MLB Power Rankings Week 21: Which NL power sits atop our list?

Corey Seager, Mookie Betts & Bobby Witt Jr. ESPN

It's showtime for many teams as we enter the final month of the regular season.

Some are cruising toward the postseason, while others are locked in a close battle for a playoff spot. And with no Game 163 tiebreakers this season, it should prove to be a fun September.

After dominating our list for 20 weeks, the Yankees have fallen out of the top five for the first time all season, having lost three of their past six games. On the other hand, the Mariners have been steadily rising as the season has progressed, finally making their top-10 debut this week.

Who's climbing the ranks, and which teams are nosediving?

Our expert panel has combined to rank every team in baseball based on a combination of what we've seen so far and what we already knew going into the 162-game marathon that is a full baseball season. We also asked ESPN MLB experts David Schoenfield, Bradford Doolittle, Jesse Rogers, Joon Lee and Alden Gonzalez to weigh in with an observation for all 30 teams.

Week 20 | Second-half preview | Preseason rankings

1. Los Angeles Dodgers

Record: 90-39

Previous ranking: 1

He has been mostly lost within the Dodgers' overwhelming greatness, but perhaps it's time to give Mookie Betts some MVP consideration. Betts trails only Paul Goldschmidt and Nolan Arenado in the NL with 6.4 fWAR and is noticeably trending upward. Betts posted a 1.081 OPS in the month of August, has 11 extra-base hits in his last 12 games and, after going deep off Jacob deGrom on Wednesday, has already tied his career high in home runs with 32. Trea Turner and Freddie Freeman have been consistent forces at the top of the lineup, neither of them missing a single game yet, but Betts -- the Dodgers' leadoff hitter -- has been the catalyst lately. -- Gonzalez

2. New York Mets

Record: 83-48

Previous ranking: 3

As good as the Mets have been, there remain some concerns about the rest of the bullpen aside from Edwin Diaz. Note that manager Buck Showalter also shares this concern to an extent, twice using Diaz in the eighth inning in August against the opposing heart of the order and then using somebody else in the ninth. Adam Ottavino has been pretty solid all season, but Trevor May and Mychal Givens have struggled, Joely Rodriguez was the losing pitcher Tuesday against the Dodgers and Seth Lugo has allowed an OPS over 1.000 when he pitches with no days of rest -- which could be a problem come October. -- Schoenfield

3. Houston Astros

Record: 84-47

Previous ranking: 2

Now that we've entered into the age of the universal DH, those in the "pitchers get paid to pitch" camp might start campaigning for a DF ... designated fielder. He'd be a guy who just hangs around near the mound, ready to leap into action anytime a pitcher would otherwise be required to field a bunt or cover first base.

If that happens, it'll be too late for Justin Verlander, whose Cy Young season was temporarily derailed when he suffered a calf strain while covering first base during a rundown. Luckily, the injury doesn't appear serious, and for the Astros, it's really all about getting Verlander up to speed for the playoffs. Still, the stint on the injured list could cost Verlander a shot at his third 20-win season. In the meantime, Houston fans will get a look at top pitching prospect Hunter Brown, 23, who was recalled from Sugar Land, where he was 9-4 with a 2.55 ERA and 11.4 strikeouts per nine innings this season. -- Doolittle

4. Atlanta Braves

Record: 80-51

Previous ranking: 4

The Braves' rotation has been rolling since the All-Star break, with a 3.15 ERA and 4.13 strikeout-to-walk ratio, compared to 3.92 and 2.66 before the break. Max Fried has walked just five batters in his past seven starts, while Charlie Morton has also stepped it up, improving his first-half ERA of 4.45 to 3.23 in the second half -- with an impressive 54 K's in 41 1/3 innings, including back-to-back games of 12 K's and 11 K's against the Mets and Astros, who are two of the three hardest teams in the majors to strike out. Looks like he's getting ready for October. -- Schoenfield

5. St. Louis Cardinals

Record: 76-55

Previous ranking: 6

The Albert Pujols show is showing no signs of slowing down. The veteran added an opposite-field shot to his August résumé when he took his 450th different pitcher deep on Monday in Cincinnati. Pujols has been pulling everything, so his 694th career home run gives pitchers a different look. If they want to go outside on him, he's obviously willing to go that way, too -- for the month, he has pulled the ball over 75% of the time. That's what made this homer so different from his previous 14 this year. -- Rogers

