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Central races making impact on Power Rankings

Best teams may be out West, but Royals, Cards, Reds, Tribe gaining steam

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The A's have been the top team in baseball for most of the season, the Angels are star-studded and the Dodgers and Giants have made headlines all year.

Don't forget about the Robinson Cano-led Mariners.

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It's easy to see why some fans think the best baseball in the game is being played out West.

But it's impossible to ignore what's happening in the middle of the country and it's hard to blame fans who follow the Central divisions for being excited these days.

Here's why: The Tigers lead the Royals, winners of seven in a row, by only a half-game in the American League Central. The Indians are also surging and could be the surprise of the season.

It's also a thrilling time in the National League Central, where the Brewers lead the Cardinals by only two games and the Pirates by just 2 1/2 games. The Reds are also doing their best to make it a four-team race.

Where do the best teams in baseball really reside? That's where you come in.

For the fourth consecutive season, MLB.com has set up a panel of experts to vote on the top 15 teams each week. The group includes MLB.com vice president and executive editor Carlton Thompson, executive editor Matthew Leach, columnists Mike Bauman, Hal Bodley, Anthony Castrovince, Richard Justice, Tracy Ringolsby, Phil Rogers and Lyle Spencer along with reporters Alyson Footer and Jesse Sanchez.

What do you think? Agree, disagree? Have your opinion counted by submitting your Power Rankings.

1. Athletics: The A's won three of four against the Twins over the weekend and now lead the AL West by four games. It's taken time, but manager Bob Melvin has figured out roles for each of his relief pitchers, and it's paying dividends. The A's bullpen had a scoreless streak of 29 2/3 innings snapped Saturday.

2. Angels: The star-studded Halos lineup has been nearly unrecognizable lately. The offense has scored just 13 runs in the 64 innings that have encompassed four losses in five games. What's more, the Angels have gone 3-for-33 with runners in scoring position and batted .181 overall during that stretch. That said, they still have the second-best record in baseball.

3. Orioles: The AL East leaders won two of three against the Cardinals over the weekend and have won seven of their last 10 games. That's the good news. The not-so-good news? Shortstop J.J. Hardy sprained his left thumb Saturday and was held out of the lineup Sunday. It's unclear when he will return to the field.

4. Dodgers: How good has Clayton Kershaw been this season? He's 14-2 with a 1.78 ERA and hasn't lost since a 3-2 defeat to the Reds on May 28. Kershaw is 8-1 on the road, and he's also playing Gold Glove-caliber defense. The Dodgers, who lead the NL West by 4 1/2 games, will send newly acquired Kevin Correia to the mound Monday against the Braves.

5. Nationals: The first-place Nats were hoping to bury the second-place Braves and put more distance between the two clubs over the weekend in Atlanta. It didn't work out that way. Washington still holds a 3 1/2-game lead in the NL East, but it lost two of three at Turner Field. What's more, the Nationals are 4-9 against the Braves this season.

6. Tigers: The Tigers have seen better days. Detroit is coming off of a deflating and physically taxing 19-inning loss to Toronto, and now the AL Central race is now down to a half-game margin with the surging Royals having won seven straight. The Tigers will also be without starter Anibal Sanchez and reliever Joakim Soria. Both right-handers went on the 15-day disabled list Sunday morning -- Sanchez with a right pectoral muscle strain and Soria with a left oblique strain.

7. Brewers: The Crew ran itself into a few outs in a loss against the Dodgers on Sunday, but that didn't ruin a solid homestand against two of the top teams in the NL. Overall, the Brewers went 4-2 in the six-game homestand, taking a series from both the Dodgers and Giants while finishing the weekend with a two-game lead over St. Louis in the NL Central.

8. Mariners: Seattle has won seven of its last 10 games, and Felix Hernandez has already had a year to remember. The Venezuelan right-hander has made an MLB-record 15 straight starts of seven innings or more while allowing two or fewer runs, and he'll look to add to that mark Monday against the Blue Jays. Yes, the Mariners trail the first-place A's by 10 games in the division, but fans in Seattle still believe.

9. Royals: It's a great time to be a Royals fan. KC just swept the Giants at home and has now won seven straight. The Royals trail the first-place Tigers by only a half-game in the AL Central standings and will send rookie phenomenon Yordano Ventura to the mound Monday against the A's.

10. Blue Jays: It took a while Sunday -- the longest game in franchise history, at six hours and 37 minutes -- but the Blue Jays capped the weekend with a series victory and a statement against the first-place Tigers. Melky Cabrera reached base eight times, becoming the first player in baseball to do so in a game since Rod Carew on May 12, 1972.

11. Giants: After an inopportune four-game losing streak, the Giants find themselves slipping in the NL West, with the Dodgers' lead climbing to 4 1/2 games over the weekend. San Francisco ran into the Royals at the wrong time, and now it will have the misfortune of trying to work out of its funk on Tuesday against White Sox ace Chris Sale.

12. Cardinals: After being outslugged by the Orioles in the first two games of their series this weekend in Baltimore, the Cards turned the tables and poured on 17 hits (including 14 singles) to win the finale. This team won't hit for much power -- it's 24th in baseball with a .374 slugging percentage -- but few clubs produce better at-bats than the Cardinals.

13. Pirates: The Padres still have the Bucs' number at PNC Park -- San Diego is 33-12 all time in Pittsburgh after this weekend -- and the Pirates' problems are only magnified while playing without their core trio of Andrew McCutchen, Neil Walker and Pedro Alvarez. Fortunately for Pittsburgh, its first opponent this week (the Tigers) has a pitching staff as beat up as anyone in baseball.

14. Reds: Cincinnati is looking to show this is a four-team race in the NL Central, not a three-team fight. Devin Mesoraco tied a club record with his third grand slam of the season as Cincy took the final game of the series against Miami on Sunday to remain above .500. The Reds' first look at the Red Sox on Tuesday will be against familiar NL Central foe Joe Kelly, who was recently traded from the Cardinals.

15. Indians: Everybody sees the Royals close on the heels of the Tigers in the AL Central, but the Indians are fighting to reach the playoffs as well. After taking a series against the Yankees, they'll have an Interleague matchup against the struggling D-backs, but they'll be without veterans David Murphy (right abdominal strain) and Nick Swisher (right knee soreness) for a while.

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