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Posted: Monday August 20, 2012 4:05PM ; Updated: Monday August 20, 2012 4:07PM

Nationals keep grip on top spot; more bad news for the Giants

Story Highlights

Melky Cabrera was suspended 50 games for testing positive for testosterone

The St. Louis Cardinals are back to No. 2 for the first time in months

The Rangers have fallen to No. 3, followed by the Yankees and Reds

Even though they went 3-3, last week was not a very good one for the Giants. Outfielder Melky Cabrera was suspended 50 games for failing a drug test, and the ban will keep him out through the remainder of the regular season, plus the first five games of the playoffs if they should advance to October baseball.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers played themselves into sole possession of first place in the NL West, while the Diamondbacks won four straight games to close to within 4 games of San Francisco and are now the highest ranked NL West club on this list. It won't be easy for the Giants to hold off Arizona, much less run down Los Angeles, now that they've lost one of their key cogs for the stretch run.

NOTE: All stats are through Sunday, August 19.

Rankings written by Ben Duronio of Fangraphs.com. The system used to rank the teams is based not on the current standings or a gut feeling about team quality, but on how well they've performed at the underlying traits that predict future performance better than wins and losses.

wRC+ is an offensive index where 100 is league average and every point above or below that denotes how far from league average a player's performance has been up to that point. It is adjusted for park and league, so it takes into account the context of a player's surroundings, and allows for comparison of performance from players in different situations and in different times.

MLB Power Rankings
1Washington Nationals
Last Week: 1
WAR Winning Percentage: .601; Current Winning Percentage: .620 WAR Wins: 73; Current Wins: 75

Danny Espinosa has been on absolute fire the past two weeks for Washington, with four home runs and a .431 OBP in his last 13 games played. With Ian Desmond out for much of that time, the unheralded Espinosa has given the lineup a huge boost. He has hit .338/.408/603 since August 3 and leads the team in both games played and plate appearances. Throw in his top notch defense at both middle infield positions and it is arguable that Espinosa, whose 3.4 WAR is tied for the second on the team and 0.1 behind Ryan Zimmerman, has been the Nationals' most valuable position player this season.
2St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 3
WAR Winning Percentage: .599; Current Winning Percentage: .537; WAR Wins: 72; Current Wins: 65

The Cardinals continue to befuddle, playing like one of baseball's very best teams until a victor is actually chosen, and too often coming out on the losing side of the battle. After dropping a 19-inning game to Pittsburgh on Sunday, the Cardinals find themselves 8 - games behind the Reds in the NL Central and two games behind those Pirates, leaving a large disconnect between their place here and their overall standing within their own division.

The question essentially boils down to this: Do we believe that the Cardinals' league-worst 3-9 record in extra inning games and 13-21 record in games decided by one run is reflective of the quality of their team, or should their more dominating performances in other games hold more weight? Our system gives them a lot of credit for winning decisively, and is not penalizing them as heavily for dropping so many close contests, as those contests generally aren't very predictive. However, the bottom line is that St. Louis is going to have to start winning close games, or their run differential isn't going to matter, and they'll have to console themselves with being the best team to not play in October.
3Texas Rangers
Last Week: 2
WAR Winning Percentage: .593; Current Winning Percentage: .583; WAR Wins: 71; Current Wins: 70

Although they have been sputtering a bit lately, the Rangers still have a five game lead in the NL West, thanks to big recent performances from David Murphy and Matt Harrison. Now being used as an every day player rather than a platoon player, Murphy added two more home runs last week along with a .429 on base percentage, pushing his season line to .306/.385/.490 with a career high 132 wRC+. Harrison had a 1.88 ERA in 14 1/3 innings over his two starts last week, helping take some pressure off a battered Rangers rotation that has been hurt by injuries and ineffectiveness this summer.
4New York Yankees
Last Week: 4
WAR Winning Percentage: .579; Current Winning Percentage: .595; WAR Wins: 70; Current Wins: 72

After hitting two home runs in Sunday's victory against the Red Sox, Ichiro Suzuki is now batting .322/.344/.506 in his 26 games with the Yankees. The 128 wRC+ he has with the Yankees would be his highest mark for any full season since 2004, which helps explain how well he has hit in his short time in New York. Although he has just one walk in 92 plate appearances, he has made consistent contact by posting a 5.4 strikeout rate and has hit for much more power than was to be expected. His production will likely decline over the remainder of the year, but the short-term rental has dividends so far.
5Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 5
WAR Winning Percentage: .559; Current Winning Percentage: .607; WAR Wins: 68; Current Wins: 74

