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Power Rankings: Surging NL squads crowd wild-card race

MLB, Arizona Diamondbacks, Atlanta Braves, Baltimore Orioles, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Cleveland Indians, Colorado Rockies, Detroit Tigers, Houston Astros, Kansas City Royals, Los Angeles Angels, Los Angeles Dodgers, Miami Marlins, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Oakland Athletics, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, Seattle Mariners, St. Louis Cardinals, Tampa Bay Rays, Texas Rangers, Toronto Blue Jays, Washington Nationals

We've reached the final month of the season with a few propositions going strong. The Red Sox are still our No. 1 team -- though it isn't unanimous. The Astros, Yankees and Indians are all going strong in the top five. But some things are also changing. We finally have a National League team in the top five again, with the Cubs earning consideration while leading the circuit in wins.

But perhaps the biggest development is the late-season surge of several other NL teams. The Cardinals tied with the Rays for the week's biggest gain, moving up three spots to No. 7 as they put pressure on the Brewers for home-field advantage in the NL wild-card game. And as long as those two teams own the top perches in the wild-card race, the NL West has gotten incredibly tight with the Dodgers finally moving past Diamondbacks after a dramatic four-game series while the Rockies keep themselves in the conversation. It all sets up what should be an exciting final month as the contenders head for the stretch.

This week, our panel of voters is composed of David Schoenfield, Eric Karabell, Tim Kurkjian, Bradford Doolittle and Sarah Langs.

Week 21 Rankings | Week 20 | Week 19 | Week 18 | Week 17 | Week 16 | Week 15 | Week 14 | Week 13 | Week 12 | Week 11 | Week 10 | Week 9 | Week 8 | Week 7 | Week 6 | Week 5 | Week 4 | Week 3 | Week 2 | Week 1 | Preseason

1. Boston Red Sox

Record: 94-44
Week 21 ranking: 1

It's possible Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez could finish first and second in American League MVP voting this season, in either order. Teammates have finished 1-2 in MVP voting just six times in the divisional era (since 1969) with Jeff Kent and Barry Bonds the last to do it in 2000. It has been 35 years since it last happened in the AL, when Cal Ripken Jr. and Eddie Murray did so in 1983. And what if Chris Sale chimes in with a Cy Young? The 2013 Tigers are the last team to have two different players win league MVP and the Cy Young award in the same season (Miguel Cabrera, Max Scherzer). The last team to have those two award winners as well as the Manager of the Year, if we include Alex Cora's shot at that prize? The 1993 White Sox (Jack McDowell, Frank Thomas and Gene Lamont). -- Sarah Langs, ESPN Stats & Information


2. Houston Astros

Record: 84-53
Week 21 ranking: 2

On Saturday, Tyler White delivered his third career go-ahead hit in the eighth inning or later -- and all of them have come since the start of August. Since Aug. 21, White is 7-for-9 with three doubles, four home runs and 11 RBIs in the eighth inning or later. That's an OPS of 3.244. All of that clutch hitting, and the fact that the Astros are mostly back and healthy now, comes in time to protect a 2.5- game lead over the Athletics in the AL West race. -- Langs


3. New York Yankees

Record: 86-51
Week 21 ranking: 3

Miguel Andujar definitely isn't the AL Rookie of the Year candidate we anticipated entering the year, but he's the one we've gotten from the Yankees. Sixty-three of Andujar's 146 hits this season have gone for extra bases (43 percent). Before this season, only four Yankees rookies had ever had 40 percent of their hits go for extra bases in a full season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau research: Aaron Judge (2017), Joe Gordon (1938), Joe DiMaggio (1936) and Lou Gehrig (1925). -- Langs


4. Chicago Cubs

Record: 81-55
Week 21 ranking: 6

Cole Hamels continues to be one of the best trade acquisitions this season. Following another scoreless outing last week, he now has a 0.69 ERA in his first six starts with the Cubs. According to the Elias Sports Bureau research, that's the lowest ERA through six starts by any pitcher acquired midseason during the live ball era (since 1920). He will look to keep it going Monday night, when the Cubs open a pivotal three-game series with the Brewers. -- Paul Casella, ESPN Stats & Information


5. Cleveland Indians

Record: 77-59
Week 21 ranking: 5

Picking up Josh Donaldson at the end of the waiver-trade deadline could be huge for the Tribe in the postseason, but he'll have to prove he's healthy first. But if his shoulder can handle a return to the hot corner before the season ends, it could free up Jose Ramirez to play second base in the postseason. Cleveland second basemen -- mostly veteran Jason Kipnis -- have combined for a .663 OPS and .299 wOBA, ranking 24th in MLB for both rates. -- Christina Kahrl, ESPN.com


6. Oakland Athletics

Record: 82-56
Week 21 ranking: 4

After crushing his MLB-leading 40th home run of the season Saturday, Khris Davis became the first A's player to hit 40 home runs in three consecutive seasons since Jimmie Foxx for the Philadelphia A's in 1932-34. That's right, not the Bash Brothers, and not a Giambi. Especially impressive, the right-handed hitter has parked 28 of his homers to center or right field, tops among right-handed hitters. -- Kahrl


7. St. Louis Cardinals

Record: 76-61
Week 21 ranking: 10

What Miles Mikolas has done this season merits a long, hard look. From 2012 to 2014 in the majors with the Padres and Rangers, he had a 5.32 career ERA in 37 games before heading to Japan, where he posted ERAs of 1.92, 2.45 and 2.25 in three seasons with the Yomiuri Giants. That success carried over to the Cardinals this year as he has put up a 2.96 ERA thus far. He's at 27 starts this season, tied with his most in any year -- including his time in Japan. We'll see how he holds up in the final month of the season and into October if the Cardinals reach the postseason. And oh yeah, he has seven hits, two of them home runs. -- Langs


8. Arizona Diamondbacks

Record: 74-63
Week 21 ranking: 7

Right field has been a problem position for the Snakes for most of the season, as their right fielders rank last in the majors in OPS (by almost 40 points) and wOBA, woeful numbers from a power position. Since healing up enough to return from the DL, right fielder Steven Souza Jr. has put up an .806 OPS since the All-Star break, but even that comes with the caveat that he has homered only once in the past four weeks, not even hinting at the 30-homer performance he put up last year. -- Kahrl


9. Los Angeles Dodgers

Record: 75-62
Week 21 ranking: 9

Just when you might have been ready to write off Matt Kemp because of the second-half slump, the veteran stepped up to help the Dodgers move back into first place in the NL West, coming through with the decisive three-run homer in the eighth inning Saturday followed by a game-winning two-run double in the bottom of the ninth Sunday to produce the second and third of the Dodgers' three straight 3-2 wins over Arizona. -- Kahrl


10. Atlanta Braves

Record: 76-60
Week 21 ranking: 8

The Braves have quietly made some roster upgrades ahead of their first pennant race since 2013, adding a power left-handed bat in Lucas Duda and catcher depth with Rene Rivera. Consistent pitching from both their starters and bullpen will be key down the stretch, as it has been tough to come by this season. -- Evan Wildstein, ESPN Stats & Information


11. Milwaukee Brewers

Record: 77-61
Week 21 ranking: 12

Last Wednesday, Christian Yelich went an astounding 6-for-6 on his way to the first cycle of his career. He has been exceptional in the second half, pacing MLB with a .744 slugging percentage. Part of what has made him great is his success against fastballs. Since the All-Star break, Yelich's .975 slugging percentage against heaters trails only J.D. Martinez in MLB. -- Dan McCarthy, ESPN Stats & Information


12. Tampa Bay Rays

Record: 73-63
Week 21 ranking: 15

We might sometimes forget that the Rays have traditional starting pitchers, but Blake Snell has a strong case for American League Cy Young. Snell's 2.02 ERA is second in the AL to Chris Sale's 1.97. His .186 opponent batting average is also second to Sale (.175). His .311 opponent slugging percentage is third behind Sale (.279) and Trevor Bauer (.300). The only Rays pitcher to win the Cy Young award was David Price in 2012. -- Langs


