MLB Power Rankings: Blue Jays flourishing, Red Sox keep floundering
The Bay Area is the home of this week's No. 1 team, with the Athletics beating the Giants for the top spot by a single point. That leaves San Francisco in second place just ahead of the Tigers, who surrendered their hold on first, with the surging Angels and Cardinals rounding out the top-five. But the real action in this week's Power Rankings comes courtesy the AL East, which provided the week's biggest riser and its biggest faller.
They're No. 1: Athletics. Oakland ended the note on a rough streak, losing four straight and getting swept by the Blue Jays, but the Athletics' body of work on the season was enough to put them into first place for a fourth time. The A's are the AL's leader in wins with 30, but one potential problem spot for the A's going forward is second base. Eric Sogard's rough start to the year (.185/.258/.222) has forced Bob Melvin to try some new solutions at the keystone, including more playing time on the field for Alberto Callaspo, who's had a solid if unspectacular season at the plate. Luckily, Sogard's struggles offensively (and Josh Reddick's in rightfield) have been balanced out by an MVP-caliber season from Josh Donaldson, whose 3.7 WAR is second only to Troy Tulowitzki in MLB.
Cellar Dweller: Diamondbacks. Arizona finds itself back at No. 30 again for the first time in three weeks despite taking two of three from the Mets this weekend. Arizona has improved dramatically after a 9-22 start to the year, going 11-10 in May, but that's been no thanks to the offense, which scored only 11 runs in six games last week. The biggest culprits for the team's offensive swoon this month? Martin Prado (.591 OPS in May), Miguel Montero (.661) and Chris Owings (.666). That's offset the usual good work of Paul Goldschmidt and the surprising rise of A.J. Pollock, who's slashed .323/.362/.528 in 19 games since May 1.
Biggest Riser: Blue Jays. Aside from Milwaukee, it's hard to imagine a more surprising division leader than Toronto, a team that finished 14 games under .500 in 2013 but is now first in the AL East thanks to a 9-1 stretch in its last 10. Toronto's won six straight, including a three-game sweep of the A's at home, and they're doing it with the AL's most powerful offense. The Blue Jays' .422 slugging percentage trails only the Rockies in all of baseball, and the team's 70 homers are tops in MLB and best in the AL by a wide margin (the Angels are next with 55). Edwin Encarnacion has provided a large chunk of that power surge, bashing 12 homers just in the month of May and eight in his last 10 games. His 14 dingers overall tie him for third in baseball behind Nelson Cruz (16) and Jose Abreu (15).
Biggest Faller: Red Sox. No team is colder or worse than Boston at this moment. A 10-game losing streak has sent the Red Sox plummeting into the AL East basement; it's the longest skid for a defending World Series champion since the 1998 Marlins lost 11 straight. It's also the first double-digit losing streak for Boston since 1976, which hasn't lost 11 in a row since the strike-shortened 1994 season. The Red Sox are still a ways away from the franchise record of 17 consecutive losses, set back in 1926, but their postseason hopes are growing more and more distant with each defeat.
A few words about the...
Cardinals: St. Louis is looking more like a defending National League champion these days thanks to eight wins in its last 10 games, bumping the Cardinals all the way to fifth in this week's rankings. That run has helped the Cardinals close the gap in the NL Central from 5 1/2 games to 1 1/2 going into play on Memorial Day, and St. Louis can thank the stellar work of Adam Wainwright for its recent success. Wainwright is now on a 17-inning scoreless streak after blanking Cincinnati for eight frames on Sunday; since getting battered by the Cubs on May 2 (5 IP, 6 ER), Wainwright has tossed 31 innings and allowed only three runs on three walks and 31 strikeouts. His 2.7 WAR is the third-best mark among pitchers, and his 1.67 ERA is behind only Jeff Samardzija's 1.46.
Orioles: One bird flies high, the other falls to earth. (Sorry.) (Not sorry.) Baltimore is back in the middle of the pack at 14th after reaching a season-high seventh two weeks ago, splitting series with Pittsburgh and Cleveland. Baltimore's fall has more to do with the teams behind them getting hot than the Orioles doing anything in particular wrong, but the team's pitching hasn't helped, surrendering 32 runs in its last six games. Would you be surprised to find out that Ubaldo Jimenez is at the center of Baltimore's recent pitching woes? The consistently inconsistent Jimenez was thrashed for five runs over four innings in the Orioles' 9-0 loss to Cleveland last week, walking five in the outing. Jimenez started May on a strong note, with just one earned run allowed in 19 2/3 innings over his first three starts, but has now given up 10 earned over nine innings in his last two.
Phillies: The indignity of being 2014's first (and possibly only) no-hit team was a wretched cap to a bad week for Philadelphia, as the Phillies dropped a series each to the Marlins and Dodgers and are lounging in the bottom-five of the rankings. Since reaching .500 back on May 5, the Phillies have gone 6-11, stuck in the NL East basement and trying to pass the Mets to avoid their first last-place finish since 2000. Equally hard to watch has been the total collapse of Ryan Howard, who sparked hopes of a comeback season with an .803 OPS over April and March, but has hit just .184/.267/.303 with two homers since May 1.