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Power Rankings: As Cubs take charge, their rivals regroup

MLB, Chicago Cubs, Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals

After 24 weeks, the regular season is winding down, and we're seeing the rankings approach their final shape. The Indians saw their win streak snapped at 22 just before they clinched an AL Central title, and they were the easy, unanimous choice for No. 1 among our voters. The Dodgers rebounded from their slump to climb back up to the second slot, while the Astros sit perched at the third spot. All three clubs have had long runs at the top, but the Indians seem likely to finish the regular-season No. 1.

What races we have left are nearly run, but they could provide some final drama, in the standings, in the postseason picture -- and in the Rankings. The Cubs' sweep of the Cardinals over the weekend pushed their NL Central lead to four games over the Brewers with just 13 left to play. Will that be enough? The voters still like Milwaukee and St. Louis, but they might be the two top-ranked teams left outside of October's action. Will either be able to mount a late rally to reignite the Central race or keep up with the Rockies for the second wild card? Time is running out.

Lower in the rankings, we saw a few minor moves. The largest leap was made by the Athletics, who sprang forward four slots, perhaps a late reward for a club among the league's bottom third for a recent four-game sweep of the Astros. The fading Marlins and Mets fell furthest, as both NL East teams dropped three rungs as the division's trailing quartet of clubs behind the Nationals all close in on losing records this season.

This week's voters are Bradford Doolittle, Eric Karabell, Tim Kurkjian, David Schoenfield and Mark Simon.

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1. Cleveland Indians

Record: 93-57
Week 23 ranking: No. 1

With 74 extra-base hits this season, Francisco Lindor has a shot at becoming the first shortstop with 80 or more in a season since Jimmy Rollins and Hanley Ramirez both did it in 2007. Lindor is already the first full-time shortstop to hit 30 or more homers since J.J. Hardy and Troy Tulowitzki both did it in 2011. Given that Lindor is still just 23 years old, the even better news is that there's a whole lot more of what he's going to do to look forward to. -- Christina Kahrl, ESPN.com


2. Los Angeles Dodgers

Record: 96-53
Week 23 ranking: No. 4

Now that the Dodgers' epic tumble after their sizzling summer is over, let's keep things in perspective. They're still a virtual lock to win 100 games. Yes, Justin Turner has cooled off from hitting .377 in the first half, but his .830 OPS in the second half isn't chopped liver. Cody Bellinger is hitting even better in the second half (.985 vs. .961 OPS), as are Yasiel Puig and Chris Taylor. Nobody should look forward to facing a team with that lineup and Clayton Kershaw and Yu Darvish on the mound in a short series. -- Kahrl


3. Houston Astros

Record: 91-58
Week 23 ranking: No. 2

With an 11-5 run in September to clinch the franchise's first AL West title, the Astros look like they're swinging back into high gear for the stretch. Doing that wasn't a cake walk -- they swept the Mariners twice and took a series from the Angels to put big dents in both team's wild-card hopes. Dallas Keuchel's quality start Saturday against Seattle should also provide hope that the best team in baseball in the season's first two months is ready to live up to the hype that start generated. -- Kahrl


4. Washington Nationals

Record: 90-59
Week 23 ranking: No. 3

Max Scherzer indicated that he is still working off the rust from his two-week DL stint in August, and that's evident in his inconsistency. Scherzer's fastball and slider numbers were good in a start against the Phillies, but sandwiched around that were signs of struggle against the Brewers and Braves. His fastball velocity averaged 93 mph, a tick shy of his season average. The chase rate against his slider in those two starts was about half of his season average. Scherzer has three starts to get things right; I suspect that he will. -- Mark Simon, ESPN Stats & Information


5. Boston Red Sox

Record: 85-64
Week 23 ranking: No. 6

The Red Sox have managed to stay on top of the division despite the Yankees' being one of the hottest teams in baseball this month. Mookie Betts has been on fire in September, and Dustin Pedroia is hitting over .300 since he got back into the lineup. Boston has a tougher schedule than New York down the stretch, but if the Sox's studs keep hitting and Chris Sale keeps doing Chris Sale things, the Red Sox should be just fine. -- Michael Bonzagni, ESPN Stats & Information


