Reporting Evan Roberts
1. Philadelphia Phillies (1) 98-54
The Phillies are basically a lock to become the first National League team since the 2005 Cardinals to win 100-plus games, and after clinching the division last week, they are marching their way toward the No. 1 seed. Right now the goal of Charlie Manuel is to make sure this team can go into October healthy. Despite being the best team in baseball for months, Philadelphia has dealt with injuries all year dating back to not having Chase Utley to begin the year.
2. New York Yankees (2) 92-60
You know life is good when you can have a 4-6 road trip and pick up ground in a divisional race! With the Red Sox collapsing, the goal of winning the AL East has become a bit easier for the Yanks. Mariano Rivera solidified himself as the greatest closer of all time by finally surpassing Trevor Hoffman, but even more amazing than proving what we already knew is the fact he has 40-plus saves in a season in which he is 41 years old. What gives the Yankees the advantage over everyone (including the perfect Jose Valverde) is the dominance of Mo in October.
3. Detroit Tigers (3) 89-64
The winning streak finally ended at 12, but the Tigers are as hot as anyone right now. You have to go back to a 3 game series in mid August for the last time Detroit actually lost a series. Now it’s about getting set for October and making history with Cy Young lock and legitimate MVP candidate Justin Verlander. Verlander doesn’t lose anymore and will probably have one more shot to finish with 25 wins. The specter of Verlander makes the Tigers a scary October opponent.
4. Texas Rangers (5) 88-65
The Rangers have heated up as they look to make the final 3 game set against Anaheim meaningless. After surviving a difficult part of their schedule during the first week of September against Boston and Tampa, the Rangers have won 7 of 9 against Oakland, Cleveland and Seattle. They continue to keep Anaheim a few lengths back and have watched impending free agent CJ Wilson emerge as their obvious ace.
5. Arizona Diamondbacks (4) 89-65
The D-Backs don’t play another road game during the rest of the regular season, so for them to miss the playoffs, they are going to have to have a pretty awful 9 game home-stand to end the year. Ian Kennedy won his 20th game on Monday by pitching 8, 1 hit innings against Pittsburgh, so they certainly began their home-stand on a positive note. The Giants come to town over the weekend, so if they can avoid a sweep, they will have done their job.
6. Tampa Bay Rays (7) 85-67
They may not have surpassed Boston in the standings, but in the power rankings they have done the job… for now. Despite missing a golden opportunity to gain even more ground on Boston by losing the final 2 games of the Orioles series, the Rays answered the call with a huge series win in Boston. In winning 3 of 4 including surviving losing David Price on Sunday before he could pitch the 5 innings to qualify for a win, the Rays have made a cute race into a scary situation for Boston. The question for Tampa though is can they beat the Yankees enough to pull this out. They end the season with 7 of 10 games against New York.
7. Milwaukee Brewers (9) 90-64
After losing 4 of 6 to the Cardinals and Phillies, the Brewers got back to doing what they do best: being bullies. They won 4 of 5 against Colorado and Cincinnati before getting tripped up by Chicago. Their lead in the central isn’t quite as bit as it was 3 weeks ago when it ballooned to as high as 10.5 games, but blowing a 5.5 game lead with 8 games to go will not happen with Chicago, Florida and Pittsburgh on the docket to end the season.
8. Boston Red Sox (6) 88-66
You can talk about the injuries, but this Red Sox collapse has come down to one important thing… PITCHING. Theirs stinks right now. Even Jon Lester is no sure thing and despite Josh Beckett coming back and pitching effectively to earn the only win against Tampa in the 4 game HOME series, even Sox players know how awful it is. David Ortiz said Alfredo Aceves should be in the rotation, and based on how awful Wakefield, Lackey and Wieland have been, he’s not wrong. The saving grace for Boston as they try to avoid one of the worst collapses in baseball history is that while Tampa has to deal with the Yankees 7 times, the Sox face them only 3 times, with 5 games against Baltimore mixed in.
9. St. Louis Cardinals (NR) 84-69
The Cardinals and Albert Pujols are surging…the only question for them is if there is enough time on the calendar for them to steal a playoff spot. Dating back to getting swept by Los Angeles in August, the Cardinals have won 17 of 23, including a road sweep of Milwaukee, a home sweep of Atlanta, winning 2 of 3 at home vs Milwaukee and recently a 3 of 4 series win in Philadelphia. Now that they thrived against pretty good teams, they have a chance to beat up on some lousy ones and hope for Atlanta’s continued collapse. They end the season against the Mets, Cubs and Astros.
10. Atlanta Braves (9) 87-67
Right now the Braves despite their record are not a very good baseball team. Their starting pitching has been ravaged by injuries, their offense has never really been all that good, and their once mighty bullpen has hit a major speed bump. On Sunday against the Mets, Venters and Kimbrel gave up runs in the same game for just the 2nd time all year! And then Monday night they took their biggest hit. With 2 outs nobody on and Kimbrel on the mound up 1, the Marlins got an infield hit from Emilio Bonifacio and then Omar Infante hit a walk off 2 run homerun. The Braves wild card lead has dwindled and the once strength of this team has all of a sudden become a major concern.
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