Rangers top Rankings, but plenty of contenders
Powerful Yankees, well-armed Nationals, surging Angels all threats
The best baseball teams seem to have one thing in common when the smoke clears in late October: A different guy can win a ballgame for you every night. It happened last year with the St. Louis Cardinals, and it's already happening for a lot of clubs in the Major Leagues.
But a week before we break for the 83rd All-Star Game in Kansas City, which team is the best? Arguments can be made for a handful of clubs climbing their divisional ladders toward what they hope will be World Series glory.
Let's start with the Texas Rangers. We had them ranked No. 1 last week, and they haven't done much to alter that lofty spot, despite Sunday's loss against Oakland. The Rangers still have the top record in baseball at 50-30 and hold a 5 1/2-game lead over the Angels in the American League West.
Does that mean they're the best team in the Majors, though? The Nationals might argue differently. Even though staff ace Stephen Strasburg succumbed to the Atlanta heat in a loss on Saturday, the Nats bounced back with a win over the Braves on Sunday and remain comfortably ahead in the National League East.
Let's not forget the Yankees. Yes, they had a rough week on the mound, losing CC Sabathia (strained groin) and Andy Pettitte (ankle fracture) to injuries, but they're still leading the AL East and could be in the market to make a deal or two that could alter the landscape of the division once again.
And if it weren't for the Rangers, well, one could make a case that the Angels are the best team in baseball right now. After all, since they promoted rookie phenom Mike Trout from Triple-A on April 28, they've gone 36-21, which is among the best records in baseball over that time span. They're now squarely in the AL Wild Card picture, and Albert Pujols hasn't even caught fire yet.
Speaking of catching fire, what about the San Francisco Giants and the pitching clinic they've been putting on lately? They didn't get shutouts Saturday or Sunday, but they're still coming together at the right time and hold a one-game division lead over the banged-up Dodgers.
If it isn't one of those teams, who could it be? Are the potent White Sox the best? What about the steady Reds, torrid Pirates or resilient Rays? Is it someone else lurking in the weeds? Who's your pick?
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 is yours.
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All is well in Arlington. Josh Hamilton has 25 homers. Yu Darvish is the real deal. Reports indicate the club is scouting Zack Greinke and Cole Hamels for possible Trade Deadline deals. Even after a loss to the Oakland A's on Sunday, they still have the best record in baseball.
The pitching woes are well-documented, but when you can hit like the Yankees can, it'll make up for a banged-up staff for a while. New York got a big win -- and a big pitching performance from Hiroki Kuroda -- on Saturday, then notched another victory on Sunday to improve to 48-30 and take a six-game lead over the second-place Baltimore Orioles. Maybe they aren't in that much trouble after all.
Even with a so-so last 10 games (5-5), the Nationals begin the week with the best record in the NL, and not surprisingly, the best ERA in the Major Leagues (3.19). The very good news: Slugger Michael Morse is back and seems to be finding his timing at the plate.
Mike Scioscia's team took it on the chin Saturday in Toronto, but it bounced back on Sunday. The Angels are now nine games above the .500 mark for the first time this year and look like a different team than the one that struggled all April. Of course, they are a different team with Mike Trout batting leadoff.
Do you remember 2010, when the Giants rode a dominant pitching staff all the way to a World Series title? Names have changed from that rotation, with Jonathan Sanchez out and Ryan Vogelsong in, but the results are becoming very similar, especially with a rejuvenated Tim Lincecum looking more like a two-time Cy Young Award winner than the lost soul he'd appeared to be early this year.
It's tough not to like this team, especially with Mat Latos having a true ace week and finally looking comfortable in his new home, and Joey Votto continuing to sparkle at the plate with the highest on-base percentage, walks and doubles totals in the NL, though his recent knee inflammation is a concern.
They're still on the board despite falling on hard times lately. They're set to get Matt Kemp back soon, but they just lost Andre Ethier. Their offense has gone cold, but their pitching is keeping them where they are. Los Angeles still has the second-best team ERA in baseball, and it will need to keep it that way until injured arms such as Ted Lilly, Matt Guerrier and Blake Hawksworth return.
The pitching is solid again, with Chris Sale leading the way, Jake Peavy bouncing back with a big year and the rest of the staff filling in admirably. The bats are getting the job done, too. Paul Konerko has been brilliant. Alexei Ramirez has not, but he's coming around. Kevin Youkilis should help. It all adds up to a team with a huge chance to increase its lead in the AL Central.
They're hanging in the thick of the AL East, they got Josh Beckett back Saturday night, and they could get a major boost soon when outfielders Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford are ready to rejoin the club. If only second baseman Dustin Pedroia could break out of his slump ... and look at that. A homer and a big game on Sunday.
If only R.A. Dickey could pitch every game. Then again, if that happened, what would an again-brilliant Johan Santana do? The surprising Mets and their veteran arms continue to stay afloat in the NL East, and the incredible offensive season that third baseman David Wright is enjoying is a big part of it, too.
They've lost two in a row to slide down in the AL East standings, but never underestimate Joe Maddon's crew -- especially when their best player, third baseman Evan Longoria, is ready to start his rehab process after overcoming a setback in his recovery from a hamstring injury. Tampa Bay still has a ton of talent, and we've seen the club rally before.
What about these guys? They're coming off one of the best offensive months they've had in years, and they might have more momentum than anyone. Add to that the fact that the team believes in itself and in manager Clint Hurdle and has one of the best all-around players in baseball in outfielder Andrew McCutchen. That's not a bad combination.
Baltimore has lost two in a row and has dropped nine of its past 12, including going 3-6 in its final homestand before the All-Star break, but the Orioles are still six games above the .500 mark at 42-36 and in second place in the AL East. Maybe new acquisition Jim Thome will help the Birds bounce back.
They treaded water for a long time last year and got hot at the right time. Once again, the defending World Series champions are in tread mode, although they did manage to avoid a three-game sweep at home at the hands of the division-rival Pirates. Lance Berkman can't come back soon enough.
Atlanta dropped a tough one to the Nationals on Sunday, but things are looking pretty good these days for the Braves. Jason Heyward has been hot, and while the loss of starter Brandon Beachy hurt, Atlanta is showing it very well might still have the arms to stay in the race.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.