|Photo by USA Today|
By Steve Roney
There are many reasons for the Dodgers' ascension -- from Adrian Gonzalez' consistency and Yasiel Puig's flash to the shutdown pitching. Blazing hot after the break, they're exactly the sort of team that no one wants to run into in October.
Here's how Nationals Insider Mark Zuckerman, Nats writer Chase Hughes, and I see the rest of the league shaking out:
1. Atlanta Braves (77-49; LW: 2) - Zuckerman: The bullpen is so good, they've basically turned every game into a 6-inning affair.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers (73-52; LW: 1) - Hughes: Everyone knows about Yasiel Puig, but Hanley Ramirez has been as important as anyone to their unbelievable run over the past few months.
3. Pittsburgh Pirates (74-51; LW: 4) - Roney: Pedro Alvarez may never hit for average, but his power is seriously impressive -- as is leading the team with 83 RBI despite a .234 average.
4. Boston Red Sox (75-54; LW: 3) - Zuckerman: Everyone may have shared Dempster's sentiments, but his A-Rod plunking may have cost Boston that game.
5. Detroit Tigers (73-52; LW: 5) - Roney: It almost doesn't matter that Prince Fielder is disappointing. Miguel Cabrera is set to top last year's batting average, RBI, and home run totals -- which won him the Triple Crown and 2012 MVP.
6. Texas Rangers (73-53; LW: 7) - Hughes: Texas keeps holding off the Athletics for first in the division as they have for over two months. Their six remaining matchups should be fun to watch.
7. Tampa Bay Rays (72-52; LW: 9) - Zuckerman: Beating up on bad teams: 37-13 vs. under-.500 opponents this season.
8. St. Louis Cardinals (72-53; LW: 6) - Roney: The Cards have gotten huge stretch contributions from rookies in the recent past -- Kolten Wong could be the next.
9. Cincinnati Reds (71-55; LW: 10) - Roney: Hopefully Cingrani's back injury isn't anything too serious; for what it's worth, the pitcher has said he expects to make his next start.
10. Oakland A's (71-54; LW: 8) - Hughes: Who could have predicted that Derek Norris, of the four players shipped west for Gio Gonzalez, would be the only worthy contributor to the A's at this point?
11. Cleveland Indians (68-58; LW: 12) - Roney: Most casual fans probably wouldn't be able to name more than two of their starting pitchers, but they're right there in the wild card race.
12. Baltimore Orioles (67-58; LW: 11) - Zuckerman: They're hanging around, but at some point they've got to make their move.
13. New York Yankees (66-59; LW: 15) - Zuckerman: The A-Rod transformation is complete: He's now officially a professional wrestling heel.
14. Arizona Diamondbacks (65-59; LW: 14) - Hughes: Paul Goldschmidt should be the NL Most Valuable Player if he keeps it up over the next five weeks.
15. Kansas City Royals (64-60; LW: 13) - Roney: They won't make the playoffs, but if they can finish with 82 wins, that has to be considered solid progress.
16. Washington Nationals (61-64; LW: 16) - Zuckerman: 6th-most wins in MLB vs. teams with losing records, 3rd-fewest wins vs. teams with winning records.
17. New York Mets (58-66; LW: 20) - Zuckerman: Depending on what they do this offseason, they could actually be a dark horse in 2014.
18. Seattle Mariners (58-67; LW: 17) - Hughes: Only two Seattle players have appeared in over 100 of their 127 games. Shows how much turnover they've had, mainly due to injuries.
19. Colorado Rockies (59-68; LW: 18) - Hughes: Wilin Rosario is one of the best young catchers in the majors, but Colorado seems to hope his future is at first base.
20. Toronto Blue Jays (57-69; LW: 19) - Zuckerman: Victims of a tough division: 94 of 127 games have come vs. teams over .500.
21. San Francisco Giants (56-69; LW: 25) - Hughes: It has been a lost season for the defending champs, but Brandon Belt is realizing his promise and could be a big part of their future.
22. Minnesota Twins (55-69; LW: 22) - Roney: Mauer just went down with a concussion, which surely sent shivers up the spines of Minnesotans everywhere, seeing as Justin Morneau has never been the same after sustaining one of his own.
23. San Diego Padres (56-70; LW: 21) - Hughes: The 2nd worst pitching staff in the NL and the fifth lowest scoring offense. There's a lot of work to be done to revive the Padres' franchise.
24. Los Angeles Angels (55-70; LW: 24) - Hughes: Albert Pujols is officially done for the season now. You knew it'd be hard for him to live up to that contract, but this is ridiculous.
25. Philadelphia Phillies (55-70; LW: 23) - Zuckerman: Maybe Ryne Sandberg needed a tryout, but Charlie Manuel deserved better than that.
26. Milwaukee Brewers (55-71; LW: 27) - Roney: Catcher Jonathan Lucroy might be having the best season that no one is talking about: .288, 17 HR, 66 RBI.
27. Chicago Cubs (54-71; LW: 26) - Roney: It's far too early, of course, but the early returns on those contracts given to Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro haven't been all that great. If Epstein whiffs on these two, he may not be long for the job.
28. Chicago White Sox (50-74; LW: 28) - Roney: The Sox have actually strung together a decent past couple weeks, but this season has been a disaster.
29. Miami Marlins (48-76; LW: 29) - Zuckerman: Did you know they haven't worn their gray road jerseys once this season? Maybe that's the problem!
30. Houston Astros (41-84; LW: 30) - Hughes: Houston should get a good look at their future in September with top prospect George Springer. He's close to a 40-40 season in the minors this year.