13. Philadelphia Phillies

Record: 72-64
Week 21 ranking: 13

Aaron Nola's Cy Young case keeps getting better. He has a 2.10 ERA and 0.97 WHIP. The last Phillies pitcher with an ERA that low for a full, qualified season was Steve Carlton in 1972, with a 1.97 ERA. The last Phillies righty to do it? Try Pete Alexander in 1917, with a 1.83 ERA in 45 games, 44 of which were starts and 34 of which were complete games. He threw 388 innings. -- Langs


14. Colorado Rockies

Record: 74-62
Week 21 ranking: 11

The Rockies missed an opportunity last week, as they failed to win series against two sub-.500 teams, the Angels and Padres. Colorado still has plenty of chances to control its own path to the postseason over the next two weeks. With the NL West the tightest division race in baseball, 13 of the Rockies' next 19 games come against either the Dodgers or Diamondbacks, and their other six are against the Giants. -- Casella


15. Seattle Mariners

Record: 76-61
Week 21 ranking: 14

The Mariners received a boost with the return of James Paxton on Saturday, but it won't be easy for the team to overcome a disastrous 12-16 August. The only AL teams with a worse record last month were the Royals, Tigers and Orioles. The Athletics went 18-9 to leapfrog the Mariners in the race for the AL's final postseason spot. Seattle has only three head-to-head games remaining with the A's as the club tries to earn a postseason berth for the first time since 2001. -- Casella


16. Washington Nationals

Record: 68-69
Week 21 ranking: 16

The sell-off continued as the Nats traded Gio Gonzalez to the Brewers and Ryan Madson to the Dodgers. After seven years in D.C., Gonzalez left as one of the more accomplished lefties in franchise history. His 213 starts, 85 wins, 21.4 WAR and 1,215 strikeouts all rank first among left-handed pitchers in Nationals/Expos history. Madson's tenure isn't quite as glowing. He leaves Washington with a 4.08 ERA in 69 career appearances for them. -- Langs


17. Los Angeles Angels

Record: 66-71
Week 21 ranking: 17

Shohei Ohtani hit another home run last week to bring his season total to 15. Keep in mind, he has made only 58 starts at DH with another 22 plate appearances as a pinch hitter. More important, he made his return to the mound Sunday following a three-month hiatus to rest his UCL sprain, pitching into the third inning and showing flashes of his dominating stuff in a losing cause. Along with perennial MVP candidate Mike Trout, Ohtani makes the Angels one of the most interesting noncontenders to watch in what could be Mike Scioscia's final month at the helm. -- Casella


18. Pittsburgh Pirates

Record: 66-71
Week 21 ranking: 18

Despite a season now trending downward, the Pirates find themselves in possession of a very valuable commodity -- two strong catchers in Francisco Cervelli and Elias Diaz. Diaz in particular has been a surprise -- after posting a .579 OPS last year as a rookie, he could be in line for a 2.0 WAR season this year as a backup. -- Wildstein


19. San Francisco Giants

Record: 68-70
Week 21 ranking: 19

What a debut for Aramis Garcia on Friday. With his family in the crowd, he got his first two career hits in the eighth inning of the Giants' win over the Mets. He's the first player to have his first two hits come in the same inning since Derek Fisher last year for the Astros, according to Elias Sports Bureau research, and he's the first Giants player to do so since the team moved to San Francisco in 1958. -- Langs


20. Minnesota Twins

Record: 63-73
Week 21 ranking: 20

The Twins have the odd pleasure this week of facing one of MLB's best teams (the Astros) followed by one of its worst (the Royals). Of course, because this is baseball, the Twins actually have a winning record against the Astros this season (2-1) but have tied the Royals in their season series (6-6). Regardless, they're seeking just their third winning road series since June. -- Wildstein


21. New York Mets

Record: 61-75
Week 21 ranking: 21

The brightest spot for the Mets at the plate of late has been Amed Rosario. Over his past 16 games, he's hitting .315 with an .799 OPS. He hit .236 in his first 112 games of the season, with a .636 OPS and five home runs, but he's at seven now. The former top prospect had struggled since his call-up last season, but he turns 23 in November. The last Mets player with double-digit home runs in a season at age 22 or younger was David Wright with 27 in 2005. Speaking of Wright, he might or might not be back shortly for his first MLB game since May 27, 2016. -- Langs


