Posted: Monday September 3, 2012 2:11PM ; Updated: Monday September 3, 2012 2:11PM
Joe Lemire
Joe Lemire>MLB POWER RANKINGS

Texas Rangers stay on top of Rankings but changes abound

Story Highlights

Texas has gotten Josh Hamilton on track and even call-ups are producing

Cincinnati gets Joey Votto back soon while Washington loses Stephen Strasburg

Several teams make big jumps --like the A's -- while others (Red Sox) plunge

September call-ups aren't just relegated to players. After a five-month summer hiatus, I have resumed control over SI.com's MLB Power Rankings for the final month of a wacky season in which Baltimore, Oakland, Pittsburgh and Washington all range from "surprise playoff contender" to "real World Series threat."

Though Power Rankings are now under new management -- in which clubs are ordered on the more traditional criteria of season-long performance with emphasis on recent play -- there's agreement at the top with the WAR-inspired rankings from the folks at FanGraphs.com: the Rangers are baseball's best.

They've won five straight series and, thus far, have staved off the hard-charging Athletics in the AL West. Even though Oakland has won nine in a row, Texas holds onto a three-game lead and has the majors' best run differential at +117.

In the National League, one contender is about to welcome its best player back from injury (the Reds' Joey Votto) while another is about to shut down its best starting pitcher (the Nationals' Stephen Strasburg), breaking what otherwise would be a tie atop the Senior Circuit.

NOTES: All stats are updated through Sunday, Sept. 2. "Last week" refers to the club's ranking under the FanGraphs-created ranking system.

MLB Power Rankings
1Texas Rangers
Last Week: 1
August was very kind to the Rangers, who went 19-10 and saw the resuscitation of Josh Hamilton's season (.943 OPS in August after a .607 in July). Now September offers the promise of not only a third straight AL West title but the first games in the career of top prospect Jurickson Profar -- who homered in his first major league at bat on Sunday -- a shortstop who'll primarily be a reserve for a Texas club that isn't asking him to be a savior, just a sparkplug.
 
2Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 5
Make no mistake: The Reds' improved pitching -- the NL's fifth-ranked rotation (3.71) and a historically good bullpen -- is why they have a commanding lead in the NL Central, but the power-hitting, especially at home, remains. Cincinnati was the first NL club to have two hitters reach 25 home runs (Jay Bruce and Ryan Ludwick) and are the only one with seven hitters who have at least 14. Entering play on Monday, the Reds had played three more games on the road than they had at home yet had hit 91 homers at Great American Ballpark and only 63 away from Cincinnati.
 
3Washington Nationals
Last Week: 3
The Nationals are baseball's most consistent team. They are the only ballclub to have a winning record in every month this season, having put the finishing touches on a 19-10 August (not a bad end result after having a five-game losing streak), which followed a scorching 17-9 July. Their 149 days in first place are second only to the Rangers. Even with Stephen Strasburg on the verge of getting shutdown, Washington's rotation is still awfully good.
 
4Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 17
For a contact-oriented pitching staff to work -- Oakland has the 26th-most strikeouts in the majors -- a team needs to have a good defense. The A's, by one metric, have the best. According to Baseball Prospectus' defensive efficiency, Oakland ranks first in the majors (and third in the park-adjusted version); those numbers are up from 15th and 12th, respectively, last season. Athletics pitchers have the 27th-lowest groundball rate but, with Coco Crisp, Yoenis Cespedes and Josh Reddick patrolling the outfield, that's okay.
 
5San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 10
The Giants are middle of the pack in runs scored (581, 8th in the NL and 16th in the majors). If they hold onto their 4 1/2-game division lead, they will become the seventh NL West champion in the past eight years to rank last among division winners in runs scored. Nowhere else does pitching play so dramatically, even with the five ballparks on the extremes: three pitcher paradises (San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego) and two hitter heavens (Colorado and Arizona).
 
6New York Yankees
Last Week: 4
The mark of a good team, it has been said, is to elongate one's hot streaks and curtail the inevitable cold streaks. The Yankees, despite recent struggles, are one of only two teams (along with the Rays) that have not had a five-game losing streak this year. The key culprit for finishing August on a 5-9 stretch: the offense scored just 3.6 runs per game with a meager .297 OBP.
 
7Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 20
The Orioles rank fourth in the AL in home runs with 167, and they've made them count. They have scored 47.08 percent of their runs via homers in 2012, second-highest this season behind the more ballyhooed Yankees offense and the seventh-highest such rate in baseball history, according to tracking by Baseball Prospectus.
 
8Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 8
Max Scherzer awoke at just the right time. The talented but inconsistent righthander has won five straight starts -- including eight shutout innings against the White Sox on Saturday -- while allowing just four earned runs in 35 innings for a 1.03 ERA. He has struck out at least eight in nine straight starts and his 11.3 K/9 is best in the majors.
 
9Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 12
Entering play on Friday, the AL's top eight batting averages (with at least 300 PAs) belonged to expected suspects Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Derek Jeter, David Ortiz, Prince Fielder, Joe Mauer, Paul Konerko and, uh, Jeff Keppinger. Sure enough, Tampa Bay's veteran utilityman was hitting .326 for the season. A middle infielder by trade, Keppinger has not only played second base but extensive amounts at third (due to Evan Longoria's injury) and first (thanks to Carlos Peņa's slump); he has a 1.005 OPS in 98 PAs against lefty pitchers.
 
10Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 9
Among pitchers who newly joined rotations on the July 31 trade deadline, the best of the bunch has been a righthander who was merely promoted from the bullpen to the rotation on that day. Kris Medlen has made six starts since then, allowing three earned runs in 40 2/3 innings -- a miniscule 0.66 ERA ? with 38 strikeouts and only five walks allowed. In his past three starts he has pitched 24 innings without allowing a run, striking out 22 and walking just one.
 
11Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 14
All but seven of Chicago's remaining 29 games are against AL Central foes, and the White Sox, who were just swept by the Tigers, are just a .500 ballclub within the division. The Tigers play a similar rate of intra-divisional games -- 23 of their last 29 -- but Detroit is 29-20 against the Central, putting the Sox at a disadvantage when considering their remaining schedules.
 
12Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 13
Money, as the Beatles once sang, can't buy love. The Dodgers are learning it can't buy wins, either. That is likely to change over the long haul, but the in-season assumption of the Red Sox' top three salaries -- belonging to first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, starter Josh Beckett and injured outfielder Carl Crawford -- hasn't delivered any immediate gains. Los Angeles went 4-5 in its first nine games since the trade, losing 2 1/2 games in the standings.
 
13St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 2
File this as another chapter of "you can't predict baseball." The Cardinals -- who lead the NL in runs, hits, average and OBP -- scored just one run in four games against the Pirates and Nationals and were collectively outscored 32-1 with that sole run being unearned. Then, St. Louis broke out in a big way with a 10-9 win, scoring eight runs against Washington's Jordan Zimmermann, who entered the start ranked second in the NL in ERA.
 
14Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 6
Albert Pujols is finally proving his worth in the first season of his 10-year, $240 million deal. Since May 15 Pujols has a .324/.390/.642 batting line, during which time he leads the majors in home runs (28) and ranks second in OPS (1.032), trailing only Miguel Cabrera. His WAR (Wins Above Replacement) among AL position players is 4.4, good for 10th-place, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
 
15Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 16
The Pirates have the fourth-best bullpen ERA in baseball (2.95), the third-best save-conversion percentage (82.4) and the very best rate of stranding runners, having allowed only 17.4 percent of inherited runners to score. That's mostly a credit to the relievers themselves, of course -- Joel Hanrahan, Chris Resop, Jared Hughes, Jason Grilli, Tony Watson and Juan Cruz -- but the latter stat especially suggests good bullpen management by manager Clint Hurdle.
 
16Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 18
The Brewers' bullpen has the second-worst save conversion rate -- 55.2 percent -- in the majors, no doubt costing Milwaukee several wins. The league average winning percentage for holding a lead entering the eighth and ninth innings is .919 and .952, respectively, while the Brewers' percentages are .851 and .848 in those situations. Similarly, games that are tied entering any inning ought to have a .500 winning percentage, yet the Brewers are sub-.500 in every inning, one through eight, with marks of .435, .350, .435 and .357 when tied entering the fifth through eighth innings.
 
17Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 15
From 2005 through 2010 the Phillies ranked either first or second in the NL in runs. Last year they ranked seventh, and this year they are 10th. There's no guarantee their offense will get better next year, either. Right now the lineup looks especially lightweight with Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence having been traded and Chase Utley and Ryan Howard not at their best since returning from their lengthy injuries. Philadelphia's three highest averages since the start of August belong to Kevin Frandsen (.336), John Mayberry (.301, 5 HRs) and Erik Kratz (.268, 5 HRs).
 
18San Diego Padres
Last Week: 24
How bleak has Padre power-hitting historically been? When Chase Headley amassed 10 homers and 31 RBIs in August -- tied for the most in the majors in the former category and the outright lead in the latter -- he became only the second Padre to lead the majors in those categories in any month, according to Elias. San Diego's 18-10 record last month was the NL's second-best; since June 11 the Padres have been the NL West's best team.
 
19Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 25
The Mariners have crept as close as four games of being .500, but their offense still needs major improvement. They've scored 522 runs, last in the AL for the fourth straight season (though on pace to break 600 for the first time since 2009), but Seattle does not have a single player with 300 plate appearances with an OBP higher than .310. (The major league average is .319.) In fact, the M's are the only team without such a player, while every other club has at least three and as many as seven.
 
