Through last Thursday, the Tampa Bay Rays had lost six of their last nine games and I started to get the feeling that we'd be able to have a debate about who should be the number one team, especially with the footsteps from the Dodgers (hello 2020 World Series, even though I've tried to erase everything from that year from memory). It was a bit exciting to contemplate even having the discussion. Then the Rays reminded myself and everyone else why they've been the easy and obvious number one for well over a month by taking two of three from the Brewers while the Dodgers lost three of four in St. Louis. 

This means there wasn't much meat to pick from that bone, so we needed to turn elsewhere. 

Hello Texas!

We'll start with the defending champs. They've earned it. To the victor go the spoils, right? Sometimes there's a little more going their way in terms of moving into the next season. 

I know that sometimes in sports, it can get frustrating when a saying is applied in the absence of actual analysis, but there really is something to the ol' World Series hangover. Think about how much deeper into the year teams have to extend themselves to win the World Series. That means more physical toll is taken and there's a shorter offseason in which to recover. There's probably something to maybe, possibly dialing it a bit back with the offseason workout regimen, too, just from a mental standpoint (being slightly less hungry as a player than if you were coming off a loss, for example). Then the Astros had the departure of Justin Verlander along with injuries to the likes of Jose Altuve, Michael Brantley and Lance McCullers Jr. 

It was only natural they'd get off to a slow start. Not too long ago, the Astros were 17-18 and outside playoff position. Well, they've won 10 of their last 11 since that point. They are currently riding a seven-game winning streak. They are one of the best teams in baseball and I expect them to remain in that mix the rest of the season. 

We can't leave the Texas Rangers behind, though, because the Astros are still looking up at them. The Rangers have been in first alone or tied every day but one this entire season. They haven't dropped below .500 at all. Thanks to a potent offense and capable pitching staff, they've been toward the top in run differential all season (+108 right now is second to the Rays). 

It's not as if they have avoided adversity, either, as Corey Seager has only played in 15 games and Jacob deGrom has only made six starts. While we're here, there certainly has to be something behind the presence of Bruce Bochy in the dugout as manager. We could nitpick strategy all we want, but at the end of the day, managers like Bochy, Dusty Baker, Terry Francona et al are just always around winning and it's not a coincidence. 

Given the roster construction (injury-prone and streaky pitchers, for one), I'm expecting some upcoming ebbs and flows, but there's every reason to believe this is a legitimate playoff contender. 

It's possible there are going to be four contenders in this division for a bit, too, so let's discuss the others. 

The Angels are seemingly a perennial tease and while they haven't been great by any stretch, they have hung tough right around the line of contention. At this point, we're all trained to wait for the proverbial other shoe to fall, but maybe they'll have staying power this time around? They certainly have enough talent. 

And, of course, there are the Seattle Mariners. They won 90 games last season and advanced to the ALDS. They had a rough first month of the season, but have been better and now return home from a rough trip with the opportunity for a big week. They'll host the A's for four games and the Pirates for three and there's potential for some damage to be done. 

Heading toward the end of May, the two Texas teams are obviously division contenders while the Angels and Mariners aren't far off and are, at bare minimum, serious factors in the Wild Card scrum. 

Plenty of focus will remain on the AL East while many out West would want to look toward the Dodgers or whatever is going on with the Padres and all of those things remain worth watching. Let's keep another eye fixed on the AL West, too, though, because it is shaping up to be a lot of fun. 

