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 away from the All-Star Break, and most teams are officially halfway through the season. The league’s juggernauts are firmly in control of the top spots, but a few teams that recovered from slow starts are shouldering their way into the mix.
Two rough weeks for San Diego and Toronto (2-8 and 4-6 over their last ten games, respectively) opened the door for the surging Atlanta and Boston clubs to leap into contention. Both of those two teams now hold pole position for the Wild Cards in their respective divisions.
We took a break from our standard risers/sinkers format to profile our top five teams last week. This week, we’re back to our regularly scheduled programming — and I’ll start by explaining why last week’s top five got broken up.
On the Rise
Rank Change: +3 (7 to 4)
Opponents Since Last Ranking: Reds (two games), Cardinals (four games)
Atlanta was our top riser back in week 11 thanks to their 14-game win streak and many of the factors that propelled them into the top ten at that point are the same ones that push them into the top five this week.
Austin Riley continues to rake, Dansby Swanson is fully recovered from his early-season doldrums, and Michael Harris II is keeping himself in Rookie of the Year conversations. The starting rotation, anchored by Max Fried, continues to excel, and the already potent bullpen was strengthened by the return of Tyler Matzek from the IL. They should get closer Kenley Jansen back any day now as well.
What prevented Atlanta from breaking their way into the top of our rankings back in week 11 was a weak strength of schedule. They went on to win consecutive series against the Giants, Dodgers, Phillies, Reds, and Cardinals. They fully deserve their spot in the top five, despite the help they received from the aforementioned skids by Toronto and San Diego.
Barring an Angels-esque implosion or a whole slew of injuries, they’re here to stay.
The Seattle Mariners
Rank Change: +3 (20 to 17)
Opponents Since Last Ranking: Orioles (two games), A’s (three games), Padres (two games)
The Mariners seem to finally be rounding into the dark horse playoff contenders they were predicted to be at the start of the season.
After a strong start that got them briefly into first place in the AL West, they dropped as far as 10 games under .500. In the last few weeks, they’ve closed that gap and now are in spitting distance of a Wild Card spot. Maybe a fight with the Angels is exactly what they needed to get into gear.
If you haven’t yet gotten a chance to watch the Julio Rodríguez show, mark their next game on the calendar and make sure you’re free for it. The 21-year-old rookie holds a 137 OPS+ through 310 ABs so far this season and has hit some absolute moon shots. He’s also contributed 21 stolen bases and made eye-popping defensive plays. The hype is real.
In addition to Rodriguez, first baseman Ty France is putting together an All-Star-worthy season with 155 wRC+ (per Fangraphs) through 70 games. Eugenio Suárez is having something of a resurgence, J.P. Crawford continues to hit well, and newcomer Carlos Santana has been effective since coming over from Cleveland last week. However, despite strong individual performances, their offensive marks are largely middling.
What’s truly driven their turnaround is a massive improvement from their pitching staff. From the beginning of the season to their 10-games-below-.500 low point on June 19th, Mariners pitchers collectively held a 3.90 ERA and 1.23 WHIP. Since then, they’ve posted a 2.52 ERA and 1.12 WHIP — best and fourth-best in the league, respectively, for this period.
That improvement is especially acute for the Mariners’ bullpen. As a group, the Mariners’ relievers held a 4.18 ERA before June 19th and have posted a 1.54 ERA in the games since. As for the starters, it seems that Robbie Ray is starting to find his 2021 form — he holds a 0.92 ERA with a 35.1% K% in his last three starts.
If nothing else, the M’s are a fun team to watch. They have the talent and the opportunity to make noise in the second half. But they’ll be competing directly with this week’s slider for one of the AL Wild Card spots.
In a Slide
The Cleveland Guardians
Rank Change: -4 (14 to 18)
Opponents Since Last Ranking: Yankees (three games), Tigers (four games)
After shooting up the rankings and (briefly) to the top of the AL Central on June 24th, the Guardians went on to lose 12 of 16 games and fall out of both the lead in the division and out of a Wild Card spot.
Similar to the change in Seattle’s fortune, Cleveland’s slide seems to be attributable much more to their pitching than to any major change in their offense. From June 1-24th (when they won 15 of 21 and jumped into the division lead), Cleveland’s relievers held a strong 2.65 ERA and boasted the best strikeout rate of any relief corps for that period (28.7%). Their ERA in games since June 24th is 7.69, and their strikeout rate has plummeted to 17.5%.
Every one of Cleveland’s relievers has struggled to get outs in the past two weeks. Even normally-reliable closer Emmanuel Clase gave up his second home run of the season to Detroit. The starting rotation has also faced its struggles over the past several weeks, with every member other than Zach Plesac holding an ERA over 4.00. As a full unit, Cleveland’s pitching staff has given up the most hits and most runs in the league since June 24th.
The good news for Cleveland is there is plenty of time to turn things around again. The Twins’ lead is not insurmountable, and the AL Wild Card spots are certainly up for grabs. It will be interesting to see if the front office opts to bring in reinforcements and make a second-half push or sit tight at the trade deadline.
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)