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The Strike Zone

Power Rankings: Red Sox back at No. 1

John Lackey, Red SoxJohn Lackey has returned to form after missing all of 2012 due to injury. (Michael Ivins/Getty Images)

If you're looking for the Power Rankings, you've come to the right spot. Joe Lemire is on vacation this week so I'm pinch-hitting, but the formula for ranking the teams -- which is based 50 percent on season record, 25 percent on last-10-games record (with a small strength of schedule component) and 25 percent on season run differential -- is the same as always. Joe will be back next week. In the meantime, the Red Sox have jumped to the top spot for the first time in two months thanks to a run differential that is nearly twice that of the Pirates' and a more difficult strength of schedule.

NOTE: All stats are through July 3.

1. Boston Red Sox

Last Week: 3

Don't look now, but in the absence of Clay Buchholz and the presence of the increasingly mediocre Jon Lester, John Lackey has assumed the role of staff ace. He's allowed two runs or fewer in each of his last four starts, eight of his last nine starts have been quality ones, and his 2.81 ERA now ranks seventh in the league — eighth if you count Buchholz, whose 1.73 mark fell off the official leaderboard because he has fewer innings pitched (84 1/3) than team games played (86). Lackey's also eighth in strikeout-to-walk ratio at 4.4 on the strength of a strong K rate (8.2 per nine) and a stellar walk rate (1.9 per nine).

2. Pittsburgh Pirates

Last Week: 1

Thanks to a nine-game wining streak from June 20-30, the Pirates have not only taken over first place in the NL Central, they now own the majors' best record. They've had winning records at this juncture in each of the past two seasons, but not since 1991— when their Barry Bonds/Bobby Bonilla-led (and Jim Leyland-managed) squad won the NL East for the second of three straight years — has their record been this good on July 4. He's not exactly Bonds or Bonilla, but Pedro Alvarez has 11 homers since the beginning of June, and 21 for the year, the NL's third-highest total.

3. Atlanta Braves

Last Week: 10

O Brother, Where Art Thou? Since May 1, an Upton is hitting .224/.336/.316. That would be Justin Upton, he of the .298/.402/.734 line with 12 homers in April. Over that span, he's barely outhit brother B.J. (.197/.304/.338), and has been outhomered 5-3. Atlanta could use both men to start picking up the pace. 

4. St. Louis Cardinals

Last Week: 2

The Cardinals are just 15-15 since the beginning of June, which has cost them 3 1/2 games in the standings, but don't blame Matt Carpenter. He's got 21 hits — 10 for extra bases — in the team's last 12 games and is hitting .324/.397/.495 overall. He ranks second in the NL in runs scored (62), third in hits (104), fourth in both batting average and on-base percentage, fifth in Wins Above Replacement (3.9) and ninth in total bases (159). According to Defensive Runs Saved, he's been five runs above average at second base, a position where he'd played a total of 18 regular season innings coming into the year. Not too shabby.

5. Oakland Athletics

Last Week: 6

He didn't get enough offensive support on Wednesday night, but big bad Bartolo Colon just keeps rolling. Over his last eight starts, he's allowed more than two runs just once, lasted less than seven innings just once, and put together a 1.50 ERA in 66 frames. He's now first in the league in walk rate (1.1 per nine), second wins (11), fourth in ERA (2.78), seventh in Wins Above Replacement (3.1) and eighth in strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.4). A pitcher like that might win a Cy Young award someday.

6. Cincinnati Reds

Last Week: 8

On Tuesday night, Homer Bailey became the sixth pitcher to record a pair of no-hitters without another major league pitcher doing so, joining Addie Joss (1908-1910), Johnny Vander Meer (in back-to-back starts in 1938), Allie Reynolds (1951), Warren Spahn (1960-1961) and Nolan Ryan (two in 1973, and then again in 1974-1975). Nobody else on the Cincinnati staff has even one, but the rotation nonetheless ranks second in the league with a 3.26 ERA, with Bailey's 3.57 mark the highest among the six who have at least eight starts.

GALLERY: Pitchers with multiple no-hitters

7. Tampa Bay Rays

Last Week: 11

The big dog is back: David Price returned from a month and a half on the disabled list due to a triceps strain and notched a season-high 10 strikeouts in seven shutout innings against the slumping Astros, needing just 70 pitches to do so. The Rays need him, as they lost ground in the AL East and wild-card races during his absence, and their once-vaunted rotation ranks ninth in the league in both ERA (4.25) and quality start rate (48 percent). Now they have another concern, namely whether Evan Longoria's plantar fasciitis will send him to the DL, depriving them of by far their most potent hitter (.297/.366/.542).

