MLB Power Rankings - Risers and Fallers (7/10/18)
MLB Power Rankings - Risers and Fallers
Welcome to the 13th edition of this year's MLB Risers and Fallers article! Each week I'll be here with you to discuss the three biggest Risers and Fallers in our MLB Power Rankings, regardless of initial position. Our Power Rankings are developed using current team performance and players on the active depth chart, which causes fluctuation week-to-week based on injuries and who is in and out of the lineup. To see a full description of how our Power Rankings are created, as well as this week's full list of rankings, please visit MLB Power Rankings - 7/7/18.
It's been two weeks since our last Risers and Fallers piece, but the Houston Astros remain on top as they continue to lead the majors with a +168 run differential. Since a relatively slow 21-15 start, the reigning champions are 40-17 and neck-and-neck with the Yankees and Red Sox for the best record in the majors. Speaking of those two AL East foes, New York lands in second in our rankings this week. The Yankees would reach a nice round record of 60-30 if they win Tuesday in Baltimore, and Aaron Boone should be proud of his club's consistency. They've notched records of 16-9, 17-8, and 18-9 in the first three full months of the season, an impressive mark for a team that's dealt with injuries to Gary Sanchez, Masahiro Tanaka, and Greg Bird. The Los Angeles Dodgers fall in third place behind them. LA has officially rebounded from their early season struggles, now sitting just a half-game back of the Diamondbacks for first in the NL West. Their +80 run differential is also second-best in the NL, and they've posted a 33-15 record since falling to 16-26 in mid-May. The next team on our list leads the majors with a 63-29 record and are currently on a 7-game winning streak. Boston continues to demolish opponents, averaging the most runs per game (5.37) in the majors, while allowing the second-fewest (3.70) per game. Their offense has truly been special, with Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez sitting 1st and 3rd in the majors in batting average, respectively, while Martinez sits atop the majors in both home runs (28) and RBIs (77). Rounding out our top five this week are the Chicago Cubs. Their 8-2 record over the last 10 games has pulled them to within 1.5-games of the Brewers in the NL Central, and put them atop the NL Wild Card race. Joe Maddon has been getting contributions from unlikely sources, as Albert Almora Jr. leads the team with a .323 batting average while Javier Baez leads the team in home runs, RBIs, slugging, and OPS. It's impressive they've managed such a good record without their usual All-Stars leading the way, but the depth of their youth is something Theo Epstein has harped on since taking over as GM. Let's get into this week's featured teams.
Torey Luvollo's club owns a slim half-game lead in the NL West after coming off a very successful June, having posted a 19-9 record in the month. Their start to July hasn't been quite as peachy, but the Diamondbacks were able to activate A.J. Pollock and Robbie Ray within the last two weeks, which is a huge boost to their starting staff, lineup, and defense up the middle. Despite playing in only 46 games, Pollock sits second on the D-Backs in WAR thanks to a .289/.355/.590 slash line while playing an effective center field. Ray has struggled a bit this season after posting back-to-back 3.0-WAR seasons, as his walk rate has climbed to an unruly 5.02 BB/9, leading to an inflated 4.87 FIP. Arizona could really use a resurgence from Ray, as the rotation has struggled behind Zack Greinke and Patrick Corbin. The offense has been riding Paul Goldschmidt's coattails for the last six weeks. After a brutal May where Goldschmidt slashed .144/.252/.278 and struck out 31.5% of the time, the now six-time All Star posted a .364/.460/.738 slash line in June and has even better numbers through eight games in July. David Peralta has been their most consistent offensive producer throughout the season, leading the team with a .291 average while sitting second in home runs, RBIs, and third in slugging. Arizona will have its hands full trying to hold off the Dodgers in the NL West, but Luvollo and the rest of the club should be happy with a division lead just one week away from the All-Star break.
The Cardinals move up three spots from our last set of rankings, in large part due to their continued success on the mound. They move up from 14th to 8th in our pitching ranks, as Carlos Martinez has produced three-straight quality starts after a rough beginning to June, while Miles Mikolas ranks 14th among pitchers in WAR and leads the team with 109.1 innings pitched. Rookie Jack Flaherty has also given them quality outings, allowing one earned run or fewer in 7 of his 13 starts while boasting an impressive 10.54 K/9. Even John Gant has gotten into the mix with Michael Wacha on the DL, posting a 2.95 ERA in his last three starts including a seven-inning shutout performance against the Cleveland Indians. Things have been much more inconsistent on offense, as the players just can't seem to get hot at the same time. Tommy Pham has cooled off considerably after slashing .321/.429/.547 through 39 games. Since that mark on May 19th, Pham has slashed .183/.242/.287 over his next 44 games, while remarkably recording just two doubles in that time frame. Matt Carpenter has followed almost the complete opposite trajectory, as he was slashing .140/.286/.272 through 35 games and has rebounded to post a .330/.417/.660 slash line over the next 49 games, ripping 20 doubles and 14 home runs in the process. Carpenter currently sits well atop the team in WAR, leading them in homers, RBIs, OBP, and slugging percentage while manning the leadoff spot. Marcell Ozuna hasn't lived up to expectations thus far after his monstrous 2017 campaign, but his struggles have been overshadowed by those of Dexter Fowler, who is currently ranked 367th out of 370 players in WAR with a mark of -1.2. If St. Louis can find a way to ignite their offense, the starting pitching is certainly there to make a second-half run at the playoffs.
