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, you can skip to the full rankings at the bottom of this article…but where’s the fun in that?
We’re quickly approaching the home stretch of the major league season and the postseason is coming into focus. There’s little doubt that the Dodgers, Astros, Mets, Yankees (I know they’re struggling right now, they’ll be fine, calm down) and Atlanta will be competing in October. We can safely assume the Nationals, Tigers, Pirates, A’s, Royals, Reds, and a plethora of other teams are looking towards next season.
Despite that solidification in the rankings, there’s still plenty of life left in the season. The race for the AL Central is wide open and there are exciting contenders for all the Wild Card spots. We still have a lot of good baseball and possibly a few more surprises to look forward to in the 2022 season.
With that in mind, the risers and fallers this week are the teams that remain on the bubble. It’s make-or-break time for these contenders, so let’s take a look at which teams made strides toward the postseason and which ones slid further away from it.
On the Rise
Rank Change: +3 (nine to six)
Opponents Since Last Ranking: Brewers (three games), Rockies (three games)
Ethan McCollister highlighted the Cardinals’ key contributors in last week’s power rankings as they moved up four spots. They’re up three more spots this week thanks to a series win against the Brewers that puts them solidly in the driver’s seat for the NL Central, followed by a dominant performance in Colorado in which they outscored the Rockies 23-5 over the course of a three-game sweep.
With Albert Pujols suddenly finding his power stroke and the starting rotation locked in, St. Louis has all the tools it needs to win the division and make a deep playoff run.
Rank Change: +3 (15 to 12)
Opponents Since Last Ranking: Blue Jays (three games), Tigers (four games)
The Guardians haven’t come up much in conversations on playoff contenders. It’s true that their hold on the top spot in the AL Central is tenuous at best and their lineup doesn’t have the ceiling that the Twins and White Sox do. They’ve also benefitted from the easiest schedule in MLB, per ESPN. Acknowledging all that, they still deserve more respect than they’ve been getting.
Cleveland features a dominant relief corps headlined by closer Emmanuel Clase that holds a league-best 2.31 ERA and 28.4% strikeout rate in the second half to date. Starters Triston McKenzie and Aaron Civale have found their groove in the second half (2.97 and 2.70 ERA in five starts and two starts, respectively) while Shane Bieber has pitched his way to a 3.5 WAR on the year so far.
Offensively, José Ramírez continues to put up elite numbers, and young second baseman Andrés Giménez is fulfilling the potential he showed as a prospect in the Mets system. Rookie Steven Kwan recovered from a May slump and is hitting .360 since the All-Star Break.
This team lacks pop, but they’re finding ways to manufacture runs. Despite having one of the lowest totals for home runs in 2022 (93, better only than Detroit’s 71), the Guardians are still right in the middle of the pack in terms of runs scored. They’ve done it by racking up hits (eighth most so far in 2022) and running a lot. They have 79 stolen bases on the year, third most behind Miami and Texas, and they lead the league in stolen bases since the All-Star Break.
The Guardians have a vital series coming up this weekend against the White Sox that could help cement their place at the top of the division. It would be refreshing to see them topple the league’s juggernauts in October with their scrappy brand of baseball.
In a Slide
Rank Change: -2 (13 to 15)
Opponents Since Last Ranking: Cardinals (three games), Dodgers (four games)
The Brewers find themselves in the slide column for a second week in a row due to the pivotal series loss to the Cardinals. As Ethan observed in last week’s rankings, Milwaukee’s elite pitching can paper over the team’s offensive weakness to an extent, but they need to find a way to score more runs.
Milwaukee isn’t getting a lot of hits (186 since July 21, fourth-lowest in the MLB in that time). However, they’ve scored a respectable number of runs (105, 16th in the MLB in the same span). The reason for that is they’ve hit a lot of home runs (33, tied for fifth most in the league), but 64% (21 of 33) of those came at home.
A glance at their schedule from the past two weeks shows they’re 0-6 in away games during that span, but 6-3 in home games — including a split of a four-game set with the Dodgers. That, in a nutshell, is the 2022 Brewers. If their pitchers are on point and the porch is short enough that they can get the ball over, they’re a competitive team. It’s a recipe that’s good enough to stay afloat in a weak NL Central, but not enough to win in the postseason.
The San Diego Padres
Rank Change: -2 (six to eight)
Opponents Since Last Ranking: Nationals (three games), Marlins (three games)
It’s been a rough few weeks for the Padres after they came out as the big winners at the August 2nd trade deadline. They’re 6-8 since August 3rd and they have to deal with the fallout of Fernando Tatis Jr.’s positive PED test.
The entire starting rotation has struggled since the deadline, posting a collective 4.93 ERA with 13 home runs allowed in 16 games. On top of that, newly acquired closer Josh Hader has looked vulnerable in several outings since joining the Padres from Milwaukee. They’ve been able to score runs, but haven’t found ways to win close games — they’ve lost every game decided by two runs or fewer since August 2nd.
The Padres are at a crossroads. Their potential is unquestionable, but the time they have to realize it will run out quickly. If they get hot in the next few weeks, we can chalk up their recent struggles to August doldrums. If they don’t, we’ll be writing about all the finger-pointing going on in the offseason.
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)