Ryan Ludwick's performance over the past month has been one of the least talked about storylines in the league. The veteran leftfielder has hit 11 home runs in his past 27 games, giving him 25 for the season and his 142 wRC+ is his highest since his breakout 2008 campaign. With Joey Votto shelved out since mid-July with a knee injury, Ludwick, Scott Rolen and Todd Frazier have performed so well that the offense has hardly missed its perennial MVP candidate. Manger Dusty Baker will have to figure out how to find playing time for those three players once Votto finally returns, but that is a good problem to have and one solution could be to give Votto enough rest that he's fully healthy and rested for the postseason.
6Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 6
WAR Winning Percentage: .554; Current Winning Percentage: .512; WAR Wins: 67; Current Wins: 63

With a four game winning streak, the Diamondbacks may be about to make their push for a playoff spot. After lingering behind the Dodgers and Giants for a majority of the season, Arizona has a chance to close the gap in the division race this week as they face the lowly Marlins and Padres before squaring off against three playoff contenders, including both of their division rivals, over the next week and a half.
7Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 10
WAR Winning Percentage: .545; Current Winning Percentage: .508; WAR Wins: 66; Current Wins: 62

Among baseball's more perplexing teams, the Angels had a 2-5 week, and while they lost just one game of ground to the Rangers in the AL West, the division race is no longer priority No. 1 for Los Angeles. The Angels are far too talented to struggle this badly, and the lineup is producing as well as it ever has, but a pitching staff that was supposed to be one of the league's best has fallen to pieces. While Dan Haren has recovered from a back injury, his mechanics haven't, and Zack Greinke is making people wonder whether he can ever pitch as well in the AL as he did during his Cy Young season of 2009. As good a story as the Orioles are, the Angels are the exact opposite of that.
8Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 9
WAR Winning Percentage: .541; Current Winning Percentage: .484; WAR Wins: 66; Current Wins: 59

A bad season has taken another turn for the worse, as now the organization is dealing with public reports of players asking for meetings with ownership to discuss their issues with manager Bobby Valentine. Boston continues to underachieve, going just 6-12 in August despite a schedule that included eight games against the Twins and Indians.
Like the Cardinals, the Red Sox' underlying performance suggests that they should have a better record than they actually do, but they have performed the worst when it has mattered the most, winning just 8 of their 24 contests against New York and Baltimore this season. They should be better, but that's been true for a while now, and they're showing no signs of turning their season around.
9Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 11
WAR Winning Percentage: .579; Current Winning Percentage: .541; WAR Wins: 65; Current Wins: 70

Although they lost their final two games of a three game set against the Dodgers, the Braves still have a four game cushion on a playoff spot and have won six of their last 10 games. Chipper Jones has been one of the biggest reasons for their recent success and their firm entrenchment in the first Wild Card spot, hitting three home runs in just five games last week and having a 147 wRC+ on the year. Not many could have expected Jones to have a better final season of his career.
10San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 8
WAR Winning Percentage: .539; Current Winning Percentage: .545; WAR Wins: 65; Current Wins: 66

Losing Melky Cabrera for the remainder of the season due to a failed drug test will be a big blow to the Giants offense, which has had its problems for most of the year. If Hunter Pence could hit more like he did in Philadelphia (111 wRC+) than he has in San Francisco (67 wRC+), it would certainly help mitigate the loss of Cabrera. The Giants were already in a difficult battle with the Dodgers and Diamondbacks in their division, and losing their No. 3 hitter for the last month and a half of the season will be difficult to overcome.
11Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 7
WAR Winning Percentage: .530; Current Winning Percentage: .529; WAR Wins: 64; Current Wins: 64

Miguel Cabrera is making his presence felt in the MVP race, with two more home runs this week that pushes his season total to 31. While his defense hurts his overall value, Cabrera would finish the year with his third straight season with a wRC+ above 160, a mark he had not reached before 2010. He is just six home runs shy of reaching his career high total of 37 and his 104 RBIs lead the American League.
12Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 12
WAR Winning Percentage: .519; Current Winning Percentage: .554; WAR Wins: 63; Current Wins: 67

The Rays put together an awfully impressive four game sweep of the Angels, scoring 36 runs in four games and hammering Dan Haren, C.J. Wilson, Jered Weaver and Zack Greinke. The offensive outburst over the past week was led by B.J. Upton and Ben Zobrist, both of whom posted slugging percentages well over .700 last week. Upton, who is in his walk year, hit three home runs and could be set for an impressive finishing kick to what could be his last season with Tampa Bay.
13Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 17
WAR Winning Percentage: .511; Current Winning Percentage: .549; WAR Wins: 62; Current Wins: 67

