MLB power rankings: Can future Hall of Famer buoy defending champs?

If the Texas Rangers are going to mount any meaningful defense of their World Series title, Max Scherzer will have to be a significant part of it. Now he’s back, and for at least one start looking like his old self, and the Rangers are on a little roll as they enter another trying stretch of their season.

The Rangers completed a three-game sweep of the respectable Kansas City Royals, an outcome that could simply be a positive blip in this year of great inconsistency, or an eventually significant development in what will be a typically bloated wild-card race.

For now, the Rangers have moved up three places in USA TODAY Sports’ power rankings, and within 4 ½ games of a wild-card spot. Scherzer, who turns 40 next month, provided five one-hit innings, tied Greg Maddux for 11th on baseball’s all-time strikeout list and perhaps inspired a little more hope for a 37-40 ballclub.

A look at this week’s rankings:

1. Philadelphia Phillies (+2)

Cristopher Sanchez signs new contract, throws seven shutout innings. Charmed year, or what?

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2. New York Yankees (-1)

Ben Rice’s debut, J.D. Davis acquisition spice up the infield corners.

3. Cleveland Guardians (+1)

Steven Kwan with a career-high seven homers in just 49 games.

4. Baltimore Orioles (-2)

Series win in Bronx, swept in Houston as starting pitching concerns deepen.

5. Los Angeles Dodgers (-)

Tyler Glasnow tops 100 innings, jsut 20 shy of his career high.

6. Atlanta Braves (+3)

Starters Chris Sale, Reynaldo Lopez, Max Fried all look All-Star worthy.

7. Milwaukee Brewers (-)

Rookie Tobias Myers now 4-0 with 0.71 ERA in first four starts.

8. Seattle Mariners (-1)

Dropping a series at Miami not what you want.

9. Minnesota Twins (+1)

Bailey Ober tosses an 89-pitch complete game, striking out 10.

10. Boston Red Sox (+1)

Choosing relevance once more.

11. Kansas City Royals (-3)

After 2-7 road trip, out of playoff position for first time since April 6.

12. San Diego Padres (-)

Jackson Merrill rips seven homers in a 10-game stretch.

13. St. Louis Cardinals (+2)

24-13 since May 12, best mark in NL.

14. Texas Rangers (+3)

Seven-game trip to Milwaukee, Baltimore will be telling.

15. Washington Nationals (+1)

Won a series in Denver for first time since 2017, despite walk-off pitch clock violation.

16. Houston Astros (+9)

With Kyle Tucker and Justin Verlander still out, they sweep Baltimore.

17. New York Mets (+5)

Edwin Diaz’s crazy season takes another turn with sticky-stuff violation.

18. Arizona Diamondbacks (+2)

Catcher Gabriel Moreno on IL with thumb sprain.

19. Tampa Bay Rays (+5)

Minus-62 run differential, yet hanging around.

20. Pittsburgh Pirates (+3)

Paul Skenes through eight starts: 61 strikeouts, eight walks, 2.14 ERA.

21. Chicago Cubs (-)

In first start facing team for second time, Shota Imanaga gives up 10 runs to Mets.

22. Cincinnati Reds (-9)

Abrupt landing in NL Central cellar.

23. Toronto Blue Jays (-9)

Story of their season: Prospect Orelvis Martinez makes major league debut, draws 80-game PED suspension.

24. Detroit Tigers (-6)

Riley Greene has 15 home runs in 76 games.

25. San Francisco Giants (-6)

Rare turn in spotlight devolves into sweep at hands of Cardinals.

26. Los Angeles Angels (+1)

Now 1-11 in last dozen games against Dodgers.

27. Oakland Athletics (-1)

Former Yankees prospect Armando Alvarez, 29, finally makes major league debut.

28. Colorado Rockies (-)

Kyle Freeland tosses six scoreless innings in first start since April 14.

29. Miami Marlins (-)

Stanley Cup Finals provide just one more night of cover from grim season.

30. Chicago White Sox (-)

A beer shower for Drew Thorpe after first big league win.

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