8. Cleveland Indians

Last Week: 7

Who needs Yasiel Puig? Since June 1, Jason Kipnis is hitting .416/.512/.703 with 18 extra-base hits in 127 plate appearances. With an 11-4 run — including a four-game weekend sweep of the White Sox that included the longest doubleheader in history — the Indians are not only back above .500, they're battling the Tigers for AL Central supremacy. After snatching the top spot earlier in the week, they come into Thursday half a game back.

9. Baltimore Orioles

Last Week: 12

With a rotation that ranked 13th in the league in ERA (4.82) and 11th in quality start rate (45 percent), general manager Dan Duquette decided he couldn't afford to wait until the end of the month to make a move. He sent former prospect Jake Arrieta, reliever Pedro Strop and $381,000 worth of international bonus pool money to the Cubs for Scott Feldman and backup catcher Steve Clevinger. In his first start for the O's on Wednesday, Feldman delivered six innings of strong work against the admittedly feeble White Sox, allowing two runs and striking out six without a walk.

10. Detroit Tigers

Last Week: 5

With Wednesday's win over the Blue Jays, Max Scherzer has run his record to 13-0, making him the first pitcher to attain that mark since Roger Clemens in 1986. Meanwhile, both his strikeout total (139) and rate (10.7 per nine) rank second in the league, and he's third in strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.4), and 10th in ERA (3.09).

11. Texas Rangers

Last Week: 4

Mitch Moreland may have left his mojo on the disabled list. Since returning from a 15-day absence due to a hamstring strain, he's just 6-for-41 with one double, four walks and 12 strikeouts. He's lost 86 points of OPS in that slide and is now hitting .264/.317/.494. Meanwhile, with Lance Berkman playing in just four games during a 15-game span due to continued problems with his right knee, the Rangers are apparently so concerned that they've signed Manny Ramirez to a minor league deal.

12. Los Angeles Angels

Last Week: 17

Winners of seven in a row from June 25 through July 2, the Angels haven't made up quite as much ground as their area rivals, the Dodgers, did with a similar hot streak; they're still in third place in the AL West, 8 1/2 back instead of 11 back. What should help going forward is that Jered Weaver is rounding into form. After putting up a 5.32 ERA in his first four starts since his return from an elbow fracture, he's allowed just two runs in 14 innings against the Tigers and Cardinals — his first two outings longer than six innings this season.

13. Los Angeles Dodgers

Last Week: 19

Via their 10-1 streak, they've gained seven games on the Diamondbacks in the NL West race, and on Tuesday, they climbed out of last place — leapfrogging to third — for the first time since May 5. While Yasiel Puig (.440/.466/.743 with eight homers) continues to pound the stuffing out of the ball, Hanley Ramirez (.412/.446/.753 with seven homers) has been every bit as potent. Since June 19, he's 25-for-49 with six homers and a .959 slugging percentage.

JAFFE: Another night, another display of brilliance from Puig

14. Kansas City Royals

Last Week: 16

Maybe Dayton Moore is finally listening. Last week, the Royals GM designated Jeff Francoeur (.208/.249/.322) for assignment, and earlier this week, with his second basemen hitting a combined .234/.275/.313, he brought back Johnny Giavotella, whose 2011-2012 major league line doesn't look much different (.242/.271/.340) but who has torn up the Pacific Coast League (.320/.391/.464) over the past three seasons.

15. New York Yankees

Last Week: 13

On July 1, Andy Pettitte surpassed Whitey Ford as the Yankees' all-time strikeout leader — a record that Ford has held since 1963 — but lately the 41-year-old lefty has been showing his age. Thanks in part to his own throwing error, he needed 42 pitches to get out of the first inning against the Twins, the most he'd thrown in a single inning since Sept. 10, 2003. Over his past four starts, he's been rocked for 16 runs in 24 2/3 innings pushing his ERA up to 4.40, and he has just one quality start out of six since returning from a trapezius strain.

