MLB Power Rankings Week 21: Where all 30 teams stand as final stretch begins

Carlos Correa, Aaron Judge & Brandon Belt ESPN

We've finally entered September, and MLB teams will have only a final month and change to solidify their playoff positions -- if they haven't already.

Where have the New York Yankees ended up after their 13-game winning streak was snapped? Have the Phillies Phillies bought themselves some breathing room with their recent play? As always, who's No. 1 between the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers?

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 21 observation based on what they have seen recently for all 30 teams.

Previous 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 | Opening Day

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

Record: 85-49
Previous ranking: 2

The Dodgers finished August with a 21-6 record. Their offense slumped -- relative to their standards -- with an average of less than five runs per game. But their pitching staff combined for a major-league-best 2.25 ERA, more than three quarters of a run better than that of the second-place Giants. And that staff might be getting some serious help soon. Clayton Kershaw and Tony Gonsolin took part in simulated games earlier this week, and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts came away encouraged by both of their outings. Adding either one of those two to a rotation that features Max Scherzer, Walker Buehler and Julio Urias -- three starters who have combined for a 2.55 ERA in 466⅔ innings -- is patently absurd. -- Gonzalez

2. San Francisco Giants

Record: 84-49
Previous ranking: 1

The Giants' rotation has been dominant all year, but some discouraging signs have materialized lately. Alex Wood was recently placed on the COVID-19 injured list and is "not feeling well at all," Giants manager Gabe Kapler said Monday. Johnny Cueto, who missed time earlier last month with a flexor strain, gave up 10 hits and recorded only 11 outs against the Brewers on Tuesday and went back on the IL with an elbow strain on Wednesday. Anthony DeSclafani has contributed only 4⅓ innings since the middle of August. And the ace, Kevin Gausman, hasn't been his typically dominant self of late. But the Giants' propensity for maximizing talent continues to make them a force. The latest example: Logan Webb, who finished August with a 1.41 ERA in 38⅓ innings. -- Gonzalez

3. Tampa Bay Rays

Record: 84-49
Previous ranking: 3

Despite the surging Yankees, Tampa Bay still holds the keys to the American League East division race, posting a 20-6 record in August. Even after the trade of Rich Hill, the Rays' six-man rotation remains a strength of the team, while Wander Franco continues to contribute during his rookie campaign, hitting .313/.382/.485 with three homers and eight doubles in August. -- Lee

4. Houston Astros

Record: 78-55
Previous ranking: 6

An underrated aspect of the Astros' success this season has been the play of their defense, which has been as good as any in baseball. Houston has been trading the top spot in defensive runs saved for several weeks with the Cardinals, Rockies and a couple of other clubs. The Asrtos lead the majors in outs above average and fielding percentage. According to Sports Info Solutions, the Astros have five or more runs saved at first base, third base, shortstop, left field and right field. And they rate better than average at second base and center field. -- Doolittle

5. Milwaukee Brewers

Record: 82-52
Previous ranking: 4

Milwaukee's only concern right now should be the health of its team the rest of the way. Banged up players from Freddy Peralta to Willy Adames to Eduardo Escobar have plenty of time to heal up before October. And the Brewers can afford them the time considering their near double-digit lead in the division. No National League team can prepare for the postseason more than Milwaukee. -- Rogers

6. New York Yankees

Record: 77-56
Previous ranking: 5

In the blink of an eye, the Yankees find themselves above the Red Sox in the wild-card race, with an offense led by a healthy Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton, who carried the team through August. Corey Kluber returned from the injured list, moving trade-deadline acquisition Andrew Heaney to the bullpen, while Luis Severino and Michael King continue to inch closer to their returns from the injured list. -- Lee

7. Chicago White Sox

Record: 78-56
Previous ranking: 7

The White Sox's lineup on Aug. 1 featured fill-ins Seby Zavala, Gavin Sheets, Leury Garcia, Adam Engel and Brian Goodwin. By the end of the month, Tony La Russa could fill in his best possible group, a high-powered unit that had seen the August returns of Yasmani Grandal, Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez. Then Tim Anderson injured his hamstring and went on the IL. Still, while we've seen precious little of the White Sox's full-strength lineup this season, things are lining up in a way that we can expect to see plenty of it in October. And it's an impressive picture. -- Doolittle

