MLB Power Rankings: One big thing each team needs to do down the stretch

With just three weeks left before the end of the regular season, contending teams in Major League Baseball are running out of time to sort out alternatives. Just as we're seeing the playoff picture become more certain than ever, we're seeing some significant, albeit small, reshuffling in our rankings.

You know the Dodgers and Rays have the best records in their leagues; so do our voters. But this week saw the Twins join the Indians in the top five, with the White Sox crowding the top 10 with a trio of AL Central teams. But just as significant is seeing the Padres move up to No. 6. Could the National League finally have a new team ready to break in among that stack of elite AL teams up top? The Braves also gained ground, as they solidified their spot in the MLB standings atop the NL East.

Whether it's a club in the hunt for a playoff spot or an also-ran playing out the string, every team still has at least one thing to do over the final weeks of the season. This week, we asked national baseball writers Bradford Doolittle, Alden Gonzalez and Joon Lee and senior editor Christina Kahrl to look for one big thing each team needs to do or see during what's left of the regular season.

Previous: Preseason | Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

Record: 30-12
Playoff probability: 100%
Week 5 ranking: 1

Julio Urias, Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin -- all young, talented and varying degrees of inexperienced -- will occupy the final three spots of the rotation moving forward. The Dodgers need at least one of them to emerge as a legitimate No. 3. -- Alden Gonzalez

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2. Tampa Bay Rays

Record: 28-13
Playoff probability: 100%
Week 5 ranking: 2

The Rays have been on a roll for a while, but they're also getting healthier, which might spell trouble for the rest of the league. Charlie Morton returned after missing three-plus weeks because of a sore shoulder, and relievers Nick Anderson, Oliver Drake and Ryan Yarbrough are all on track to be activated soon. The Elias Sports Bureau rates Tampa Bay's remaining schedule as the easiest among American League teams, meaning that the powerhouse Rays could find space to properly rest their pitchers before the playoffs. -- Joon Lee

3. Oakland Athletics

Record: 23-14
Playoff probability: 99.8%
Week 5 ranking: 3

Beyond staying healthy -- and COVID-19-free -- Oakland's big challenge down the stretch is to figure out its postseason rotation. That's true even knowing that Oakland will max out its bullpen during a short series, a bigger challenge than usual because of the expanded playoff format. Can the A's get Mike Minor throwing as well as he did just last season? Who will start Game 1? Who has the versatility to perform in a super-swing role in October? -- Bradford Doolittle

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4. Cleveland Indians

Record: 25-15
Playoff probability: 99.7%
Week 5 ranking: 4

At this point, the Indians' postseason formula seems clear: Smother the opposition and hope that Jose Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana and Franmil Reyes can carry the offense. As for the outfield, the goal is to figure out the rotation that best augments that reality, even if it is some kind of max-defense configuration that features both Delino DeShields and Oscar Mercado. -- Doolittle

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5. Minnesota Twins

Record: 25-17
Playoff probability: 98.8%
Week 5 ranking: 6

When you envision the Twins matching up in the playoffs, you can see how they could bridge the outs between a hopefully healthy starting staff and the ninth inning. However, they need closer Taylor Rogers to regain his 2019 form for this team to reach October firing on all cylinders. -- Doolittle

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6. San Diego Padres

Record: 25-17
Playoff probability: 99.1%
Week 5 ranking: 10

The thought all along was that the Padres' two best pitching prospects, MacKenzie Gore and Luis Patino, would have a major impact on a shortened season. But Gore has been working out of the team's alternate site, and Patino has been operating in a low-leverage bullpen role. Maybe now is the time for the Padres to see what they have in them. -- Gonzalez

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7. New York Yankees

Record: 21-19
Playoff probability: 91.7%
Week 5 ranking: 5

The injury bug has taken over, with Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, Gleyber Torres and James Paxton all spending time sidelined. The Bombers lost their grip on first place, and their bullpen continues to struggle, with Aroldis Chapman blowing saves days after receiving a suspension for throwing at the heads of Rays players. On paper, this is still one of the most talented teams, but everything happening now is the reason the World Series trophy isn't handed out before the season. -- Lee

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8. Atlanta Braves

Record: 24-16
Playoff probability: 99.3%
Week 5 ranking: 9

Look at Max Fried's numbers and look at how the Braves' rotation grades out statistically, and you'll get a sense of just how bad the rest of those starters have been. Tommy Milone might eventually pay off, but what the Braves desperately need is for Cole Hamels to make his way back. -- Gonzalez

9. Chicago White Sox

Record: 26-15
Playoff probability: 99.8%
Week 5 ranking: 8

The White Sox need to sort out their right-field situation, a process that begins with making an accurate assessment of Nomar Mazara. Mazara has slugged under .300 this season, and on a team full of power hitters, he has yet to go deep. Should Rick Renteria pivot to an Adam Engel/Jarrod Dyson speed-and-defense platoon? Should Rick Hahn ring up Yasiel Puig's agent? What is Puig up to, anyway? -- Doolittle