20New York Mets
Last Week: 19
Looking for second-half bright spots? In addition to R.A Dickey's third shutout last week, Ike Davis, who through June 5 had the majors' worst OPS (.501), has been making incremental improvements with his on-base skills and has broken out with some power. Since that date, Davis has an .888 OPS -- 14th in the NL -- and has 20 home runs in that span, too.
 
21Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 11
Now that Joe Saunders has been traded, the old man of Arizona's rotation is Ian Kennedy, 27, who is joined by Wade Miley, 25; Trevor Cahill, 24; Patrick Corbin, 23; and Tyler Skaggs, 21. With those five and Trevor Bauer, 21, in Triple A, Arizona could mimic the Rays' recent streak of 896 consecutive starts made by pitchers under 30. So write off 2012 as a missed opportunity, but the D-backs have something impressive -- and young -- building in the rotation.
 
22Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 22
Among pitchers who have throw at least 40 innings, the man with the fastest fastball is . . . Kelvin Herrera. Kansas City's righthanded fireman owns baseball's swiftest pitch, according to FanGraphs.com, with an average fastball velocity of 98.6 mph. That's nearly a full mile-per-hour faster than Aroldis Chapman's 97.8. Herrera has a 2.42 ERA in his 70 2/3 innings. His K/9 is 8.4, which is good but not superlative, though his 4.4 K/BB ratio is.
 
23Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 28
For all the hubbub about how Target Field is terrible for power hitters, maybe the issue was which power hitters were actually populating the Twins roster. Josh Willingham, a veteran of making his home in pitchers' parks, has had a dynamite debut season in Minnesota. Of his 33 home runs, 20 have come at home. His .278 isolated power -- slugging minus batting average to measure raw power -- ranks sixth in the majors among such power elite as Giancarlo Stanton, Ryan Braun, Josh Hamilton, fellow breakout hitter Edwin Encarnacion and Adam Dunn.
 
24Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 26
Since Aug. 2, the Blue Jays have played 29 consecutive games against opponents with a winning record, facing seven of the eight AL clubs above .500 (missing only the weakest of that bunch, the Angels). Toronto is 9-20 over that stretch, but given the injuries the Jays have suffered (among others, Jose Bautista has played just twice since mid-July because of a wrist injury) and the tough slate, that poor record becomes understandable.
 
25Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 7
Boston has six pitchers who have made at least 10 starts. The best ERA in the bunch belongs to Clay Buchholz at 4.50. His adjusted ERA+ is 98, the only one sniffing league average (i.e. 100). The rotation's collective ERA is 5.08, which is 26th in the majors. Opponents are hitting .270 against them, which also ranks 26th.
 
26Miami Marlins
Last Week: 21
Players who have had a year with at least a .600 slugging percentage by their age-22 season: Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Boog Powell, Eddie Mathews, Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, Jimmie Foxx, Mel Ott and now, quite possibly, Giancarlo Stanton. The rightfielder, who doesn't turn 23 until November, is within shouting distance of the benchmark with his .590 slugging that ranks second in the NL.
 
27Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 23
The Rockies' Project 5,183 (so-named because that is the altitude at Coors Field) uses a four-man starting rotation, with three piggyback relievers who enter after 75 pitches. Colorado, whose pitching staff is last or nearly last in most statistical categories, had to try something, and the league-wide numbers on a starter facing opponents for a third PA (.776 OPS vs .711 for first PA and .741 for a second), which is now unlikely, suggest that such an idea isn't completely foolhardy. The club, however, doesn't have the right personnel and now will probably become the first team in history without a single pitcher throwing 100 innings; no team has ever had only one such pitcher, either.
 
28Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 29
There's still a reason to show up at Wrigley Field. Despite the poor overall record (51-82) and standings placement (30 games out of first), the Cubs still have a .500 record at home, 34-34, where the team OPS is 59 points higher and the team ERA is 0.82 lower. Surely the hot dogs taste better and the beer colder, too. Just don't buy one of those travel packages to see this team on the road: they are 17-48 (.262).
 
29Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 27
The Indians were two games out of first place and four games over .500 at the end of play on July 5. Since then, they have gone 13-39 (.250), recently lost 15 out of 16, fell 14 1/2 games in the standings and are now just one game ahead of the last-place Twins in the AL Central. It's been a general failing, with Cleveland having scored the fewest runs and allowed the most in the league during that span, making for an even more dramatic fall than last year's rough second half.
 
30Houston Astros
Last Week: 30
After Jim Crane bought the franchise, he briefly entertained the idea of changing its name. Had he done so, the name Prospecstros might have been a good one. After hiring prospect guru Kevin Goldstein last week, the Astros have now added two former Baseball Prospectus writers (also Mike Fast in January) and courted a third, Keith Law. Under general manager Jeff Luhnow, the Astros have been creative in revamping their personnel, from the field (nine players from the 25-man Opening Day roster are no longer with the franchise) to the front office.

 
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