In this week’s addition of the Fab Five, the St. Louis Cardinals once again maintained their stranglehold on the top spot in our power rankings. Clearly the best team in all of baseball, the Cardinals show no signs of slowing down and have continued to hold off both the second-place Cincinnati Reds, as well as the third-place Pittsburgh Pirates in the increasingly competitive N.L. Aentral.
Despite a less than stellar performance during last week’s series against Baltimore, the Boston Red Sox own first in the A. L. East, but are now in need of some quality starts from what has been up to this point, a two-man rotation, if they hope to outlast the Yankees, Orioles, and Rays.
The Oakland Athletics have won their way into first-place in the A. L. West behind some quality pitching, but do they have a realistic chance of holding off the Texas Rangers and competing for an ALCS title in the fall?
With the dog-days of summer knocking on our front door, baseball fans everywhere can look forward to a couple of months of quality baseball leading up to the start of the playoffs.
1. St. Louis Cardinals
45-26, Previous: 1
With an MLB-leading 45 wins on the year, there isn’t much that this team doesn’t do well. Led by one of baseball’s premier rotations, the Cardinals rank second in earned run average (3.27), fourth in WHIP (1.20) and sixth in quality starts (42).
Adam Wainwright (10-4, 2.37 ERA) is currently tied for the major league lead in wins with fellow starters, Lance Lynn (9-1, 3.56 ERA), and Shelby Miller (8-4, 2.08 ERA) right behind him. Now that veteran Jake Westbrook has returned from the DL, the Cardinal’s starting rotation is as healthy as it’s going to get.
Of course, this ballclub can hit with the best of them and rank second both runs (353) and average (.276), while owning the third-best on- base percentage in all of baseball (.336). Catcher Yadier Molina leads the National League with a .363 average and veteran outfielder Carlos Beltran currently ranks in the top 10 of four key offensive categories (HR, RB I, OPS, Slug%).
With numbers like these, it’s easy to see why the Cardinals also lead the majors with a (25-13) record away from home.
43-29, Previous: NA
Last 10: 6-4
After starting last week with a series sweep against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, the Reds earned a 2-2, series split with the Milwaukee Brewers that was just enough to hold on to the highly-contested, second spot in the N.L.Central, 2 1/2 games behind the Cardinals. With the Pirates just a half a game back of the Reds, the current four-game series between the two teams in Cincinnati becomes that much more important if they hope to earn a playoff birth this fall.
A solid hitting ballclub, the Reds have been led offensively by perennial All-Star Joey Votto (.323 AVG, 12 HR, 34 RBI) and have recently benefited from a hot-hitting Jay Bruce (13 HR, 48 RBI). Starting pitching is this team’ s most dangerous weapon however, most evident in their four top-10 rankings (ERA, WHIP, quality starts, average against) in the majors.
Now that the rotation’s ace Johnny Cueto (4-1, 2.08 ERA, 0.88 WHIP) has returned from his second stint on the disabled list, Cincinnati has another All-Star caliber starter to complement Mat Latos (6-1, 3.20 ERA), which will go a long way when facing a teams like the Cardinals and Pirates in three and four-game series.
3. Boston Red Sox
44-29, Previous: 2
Last 10: 6-4
As we’ve seen in the past, leading the A. L. East is often more than enough to land a team a spot in the “Fab Five” and this week the rule definitely applies.
It turned into a tough week for the Red Sox after taking two of three from the Rays in Tampa Bay and Boston’s position at the top of the division is far from certain. Losing three of four to the third-place Orioles over the weekend, Boston once again began their week with a divisional series against Tampa Bay that saw the Sox win both games of the series opening double-header on Tuesday.
While the Red Sox are in fact tied for both the most home and road wins in the American League, their slim, 2 1/2 game lead on the Orioles is evaporating by the minute. Hopefully, leading the majors in runs scored (363), along with being ranked second in on base percentage (.345) and third in slugging percentage (.443), will be enough to survive the recent struggles of their starters. Jon Lester (6-4, 4.37 ERA), who is winless in his last six starts, has become undependable and even worse, A. L.Cy Young candidate Clay Buchholz (9-0, 1.71 ERA) has been placed on the disabled list with “neck issues” as of Tuesday.
4. Oakland Athletics
43-30, Previous: 3
Last 10: 5-5
To the surprise of many, Oakland has overtaken the high-priced Texas Rangers for first in the A. L. West, behind both quality starting pitching, as well as a rejuvenated linup.
With 40 year-old starter Bartolo Colon (9-2, 2.89 ERA ) leading the Way, Oakland looks like they may just have the necessary staying power required to make it out of the West. Starter Jarrod Parker (6-6, 4.30 ERA) has one four of his last five outings after a shaky start to the season and Grant Balfour (17 saves, 1.21 ERA) is quickly becoming one of the leagues most feared closers.
If outfielders Josh Reddick (.206 AVG) and Yoenis Cespedes (.232, 13 HR, 36 RBI) can stay healthy, the Athletics may just have the bats needed to maintain their current level of play. Things won’t be easy however, as Oakland is currently on the road this week with a four-game series in Texas, followed immediately by a three-game series in Seattle against the Mariners this weekend.
41-31, Previous: NA
Last 10: 7-3
Last week was big for the Orioles who won two of three against the visiting Angels before taking three of four from the division-leading Red Sox over the weekend.
This week, Baltimore has split the first two games of a three game series in Detroit and will head to Toronto to face the last-place Blue Jays in a three-game series this weekend. With just a 1 1/2 game lead on the third-place Yankees, Baltimore will need to continue swinging their bats well if they hope to keep pressuring Boston for the division lead.
All-world third baseman, Manny Machado (.324 AVG, 5 HR, 37 RBI), continues his impressive play and leads the majors in both doubles and multi–hit games. Center fielder Adam Jones (.301 AVG, 15 HR, 51 RBI) is playing at an All-Star level, while shortstop JJ Hardy (.271 AVG, 14 HR, 42 RBI) has put up some fairly large power numbers for a middle infielder.
Unfortunately, the Orioles have just two dependable starting pitchers in Chris Tillman (7-2, 3.61 ERA) and Jason Hammel (7-4, 5.24 ERA), and will need to find some quality starts, possibly with a trade, in order to keep pace in the consistently competitive American League East.
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