By Evan Roberts
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1. Cincinnati Reds
Despite losing two of three to the surging Cardinals last week, the Reds hold the distinction of having the largest divisional lead in baseball. And they’ve been building it over the last month without Joey Votto. Ryan Ludwick, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips and Todd Frazier have done a great job filling the offensive void without him.
2. Washington Nationals
All good teams will have struggles, and Washington had that over the weekend as they got swept by the lowly Phillies. Is there a disconnect between the manager and the GM? Davey Johnson was heard screaming back at Mike Rizzo that if he knew so much, why doesn’t he come downstairs to manage the team? It probably wasn’t about Stephen Strasburg, but you’d have to think the old-school Johnson is less than thrilled about shutting down his ace.
3. Texas Rangers
These days it makes zero sense to face Adrian Beltre. The man has been on fire, unstoppable, en fuego — whatever term you want to use to describe his hot streak is fair game these days. Last week he hit for the cycle and had a game where he hit three home runs. Oh, and don’t forget that Josh Hamilton now has 35 home runs and 111 RBIs. The victory over Tampa on Monday — where the offense beat up Tampa Bay — put Texas 10 games up on the Angels, which still stands after both teams won Tuesday. Yes, the Athletics keep winning, but the Angels have been considered Texas’ top threat, and they have pretty much been buried.
4. New York Yankees
The Yankees are still in first place, right behind Texas for best record in the American League. New York has lost its closer, third baseman, part of the pitching staff and now will be without Mark Teixeira for about a week. With that said, they have not played well for a while now. If you go back to July 2, over the course of their last 51 games the Yankees are just 27-24. The loss on Monday was brutal, but a stretch of games against Baltimore and Tampa — they beat the Jays on Tuesday behind a stellar effort from Phil Hughes — will determine if the Yankees can hold on for dear life and win the division.
5. Chicago White Sox
Time to give the White Sox some love. This season has featured a bunch of surprise teams in baseball like Oakland, Pittsburgh and Baltimore, but the White Sox are pretty stunning themselves. Everybody picked Detroit to take the AL Central, and while the Tigers still may win this thing, the White Sox continue to play very solid baseball. The biggest eye-opener probably happened last week when they took the brooms out against the Yankees and then the hot Seattle Mariners. A.J. Pierzynski is having one hell of a year and so is Alex Rios, and so is Adam Dunn (at least for power). Maybe it’s time we take the White Sox seriously.
6. Baltimore Orioles
They still seem so flukey! But they keep winning one-run games at a historic frequency. Look at Monday night as an example. Nate McLouth, who seemed to forget how to play baseball a few years ago, hit a game-winning two-run home run in the eighth inning. Acquiring Joe Saunders was a big move to strengthen the rotation down the stretch. The bullpen of Pedro Strop to Jim Johnson maybe as good a 1-2 punch as anyone in baseball. The next two weekends against the Yankees will be huge.
7. Oakland Athletics
Speaking of another team that won’t go away: The A’s continue to stay alive and well in the AL Wild Card hunt. Brett Anderson has returned from the DL and looks better than ever. In his two starts back from the DL, Brett has thrown 14 innings, allowed one run and has two victories.
8. Tampa Bay Rays
The Rays were red hot, until a few days ago. The 14 wins in 17 game stretch has come to a screeching halt as they lost two straight to Oakland, David Price got beat up by the Rangers on Monday and lost again Tuesday. The road is rough for Tampa… this 19-game stretch for the Rays features 15 games against the trifecta of New York, Baltimore and Texas.
9. St. Louis Cardinals
How do you replace Albert Pujols? Well, you have one guy be an MVP candidate in the first half (Carlos Beltran) and then you have another guy be an MVP candidate in the second half (Matt Holliday). Mix in Adam Wainwright finding his way, and Kyle Lohse pitching as if Dave Duncan was still the pitching coach. Big chance for the Cardinals to put some air between them and the Pirates this week.
10. Atlanta Braves
Unlike the Red Sox, the Braves have shown zero ill effects from last September. Well, this is the final week of August, which means Atlanta’s favorite month is right around the corner. This team looks like it will avoid any type of repeat. Tim Hudson has been fantastic and Craig Kimbrel, who was a major culprit last year, is putting together a historically good year as closer.
What’s your top ten look like? Be heard in the comments below…