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Summer's Dog Days Are Here, And The MLB Races Are Just As Heated

Football may be dominating the sports headlines, but the real excitement is going on in major league baseball, where the races, like the weather, are starting to really heat up. Read on for the July MLB Power Rankings in five words.

Matt Treanor, Kansas City Royals catcher
Matt Treanor, Kansas City Royals catcher

The blistering heat and humidity long associated with late July and August, the so-called Dog Days of summer, are here in all their splendored glory - as if no one has noticed - and the National Football League has taken over the sports headlines. If you're a fan of major-league baseball, however, this is your time of year. Not only is the outside temperature rising, but so too is the intensity and excitement surrounding the divisional races around baseball.

In five of the six MLB division races seven teams were within four games of the division leaders entering August, and the largest division lead is six games in the National League East, where second-place Atlanta is chasing Philadelphia. Most of the races are effectively down to two-team affairs, except for the NL Central, where three teams - St. Louis, defending division champ Cincinnati and the surprising Pittsburgh Pirates - are all within six games of front-running Milwaukee.

The Brewers are currently up by two and a half games over St. Louis and host the Cardinals for a big three-game series beginning tonight at Miller Park in Milwaukee. Front-runners Detroit and Texas, both with two-game leads in the AL Central and AL West, respectively, also square off in a three-game series in Detroit to start the month of August. And there will be plenty of key matchups like this with playoff implications as we head into the final eight-week homestretch of the season, leading into the divisional playoffs.

As an example, the Red Sox and Yankees, currently separated by two games in the AL East with Boston on top, meet nine more times in the regular season, six times this month at Fenway Park, beginning with three games this weekend, and three in September at Yankee Stadium. The Red Sox hold a huge 8-1 advantage this season vs. their arch enemies, the Yankees.

The Arizona Diamondbacks finished at the bottom of the standings in the NL West last season, but are currently 10-games over .500 and trail the division-leading San Francisco Giant by only two games heading into the final one-third of the season. The D-backs get a shot at carving into the Giants' lead as they play the first of three games tonight at San Francisco. The two teams have six games remaining against each other after that, three at each place. The Giants have won seven of the nine games so far this season between these two teams.

The Texas Rangers, the defending American League pennant winners, have seven big games with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, their closest pursuers in the Al West, in August alone, and three in Anaheim to close out the regular season. The Rangers, who hold a two-game lead over the Angels after Sunday's games, play four games in Anaheim beginning two weeks from today, and then host the Angels for three games Aug. 26-28. The Angels lead in the series this season 5-4.

That brings you to my 2011 MLB Power Rankings through July - and five words on why:

2011 July MLB Power Rankings In Five Words

(Previous rankings in parentheses)