MLB Power Rankings: Playoff picture taking shape as slumping contenders hit dog days of August
Are slumping contenders like the Yankees, Cubs, Mariners and Dodgers in serious trouble?
An old throwback phrase in Major League Baseball parlance is the "dog days of August." It's not the last few weeks where teams are furiously jockeying for playoff positions. The All-Star break and trade deadline are in the rear-view mirror. There aren't many off days. It's the toughest part of the grind that is an MLB season. And as we hit this year's dog days, there are some contending teams playing like they are tired, because they are in a funk. That could be bad news as the grind is only getting started.
Let's run through them and note a concern level.
This one is a lot more of a correction than a dog days funk, but it definitely warrants mention. Since July 3, the Mariners are 9-17 and that's tied with the Royals for the worst record in the AL in that time. The run differential and record in one-run games were always cause for concern -- unless they pulled off a 2012 Orioles or 2016 Rangers -- and the regression monster has come and gotten involved. That's never good news, because monsters are scary. The rotation is a concern and they just don't get on base enough to maintain a consistent level of offense. They're still within striking distance of a wild card, but there's little reason to be confident.
Concern level: ABANDON SHIP!
On Sunday, July 1, the Yankees blew the Red Sox out to take two of three in the series and tie things up atop the AL East (and for the best record in baseball). Since then, the Yankees have gone 14-15. That's obviously not awful, but it's far off the pace they were before and they haven't looked right.
They are in a big power funk at the plate, now with notables Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez hurt, making it tougher to flip the script there. The back of the rotation is a mess, but Luis Severino also has an 8.28 ERA in his last five starts. Still, they aren't in great danger of losing a playoff spot and the A's don't really have an ace to instill fear in an offense in the AL Wild Card Game. By late September, the hunch is Judge and Sanchez are back while Severino has righted the ship. That will be enough to set them up for a the chance at another deep playoff run, though it's no guarantee it works in the top-heavy AL.
Concern level: Low
Through July 22, the Cubs had won 15 of their last 20 games and built a 3 1/2 game lead in the NL Central, where they had trailed by 2 1/2 games in early July. Since then, though, they've gone just 6-7 and their lead over the Brewers is down to one game. The starting pitching has been a mess, Kris Bryant isn't showing signs of returning any time soon and closer Brandon Morrow is also on the shelf. Jon Lester figured to regress in the second half and he's showing signs of it, too.
Then again, Jose Quintana and Kyle Hendricks have the track records to say they'll be fine and they've shown recent signs of as much. Cole Hamels was good in his first start and Yu Darvish just threw a 55-pitch bullpen session and reported no pain. Bryant can likely come back by September. I'm still betting Cubs take NL Central, but it will be damn close.
Concern level: Mild, but it's there
By July 23, the Dodgers had built a 1 1/2 game lead in the NL West and looked like they were "back." They've gone 6-7 since, though. They now sit in a tie with the Diamondbacks. There are some concerning issues here. Max Muncy is 4 for his last 41. Matt Kemp is in a big slump. Chris Taylor and Cody Bellinger aren't what they were last year. The rotation is big-time injury-prone and the bridge to Kenley Jansen still isn't great.
Then again, they are still loaded with talent and a lot of this funk likely has as much to do with the teams they were playing (Phillies, Braves, Brewers, Astros) as it does the Dodgers. They aren't as good as last year, but they're still good.
Concern level: Mild, but it's there
The Rockies were the hottest team in baseball through July 29. They had swept the A's to steal that title and had won 19 of 24. And yet, they followed that up by going 2-5 on a road trip to St. Louis and Milwaukee. The opponents there aren't bad teams, but the concern was with the Rockies' bullpen. In the seven games, the bullpen allowed 12 earned runs in 19 1/3 innings (5.59 ERA), blew four saves, took three bullpen losses and allowed five inherited runners to score. Wade Davis looks cooked, Adam Ottavino appears to be regressing while Bryan Shaw and Jake McGee have been awful all year. Scott Oberg and Seung Hwan Oh have helped, but there's legitimate concern here.
Otherwise, they're fine. The rotation has mostly been very good and they'll score runs.
Concern level: Medium
As we head to the ranking portion, remember this isn't just a "who is hot right now" list. We're in August. The body of work matters. Some of these funks above are in very small samples, too, so those expecting a big Yankees, Cubs or Dodgers dive will be annoyed or even angry. Or -- my favorite part -- start screaming about "large market" bias!
