Friday, August 15, 2014

MLB Mid-August 2014 Power Ranking

Bearded closer Sean Doolittle and the A's remain on top
The Oakland A's were on top of the first Power Rankings back in June, slipped just a notch to 2nd in July behind Kansas City, and were tied at the top with the Angels on August 1st. Here in the middle of August, they move back on top of the rankings all by themselves.

In addition to being on top of these rankings, they are also baseball's top team by record. Their win-loss mark of 73-48 comes out to a .603 win percentage, the best in baseball, and they hold a 2-game lead in the A.L. West. Meanwhile, three other teams: Baltimore, Washington, and the LA Dodgers, have all taken charge in their respective divisional races and will be tough to catch. But the other 3 divisional races remain up for grabs. The NL Wildcard race has 4 teams within 4 games, and the AL Wildcard has 3 teams within 4 games.

POWER RANKING - AUGUST 15TH

1. OAKLAND ATHLETICS
The A's have been consistently at or near the top of the Power Rankings since the summer began. GM Billy Beane has assembled an excellent all-around team that can beat you in many ways, and manager Bob Melvin and his staff keep them focused and enthused. The A's are baseball's #2 offensive team overall, have the 5th-rated defense, and rank 10th in pitching. Those numbers are full season numbers. With the pre-trade deadline pickups of ace-caliber starting pitchers Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija, they made themselves clear favorites for a deep post-season run.

2. KANSAS CITY ROYALS
When I ranked the Royals at the top back on July 1st, there were many who scoffed. After all, KC has not been to the playoffs since their lone World Series victory way back in 1985, nearly three decades ago. But most everyone around the game has recognized the young talent they were accumulating over the last few years. It is all finally coming together. This past week, they took over the A.L. Central lead from recent perennial winners Detroit. They are for real, featuring what is by far the #1 defense in the entire game. The Royals also have the 6th-rated pitching staff. Their offense is just 11th, and they could use an impact bat, which might have to come from someone already on the roster stepping forward down the stretch.

3. LOS ANGELES ANGELS
The Halos are obviously one of baseball's best teams. Unfortunately for them, they play in the same division as the very best team in the game. The Angels have battled Oakland most of the year, and just two weeks ago the two teams were tied at the top of the Power Rankings. Since then, the A's have opened a 2-game cushion on their division rivals. The Angels remain comfortably in charge of a playoff berth, holding the A.L.'s top Wildcard spot by 5 full games. They own the game's #1 offense, and have baseball's 6th-ranked defensive unit. It's their 12th ranked pitching staff that is holding them back a bit. As I mentioned previously, they could use another proven, veteran starting pitcher. In any event, they look like a post-season shoo-in at this point, and we might finally see the game's most exciting young player, their 23-year old superstar Mike Trout, take home the MVP Award.

4. TAMPA BAY RAYS
This may be a case of a team cashing in a major trade chip, pitcher David Price, just a bit too soon. The Rays were awful at the start of the season, falling below the .500 mark on April 23rd and bottoming out at 31-48 by June 24th, at which point they were a season-high 13 games out in the division and the "for sale" signs were clearly up. Funny thing happened after that, they began to win, and win regularly. They have now won 6 of their last 8, with the only two losses coming via opponents walk-offs. They are just a game under .500 after going 29-12 over the last month and a half, and are just 6 out in the Wildcard race. In short, had they kept Price, they might have a shot. They are the only team in MLB besides the A's to rank in the Top 10 on Offense (5), Pitching (7), and Defense (10) and cannot be counted out.

5. WASHINGTON NATIONALS
The Nats have taken charge in the N.L. East over the last couple of months. Rising from below .500 and not even being spoken of in the first Power Rankings on June 1st, Washington now owns a 7-game lead in the loss column on 2nd place Atlanta. They are the N.L.'s hottest team, and it's best all-around club. The Nats rank 9th in baseball on offense, and those numbers have been rising. They are just 14th in defense, held back there by injuries during the first half to Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper, and here in the 2nd half to Ryan Zimmerman. But they possess the game's 1st overall pitching staff. Pitching wins in the post-season, and their enviable starting rotation depth should keep them as N.L. favorites right on into the post-season.

6. BALTIMORE ORIOLES
Bonus Commentary: Buck Showalter is a miracle worker. With the loss of catcher and team leader Matt Wieters in the first half, and now of Manny Machado for at least a couple of weeks, that will have to continue. But the O's are starting to open up a big lead in the A.L. East, now up to 7 1/2 games.

6. BOSTON RED SOX
Bonus Commentary: Some find it amusing that in what has been an awful follow-up to last year's World Series win, the Bosox have consistently been a Top 10 team in the Power Rankings. The numbers don't lie, folks. This team is better than their record. Don't be surprised if they quickly turn it around in 2015.

8. SEATTLE MARINERS

9. ATLANTA BRAVES

10. LOS ANGELES DODGERS

Best of the Rest:
Detroit Tigers, Milwaukee Brewers, Saint Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates, Toronto Blue Jays, New York Yankees, San Francisco Giants

My Call:
Some of these races are clearing up. The A's may pull away with their starting pitching acquisitions, previously their only weakness. The Beltway pair of the Orioles and Nats are already pulling away in the respective league's East division races. Everything is too early to call, but right now, I see the Washington Nationals as the best bets to actually win their division in the National League, and with Oakland as at least a clear playoff team in the American League. Hopefully in two weeks, on Labor Day, I may be able to call something formally.

Phillies: 
For my fellow fans of the Fightin' Phils, things in our neck of the woods are even worse statistically than they have looked on the field and in the standings, if that is possible. The Phillies are the worst team in the National League, the 2nd worst ahead of only Houston in all of baseball. And the Astros have far and away a better farm system. Out of 30 teams in MLB, the Phils are 24th in Pitching, 25th in Defense, and 28th in Offense. They have no strengths, they are old and/or under-achieving, and they don't have a lot of impact-level talent coming from the Minors. This will not be an easy fix, especially with the current General Manager steering the ship.

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