Make way for new contenders in NL shake-up

Another week into the season, the same three American League powerhouses rule the roost — and in the same order for now — but things are getting interesting in the Senior Circuit as the National League’s top teams sort out their own pecking order. This week’s voting placed the Astros, Red Sox and Yankees in the top three slots — the Astros getting three first-place votes, the Red Sox two — but the NL’s top contenders are suddenly coming into focus as fast starters fade and teams with staying power begin to make their cases.

While the Cubs remain in the No. 4 slot behind the AL’s top trio, the Nationals regained lost ground by moving back up into the Power Rankings’ top five, powering past their rivals in Atlanta and picking up ground on the Phillies. The Brewers remain rooted in the No. 6 slot while riding high in the NL Central. And the sorting among the rest of the top 10 definitely reshaped the conversation about who will ride high going forward, as two new teams moved into the top 10, with the Cardinals and Indians returning to MLB’s top third while shunting the Phillies and Angels out of the top 10.

Beyond the Indians’ four-slot jump to return to the top 10 — the largest advance made by any team in the past week — the Rays (up five) and Dodgers (up three) make significant steps forward. But the biggest declines were felt by the reliably unreliable Mets (down five places), while the Phillies, Angels and Pirates all suffered three-spot declines.

This week, our panel of voters is composed of David Schoenfield, Eric Karabell, Tim Kurkjian, Bradford Doolittle and Sarah Langs.

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Record: 37-24
Week 8 ranking: 1

The Astros spent the week facing their main competition for a return trip to the World Series, dropping two of three games to the Yankees and splitting four games with the Red Sox. Since their series against the Indians last week, the Astros have given up five or more runs six times in a nine-game span after having done so just seven times in their first 52 games of the season. — Jacob Nitzberg, ESPN Stats & Information


Record: 41-19
Week 8 ranking: 2

The 2017 Red Sox had the reputation of a team lacking a major power threat, but after being one of just three teams in 2017 without a 25-home-run hitter, the offseason acquisition of J.D. Martinez has paid major dividends — his 19 home runs (tied with Mike Trout for the AL lead) have powered the team into a tie for the second-most home runs in baseball thus far. — Dan McCarthy, ESPN Stats & Information


Record: 37-17
Week 8 ranking: 3

Luis Severino has been excellent, posting a 2.31 ERA and ranking fourth in the American League. Building on a strong 2017, he sports an 8-1 record, and he shut down the defending-champion Astros on Wednesday. In his two outings against the Astros this season, Severino has earned two wins with a 1.13 ERA and 21-to-2 strikeout-to-walk ratio. The Yankees can rely on him as their stopper every five days. — McCarthy


Record: 33-23
Week 8 ranking: 4

The Cubs are 16-8 since snapping a five-game losing streak to start May. They own the second-best run differential in MLB (plus-93). It took them awhile, but the Cubs are starting to look like a juggernaut — even with Yu Darvish underperforming and unable to stay healthy. It helps that Anthony Rizzo has a .973 OPS since May 1. — Kenneth Woolums, ESPN Stats & Information


Record: 33-25
Week 8 ranking: 7

Juan Soto has continued the impressive start to his career. He is hitting .326 in 14 career games, with a .937 OPS. He recorded his second three-hit game on Saturday. At 19 years, 220 days old, he was the youngest player to reach multiple three-hit games since Ivan Rodriguez in 1991. Bryce Harper‘s second three-hit game came when he was 19 years and 236 days old, 16 days older than Soto. — Sarah Langs, ESPN Stats & Information


Record: 37-23
Week 8 ranking: 6

One reason for Milwaukee’s success this season has been its defense, as the Brewers were recently named MLB’s top defensive team so far by Sports Info Solutions, and Lorenzo Cain was named its defensive player of the month for May. Partly because of that, Cain is leading all NL position players in WAR. Travis Shaw leads NL third basemen in defensive runs saved, and he is fifth in WAR, not far behind Cain. — Nitzberg


Record: 35-24
Week 8 ranking: 5

The Braves just played the Nationals for the last time until the opening of the season’s second half. One key development for the Braves’ bid to win the NL East: Mike Foltynewicz might be emerging as a staff ace. In last week’s start against the Nationals, he threw a shutout, struck out 11 and allowed just two hits and one walk. He owns a 2.22 ERA this year. — Woolums


Record: 30-28
Week 8 ranking: 12

Add Edwin Encarnacion to the ranks of Indians sluggers back in the swing of things; his 1.069 OPS since May 1 ranks in MLB’s top 10. But the bullpen is still toxic as the Tribe churn through alternatives with Andrew Miller and Nick Goody on the disabled list. Former stalwarts Zach McAllister and Dan Otero are struggling the hardest, combining for 10 homers and 36 runs allowed in 43 innings. — Christina Kahrl, ESPN.com