Cincinnati had nearly twice as many losses than wins on June 10th, sitting with a 22-43 record and no hope at a successful season. Their offense seemed to flip a switch following a home loss to the Cardinals, as they ignited an 18-8 stretch while leading the majors with 158 runs scored. In the 30 days since then, Jim Riggleman's club is second in the majors with a combined 6.4 WAR from their position players, leading the majors with a .362 OBP and a third-best .272 batting average. Eugenio Suarez has led the charge offensively, slashing .344/.452/.615, which are all team-highs alongside his seven homers. Billy Hamilton has also come alive offensively, batting .337 while holding down the 9th spot in the lineup. He leads the team with 22 runs and 12 stolen bases in the last month, and has been their best defender during this stretch as well. Some of their younger prospects in Jose Peraza and Jesse Winker have come alive, too. Peraza has posted a .286/.375/.459 slash line with eight stolen bases and three home runs, while Winker has been an on-base machine. He's walked 18.4% of the time in the last month, leading to an impressive .442 OBP. He's produced when swinging the bat as well, posting a .314 average and .486 slugging percentage during that span. Perhaps the biggest gamble that has paid off is the acquisition of Matt Harvey. The Dark Knight has rounded into form and seems comfortable on the mound again. In his last four starts, he's 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA and 2.50 FIP, has an 18:3 K:BB ratio, and has done it against the likes of the Cubs (x2), Braves, and Brewers. Harvey will likely get moved close to the deadline considering the Reds are still far removed from the playoff picture, but the success of their young players is finally an encouraging sign for a clubhouse that has been in rebuild mode for the last few seasons.
Seattle continues to defy all odds and come out on top in nearly every close game. Their 26-11 record in one run games is still seven-wins clear of the next closest AL team, while their 37 one-run games makes them one of three teams with more than 30 (Giants - 31, Brewers - 33). Seattle is also the only team in the league with a perfect record in extra innings, boasting an 8-0 mark. They're currently 23 games over .500 (57-34) and have just a +17 run differential, which is fewer than the Athletics (50-41, +19), Phillies (50-39, +21), and Nationals (45-45, +27). Run differential is clearly not the end-all be-all, but it does a good job of showcasing that Seattle is certainly outperforming the league average when it comes to close games, and could fall back quickly if their performance in tight ones begins to falter. The Mariners can attribute a lot of their success in these close games to their pitching staff. Led by James Paxton, their starting pitching ranks 10th overall in WAR and FIP, and the 535 innings they've thrown are third-most in the league. Eating up all those innings has allowed their bullpen to stay rested and effective. Edwin Diaz currently leads all relievers with 2.4 WAR, and his 35 saves are eight clear of Craig Kimbrel for most in the majors. His 14.94 K/9 ranks fourth in the majors, while his 1.44 FIP is third among all relievers. Perhaps the Mariners' success in close games isn't fluky, as they've built a rotation that can go deep into games and turn it over to a bullpen anchored by a top closer in the league.
The Brew Crew come into this week as the leaders in the NL Central, but end up dropping four spots in our rankings due to a couple recent injuries. Milwaukee placed Ryan Braun and Manny Pina on the DL this past weekend, and although neither are having a spectacular season, their replacements cause the Brewers to fall in a tightly-packed section of our rankings. Craig Counsel's club has come out well to begin July, starting the month with a sweep over the Twins and winning three of four from the Braves. It's a good bounce back after struggling in June, as they posted a sub-.500 record of 12-13. Milwaukee's pitching has remained strong throughout the season despite not having a true ace, but their staff currently ranks seventh on our pitching leaderboard. It's been a group effort for the Brewers, as six pitchers are between 1.2-2.0 WAR, including four of their five current starters. Rookie Freddy Peralta has probably been the most impressive, as his 1.3 WAR comes in just 33.2 innings. He's proven he belongs in the majors, posting a 2.11 FIP and 12.30 K/9 in his six starts. Their 3.54 team-ERA ranks fifth in the majors, and their .227 opponent batting average allowed is fourth among all teams and first in the NL. They've had some great individual performances on offense, but as a team still just sit 16th in the league at 4.38 runs per game. Jesus Aguilar has jumped onto the scene and announced his arrival to the majors by leading the NL in homers (23) and slugging percentage (.639), sitting fourth in the majors in RBIs (64), while also boasting a .305 batting average that puts him 10th in the NL. He's become one of the league's most complete hitters in a short amount of time, and should hopefully earn an All-Star bid on the NL's final vote.
Atlanta has hit their first speed bump of the season, having lost five of their last six games to fall into a tie with Philadelphia atop the NL East. They've surrendered 37 runs over those six games, and are likely looking forward to the All-Star break so they can rest their young arms in Sean Newcomb, Dan Winkler, Shane Carle, and A.J. Minter, who will all set career-highs in innings pitched this season. The latter three are all bullpen arms who combined to throw 33.1 innings last season, and all three have already surpassed that mark on their own in 2018. Newcomb is right on the heels of his 2017 inning total as well, needing just two more outs to match his 100 innings from a season ago. We're worried this staff won't be able to hold on as the season progresses, as they've dropped from 7th to 16th in our pitching rankings the last two weeks. Luckily, this young staff has been buoyed by a dynamic offense that's posted 4.93 runs per game, which is sixth-best in the majors. Freddie Freeman, Ozzie Albies, and Nick Markakis are averaging 400 plate appearances, 15 home runs, and have all scored and driven in at least 50 runs. Freeman currently sits 9th in the majors in WAR, Albies is 19th, and Markakis is 39th, so it's no surprise all three were selected to represent the Braves in the All-Star game, with Freeman and Markakis earning the starting honors on top of the selection. If Atlanta wants to make a full-hearted run at the World Series this season, they should probably pursue some veteran arms to hold down the bullpen and add some length to their rotation. Even though their offense has been elite, they need to bolster the staff if they want a shot at a title this season.