10. St. Louis Cardinals: 47-45 record; 4.8 runs scored, 4.1 runs allowed—The Cardinals, who now trail both the Reds and the Pirates in the NL Central, continue to look like a contender—on paper, that is. Their offense is fifth in runs scored (441,) second in batting average (.273,) and first in on-base percentage (.341). Meanwhile they have a formidable rotation of Kyle Lohse, Lance Lynn, and Jake Westbrook who all have an ERA under 4.00. It all adds up to a team that has the third-best run-scoring differential (plus 64) in all of baseball that should soon be reflected in their wins and losses. Previous: 6
9. Atlanta Braves: 50-41 record; 4.6 runs scored, 4.3 runs allowed—The Braves, who are now just a game behind in the wild card race, are in a period of transition. While 40-year-old Chipper Jones leads them in batting with a .313 average, 37-year-old Tim Hudson is the best among their uninjured starters with a 3.70 ERA in 15 starts. But behind them are future star 22-year-olds Jason Heyward (.269 average with 14 home runs) and Freddie Freeman (.275 average with 13 home runs) as well as 25-year-old Tommy Hanson (10-5, 4.02 ERA). Meanwhile starter Ben Sheets, a 34-year-old who hadn’t pitched in the majors since 2010 until Sunday, delivered six scoreless innings and got the win. Previous: NR
8. San Francisco Giants: 51-41 record; 4.0 runs scored, 3.9 runs allowed—The first-place Giants, which were well represented in last week’s All-Star game, are looking good right now. They have just enough hitting to win with Pablo Sandoval (.303 average,) Buster Posey (.308, 53 RBIs,) and Melky Cabrera (second in National League with .357 average). Meanwhile their starting rotation of Matt Cain (10-3, 2.56 ERA,) Madison Bumgarner (11-6, 3.12 ERA,) and Ryan Vogelsong (7-4, 2.31 ERA) is second-best to Washington’s stellar rotation. Their success is even more amazing considering that two-time Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum is 3-10 with a 5.93 ERA. Previous: NR
7. Pittsburgh Pirates: 51-40 record; 4.2 runs scored, 3.8 runs allowed—The Pirates cannot be ignored any longer. The franchise that hasn’t had a winning season since 1992 had been hanging around .500 for a lot of the first half before turning it on of late. The Pirates’ main threat is center fielder Andrew McCutchen, who is blistering opposing pitching to the tune of an NL-best .369 average with 22 home runs, 65 RBIs, and 65 runs scored. On the mound, former Yankee A.J. Burnett is flourishing now with a 10-3 record and a 3.78 ERA while fellow starter James McDonald is an identical 10-3 with a 2.93 ERA. Previous: NR
6. Los Angeles Angels: 50-43 record; 4.5 runs scored, 4.0 runs allowed—The Angels, who have struggled offensively the past two seasons in missing the playoffs now have a good thing going in their lineup . Their three-headed hitting monster of Mike Trout (AL-bests of .352 average and 30 steals,) Mark Trumbo (.305 average with 26 home runs,) and Albert Pujols (.345 average since May 24) have turned around their season. Though they’ve struggled a bit since the break, losing five of seven on the road, they’re still 44-29 since that 6-14 start. Previous: 7
5. Chicago White Sox: 50-41 record; 4.7 runs scored, 4.2 runs allowed*—Robin Ventura will surely win the Manager of the Year award in his first season if he can continue to guide his veteran team into the playoffs. They’re on that path thanks to the increased contributions of highly-paid veterans Alex Rios (.316 average, 108 hits,) Adam Dunn (AL-high 28 home runs,) and Jake Peavy (8-6, 3.12 ERA). In addition, Kevin Youkilis is hitting almost 100 points higher (.315 to .233) in Chicago than he was under Bobby Valentine’s reign in Boston. Previous: 5
4. Cincinnati Reds: 52-40 record; 4.2 runs scored, 3.7 runs allowed—Winners of eight of their last 10 games, the Reds look like they’re finally placed where most pundits thought they would be at the beginning of the year—atop the NL Central. Unfortunately for them, middle-of-the-order bat Joey Votto (.342 average, .465 on-base percentage, .604 slugging) is on the disabled list with a torn meniscus and should be out for three to four weeks. Though Tampa Bay has struggled without their best hitter Evan Longoria anchoring the lineup, the Reds have better hitters around Votto (like Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce) than does Tampa Bay and should be able to hold their own in the short-term. Previous: 4
3. Washington Nationals: 53-37 record; 4.2 runs scored, 3.5 runs allowed—The Nationals, once considered pretenders (as opposed to contenders) early in the season, based on their extremely unsuccessful past, continue to be the class of the senior circuit. Their incredible starting rotation boasts two starters will ERAs under 3.00 (Stephen Strasburg 2.66, Jordan Zimmerman 2.35) and three others under 4.00. With outfielder Jayson Werth set to begin a rehab assignment Friday and Ryan Zimmerman starting to heat up at the plate (.353 average in July) the Nationals look to have enough hitting to win the division, if not the league. Previous: 3
2. Texas Rangers: 55-36 record; 5.0 runs scored, 4.1 runs allowed—The Rangers seem to have put their season on auto-pilot after their ferocious start which landed them in first place for almost the entire season. But while Josh Hamilton has cooled down considerably of late (.207 batting average since the start of June,) as well as Yu Darvish (4.74 ERA since the beginning of May) so has their comfort level over the second-place Angels who have clearly hit their stride. Look for the Rangers to trade some prospects for a front-line starting pitcher like Greinke or Garza in the next week or two. Previous: 1
1. New York Yankees: 57-34 record; 4.9 runs scored, 4.1 runs allowed*—It wasn’t all that long ago (May 21st) when the Yankees were struggling along at 21-21, taking up residence in the basement of the AL East, that whispers were heard of whether their advanced age had finally caught up with them. Now that they’ve won 36 of their last 49 games we can safely shelve the age thing for another season, though if they want to advance in the playoffs 36-year-old Alex Rodriguez (.267 batting average, 14 home runs, 41 RBIs) is going to have to turn back the clock a bit. It would also be good for the Yankees future if he’s able to find his old form considering he’s not yet halfway through that 10-year $275 million contract. Previous: 2
*—designates statistics not including Thursday night’s games.
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