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DWPR: A Playoff Race Check-In (8/30/2021)

There’s roughly a month of games left in the 2021 regular season. MLB has announced the postseason schedule, with the American League Wild Card Game on October 5 serving as the first game of the playoffs. With that being said, it is now time to look at each division race and even the wild card races as we enter the final stretch of the regular season.

In the American League, the Rays, White Sox, and Astros have all opened up divisional leads of at least five games. For all three of these clubs, it appears that they will have their respective divisions wrapped up within the next few weeks. The Yankees will face the Rays in one series down the stretch, and that would be the final series of the year when Tampa Bay could have nothing to play for. The ChiSox have the largest divisional lead in baseball and the only double-digit lead. The second-place club in the AL Central is below .500, so the White Sox are also locks to be in. Finally, the Astros are up 5.5 games against the Athletics and play them near the end of the regular season when they could realistically have the division locked up. The wild cards currently are the Yankees and Red Sox, and with Oakland’s recent slump, have both built a nice cushion in that race.

Meanwhile, in the National League, the Braves, Brewers, and Giants have all taken first place. The Braves, aided by both a hot streak along with cold streaks by their biggest competitors, have a 4.5 game lead in the NL East. The Brewers have been in first for most of the season, and will likely win the division, as second-place Cincinnati does not play Milwaukee again. The Giants have the slimmest lead in baseball at 1.5 games and will face the Dodgers this upcoming weekend in what may prove to be the series that decides the NL West crown. The wild cards are the aforementioned Dodgers, and the Reds, who have surged while the Padres have sunk (more on San Diego later). With all that said, let’s get into the rankings!

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1. Los Angeles Dodgers (82-49, +209 run differential, Last Time: 4)

I know it is definitely crazy to put a team that isn’t even leading its own division at the top of the power rankings but hear me out. Since the Trade Deadline, the Dodgers have been one of the best teams in baseball, posting a 19-6 record in the month of August. The hired guns of Trea Turner and Max Scherzer have been great for Los Angeles, as Turner has an .861 OPS (134 OPS+) with LA, and Scherzer has posted an ERA of 1.55 and 1.96 FIP in that span. The upcoming schedule does get harder with a final matchup against the Giants this weekend, but with the way the Dodgers have been playing, no one should be looking forward to the postseason.

2. Tampa Bay Rays (83-48, +163, Last Time: 2)

Very quietly, the Tampa Bay Rays have had an elite offense, ranking in the top 5 in wRC+ and leading the majors in runs scored. The main cogs for Tampa have been former All-Stars Mike Zunino, Joey Wendle, Brandon Lowe, and Austin Meadows, along with the Wanderkind Wander Franco (who has a 30-game on-base streak, the AL record for players under 21) and the ageless wonder Nelson Cruz. They are currently sporting an eight-game win streak, and have the same record as the mighty Dodgers in the month of August. The Rays have proven over the course of the year that no matter who they have that they can just win baseball games.

3. San Francisco Giants (84-46, +147, Last Time: 1)

Even with the Dodgers surging, the Giants keep playing their brand of baseball to keep pace with their rivals and maintain their lead in the NL West race. Despite the recent struggles of Kevin Gausman, the emergence of Logan Webb has helped San Francisco considerably. Over his last 13 starts, Webb is 7-0 with a 1.48 ERA and has made 12 consecutive starts allowing two runs or less, behind only Ferdie Schupp for the most in franchise history. This week the Giants will take on two teams that are likely to be in the playoff race in the Brewers and Dodgers, the last of which could decide the NL West race.

4. Houston Astros (77-53, +176, Last Time: Not Ranked)

Alex Bregman is back, and the Houston lineup is much deeper with him in it. While it may be a small sample size, Bregman has a slash line of .357/.471/.429 since coming back from injury. His return is a boon for an Astros team that has spent most of August as a middling squad. In their last ten games, the ‘Stros have gone 7-3, and are in the process of solidifying a division lead over a struggling Oakland Athletics team. Worth watching down the stretch: Carlos Correa, who said he will be leaving Houston after this season, and how he performs in what may possibly be his last postseason run with Houston.

