have a ways to go, but it’s still only June 10. Tacoma, Seattle’s Triple-A franchise, has used 37 different pitchers (!) and 54 players. — Schoenfield

Since bottoming out on May 15 at 10-31 and making you wonder if a 120-loss season was in the cards, the Marlins have gone on a modest tear, going 13-9 and winning five of seven series. But the stable rotation that has been the platform for that success took its first hit of the season with Caleb Smith landing on the IL with a hip injury. Smith should be back before the end of the month, but his absence and a tough schedule between now and the All-Star break could spell the end of the Marlins’ nice run. — Kahrl

The Royals are predictably struggling but nobody can blame Adalberto Mondesi. The switch-hitting shortstop continues to show that his breakout 2018 campaign was not a fluke, as nobody in baseball has more triples or stolen bases this season. The Royals could trade Whit Merrifield and other lineup fixtures, but Mondesi figures to stick around awhile. An All-Star berth could be pending. — Karabell

If baseball games lasted only two innings, the Orioles would be an OK team. Through one inning they’ve got a “record” of 20-17 this year; through two innings, that goes up to 25-24. And then… well, from the third inning on they’ve allowed nearly twice as many runs as they’ve scored. — Miller