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.
Here we are – our final Power Rankings ahead of the All-Star break next week. The Mariners, having just won their 12th straight game, are the biggest risers for a second straight week – Colin Fong profiled them in the Week 14 rankings. Meanwhile, the Orioles’ incredible win streak was snapped at 10 games following a tight 5-4 loss to the Rays last night, but their improbable run propels them up seven spots.
Tampa, in fact, is our other major riser, jumping seven spots as well, all the way to sixth. That may sound high, but it’s partially driven by the poor play of teams previously ranked above the Rays – namely, the Padres, Twins, Red Sox, Blue Jays, and Cardinals. In my estimation, the talent gap between Atlanta at fifth and Tampa Bay at sixth is the largest of any neighboring teams. With that in mind, let’s discuss the Rays:
Tampa Bay Rays – #6 (50-40, +7):
The Rays have been on a bit of an odd run recently. Including last night’s streak-stopping victory versus Baltimore, they’re 8-3 over their last 11. That stretch includes a three-game sweep of the Jays and an impressive four-game sweep of the Red Sox. But in between those two series? A clean sweep at the hands of…the Cincinnati Reds?
Despite that, the Rays now find themselves atop both the AL East second-place dogpile and the AL Wild Card race. They’ve gotten to this point on the backs of their pitching staff, which has allowed just 3.9 runs per game, good for 5th in the majors. Obviously, the torchbearer here is Shane McClanahan, who has pitched himself to the top of the Cy Young race with a 1.71 ERA and 147 K in just 110 innings. That ERA mark is best in baseball, as is his WHIP and strikeout total. Corey Kluber, Drew Rasmussen, and Jeffrey Springs have also had good stretches this year, but the fact that none of them have even broken 90 innings speaks to just how much the club has relied on their ace.
The lineup, on the other hand, has been slightly below average on the season. However, they’ve been hot of late, slashing .271/.348/.326 as a unit in July while posting the third-best WAR in baseball, even with star middle infielders Wander Franco and Brandon Lowe on the IL. Yandy Díaz and Harold Ramírez have both been terrific, batting over .400 on the month while Ji-Man Choi has been his normal high-OBP self. In classic Rays fashion, even Franco’s replacement, the normally light-hitting Yu Chang has posted a 155 wRC+.
The Rays will need their full depth chart at the top of its game if they’re to remain afloat in the crowded AL East. While Lowe is set to return soon, Franco underwent wrist surgery this week and is expected to be out for five to eight weeks. Rookie right-hander Shane Baz was shut down from throwing for at least a month on Thursday, and starting outfielders Kevin Kiermaier and Manuel Margot are also injured. According to Spotrac, the Rays have suffered the third-most injuries of any team this season. It’s a tremendous testament to the organization that they’re second in the division despite that, but with the Red Sox, Blue Jays, and surging Mariners breathing down their necks, Tampa faces an uphill battle from here. If anyone can pull it off…it’s the Rays.
Baltimore Orioles – #16 (45-45, +10):
On this date last year, the Orioles were 28-62, the second-worst record in baseball. Today, they are 2.5 games out of a playoff spot, thanks to an incredible 10-game winning streak that brought their record all the way back to .500.
I’d actually argue the Orioles have been flying under the radar for a bit now. While their run differential remains negative (-7) and been so this entire season, it has also long suggested that Baltimore was a better team than they were being credited for. For example, on July 1, the last-place teams in the other five divisions had an average run differential of -99. The Orioles – despite playing in arguably the toughest division – sat at -27.
As fun as this run has been, .500 baseball feels like the high watermark. On the year, the Orioles have both scored and allowed 4.2 runs per game; very appropriate for a .500 club. They’re effectively the Rays lineup matched with the Red Sox staff — it’s more than serviceable, but it’s not amazing.
What has been amazing this year is Baltimore’s bullpen. Frequently asked for multiple innings due to the rotation’s ineptitude, Orioles relievers have been consistently great, throwing the fifth-most innings of any group while posting the third-best war. All-Star Jorge López has been one of the league’s best closers, holding a 1.70 ERA with 17 saves. Félix Bautista has a 1.72 ERA, while high-leverage arm Cionel Pérez sits at 1.48. Dillon Tate and Joey Krehbiel have been excellent as well. In fairness, starter Dean Kremer has pitched very well (2.15 ERA) over his seven starts, as has Tyler Wells.
The Orioles lineup, generally regarded as one of the weakest in the majors, has come alive recently. Ramón Urías has a 1.118 OPS in July, while Cedric Mullins and Trey Mancini have both found their strokes amid largely disappointing seasons. The future is bright as well – in the past month, Adley Rutschman has been the seventh-best catcher by WAR in baseball.
The Orioles have pushed themselves into contention against all odds – some have even suggested they could be buyers at the trade deadline. Unfortunately, Baltimore’s road isn’t getting any easier – they have the seventh-hardest schedule rest of season, featuring a whopping 41 games against division heavyweights in the Yankees, Rays, Red Sox, and Blue Jays. Of course, those 41 games also present an intriguing opportunity. If they can keep the magic alive, there will be plenty of chances to make gains in the playoff race.
Boston Red Sox – #9 (48-43, -3):
Welp…after tearing up everyone in their path in June and shooting up our rankings, the Red Sox slip a few spots here after suffering a rough four-game sweep to the Rays. Things are not all bad in Boston – last night they finally got both Nathan Eovaldi and Garrett Whitlock back from the IL, just in time for a set with the Yankees. Game one went to the Red Sox in extra innings – taking a series from their Bronx rivals would be the perfect way to end a rollercoaster of a first half.
St. Louis Cardinals – #13 (49-44, -3):
The Cardinals have been just the 19th best lineup in July thus far, scoring just 3.1 runs per game, far below their 4.5 season average. First baseman Paul Goldschmidt is in a bit of a slump despite his MVP-caliber season, batting just .245 in his last 15 games. In the same time frame, Tommy Edman (also in the midst of a terrific season) is batting just .196.
While they’ve been trailing the Brewers in the NL Central for much of the first half, their run differential is about 30 better than Milwaukee’s. I don’t think this team ends the year in second place.
San Francisco Giants – #14 (46-43, -3):
On May 1, the Giants were 14-8 and had scored the most runs in baseball. Since May 1, the Giants are just 32-35 and the 17th best lineup by WAR. They’ve now fallen 13 games back of the Dodgers in the West. While Carlos Rodón and Logan Webb are still dominating, the club is still waiting on Alex Wood, Anthony DeSclafani, and Alex Cobb to figure things out.
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)
You have the Orioles has the biggest risers at +10, but they only went up +7. The Mariners went up +10, not the Orioles.