6. New York Yankees

Record: 79-52

Previous ranking: 5

One step forward, two steps back for New York. The Yankees recently pulled off a five-game winning streak, but dropped back-to-back games against the Athletics to split a series that they had in their hands. Aroldis Chapman is on the IL due to a leg infection from a tattoo and Frankie Montas is still struggling with his new team, posting a 7.01 ERA in 25 2/3 innings pitched. Meanwhile, Aaron Judge continues his home run tear, hitting his 50th of the season and putting him on pace to break the AL record set by Roger Maris for home runs in a single season (61). -- Lee

7. Philadelphia Phillies

Record: 73-58

Previous ranking: 9

The Phillies were cruising along, getting Bryce Harper back and winning six in a row against the Reds and Pirates, but then hit a couple of bumps. Zack Wheeler landed on the IL with forearm tendinitis. It doesn't appear serious and he wanted to pitch through it, but the team decided to play it safe. Still, he'll miss at least a couple of starts. Aaron Nola then allowed eight runs in a loss to Arizona, continuing his odd stretch of great starts intermingled with poor ones. Over his past nine starts he has allowed five or more runs four times, but no runs or one run five times. -- Schoenfield

8. Tampa Bay Rays

Record: 72-57

Previous ranking: 8

Wander Franco's return remains a question for the Rays, but the superstar shortstop said he was feeling "super good" and expected to resume his rehab assignment in the near future. Injuries could continue to be a problem for Tampa Bay, though, as ace and Cy Young candidate Shane McClanahan was scratched from Tuesday's start against the Marlins before the game. Tyler Glasnow has hinted that he could return before the end of the season, which would provide a boost to the Rays' rotation. -- Lee

9. Seattle Mariners

Record: 72-58

Previous ranking: 11

Obviously, the big news from Seattle in the past week was the long-term extension for Julio Rodriguez, a deal that could keep him in Seattle his entire career and pay him up to $470 million if all the maximum options are reached. The Mariners celebrated by taking three of four over the weekend against Cleveland -- despite getting just 19 hits in the entire series. The bats finally broke out with a nine-run hammering in Detroit on Tuesday. -- Schoenfield

10. San Diego Padres

Record: 73-59

Previous ranking: 10

The Padres still haven't really hit their stride in the second half, playing around .500 baseball since the start of July. And there are serious concerns around Josh Hader, acquired before the trade deadline to solidify the ninth inning. Hader allowed 12 runs and recorded just 14 outs in his first seven appearances with the Padres, but he took the ball with a one-run lead against the Giants on Wednesday and locked down the save. Leading up to his struggles in San Diego, Hader had a 10-game stretch with the Brewers in which he posted a 14.04 ERA. The Padres will spend these next five weeks working to lock down a wild-card spot, but that will be very difficult if they can't get Hader right. They hope Wednesday was a step towards him finding himself again. -- Gonzalez

11. Toronto Blue Jays

Record: 70-59

Previous ranking: 7

Toronto appeared to be finding its footing, ripping off a stretch of seven wins in eight games before getting swept by the Angels over the weekend. The Jays now have the Orioles breathing down their neck for the last wild-card spot. The recent stretch of games has fallen in line with their performance the entire season: moments of brilliance followed by confounding struggles, which have led to inconsistent results on the field. -- Lee

12. Cleveland Guardians

Record: 68-60

Previous ranking: 12

You want to understand how baseball's youngest team established itself as a division front-runner after the trade deadline without actually making a trade? Start by looking at what Cleveland's devastating bullpen has done during August. Collectively, Guardians relievers have posted an MLB-best 1.87 ERA in August. But that hardly describes what has happened at the back of the pen, where Trevor Stephan and James Karinchak have joined elite closer Emmanuel Clase in forming a three-headed, game-closing monster. During August, that trio has combined for seven saves (all Clase), 10 holds, a 0.78 ERA over 34 2/3 innings with 14.02 strikeouts per nine innings, all without recording a single blown save. -- Doolittle

13. Baltimore Orioles

Record: 68-61

Previous ranking: 15

The Orioles currently stand two games behind the Blue Jays for the last wild-card spot, which begs the question of what position the team would be in had it kept Trey Mancini and Jorge Lopez at the trade deadline. After the Orioles recently promoted DL Hall, they called up top prospect Gunnar Henderson on Wednesday as they make a push for the playoffs. Baltimore could also call up top pitching prospect Grayson Rodriguez, who recently started his rehab stint in the minor leagues. Since the start of the second half, Baltimore's starting pitchers boast a top-10 ERA as a team. -- Lee

14. Milwaukee Brewers

Record: 69-60

Previous ranking: 13

Milwaukee is playing better baseball after a series loss to the Dodgers last week, but it could be too little, too late, as St. Louis has opened up a sizable division lead on the Brewers. At least their offense has found a bit of a groove, since October baseball is about home runs a lot of the time. Milwaukee can hit the long ball, as evidenced by nine different players accumulating at least 10 home runs. Eight different players hit at least one just in the past seven days. That production is keeping Milwaukee in the wild-card race. -- Rogers