6. New York Yankees

Record: 82-67
Week 23 ranking: No. 7

The Yankees have feasted on Orioles pitching this season. They've scored 154 runs in 19 games, a rate of 8.1 runs per game. That's the most any team has scored against a single opponent in a season in the expansion era, which is since 1961. The previous high was the Diamondbacks' 146 runs against the Rockies in 2002, and those games involved Coors Field. -- Sarah Langs, ESPN Stats & Information


7. Arizona Diamondbacks

Record: 87-63
Week 23 ranking: No. 5

With his 24 home runs in two months with the D-backs, what is fueling J.D. Martinez's huge stretch run for Arizona? One factor is that he's seeing fastballs more often in the NL (by 5 percent), and his 1.277 combined OPS on the year between Detroit and Arizona against fastballs is higher than those of the individual AL and NL leaders, Joey Gallo and Bryce Harper. -- Kahrl


8. Chicago Cubs

Record: 83-66
Week 23 ranking: No. 8

Kyle Hendricks ran his quality start streak to seven to help the Cubs win their weekend series against the Cardinals, but stay tuned for Jake Arrieta's potential return to action from his hamstring injury for the series against the Brewers at the end of the week. Arrieta's 1.98 ERA since the All-Star break is better than that of every NL starter not named Strasburg, and Hendricks' 2.42 ranks seventh among NL starters since the break. -- Kahrl


9. Colorado Rockies

Record: 82-68
Week 23 ranking: No. 10

Charlie Blackmon's bid to win the NL MVP award has serious juice, thanks to a second half that has been every bit as huge at the plate as Giancarlo Stanton's has been for the Marlins. Since the All-Star break, Blackmon has put up a 1.091 OPS to Stanton's 1.103. Will bias against numbers generated (some of the time) at Coors Field's altitude outweigh Stanton's playing for a noncontender for this year's awards voters? Or will Blackmon's teammate Nolan Arenado sneak into the picture or split votes with Blackmon on a fractured ballot? -- Kahrl


10. St. Louis Cardinals

Record: 77-72
Week 23 ranking: No. 9

Let's offer a positive after a rough weekend in the form of Luke Weaver, who has not allowed an earned run in his past 13⅔ innings pitched and has yielded two runs or fewer in his past six starts. Key to this: throwing strikes. In his past five starts, Weaver has struck out 42 and walked only four. Between the minors and majors, Weaver is 16-3 this season, and that's a win-loss record that is well-earned, especially given that Weaver's ERA in the super hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League was 2.55 in 15 starts. -- Simon


11. Milwaukee Brewers

Record: 79-70
Week 23 ranking: No. 11

The Brewers have been hot this week, hanging in there even after Jimmy Nelson went down. Their starters have been good, but they haven't gone deep into games, and their bullpen has picked up the slack. The relievers have the second-best ERA in baseball the past 10 days. The Brew Crew have the Pirates and Cubs coming up this week -- they've won four of five against Pittsburgh and are coming off a sweep of Chicago last week. -- John Fisher, ESPN Stats & Information


12. Minnesota Twins

Record: 78-71
Week 23 ranking: No. 12

The Twins open a huge series in the American League wild-card race Monday at Yankee Stadium, where they'll play a three-game set. The Twins enter the series five games back of the Yankees for the first wild card. Minnesota is 2-1 against the Yankees this season, with all three of those games at Target Field. The Twins are just 3-6 at Yankee Stadium since 2014. -- Langs


13. Los Angeles Angels

Record: 76-73
Week 23 ranking: No. 13

Yusmeiro Petit has been the Angels' unsung hero for the past month, throwing 16 consecutive scoreless innings (the longest active streak in the American League). He has also been lights-out this season against the Indians and Astros (1.86 ERA in seven appearances), who account for the Angels' next six games as they try to stay in the running for the second AL wild card. -- Paul Hembekides, ESPN Stats & Information


