Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
We’ve arrived at the final week of the 2018 MLB regular season, and there’s still a lot to be decided.
On the American League side of things, the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians and Houston Astros have all punched their ticket to October, and the next win by the Oakland Athletics or loss by the Tampa Bay Rays will seal the fifth spot for the A’s.
The National League picture is much cloudier.
The Atlanta Braves have wrapped up the NL East title, but they are the only team that has clinched to this point. The Chicago Cubs (100 percent chance), Milwaukee Brewers (99 percent), Los Angeles Dodgers (94.2 percent) and St. Louis Cardinals (79.5 percent) are the heavy favorites to fill the remaining four spots, according to the latest odds from FanGraphs, but the Colorado Rockies (27.4 percent) are still alive as well.
At any rate, our weekly power rankings remain a fluid process. Teams will rise and fall based on where they were ranked the previous week. If a team keeps winning, it will keep climbing—it’s as simple as that.
Here’s where all 30 teams stand:
Teams That Impressed
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images
The Los Angeles Dodgers entered last week trailing the Colorado Rockies by a half-game in the NL West standings. In seven days, they turned that into a 1.5-game lead, thanks in large part to a three-game sweep of the Rockies at Dodger Stadium.
With that, the Dodgers are 9-2 in their last 11 games, and they now appear likely to earn a sixth straight NL West title.
Hyun-Jin Ryu continued his strong second half with a pair of scoreless starts, and he’s gone 3-3 with a 1.93 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and 50 strikeouts in 46.2 innings since the All-Star break. That should be enough to earn him a spot in the playoff rotation.
The St. Louis Cardinals also improved their playoff odds with a series win over the Atlanta Braves and a sweep of the San Francisco Giants.
A 22-6 month of September catapulted them into the NL wild-card picture, and they’ll look to cement their place in the postseason with series against the division-rival Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs to close out the season.
Overall, it was a strong week for contenders, as more and more teams out of the race turn their focus to assessing young talent and trying to spread around playing time.
The Oakland Athletics (4-2), Brewers (4-2), Cubs (4-2), New York Yankees (4-2), Tampa Bay Rays (5-2) and Cleveland Indians (4-2) were the other teams to come away with two series wins last week. Aside from the Rays, each appears to be headed for the postseason.
Teams That Disappointed
Chris Coduto/Getty Images
While the majority of contending teams were on cruise control last week, the Colorado Rockies saw their playoff chances take a major hit when they were swept by the Dodgers.
They did rebound to sweep the Arizona Diamondbacks over the weekend, but the damage was already done. With the NL West lagging behind the NL Central in win total, the Rockies had a far better chance of winning the division than they did chasing down a wild-card spot.
Colorado had a 58.3 percent chance of making the playoffs heading into the series with Los Angeles, and that fell to 25.3 percent following the sweep.
The Seattle Mariners (3-3), Arizona Diamondbacks (1-5) and Philadelphia Phillies (2-5) were all officially eliminated from the playoff picture last week after looking like contenders for much of the year.
It’s a particularly disappointing result for the Mariners, as they’ll maintain the longest postseason drought in the sport, stretching back to 2001.
The Boston Red Sox (2-4) were the only contenders to lose both series last week, but they’ve already wrapped up the division title, and home-field advantage is in the bag. The Cincinnati Reds (2-5), San Diego Padres (2-4), Chicago White Sox (2-4) and Baltimore Orioles (2-4) also lost both of their series last week.
MVPs of the Week
Hitter: Christian Yelich, Milwaukee Brewers
Stats: 12-for-22, 4 2B, 1 3B, 2 HR, 7 RBI, 7 R, 2 SB
The case for Christian Yelich to win NL MVP honors this season is a compelling one.
In his first season with the Brewers, the 26-year-old is hitting .322/.391/.577 with 33 doubles, 32 home runs, 96 RBI, 108 runs scored and 21 steals. He has a seven-point lead over Scooter Gennett in the race for the NL batting title.
With Milwaukee all but locked into a postseason spot, he also has the added appeal of putting up those numbers for a contender.
John Fisher of CBSSports.com wrote:
“Yelich leads the NL in batting average, slugging percentage and OPS, as well as OPS+, wOBA and wRC+, and he’s in the top 11 in on-base percentage, times on base and home runs. The only players in the past 35 years to lead the National League in batting and slugging in the same season are Barry Bonds (twice), Derrek Lee, Todd Helton and Larry Walker.”
