Kim O'Reilly/CBS Sports

Last week, among other things, I discussed how the American League looked wide open and one of the reasons for that is the two-time defending AL champion Houston Astros looked a little vulnerable. At the time, the Astros hadn't been alone in first place all season. 

The spent the next week making a statement. 

The defending champs are now holding a 2.5-game lead in the AL West and are zeroing in on that playoff bye. Let this past week be a reminder that the Astros are still very capable of running the table in October (and early November) again. The Astros just went 5-1 while outscoring their opponents by 32 runs. They scored double digits in runs four of the six games. 

Jose Altuve is out of his mind right now. He's hitting .343 with eight doubles, two triples, 11 homers, 25 RBI and 43 runs in his last 42 games. He had a two-homer game followed by a three-homer game last week. We know how scary Yordan Alvarez can be. Alex Bregman is having a sizzling second half. Kyle Tucker is having another excellent season. Jeremy Peña has hit well in the second half after a sophomore slump of a first half. Michael Brantley is finally back from the injured list and is hitting .346 with a slugging over .600. How about the year from Chas McCormick at the plate? 

On the mound, Framber Valdez is a clear frontline starter while the reacquired Justin Verlander has been great in three of his last four starts. The bullpen has a bevy of power arms and it's entirely possible someone from the rotation (Cristian Javier? J.P. France?) throws like a very good number three in the playoff rotation. 

They have all the pieces to repeat as champs. We haven't seen repeat champions since the Yankees won three straight from 1998 through 2000. We haven't even seen a repeat pennant winner since, oh wait, yeah: The 2021 and 2022 Astros, so they're looking to make it three straight. We haven't seen a team win three straight pennants since those same Yankees won the AL in 2001. 

Will the Astros pull it off? They aren't indestructible, but they are plenty formidable and there's a decent shot.

