By Evan Roberts
» More Top 10s
1. Atlanta Braves
I know this may sound nuts considering the Braves have baseball’s fifth-highest winning percentage, but is there another team playing as well as Atlanta right now? They just finished a sweep of the Washington Nationals to pull within five games of first place. Although winning the division may not be realistic, the Braves are in an odd position in year of the grand wild card experiment. They have a playoff berth wrapped up but aren’t really in a divisional race. Their stellar 90-plus-win season (probably) will come down to one game. Who should Fredi Gonzalez go with: Kris Medlen, the most dominant pitcher of the past two months, or the experience of Tim Hudson?
2. Cincinnati Reds
The Reds have stretched their NL Central lead to double digits and only have one more battle left: the race for the No. 1 seed in the National League. Remember that all teams with home field advantage start on the road — but the Reds, by earning the top spot, would earn the right to face the survivor of the NL wild card play-in game. Two goals for Cincinnati as they prepare for the Division Series: The first is to get CY Young candidate Johnny Cueto straightened out. Cueto has lost his last three starts, allowing 14 runs in 14 1/3 innings. The other is getting closer Aroldis Chapman back into midseason form.
3. Washington Nationals
Logic would tell you that even a sweep at the hands of the surging Braves wouldn’t really make this a pennant race. At least not one the Nats would have to sweat out. But their schedule to close out the 2012 regular season is no picnic. Four games at home with the red hot Brewers, then a seven-game road trip that takes them to Philadelphia and St. Louis. Then they return home to end the season, again against the Phillies. The loss-column lead is six games, but things could very well get tricky for the Nats.
4. Oakland Athletics
OK, now here is the big test for the Athletics. They passed the latest one — responding to a sweep at the hands of Anaheim — by winning eight of 10 to pull within three games of the AL West. But this one is bigger. The A’s embark on a 10-game road trip against three teams that very well could be playing October baseball: three games in Detroit, three in New York and a huge four-game showdown in Texas against the Rangers. If the young arms can survive that test, then maybe this team truly is special.
5. Texas Rangers
Texas has been unable to get really hot and put this division away. They haven’t won three straight games since late August and are starting to show some real issues out of the bullpen. They blew a chance to sweep the Indians on Thursday night, when Joe Nathan gave up the lead. Mike Adams has been shut down for nearly a week. Oakland is going away and the Rangers begin a tricky road trip that takes them to Anaheim and Oakland before going one-on-one with the A’s.
6. New York Yankees
Are the Yankees finally getting hot? After going so long without back-to-back wins, the Yankees have put together a solid four of five stretch that has put them back in first place by a half-game. They’ve been helped by key players returning from injury. Alex Rodriguez has been hot, Ivan Nova returned with a strong performance on Saturday, and Tuesday night they hope for that spark from Andy Pettitte.
7. Baltimore Orioles
The birds are still breathing! After losing the first two games in Oakland, the O’s salvaged the finale and then took the opener in Seattle, as former Yankee Hector Noesi didn’t do New York any favors. Nate McClouth appears to be settling in rather nicely in the leadoff spot, filling in for the injured Nick Markakis.
8. San Francisco Giants
I would like to use this portion of the rankings to state my case for the obvious choice for NL MVP: Buster Posey is that guy! Every time you look up, Posey is ripping doubles, driving in runs and being the engine in the once-anemic Giants offense. His numbers now stand like this: .334, 22 home runs and 93 RBIs. Oh, by the way, the Giants have run away with the NL West.
9. Chicago White Sox
Monday’s win over Detroit in a makeup game was monumental. They have now opened up a three-game lead over Detroit with no further head-to-head meetings. Kenny Williams has made a lot of gutsy and sometimes awful moves as general manager, but this season he is being rewarded for claiming Alex Rios (and his contract). Rios is not only having a solid season with 23 HRs, 86 RBIs and 22 stolen bases, but his takeout slide led to the winning runs in Monday’s game.
10. Angels of Anaheim
The Angels could finish strong, but unless they get help it just may be too late. The Angels are done in the AL West as they trail by 7 ½ games, but they are still alive in the second wild card hunt, trailing Baltimore by 3 ½. The problem is, with no head-to-head games, they’ll need the Orioles or Yankees to falter big time down the stretch. Mike Trout is still my MVP, but the 2012 Angels appear to be headed toward a very disappointing finish, on the outside looking in.
Braves at No. 1: Gutsy or just plain crazy? Let Evan know in the comments below!