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10. Houston Astros

Record: 21-19
Playoff probability: 97.0%
Week 5 ranking: 11

The Astros have stumbled through the first few weeks of a season that has featured numerous injuries and down performaces from key players. Yet they are going to be in the playoffs once again. Dusty Baker's biggest task is to get all of his core players -- Justin Verlander, Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve -- up and running by October and ready to perform on that stage. -- Doolittle

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11. Chicago Cubs

Record: 23-18
Playoff probability: 94.6%
Week 5 ranking: 7

Any chance the first-place Cubs have of breaking away down the stretch probably relies upon their getting Kris Bryant and Javier Baez to start delivering at the plate the way they are capable of. Full-season statistics don't matter when we're talking six weeks of stats. If Bryant and Baez start bopping the way they can, the Cubs will be a force to reckon with in October. -- Christina Kahrl

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12. Philadelphia Phillies

Record: 19-17
Playoff probability: 85.7%
Week 5 ranking: 13

If the Phillies' bullpen problems are as fixed via trade as they're going to be, the best thing for their chances will be to see one of Jake Arrieta, rookie Spencer Howard or Zach Eflin step forward in the next few turns and make easy any decision on who the No. 3 behind Aaron Nola and Zack Wheeler might be. Despite one quality start in Eflin's first six, a 2.90 FIP suggests that it could be him. -- Kahrl

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13. Toronto Blue Jays

Record: 22-18
Playoff probability: 84.8%
Week 5 ranking: 12

The Jays entered the season as a trendy pick to make the playoffs and now they find themselves in a battle with the Yankees for second place with 10 head-to-head games remaining between the two. The signing of Hyun-Jin Ryu has paid off, with the lefty leading the Blue Jays' staff with 1.7 WAR. If Toronto hopes to make any noise in the postseason, it'll need to make sure that the sometimes injury-prone Ryu stays healthy during a season in which pitchers are going down left and right. -- Lee

14. St. Louis Cardinals

Record: 17-15
Playoff probability: 81.6%
Week 5 ranking: 14

The Cardinals' biggest challenge isn't about one player or one part of the team. It's how everyone navigates the extraordinary logistical challenge of playing 28 games in 21 days, spread 8-10-8 in the season's final three weeks. How manager Mike Shildt and the front office handle playing time -- and how the organization's famous depth responds -- could be the difference between catching the Cubs in the best-case scenario and blowing a shot at the playoffs in the worst. -- Kahrl

15. Cincinnati Reds

Record: 18-23
Playoff probability: 28.1%
Week 5 ranking: 16

The Reds' biggest problem? Offense. The team is tied for 21st in weighted on-base average (wOBA) in MLB, and a surprising part of the problem is the overall weak performance from the outfielders. The main blame should be on Shogo Akiyama, but Nick Senzel's absence hasn't helped. Senzel began a rehab assignment last week; his return could help give the Reds the lineup extension they need down the stretch. -- Kahrl

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16. New York Mets

Record: 19-22
Playoff probability: 51.9%
Week 5 ranking: 17

The Mets are treading water in the NL East, trailing the Marlins, Phillies and Braves. The team will need a strong September to make a playoff push and better performances from starters Rick Porcello, Steven Matz and Michael Wacha to have a chance to even sniff the playoffs. Jacob deGrom (1.76 ERA, 0.90 WHIP) can't do it alone. -- Lee

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17. Colorado Rockies

Record: 20-20
Playoff probability: 42.5%
Week 5 ranking: 15

If the Rockies had any hope of making the postseason -- even an expanded postseason -- they needed to fix an atrocious bullpen. The addition of Mychal Givens should help, but the Rockies need more than him to fend off the Reds, Giants, Brewers and others for the eighth seed in the NL. -- Gonzalez

18. Milwaukee Brewers

Record: 18-21
Playoff probability: 45.5%
Week 5 ranking: 18

The Brewers have patched up their lineup, with the latest move swapping in Dan Vogelbach and ditching Justin Smoak. But the biggest difference-maker would be Christian Yelich getting hot in the last three weeks. His average and OBP so far are career lows, and his season strikeout rate went north of 30% on Sunday, which would be a career worst. The Brewers accrue every little advantage they can; Yelich hitting like he can would be a big advantage. -- Kahrl

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19. San Francisco Giants

Record: 20-21
Playoff probability: 46.6%
Week 5 ranking: 22

The Giants stood pat at the deadline, which was probably smart. They preserved their outside chance of getting in without sacrificing anything long term. Nobody embodies the present and the future better than Joey Bart. This is a perfect opportunity for the 23-year-old catcher to gain some valuable experience in meaningful games. -- Gonzalez

