Monday, September 15, 2014

MLB Mid-September Power Ranking

Jordan Zimmermann, Gio Gonzalez, Stephen Strasburg front
the NL-best Wasington Nationals top-ranked pitching staff
This marks the 6th Power Ranking released in the 2014 season, with previous versions released on June 1st, July 1st, August 1st, August 15th, and September 3rd.

In each of those previous versions, the focus has largely been on teams from the American League. Frankly, that is because the Power Rankings are based on overall performance in the areas of Hitting, Pitching, and Defense over the course of the full season to that date, and the teams of the A.L. have just simply been better than their National League counter-parts.

But today we can finally focus on an N.L. club, because the top team in the league has clearly caught up with the top A.L. clubs. The Washington Nationals are that team. With a losing record, they were not even given a "Best of the Rest" mention in that first June ranking article. But they took off, and have pulled away in the N.L. East Division.

Saint Louis, Atlanta, and the LA Dodgers are lined up behind the Nats in the N.L. Rankings. But all four of those clubs are significantly behind Washington. This would appear to be the Nats year, finally. The talent is clearly there. Now it is going to be up to the team to actually perform under the glare of the October post-season spotlight.

Meanwhile, over in the A.L., the Royals, Angels, and Orioles remain the clear top three teams. But Kansas City is still in a tough divisional race with the more veteran and proven Detroit Tigers. Here then is the next-to-last MLB Power Ranking of the 2014 season.

POWER RANKING - SEPTEMBER 15TH


1. KANSAS CITY ROYALS
The Royals led the ranking of July 1st, and then returned to the top again in the most recent ranking on September 3rd. They have held on to the top spot as we enter the final two weeks of the regular season, despite having fallen behind the Detroit Tigers in the A.L. Central race. KC's problem seems to be that they just can't figure out a way to beat the more seasoned, 3-time defending divisional champs head-to-head. In a pair of series over the past two weeks, one at each home park, the Tigers took 5 out of the 7 games, and now lead by 1.5 games. The Royals are holding on to the 2nd A.L. Wildcard spot, but only lead that race by a single game over Seattle. The club remains 1st in Defense, and they are 4th in Pitching. But the inconsistency of their 12th-ranked Offense keeps holding them back. They will post a winning record for the 2nd straight season. But a return to the post-season for the first time since 1985 is still not assured.

2. BALTIMORE ORIOLES
The O's have the 2nd best overall record in all of baseball, behind only the LA Angels, with whom they are now tied here in the Power Rankings. I am listing the Orioles first, because Baltimore took 4 of 6 head-to-head meetings between the two teams in the 2nd half of July. Both clubs will make the post-season, and could be headed for an ALCS showdown. The Orioles have the #2 Offense and Defense in the entire game. It is their 16th-rated Pitching that is keeping the club from being truly dominant. Their 'X-factor' is manager Buck Showalter, who has been an absolute magician under the circumstances, and who is a serious AL Manager of the Year candidate because of it.

2. LOS ANGELES ANGELS
The Halos have been at or near the top of the Power Rankings all summer long. They now possess the best overall record in all of Major League Baseball. They have opened up a massive 10 game lead in the A.L. West Division. They are hot, having won 9 of their last 10 games, 16 of their last 19. The only losses in that stretch have inexplicably been to Houston. Led by A.L. MVP front-runner Mike Trout, the Angels have the game's top Offense, are 7th in Defense, and are 12th in Pitching. It is the possibility that their starting pitching could falter in a short playoff series that could be their biggest Achilles' heel.

4. OAKLAND ATHLETICS
Battling with the Angels for Power Ranking supremacy for much of the summer, and leading the A.L. West for much of the first half, the A's have seriously faltered over the last month and a half. They are just 5-8 so far in September, and that's having won their last two games. This follows a 12-17 month of August. Overall, the team is still 6th in Offense, 8th in Defense, and 12th in pitching. Much has been made of a collapse following the trade deadline deal of slugging outfielder Yoenis Cespedes to Boston for lefty starter Jon Lester and outfielder Jonny Gomes. But the A's were struggling before that, and the deals to bring in Lester, Jeff Samardzija, and Jason Hammel to shore up what was a weak point in the rotation, while sound on paper, has not worked in practice. The division is lost to the Angels now, but Oakland still owns the top Wildcard playoff spot by 1.5 games over KC, and a playoff berth by 2.5 over Seattle. There is no reason that they shouldn't be able to right the ship enough to battle for a post-season berth right to the end.

5. BOSTON RED SOX
Nothing has confounded me more than running the Fangraphs numbers every month, now every two weeks, relating to MLB Offense, Pitching, and Defense, and come up with a result showing that the Boston Red Sox are one of the game's top 5-10 teams statistically each and every time. But that has indeed been the case, despite the fact that measured by win-loss record, this has been a dismal season for the defending World Series champions. The Bosox now rank as the game's #3 Defense and #8 Pitching club. As I surmised previously, the Offense, ranked just #16, is the single major reason that they have not been able to win consistently. The sum of the parts is not bad. With a couple of tweaks, there is no reason that this team cannot return to contending next year. Time will tell.

6. SAINT LOUIS CARDINALS

7. ATLANTA BRAVES

8. LOS ANGELES DODGERS

9. TAMPA BAY RAYS

10. TIE - SEATTLE MARINERS / NEW YORK YANKEES

Best of the Rest:
Detroit, Toronto, Cleveland, San Francisco, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh

My Call:
The Orioles, Angels, and Nationals have made their winning of the A.L. East, A.L. West, and N.L. East respectively easy calls with their play over the first two weeks of September. The call here is also that the Saint Louis Cardinals, currently with a 3.5 game lead, will win the N.L. Central. The Cards have gone 10-4 in September, the only blemish being a 3-game sweep of them by the Reds in Cincy last week, and they don't play 2nd place Pittsburgh again. On the other hand, I am not calling the N.L. West, where the Dodgers lead the longtime rival Giants by 3 games. San Fran took 2 of 3 over the weekend, and the two clubs meet head-to-head in a 3-game series next Monday-Wednesday at Dodger Stadium. That series should decide things. The same could be said in the A.L. Central, where the Tigers lead the Royals by just one game in the loss column, and the two clubs are slated to meet this coming weekend in KC's Kauffman Stadium. The AL Wildcard race is being fought among Oakland, Seattle, KC and Detroit. The NL should see one Wildcard spot go to the Giants. For the other, the Pirates hold a 2-game lead on the Brewers and a 4-game lead on the Braves in the respective loss columns. Both those two trailers have been playing awful. The Bucs have enough weaknesses that they shouldn't run away and hide, so if either Milwaukee or Atlanta can right their ship in the final two weeks, that final NL spot could still be a race.

Phillies:
Nothing to see here, unless you're looking for some good, R-rated entertainment for the kiddies, supplied by Jonathan Papelbon. Very likely he just burned his last bridge here in Philly with his crotch-grabbing, er, athletic cup-adjusting antics yesterday. Shame, because he has actually been very good for the Fightins this season. The bullpen, especially with Jake Diekman and heir apparent closer Ken Giles setting up, has been excellent as the Phillies have gained some measure of stability over the last month or so, having gone 21-19 since August 1st. Still, in the full Power Rankings of all MLB clubs, the Phillies rank 27th of the 30 teams, and they are at the very bottom of the NL rankings.

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