Tuesday, July 1, 2014

MLB July 2014 Power Ranking

You don't know them, but KC is baseball's best team
We're officially halfway through the 2014 Major League Baseball regular season, and while some teams are getting hot, such as the new team atop the rankings, others are collapsing, such as my hometown Philadelphia Phillies.

Thanks go out to the folks at the Fangraphs website, whose statistical rankings and breakdowns for each team on offense, defense, and pitching form the core of the statistical evaluation and analysis that make up my own monthly MLB rankings. Below are the top teams at this halfway mark. If your team is not on this list, you have no shot at post-season baseball in 2014. None. Your team should likely be a seller as the trade deadline approaches.

POWER RANKING - JULY

1. KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Are you as surprised as I was when I added it all up, and the top team in baseball turned out to be the Midwestern boys from KC? The Royals haven't been to the post-season since George Brett led the 1985 team to it's lone World Series victory, the 7-game controversial victory over Saint Louis that likely would never happen had replay been a part of the game back then. In 2014, the Royals were shutout on June 1st to fall into last place in the A.L. Central Division, 4 games below the .500 mark, 6 1/2 games out of first place. They proceeded to go 17-9 the rest of the month, including a 10-game win streak. The Royals are baseball's top defensive team, rank 8th on offense, and rank 9th in pitching. This has become a well-rounded team that must be taken much more seriously. A month ago, I highlighted the June Power Ranking article with this statement: "...if you're not mentioned...you're not going to the playoffs. Period." The Royals were not mentioned. Too soon to say if I was right, but the odds say they still will have a tough road to the post-season.

2. OAKLAND ATHLETICS
The top team in the rankings a month ago remain right there a month later. The A's are the only team in baseball sitting 20 games over the .500 mark, and they hold a 5 game lead in the A.L. West. The team is tied with the division-rival Angels as the best offensive club in the game, they rank 8th on defense, and their pitching is 10th rated. The Athletics also gained some stability by signing a new lease that will surprisingly keep them in Oakland for at least another decade. The stats say they are pretty much dead even with the other top four teams on this list, and they should remain a top contender all season long.

3. ATLANTA BRAVES
A month ago, the Braves were among the 'Best of the Rest' category, not having made my Top 10 in the June rankings. And based on the N.L. East standings, they have actually regressed. The club was 6 games over .500 and owned a 3-game lead after action on June 1st, and now they are 7 games over .500, but own just a half game lead on Washington. But statistically, the Braves are improving. Their offense is fringe-contender at #10, but they are the 5th ranked pitching team, and their defense is rated 4th in the game. They will need to hit better as the summer moves along if they want to hold off the Nationals for the top spot in the division, but there is no reason that they shouldn't continue to contend both there and in the Wildcard race.

4. SAINT LOUIS CARDINALS
The Cards have moved up slightly from their #6 slot a month ago, and remain one of the top contenders in the National League. The loss of Michael Wacha may test their rotation, but they seem to have a knack for overcoming those types of losses, plugging in from a deep, talented minor league system (Phillies take notice.) They are basically dead even with the Braves in the NL ranks, and with the A's & Royals overall, so right now the Cardinals have as good a shot as anyone to win it all this year. They are 9th in offense, 7th in pitching, and 3rd in defense overall in Major League Baseball. In short, the Cards are a team without much of a weakness.

5. LOS ANGELES ANGELS
The #3 overall team a month ago, the Halos began June in 2nd place, 4 games over .500, 4 1/2 games behind the Athletics. They ended the month 10 games over that .500 mark, but were still in 2nd place, and had slipped to 5 1/2 games back. In short, they are playing as well as anyone in the American League, but they are trying to run down a talented Oakland club, and not making much headway to this stage. The Angels are tied with the A's as the top offensive teams in all of baseball, and they are 6th in defense. But their 20th-ranked pitching staff is keeping them from making a big move. This is a team screaming for trade to add a more consistent, veteran option to the rotation, and a truly reliable closer.

6. BOSTON RED SOX

7. CINCINNATI REDS

8. SEATTLE MARINERS

9. WASHINGTON NATIONALS

10. TAMPA BAY RAYS

Best of the rest: 
Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees,
Detroit Tigers, Baltimore Orioles, San Francisco Giants, Pittsburgh Pirates

My call:
Despite KC's big improvement this month, the Tigers remain the class of the A.L. Central, and it will be difficult to catch them barring major health issues for Detroit. Ditto with the A's in Oakland. The A.L. East remains up in the air completely. In the N.L., the East will clearly be a battle between the Nats and Braves. In the Central, the Brewers hold baseball's biggest lead. I still believe that the Cards and Reds will make runs at them, possibly the Bucs as well. In the West, the Dodgers are the best team, but the Giants may be able to battle them tight all year.

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