Alyson Footer

Power Rankings: Cubs pressuring Bucs

Power Rankings: Cubs pressuring Bucs

In terms of pure intrigue, the American League has an advantage over the National League as we check out the MLB Power Rankings heading into the final two weeks of the season.

The NL division races are not officially decided, but the picture is pretty clear in all three divisions. Barring collapses by the Cardinals, Dodgers and Mets, it's highly unlikely any of these three will not win its respective division. And the Wild Card teams have been all but decided, with only home-field advantage still in play for the Pirates and Cubs.

But several races in the AL could very well be decided the last weekend of the season. And isn't that more fun for all of us?

The Royals could clinch the AL Central by Tuesday, but that's the only sure thing. Three games separate the Blue Jays and Yankees, and in the West, the Rangers lead the Astros by just 1 1/2 games. The AL Wild Card is even wackier, with four teams -- the Yankees, Astros, Angels and Twins -- vying for two spots. And as long as the Indians stay at or above .500, they deserve to be in this conversation as well, sitting four games off the second spot with a 74-74 record.

Biggest jump: The Cubs jumped three spots, from six to three, for reasons explained below. The Cubs are realistically too far out of first place to seriously threaten the Cardinals for the division title, but their weekend series win over St. Louis was significant in that they keep putting pressure on the Pirates to win the top spot in the Wild Card standings, which would net them home-field advantage in that game.

Biggest drop: The Giants dropped three spots, from 14 to 11. Not much explanation needed here -- injuries to key members of their lineup (Hunter Pence, Joe Panik) plus a rotation that never was at full strength health-wise from day one eventually did the Giants in. They deserve credit, however -- with all of their issues, they're seven games over .500 heading into the final two weeks of the season.

1. Cardinals: Given the weirdness of September for the Cardinals -- an 8-11 record through Sunday, losing four of five in Cincinnati and playing an emotionally charged series in Chicago during which they were on the receiving end of Sopranos references by Cubs manager Joe Maddon, it's probably only fitting that they clinched a playoff berth hours after their game ended, predicated on another team losing. This year will be the Cardinals' fifth consecutive postseason appearance, so presumably, they will wait for bigger and better things before they start spraying champagne.

2. Blue Jays: The Blue Jays have stayed atop the AL East for many reasons, one being the dominance of David Price, a major difference-maker since coming over from the Tigers in a Trade Deadline deal. The lefty is 7-1 with a 2.17 ERA over nine starts for the Jays, with a 1.04 WHIP. It's highly unlikely that at this crucial point of a pennant race he's focused on where he fits in to the Cy Young conversation, but we'll do it for him -- he's right at the top, and it'll probably come down to him and Houston lefty Dallas Keuchel.

3. Cubs: For much of the season -- and by "much" we mean the entire second half up until about a week ago -- it was very obvious the Cubs would play the Pirates in the NL Wild Card Game, in Pittsburgh. And if the game took place today, sure, that's what the scenario would be. But the Cubs spent the better part of last week chipping away at two deficits -- one to the division-leading Cardinals, which probably is too deep to overcome, and one to the Pirates, whose home-field advantage is being threatened. Unlike a few other contenders, the Cubs have had a nice September, winning 12 of 19.

4. Royals: The Royals have been, at best, mediocre in September, and truthfully, they've been slightly less than mediocre, having lost series to the Orioles and Tigers and splitting a four-gamer with the Indians in recent times. But they're still on track to be the first team to clinch, and Johnny Cueto looked a little more like an ace in his most recent outing, holding the Tigers to two runs over seven innings.

5. Pirates: Whereas most contending teams are playing intradivision series, the Pirates had a random NL West road trip on their schedule just as the stretch drive was getting started. And not only did they have the play the NL West-leading Dodgers (who will be clinching sooner than later), they had to contend with co-aces Zack Greinke and Clayton Kershaw. The Pirates went 1-1 in those games, losing to Greinke and beating Kershaw. They have a four-game series at Colorado before NL Central action resumes, and it should be a doozy -- the Pirates and Cubs meet at Wrigley Field next weekend.

And the rest: 6. Dodgers (7); 7. Mets (5); 8. Rangers (10); 9. Yankees (9); 10. Astros (8); 11. Angels (13); 12. Indians (14); 13. Twins (12); 14 Giants (11); 15. Nationals (16); 16. Orioles (17); 17. Rays (15); 18. D-backs (18); 19. Red Sox (19); 20. Mariners (NR).

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