WASHINGTON — Of six major outlets’ MLB power rankings, the Chicago Cubs are the unanimous No. 1 team.
With an MLB-best 69-41 record and a 3.5-game lead on every team in the league, it’s not a surprising result. However, there are six other teams with at least 63 wins, and seven teams with a winning percentage between .560 and .600, so there was no clear-cut No. 2.
In five of those six outlets’ rankings, the Nationals claim the second spot. With the second-best record in baseball and having won five of their past six games, it’s an understandable designation. But they’re just a single game ahead of the Texas Rangers, and five other teams are within 3.5 games of them, so it was hardly a lock.
CBS Sports, ESPN, USA TODAY, SI and FiveThirtyEight all rank Washington second in their most recent power rankings, with both USA TODAY and ESPN mentioning Tanner Roark’s relatively unheralded dominance as a key to the team’s success.
“Tanner Roark is tied with Jake Arrieta and Adam Conley for most scoreless starts in the majors with seven, but he’s the only one to go at least seven innings in each of those outings. His ERA is down to 2.88,” ESPN’s David Schoenfield writes. “Remember when Matt Williams moved him to the bullpen?”
CBS Sports’ Matt Snyder cites the trade for closer Mark Melancon as a difference-maker: “I really loved the Mark Melancon deal. It almost makes up for the closer trade they made last season. Almost.”
SI, however, raves about Daniel Murphy picking up Bryce Harper. Harper started the season hot, but, as Jonah Keri notes, he’s hit just .223/.326/.366 since the 40-game mark. Meanwhile, Murphy leads the National League in batting average at .350 — Nationals catcher Wilson Ramos is second at .338 — and OPS (1.004), he’s tied for the lead in doubles (32) and he’s third in RBIs (81).
But that one outlet that disagrees with the others? MLB.com’s “Experts’ Rankings” lists Washington fourth, behind the Cubs, Cleveland Indians and Texas Rangers. The “Fan Rankings” section, which accounts for 25 percent of the overall power rankings, has the Nationals slotted second, but it’s not enough to move the needle, and the Nationals still come in fourth in the overall rankings.
Nonetheless, it appears to be a two-team race for the best record in baseball, at least in the eyes of most analysts. Reinforcing that argument is the run differential numbers. The Cubs have outscored their opponents by 182 runs this season, by far the best in the sport. The Nationals are second with a plus-135 differential. No other team is even plus-90.
The Cubs undoubtedly have an edge on the Nationals, but with each team making a trade deadline move to improve the back of its bullpen, the distance between them might soon be closer than the distance to the rest of the league. A two-game series against the 62-47 Indians, starting Tuesday night, should be a good measuring stick for Washington.