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NL Least is game's worst division; Cardinals maintain No. 1 ranking

Photo: Mark Goldman/Icon SMI

Jayson Werth and the Nationals were expected to dominate this year but they've been blocked at every turn.

Just last season, the NL East was full of promise. The Phillies, winners of the five previous division titles, still had their three aces. The Marlins had gone on a monumental shopping spree in free agency. The Braves retained a good, young core. The Nationals were on the cusp of contention. The Mets hoped a healthy return of Johan Santana would pair well with R.A. Dickey and Jon Niese atop their rotation.

A year later, the division is largely in shambles, except for the Braves. Washington, which led the majors in wins last season with 98 and was thought to be better now, is struggling to get above .500. The Phillies lost Roy Halladay to injury, and Cole Hamels hasn't been effective. The Mets and Marlins are dreadful.

Only Atlanta has a winning record or a positive run differential, but after getting swept in San Diego, it fell four spots thisweek to No. 6. The other four clubs in the division are all in the second half of this week's Power Rankings -- Nationals at 18, Phillies at 23, Mets at 28 and Marlins at 29 -- as the NL East has staked its claim as baseball's worst.

Once again, this year Power Rankings is trying to objectively determine who is playing the best right now. The rankings are ordered based on a quantitative formula that considers season record, last-10-games record (with a small strength of schedule component) and season run differential.

NOTE: All stats are updated through Wednesday, June 12.

MLB Power Rankings
1St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 1
In consecutive games this week, reliever Trevor Rosenthal and starter Michael Wacha earned their first career victories. Cardinals pitchers aged 26-and-younger are collectively 30-13 with a 3.32 ERA and 359 strikeouts in 366 2/3 innings this season.
 
2Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 3
Daniel Nava entered the year seemingly labeled a Quadruple A player -- too good for Triple A, not good enough to play every day in the majors -- but he's proven that wrong in resounding fashion. He ranks sixth among AL outfielders with an .843 OPS, and he leads the majors with 24 RBIs in the seventh inning or later.
 
3Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 9
Led, of course, by SI cover subjects and corner-infield cornerstones Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, the Tigers' infield has the best production in the majors (.833 OPS, 32 points better than second-place Baltimore) because second baseman Omar Infante (.303 average, .758 OPS) and shortstop Jhonny Peralta (.329 average, .858 OPS) are both hitting well, too.
 
4Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 5
The Reds gambled when installing Shin-Soo Choo not only as their leadoff hitter but also as their everyday centerfielder. Choo has the majors' third-best OBP at .430, but he has cost the Reds nine runs defensively, according to the Fielding Bible. The accepted rate is that 10 runs equals one win, though he's created 50 runs offensively, making it a worthwhile four-win tradeoff for Cincinnati.
 
5Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 4
Another great example of the A's finding undervalued talent: First baseman Nate Freiman was exposed in the Rule 5 draft by the Padres, then selected and subsequently waived by the Astros. He was claimed by Oakland, where he was named AL Rookie of the Month for May, when he had a stellar .351/.415/.514 batting line.
 
6Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 2
Evan Gattis, whom I profiled in last week's SI, is 6-for-8 as a pinch-hitter with four (!) home runs (in nine plate appearances). The record is seven pinch-hit homers in a season by the Dodgers' Dave Hansen in 2000 (in 65 PAs) and the Pirates' Craig Wilson in 2001 (in 43 PAs); they are the only two players with more than five in a season.
 
7Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 11
Former No. 1 overall pick Gerrit Cole certainly impressed in his debut, earning the win while allowing two runs in 6 1/3 innings and not walking a batter while smacking a two-RBI single at the plate. He's already the ninth Pirate to start a game this year but, barring injury, he'll be a mainstay in that rotation for at least the next six years.
 
8Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 12
There have been only four seasons in Rockies history in which a qualified starter has had an ERA+ of 130 or greater: Marvin Freeman in 1994, Joe Kennedy in 2004 and Ubaldo Jimenez in 2009 and '10. Jorge De La Rosa could join them -- he has a 131 ERA+ through his first 14 starts.
 
9New York Yankees
Last Week: 13
Baseball's new walk-less wonder, now that the White Sox' Jeff Keppinger is off the schneid, is Yankees rookie infielder David Adams, who has gone 71 plate appearances -- and counting -- without drawing a base on balls despite walking once every 9.7 PAs in his minor league career. Adams has been hit by two pitches, however, and is batting .217 with two homers.
 
10Texas Rangers
Last Week: 7
Top prospect Jurickson Profar has been a serviceable contributor at second base and Leury Garcia has delivered something less than that, but the Rangers really miss Ian Kinsler. Profar has hit one homer with a .668 OPS in 17 starts at second base; Garcia has no homers and a .524 OPS in 10 starts there. Kinsler, meanwhile, had seven homers and a .302 OPS in 37 starts at second before his rib injury.
 
11Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 8
The Rays hit four home runs on both Monday and Tuesday, the first time in franchise history they've done that, though they only won one of those games with the Red Sox. Clubs play 72 intra-divisional games each year, and the Rays have won 40 or more in each of the past five seasons but are just 15-19 within the AL East in 2103.
 
12Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 6
Paul Goldschmidt is having a season that should garner him some NL MVP votes. The knock on him before the season was his extreme righty/lefty splits (.739 OPS vs. RHPs in 2012, 1.068 OPS vs. LHPs). He has balanced that out this season (.955 vs. RHPs, .952 vs. LHPs) but now has a wide split between his production with men on base (1.152) as opposed to the bases being empty (.766).
 
13Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 10
Across the majors, teams that fall behind in the first inning have a winning percentage of .341 -- except for the Orioles, who actually have a winning record at 9-7 (.562). Baltimore also has won eight games when trailing at the start of the seventh inning, in no small part because of a major league-best 38 homers and .816 OPS when behind on the scoreboard.
 
14Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 22
The Royals' offense may hold the majors' longest streak of consecutive games scoring four or fewer runs (14), but the Royals' pitching staff just established the majors' longest streak of consecutive games holding opponents to three or fewer runs (11).
 
15San Diego Padres
Last Week: 20
Formerly fizzled prospect Kyle Blanks has been a revelation for the Padres. Baseball America's No. 50 prospect before the 2009 season, Blanks entered the season with a middling .737 OPS in 146 career big league games, but he has played his way into an everyday role, with six homers and an .863 OPS in 144 plate appearances this season.
 
16San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 16
Chad Gaudin has pitched for nine different teams, though he's had two tours with both the A's and Yankees to give him 11 stints in 11 seasons. But he may stick around San Francisco longer than this one-year deal: Gaudin has a 2.32 ERA in 42 2/3 innings including two quality starts after taking injured Ryan Vogelsong's place in the rotation.
 
17Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 15
Lefthanded reliever Caleb Thielbar, a Minnesota native who was pitching in independent ball two years ago, recently became the first South Dakota State alum to play in the majors since Vean Gregg retired in 1925. Better yet, Theilbar has yet to allow a run in his first 10 innings of work, during which time he's yielded only five hits and four walks.
 
18Washington Nationals
Last Week: 19
Anthony Rendon has given the Nationals a jolt of offense since being summoned back to the big leagues to play second base. He has gone 9-for-24 with four doubles in last six games and, including his first tour, now has six walks (in 55 plate appearances), which is two more walks than starting second baseman Danny Espinosa has in 167 PAs.
 
19Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 14
Losing eight straight games takes a general failing, but Cleveland's rotation is particularly to blame. During the skid, the team's starters had a 7.59 ERA and failed to log even a single quality start.
 
20Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 29
One bad month can sink a season: The Brewers were 14-11 in April and are 7-5 in June, but that 6-22 May will be hard to overcome. It's similar to the 2011 Marlins, who went 16-9 in April, 15-13 in May and 17-10 in July but were sunk by a 5-23 June (and, later, by a 7-20 August).
 
21Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 24
Manager Don Mattingly joked -- we think -- to reporters the other day that Yasiel Puig could handle batting fourth because he is "possibly one of the greatest players who ever lived." That's only a small hyperbole, considering the media frenzy surrounding the rightfielder's hot start: 17-for-35 with four home runs. L.A., however, is 5-5 in Puig's first 10 games.
 
22Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 21
The Blue Jays have already used 29 pitchers this season, which is tied for 21st most alltime in a single season -- even though they've only played 40 percent of the season. The 2012 Blue Jays, incidentally, used 34 pitchers, which ranks second alltime; the '02 Padres hold the record with 37.
 
23Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 18
Domonic Brown has single-handedly lifted the Phillies' offense. When he homered on May 27 to start a nine-homer binge over 10 games, he also ignited a team streak. Starting May 27, Philadelphia homered in 14 straight games, the second-longest streak of the season; Brown hit 10 of the club's 24 homers during that stretch.
 
24Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 28
When Jake Peavy went on the DL, the White Sox replaced him with lefthander Hector Santiago, who won on Sunday and is now 2-2 with a 2.67 ERA in six starts spanning 33 2/3 innings. Santiago nearly became a submarine-style reliever before learning a screwball.
 
25Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 27
Josh Hamilton's dismal start to the season has largely overshadowed Albert Pujols' continued decline. Pujols has seen his OPS decline for the fifth straight season, to a very pedestrian .757. His .249 batting average is not only a career-worst by 36 points, but it's also 76 points lower than his career average entering the season.
 
26Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 25
Believe it or not, there's a home run-hitting category in which Seattle actually ranks first: the Mariners have hit a major league-best six leadoff home runs: Franklin Gutierrez (three), Michael Saunders (two) and Jason Bay (one).
 
27Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 17
The Fielding Bible ranks Cubs catchers as the game's best defensively, having saved six runs this year. Closer inspection shows that all of those runs are credited to the backstop play of Welington Castillo, helping explain why he plays twice as much as Dioner Navarro despite an OPS that is 273 points lower.
 
28New York Mets
Last Week: 23
The Mets, who recently demoted three players en masse including first base cornerstone Ike Davis, had enough to worry about before getting swept by the Marlins. New York is 21-28 (.429) against everyone else but 3-8 (.273) against Miami.
 
29Miami Marlins
Last Week: 30
The Marlins are the only team whose third baseman have yet to hit a home run this season. They traded former first-round pick Matt Dominguez to Houston for Carlos Lee last July, and Dominguez has hit nine homers for the Astros this season.
 
30Houston Astros
Last Week: 26
Houston scored 11 runs to beat Baltimore back on June 5, but it failed to match that number in its next six games, scoring 1-2-2-0-2-0 in succession while losing all six. Such is the feast-or-famine life of a club dependent on the homer: the Astros hit six to beat the Orioles and only one in those next six games.

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