8. Atlanta Braves

Record: 70-62
Previous ranking: 8

Atlanta finished 18-8 in August, turning a four-game deficit into a 2½-game lead entering September. Austin Riley led the way on offense, hitting .364 with six home runs and 18 RBIs, while Jorge Soler and Adam Duvall combined for 15 home runs as the Braves mashed 43 for the month. Max Fried went 4-0 in five starts with a 1.36 ERA. -- Schoenfield

9. Boston Red Sox

Record: 76-59
Previous ranking: 9

A COVID-19 outbreak hit the Red Sox clubhouse at the worst possible time as the team prepares to grind to hold on to its spot in the playoff race. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts represented the latest player to hit the COVID-19 list, joining a group including Kiké Hernandez, Christian Arroyo, Matt Barnes and Hirokazu Sawamura. -- Lee

10. Oakland Athletics

Record: 73-60
Previous ranking: 10

Oakland struggled in recent weeks, falling out of the playoff picture in the wild-card race. With the Houston Astros starting to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the teams in the division, Oakland will need to turn things around during its road trips to Detroit and Toronto in order to climb back in the race and compete with the Red Sox and Yankees for the AL wild card. -- Lee

11. Toronto Blue Jays

Record: 70-62
Previous ranking: 12

Toronto continues to chug along, not posting a losing record in any month this season. The Blue Jays designated reliever Brad Hand for assignment one month after acquiring him but called up top pitching prospect Nate Pearson. Similar to the Chicago White Sox of the past few years, this Toronto team seems like it's on the verge of being a force to be reckoned with considering the group's young core, but it's not quite there yet. -- Lee

12. Cincinnati Reds

Record: 72-63
Previous ranking: 11

Cincinnati's lead in the NL wild-card race was shaved down last week after it lost two of three to the Brewers and then the Marlins. The Reds' vaunted offense sputtered in the losses, while it was their pitching that kept them in contests. That's a departure from how the Reds achieved their status as one of the better NL teams. Joey Votto finally cooled off, hitting just .053 over the past seven days. Perhaps how he goes, so do the Reds over the final month. -- Rogers

13. San Diego Padres

Record: 71-63
Previous ranking: 13

The Padres were having a rough go of it, most notably getting swept by the Dodgers at home last week, but they're finally starting to get some reinforcements back for their pitching staff. In a span of six days, they activated Yu Darvish, Chris Paddack and Dinelson Lamet. Darvish and Paddack will deepen the Padres' rotation, which has benefitted from a dominant Blake Snell of late. Lamet will use his devastating fastball-slider combination to help a beleaguered bullpen that has been taxed all year. With the Astros on deck, and every game mattering down the stretch, the Padres will need all the pitching help they can get. -- Gonzalez

14. Philadelphia Phillies

Record: 68-64
Previous ranking: 15

After falling to 63-64 last Thursday, the Phillies responded with five straight wins against Arizona and Washington, with the offense scoring seven runs in each of the first four wins and then 12 in the fifth (and they actually scored seven in the game before this streak, so that's 47 runs over six games). Bryce Harper had multihit games in six of seven games, raising his average from .290 to .306 and taking over the NL (and MLB) lead in OPS, just ahead of Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Fernando Tatis Jr. -- Schoenfield

15. St. Louis Cardinals

Record: 68-64
Previous ranking: 16

St. Louis provided a little excitement for its fans as it closed to within a few games in the wild-card race, but the news that Jack Flaherty is hurt again has put a damper on the Cardinals' hopes. A win against the Reds on Monday was a good start to their playoff push, but it's doubtful they can muster enough on the mound and at the plate to overtake both the Reds and Padres. Still, they haven't packed it in just yet. -- Rogers