Biggest Movers
7 Giants
6 Reds
1 Rays I'm not about to abandon them from the top spot because there's such a thing as built-up credit. We just need to keep an eye on things, as the Rays have gone 5-7 in their last 12 and the pitching injuries have really complicated matters. Plus, some of the hitters are regressing from their ultra-hot starts. Every great team has lulls, of course, so don't go overboard here. -- 33-38
2 Braves Down several important players, the Braves responded to last weekend's sweep by taking four of six from two quality AL West opponents. They are that good. Just for fun: At this point last season, the Braves were 22-24. 4 38-30
3 Orioles Can I just grab an arbitrary starting point for the purposes of illustration? I can? Thank you! Remember, the Orioles started 4-5 (and the Rays, obviously, were 9-0). Since then, the Orioles have been the best team in baseball by 2 1/2 games. -- 46-24
4 Rangers Seager must've felt left out while on the injured list. In the last three days, he's gone 7 for 13 with three doubles and two home runs. -- 33-37
5 Astros With his base hit on Sunday, Jose Altuve moved into a third-place tie with Jose Cruz for the most hits in Astros history. I would be very sad and disappointed if you needed me to tell you the top two. 2 32-39
6 Yankees They've now won 11 of 14, Luis Severino is back from the injured list and Aaron Judge is out-of-his-mind hot right now. 3 50-23
7 Dodgers They just dropped three of four in St. Louis and now have to hit Atlanta and Tampa Bay to complete the 10-game road trip. The injuries to Dustin May and Julio Urías were certainly ill-timed. 5 43-29
8 Red Sox Allowing three earned runs in 5 1/3 innings is a 5.06 ERA. Corey Kluber has done that or worse in seven of his nine starts. He's rocking a 6.26 ERA overall. I suppose the only other option right now is Nick Pivetta, but the Red Sox need to clean up the rotation if they want to contend in the monster that is the AL East. 2 36-35
9 Diamondbacks They've won seven of nine and one of those losses was, inexplicably, the worst start of Zac Gallen's career. This continues to be an intriguing team that should not be ignored. 3 34-37
10 Blue Jays What a disaster of a week. They did a lot more whining than winning. It doesn't get any easier with a trip to The Trop now starting Monday. 5 34-36
11 Brewers It really looks like the Cubs, Pirates and Reds are going to end up being sub-par at best, which narrows it down and makes the Cardinals the Brewers' chief competition for the NL Central title. The Brewers won on Sunday, but before that had lost 12 of 18 and I can't help but wonder if, at the end of the season, that stretch will be viewed as significant. With the Cardinals' catastrophic start, the Brewers really had an opportunity to bury them and didn't. 3 41-29
12 Angels They dealt with a lull for a few weeks, but splitting four in Baltimore before taking two of three at home against a first-place team (even in an awful division) is a quality week. 3 28-42
13 Twins The bad news: The Twins went 2-4 on their L.A. and "L.A." trip. The good news? No one else wants to win the Central. The 3 1/2 game lead is the exact same as it was before the trip. 2 38-32
14 Mets It's the weirdest thing to watch a team go through the softest part of their schedule getting beaten down and then wake up once they are past it. Now it looks like a pretty tough go all the way up to the All-Star break. Maybe they'll just be awesome. From an outside perspective, unpredictable is fun. 4 32-37
15 Mariners I mentioned something about old saying ringing true in the introduction above. Julio Rodríguez unfortunately looks like the embodiment of the sophomore slump. He's slashing .204/.280/.376 right now. 1 42-31
16 Phillies On 4/20 (totally a coincidence, I swear), the Phillies lost to the Rockies. They then decided to become the streakiest team in the history of streaks. They won seven of eight (divided up with three- and four-game winning streaks), lost six in a row, won five in a row, lost five in a row and have now won two straight. They'll host the Diamondbacks for three games starting Monday, which means a sweep is surely on its way. 3 47-23
17 Cardinals It was just two weeks ago when I detailed that the Cardinals were arguably off to the worst start in MLB history among expected contenders. They've now won 11 of their last 14. Oh and if you looked at the rest of the NL Central teams in the month of May, the Reds are 7-11 and they're the second best. Add it all up and the Cardinals are only five games back. 6 34-35
18 Padres Remember May 5? That's the last time the Padres won when Michael Wacha wasn't pitching. Since then, they've gone 3-0 in Wacha starts and 0-11 when he doesn't. I don't know if it means much, other than 3-11 is really bad. 2 37-37
19 Giants Can I do the thing where I grab an arbitrary starting point again? Cool! You're being very generous today with that. Anyway, since April 21, the Giants are 16-11 and, among NL teams, only the Dodgers have been better. 7 34-37
20 Marlins Jorge Soler has 12 homers, which puts him on pace for 41.3. The franchise record in homers is ... lol, nevermind. But hey, Gary Sheffield's 42 in 1996 was the second-most ever for a Marlins player. That's attainable! (For those who don't know, Giancarlo Stanton hit 59 homers in 2017 for the Marlins). -- 23-47
21 Pirates They've now lost 14 of 18. That huge start never made any sense to begin with, so they are simply giving it back until the Baseball Gods are appeased. The funny thing is they are only one game out in the NL Central. 4 33-37
22 Tigers Jaw-dropping stat of the week: The Tigers are 2-14 against the AL East and 18-10 against everyone else. 2 34-36
23 Guardians It's hard to have much faith in this offense, as constructed. And though I doubt it's possible in this division, if they do fall out of the race, a Shane Bieber trade becomes very realistic. 4 44-24
24 Cubs Christopher Morel is second on the team with eight home runs. He's only appeared in 11 games. Oh and the Cubs have been the second-worst team in baseball in the last month. Good stuff, Jed Hoyer! 3 34-37
25 White Sox I truly cannot believe this is a discussion, but it's a nice illustration of how a baseball season can unfold: The White Sox have a real chance to become relevant in the AL Central race soon. They've won five of six and head to Cleveland for three games and Detroit for four this week. A big week means second place and likely within striking range of the Twins. 4 19-53
26 Nationals Jeimer Candelario might be the hottest hitter in baseball right now. I know such a title is wide open to interpretation, but in his Candelario's last seven games, he's 16 for 28 (.571) with four doubles, a triple and two homers. He's also a free agent after this season, so he's moving into trade candidate territory. 1 34-36
27 Rockies You know who is having a nice year? Catcher Elias Díaz is hitting .326 and leading the team in WAR. He's 11 of 25 in throwing out potential base-stealers. That's 44 percent while the league average is 21 percent. -- 25-45
28 Reds Just as they had crept their way up to respectability, the Reds have now lost six of seven. 6 34-36
29 Royals Bobby Witt Jr. is only in his age-23 season and we still aren't to June, but he's also now played in 197 career games. He's hitting .226 with a .267 on-base percentage this season. It's at least mildly worrisome, right? 1 41-31
30 Athletics They are on pace to go 34-128. -- 26-46