Let's get it on. You know where to find me by now.
|1||Red Sox||Is there a better offensive duo in baseball than Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez?||--||39-34|
|2||Astros||Justin Verlander has double-digit strikeout games in four of his last six starts.||1||48-24|
|3||Yankees||Speaking of the regression monster: Gleyber Torres. Yikes. Hey, it happens. Time to adjust to the adjustments, kid!||1||43-27|
|4||Athletics||Blake Treinen was traded from a contender last season with a 5.73 ERA. Right now, he just might be the best closer in baseball.||--||36-36|
|5||Cubs||How about Ben Zobrist? In his age-37 season he's hitting .310/.395/.456. What a career.||--||39-32|
|6||Brewers||Late MVP run candidate: Christian Yelich. He's out of his mind right now.||3||40-31|
|7||Phillies||I think we kind of knew all along that it was only a matter of time before we saw Aaron Nola, Cy Young contender. Doesn't make seeing it happen any less fun, though.||5||39-32|
|8||Dodgers||Brian Dozier has had some big second halves in his career and he might well be doing it again after being rejuvenated with the trade.||1||48-24|
|9||Indians||Can Andrew McCutchen get through waivers all the way until the Indians? Asking for a friend.||2||37-33|
|10||Diamondbacks||The more I look at this team and examine each different aspect, the more I'm convinced it's capable of a deep postseason run.||--||38-35|
|11||Braves||Jonny Venters being back on the Braves and effective is one of the feel-good stories of the season.||2||42-30|
|12||Rockies||Jon Gray has been pitching like a true ace since coming back from the minors. The entire rotation is underrated here due to non-park-adjusted rate stats.||4||37-34|
|13||Mariners||The comment in the intro about the "who is hot right now" thing? Yeah, that doesn't apply here. This team is in serious trouble.||7||31-44|
|14||Cardinals||Are they getting interesting? Since July 25, the Cardinals have taken two of three from the Cubs, three of four from the Rockies and two of three from the Pirates.||2||36-34|
|15||Nationals||That's a 5-1 week and Bryce Harper has been MVP-level Harper since the All-Star break. It's not too late just yet ...||2||33-38|
|16||Pirates||They have gone 4-6 since their flurry -- that seemed unsustainable -- moved them from a seller to buyer. Small sample, ebbs and flows or uh oh? Choose your own adventure there.||2||32-39|
|17||Giants||Standing pat with a mediocre roster is one way to play the deadline.||1||30-39|
|18||Angels||Kole Calhoun through May 31: .145/.195/.179. He then hit the disabled list. He came back with a tweaked swing. Since he's been back? .289/.358/.641 with nine doubles, a triple and 13 homers in 40 games.||3||35-37|
|19||Rays||You know who is having a very nice and totally under-the-radar season? Mallex Smith. He's a leadoff type hitting .299 with a .369 OBP and 23 steals.||--||43-28|
|20||Twins||He's still only 24, but it's hard to not get worried about Byron Buxton's trajectory.||1||47-23|
|21||Blue Jays||What has happened to Marcus Stroman -- an Official Power Rankings favorite -- this year makes me sad.||1||26-45|
|22||Rangers||Rougned Odor walked five times in a game this past week. I would have bet on the Earth exploding randomly than that happening. The lesson, as always, is that I'm an idiot (but seriously, Odor walked five times in a game!!!).||3||38-33|
|23||Reds||My favorite last-place team is starting to fade. They are 6-11 since July 14.||3||31-38|
|24||Mets||Nice weekend, Jeff McNeil. Keep that going.||--||34-37|
|25||Tigers||It was a weak starting-pitching market, Mike Fiers is having a good year and the rebuilding Tigers didn't get anything for him in front of the deadline. Why? How? If I'm a Tigers fan, I need answers here.||1||25-43|
|26||Padres||Find someone who loves you as much as Hunter Renfroe loves showing off his arm (and rightfully so!).||1||35-37|
|27||Marlins||I praised them last week for not being as brutal as we thought they would be and they went 0-6 this week. Seems about right.||4||25-44|
|28||White Sox||Apparently Eloy Jimenez is coming soon, so that's fun.||--||34-36|
|29||Orioles||They are on pace for 49 wins. It's Aug. 6.||--||21-50|
|30||Royals||They are on pace for 50 wins. It's Aug. 6.||--||23-48|
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