22. Texas Rangers

Record: 60-77
Week 21 ranking: 23

Adrian Beltre stole his first base of the season last Wednesday, which could extend one of the more peculiar streaks in major league history. Entering this season, Beltre had stolen exactly one base in each of the past seven seasons, so Beltre could extend his record streak to eight seasons if pitchers keep him close the rest of the way. Before Beltre, the "record" for most consecutive seasons with exactly one stolen base belonged to Rondell White, who did it six straight years in 2001-06. -- Casella


23. Toronto Blue Jays

Record: 62-74
Week 21 ranking: 22

Last week the Blue Jays traded away one of their last links to their recent playoff teams, sending Josh Donaldson to the Indians. Over the past five seasons, Donaldson has been one of MLB's premier power hitters, slugging .524 over that span, 13th in baseball behind new (and old) teammate Edwin Encarnacion. Since 2013, the player with the most home runs left on the Blue Jays is Kendrys Morales (109). -- McCarthy


24. Cincinnati Reds

Record: 59-78
Week 21 ranking: 24

Matt Harvey is continuing to show he was a solid buy-low candidate for the Reds after all. Despite a hiccup in his last start vs Milwaukee, he has given up two or fewer earned runs in 11 of his 19 starts for Cincinnati and is nearly tied for the team lead in wins despite coming over only in mid-May. -- Wildstein


25. Detroit Tigers

Record: 55-82
Week 21 ranking: 25

Just two teams have a worse record since the All-Star break than the Tigers' 14-25 mark, but they can at least take some hope from Matthew Boyd 's performance on the mound in the second half. Boyd has posted a 3.29 ERA in his nine starts, winning five games. Particularly key to his breakthrough has been cutting his walk rate in half while doubling the frequency in which he's throwing a sinker. -- Kahrl


26. San Diego Padres

Record: 54-85
Week 21 ranking: 27

The Padres are sensibly treating the stretch run as a chance to get a head start on 2019. Beyond taking a look at Wil Myers at third base, they called up top prospect Luis Urias after the 21-year-old second baseman put up an .845 OPS at Triple-A El Paso. He made a quick impression, lacing three hits in his second game, and delivering his first homer while contributing to San Diego's series split against the Rockies over the weekend. -- Kahrl


27. Chicago White Sox

Record: 55-82
Week 21 ranking: 26

White Sox pitching logged its MLB-leading 72nd hit batsmen Sunday when James Shields plunked Brock Holt while shutting out the Red Sox over six innings. This brand of South Side Hit Men could become the first AL team to hit 80 or more batters since the Red Sox hit 90 batters in 2011. One stealthy late contributor is phenom Michael Kopech, who has hit five batters in his first 11 big league innings. -- Kahrl


28. Miami Marlins

Record: 54-83
Week 21 ranking: 28

The Marlins gave up more runs in one inning against the Red Sox on Wednesday (11) than they have scored in all but three games this season. Yet with one month still to play, the Marlins could play a key role in determining the NL East champion. Miami begins a three-game set against the Phillies on Monday; they're 5-8 against Philadelphia this season but finished their season series just 5-14 against current division leader Atlanta. As it stands now, those head-to-head records against the division's last-place team could be the difference. -- McCarthy


29. Kansas City Royals

Record: 45-91
Week 21 ranking: 30

File this under too little, too late, but the Royals finally strung together some wins this past week, as Kansas City won a season-high five straight games. Before the streak, the Royals were the only team in the majors without a winning streak of at least four games. -- Casella

30. Baltimore Orioles

Record: 40-97
Week 21 ranking: 29

It has been hard to find something to cheer about for the Orioles since they decided to trade away most of their franchise corner pieces. One of their main holdovers is young slugger Trey Mancini. Before the All-Star break, Mancini had hit just .216, but he has turned it around since, hitting .299 over the past 40 games. His success of late has come primarily against the fastball, as he has hit .421 against the pitch since the break, the seventh-best clip in baseball. -- McCarthy


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