It should be noted, however, that the Tigers' placement in the rankings has slowly declined from Week 1 until now. A perennial resident in the Top 5, Detroit finds itself more in the middle of the pack, both in our rankings and in the American League Central standings.
June hasn't been kind to the defending division champs, who have lost 10 of 17 games this month. The return of Justin Verlander should give the Tigers' rotation a boost, although it's still too early to tell how strong the former Cy Young Award winner will be after recovering from a triceps injury that shelved him for nearly two months.
Nationals. Regardless of how drastic the ups and downs of this season are for Washington, there's little doubt that the Nats will have a strong second half, put everything together that was laid out for them in the form of a rock-solid rotation and relentless offense at the beginning of the season, and easily win this division. But they have to get healthy first. Their bump in the rankings is a nod to Max Scherzer's historically dominant back-to-back starts, and the Nationals' weekend sweep over the Pirates, who have been scorching through June.
Dodgers and Blue Jays. Both dropped a scant four spots. It's probably a little more jarring for the Dodgers, only because they dropped out of the Top 5 for the first time this season, falling from two to six. Maybe it shouldn't matter who they're losing to, but the fact that the Dodgers have had little success against the Giants every time they've played them this year does count for something. The Jays, who went from nine to 13, have been up and down all year, mostly down, but they've had a nice run lately, going 7-3 in their last 10. We expect them to be right in the middle for the rest of the season -- a contender for sure, even if they fall short of nabbing a playoff spot.
And now presenting the MLB.com voting panel's Top 5:
Off the field, things are a little sticky in St. Louis, and not just because the Midwestern summer humidity is starting to kick in. On the field, though, it's business as usual, which means the Cardinals are still doing everything well. They split a four-game series with the Twins, who are not only contending in their division but are also frontrunners in the category of "feel good" story of the year. Most recently against Philadelphia, the Cardinals behaved as a first-place team playing a last-place one. They outscored the Phils, 22-5, in the first two games of the series, before dropping the finale, 9-2.
Still on pace to win 90-plus games, the Astros are not winning a lot on the road lately, but they're pretty much dominating at home. If they keep up that ratio, it could be enough to win the AL West. And they have yet to put their best team on the field. With Carlos Correa taking over shortstop for good, look for Jed Lowrie to move to third base when he returns from the disabled list after the All-Star break. The likely addition of a veteran starter somewhere near the deadline, plus the return of Scott Feldman, should give a young rotation a boost.
Similar to the Cardinals, the Royals spent the first part of their week doing what good teams are supposed to do when they play the lesser-haves: win. Kansas City swept a four-game series over the Brewers before dropping two of three to a struggling but still heady Red Sox club. Despite somewhat concerning issues in their rotation, the Royals are winning games pretty much in the same manner they did so during their stretch run last year -- an airtight bullpen and fantastic defense.
Being no-hit by Scherzer was simply a small hiccup in what has been a frenzied run through the month of June. So it should come as no surprise that the Pirates have enjoyed several weeks of every element of their roster clicking. The bullpen has been especially solid, even though it doesn't get as many accolades as a rotation that has also been coasting through June.
Welcome, Tampa Bay, back to the Top 5. They have the third-lowest cumulative ERA in baseball at 3.28, behind only St. Louis (2.71) and Pittsburgh (2.88). In a division lacking a true powerhouse, the Rays have plenty of starting pitching and just enough offensive pop to stay in the AL East race. Somewhat lost in all of the hullaballoo Joe Maddon created when he joined the Cubs was the fact that the Rays still have a pretty decent team. And it looks like they hit the jackpot with their rookie manager Kevin Cash.