Power Rankings Top 5:
They’ve won nine of 10, their lead in the NL Central is back to double digits and they’re on pace for 102 wins. We’ve talked extensively about why the Cubs are so good — they’re loaded, everywhere, and then they added the most impressive bullpen arm in baseball in Aroldis Chapman. But let’s use this space to send kudos toward Kyle Hendricks, who is quietly putting together one of the best seasons of all Cubs starters. He’s allowed one run in two August starts and has the leagues’ second-lowest ERA (2.17). He’s allowed five runs since July 1, and three earned runs or fewer in his last 14 starts, dating back to May 22.
The Nats have put themselves in a good spot, winning eight of 12 against two tough opponents in the Giants and Indians and sweeping the last-place D-backs. They spend the rest of August playing lots of games against the Braves, Phillies and Rockies (although the Rockies aren’t to be taken for granted anymore, having jumped into the Wild Card race with a nice start to the second half). The Nats have the fourth-highest slugging percentage and OPS in the NL, the second-lowest ERA and the third-lowest WHIP. They also have a very comfortable seven-game lead in the NL East and the second-best record in baseball, behind only the Cubs.
Yu Darvish is slowly becoming the Cy Young-contending Darvish from a few of years ago, which bodes well for a Rangers rotation that is slowly — very slowly — putting itself back together again. They’re not quite there yet and they’ll still have to piece things together a little longer with Lucas Harrell and Co. while they wait for Derek Holland and Colby Lewis to return. But the Rangers are stronger after improving in other areas at the Deadline, and Carlos Beltran and Jonathan Lucroy both contributed favorably to the Rangers’ recent series win in Houston.
The O’s recovered from a rather uninspiring end to July with a strong start to August, winning series over the Rangers and White Sox. Not surprisingly, the offense continues to reign supreme — over those six games, they outscored their opponents, 30-19. Manny Machado put the cherry on top of the fabulous week with a three-homer game Sunday against the White Sox.
5. Blue Jays
The AL East race is likely going down to the wire and will involve three teams, including the Blue Jays, who had an interesting week — they took three of four in Houston against an over-.500 Astros team, and then lost two of three in Kansas City, where the Royals are well below .500. The Jays’ offense has taken a hit recently, but the pitching, for the most part, has been steady — a good sign when a contending team hits a road block here and there.
1. Rizzo, 1B, Cubs
Piniella wasn’t just sold on Griffey’s seniority over Rodriguez. He explained that Junior was the cornerstone piece in the Mariners’ lineup, the guy who carried the burden of having every pitching staff work the hardest to neutralize him. Day in, day out, Griffey made it easier for his teammates to succeed.
That sounds a lot like Rizzo. He hasn’t just been a middle-of-the-order presence, but he’s also the Cubs’ helpful older brother, ushering in newcomers like Bryant, Addison Russell, Javier Baez and Willson Contreras and then helping make them comfortable. Rizzo has saved infielders errors and pitchers runs with defense worthy of NL Gold Glove Award consideration, and he’s hitting .286 with 24 homers, 80 RBIs and a .962 OPS. He’s the lead dog in a clubhouse full of alpha dogs.
Anthony Rizzo goes a perfect 3-for-3, falling just a home run short of the cycle and reaching base in all five plate appearances
2. Bryant, 3B, Cubs
Bryant was a unanimous pick as the NL Rookie of the Year Award winner in 2015, finishing with 26 home runs and 99 RBIs. Everyone knew he had more in the tank as a hitter, but did you see it coming this fast?
It took only until July 27 for Bryant to match his home run total from last season. In his age-24 season, he’s raised all of his counting stats — batting .285 with 27 homers, 69 RBIs and a .928 OPS — while reducing his strikeout rate significantly (from 30.6 percent to 23.7). Bryant has played well defensively whether he’s at third base or in the outfield corners, and he has even filled in for Rizzo at first. Bryant is a sensational baserunner with above-average speed in full stride.
On numbers alone, Bryant deserves to win the NL MVP Award. He’s leading the NL in WAR as figured by both FanGraphs and baseball-reference. But Rizzo has an advantage in OPS and leadership. It’s too bad, really, that they can’t share the award.
Kris Bryant lifts a solo home run over the left-field wall in the 6th inning to break a scoreless tie
While this has been a roller-coaster ride of a season for Washington’s main man, Murphy has built off the strides he made working with hitting coach Kevin Long last year in New York. He’s motoring toward a batting title because he’s as hard to strike out as he’s crushing the fat pitches. It took Murphy only until July 7 to hit his 15th homer, setting a career high, and he’s on pace to hit 31 homers, drive in 118 runs and strike out only 64 times.
Murphy has worked hard to remain adequate at second base after some American League teams viewed him as a first baseman or even a designated hitter. He’s been essential for the Nationals with Harper hitting .132 with one home run in 76 at-bats since July 8.