The Cubs finished with the best regular-season record and won the World Series last year, but it doesn’t always happen like that. Before the Cubs double-dipped, no team had done it since the Red Sox in 2013. Remember, the Giants squeaked into the playoffs as an 88-win Wild Card team in 2014 while the Cardinals were barely over .500 when they won it all in 2006 (83-79). As unbeatable as the Dodgers have looked all season, the playoffs are a totally different ball game.
Even after the Cubs breezed through a dominant regular season last year, their playoff run was far from a smooth ride. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Cubs stand in L.A.’s way again—assuming they take care of business in the NL Central—while the Astros would pose a very real threat to the Dodgers in a potential World Series matchup. But I think the team the Dodgers should be watching out for is the Nationals.
Washington has cruised to the league’s third-best record at 74-48, an astounding feat considering all the injuries they’ve been dealt. Adam Eaton lasted less than a month before his knee gave out, star shortstop Trea Turner hasn’t played since June, Stephen Strasburg has endured two separate stints on the disabled list, Jayson Werth is just now beginning a rehab assignment (he’s been out since July 4) while Max Scherzer and Bryce Harper are also nursing injuries. Not to mention that the Nationals didn’t have a functional bullpen until a few weeks ago.
It’s been chaos in D.C. with players in and out of the lineup, yet the Nationals are still a lock to win the NL East for a second straight year. With six weeks to go in the regular season, the Nats have plenty of time to get healthy before their inevitable playoff showdown with Los Angeles. Scherzer vs. Clayton Kershaw in Game 1, Strasburg against Yu Darvish in Game 2—just give me the time and date and I’m there. While we wait for all that October goodness to materialize, let’s see where both of these teams stand in this week’s Power Rankings.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 1
The Dodgers are miles ahead of everyone but they’re not resting on their laurels. Rather than letting Joc Pederson work through his second-half slump (.156 AVG since the All-Star break), L.A. found an immediate upgrade in Curtis Granderson (six homers in his last 10 games). Yu Darvish (back) and Cody Bellinger (ankle) got hurt over the weekend but there’s no cause for concern here. Bellinger is day-to-day while Darvish should only miss one start.
2. Washington Nationals
Last Week: 2
Gio Gonzalez continues to be one of the league’s most underrated pitchers. He’s been superb during his five-start unbeaten streak, delivering an unheard of 0.78 ERA over that span. The Nats made numerous improvements at the trade deadline (most of them to their bullpen) but acquiring Howie Kendrick may have been their shrewdest move of all. He’s fit in seamlessly, producing a standout .344 average over 61 at-bats since arriving last month.
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3. Houston Astros
Last Week: 3
Tyler Clippard sure gets around doesn’t he? The veteran has now recorded a save for seven major league franchises. Alex Bregman has been on a roll for Houston, batting .391 with two homers and four RBI over his last six outings. He’s been locked in since the break, hitting .328 over 122 second-half at-bats. Saturday’s win was Collin McHugh’s first since October 1 of last year.
4. Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 4
Teams are already beginning to intentionally walk Rafael Devers (.333, 8 HR, 16 RBI in 22 games). He doesn’t turn 21 for another two months. Rick Porcello won’t repeat as AL Cy Young winner, but he’s quietly won his last four starts. Xander Bogaerts was one of Boston’s toughest outs in the first half (.303/.359/.447) but has slumped to a .203 average with only one homer since the All-Star break.
5. Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 6
Is that a breeze in here or did Bradley Zimmer just swing through another fastball? He’s managed just four hits with 21 strikeouts over 47 at-bats in the month of August. Jay Bruce has fared a bit better, batting a robust .364 with three round-trippers and 12 RBI since joining the Tribe earlier this month. The Indians dodged a couple bullets on the injury front last week. Jose Ramirez only sat out two games after bruising his hand while Corey Kluber should make his next start after leaving his last one with a sprained ankle.
6. Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 8
Thursday was Clunker City for Jon Lester (1 2/3 IP, 9 R, 7 ER) and now we have a better idea why—turns out homeboy’s dealing with a strained lat. That injury usually carries a 4-6 week timetable but the Cubs are optimistic he’ll only miss 1-2 starts. Alex Avila is quickly making Chicago forget about Willson Contreras. He propelled the Cubs to victory with a walk-off single in Sunday’s come-from-behind win over Toronto. He sports a nifty .529 slugging percentage since arriving at the trade deadline.
7. New York Yankees
Last Week: 9
This week in Life Comes at You Fast: Aroldis Chapman, the highest-paid closer of all-time, is no longer a closer. The once-dominant left-hander has recorded a disappointing 4.96 ERA since the All-Star break. Brett Gardner bashed his 20th homer Sunday against the Red Sox. That represents a new career-high for the 10-year veteran. Sonny Gray has cruised to a 3.13 ERA in his four starts for the Bronx Bombers. Unfortunately, the Yankees have scored just six runs during that span, hence his one victory.
8. Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 7
CarGo is CarGood again. Carlos Gonzalez has broken out over his last nine games, batting a healthy .387 with eight RBI during that span. That has to be a welcome change for fantasy owners, who have mostly been disappointed by CarGo’s output this year (.245, 8 HR, 40 RBI over 372 at-bats). With Bryce Harper out indefinitely, has Charlie Blackmon moved to the top of the MVP totem pole? He’s already matched his career-high in home runs (29) and leads the majors with 115 runs scored. Oh and did I mention he’s hitting .386 in the month of August?
9. Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 5
Zack Greinke labored through his shortest start of the season in Saturday’s loss to Minnesota (4 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 4 ER). He’s struggled to a 5.01 ERA in August, his highest for any month this year. But alas, it’s not all bad news for the slumping D’Backs. Patrick Corbin came one out shy of his first career shutout on Thursday night while All-Star Robbie Ray is slated to return this week after missing most of August with a concussion.
10. St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 10
The Cardinals are hanging around in the NL Central race but a recent wave of injuries won’t help their playoff chances. Trevor Rosenthal’s elbow injury looks bleak while Adam Wainwright’s season is also hanging in the balance. Fortunately Paul DeJong is plenty healthy and has shown it by hitting .390 with four homers and 13 RBI over his last 10 games. Cody Bellinger is still the clear favorite for NL Rookie of the Year but DeJong is at least making it interesting.
11. Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 11
What I love about baseball, besides everything, is its sense of symmetry. Take the Angels, for instance. They just lost wins leader J.C. Ramirez to a strained elbow but Garrett Richards, who has sat out most the year with a biceps injury, is facing hitters again and could return for the stretch run next month. Here’s a stat that will knock your socks off—since the All-Star break, nine of Luis Valbuena’s 17 hits have gone for home runs. He’s singled just five times during that stretch.
12. Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 13
It didn’t take Neil Walker long to assimilate in Milwaukee. The ex-Met has crushed 10 hits in 23 at-bats (.435) since joining the Brew Crew earlier this month. The Brewers are also getting healthy at the right time. Chase Anderson claimed victory in his first start back from a strained oblique while Stephen Vogt returned to action this weekend after being sidelined with a sprained knee.
13. Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 12
Eddie Rosario has been a man possessed this month (.351, 6 HR, 17 RBI over 77 at-bats) and the Twins need him to keep up that torrid pace while Miguel Sano recovers from a stress reaction in his left shin. Glen Perkins hadn’t pitched a big league game in 16 months prior to last week. He’s looked understandably rusty, yielding three runs over his first two outings (1 1/3 innings). This week brought another milestone for Big Sexy. With Sunday’s win over Arizona, Bartolo Colon has now defeated all 30 major league teams.
14. Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 14
Alcides Escobar seems to be making up for lost time. After snoozing through the first four months of the season, the contract-year shortstop has come alive in August, hitting a remarkable .422 during his 10-game hitting streak. His average has climbed from .222 to .239 over that span. Salvador Perez should be back any day now after missing the last two weeks with a strained intercostal muscle. He’s been among the best offensive catchers in baseball this season, powering his way to 21 homers and a career-best .510 slugging percentage.
15. Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 15
It’s always an adventure with Edwin Diaz isn’t it? The talented, albeit disaster-prone 23-year-old has allowed a run in three of his last five relief appearances including Wednesday’s implosion against Baltimore (2/3 IP, 2 ER, 3 BB). Nelson Cruz doesn’t want August to end. He’s been an assassin this month, compiling an absurd .422 average with seven homers and 16 RBI throughout his 12-game hitting streak. Mitch Haniger homered and drove in four runs in his return Saturday against Tampa Bay. He missed three weeks after being struck in the face by a 95 mph fastball.
16. Texas Rangers
Last Week: 19
Rougned Odor is putting the Rangers on his back. He’s gone ballistic over his last nine games, compiling a stellar .343 average with three homers and seven RBI during that stretch. Nomar Mazara has also swung a hot bat for Texas, hitting .413 with 15 RBI over his last 12 outings. Those two will be asked to shoulder more of the load while Joey Gallo recovers from a concussion he suffered in a nasty collision with teammate Matt Bush.
17. Miami Marlins
Last Week: 21
Now that he’s shattered the team’s single-season home run record, Giancarlo Stanton has his sights set on 60 round-trippers, a feat last accomplished by Barry Bonds in 2001. Giancarlo’s 19 homers since the break are five more than any other player in the big leagues. J.T. Realmuto has cooled off this month (.175 AVG) though August has had the opposite effect on Brad Ziegler (0.00 ERA, six saves). Don’t look now but the Marlins are only 6.5 games back in the NL Wild Card.
18. Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 17
What a month it’s been for Manny Machado. The stud third baseman has been en fuego, surging to a .378 average with five long balls and 15 RBI over his last 10 contests. Adam Jones has been just as impressive, batting .425 with four blasts and nine RBI during the same stretch. Will J.J. Hardy be relegated to a bench role when he returns from the DL? It sure looks that way with Tim Beckham hitting .438 in the month of August.
19. Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 16
Not much has gone right for the Rays lately, though it seems Blake Snell has finally turned a corner. After going winless in his first 15 starts, Snell has won his last two while allowing just five runs over his last 19 1/3 innings (2.33 ERA). An abdominal strain sent impressive rookie Jacob Faria to the DL but help is on the way with Alex Cobb (toe) set to return Thursday against Toronto. Back after missing two months with a hip injury, Kevin Kiermaier has gone 5-for-12 with a home run since coming off the disabled list on Friday.
20. Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 20
Make that 11 homers in 22 games for Josh Donaldson. Speaking of Donaldson, the former MVP has added a new skill to his repertoire. He made his first career start at shortstop in Sunday’s loss to the Cubs. Every time it’s held, players bow out of the World Baseball Classic because they’re afraid they'll be fatigued for the regular season. Welp, so much for that theory. Reigning WBC MVP Marcus Stroman leads the Jays with 11 wins and holds the AL’s third-lowest ERA at 2.99.
21. Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 18
Is there a more underappreciated player in the league than Adam Frazier? He’s started games at six different positions this year and has held his own at the dish by batting .385 with six RBI throughout his seven-game hitting streak. Josh Bell continued his hot August with another strong showing in Sunday’s Little League Classic (2-for-4, one homer, four RBI). Starling Marte’s home run on Saturday was his first since making his return from an 80-game PED suspension.
22. Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 23
Ender Inciarte had a game for the ages Thursday at Colorado. He became only the second player in the modern era to record two homers, two steals and two walks in the same game. He’s been an important contributor for Atlanta, batting .299 with 10 homers, 78 runs and 17 steals this season. Dansby Swanson’s minor league demotion may have done him some good. He’s looked more comfortable at the plate recently, hitting .381 (8-for-21) with six RBI over his last seven contests.
