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MLB Power Rankings: The Astros prove they're a threat to the Red Sox

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This is the part of the baseball season where we start dreaming about October, where our minds start to wander to these matchups that we know are coming but, for now, are just things that play out in our mind.

Would the Boston Red Sox beat the Chicago Cubs? Could the Atlanta Braves hang with the New York Yankees? Oh, and what would happen in a Red Sox-Astros series? We don’t have to imagine that last one, actually.

The Red Sox and Astros — two teams that have been in the top 3 of our MLB Power Rankings for much of the season — met this last week and the Astros won two of three. It was enough to make you think that, in an October series, the Astros could do the same.

And, for our Power Rankings, it was enough to make us think long and hard about whether the Red Sox deserved to be No. 1 yet again. It was a close call, but we stuck with Boston in the top spot because the body of work remains stronger and we didn’t want to overreact to a three-game series.

Let it be said, though, the Astros are right on the Red Sox’s tail.

The Astros are 9-1 in September and beat the Red Sox twice this past week. (AP)

1. Red Sox (99-46; last week: 1)
The Red Sox have clinched a playoff spot. They’re closing in on 100 wins (just need one more). And they still have scored more runs than any other team. They’re legit. The next question is whether they’re built to win in October.

2. Astros (91-54; last week: 3)
The Astros are 9-1 in September. They still have best run differential in MLB and they’ve proven they can beat the Red Sox. If that’s a No. 2 team, you feel pretty good about being No. 2.

3. Yankees (90-55; last week: 2)
The Yankees are locked in as one of baseball’s best teams. A playoff spot is almost guaranteed. But there has to be some concern in the Bronx. Sonny Gray gave them another disappointing start in Tuesday’s loss to the Minnesota Twins. The team is playing so-so ball in September. Aaron Judge isn’t back yet. The bright side? Maybe they’re just getting it out of their system now instead of in October.

4. A’s (88-57; last week: 5)
As good as the Astros have been lately, they haven’t been able to gain much separation in the AL West. And that’s because the A’s — despite their pitching injuries — just keep winning. They’ve won five in a row and they’re 7-2 in September.

5. Brewers (83-63; last week: 8)
People started to count the Brewers out a few weeks back. They were collapsing. They were blowing it. Credit where it’s due, the Brewers have turned the ship around. Not only do they lead the NL wild-card race, but they’re getting closer to the division-leading Cubs. And, in head-to-head games, they’ve beat the Cubs in three of five games in the past 10 days.

6. Cubs (84-60; last week: 4)
The Cubs are a more talented team than the Brewers, but just can’t seem to put them away — which is probably a testimony about Chicago’s season as a whole. After a stellar August, the Cubs have faltered into September, going 5-5 and letting the Brewers make a race out of the NL Central by beating them head-to-head in three of five games.

7. Indians (82-63; last week: 6)
The Indians will probably be the first team to clinch their division. Their Magic Number is just three coming into Wednesday. But the Indians remain the other team in the American League. They didn’t have any challengers in the AL Central. They haven’t been in a race like the teams out West and out East. They’ve just dancing to their own beat all year long. So we may not know just how good the Indians are until October.

8. Braves (81-64; last week: 7)
Give it to the Braves, they’ve been awfully consistent this season. And now, in the finals weeks of the season, they’re starting to pull away from the Phillies and look every bit like the NL East champion. They’ve rebounded from a tough series against the Red Sox by winning four in a row against the D-backs and Giants on the road. Next week, they face the Cardinals and Phillies, which could be the last big challenge of their October-ready season.

9. Cardinals (81-64; last week: 9)
For all the ups and down the Cardinals have had this season, they’ve got to be pretty happy with where they sit today. If the season ended right now, they’d be a wild-card team. No time to rest, however. After that scorching hot August (they were 22-6), the Cards are a pedestrian 5-5 in September. They’re getting set for four games at home with the Dodgers starting Thursday, which could determine whether they get to keep that playoff spot.

10. Rockies (79-65; last week: 12)
11. Dodgers (78-67; last week: 11)
12. D-backs (77-68; last week: 13)
It’s tough to sort out the National League West on a nightly basis let alone a weekly basis. The Rockies are the top team in the division right now, and they’ve been playing the Dodgers and D-backs tough. The Dodgers still are the most talented of the three and may ultimately win the division, but here’s the difference: The Dodgers lost series to the Reds and Mets this week. The Rockies swept the Giants. You gotta beat the teams you should beat.

Tampa Bay Rays’ Ji-Man Choi, of South Korea, center, celebrates his two-run walk-off home run off Cleveland Indians pitcher Brad Hand during the ninth inning of a baseball game Monday, Sept. 10, 2018, in St. Petersburg, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara)

13. Rays (79-65; last week: 15)
14. Mariners (79-65; last week: 10)
The Rays and the Mariners have, on Sept. 12, ended up in the same place despite too very different routes. They’re both 79-65, both still alive as long-shot playoff contenders and if you’re being honest, you’ll admit the Rays have been the better team in the second half. The Mariners were one of the best teams in baseball for quite some time, but they’re 26-33 since July and have fumbled away their playoff hops. The Rays, meanwhile, continue to surpass expectations. That playoff spot probably isn’t happening, but they’ve been impressive.

15. Phillies (74-70; last week: 14)
16. Nationals (73-72; last week: 16)
17. Angels (72-73; last week: 17)
Is this the end for the Phillies’ postseason hopes? They’ve lost four in a row and sit 6.5 out in the NL East and in the wild-card chase. They looked great at times this season and horrible at others. Maybe that’s just growing pains of a young team with a new manager. All hope is not gone, but the Phillies have reached the point where they’re hanging out with the Nats and Angels – two teams whose high hopes have also been dashed.

18. Pirates (71-73; last week: 19)
19. Mets (65-78; last week: 21)
20. Giants (68-78; last week: 18)
The Giants have lost 10 in a row – TEN — which has sealed their fate for the season. Not that they had a ton of hope before that, but it’s still discouraging. The Mets, meanwhile, lost another good Jacob deGrom start because that’s what they do. Still, the Giants have to make the Mets (and plenty of other teams) feel better about themselves right now, because San Francisco legitimately was going for it this year. And now this.

21. Twins (66-78; last week: 20)
22. Blue Jays (65-79; last week: 22)
23. Rangers (62-83; last week: 23)
24. Reds (63-83; last week: 24)
25. Tigers (59-86; last week: 25)
26. Marlins (57-86; last week: 26)
27. Padres (58-88; last week: 29)
28. White Sox (56-89; last week: 27)
29. Royals (49-95; last week: 28)
30. Orioles (41-103; last week: 30)
Things are back to normal here in the bottom third of the list. The Royals and White Sox returned to their losing ways and returned to their usual spots at the bottom of the bottom. The Orioles, who we celebrated last week for finally reaching 40 wins, have gotten only one more since, which is a fitting statement about their season.

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Mike Oz is a writer at Yahoo Sports. Contact him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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