Now in first place in the NL West after a 7-3 stretch, the Dodgers' acquisition of Hanley Ramirez looks like it is paying off. Three of Ramirez's four home runs with the Dodgers have come in his past four games, including a two homer game against Ben Sheets of the Braves on Saturday. In his 24 games with Los Angeles, Ramirez is hitting .313/.374/.521 with a 142 wRC+, numbers that are reminiscent of the star he was before struggling the past couple seasons with the Marlins.
14Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 14
WAR Winning Percentage: .509; Current Winning Percentage: .554; WAR Wins: 62; Current Wins: 67

Although he has just a .310 on base percentage and has struck out in just under one-third of his plate appearances, Pedro Alvarez has been a big part of the Pirates offense this year, with 23 home runs and the third-highest WAR of any position player on the roster. His home run in the 19th inning of Sunday's contest against the Cardinals not only gave Pittsburgh a big win was an encouraging sign for the Bucs ? Alvarez has just a 72 wRC+ against lefties this season.
15Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 13
WAR Winning Percentage: .502; Current Winning Percentage: .542; WAR Wins: 59; Current Wins: 62

The White Sox have struggled lately, losing three straight games and going just 5-5 in their past 10, but Adam Dunn is doing his part to help Chicago hold off Detroit in the AL Central. The Big Donkey smashed four more homers last week to give him 35 on the season. As for their pitchers, Jose Quintana continues to have an incredible year, with a 2.76 ERA in 104 1/3 innings pitched.
16Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 15
WAR Winning Percentage: .449; Current Winning Percentage: .463; WAR Wins: 60; Current Wins: 56

Chase Utley has missed just one game since coming back from a knee injury that put him on the disabled list to start the year for the second consecutive season. With the Phillies well out of the race, keeping Utley healthy and trying to avoid any more leg issues the remainder of the year that could affect his play next season should be a top priority for Philadelphia. Utley is hitting a career-low .247 since debuting on June 27 but at 33, he can still be an important part of future Phillies' teams if he can stay healthy.
17Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 19
WAR Winning Percentage: .495; Current Winning Percentage: .542; WAR Wins: 59; Current Wins: 65

Oakland is still battling Baltimore for that final playoff spot in the American League, as they are just a half game back after winning four straight games, including a sweep of the Indians. The A's may have a chance to move into the Wild Card lead this weekend when they head to Tampa Bay for a three game set against the Rays during which they'll avoid facing Cy Young contender David Price.
18New York Mets
Last Week: 14
WAR Winning Percentage: .494; Current Winning Percentage: .471; WAR Wins: 60; Current Wins: 57

With the Mets well out of the race due to an abysmal 11-24 performance since the All-Star break, at least Ike Davis has managed to salvage his second season as a major leaguer. Since the start of June, Davis has hit .252/.322/.534 with 17 home runs and 15 doubles. He has managed to push his wRC+ up to a more respectable 93 with the big production over the past two and a half months, after netting just a .228 on base percentage and .296 slugging percentage in the first two months of the season.
19Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 16
WAR Winning Percentage: .450; Current Winning Percentage: .484; WAR Wins: 58; Current Wins: 54

In just 112 games, reigning NL MVP Ryan Braun is now four home runs shy of reaching his career high of 37 set back in 2008. With 33 home runs this year, four of which came in his past six games, Braun has now hit 30 home runs in all but one of his seasons as a major leaguer. Braun deserves to be in the MVP race even without the Brewers in the postseason picture, as he is currently on pace for a 40-homer, 25-stolen base season.
20Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 21
WAR Winning Percentage: .473; Current Winning Percentage: .450; WAR Wins: 57; Current Wins: 54

The Royals went 7-3 in their past 10 games to move into third place in the AL Central. They are still nowhere near contention for a playoff spot, but it has been a nice stretch for a team that has disappointed this season. Billy Butler's five homers in his past 13 games have led the offense, while Jeremy Guthrie has paced the pitching staff with a 0.00 ERA over his past three starts spanning 22 2/3 innings pitched.
21Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 20
WAR Winning Percentage: .470; Current Winning Percentage: .545; WAR Wins: 57; Current Wins: 66

Despite having the lowest total position player WAR of any team in baseball (7.7), the Orioles are still clinging to a playoff spot in late August. Miguel Gonzalez has really helped solidify the rotation in Jason Hammel's absence. In his past two starts, Gonzalez has a 1.93 ERA and has a season mark of 3.38, despite an FIP of 4.95. Gonzalez is giving exactly the kind of unexpected performance that has typified Baltimore's playoff push this season.
22Miami Marlins
Last Week: 22
WAR Winning Percentage: .463; Current Winning Percentage: .451; WAR Wins: 53; Current Wins: 55