23. New York Mets
Last Week: 22
I played on a softball team that forfeited a playoff game a few years ago because we didn’t have enough players. I feel like the Mets are nearing that threshold. Last week their roster was so depleted that catcher Travis d’Arnaud had to make a start at third base. Adding to the drama, Robert Gsellman took a page out of Phil Collins’ book by saying he doesn’t care anymore while Steven Matz was lost to a season-ending elbow injury. Matz never looked right this year, going winless over his last nine starts with a hideous 8.39 ERA. Oh and Curtis Granderson is gone too.
24. San Diego Padres
Last Week: 26
Wil Myers was feeling frisky on the base paths last week, nabbing three steals in one inning during Wednesday’s win over the Phillies. He leads the Friars with 15 thefts on the year. Hunter Renfroe has shown plenty of pop this season (20 homers) but his .230 average wasn’t cutting it. The Padres sent him down to the minors for more seasoning, though he should be back when rosters expand next month. Jered Weaver retired last week, which reminded me of what has to be the most casual ejection in MLB history.
25. Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 24
The Tigers haven’t been competitive this year but that hasn’t stopped Justin Upton from going bonkers. The 29-year-old has erupted for nine homers this month and ranks third in the American League with 90 RBI. Upton can opt out of his contract this offseason, though he might be hard-pressed to top the deal he already has (due $88.5 million over the next four seasons). Ian Kinsler has struggled to a career-worst .247 average this season, but at least he isn’t hated by every umpire in the league. Oh, he is? Never mind then.
26. Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 27
Scooter Gennett is responsible for three of the Reds’ five grand slams this year and has quietly slugged a career-high 21 homers this season. Southington High School alum Sal Romano (no, I will never stop giving Connecticut shout-outs) snapped a four-start winless streak by twirling seven innings of one-run ball in Friday night’s win over the Braves. So far that’s the longest start of his big league career.
27. Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 25
Sean Manaea delivered a quality start in his last outing Friday against Houston, but it still wasn’t enough to get the win. Victories have been hard to come by for the left-hander, who has posted a sluggish 8.17 ERA during his six-start winless streak. While Manaea’s frustration continued, Jharel Cotton finally redeemed himself with a win in Sunday’s series finale. It was Cotton’s first triumph since June 23 against the White Sox.
28. San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 29
After straining his flexor tendon in a minor league outing late last month, Johnny Cueto has finally resumed his rehab assignment. Matt Moore, who was on the cusp of being booted from the starting rotation, has bounced back with two strong outings in a row. His latest—a gem against the Phillies on Friday night—snapped a nine-start winless streak. Mark Melancon has returned from the disabled list but is still working in a setup role ahead of Sam Dyson. Funny that two of the three highest-paid closers in history (Chapman and Melancon) aren’t actually closing.
29. Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 28
Lucas Giolito will make his long-awaited White Sox debut Tuesday night against Minnesota. While Giolito’s star has lost some of its luster—he’s fallen to No. 59 in MLB.com’s latest prospect rankings—he still makes for a worthy flyer in deeper fantasy leagues. Nicky Delmonico has been a pleasant surprise, batting .343 with six long balls and 12 RBI over his first 67 big league at-bats. Kudos to Derek Holland for thanking the Rangers in his return to Arlington on Friday night.
30. Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 30
For years the Phillies have been searching for a star to build around and Rhys Hoskins could finally be it. Five of his nine hits since arriving in Philadelphia have gone for home runs. That’s unsustainable, though it’s nice to see that the immense power Hoskins showed in the minors has already translated to the big leagues. Meanwhile top shortstop prospect J.P. Crawford has expanded his territory to third base. A September call-up could be in his future.
Biggest Jump: Marlins
Biggest Drop: Diamondbacks