Biggest Movers
4 Blue Jays
3 Red Sox
1 Braves No player has ever had 30 home runs and 60 stolen bases in the same season before Ronald Acuña Jr. this season and he's up to 35 and 64. Might he go for 40 and 75? -- 99-55
2 Orioles The Orioles only have to go 10-10 the rest of the way to finish with 100 wins. This franchise hasn't seen a 100-win season since the year *before* a player named Cal Ripken Jr. debuted. 1 96-59
3 Rays Despite having lost Shane McClanahan, Jeffrey Springs and Drew Rasmussen, the Rays still have a playoff ace. Tyler Glasnow has a 2.30 ERA in his last 12 starts. He's struck out 101 against 15 walks in 74 1/3 innings in that span. 1 95-61
4 Dodgers Thanks to injuries, the Julio Urías domestic violence administrative leave and other issues like whatever is going on with Clayton Kershaw (old age? dead arm?), the playoff rotation right now looks pretty awful for a team that might win 100 games. 2 95-59
5 Astros The Astros have the easiest remaining schedule among AL teams, a slate that includes six games against the Royals and three against the A's. 1 85-70
6 Blue Jays Are the Jays putting it together at the right time? They've now won nine of their last 12 games. Of course, they've played the Nationals, Rockies, A's and Royals. 4 86-69
7 Mariners After looking like world-beaters for a long stretch, the Mariners have now lost six of eight. The good news is there's still time to get hot again and they remain in playoff position anyway. 2 84-70
8 Brewers For whatever reason (hint: There's no reason other than haphazard circumstance), Corbin Burnes has now alternated good and bad outings his last seven starts. It's been either at least six innings with two or fewer runs allowed or no more than six innings with at least four runs allowed. His latest was eight no-hit innings in the Bronx. Next time out, he faces the Nationals at home. Time to break the streak, I'd guess. 1 88-67
9 Phillies That's now back-to-back stinkers for Seranthony Domínguez. He has a 4.25 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, four losses and eight blown saves on the season. It's a huge concern at this point for the defending NL champs. 1 86-69
10 Cubs In his previous 30 games heading into Saturday, Dansby Swanson hit .174/.266/.257. He then went 2 for 5 on Saturday and Sunday was 3 for 4 with a home run. He's a streaky hitter who gets scorching hot at times, so keep your eyes on him down the stretch. 1 81-74
11 Twins Prior to September, Carlos Correa had 20 multi-hit games out of 120. In just nine September games so far, he's collected at least two hits four times. -- 82-73
12 Diamondbacks Only 12 times in history has a player ever reached 25 homers and 50 stolen bases in the same season. None of them were rookies. D-Backs rookie Corbin Carroll has 24 homers and 47 steals. 2 81-73
13 Marlins Things are going swimmingly for the Marlins! (Sorry). The Marlins have won eight of 10 here as they push for the playoffs. They haven't made the postseason in a full season since 2003. 4 80-75
14 Rangers They desperately needed that series win against the hapless A's. Will it snap them out of this season-altering funk? We'll find out quickly. The Rangers visit the Blue Jays for a four-game series starting Monday that could well decide the last AL wild-card team. 2 86-68
15 Reds The only team with a winning record left on the Reds' schedule is the Twins and those three games are in Cincy. That is to say that the Reds have a real chance to make an unexpected playoff run. They need to take care of business against inferior teams. 1 79-77
16 Red Sox Even if they aren't eliminated officially from the playoffs, we can safely cross the Red Sox off the list now. Through Monday they were 4.5 games out but they are now six back with 19 to play. 3 76-79
17 Giants From around the middle of July through getting swept in Wrigley, the Giants were one of the worst teams in baseball. The stretch probably ruined their season. They came home and swept the Rockies, though. Was that the beginning of a season-saving turn around or just beating up on a terrible team? 2 77-78
18 Yankees Jasson Domínguez became the youngest player to ever hit homers in four of his first seven games and then tore his UCL. What a bummer to get that quick tease before the hammer fell. The good news is he's only 20 years old and there's plenty of time for him to make good on his promise as a big leaguer. 1 78-76
19 Padres Blake Snell leads the majors in walks. There has been exactly one Cy Young winner who led the majors in walks. Hall of Famer Early Winn pulled it off in 1959. 1 76-79
20 Angels Anthony Rendon is doing baseball activities again, apparently. It's a shame he had to interrupt his season-long vacation to do some actual work. 4 70-85
21 Guardians We might be looking at the final few weeks of Terry Francona's managerial career. If so, what a ride it's been and that ride will officially come to an end in Cooperstown. 3 74-82
22 Pirates There have only been six Pirates pitchers ever to reach 200 strikeouts in a season (Ed Morris twice, Bob Veale four times, Oliver Perez, A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano and Gerrit Cole). Mitch Keller has 191 strikeouts this season. And, yes, Immaculate Grid players, file this one away. 1 74-81
23 Tigers Too bad the schedule was changed. The Tigers are now 30-16 against fellow AL Central teams and 36-61 outside the division. 2 72-83
24 Mets Francisco Lindor has 26 homers and 26 steals. Mets 30-30 players: David Wright (2007), Darryl Strawberry (1987) and Howard Johnson (1987, 1989, 1991). 2 71-84
25 Cardinals "Where has this been all season?" St. Louis must be asking. The Cardinals just took two of three from each the Braves and Reds. 1 68-87
26 Nationals Jacob Young started the season playing for the Wilmington Blue Rocks in High-A. He's now hitting over .300 in The Show. Dreams do come true! 1 68-87
27 White Sox Luis Robert has 35 homers and 17 stolen bases. No White Sox player has ever hit 40 homers while stealing 20 bases. Can he make it? It could be very close. -- 59-96
28 Rockies Since it's September, I might as well reveal this now: Every single year in the Power Rankings comments, I have one team that is a total thorn in my side. Most teams, I already have a team comment in mind once I sit down to write these. Other times, I just need to stare at the team's Baseball-Reference page for a minute or two before I figure out what I want to say. And there always seems to be one team that takes way too long while I can't, for the life of me, figure out anything even remotely interesting to say. The Rockies are the champions of this category this season. Congrats, 2023 Rockies. You've finally won something. -- 56-98
29 Athletics The A's have been far too competent since June 5. They were 12-50 then. They've gone 32-49 since. They're still going to blow by 100 losses, but it's not headed toward the 120-plus it looked like for a while. -- 48-107
30 Royals A team started 12-50 and wasn't the first to 100 losses. What an embarrassing season, Royals. It's going to get worse, too. The franchise record for losses in a season is 106. This team is capable of losing at least 12 more. Maybe 15? -- 53-102