16. Seattle Mariners

Record: 72-62
Previous ranking: 14

Abraham Toro has four home runs since joining the Mariners via trade for Kendall Graveman in July, including Tuesday's grand slam in the eighth inning -- off Graveman! -- that broke a scoreless tie. It was the Mariners' fourth go-ahead grand slam in the eighth inning or later, tied with the 1967 Giants and 1996 Mariners for most over the past 60 years. Three of Toro's four home runs have come against Houston. -- Schoenfield

17. Cleveland Indians

Record: 66-64
Previous ranking: 17

Amed Rosario enjoyed a huge August, slashing .372/.397/.584 with 20 RBIs in 26 games. For the season, Rosario ranks second on the Indians in runs created (66) behind Jose Ramirez. In a way, however, Rosario's success at the plate complicates how he should best be deployed going forward. The good news is that's because his offensive numbers will play at a number of positions. But his defensive numbers at shortstop still lag, and Cleveland's deep roster of long-term shortstop options means they don't really need to force Rosario's bat into the lineup at that position. At the same time, Rosario's stretch in center field earlier this season didn't go great. What to do? -- Doolittle

18. New York Mets

Record: 65-67
Previous ranking: 18

The Mets added to their recent reputation as the most dysfunctional organization in baseball after the bizarre "thumbs down" salute from Javier Baez, Francisco Lindor and others on Sunday. You can guess how Mets fans reacted for the team's next game on Tuesday -- which turned out to be a dramatic 6-5 victory after five runs in the bottom of the ninth, with Baez scoring on a great hustle play. Then they won the nightcap. Maybe this will all lead to a September comeback for the ages! -- Schoenfield

19. Los Angeles Angels

Record: 66-68
Previous ranking: 19

Shohei Ohtani stole home on Tuesday night, in case you didn't think he could possibly impress us any more than he already has. It gave him 22 stolen bases in 2021 -- to go along with 42 home runs, a .978 OPS, a 3.00 ERA and 127 strikeouts. Ohtani's pursuit of the AL MVP Award, in the midst of the most uniquely spectacular season in baseball history, is reason enough to tune into Angels games down the stretch. Their fans need something, especially with Mike Trout's return growing increasingly unlikely. -- Gonzalez

20. Detroit Tigers

Record: 63-71
Previous ranking: 20

Rookie center fielder Derek Hill has impressed during a second-half stint in the majors, as he has continued the process of turning his impressive raw tools into actual big league production. He's a highlight reel defensively and is already one of the more fun defenders to watch in the majors. But his metrics so far are also average to good, depending on where you look. Meanwhile, he has shown a lot more offensively than you'd expect based on advanced billing. He seems to have traded in some of the power he flashed earlier as a minor leaguer for more contact, and it's paying off. After hitting .322 with a .376 OBP for Triple-A Toledo, he's at .275 with .342 OBP so far for Detroit, and his slugging is a playable .394. Hill has three homers and six steals in 37 games. It's too soon to declare Hill as the Tigers' center fielder of the future, but he certainly looks like a possibility.-- Doolittle

21. Colorado Rockies

Record: 61-72
Previous ranking: 22

In spite of all their problems, the Rockies believe they possess a competitive rotation. But Wednesday brought bad news for two key members of that rotation. Jon Gray, a highly reliable back-end piece, hit the injured list with tightness in his forearm. And Kyle Freeland, who had a 2.37 ERA over his past three starts, exited his outing early with a hip impingement. -- Gonzalez

22. Kansas City Royals

Record: 59-73
Previous ranking: 21

The Salvador Perez power express train is rolling full steam and shows no sign of slowing down. Before going hitless against Cleveland on Aug. 31, Perez had homered in five straight games, six times in seven games and nine times in 15 outings. For August, Perez went deep 12 times, raising his season total to 38. That's a record for a primary catcher in the AL and he's seven shy of Johnny Bench's big league mark (45) set back in 1970. As hot as Perez has been, you can't rule out his chances to better Jorge Soler's Royals mark of 48 homers in 2019, or becoming the first backstop to reach 50 dingers. -- Doolittle

