As the MLB standings shuffle, so do the MLB.com Power Rankings. And with just a couple weeks left in the regular season, there's not much time remaining for these contenders to fight to determine who the season's real No. 1 will be.
Surely, few fans are complaining about the perennial fall excitement as we round third and head home toward the 2013 playoffs. Each of the 15 teams ranked in this week's edition of the Power Rankings has playoff aspirations, and our top three -- the Red Sox, Braves and Dodgers -- have been looking like postseason players for quite some time.
The Red Sox are the only team from last week's top three to remain there, holding onto the No. 1 spot after sweeping the Yankees this weekend at Fenway Park. The Braves leapt from No. 6 to No. 2 and the Dodgers from No. 4 to No. 3.
The A's, fresh off a huge sweep of the division-rival Rangers, clock in at fourth, and the Tigers maintain their standing in the No. 5 spot. The two first-place NL Central clubs, St. Louis and Pittsburgh, hold the Nos. 6 and 7 spots, respectively. After the Cardinals swept the Pirates last weekend, it appears that race will go down to the wire.
Another neck-and-neck race fills out the eighth and ninth spots, as the Rangers and Rays duke it out for the American League Wild Card berths. The Indians, half a game back in that race, are 11th.
Ahead of Cleveland sits Cincinnati, which is trying to fend off the surging Nationals for the second National League Wild Card spot. Washington is 12th.
Baltimore, New York and Kansas City -- all within 3 1/2 games of the Rays and Rangers for the AL Wild Card, and in that order -- round out the Top 15.
For the third season, MLB.com has set up a panel of experts to vote on the top 15 teams each week. Three former Major League players -- Larry Dierker, Mitch Williams and Frank Thomas -- are part of the process, as are columnist Peter Gammons and Carlton Thompson, vice president and executive editor of MLB.com. Former general manager and current MLB.com analyst Jim Duquette, along with MLB.com columnists Mike Bauman, Hal Bodley, Anthony Castrovince, Richard Justice, Matthew Leach and Jesse Sanchez are also part of the group.
What do you think? Choose your Top 15.
1. Red Sox: There's nothing like hammering your rival at home to end a week on a high note and secure the top spot in these Power Rankings. The Red Sox did just that, sweeping the Yankees in three (after taking a road series from the Rays) to take a firm grip on the best record in baseball. A 13-6 record against the Yanks this year is icing on the cake for a team that looks like a World Series favorite. Boston, off Monday, can clinch a playoff berth if it beats Baltimore on Tuesday, and Kansas City beats Cleveland both Monday and Tuesday.
Last week: 1
2. Braves: Atlanta will will have no trouble wrapping up the NL East title going away -- it's just a matter of when. The Braves missed the opportunity to do it at home this weekend, but they can still clinch this week against the division-rival Nationals. They'll secure the division title if they beat the Nats on both Monday and Tuesday nights.
Last week: 6
3. Dodgers: As the weather has cooled this month, so too have the Dodgers. But the NL West is still a foregone conclusion for the summer's hottest team as Los Angeles sits 10 1/2 games ahead of second-place Arizona. The Dodgers can clinch the division if they beat the D-backs on Monday and Tuesday night. But they've lost four of five and eight of 11. That's not the momentum you want heading toward the playoffs.
Last week: 4
4. A's: Like the team ahead of them in the Power Rankings, the A's are coming off a major weekend sweep against a division rival and fellow playoff contender in the Rangers. Oakland is now sitting pretty in the AL West, with a 6 1/2-game lead over Texas, and the A's finished the sweep without slugger Yoenis Cespedes, a late scratch because of shoulder stiffness. Oakland is 79-47 (.627) in games that Cespedes has played this season, but 9-14 (.391) in games he has missed, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Last week: 2
5. Tigers: Detroit isn't having much trouble holding onto its lead in the AL Central -- the Tigers' magic number over the Indians is nine entering Monday, and they can clinch as early as Friday -- but they won't be the World Series team everyone expected them to be if AL MVP Award candidate Miguel Cabrera can't heat up again. Perhaps all the nagging injuries are finally catching up to the superstar, who is hitting .219 with just three RBIs over the last two weeks.
