MLB Power Rankings Week 20: Where all 30 teams stand as September looms

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August is nearly history, and the 2021 MLB playoff picture is starting to come into focus ahead of September's stretch run.

Are the rampaging New York Yankees -- a newly minted member of our top five -- making a case for being the best team in baseball? How far have the struggling San Diego Padres fallen as the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers continue to dominate the NL West? Can the Milwaukee Brewers stand up to the rest of the National League's best?

Here is what our eight-voter expert panel decided based on what they have learned over the course of the 2021 season so far. We also asked ESPN baseball experts David Schoenfield, Bradford Doolittle, Joon Lee, Jesse Rogers and Alden Gonzalez to weigh in with one Week 20 observation based on what they have seen recently for all 30 teams.

Previous rankings: 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 | Opening Day

1. San Francisco Giants

Record: 82-44
Previous ranking: 1

Is there a cooler story in baseball right now than what Brandon Belt, Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford are doing together? Belt, Posey and Crawford have been teammates on the Giants' infield for roughly a decade, and now, as they approach their mid-30s, they're leading an improbable run to another potential championship. Entering play on Wednesday, Belt (33), Posey (34) and Crawford (34) had combined for a .910 OPS with 101 extra-base hits, 53 of them homers. Between them, they had compiled 9.6 FanGraphs wins above replacement. -- Gonzalez

2. Los Angeles Dodgers

Record: 80-47
Previous ranking: 2

Lost within a star-studded lineup but deserving of some praise is AJ Pollock, who made what Dodgers manager Dave Roberts described as a "game-saving catch" by robbing Manny Machado of a go-ahead home run on Tuesday night in San Diego and hit the deciding homer in the 16th inning on Wednesday. Pollock has been moving around a lot better in the outfield this season, but it's his bat that has really stood out of late. In his first 34 second-half games, as the Dodgers have made an inspired push for their ninth consecutive division title, Pollock is batting .351/.390/.527, providing some much-needed production for a lineup that has been without Mookie Betts and hasn't been getting much from Cody Bellinger. -- Gonzalez

3. Tampa Bay Rays

Record: 79-48
Previous ranking: 3

The Rays continue to roll, holding on to their lead in the American League East. The team activated designated hitter Nelson Cruz off the COVID-19 list, and the slugger promptly hit a tie-breaking two-run double for Tampa Bay against the Phillies while also manning first base for the first time in his career. Cruz could prove to be an offensive game-changer for the team as it heads down the stretch. -- Lee

4. Milwaukee Brewers

Record: 78-49
Previous ranking: 5

Milwaukee just keeps motoring along in first place but got some bad news with Freddy Peralta being placed on the injured list with a sore shoulder. If their Big Three starters are vulnerable in any way heading into the playoffs, the Brewers are a much different team. Same goes for the lineup when it comes to shortstop Willy Adames, who left Tuesday's contest with quadriceps discomfort. Keeping healthy is a major concern for Milwaukee over the final five weeks. -- Rogers

5. New York Yankees

Record: 74-52
Previous ranking: 9

The panic of the early season for Yankees fans seems like a distant memory as their surging team continues to climb up the standings with help from unlikely contributors such as shortstop Andrew Velazquez, who's not only provided a spark of energy since filling in for Gleyber Torres, but is impacting the New York lineup as a hometown kid. The team also expects to get Domingo German, Corey Kluber, Luis Severino and Michael King back in the rotation before the end of the season. -- Lee

6. Houston Astros

Record: 75-52
Previous ranking: 4

Alex Bregman returned to the lineup on Wednesday after missing more than two months with lower body issues. During his absence, his replacements at third base combined to rank 15th in OPS. Not bad. The most often used replacement was Abraham Toro, who hit .228/.294/.402 in his place but was dealt at the trade deadline to Seattle for high-leverage reliever Kendall Graveman. After Toro's departure, Aledmys Diaz became the starter at the hot corner and his production is what kept Houston's overall numbers solid. Diaz hit .325/.365/.538 over 24 starts at third during Bregman's absence. -- Doolittle

