By Evan Roberts
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1. Washington Nationals
This is the first time all year I have bestowed the honor (or lack thereof) of putting the Nats atop the list. And why not? They continue to not only win games, but win games that they probably have no business taking. They have continued their hot hand despite the massive slump Bryce Harper is going through and the cloud of questions surrounding Stephen Strasburg. It’s becoming obvious GM Mike Rizzo will indeed shutdown Strasburg, but what’s scary about Washington is that their starting pitching has been so darn good they could overcome it.
2. New York Yankees
After losing the first two games of a four-game series in Detroit, it was starting to look like things were going to get real dicey for the Yanks. But they won the final two in Detroit and then took care of business in Toronto by taking two of three. And by winning the first two games against Texas, the Yankees have officially worked out of their three-week-plus team slump. Hiroki Kuroda has been their most valuable starter this year and has proven that it’s impossible to tell which NL pitchers can make that adjustment to the AL. His complete game shutout against Texas on Tuesday may have been his most impressive start of the season.
3. Texas Rangers
While Kuroda has made the adjustment to the AL, Ryan Dempster has stunk. Does this mean Dempster is definitely going to be an AL bust? Not necessarily, but it’s certainly not a good sign that Dempster has been as hittable as he’s been in his first three AL starts. Josh Hamilton is heating up, but what’s really helped Texas is that the Angels have scuffled again, which has enabled the Rangers to maintain a comfortable AL West lead.
4. Cincinnati Reds
The Reds got bad news a few days ago about Joey Votto. Despite the Reds’ dominant play without the best hitter on the team, Dusty Baker realizes they need Votto healthy if they want to get where they wanna go. Todd Frazier continues to have a stellar year filling in at third base and now at first base. Frazier has quietly moved ahead of the pack in the race for NL Rookie of the Year. But it’s the pitching that has done it for Cincy. Mat Latos has looked great lately, and Johnny Cueto is making a strong bid for the NL Cy Young.
5. Atlanta Braves
Paul Maholm has a career record well under .500 and a career ERA well over 4.00. But maybe — just maybe — the acquisition of Maholm by Atlanta could turn out to be a huge deadline deal. The Braves have dealt with injuries and under achieving performances from the rotation, and guys like Ben Sheets, Kris Medlan and the aforementioned Maholm have stepped it up. But as August turns into September does a Braves team that took part in a monster collapse a year ago start thinking about September 2011? Or can they put that debacle into the rear view mirror?
6. Baltimore Orioles
Yep, they are still here! And something happened last week that makes you sorta believe they may not go away anytime soon. The Orioles called up Manny Machado, inserted him into the lineup and watched him proceed to tear it up. 3B has been a graveyard for Baltimore so they figured they had nothing to lose with the Machado call up. Baseball history is littered with stories of major contributions from young prospects just called up.. .can Machado enter Miguel Cabrera, Andruw Jones or David Price territory?
7. Tampa Bay Rays
If you believed that the Rays would look like a different team once Evan Longoria was activated, and that Evan riding in on the white horse would save the Rays season… if you believed all that stuff… well, you’d be right. The Rays have been a different team with Longoria in the lineup. A lot of it may be mental, since he is clearly the captain of this team, but the Rays are hot and have pushed their way into the AL wild card spot. Can they challenge the Yanks for the division? It’s going to be tough as they are still five games back, but they do have six head to head matchups the rest of the way.
8. Los Angeles Dodgers
All the moves Ned Colletti pulled off before the deadline are really starting to pay off. The Dodgers have begun a long East coast trip by taking four of five against Miami and Pittsburgh with the tough Braves on the horizon. This is shaping up to be a good old fashion Dodgers-Giants pennant race.
9. Pittsburgh Pirates
Is it panic time in Pittsburgh? The Cardinals are playing well, both the Giants and Dodgers have a wild card as a potential back up in a division race, and the Pirates have a hit rough patch. Kevin Correia got bombed by LA and now Pittsburgh has dropped 5 out of 6 games and face a huge upcoming series with the battle tested Cardinals. We know Pittsburgh will break the under .500 streak, but can they hold on for one of these wild card spots?
10. San Francisco Giants
Right around this time last year the Giants started to fall apart. But with such a solid rotation could it happen again? Probably not, Ryan Vogelsong (despite his disastrous outing Monday) is proving last year was not a fluke. And Tim Lincecum has been proving his first half WAS a fluke. But one guy who has and will continue to be very important to the Giants is Marco Scutaro who is currently filling in at 3B for Pablo Sandoval. Another another reason why the collapse won’t happen again… Buster Posey is healthy and raking.
How would you rank ’em? Let Evan know in the comments below!