Last week: 5
6. Cardinals: Things couldn't be tighter at the top of the NL Central, with the Cards and Pirates sporting identical records heading into this week. St. Louis gets the nod here thanks largely in part to its sweep of the Bucs last weekend, though Pittsburgh bounced back for the better showing this week. The Redbirds scored four runs in both the fourth and fifth innings of their 12-2 win against the Mariners on Sunday, after going hitless in 29 consecutive at-bats with men on base, according to Elias. It's been the team's forte this year, so they'll want to find that groove again.
Last week: 3
7. Pirates: As mentioned earlier, the Bucs may have had a better week, but the Cardinals had their number in the last meeting. Still, this Pittsburgh group has more than enough to celebrate at this point. The Pirates are guaranteed their first winning record since 1992, and they seem destined for the playoffs. But you have to feel like a winning record and a playoff berth simply may not be enough to satisfy this dynamic group.
Last week: 9
8. Rangers: The Rangers are about to find out how the Rays have been feeling the last few weeks. After being swept by Oakland this weekend, Texas finds itself tied with Tampa Bay for the AL Wild Card, with four teams chasing. This is a massive road trip coming up, with a series against the Rays in St. Petersburg and a series in Kansas City. But considering the way the Rangers just played at home -- swept by the Pirates and the A's -- they may want to get out of town as soon as possible.
Last week: 8
9. Rays: If Tampa Bay is to hold onto a Wild Card spot, the Rays will certainly have earned it. With Cleveland, Baltimore, New York and Kansas City all on its heels, Tampa Bay finishes the year with series against the Rangers, O's, Yankees and Blue Jays. To hold on, the Rays will need David Price to pitch like an ace. Tampa Bay's loss to Minnesota on Sunday was the third in five games that Price has started and pitched with a lead of three or more runs. From 2009-12, the Rays were 50-3 in such scenarios, according to Elias.
Last week: 10
10. Reds: Cincinnati still has a shot at the division, as the Reds look ahead in the standings at the Cardinals and Pirates, both 3 1/2 games up in the NL Central, but they better also be careful of who's behind them. Cincinnati leads for the second Wild Card spot, but Washington is keen on making things interesting in the last few weeks. The Reds' biggest issue lately has been playing to the level of their competition, with statement series victories against the Cards and Dodgers followed by losses to the Cubs and Brewers.
Last week: 7
11. Indians: Each time the Indians make a push for the top spot in the AL Central, the Tigers have a way of pushing them away, so the Tribe's best bet now seems to be the Wild Card. MLB.com and Baseball Prospectus have the Indians at 54.4 percent likely to make the playoffs, a number that rose from 27 percent a week ago thanks to a four-game sweep against the White Sox. A massive three-game series against the Royals looms this week before Cleveland wraps up the season against some of the worst teams in baseball.
Last week: 13
12. Nationals: The Nats are playing their best baseball of the season -- and some of the best we've seen from most any team around the league this year -- but is it too little, too late? Perhaps not. If Washington, 4 1/2 games back of Cincinnati for the second NL Wild Card spot, can keep that pace with Atlanta in town and the Reds taking on the Astros, this upcoming weekend -- with the Nationals playing the Marlins and the Reds playing the Pirates -- could be very interesting. Washington has a 3.1 percent shot at the playoffs, up from 1 percent a week ago.
Last week: 15
13. Orioles: If you want to make the playoffs out of the AL East, you are going to have to earn it. The O's know this firsthand, and they can see by looking around their division how difficult it is. That'll be the case for them again this year. Trailing the Rangers and Rays by 2 1/2 games in the Wild Card, they now head out to Fenway Park and Tropicana Field for seven games. Survive that gauntlet and Baltimore will have a shot at the playoffs. The Orioles' odds currently sit at 5.6 percent.
Last week: 11
14. Yankees: Every time we think the Yanks are out of it, they surprise us and make another push. But was this weekend's sweep at the hands of the Red Sox the nail in the coffin? The Yanks are missing Derek Jeter and sit three games back of the Wild Card. They sure could use a few vintage CC Sabathia starts down the stretch. Regardless of how this year ends, though, Joe Girardi should be praised for the work he's done.
Last week: 12
15. Royals: Kansas City has done nothing but hang around all season, and the Royals are still in the mix as things come down to the wire. They split their last six games with the Tigers, and took a series from the Indians. This could be the biggest homestand in recent franchise history, with the Tribe and Rangers coming to town this week. The first trip back to the playoffs since 1985? Take care of business at home, and on a season-ending road trip to Seattle and Chicago, and Kansas City could be living that fantasy.
Last week: 14