He padded his impressive stat line with another big week, which included hitting for his second cycle of the season.
Aaron Hill is the last player to accomplish the feat twice in the same season, with his both coming in the same month while he was playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2012.
Pitcher: Blake Snell, Tampa Bay Rays
Stats: 2 GS, 2-0, 11.2 IP, 4 H, 0 ER, 4 BB, 16 K
Blake Snell took another big step toward AL Cy Young honors last week.
“I think he’s pretty much cemented his case that he belongs not just in the conversation, but right at the top of the list,” Rays manager Kevin Cash told reporters.
After allowing just one hit over five scoreless innings against the Texas Rangers on Tuesday, Snell threw another gem Sunday when he struck out 11 in 6.2 shutout innings against the Toronto Blue Jays.
In the process, he picked up his franchise-record 21st win of the season, and he’s now won nine straight starts.
All told, the 25-year-old is 21-5 with an AL-leading 1.90 ERA and 211 strikeouts in 175.2 innings. His .178 opponents’ batting average is the best in baseball among qualified starters.
Justin Verlander and Corey Kluber have both had excellent seasons once again, and Oakland closer Blake Treinen has been tremendously important to that team’s success. Snell would have to be the pick if the season ended today, though.
Video Highlights of the Week
Longest Home Run: Randal Grichuk, Toronto Blue Jays (464 feet)
Randal Grichuk is quietly having a nice second half for the Blue Jays.
He’s hitting .275/.319/.550 with 19 doubles and 13 home runs since the All-Star break, and that includes this mammoth shot off left-hander Jalen Beeks.
Grichuk also hit a 471-footer earlier this season off Houston reliever Will Harris.
The 27-year-old still has his shortcomings—namely a .296 on-base percentage that stems from a 5.7 percent walk rate—but he’s been a nice buy-low pickup for a Blue Jays team that can afford to give him playing time in hopes his approach improves.
For now, he’s at least a threat to hit a mistake a long way.
Best Defensive Play: Jake Marisnick, Houston Astros
Jake Marisnick has always been an excellent defensive outfielder, and this season is no exception.
“He makes it look easy,” teammate Charlie Morton told reporters earlier this season, “but what he does is extraordinary out there.”
He’s racked up 11 DRS with a 10.2 UZR/150 in just 549.2 innings of work in center field, and that outstanding glove work has earned him a part-time role, despite middling offensive numbers.
The 27-year-old enjoyed a breakout season at the plate last year, posting a 120 OPS+ with 16 home runs in 259 plate appearances, but he’s hit just .202/.259/.369 in 222 trips to the plate this year.
Still, as long as he keeps making catches like the pair of grabs he made here to help preserve a one-run lead in the eighth inning, he’ll see his name on the lineup card on a semi-regular basis.
Must-See Upcoming Matchup
Milwaukee Brewers vs. St. Louis Cardinals (Monday-Wednesday)
Daniel Shirey/Getty Images
When the Brewers and Cardinals square off for a three-game series at Busch Stadium this week, there’s a good chance we’ll be getting an early preview of the NL Wild Card Game.
According to the latest playoff odds from FanGraphs, Milwaukee (91.7 percent chance) and St. Louis (79.3 percent chance) are the overwhelming favorites to claim the two wild-card spots.
The Brewers enter the week 2.5 games behind the Cubs in the NL Central standings, while the Cardinals are 4.5 games back. Meanwhile, St. Louis has a 1.5-game cushion over the Rockies in the wild-card standings.
There’s still plenty of time for things to change, but right now, this is the likely matchup.
The two teams have split the season series thus far at 8-8, with the Cardinals holding a plus-13 advantage in run differential.
Jack Flaherty, Austin Gomber and John Gant are the scheduled starters for St. Louis, and Flaherty could be the one who gets the ball for the winner-take-all game. The 22-year-old has been excellent in three starts against the Brewers this season, going 1-0 with a 1.00 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 29 strikeouts in 18 innings.
Milwaukee will counter with the veteran trio of Chase Anderson, Gio Gonzalez and Jhoulys Chacin.
Chacin has been the team’s most reliable option this season with a 3.61 ERA in 182 innings of work, but left-hander Wade Miley has a 2.31 ERA in 12 starts since the All-Star break, so any prediction of who the Brewers might turn to for a Wild Card Game start would be a total guess.
Regardless, these three games are tremendously important for both the NL Central race and the wild-card race, and the NL playoff picture could be much clearer once this series wraps.
All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted.