Before anyone forgets, the Kansas City Royals are still the champions, at least until the late-October night when MLB crowns the 2016 World Series champions. And unlike in boxing, when you look back to find "the man, who beat the man, who beat the man," this is not nearly as hard.
The other boxing adage that the Royals' recent play (15-5 in August) brings to mind is that until you knock the champ off the mountain top, they are still the champs.
If the season ended Aug. 21, and in Baltimore, don't fans wish that were the case, the sliding Orioles would be the second Wild Card team by .5 games. It looked like the Seattle Mariners and Detroit Tigers were in a fairly favorable position to overtake the Orioles, and even the team not named Boston or Toronto who will win the American League. But now, like the proverbial bat out of hell, the Royals are drinking the dregs of their champagne and playing as if they intend to at least scare the bejesus out of teams that thought the Royals were in their rearview mirror.
Despite down seasons by players too numerous to mention, injuries to key players like third baseman Mike Moustakas, right-hander Wade Davis and left fielder Alex Gordon, and the loss of righty Johnny Cueto and second baseman Ben Zobrist via free agency, the Royals' core has held together, and we have watched left-hander Danny Duffy become the world beater the Royals hoped he could be.
The nine remaining games in August will tell if the Royals have an improbable run in them -- three games in Miami, three in Boston and three back home against the new-look New York Yankees. If they make it past that gauntlet, they have, perhaps, the easiest September of all, with 18 of their last 30 games against teams well below .500.
The champs aren't going quietly, and instead they are showing some of the same moxie they possessed in 2015. That has to be making some other folks a tad uneasy.
1. Chicago Cubs (78-45 overall record, No. 1 ranking last week) -- The Cubs' pitching staff is dealing with the losses of John Lackey (right shoulder strain) and Hector Rondon (right triceps strain). Both cases look like precautionary measures to make sure larger issues don't force them out when they are playing for all the marbles.
2. Cleveland Indians (71-51, No. 2) -- It is interesting left-hander Andrew Miller never became a closer. He is pitching much more like the Orioles used him in 2014 and handing over save situations for Indians closer Cody Allen.
3. Washington Nationals (73-50, No. 3) -- The Nationals are still the only National League team with a remote chance of derailing the Cubs' victory train. It's hard to imagine that happening with outfielder Bryce Harper having such a rough go of it at the plate.
4. Texas Rangers (73-52, No. 5) -- Lefty Cole Hamels and right-hander Yu Darvish are looking like the Boston Braves' old refrain from the late 1940s: "Spahn and Sain and Pray for Rain." The Rangers are sorely lacking rotation help, and it could keep them from getting to the World Series.
5. Toronto Blue Jays (70-54, No. 4) -- Their two biggest pickups this year involved minor tweaks to the bulpen -- the late-May addition of righty Jason Grilli form Atlanta and the late-July pickup of righty Joaquin Benoit from Seattle. Both have helped tremendously.
6. Boston Red Sox (69-54, No. 7) -- It doesn't look like Boston has the pitching to match the Cubs, but down the lineup this team is an on-base machine. Including Sandy Leon now as starting catcher and recently recalled right fielder Andrew Benintendi, the Red Sox's average OBP is .371. That will cause trouble for their opponents.
7. Los Angeles Dodgers (68-55, No. 9) -- The Dodgers have actually moved in front of San Francisco by .5 games. Without left-hander Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers seem to have acquired the top spot in the NL West more because of the Giants' collapse than their own success, but they sure have not missed right fielder Yasiel Puig.
8. St. Louis Cardinals (66-57, No. 11) -- The Cardinals' move up in the rankings was based off them taking care of business this week while others failed to do the same. Weeks 11 and 18 were the Cardinals' previous high marks in the rankings, making this week their highest mark yet.
9. Baltimore Orioles (67-56, No. 6) -- The sum of the Orioles' parts stopped exceeding the whole about a month ago. They have the potential for an ugly finish because significant mistakes were made in assembling their starting pitching.
10. Seattle Mariners (66-57, No. 10) -- The Mariners were red hot before going 4-3 in seven games against the Angels and Brewers. Did it slow their momentum? We'll find out in their next seven games, which consist of three at home against the Yankees and four on the road against the White Sox.
11. San Francisco Giants (68-56, No. 8)
12. Houston Astros (64-60, No. 13)
13. Kansas City Royals (64-60, No. 18)
14. Detroit Tigers (65-59, No. 12)
15. Miami Marlins (65-59, No. 15)
16. Pittsburgh Pirates (62-59, No. 14)
17. New York Yankees (63-60, No. 16)
18. New York Mets (62-62, No. 17)
19. Colorado Rockies (60-64, No. 21)
20. Philadelphia Phillies (58-67, No. 19)
21. Chicago White Sox (59-64, No. 20)
22. Tampa Bay Rays (52-70, No. 24)
23. Cincinnati Reds (53-70, No. 25)
24. Oakland Athletics (53-71, No. 22)
25. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (52-72, No. 28)
26. Milwaukee Brewers (53-70, No. 23)
27. San Diego Padres (53-71, No. 26)
28. Minnesota Twins (49-75, No. 27)
29. Arizona Diamondbacks (51-73, No. 29)
30. Atlanta Braves (45-79, No. 30)