The Marlins got Emilio Bonifacio back from the disabled list Sunday and have now decided that the versatile player will only be used in the outfield. With Mike Stanton entrenched in rightfield, the only hope is that Justin Ruggiano continues to get work every day. This season, Ruggiano has a 160 wRC+ and 10 home runs and 10 steals in just 203 plate appearances. In a season full of missed expectations, watching Ruggiano put everything together has been a rare delight for the Marlins.
23Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 26
WAR Winning Percentage: .449; Current Winning Percentage: .387; WAR Wins: 53; Current Wins: 46

On June 19th, the Rockies began using a four man rotation in an effort to turn around a pitching staff that was allowing a league worst 5.7 runs per game. Since the experiment began, they have allowed 5.7 runs per game. Rather than using the pitchers they have differently, the Rockies just need to figure out how to get better pitchers. Building a ballclub that can win at altitude is a unique challenge that requires thinking outside the box, but it appears that this attempt at creative thinking hasn't really helped matters much at all.
24Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 25
WAR Winning Percentage: .440; Current Winning Percentage: .475; WAR Wins: 54; Current Wins: 58

Despite their last place standing in the AL West, the Mariners have been a surprising treat to watch, as they've won seven of eight games, including Felix Hernandez's perfect game last Wednesday, the first in franchise history. King Felix has provided the memory that will last a lifetime, and the rest of the team is giving the fan base hope that this rebuilding process might actually be going somewhere. With contact, power and a .402 OBP, John Jaso has turned into an approximation of the hitter Dustin Ackley was supposed to be, which makes Mariners fans both happy and sad.
25Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 24
WAR Winning Percentage: .438; Current Winning Percentage: .463; WAR Wins: 53; Current Wins: 56

The Blue Jays have only two pitchers ? Bandon Morrow and Carlos Villaneuva ? have a WAR above 1.0, and neither has made more than 14 starts this year. While many of the Blue Jays' struggles can be attributed to injuries, the rotation has been a provlem all season, outside of Morrow in the early going and Villanueva as of late. Henderson Alvarez has been the biggest disappointment of the bunch, with a 4.84 ERA and just a 3.43 strikeout per nine innings pitched ratio.
26San Diego Padres
Last Week: 23
WAR Winning Percentage: .429; Current Winning Percentage: .431; WAR Wins: 53; Current Wins: 53

It's been just another solid but hardly documented season for Chris Denorfia, who has had a wRC+ above 100 in every season he has played with more than two plate appearances. Denorfia may not be the best player on the team nor the flashiest, but his production over the past few years has certainly been unheralded. The Padres were sold earlier this week, and as the new owners consider contract extensions to their quality players, the arbitration-eligible Denorfia could be in line for a new deal.
27Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 28
WAR Winning Percentage: .428; Current Winning Percentage: .417; WAR Wins: 52; Current Wins: 54

Through the middle of May, the Twins were dreadful. Between the middle of May and early August, the Twins were decent. Now they're back to dreadful again, having lost nine of 10. Scott Diamond continues to be the gem of the rotation, and he's struck out fewer than five batters per nine innings. On the offensive side, there are seven hitters in baseball who have hit at least 30 homers. Ever so quietly, Josh Willingham is among them. Willingham's had as good a year offensively as Josh Hamilton and Prince Fielder, and both of those two have been outstanding for teams chasing postseason berths while Willingham has gone overlooked amid the Twins' last-place season.
28Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 27
WAR Winning Percentage: .427; Current Winning Percentage: .446; WAR Wins: 52; Current Wins: 54

It has been a rough year in Cleveland, especially as of late, but Shin-Soo Choo's comeback season has been impressive to follow. After posting three straight seasons with a wRC+ above 137, Choo had a down year due to injuries and legal problems last season. Now, he is back up to a 134 wRC+ with 15 homers and 13 steals as one of the game's least talked about five-tool players.
29Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 29
WAR Winning Percentage: .415; Current Winning Percentage: .392; WAR Wins: 50; Current Wins: 46

Last week was Shark Week on the Discovery Channel, so maybe it shouldn't be a surprise that Jeff "The Shark" Samardzija had a week worth watching on the mound. Samardzija netted a 3.75 ERA over his two starts, including a dominant seven-inning, 11-strikeout performance against the Astros. Samardzija's season is likely coming to an end soon, as the reliever turned starter is well past his career high in innings pitched.
30Houston Astros
Last Week: 30
WAR Winning Percentage: .375; Current Winning Percentage: .320; WAR Wins: 46; Current Wins: 39

As the worst team in the league by a significant margin, the Astros front office has decided to dismantle the entire coaching staff and scouting department in Houston. General Manager Jeff Luhnow fired manager Brad Mills over the weekend, just the latest step in an ongoing rebuilding plan that won't end any time soon.

 
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