Record: 37-22
Week 8 ranking: 10

The Mariners just keep winning; they’re 15-5 since losing Robinson Cano to injury and suspension. That’s not only the best record in the majors during that span, but it also has moved them to the top of the AL West. This is the latest into a season that Seattle has found itself in first place since Aug. 24, 2003. The question now is whether the Mariners can continue to excel in close games. They have 18 one-run wins this season, which is three more than any other club. — Paul Casella, ESPN Stats & Information


Record: 32-25
Week 8 ranking: 11

Kolten Wong hit a walk-off home run for the Cardinals on Saturday, his second walk-off homer this season. He’s currently the only player with multiple walk-off home runs this season. Speaking of multiple home runs, the Cardinals have five walk-off home runs this season, tied for their most in any season in their history. — Langs


Record: 31-26
Week 8 ranking: 8

The Phillies will be picking third overall in the draft on Monday. The most WAR for any player ever picked No. 3 overall belongs to Robin Yount, at 77.3. Some other notable third overall picks include Paul Molitor, Evan Longoria, Matt Williams, Manny Machado, Eric Hosmer and Troy Glaus. The Phillies have picked third overall three times before, drafting Lonnie Smith (1974), Mike Lieberthal (1990) and Larry Christenson (1972). — Langs


Record: 32-28
Week 7 ranking: 9

Mike Trout continues to put together his best year yet — and possibly one of the best ever. He’s on pace for 14.3 wins above replacement, and the single-season record for WAR by a position player is 14.1, by Babe Ruth in 1923. No other player has finished with even 13 WAR in a season. However, the Angels still are struggling to replace injured closer Keynan Middleton, and they already have blown 11 saves this season, including six against divisional foes. — Casella


Record: 29-30
Week 8 ranking: 14

The Dodgers might be creeping back toward .500, but their rotation is only becoming even more of a shambles. Clayton Kershaw returned to the DL after just one start, joining Kenta Maeda, Rich Hill and Hyun-Jin Ryu. The good news is that nobody’s far out in front in the NL West, and subs Walker Buehler and Ross Stripling have combined to throw quality starts in seven of their past nine turns. — Kahrl


Record: 31-27
Week 8 ranking: 17

After they tumbled to .500 to squander their hot start, last week’s homestand against the feeble Reds and Marlins provided the Snakes with needed slither room to stop their slide. With most of the team’s offensive stars slumping or hurt, one surprise hero at the plate is journeyman catcher John Ryan Murphy, who has ripped five home runs in his past seven starts. — Kahrl


Record: 28-30
Week 8 ranking: 20

After dealing closer Alex Colome and outfielder Denard Span to Seattle, two more well-known veterans are gone. Tampa Bay’s best story so far might be the return of left-handed reliever Jonny Venters to the big leagues after missing almost six years with multiple Tommy John surgeries. He has a 0.87 ERA over 14 appearances, and on May 28 he earned his first save since 2011. — McCarthy


Record: 30-29
Week 8 ranking: 13

Out of seemingly nowhere, the Pirates have bullpen issues. Since May 20, they have five blown saves — losing four of those games — and have doubled their season total. After being one of MLB’s best relievers last season (1.67 ERA in 75⅓ IP), Felipe Vazquez has struggled this season. His four blown saves this year are two more than he had all of last season, and his WHIP has nearly doubled (from 0.89 to 1.57). — Woolums


Record: 31-29
Week 7 ranking: 16

Blake Treinen provided the headline performance for an A’s bullpen that is coming off a strong month, posting a collective 2.79 ERA that’s good for second in the major leagues since May 1. Treinen won AL reliever of the month in May, surrendering just one run while stringing together a still-alive streak of 10 straight saves. — Kahrl


Record: 30-29
Week 8 ranking: 18

The Rockies’ latest lurches in their up-and-down season continued last week, opening with a walk-off win and cresting to five games above .500. But just when it looked as if they were ready to start rolling, they dropped the series finale, then got swept by the Dodgers this past weekend. Colorado continues to sport a losing record at home, while going 19-13 outside of Coors Field. — Casella


Record: 25-30
Week 8 ranking: 19

Even with a good performance this past weekend against Cleveland, the Twins might soon start to see the writing on the wall. The Indians are slowly pulling away, and it’s not likely they’ll be caught by anyone behind them in the AL Central. Part of Minnesota’s problem is that the young players just haven’t blossomed. Byron Buxton cannot stay healthy — or hit; Miguel Sano is striking out almost twice a game; Jose Berrios still hasn’t quite taken that next jump despite a 3.86 ERA through his first 12 starts. — Woolums


