By Evan Roberts
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1. Cincinnati Reds
If the Reds are going to win a playoff series for the first time since 1995, Joey Votto is going to have to be Joey Votto. Since Votto went down on July 15, the Reds have gone 32-16 and increased the division lead from 1 game to 8 1/2 games. BUT getting Joey back this week will be huge. Yes, they have managed just fine over the last few months, but they need his bat in the middle of the order to win it all.

2. Washington Nationals
A five-game losing streak, including a sweep last month at the hands of the lousy Phillies, trimmed the Nats’ NL East lead to four games. But they have responded. They won three of four against St. Louis and now face a cupcake schedule over the next week. The big story continues to be Stephen Strasburg, as he will officially be shut down next week after his start against the Mets. This won’t affect Washington in their bid to win the division title, but come October, not having Strasburg will sting.

3. Texas Rangers
Texas hasn’t suffered two straight losses since August 14 and 15, when they lost back-to-back games to the Yankees. They have played very solid baseball and even got a spark from super prospect Jurickson Profar in his major league debut. Despite how they’ve played, their lead in the AL West has slowly evaporated as the Athletics have been on fire. Who would have thought that Texas playing Oakland in their final seven of 10 games could be so monumental.

4. Oakland Athletics
The amazing A’s have taken it up a notch. While the Orioles (see below) continue to be the feelgood story of 2012, how about what the Athletics have pulled off? Before losing on Labor Day against the Angels, the Athletics had won nine games in a row, including an absolute demolition of the Red Sox. In the three-game sweep of Boston that included a 20-2 win, Oakland outscored them 33-5. In the sweep of the Indians they outscored them 30-11. So if my math is correct against Boston and Cleveland…the A’s outscored them by a combined 63-16. Wow.

5. Baltimore Orioles
OK, I submit. The Baltimore Orioles are legit. Yes, I’ve been questioning their legitimacy all season, but winning two of three against the Yankees — followed by a convincing win over Toronto to pull them within one game of the division lead — has won me over. Saturday’s game against the Yankees, which they effectively handed away, could have been the moment that popped the balloon. But bouncing back on Sunday to take the series in the Bronx was very impressive. They have a huge four-game rematch series against the Yankees starting Thursday.

6. New York Yankees
I could drop the Yankees even further down as they have played mediocre baseball for a while now. The injuries are piling up and are certainly taking its toll on a lineup that has been limp as of late. The Yankees needed CC Sabathia to be a shutdown ace — and they have not gotten that in his last two starts. Also, does Nick Swisher think it’s October already? He has been awful lately.

7. San Francisco Giants
So the Giants lose one of their best hitters to a PED bust, and the Dodgers go out and try to buy everyone… and it’s the Dodgers who are struggling and the Giants are the ones taking command of the division!? Yes, the Giants have played a weak schedule as of late, but they are taking advantage of it.

8. Tampa Bay Rays
While the Orioles are getting the attention in the AL East, the Rays have very quitely stayed in the hunt. Winning the opener against New York was huge, but take a look at the next week plus for Tampa. They play the best team in the AL the Texas Rangers over the weekend while the O’s tangle with the Yankees. Then they play both New York and Baltimore.

9. Atlanta Braves
How about the way Atlanta won on Sunday. They scored five runs in the ninth inning and get a walk off three-run home run for the almost-retired Chipper Jones to beat Jonathan Papelbon and the Phillies. But the real story is Kris Medlan. Medlan threw another complete game on Monday, and allowed only one unearned run. He is now 6-1 with a 1.71 ERA. As a starter he is 5-0 with a 0.66 ERA.

10. Detroit Tigers
Detroit swept the Chicago White Sox to tie up the AL Central. This followed a sweep at the hands of the Kansas City Royals, that included Justin Verlander getting torched. They followed the sweep of Chicago by losing to the Cleveland Indians. You know, the same Indian team that went 5-24 in August. And that my friend best sums up the 2012 Detroit Tigers.

What’s your top 10 look like? Let us know in the comments below!


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