7. Chicago White Sox

Record: 73-55
Previous ranking: 6

The White Sox have played more games against sub-.500 teams than any other team in the majors, going 52-29 for a .642 winning percentage. Part of what good teams do is beat up on bad teams. Failure to do so can put a team in a bad spot. Ask the Padres, who are breakeven against losing teams this season and find themselves fighting for their playoff lives. For the White Sox, the flip side is where the concern lies. It means that they've played the fewest games against teams at .500 or better (47). Worst, they've gone just 21-26 in those games. Among the AL's other top contenders, only the Athletics have a larger disparity in winning percentage against good and bad teams. Does any of this mean anything in terms of October probabilities? It will be up to the White Sox to prove that it does not. -- Doolittle

8. Atlanta Braves

Record: 68-58
Previous ranking: 11

The Yankees snapped Atlanta's nine-game winning streak by winning two straight. Now the Braves are in the middle of a quirky two days off before a tough slate of games: the Giants at home, the Dodgers on the road and four games in Colorado (where the Rockies are actually good). Max Fried has quietly had a great August (4-0, 0.67 ERA in four contests, including a shutout of the Orioles). He is 9-4 with a 2.70 ERA and .228 average allowed since June 6. -- Schoenfield

9. Boston Red Sox

Record: 72-56
Previous ranking: 8

Boston slipped to third place in the division for the first time since early April. Top prospect Jarren Duran did not provide the offensive spark that the team hoped and was sent back to Triple-A. While the return of Chris Sale offers a glimmer of hope for the rotation, the bullpen continues to face its share of struggles. Boston hopes that Tanner Houck can provide a boost for the pitching staff, while Kyle Schwarber and Travis Shaw can provide a lift to the offense. -- Lee

10. Oakland Athletics

Record: 70-57
Previous ranking: 7

The loss of Chris Bassitt with facial fractures after he was hit by a line drive will be a big loss. Bassitt was the team's best starting pitcher, posting 3.4 bWAR, a 3.22 ERA, 1.05 WHIP and 154 strikeouts in 151 innings this season. If Bassitt doesn't return, Oakland will face a much steeper road towards making its mark in the playoffs. -- Lee

11. Cincinnati Reds

Record: 69-59
Previous ranking: 13

Losing two of three to the Cubs didn't help the Reds' playoff chances, but following that up with a four-game sweep of the Marlins more than made up for it. Cincinnati won't catch Milwaukee in the NL Central, but the Reds have taken command of the second wild card as San Diego is reeling. Whatever mojo the Padres are missing, the Reds have an abundance of it. Their formula for winning continues to be at the plate more than on the mound, something which might catch up with them in October. But for now, it's working, as the top of their lineup is as good as any in the NL. -- Rogers

12. Toronto Blue Jays

Record: 66-59
Previous ranking: 12

Toronto finds itself a step behind the Red Sox, Yankees and Rays in the race in the AL East, but pitcher Robbie Ray continues to build a case for the Cy Young award. Ray currently leads American League pitchers in bWAR at 5.1 while posting a 2.79 ERA and 1.03 WHIP with 178 strikeouts in 145.1 innings pitched. -- Lee

13. San Diego Padres

Record: 68-60
Previous ranking: 10

The Padres played the Dodgers for the first time since June 23 on Tuesday, which provided an interesting reference point. On that date, the Padres completed a sweep of the Dodgers. The city of San Diego was in a frenzy and the fans were beginning to think this might finally be the year their team wins it all. But in the 49 games between the Dodgers series, the Padres somehow went only 23-26. Their pitching is a mess, their offense can't keep up, the division is out of sight and now the Padres are fighting just to hold on to the final playoff spot in the National League. -- Gonzalez

14. Seattle Mariners

Record: 69-58
Previous ranking: 16

Ty France played the hero in back-to-back games with game-tying home runs in the ninth inning as the Mariners won both games, including an 11-inning win over Houston that pushed their record in extra-inning games to 12-4. Drew Steckenrider and Paul Sewald continue to lock up games late as the two free-agent pickups have combined to go 13-5 with a 2.18 ERA and 13 saves. Yes, that's the same Paul Sewald who went 0-13 in relief for the Mets in 2017-18. -- Schoenfield

