The Yankees have had their struggles recently (to put it mildly), but they helped themselves over the weekend when they swatted away the team that is likely their biggest threat in the AL East division.
The Yankees’ second-half spiral allowed the Rays, and to a lesser extent, the Blue Jays, to close what was not long ago a hefty double-digit deficit in the division race. Had the Rays swept the series this weekend in the Bronx, they would have been a mere 1 1/2 games behind the reeling Yankees — an unthinkable scenario as recently as a few weeks ago.
But the Yankees took two of three to widen the gap to 5 1/2 games ahead of the Rays, and they are six ahead of the Blue Jays. This is hardly a comfortable lead, but the Yankees’ season series with the Rays is now complete, and they have only three more games with the Blue Jays. They have 21 games remaining, and 12 are against sub-.500 teams. If the Yankees are looking for a sliver of good news heading into the final stretch run, strength of schedule might be it.
Biggest jump: The White Sox jumped three spots, from 16 to 13. Including a loss Sunday in Oakland, Chicago has won nine of 13 games under acting manager Miguel Cairo, scoring more than six runs per game while hitting 21 homers during that stretch.
Biggest drop: The Brewers (14 to 16) and Orioles (12 to 14) both dropped two spots. Baltimore opened a homestand last week by dropping three of four to Toronto before losing two of three to the Red Sox.
1) Dodgers (96-43; last week: 1)
The Dodgers rolled over the Padres on Sunday to become the first team this season to clinch a postseason berth. That part was a given, as is clinching the NL West division, which should happen soon. The Dodgers’ magic number is down to 2 to clinch their ninth NL West title in the past 10 seasons. It could happen as early as Tuesday. The Dodgers, who are on pace for 112 wins this season, have a +310 run differential — more than 100 runs higher than the Yankees, who are second with +206.
2) Astros (90-50; last week: 2)
The Astros won their 90th game in their 140th game of the season on Sunday with a romp over the Angels. It’s the second-fewest games needed to reach 90 wins in franchise history. Only the 2019 team (90 wins in 139 games) did it quicker. Also, Houston is an MLB-best 35-11 against left-handed starters this season.
3) Braves (87-53; last week: 3)
The Braves lost a wild one to the Mariners on Sunday to drop 1 1/2 games behind the first-place Mets in the NL East. Atlanta was on quite a roll before losing the final two games in Seattle — they had won eight straight, and since Aug. 9, they are 23-7. That’s the best stretch in the Major Leagues during that block of time.
4) Mets (89-52; last week: 4)
The Mets welcomed a much-needed easy win on Sunday when they rolled over the Marlins, 9-3. In the final two games of the series in Miami, the Mets outscored their opponent, 20-6. Individually, Francisco Lindor is one home run shy of tying Asdrúbal Cabrera (23 in 2016) for the most homers in a single season by a Mets shortstop. Lindor already has the most RBIs by a Mets shortstop in history with 91.
5) Cardinals (83-58; last week: 5)
So much is happening in St. Louis these days. The Cardinals are running away with the NL Central — they’re eight games ahead of the Brewers — and Albert Pujols is threatening to reach the 700-homer threshold before he calls it a career. He surpassed Alex Rodriguez on Sunday with No. 697, and if he can get three more (the Cardinals have 21 games remaining in the regular season), he’ll join Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth as the only players in MLB history to hit 700 homers.
The rest of the field of 30:
Voters: Alyson Footer, Anthony Castrovince, Paul Casella, Mark Feinsand, Nathalie Alonso, Mike Petriello, Sarah Langs, Andrew Simon, David Venn, Brett Blueweiss