August 21, 2012
1. Nationals (1): Look for the lineup to start clicking soon with Ian Desmond back in the lineup and Bryce Harper heating up. Jayson Werth has been a major contributor since he came off the disabled list.
2. Reds (2): Doubleheader on Saturday caused Dusty Baker to use a sixth starter for the first time. The Reds had gone 120 games with the original five.
3. Yankees (5): CC Sabathia is expected back Friday, and Andy Pettitte still hopes to be an October option. Hiroki Kuroda has come up huge in the second half, and the innings by Freddy Garcia and Phil Hughes have been important too.
4. Rays (6): Hitters carried a weekend four-game sweep of the Angels, with 37 runs and nine home runs. Is it too late for David Price to push Jered Weaver for the Cy Young?
5. Braves (4): Fredi Gonzalez is trying a six-man rotation, and you can't blame him. Consider the second-half ERAs of those six starters: Kris Medlen 0.96, Paul Maholm 1.37, Mike Minor 2.22, Ben Sheets 3.07, Tim Hudson 3.64, Tommy Hanson 6.58.
6. Rangers (3): Treading water but not losing any ground in the AL West.
7. Pirates (10): Took two out of three in a killer series in St. Louis, with a 19-inning win on Sunday following two one-run games. You can read too much into these things, but winning the series against a fellow wild-card contender like the Cardinals felt especially significant.
8. White Sox (7): The lineup is boom or bust. The White Sox lead the majors in August home runs (31 through Sunday) but are 10th in the AL with only 4.4 runs per game and 13th with a .280 on-base percentage.
9. Athletics (12): Wouldn't it be something if they returned to the playoffs in the same year that "Moneyball'' was nominated for six Academy Awards?
10. Giants (8): The Royals are feeling a lot better about the Melky Cabrera trade at this point.
11. Orioles (13): Impressive win on Sunday after falling behind the Tigers 5-0 in the first inning. Rookie Wei-Yin Chen deserves a ton of credit for his mental toughness. That's a good sign for one of baseball's most surprising contenders.
12. Tigers (9): They can blame their second-place standing in the AL Central on allowing 34 more unearned runs than the White Sox. Jim Leyland's team is on pace to allow 78 unearned runs.
13. Dodgers (15): Chad Billingsley has won his last six starts, with 15 scoreless innings in his last two. That's a huge lift.
14. Cardinals (11): The lineup has been a little quieter than usual the last couple of weeks. That's a danger sign.
15. Diamondbacks (16): Could still steal the NL West with a fast finish. The key is getting more production from guys like Justin Upton, Chris Young and Stephen Drew. Kirk Gibson made a good decision to turn first base over to Paul Goldschmidt.
16. Angels (14): Pitching staff hasn't held an opponent to an average of fewer than five runs per game in a series since a three-game series against the Rays July 27-29. That's the sign of across-the-board weakness of an area expected to be a strength.
17. Mariners (19): All hail, King Felix.
18. Phillies (17): Fans searching for a reason to keep watching.
19. Red Sox (18): See above line on Phillies.
20. Royals (24): Rallying behind Jeremy Guthrie and Luis Mendoza to take some heat off manager Ned Yost.
21. Brewers (20): Ryan Braun is on pace for 45 home runs and has his OPS at .976, only .018 off his total when he won the 2011 MVP Award.
22. Blue Jays (22): Haven't won a series in August.
23. Mets (21): Tough month for David Wright, who last homered July 27.
24. Indians (23): You have to admire the candor of manager Manny Acta. He says the Tribe is three hitters shy of having a good team. Is that all?
25. Marlins (27): Will Carlos Zambrano want to continue his career as a reliever? He might find a better free-agent market as a setup man than a starter.
26. Padres (25): Last time a Padres pitcher struck out more than five? Jason Marquis' eight-strikeout game July 25.
27. Rockies (28): Rookie catcher Wilin Rosario keeps hitting.
28. Twins (26): Scott Diamond is the only member of the current rotation with more than five wins.
29. Cubs (29): Starlin Castro is a good piece to build around. But without a no-trade clause in his contract, a $60 million deal won't keep him out of trade rumors, especially not when Javier Baez starts knocking on the door.
30. Astros (30): Don't be shocked if Craig Biggio winds up as the long-term manager for owner Jim Crane and GM Jeff Luhnow.
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