15. Philadelphia Phillies

Record: 63-63
Previous ranking: 14

The Ranger Suarez transition to starter has gone even better than expected. He has a 2.11 ERA over five starts. He went 6⅔ innings and 99 pitches against the Rays on Tuesday, allowing one run, but left with a no-decision. He started 82 of his 94 career games in the minors, so he knows how to navigate through a lineup and he continues to induce soft contact with primarily a sinker/changeup/four-seamer mix (and a few sliders). -- Schoenfield

16. St. Louis Cardinals

Record: 64-61
Previous ranking: 15

If the Cardinals had any hopes of getting hot and stealing a wild-card spot, it came to an end with Jack Flaherty returning to the injured list. Their fans did get some good news as Yadier Molina signed up for another season but that won't distract from an underachieving year -- though injuries to its pitching staff are the No.1 reason St. Louis isn't closer in the hunt to return to October. -- Rogers

17. Cleveland Indians

Record: 62-62
Previous ranking: 18

The Indians' rotation has been a major disappointment this season due to a combination of injuries and underperformance. The news lately has been much better, stoking hopes that the starters will again be the cornerstone of Cleveland's hopes to return to contention in 2022. Young starters Triston McKenzie had given up just one run and three hits over his past two starts before landing on the IL on Wednesday, while Cal Quantrill has a 2.50 ERA over his past three outings. Zach Plesac had a nice outing on Aug. 13 against Detroit, but he is still trying to find consistency. Meanwhile, the injured front of the Cleveland rotation -- Shane Bieber and Aaron Civale -- are both trending toward returning to action before the end of the season. -- Doolittle

18. New York Mets

Record: 61-65
Previous ranking: 17

Well, that got ugly in a hurry. After a walk-off win on July 31, the Mets were four games up in the NL East. Wednesday's 3-2 loss to the Giants dropped them to 6-17 in August and 7 games behind the Braves. They've averaged just 3.3 runs per game in the month while hitting just .223. With the season in disarray, it's almost time to start thinking ahead to 2022 and what to do about impending free agents such as Michael Conforto, Marcus Stroman, Noah Syndergaard and Javier Baez. Oh, and don't forget: Robinson Cano will be back on the books at $20.25 million! -- Schoenfield

19. Los Angeles Angels

Record: 63-65
Previous ranking: 19

If there is a silver lining in Mike Trout's prolonged calf injury it's that it has provided the Angels with an opportunity to give both of their highly rated outfield prospects, Brandon Marsh and Jo Adell, some seasoning at the major-league level. It's still clear that they need it, too. Adell and Marsh have combined for 75 strikeouts, 17 walks and just two home runs in 217 plate appearances. The Angels desperately need both of them to develop, either to provide relatively low-cost production to offset their payroll or to help them access top-flight pitching on the trade market. -- Gonzalez

20. Detroit Tigers

Record: 61-67
Previous ranking: 20

Baseball fans in general and Tigers fans in particular got bad news last week with the passing of longtime Detroit catcher Bill Freehan. Freehan was a key member of the strong Detroit teams during the 1960s and 70s, which included the 1968 World Series win over St. Louis. Over the past few years, the St. Louis battery of Adam Wainwright and Molina have gotten a lot of attention for the duration of their partnership, which is at 298 games started together through Wainwright's last outing. That's the fourth-highest total among all batteries in baseball history. Atop that list is Freehan and Mickey Lolich, who paired up as a battery for the Tigers 324 times between 1963 and 1975. -- Doolittle

21. Kansas City Royals

Record: 56-70
Previous ranking: 25

It's hard to believe that the Daniel Lynch the Royals have seen since the All-Star break is the same pitcher who floundered during three his first three big league starts early in the season. During that shaky debut in May, Lynch went 0-2 with a 15.75 ERA and 1.274 OPS allowed. He reemerged in the K.C. rotation after the break and a return stint to Triple-A to work some things out. In six outings since then, he's gone 4-1 with a 2.27 ERA and .655 OPS allowed. Quite a turnaround and a terrific development for the player who entered the season as the consensus top pitching prospect in the Royals organization. -- Doolittle

22. Colorado Rockies

Record: 58-69
Previous ranking: 23

C.J. Cron has a history of being a very streaky hitter, and at the moment, the Rockies' first baseman is scorching hot. Cron has a 20-game on-base streak, a stretch in which he's raised his OPS for the season to .905. Cron, 31, settled for a minor league contract after playing in only 13 games during the COVID-19-shortened 2020 season but has set himself up for a much better payday this coming offseason. -- Gonzalez

23. Minnesota Twins

Record: 55-71
Previous ranking: 22

Twins leadoff hitters this season collectively rank fifth in the AL with a .784 OPS. The two most frequent leadoff men for Minnesota have been Luis Arraez, the primary choice for the role until late July, and Max Kepler, who has been the pick for most of the last month. Kepler was the Twins' main leadoff hitter in 2019 and 2020. They represent a stark contrast, one that might suggest what kind of offense the Twins want to feature going forward. Kepler has six homers from the top spot this season, while Arraez has none. Despite that, Arraez had a better slugging percentage in the role (.429 to .412) because of his on-base skills. Overall, Arraez is hitting .342/.396/.429 leading off, while Kepler is at .193/.295/.412. -- Doolittle

24. Washington Nationals

Record: 54-71
Previous ranking: 24

The Nationals ranked No. 20 in MLB.com's midseason farm rankings, up from No. 30 before the season. Keibert Ruiz and Josiah Gray, acquired in the Trea Turner-Max Scherzer deal, are major reasons for the improvement, while Cade Cavalli is having one of the more impressive seasons of any minor leaguer starter, with a 2.37 across Class A and Double-A, with 151 K's in 98⅔ innings. -- Schoenfield

25. Chicago Cubs

Record: 56-73
Previous ranking: 26

The Cubs tied a major league record by losing 13 consecutive home games by multiple runs, but snapped the skid with a walk-off home run against the Rockies on Monday. Rafael Ortega won that game, and he had been one of the league's hottest hitters since the trade deadline before cooling off recently. He and other role players are getting a chance to play. Patrick Wisdom hit his 21st home run Wednesday. -- Rogers

26. Miami Marlins

Record: 52-75
Previous ranking: 21

The pitching has gone south in August as the Marlins have struggled to an 8-15 mark. They've allowed 10-plus runs in five games (they actually won one of those, 14-10) and five or more 13 times. Max Meyer, a 2020 first-round pick, has a 1.97 ERA at Double-A in 87 innings with solid-not-dominant peripherals (93 strikeouts, 35 walks) and hard-throwing Edward Cabrera has reached Triple-A. Keep an eye on southpaw Jake Eder, a fourth-round pick in 2020 out of Vanderbilt who has outpitched Meyer at Double-A. All three could compete for rotation jobs in 2022. -- Schoenfield

27. Texas Rangers

Record: 44-82
Previous ranking: 27

The Rangers finally found some offense since trading Joey Gallo as Nate Lowe and Andy Ibanez had huge weeks. Ibanez went 11-for-21 over a seven-day span, while Lowe went 9-for-19. Perhaps Texas has found a couple of players with roles for next season as they build around rookie Adolis Garcia, who also had a good week at the plate, compiling a .966 OPS. Now they just need to unearth some pitching. -- Rogers

28. Pittsburgh Pirates

Record: 46-81
Previous ranking: 28

Pittsburgh had a decent week at the plate in winning four of five after getting swept by the Dodgers. Kevin Newman compiled an OPS over 1.000 to help the cause as the Pirates' series win over St. Louis kept the Cardinals from gaining ground in the wild-card race. The Pirates will have plenty of chances to play spoilers in the final month of the season. -- Rogers

29. Arizona Diamondbacks

Record: 43-85
Previous ranking: 29

Amid a loss on Saturday, the D-backs got a positive outing from Zac Gallen, who dominated the Rockies with seven shutout innings, nine strikeouts and a walk. After giving up a combined nine runs over his previous two starts, Gallen realized that he was keeping his front shoulder too closed, which kept him from landing his breaking ball. That adjustment, he believes, played a big part in recapturing his form despite pitching in a very favorable hitting environment. The D-backs can only hope. If they are to regroup, Gallen needs to factor in heavily. -- Gonzalez

30. Baltimore Orioles

Record: 39-86
Previous ranking: 30

The Orioles snapped a 19-game losing streak on Wednesday, which was only two losses away from tying the American League record. Baltimore possesses one of the best farm systems in baseball, but the team will need several prospects to pan out to turn around this embarrassing direction for the franchise. -- Lee