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.
Teams have but 25 games left to make their final pushes towards October. I mentioned last week that the entire league seems to be trending in opposite directions, with seemingly every team in the hunt continuing to win at ferocious pace while teams out of contention succumb to losing streaks. This is particularly true in the AL East, where an 8-2 run by the Blue Jays has actually lost ground behind the Rays at 9-1.
Over in the AL Central, we’ve seen the division race truly shake up for the first time in months, as the White Sox are now above the plummeting Twins and just 1.5 games behind the Guardians.
We’ll take a closer look at both the Rays and White Sox below:
Tampa Bay Rays – #5 (78-58, +3):
Exactly two months ago, on July 9th, the Rays were 15.5 games back of the Yankees. On August 9th, they were 12 games back. Today, they find themselves a mere three games behind the once-uncatchable Bronx Bombers.
In typical Rays fashion, it’s been an improbable road. As always, they’ve been wildly outspent: just a $91 million payroll versus the $253 million shelled out in New York. But more prescient this year has been their health issues. Tampa has seen 30 players combine for over 2,000 days spent on the IL, second behind only the Reds.
Unfortunately, many of those 2,000 days have been attributed to key pieces. Tyler Glasnow has yet to throw a pitch this season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2021. Brandon Lowe was out for two months in the middle of the season with a back injury. Kevin Kiermaier and Mike Zunino are out for the season. Shane Baz is unlikely to return this year. Even amidst his tremendous season, ace Shane McClanahan has had to be shut down for the past two weeks with a left shoulder impingement. Of course, most notable is the absence of wunderkind Wander Franco, who has appeared in just 59 games this year while dealing with wrist and quad injuries.
Despite all of that, the Rays have put together a remarkable 21-9 stretch in which they’ve shot up the standings. While they’ve certainly hit well over that run (8th-best team wOBA) their pitching has shined, posting an MLB-best 2.47 ERA. The rotation has been almost untouchable. McClanahan was excellent pre-IL, shaking off some bad starts post-All-Star break to toss 19 innings of 1.89 ERA ball. Since he went down, the starters haven’t lost a beat. Leading the pack is Drew Rasmussen, who has allowed just 5 ER over his last 34 innings, good for a 1.41 ERA to go along with a 0.61 WHIP and 10.5 K/9. Jeffrey Springs isn’t too far behind, logging a 2.49 ERA over his past five starts.
McClanahan is due back shortly, just in time for the Rays’ final push to unseat the Yankees. Towards that end, they’ll play their final two games vs. New York this weekend. However, the Rays do have the toughest rest of season schedule among the American League, led by nine games against the Blue Jays and six against the Astros. They’ll have their work cut out for them, but the Rays have scraped by all year – I wouldn’t bet against them.
Chicago White Sox – #14 (71-68 , +3):
The White Sox have been featured in these rankings before, but only in the “Fallers” category amid one of the most underperforming seasons in the league. In a weak division, they opened the year with a 72% chance of making the playoffs. At the end of August, that was down to 8%. However, in the week and a half since then, they’ve finally turned on the jets. Taking advantage of the Twins’ collapse, they’ve put together an 8-2 run to take over the second spot in the division, now finding themselves just 1.5 games behind the Guardians.
In September, White Sox pitchers have accumulated the most fWAR (2.1) of any team, pitching to just a 2.59 ERA and 1.10 WHIP over 88 innings (although notably, their xFIP is a full run higher). Their lineup has matched that total, putting up 2.1 fWAR of their own while scoring the most runs in baseball. This is the team we thought we were getting in April.
The recent offensive outburst has been led by Eloy Jimenez. The left fielder has had a good year all-around despite missing significant time earlier in the summer with an injury. Recently, however, he’s been on fire – over the past month, he’s slashing .341/.443/.591 with six home runs and 20 RBIs. While Tim Anderson’s recent extended IL-stint seemed to be salt on the wound of the team’s rough season, his temporary replacement, Elvis Andrus, has been phenomenal. The 34-year-old shortstop has raked since arriving in Chicago (he was DFA’d by the Athletics prior to the signing), posting a .297 AVG while unexpectedly providing some pop – he’s already hit four home runs with the White Sox after hitting only eight all year in Oakland. Jose Abreu continues to be tremendously consistent, hitting .309 all year, although his power seems to be fading with age (14 home runs).
On the bump, the story recently has been Lance Lynn. The big righty posted a brutal 6.56 ERA in July, but has turned it around recently, giving up only five ER over his last 37.1 IP (1.19 ERA) with 10.8 K/9. Of course, Dylan Cease has continued his remarkable season, coming oh-so-close to a no-hitter against the Twins while maintaining a 2.43 ERA on the month. Unfortunately, the other two big-name starters – Lucas Giolito and Michael Kopech – have continued their rocky seasons, both holding ERAs over six across the past month.
The great drama of the AL Central race is that there’s truly no prize for second place – with the dominance of the AL East (plus the Mariners) there will be no Wild Card slot awaiting the team that doesn’t capture the division. Fortunately, the White Sox are getting going at the right time (if we don’t count, I don’t know, getting going in April…). The offense is red-hot, they’ve got two stud pitchers – not to mention ageless Johnny Cueto – and a mostly-solid Liam Hendriks anchoring the bullpen.
Those are all the right pieces to drive a deep October run. But first, they’ve got to make it there.
No meaningful fallers this week – sometimes it’s nice to focus on the positive. The Giants continue to slip as I think I’ve been overvaluing them all year. The Yankees fall as well; they stopped off the bleeding with a win last night but remain very catchable for the surging Rays.
Featured image by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)