5. New York Yankees (76-54, +52, Last Time: NR)

Well, the 13-game winning streak may be over, but the Yankees’ chances at winning a World Series are far from it. After getting walked-off by Tim Anderson in the Field of Dreams game against the White Sox, the Yankees were two games out of the wild card chase and just half a game over the fourth-place Blue Jays. This win streak would tie the longest win streak for the Bronx Bombers since 1961, when Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle anchored their lineup. This surge pushed New York from out of the playoff race to firmly in the wild card spot, with a potential AL Wild Card matchup against the Red Sox growing more likely by the day.

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26. San Diego Padres (69-62, +68, Last Time: NR)

Yes, I am aware that there are plenty of teams worse than the Padres (like the Cubs and Nationals), but they have become the most disappointing team of the second half of the season. The Friars went from almost acquiring Max Scherzer and going all in to signing Jake Arrieta and firing their pitching coach Larry Rothschild. The timing of the Rothschild firing was strange, but he is essentially a scapegoat for the Padres’ pitching issues this season, from Blake Snell struggling to Yu Darvish fading down the stretch. For a team that had legitimate World Series aspirations entering the season, a year without the playoffs is inexcusable, which is why the Padres are (temporarily) in the bottom five.

27. Pittsburgh Pirates (48-83, -198, Last Time: 30)

The final piece from the Pirates’ teams that were in the playoffs for three straight years in the 2010s was cut when the Pirates DFA’d Gregory Polanco last week. Polanco over the last three years had been a below-replacement-level player, especially at the plate. Between 2019 and this season, he slashed .203/.270/.364 for an OPS of .634 (31% below league average). However, Polanco was an important figure both on and off the field for the Pirates, and while he may not be performing at an adequate level anymore, it is still sad to see the last player from the most successful Pirates teams in a generation leave unceremoniously.

28. Arizona Diamondbacks (44-88, -180, Last Time: 28)

Tyler Gilbert threw a no-hitter in his first career start a few weeks ago, and that is the highlight of the Diamondbacks’ miserable season. Going against the San Diego Padres, Gilbert struck out 5 batters, walked 3, and allowed no hits in only his fourth career major league appearance. During the pandemic, Gilbert was working as an electrician with his father and was really contemplating his future in baseball, and was a minor league Rule 5 pick for Arizona in 2020. Fun fact: this was the first no-hitter thrown by a pitcher making his first career start since Bobo Holloman did with the St. Louis Browns in 1953.

29. Texas Rangers (46-85, -146, Last Time: 29)

Very quietly, the Texas Rangers have had a player be the best defender at their position, and that player is none other than Isiah Kiner-Falefa. Kiner-Falefa won the American League Gold Glove Award at third base in the shortened season, and the Rangers decided to move him to shortstop to replace the recently departed Elvis Andrus. Entering this season, Kiner-Falefa had logged fewer than 150 MLB innings at shortstop, with 4 defensive runs saved at that position. This year alone, he has 14 defensive runs saved, good for first in the majors (along with Carlos Correa) among shortstops and third overall.

30. Baltimore Orioles (40-90, -231, Last Time: 27)

The Orioles went three weeks without winning a game, going 0-19 from August 3rd to August 24th. The win that broke the losing streak for the O’s came against the Angels who did not have either Mike Trout or Anthony Rendon in the lineup. Shohei Ohtani, the starting pitcher for the American League in the All-Star Game this year, was on the mound for the Angels. Ohtani gave up four runs in five innings before the Orioles destroyed the Angels’ bullpen in the 8th inning, coming from behind to win. The bad news, however, was that the Orioles would later be the first team eliminated from playoff contention this year, despite the good vibes from that Angels game.

I have developed a primitive ranking system via Google Sheets using a team’s record, record from their last 10 games, and run differential. It’s not necessarily bad to not see your favorite team here every week, it just means that they are closer to an average team instead of a great one or a terrible one. Also, I don’t play favorites and I don’t hate your team (at least I don’t hate them enough to rank them lower). These rankings are derived straight from the numbers. Feel free to argue with me about this on Twitter. My username is @jwdblue42, and I will talk about my rankings with anyone who disagrees in a respectful manner only.

Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference, FanGraphs, and BaseballSavant, player numbers are accurate as of 8/29/2021, team records and run differentials are accurate as of 8/29/2021

Featured Image Courtesy of the New York Yankees Twitter

James Darschewski

James Darschewski is an undergraduate student at Purdue University who is the self-appointed "Power Rankings Czar". You can find him on Twitter and Instagram @jwdblue42.

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