MLB.com Columnist

Alyson Footer

Cardinals, Blue Jays top Power Rankings

Cardinals, Blue Jays top Power Rankings

Doesn't it feel like it wasn't that long ago that there were only six or seven teams in all of baseball that were not close enough in either the division or Wild Card races to merit at least being in the contention conversation?

But now, as we enter the stretch run and examine the weekly MLB Power Rankings, the lines don't seem to be quite as blurred. This is the time of year when the true contenders -- the teams with the best pitching, depth and, most importantly, the fewest injuries -- pull away a bit, while the lesser teams settle back to the middle or the bottom of the standings and start to look to next year by auditioning and evaluating their September callups.

At first glance, the Astros and Rangers in the American League West and the Blue Jays and Yankees in the AL East appear to be in the midst of the most compelling division races. But don't count out what's happening in the National League East, where the Nationals are coming off a most enjoyable weekend against the Braves to perhaps make things a little more uncomfortable for the first-place Mets.

On to the MLB Power Rankings ...

Biggest jump: The Nationals jumped three spots (13 to 10) after demolishing the Braves over the weekend to move within four games of the Mets in the NL East race. Beating up on the struggling Braves doesn't exactly scream domination, and the Mets also have seven games against Atlanta before the season is over, but given how bad the Nationals were in August, they deserve at least some props for doing what good teams are supposed to do against the lesser clubs this time of year.

Biggest drop: There was very little movement this week. The only significant drop was the Diamondbacks, who went from 14 to 18. Since climbing to within five games of the division lead late in August, the Diamondbacks have lost 11 of 15. Really, their only highlight was a doubleheader sweep of the Rockies last Tuesday.

Our voting panel's top five:

1. Cardinals
While it's true that anything can happen in a division race down the stretch, the Cardinals blowing their comfortable lead in the NL Central appears to be the least likely scenario. The Pirates and Cubs have had long, dominant stretches, yet still were unable to gain much ground on the Cardinals, who seem to never lose. And they're starting to get healthier, which should bode well for depth heading into the postseason.

2. Blue Jays
This may be the first time all season, but certainly the first time in months, that a team other than the Royals has occupied the second spot in the rankings. The Blue Jays have been doing this long enough that it's no longer than just some endearing, fun story about the little engine that could. The Blue Jays are stacked, and they're good. This could very well be a dog fight with the Yankees all the way to the last day of the season, but the Jays are the more balanced team.

3. Royals
Although the AL Central wasn't as strong as many thought heading into the season, there's a lot to be said about a team that was pretty much running away with the division before the first half was over. The Royals have stumbled a bit lately, losing four of their last six, including a weekend sweep by the White Sox. And there may be some concerns about Johnny Cueto, who hasn't been his normal dominating self through his last four starts. But even so, the Royals will still be the first team to clinch.

4. Pirates
As amazing of a season that the Pirates have had, the fact that they can't make up much ground in their division race is largely self-inflicted: they are well under the .500 mark against the NL Central, but dominant against everyone else. Regardless, it's looking more and more likely that the Bucs are headed where they've been projected for quite a while: as the hosts of the NL Wild Card Game, against the Cubs.

5. Dodgers
A lot of the focus regarding the Dodgers has been on the fact that they were no-hit twice in nine days. But it's what they did on the days they weren't being no-hit that has put them in the position to build their healthiest lead of the year in the NL West. After being no-hit by Mike Fiers and swept in Houston, the Dodgers have lost just twice: the no-hitter by Jake Arrieta last Sunday, and a loss to the Padres to open a four-game set in San Diego. That's it.

And the rest: 6. Cubs (7); 7. Astros (7); 8. Mets (8); 9. Yankees (9); 10. Nationals (13); 11. Rangers (10); 12. Twins (12); 13. Angels (15); 14. Giants (11); 15. Orioles (17); 16. Rays (16); 17. Indians (18); 18. D-backs (14); 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.