FOX Sports MLB Analyst
With two weeks remaining in the regular season, only two of the six divisions have been decided and four playoff berths clinched. That will likely change in the coming week, but the wild-card races are living up to their name.
More than a few teams continue to fight for the final spots in each league, which will inevitably leave a good team or two on the outside looking in come October. This week, there was also a bit of movement among division leaders.
Here’s my latest top 10, with a few interesting factoids about each club and one new member.
1. Atlanta Braves (96-53; last week 1)
The Braves clinched a week ago — their sixth straight NL East title — but it’s worth nothing that they did it in the second-fewest games in franchise history (146 games). Atlanta still boasts a slugging percentage above .500 (.501), which would be the highest in MLB history.
2. Baltimore Orioles (93-56; LW 2)
The Orioles are going to the playoffs. What’s to be determined is whether it will be as the first or fourth seed in the American League. Baltimore rallied to win two straight against the Rays and manage a split in their four-game series. That gave the O’s the head-to-head tiebreaker. But their division lead is still just two games. They’ve also lost five of their past eight games overall.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers (91-57; LW 3)
Ho-hum, the Dodgers clinched yet another NL West title, their 10th in the past 11 seasons. After an offseason where many anointed the Padres the favorites, the Dodgers have posted the second-best OPS (.800) in baseball and have the best record since the All-Star break (40-19). They’re turning it on at the right time.
4. Tampa Bay Rays (92-59; LW 5)
The Rays briefly caught the Orioles this weekend but lost the final two games of their four-game series. They clinched a playoff spot, anyway, and they’re playing great ball. Their 27-15 record since August is the fourth best in the majors and 3.36 team ERA in September ranks third.
5. Houston Astros (84-66; LW 4)
The Astros just lost consecutive series to the Royals and A’s, which is emblematic of their 6-8 September. They seem to play to their competition. The offense is doing its part, however. Houston is one of two teams averaging six runs a game in the second half. Moreover, it’s been over a month since the Astros lost a game in which they allowed three runs or fewer.
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6. Milwaukee Brewers (84-65; LW 7)
The Brew Crew has quietly been one of the better teams since the All-Star break, posting the third-best winning percentage in the majors (.603). The key to their surge? A combination of timely hitting and great pitching. Milwaukee ranks fifth in average with runners in scoring position (.290) and leads all teams in ERA (3.33).
7. Toronto Blue Jays (83-67; LW 9)
By ERA, no team in baseball has gotten better starting pitching than the Blue Jays (3.79). A year ago, they ranked 18th. That will need to continue for Toronto, whose offense ranks 16th in the majors in runs per game in the second half.
8. Philadelphia Phillies (81-68; LW 8)
The Phillies have been (overly?) reliant on their power all year. It’s really paying dividends since the All-Star break, though. They have slugged the second-most homers (99) and extra-base hits (217) while surging to the NL’a top wild-card spot.
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9. Minnesota Twins (79-71; LW unranked)
Balance has been key for the Twins this season. Their starting pitchers are second in the majors since the All-Star break with a 3.83 ERA, while their offense has scored 5.51 runs per game, good for fifth in baseball. Those two in tandem have propelled the Twins to 25-18 mark since August, which ranks seventh.
10. Arizona Diamondbacks (79-72 LW 10)
Arizona currently owns the NL’s second wild-card spot after sweeping the Cubs over the weekend. The biggest X-factor with the D-backs is their pitching. They’re 53-8 when allowing three runs or fewer, fourth best in the majors. Conversely, when they allow four runs or more, they are 25-64, which ranks 16th.
Out: Seattle Mariners (6)
Ben Verlander is an MLB Analyst for FOX Sports and the host of the “Flippin’ Bats” podcast. Born and raised in Richmond, Virginia, Verlander was an All-American at Old Dominion University before he joined his brother, Justin, in Detroit as a 14th-round pick of the Tigers in 2013. He spent five years in the Tigers organization. Follow him on Twitter @BenVerlander.
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