The Washington Nationals are looking more and more like a possible World Series championship club.
With the best pitching in baseball, exciting hitters including 19-year-old Bryce Harper and veteran skipper Davey Johnson lending savvy and toughness from the dugout, they're one of the best stories of the summer.
But are they the best team? Their record says they are. But the calendar says there are a lot of games still to be played. As always, it's a tough call as to which is the top team.
Maybe it's the Reds. They're 24-10 without Joey Votto and are getting contributions from just about everyone in the lineup. Lately, it's been rookie Todd Frazier who's helped carry them with his hot bat, and Johnny Cueto looks as good as anyone in the National League Cy Young Award race.
It's difficult to give up on the Yankees as the best team in the game right now. Their pitching has been good enough to support the hitting, which has been outrageous, particularly of late. It's been impressive to watch the under-the-radar contributions of role players Eric Chavez, Russell Martin and Raul Ibanez, too.
Then again, maybe it's the Texas Rangers. They're comfortably ahead in the American League West despite a mess of pitching issues, but youngster Mike Olt has helped energize the team, which continues to hang in there for manager Ron Washington.
And what about the Rays? Just when you think they might be fading out of it, they show more heart and put together a run of wins. They swept the Angels in Anaheim in four games over the weekend, despite Evan Longoria not looking like he has his timing back at the plate. They should be a force down the stretch.
As should the White Sox. Or Tigers. Or Dodgers. Or Giants. And don't forget the Cardinals, Pirates, Braves, Orioles, and, yes, the A's, who have won four in a row and have the best record in the AL since the All-Star break.
For the third season, MLB.com has set up a panel of experts to vote on the top 15 teams each week. Three former Major League players -- Larry Dierker, Mitch Williams, and Frank Thomas -- are part of the process, as are columnist Peter Gammons and Carlton Thompson, vice president and executive editor of MLB.com. Former general manager and current MLB.com analyst Jim Duquette, along with MLB.com columnists Mike Bauman, Hal Bodley, Anthony Castrovince, Richard Justice, Matthew Leach and Jesse Sanchez are also part of the group.
Agree? Disagree? The power to rank the teams is yours.
|This Week||Movement||Power Player||Last Week|
Stephen Strasburg might only have five or six starts left before his organization-imposed innings limit kicks in and he takes a seat until 2013, but it hasn't slowed this club down at all, and now they've got shortstop Ian Desmond back from the disabled list, which further beefs up the batting order.
Cueto keeps setting the tone as the staff ace and everyone in the lineup seems to contribute. Frazier is the latest position player to get hot when Dusty Baker needs someone to get hot. The Reds haven't missed Votto too much ... yet.
CC Sabathia assures everyone he'll be back and ready to go Friday, and who's going to argue with a man of his size and stature? An amazing season keeps going in the Bronx, and all those homers aren't hurting one bit.
The Rangers continue to rule the AL West despite some starting pitching concerns. They're in good shape while they wait for Josh Hamilton to really get hot again. Results from the past two years tell us they'll get it together when it counts.
What can you say about Chipper Jones, inspiring everyone around him by hitting homer after homer at age 40 in his last season? And how about the rest of the Braves, right there with the Nationals despite crippling pitching injuries?
Joe Maddon's group bounced back from being on the wrong end of a perfect game and keeps going into tough situations undaunted. It could be the dominant pitching staff, or it could be Maddon's magic touch when it comes to filling out lineup cards. Whatever the reason, the Rays are in the thick of it ... again.
Their manager had to sit out two games, but his players have fought adversity all year, which means Don Mattingly's suspension was no big deal. Matt Kemp is back in full force and the new additions are starting to jell. Clayton Kershaw is making a bold late-season Cy Young push, just like he did last season.
Melky Cabrera's suspension hurts, no doubt. But when you've got Brandon Belt finally finding himself at the plate and Buster Posey carrying the lineup on his sturdy shoulders in what is turning into an MVP-caliber season, you have to like the Giants' chances.
Paul Konerko returned form a concussion and hit a homer. Jose Quintana is maturing into a rotation stalwart. Adam Dunn continues to solidify his Comeback Player of the Year resume. This team is clicking for manager Robin Ventura at the right time of the year.
Their sights might be set firmly on the Wild Card, where they're in great shape, but with A.J. Burnett pitching the way he is, Andrew McCutchen still hitting and role players coming up big for manager Clint Hurdle, the Bucs might just have another divisional run in them.
Pitching wins titles, and these guys are pitching again, big-time. Kyle Lohse has to be considered a Cy Young contender at this point, right? Adam Wainwright is looking more and more like his 2010 Cy runner-up self, too. Scary as usual.
Dan Straily looks filthy. Brett Anderson's almost ready to come back. Brandon McCarthy is back and dealing. Jarrod Parker's got all the potential in the world. This could be a legitimately scary playoff club on arms alone, and if Yoenis Cespedes gets hot again down the stretch, watch out.
Barring a complete and utter collapse in the last six weeks, it'd be hard to imagine Buck Showalter not getting a lot of votes for AL Manager of the Year. The Orioles are very much in it and have been doing it with timely hitting and pitching. Exciting times have arrived in Baltimore, for now and the future.
Just call them the See-Saw Sluggers. Sometimes they're up, sometimes they're down. It's hard to put a finger on which club you're going to get for a given week or two. But we saw last year how dangerous Jim Leyland's team can be when it puts everything together. We're still waiting for it this year.
Manager Mike Scioscia doesn't panic, so there will be no hitting of that button in Anaheim. But it is definitely time for concern. The arms aren't holding up and the star-studded lineup suddenly looks vulnerable in a tough division.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.