Record: 27-30
Week 8 ranking: 15

Jacob deGrom continues to dominate, but his team can’t seem to buy a win in his starts. Over his past eight turns, he’s allowed one run or fewer in each, with a 0.57 ERA across them. Yet the team is 2-6 in those games. His eight-start streak with one run or fewer is tied for the third-longest single-season streak in MLB history. The only pitchers ahead of him? Bob Gibson in 1968 with 11 and Jack Coombs in 1910 with 10. — Langs


Record: 26-33
Week 7 ranking: 21

Toronto has struggled on the mound for much of the season, owning a 4.77 team ERA that ranks 25th in MLB. The rotation is a big problem, with Marcus Stroman on the DL and Jaime Garcia and Marco Estrada both struggling, while J.A. Happ‘s ERA has gone up each year since rejoining the Blue Jays in 2016. — McCarthy


Record: 29-30
Week 8 ranking: 22

The Giants will be picking second overall in Monday’s draft. Heading into the last day of the season, they were going to be picking first, but a walk-off home run by Pablo Sandoval coupled with a Tigers loss gave Detroit the first pick instead. The most WAR by any player drafted second overall is 74.0 by Reggie Jackson (1966). Other notable No. 2 picks include Justin Verlander, J.R. Richard and Kris Bryant. The third-best No. 2 overall pick by WAR was the Giants’ only other No. 2 overall pick: Will Clark in 1985. — Langs


Record: 28-31
Week 8 ranking: 23

The Tigers welcomed Miguel Cabrera back from the DL with a victory on Friday, and they have pulled into second place in the weak AL Central. While the players are focused on the present, much of the organization and fan base might be focused on Monday’s MLB draft, for which the Tigers own the first overall pick. — Nitzberg


Record: 25-37
Week 8 ranking: 25

Despite their disappointing season, the Rangers have provided some exciting moments. After splitting a four-game set with the red-hot Mariners to start the week, the Rangers rallied from a ninth-inning deficit to defeat the Angels in extra innings Saturday. Texas now has six extra-inning wins this season, tied with the Mariners for the most in the majors. The Rangers won only five extra-inning games all of last season. — Casella


Record: 27-34
Week 8 ranking: 24

With All-Star voting underway, the Padres’ representative might be the guy at the back end of their bullpen. Brad Hand was nearly unhittable in May, allowing one run in 14⅔ innings, good for a 0.61 ERA. He was tied for the MLB lead with 11 saves in May, and he was third in MLB among relievers with 22 strikeouts. The Padres won all 13 games he appeared in during the month. — Nitzberg


Record: 21-39
Week 8 ranking: 26

In the spirit of MLB draft week, the Reds are in position to pick in the top five in 2019. Should that pick bear any fruit, they eventually can thank the nightmare of a division in which they are competing. The Reds continue to hover around .500 against teams outside the NL Central, but they are an abysmal 6-19 against their division rivals. — Woolums


Record: 21-38
Week 8 ranking: 28

After taking two of three games from the Twins, the Royals hosted the A’s on Friday and got beat 16-0, tied for the third-worst shutout loss in team history. The Royals now have an MLB-worst 5.42 team ERA, on pace to be the fourth worst in team history. The Royals own four of the first 40 picks in this year’s MLB draft, the most of any team; how many will they use on pitchers? — Nitzberg


Record: 17-41
Week 8 ranking: 27

Adam Jones has turned a corner recently for the Orioles, busting out of a mediocre start to the season. Since May 20, Jones has four three-hit games and has an OPS north of 1.000. This surge from Jones might have come too late, as Baltimore holds the worst record in baseball. — McCarthy


Record: 20-39
Week 8 ranking: 30

For the second straight season, the Marlins’ top pick is 13th overall; last year, they snagged lefty Trevor Rogers there. Some very impressive players have been picked at lucky No. 13: Manny Ramirez (1991), Chris Sale (2010), Paul Konerko (1994) and Trea Turner (2014), as well as current MLB players Brandon Nimmo (2011) and Hunter Renfroe (2013). — Kahrl


Record: 18-38
Week 8 ranking: 29

The White Sox will pick fourth overall in Monday’s draft, but they might have an even higher selection next year. After being swept by the Indians last week, the White Sox have the second-worst record in the majors. They have their worst record through 56 games in franchise history, thanks largely to a 5.64 ERA from the starting rotation ERA that ranks next-to-last in the majors. — Casella

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