20. Washington Nationals

Record: 14-25
Playoff probability: 1.7%
Week 5 ranking: 19

The Nats' bid to defend their title looks over, but they still have series against all four NL East rivals, plus six games against the Rays, so they could have a major impact on both East races in a spoiler role. Veterans Adam Eaton, Sean Doolittle, Anibal Sanchez and Eric Thames are all playing for their next contracts and could salvage otherwise lost seasons with strong finishes. -- Kahrl

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21. Miami Marlins

Record: 17-18
Playoff probability: 22.9%
Week 5 ranking: 20

Yes, you saw that right: The Marlins are going for it. Starling Marte was a big get for a team that dealt with a COVID-19 outbreak earlier this season. But the Marlins also need to see something out of the young players who will join Marte in the outfield. Entering Friday, Monte Harrison, Jesus Sanchez and Lewis Brinson had combined for 14 hits in 102 at-bats. -- Gonzalez

22. Detroit Tigers

Record: 18-20
Playoff probability: 9.5%
Week 5 ranking: 24

Every day in the hunt for postseason scraps is gravy for a Tigers club that has no business contending for anything. The loss of JaCoby Jones was crushing and ill-timed, as he was having a career season. Manager Ron Gardenhire is tasked with figuring out how to replace Jones' production from in-house options, and he doesn't have much time to do so. -- Doolittle

23. Arizona Diamondbacks

Record: 15-26
Playoff probability: 0.6%
Week 5 ranking: 21

Zac Gallen posted a 2.81 ERA in 15 starts as a rookie last year, then boasted a 1.80 ERA, a 0.94 WHIP and 54 strikeouts through his first 50 innings of 2020. He might just win the National League Cy Young Award. Is the 25-year-old right-hander the new ace in Arizona, or should we apply more weight to his 96.1% strand rate? -- Gonzalez

24. Los Angeles Angels

Record: 17-25
Playoff probability: 6.4%
Week 5 ranking: 25

No team has underperformed more than the Angels. It's unfathomable that a team with Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon could be out of the running by Labor Day in a season such as this. The biggest thing that needs to happen in Orange County is an internal evaluation of how the bottom half of the roster could be so unproductive while teams such as the Giants, Rays and Dodgers continually spin other organizations' hay into gold. -- Doolittle

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25. Baltimore Orioles

Record: 19-21
Playoff probability: 8.2%
Week 5 ranking: 23

As the Orioles continue their rebuild, the team is in position to take stock of what it has in-house. Anthony Santander emerged as a power threat in the early part of this season, leading the team with 11 homers before he went down because of an oblique injury, but the team has also seen success from holdovers Hanser Alberto, Renato Nunez and Rio Ruiz. -- Lee

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26. Kansas City Royals

Record: 14-27
Playoff probability: 0.1%
Week 5 ranking: 27

If the Royals want to make a leap in 2021, they need to begin by resembling the current-day version of a speed-and-defense team, the type of club that fits best in Kauffman Stadium. The defense has been lackluster at best, offering little of the impact fielding that the best K.C. teams typically enjoy. It begins with determining if trade acquisition Edward Olivares is a possible answer in center field. -- Doolittle

27. Texas Rangers

Record: 13-26
Playoff probability: 0.1%
Week 5 ranking: 26

To say that this is easier said than done is a massive understatement, but Texas needs to signal some kind of direction over the season's waning days. That didn't happen around the trade deadline, when the Rangers held on to Lance Lynn, Joey Gallo and Rougned Odor while dealing their second-best starter (Mike Minor) and starting catcher (Robinson Chirinos). It's hard to see how this season can end with the perception of any kind of forward momentum for the Rangers' rebuild. -- Doolittle

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28. Boston Red Sox

Record: 14-28
Playoff probability: 0.1%
Week 5 ranking: 28

Boston fans won't forget the sting of trading away Mookie Betts anytime soon, but Alex Verdugo continues to make a major impression in his first consistent everyday playing opportunity. He is establishing himself as the lineup's leadoff hitter. In a season in which Boston has little to cheer about, Verdugo's success presents a sliver of hope for the future. -- Lee

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29. Seattle Mariners

Record: 18-22
Playoff probability: 3.9%
Week 5 ranking: 29

It's too soon for Julio Rodriguez, because of both his age and a preseason injury, but Seattle has a chance to see one possible version of its outfield of the future in action over the last few weeks. As Kyle Lewis battles Luis Robert for AL Rookie of the Year honors, why not flank him with Taylor Trammell and Jarred Kelenic? All we hear about Kelenic this season is how he rakes in intrasquad games. Let's move that show to T-Mobile Park. -- Doolittle

30. Pittsburgh Pirates

Record: 13-26
Playoff probability: 0.1%
Week 5 ranking: 30

Beyond using the stretch run to get familiar with the pleasure of watching Ke'Bryan Hayes play third, the Pirates could stand to see strong Septembers from Josh Bell, Gregory Polanco and Bryan Reynolds to get a sense of what their future value -- as building blocks or bargaining chips -- might be. -- Kahrl

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