15. Minnesota Twins

Record: 67-62

Previous ranking: 14

A strong homestand has allowed the Twins to hang close to Cleveland in the AL Central race even with Byron Buxton back on the IL, where he has a standing reservation. Buxton played in 92 of Minnesota's first 128 games, the most contests in which he has appeared since 2017. The Twins have gone two games over .500 in games in which Buxton hasn't appeared, a solid showing but a pace that won't do if Buxton's current hip malady lingers. Minnesota is about to embark on its most challenging road trip of the season, with three games against the fading White Sox and four games against Judge and the Yankees. -- Doolittle

16. San Francisco Giants

Record: 61-68

Previous ranking: 17

The Giants have gone from a storybook season in 2021 to, well, flat-out bad in 2022. Since June 19, they're 24-41. Only the rebuilding Pirates and Nationals have a worse winning percentage. During that stretch, their relievers have the seventh-highest ERA in the majors. For the season, their defense is tied for second-worst -- with the Phillies! -- in outs above average. It'll be very interesting to see how Farhan Zaidi, Giants president of baseball ops, assesses this roster in the offseason. -- Gonzalez

17. Boston Red Sox

Record: 63-68

Previous ranking: 18

Boston continues its limp to the finish line, staying pace behind the Orioles to stake claim to last place in the AL East. The Red Sox designated relievers Hirokazu Sawamura and Austin Davis for assignment. Team president Sam Kennedy recently told The Athletic that chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and manager Alex Cora will return for the 2023 season, but the two have a lot of work cut out for them to turn this ship around. -- Lee

18. Chicago White Sox

Record: 64-66

Previous ranking: 16

That sound you hear on the South Side of Chicago is the White Sox collectively digging to find their real rock bottom moment of the 2022 season. This week is the one that marks the figurative sunset on Chicago's playoff chances, with literal mathematical dusk not too far away. Then the project becomes figuring out what went wrong for the season's most disappointing team. The sweep at home against Arizona last weekend was really the death knell for the campaign, but perhaps expectations for a turnaround have been exaggerated all along. The White Sox haven't sported a positive run differential since April 17. -- Doolittle

19. Arizona Diamondbacks

Record: 61-68

Previous ranking: 20

The D-backs picked up the 2023 option on Torey Lovullo's contract earlier this week, bringing the 57-year-old skipper back for a seventh season. Lovullo is now, amazingly, the longest-tenured manager in franchise history. Bringing him back was an acknowledgment of the club's improvement from its 110-loss 2021 season. And though the D-backs are nowhere near contention -- particularly in a division fronted by the Dodgers and Padres -- they have enjoyed some encouraging signs from their core players of late, namely Christian Walker, Daulton Varsho, Carson Kelly, Zac Gallen and Merrill Kelly. -- Gonzalez

20. Texas Rangers

Record: 58-71

Previous ranking: 19

The Rangers' offense had a good week, as did Nathaniel Lowe, who won player of the week honors on Monday. He had four home runs and an OPS just under 1.600 over the course of five games last week while Corey Seager contributed a couple of long balls as well. It all added up to an MLB-leading .900-plus team OPS over a seven-day span starting Aug. 23. Unfortunately, much like the Rangers' season, their hitting and pitching weren't on the same page. They gave up 29 runs over the course of a 2-2 week ending on Tuesday. Texas has little chance of finishing .500 due to this lack of consistency. -- Rogers

21. Los Angeles Angels

Record: 57-74

Previous ranking: 21

The Angels might be out of contention, but they possess one of the most fascinating storylines heading into the final month-plus of the regular season -- whether Shohei Ohtani can chase down Judge for a second consecutive AL MVP. Ohtani batted .317/.386/.653 in the month of August, punctuating it with a game-winning three-run homer -- his 30th -- against Judge's Yankees on Wednesday. He also pitched to a 2.20 ERA, further solidifying his two-way greatness. With September upon us, Ohtani has accumulated 7.2 fWAR, while Judge checks in at 8.3 -- on a championship-contending Yankees team. Ohtani might have to take it to yet another level down the stretch. -- Gonzalez

22. Miami Marlins

Record: 55-75

Previous ranking: 22

Sandy Alcantara bounced back from his worst start of the season (six runs and 10 hits in 3 2/3 innings in a loss to the Dodgers on Aug. 21) to throw a complete game to beat the Dodgers on Saturday, allowing one run with 10 strikeouts. That's four complete games for Alcantara, more than every other team in the majors. Sixteen teams don't have a single complete game. He remains the heavy Cy Young favorite. -- Schoenfield

