MLB power rankings: Astros aren't running away with playoff berth - to detractors' delight

As they returned to Dodger Stadium for the third time since winning the 2017 World Series, the Houston Astros received the standard treatment: Boos and cries of trash-can banging and media harrumphing.

And while the Los Angeles Dodgers claimed the three-game series, no amount of vengeance will return that trophy to the Dodgers, who were victimized by the Astros' illicit sign-stealing scheme that year. Yet six years later, Astros haters might have to satisfy themselves with this:

For the first time since winning that World Series, the Astros are not running away with a playoff berth.

Their misadventure in L.A. − including blowing a 7-3 lead in the last two innings Saturday − left them 42-36 through 78 games, by far their worst performance at that juncture since winning five consecutive full-season AL West titles.

In 2017 and 2022 − World Series championship seasons − the Astros had through 78 games built 12 1/2- and 13 1/2-game leads, respectively, and in those five seasons won between 48 and 52 games by now. Not once in that stretch did they relinquish first place from this point on − twice they were pulled into first-place ties in August 2018 − and they advanced to at least the AL Championship Series every year.

This season? Not that simple.

The first-place Texas Rangers have staying power, building a 5 1/2-game lead on Houston and impervious to Jacob deGrom's absence. Three AL East teams occupy the wild-card slots at the moment and even the Los Angeles Angels have bobbed to the surface as another team the Astros must outplay.

Sure, the Astros will be in the wild-card mix probably all season. They may have a window to run down the Rangers, even. Yet in a season where pitchers Luis Garcia and Lance McCullers Jr. suffered season-ending injuries, after owner Jim Crane failed to adequately replace Cy Young winner Justin Verlander and placed a big bet on slugger Jose Abreu (adjusted OPS: 65), the Astros are more vulnerable than when they started this run.

Houston Astros relief pitcher Ryne Stanek reacts after being issued a balk during Saturday's collapse against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Houston Astros relief pitcher Ryne Stanek reacts after being issued a balk during Saturday's collapse against the Los Angeles Dodgers.

They've dropped to 12th in USA TODAY Sports' power rankings, tumbling four spots in two weeks amid a 9-13 June performance.

A look at this week's rankings:

1. Tampa Bay Rays (-)

2. Atlanta Braves (+1)

3.  Texas Rangers (-1)

  • Bullpen about the only thing holding them back.

4.  Baltimore Orioles (-)

5. Arizona Diamondbacks (-)

  • Corbin Carroll a no-brainer All-Star. Likely Rookie of the Year. Maybe MVP?

6.  Los Angeles Dodgers (-)

  • Bobby Miller joyride hits a pothole (13 earned runs in past two starts).

7. Miami Marlins (+1)

  • When Eury Perez extends his 6-8 frame, it kind of looks like if Wemby could pitch.

8. San Francisco Giants (+1)

  • Win four of six against Padres, D-backs.

9. New York Yankees (+1)

  • They're fine. They're just fine. Stop yelling.

10. Los Angeles Angels (-3)

11. Toronto Blue Jays (+1)

  • Questions we never thought we'd ask: Where would they be without Yusei Kikuchi?

12. Houston Astros (-1)

  • A most unlikely reunion with Jonathan Singleton.

13. Boston Red Sox (-)

  • Zero All-Star starters for first time in four years.

14. Cincinnati Reds (+1)

  • Overflowing with wild rookie exploits, like Andrew Abbott: Four starts and he's fourth on team in WAR.

15. Philadelphia Phillies (-1)

  • Starting pitching has fueled their uprising.

16. Milwaukee Brewers (-1)

  • Corbin Burnes' strikeouts per nine innings down to 8.49, from 12.61 in his Cy Young-winning 2021 season.

17. Minnesota Twins (-1)

  • Dallas Keuchel, of all people, ramping up at Class AAA St. Paul.

18. San Diego Padres (-)

  • Looking for a fresh protagonist to blame? Jake Cronenworth batting .211 with .663 OPS.

19. Seattle Mariners (-)

  • After three games with Nationals, face Rays, Giants, Astros heading into All-Star break.

20. Chicago Cubs (+2)

  • During 11-2 hot streak, every game was won by a starting pitcher.

21. Cleveland Guardians (+2)

  • Looking like a lost year for Triston McKenzie, out at least a month with elbow sprain.

22. New York Mets (-2)

  • Team can't get out of its own way/trips on buckets of money.

23. Pittsburgh Pirates (-2)

  • In losing 14 of 17, scored three or fewer runs 13 times.

24. Chicago White Sox (-)

  • Jake Burger says he'd like to add some sizzle to Home Run Derby.

25. St. Louis Cardinals (-)

26. Detroit Tigers (-)

27. Washington Nationals (-)

  • Win a series in San Diego as MacKenzie Gore shows off his stuff vs. team that traded him.

28. Colorado Rockies (-)

  • First team to give up 25 runs in a game and not drop in power rankings. (We think).

29. Kansas City Royals (-)

  • It took 16 starts (with a 6.68 ERA), but Jordan Lyles has first win as a Royal.

30. Oakland Athletics (-)

  • The record: 20-60. The run differential: -224. Times the commissioner inelegantly commented on "reverse boycott": Two.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLB power rankings: Houston Astros fall back to pack in AL West