Every week, the PL team publishes an update to our power rankings, reviewing the biggest risers and fallers of the past seven days. As always, the full rankings can be found at the bottom of this article…but where’s the fun in that.
We’re two weeks into June, and this month looks like it is all about momentum. We already saw the Angels’ 14-game skid take them all the way to third place in the division. On the opposite end of the spectrum, we watched the Phillies christen the Rob Thomson-era with a nine-game run.
Two new teams are caught in the grips of momentum right now, and their respective streaks are taking them up – and down – this week’s rankings.
Atlanta – #7 (37-27, +6):
Atlanta didn’t lose a game this week. They didn’t lose a game last week either. In fact, they have yet to lose this month, as their 14-game (!) winning streak has catapulted them up six spots in this week’s rankings and only 4.5 games back of the NL East-leading Mets.
Given that this is the longest win streak by a defending champ in MLB history, it would be understandable if some were clamoring for an even larger jump up the list. With that in mind, let’s get an early caveat out of the way – Atlanta’s dominant run has come at the expense of some of the worst teams in baseball. These past 14 games divide as follows:
- One vs. the Diamondbacks
- Four vs. the Rockies
- Two vs. the Athletics
- Four vs. the Pirates
- Three vs. the Nationals
They’ve destroyed teams at the bottom of the league. To be clear – that’s not a bad thing at all; dominant teams need to consistently beat the teams they’re supposed to beat (otherwise, they’re not really that dominant). But it does mean that we shouldn’t necessarily look to this streak as evidence that Atlanta is better than some of the teams I’ve ranked above them – at least not yet.
With all that said, Atlanta has been playing extremely well. Since June 1, only the Blue Jays have a wRC+ (159 to 151), only the Padres have scored more runs (104 to 101), and nobody has hit more home runs (35) or posted a better OPS (.924). On the bump, Atlanta has the fifth-best ERA (2.72), the best FIP (2.84), and the best K/9 (a ridiculous 10.14).
Austin Riley has continued his hot May, leading the team with six home runs this month (including two yesterday) while posting a .982 OPS. Meanwhile, Dansby Swanson is batting .379, Adam Duvall has a .696 SLG, and rookie Michael Harris has a 1.034 OPS. But on a team filled with star position players, the most production has possibly come from their catchers. With a roughly even playing time split between the two, Travis d’Arnaud and William Contreras have been excellent, combining for 5 2B, 6 HR, 14 R, 15 RBI, and a 1.061 OBP.
The rotation has been anchored, as always, by stalwart ace Max Fried, who’s started three games this month, throwing almost 20 innings with a 2.29 ERA. Kyle Wright has continued his breakout as well, sporting a 2.25 ERA of his own. However, the star of the streak has been rookie Spencer Strider. After beginning the year in the bullpen, Strider has transitioned well to the rotation. He’s made three starts this month and, despite only throwing 15.1 innings, has stuck out an outlandish 24 batters while boasting a 1.76 ERA. That’s 14.1 K/9 for those keeping track at home.
Despite the impressive run, disappointments remain. While the rest of the staff has shone, Charlie Morton is still struggling, holding a 6.55 ERA on the month despite averaging two strikeouts an inning. And, of course, Atlanta hit a major obstacle this week when star second baseman Ozzie Albies broke his foot. He’s on the 60-Day IL, and while Orlando Arcía has played well thus far in his place, those are big shoes to fill.
You know what might take the sting off? How about a three-game set with our Top Faller of the week:
Chicago Cubs – #27 (23-40, -5):
Yep, the Cubs host red-hot Atlanta for a weekend series. Chicago is decidedly not “red-hot” as they’ve now lost 10 in a row, most recently getting utterly beat up on by the Padres for four games.
The Cubs’ pitching has been abysmal – just within their last five games, they’ve allowed opponents to score 12, 18, and 19. Their team ERA sits at 7.37 for the month of June. Meanwhile, they’ve been perfectly average at the plate, posting a 104 wRC+ (although that hasn’t quite translated to runs, where they rank 24th).
Injuries are more than partly to blame, as they’ve lost a number of players from their opening day lineup, including Marcus Stroman, Seiya Suzuki, Wade Miley, and Frank Schwindel.
Unfortunately, their replacements – especially on the mound – have been less than successful. Keegan Thompson became an early-season favorite in the fantasy community for his dominant multi-inning relief appearances. Now transitioning to the rotation, he’s made two starts while only throwing 3.2 innings and allowing ten earned runs. Matt Swarmer, called up from the farm system, has met a tough introduction to the majors as he sports a 6.86 ERA.
He did, however, make some history when he became just the second pitcher in MLB history to give up six solo home runs in a single game. He joins “Sloppy” Thurston, who accomplished the feat in 1932. Probably not great company. Even on days when their healthy starters are on the hill (both Kyle Henricks and Justin Steele have made good starts), Chicago’s bullpen has managed to blow it, sporting an 8.06 ERA over the losing streak.
Offensively, there are honestly some bright spots. Ian Happ has had a great month, batting .377. Rookie Christopher Morel has been a good story as well, reaching base in his first 14 games in the bigs. However, until some guys get back from the IL or those who are healthy figure it out, this pitching staff will struggle to compete.
I realized as I was writing this that the Atlanta-Chicago game was live, and in the top of the ninth, the Cubs were up 1-0. That’s baseball for you. Even better, both Charlie Morton and Keegan Thompson started and pitched well. That’s what I get for badmouthing them here. Ultimately, Atlanta loaded the bases before Arcía grounded out to end it. I love this game.
Week 11 Power Rankings:
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)