23. Minnesota Twins

Record: 58-75
Previous ranking: 23

The Twins' season has not gone according to plan, which is a mild way of putting things. In no area has this been so evident as in the rotation, which over the past week was saddled with the latest bit of bad news: The impending elbow surgery of righty Kenta Maeda, the runner-up in voting for the 2020 AL Cy Young award. Minnesota opened the campaign with the quintet of Maeda, Jose Berrios (since traded to Toronto), Michael Pineda (currently on the IL with an oblique injury), Matthew Shoemaker (released by the Twins on Aug. 2) and J.A. Happ (dealt to St. Louis at the trade deadline). Those five pitchers combined to give the Twins seven starts in August, the fewest of any team in baseball, and none since Aug. 21.-- Doolittle

24. Miami Marlins

Record: 55-78
Previous ranking: 26

Edward Cabrera made the first two starts of his career, allowing three runs in 6⅓ innings and then three runs over four innings. He showcased the big arm that had scouts ranking him as one of top pitching prospects in the minors, averaging 96.9 mph with his fastball through the two outings, although he didn't get much swing-and-miss with the pitch, with just four strikeouts total over the 10⅓ innings. Still, it's another promising young arm for the Marlins to count on in 2022. Bad news: Jake Eder, who was having a terrific season in the minors, will undergo Tommy John surgery. -- Schoenfield

25. Washington Nationals

Record: 55-76
Previous ranking: 25

Catcher Keibert Ruiz, part of the Trea Turner/Max Scherzer trade, is up from the minors and should see a lot of action down the stretch. Ruiz hit .310/.377/.616 with 21 home runs in just 284 at-bats in Triple-A (including .308/.365/.577 in 20 games for Rochester), with just 33 strikeouts in 316 PAs. You have to love the elite contact skills to go with the power potential. He actually caught Josiah Gray, the other key prospect in the deal, in his first game, although Gray allowed six runs in four innings. -- Schoenfield

26. Chicago Cubs

Record: 59-75
Previous ranking: 25

A 7-0 shutout of the crosstown White Sox on Saturday squeezed between two blowouts by their rivals left the Cubs with one win in six games against them this season. But all six contests came after the trade deadline, so Cubs fans have some excuses for their team's poor showing. Patrick Wisdom was anything but poor over the weekend. He had consecutive multihomer games and is giving Reds infielder Jonathan India some competition for rookie of the year. -- Rogers

27. Pittsburgh Pirates

Record: 48-85
Previous ranking: 28

Colin Moran was about the only Pirates hitter to do any damage at the plate last week as he hit .389 with an OPS over 1.000. Pittsburgh is getting a chance to play spoiler, however, beating and splitting two series with the Cardinals recently. That doesn't take away from their pitching woes as Wil Crowe and Mitch Keller continue to struggle. The Pirates produced the second highest ERA in the NL last week despite their modest successful results on the field.-- Rogers

28. Texas Rangers

Record: 47-86
Previous ranking: 27

Texas has found their mojo at the plate as they've reeled off a couple good weeks since getting over their trade-deadline moves. Nick Solak, DJ Peters and Adolis Garcia all produced top-25 OPS numbers over the past seven days with Garcia making a push for rookie of the year at 28 years old. He hit .320 with two home runs last week. -- Rogers

29. Arizona Diamondbacks

Record: 45-90
Previous ranking: 29

A positive sign amid a miserable season in Phoenix: Ketel Marte, in many ways the face of this franchise, has been an elite hitter when healthy. He has a .344/.395/.549 slash line in 65 games and finished August with an .892 OPS. In recent weeks, the switch-hitting Marte has made significant strides as a left-handed hitter, the side he'll hit from most of the time. -- Gonzalez

30. Baltimore Orioles

Record: 41-91
Previous ranking: 30

Baltimore brought its 19-game losing streak to an end against the Los Angeles Angels. Slugger Ryan Mountcastle looked like one of the team's biggest bright spots as of late, hitting .357/.397/.786 with eight homers in August. While Baltimore continues to look toward the future, top prospect Adley Rutschman won't be among the players getting their first taste of the major leagues when the rosters expand. -- Lee