14. Seattle Mariners

Record: 74-76
Week 23 ranking: No. 16

Seattle's remaining schedule does them no favors -- they'll have to face Cole Hamels, Carlos Carrasco and Corey Kluber on consecutive days beginning Thursday. Third baseman Kyle Seager continues to enjoy a torrid September, hitting safely in 13 of 16 games with an .883 OPS since the calendar turned. -- Hembekides


15. Texas Rangers

Record: 73-76
Week 23 ranking: No. 14

With 38 home runs hit so far, Joey Gallo has two weeks to become the first Rangers hitter to go yard 40 or more times in a season since Josh Hamilton did so for them in 2012. If he gets there, Gallo would become just the third left-handed hitter in franchise history to hit 40 homers, joining Hamilton (once) and Rafael Palmeiro (twice). He's a near-lock to set the single-season Rangers record for strikeouts, just nine shy of Pete Incaviglia's 185 whiffs back in 1986. -- Kahrl


16. Tampa Bay Rays

Record: 73-77
Week 23 ranking: No. 17

The Rays' bullpen finally came apart Friday after an amazing stretch. Prior to that bizarre 15-inning defeat, Rays relievers had allowed no runs and seven hits in 18⅓ innings in the previous four games. The problem was that the Rays didn't take advantage, winning two of those four. Playing the Red Sox and Yankees had something to do with that. One pitcher deserving of major props is Steve Cishek, who has stranded 10 of 11 inherited runners and allowed runs in only one of 22 appearances. He has been great since his acquisition at the end of July. -- Simon


17. Baltimore Orioles

Record: 73-77
Week 23 ranking: No. 15

Orioles starters have a 5.63 ERA this season, the worst mark in the majors, worse than any last-place team and plenty of teams further below .500 than the O's. Earned runs have been official in the American League since 1913, but Baltimore has had just four seasons with a starters' ERA worse than 5.63, and they all came in the big-offense era of the 1930s. -- Langs


18. Kansas City Royals

Record: 73-76
Week 23 ranking: No. 18

The Royals are still technically in the AL wild-card race, but they need a lot of help with only two weeks left in the season to milk one last postseason appearance from their free-agency-bound core. The Royals' starting pitchers have a 5.63 ERA since the All-Star break, which isn't anything new, but the Tigers are the only team with a worse ERA (5.88) from their starting pitchers in the second half. -- Bonzagni


19. Toronto Blue Jays

Record: 70-80
Week 21 ranking: No. 21

Josh Donaldson has turned it up in the second half. In the first half, he hit .261 with nine home runs and 25 RBIs in 46 games. In 56 second-half games, he's hitting .274 with 21 homers and 46 RBIs. His .268 season batting average would be his worst in a season since he hit .255 in his final season in Oakland in 2014, but his OPS of .949 is right around where it has been in his two prior seasons in Toronto. -- Langs


20. Pittsburgh Pirates

Record: 68-82
Week 23 ranking: No. 19

Remember how Gregory Polanco told Marly Rivera how sad he was when his friend and teammate Starling Marte got suspended for PED use? Polanco has not been the same player he was in 2015 and 2016. His power numbers took a hit into July, though he was still hitting .269/.322/.424 when he suffered the first of two hamstring injuries. Polanco's attempt to return has not gone well. He was stripped of the base stealing ability and the power that made him an impact player. A winter away from the majors might be needed to clear his mind and fully heal his body. -- Simon


21. Atlanta Braves

Record: 67-81
Week 23 ranking: No. 23

The Braves have strung a few wins together lately (seven of their past 11 games), including taking two of three from the Nats in Washington. They have three more against the Nationals this week before finishing the season against the Phillies, Mets and Marlins. Freddie Freeman has continued his career season, a campaign that would have him in the MVP conversation if he hadn't missed so much time. His 1.026 OPS would be third in the majors this season. -- Fisher