23. Colorado Rockies

Record: 56-75

Previous ranking: 24

The Rockies went only 10-18 in August, but that surely wasn't Ryan McMahon's fault. The 27-year-old third baseman -- signed to a six-year, $70 million extension in March -- batted .311/.351/.533 last month, raising his OPS for the season by 40 points and renewing hope that he can be a productive member of the Rockies' core group of players moving forward. Something similar can be said of German Marquez, who contributed a quality start in four of his five outings in August, including seven scoreless innings against Max Scherzer and the Mets on Sunday. -- Gonzalez

24. Chicago Cubs

Record: 56-75

Previous ranking: 23

It's been a year of debuts for young Cubs players, including starter Javier Assad. The 25-year-old shut down the mighty Blue Jays offense on Monday, just a handful of days after he did the same to the Cardinals. Assad threw a total of nine innings over the two games, giving up eight hits and six walks but no runs. It was another good outing for a sneaky good starting rotation -- when it's been healthy, at least. -- Rogers

25. Cincinnati Reds

Record: 51-78

Previous ranking: 25

Cincinnati almost assuredly won't have a rostered player reach 20 home runs after Joey Votto was shut down and Brandon Drury and Tommy Pham were traded. In fact, the Reds don't currently have a hitter with even 10 home runs -- Kyle Farmer and Jonathan India each have eight. In other words, the roster hardly screams "Big Red Machine." At least rookie Nick Lodolo has pitched well lately, giving them some hope on the mound. -- Rogers

26. Kansas City Royals

Record: 53-78

Previous ranking: 26

Maybe this Nick Pratto thing is going to work out after all. After an eight-game hitless slide dropped the rookie first baseman's average to .163, his struggles to acclimate to the majors -- mostly based on a high swing-and-miss rate -- were concerning. That's especially true given similar bat-on-ball issues suffered by other top prospects recently, such as Detroit's Spencer Torkelson and Seattle's Jarred Kelenic. Then Pratto went off. It was only four games so might just be a blip, but Pratto went 8-for-17 in those contests with three homers, 10 RBIs and a 1.735 OPS. That spree was capped with a 4-for-5 showing in Chicago on Tuesday in which Pratto homered twice and piled up 11 total bases. -- Doolittle

27. Detroit Tigers

Record: 50-80

Previous ranking: 28

In rare positive news for the 2022 Tigers, young righty Matt Manning has shown signs that he's figuring some things out. Manning missed around four months after succumbing to arm and shoulder trouble early in the season. He made it back in early August, and over five starts before getting lit up against Seattle on Aug. 30, Manning posted a 2.40 ERA in 30 innings, striking out 27, walking nine and allowing just two homers. The rough outing against the Mariners offered evidence that Manning shouldn't get complacent, but the stretch of good pitching is the best we've seen yet in the majors for the ninth pick of the 2016 draft. -- Doolittle

28. Pittsburgh Pirates

Record: 49-81

Previous ranking: 27

If Oneil Cruz can harness his incredible talent, he'll be a force to be reckoned with. Cruz hit the hardest ball ever recorded in the Statcast era when he blasted one off the right-field wall last week. It clocked in at 122.4 mph. Combine that with his off-the-charts arm strength and you can see why the Pirates like him so much. But Cruz is hitting around .200 in his rookie season with a strikeout-to-walk ratio over five. The highlights are great, but maturity at the plate is needed. -- Rogers

29. Oakland Athletics

Record: 49-82

Previous ranking: 29

There are some bright spots here in Oakland. The team earned back-to-back wins against the Yankees over the weekend, receiving strong performances from Adam Oller and Adrian Martinez. The A's do still have the worst record in the AL, though, and their attendance continues to lag. Oakland ranks last in baseball in average attendance -- with less than 10,000 fans showing up every game -- and percentage of capacity filled, trailing the Marlins by almost 10% at 20.2%. -- Lee

30. Washington Nationals

Record: 44-86

Previous ranking: 30

When it goes wrong, it goes wrong. The Nationals called up top prospect Cade Cavalli after some solid work in Triple-A (3.71 ERA in 20 starts, 104 K's in 97 IP, just three home runs allowed), but he struggled in his debut, allowing seven runs and hitting three batters in 4 1/3 innings -- and then landed on the IL with shoulder inflammation. He'll be shut down for two weeks and then reevaluated, but given the time frame, it's possible we won't see him again until 2023. -- Schoenfield