MLB.com Columnist

Alyson Footer

Rangers rising up in Power Rankings

Texas makes biggest leap this week; St. Louis remains in top spot

Rangers rising up in Power Rankings

If there is one team that has been more baffling over the course of the season than any other, it's the Washington Nationals.

This is not some new revelation. Washington was picked by nearly every media outlet in every city from coast to coast as the runaway favorite to win the NL East, and most predicted the Nats would do so in gargantuan fashion, easily surpassing the 100-win mark and possibly knocking on the door off the all-time record.

MLB Power Rankings

But with six weeks left in the season, it's looking more and more like the Nationals may miss the postseason all together.

It's not completely a lost cause, however. The Nationals are a week in to a very soft part of their schedule, and so far, they've taken advantage. They took two of three from the Rockies and Brewers on the road and they'll spend the next week hosting the Padres and Marlins.

None of that will matter if the first-place Mets continue to plow through August, and they have a favorable schedule coming up as well. They play seven of their next 10 games against the last-place Phillies -- who, it should be noted, are playing a lot better lately -- and sandwiched in between is a three-game with the Red Sox.

Biggest jump: The Rangers jumped from 14 to 11, and they also jumped into a pretty stable spot in the Wild Card standings -- they're now second, 1 1/2 games ahead of the Angels and Twins. But the Wild Card isn't the Rangers' only option. They're quickly establishing themselves as the Astros' biggest challenge in the AL West race and are only four back there. And the two teams play each other seven more times.

Biggest drop: Realistically, this has been in the works for a while. But a weekend sweep at the hands of the Astros, being no-hit by Mike Fiers and a losing streak that has stretched to five games has finally knocked the Dodgers out of the top five, all the way down to nine. It's unlikely they would drop out of the picture completely, but if they're going to play meaningful games down the stretch, the bullpen is going to have to find a way to preserve leads.

MLB Power Rankings top 5:

1. Cardinals
The Cardinals recently had a very un-Cardinal-like stretch of four losses in six games -- hardly catastrophic, but still, notable. That said, these rankings are more about the big picture and less about what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, and for that reason, the Cardinals are still the best of the 30. The lineup has had to navigate through some injuries recently, including outfielder Randal Grichuk, an NL Rookie of the Year candidate. But if there's one thing we've learned about the Cardinals this season, it's that they can overcome just about every injury blow handed to them.

2. Royals
Again, the Cardinals and the Royals are still pretty much interchangeable when it comes to a 1-2 punch at the top of the Power Rankings. The Royals are on pace to win 99 games, but given their September schedule consists of games mostly against intradivision rivals who are having subpar seasons, 100 wins seems entirely probable.

3. Pirates
The Cardinals have been widely considered, from Day 1, to be the runaway favorites to win the NL Central, but let's pump the brakes a little and take note that the Pirates are relentlessly refusing to concede anything. While they're on pace to nab one of the two Wild Card spots, Pittsburgh has been steady enough to keep pace with the Cardinals, whose 2.68 team ERA is the only one in the NL lower than the Pirates' 3.17.

4. Cubs
The Cubs have been good all year, and they picked the right time to get hot. They're a National League-best 19-4 in August and have a healthy lead over the Giants for the National League's second Wild Card spot. The Cubs are also a season-high 20 games over .500, and they seem to have mastered the comeback win. Last year, they were 0-79 when trailing entering the ninth inning. This year, they already have 11 walk-offs.

5. Blue Jays
Last week, they were sixth and the sense was they would finally crack the top 5 the next time around. It's here. The Jays are 16-4 in August and 23-9 since the All-Star break and in their last 23 games have outscored opponents by 70 runs. But their ranking is also an acknowledgement that we fully expect to see them in the postseason, and it's looking more and more like they're in the best position to win the AL East.

And the rest of our top 20:
6. Yankees (7); 7. Astros (8); 8. Mets (10); 9. Dodgers (4); 10. Giants (9); 11. Rangers (14); 12. Orioles (11); 13. Nationals (13); 14. Angels (12) ; 15. Rays (15); 16. D-backs (16); 17. Twins (17); 18. Tigers (18); 19. Padres (19); 20. White Sox (NR).

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.