22. Oakland Athletics

Record: 66-83
Week 23 ranking: No. 26

Daniel Mengden threw back-to-back quality starts, including a complete-game shutout against the Phillies on Friday. It was the first time an A's starter blanked opponents over nine innings in more than a year (since Kendall Graveman shut out the White Sox in 2016), and it might do wonders to boost Mengden's case to win a regular role in a crowded 2018 rotation picture beyond Sean Manaea. -- Kahrl


23. Miami Marlins

Record: 69-80
Week 23 ranking: No. 20

With the Marlins falling apart, losing 17 of their past 20 games, south Florida is focused on Giancarlo Stanton. Parked at 54 homers on the season, he has hit only three in September and none in his past six games. The Marlins face the Mets this week, and Stanton has never homered in 18 plate appearances against Monday starter Matt Harvey, but their next six games are in Arizona and Colorado. Chase Field and Coors Field are two of the five easiest parks to hit home runs in this season. -- Fisher


24. Cincinnati Reds

Record: 66-84
Week 23 ranking: No. 25

Six Reds have hit 20 home runs this season, including Scooter Gennett and Scott Schebler for the first time in their careers. That's the most 20-homer seasons in any year in franchise history, topping the 2008 season in which five Reds hit 20 homers. Cincinnati is also on pace to finish above .500 against its NL Central rivals for the first time since 2014; the Reds are currently 35-32. -- Hembekides


25. New York Mets

Record: 65-84
Week 23 ranking: No. 22

That Amed Rosario is the fastest Met (and fastest shortstop) per Statcast's sprint-speed ranking isn't surprising. That Brandon Nimmo ranks second is. Nimmo has the potential to be an extremely important low-cost Met next season -- someone capable of a .400 OBP and potentially worth 3 WAR as half of an outfield platoon. -- Simon


26. San Diego Padres

Record: 66-83
Week 23 ranking: No. 24

It has been a rough season for the Padres, and it might only get rougher. Only the Giants have a tougher remaining schedule than San Diego. They could be a factor in the NL wild-card race, with a couple of home series against the Diamondbacks and Rockies, but it's not looking good for the Cardinals or Brewers if they're counting on staying alive with late bids for the second wild card. -- Bonzagni


27. Detroit Tigers

Record: 62-87
Week 23 ranking: No. 27

The Tigers have the worst record in the AL this month, thanks in large part to some really, really bad pitching made worse by Michael Fulmer's absence for the remainder of the season. But the offense hasn't fared well either, ranking in the bottom-five in the AL in runs, home runs and OPS, with Miguel Cabrera putting up a woeful .628 OPS in the second half. -- Bonzagni


28. Philadelphia Phillies

Record: 58-91
Week 23 ranking: No. 28

Rhys Hoskins is still streaking in Philly; he's already third on the team with 18 home runs. The Elias Sports Bureau tells us that is already easily the most homers in a season by a player who debuted as late as he did (Aug. 10) and who hit his first homer as late as he did (Aug. 14). Also, Phillies fans must be excited to see Aaron Nola bounce back with two straight solid starts. -- Fisher


29. Chicago White Sox

Record: 60-89
Week 23 ranking: No. 30

On Saturday, the White Sox clinched a season-series victory against the Tigers for the first time since 2008. Their bats have come alive as a team, powering a 6-3 stretch since Sept. 9. Jose Abreu, Avisail Garcia and Tim Anderson are all OPSing over 1.000 in September, while top hitting prospect Yoan Moncada has started to heat up, pasting three homers this month. -- Hembekides


30. San Francisco Giants

Record: 58-93
Week 23 ranking: No. 29

The Giants are one game behind the Phillies for the worst record in baseball and 39 games behind the MLB-leading Dodgers. This is the latest in a season that the Giants have been at least 39 games back (of the division since 1969 and of the league prior to that) since Oct. 3, 1943, when they were 49½ back to end the season. The Giants haven't finished last in the NL West since 2007 -- Bruce Bochy's first season at the helm. Here's a list of times the Giants have finished as the worst in the majors: 1900 and 1902, both years before the World Series began. -- Langs

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