16. Colorado Rockies

Last Week: 15

On June 14, the Rockies lost a red-hot Troy Tulowitzki to a broken rib and the game to the Phillies. They're still feeling the effects of that day, for not only are they 6-11 since then, but Dexter Fowler hasn't been right since being hit on the right knuckle in the same game. After going 4-for-23 while playing in just six of the team's next 16 games — lowering his season line to a still-impressive .291/.390/.473 — he hit the disabled list on Tuesday. That day also marked the end of Michael Cuddyer's franchise-record 27-game hitting streak, the longest in the majors this year.

17. Chicago Cubs

Last Week: 25

The great Cubs selloff of 2013 has begun. In a flurry of deals on July 2, they traded away Carlos Marmol and Scott Feldman, yet netted $963,100 in additional bonus pool money with which to sign international free agents. They're putting that to good use, and have reportedly reached an agreement to sign Baseball America's top ranked international prospect, 16-year-old Dominican outfielder Eloy Jimenez, who's already 6-foot-4 and 200 pounds.

18. Toronto Blue Jays

Last Week: 9

With Jose Reyes back in the lineup and R.A. Dickey pitching like the guy in the catalogue, the Blue Jays are as close to whole as they've been since early April, but even so, you might want to wait on the AL East victory parade. Since reeling off that 10-game winning streak from June 11-23, they're 3-7 and have fallen five games in the AL East standings.

19. Washington Nationals

Last Week: 18

After missing more than a month due to bursitis in his left knee, Bryce Harper returned with a bang, homering in his first plate appearance against the Brewers' Yovani Gallardo on Monday to trigger a 10-5 rout. Harper is hitting .272/.370/.568 with 13 homers, but the rest of the Nationals are hitting an anemic .237/.295/.383.

20. Arizona Diamondbacks

Last Week: 14

Losers of eight out of nine before Wednesday night, and 15 out of 23 since June 7, the Diamondbacks have nonetheless managed to cling to first place in the NL Worst, er, West. While they're tied for the league's second-worst record over that 23-game span, the tie is with the Rockies, and the worst record belongs to the Giants (8-16), hence their ability to hold onto the top spot. Particularly brutal during that span have been David Hernandez (12 runs in 11 innings) and Heath Bell (seven runs in 7 1/3 innings) — but don't worry, because even with the return of J.J. Putz from the DL, the latter is going to keep closing.

21. New York Mets

Last Week: 23

The Mets have won 11 out of their last 18, and they've gotten a shot in the arm from some newcomers considerably less heralded than Zack Wheeler. New leftfielder/leadoff man Eric Young Jr. is hitting .333/.379/.43 since arriving on June 19, while 28-year-old rookie Josh Satin is hitting .378/.491/.600 and has taken over first base for the injured Lucas Duda and, in the bigger picture, the demoted Ike Davis — and yes, those slash numbers are more than double poor Ike's major league line (.161/.242/.258). Davis isn't doing too badly in Las Vegas (.293/.424/.667 with seven homers in 92 PA), but there's no rush for him to return.

22. Philadelphia Phillies

Last Week: 24

Even with a 16-1 drubbing of the Dodgers on June 28 — their sole win in a four-game series in Los Angeles — the Phillies now have a −45 run differential, worse than all but two NL teams, the Brewers (-54) and Marlins (-84). Which is to say that this is by no means a team that is likely to contend, though it's going to take general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. some time before he concedes. If he does, no team has as many players who could fill the needs of other teams at the trade deadline, though it sounds likely the Phillies will hold onto Chase Utley and Cliff Lee unless they express desires for a change of scenery.

23. Seattle Mariners

Last Week: 29

The Mariners' shakeup hasn't done a whole lot to improve their fortunes. While new second baseman Nick Franklin has hit a robust .287/.351/.459 in 33 games since being recalled, new catcher Mike Zunino's batting just .226/.255/.321 in 15 games. Dustin Ackley is back from the minors as a centerfielder but just 2-for-16, and new shortstop Brad Miller — the team's second-round 2011 pick — is 3-for-19. The team is 12-16 (.448) since the beginning of June, compared to 24-55 (.436) prior.

24. Miami Marlins

Last Week: 28

Congratulations to the Marlins, who at least for the moment are no longer the majors' worst team except in terms of their rotted soul. Helped along by the recent returns of Giancarlo Stanton (.288/.371/.538 with five homers in 21 games) and Logan Morrison (.321/.387/.554 in 16 games), their 17-11 record since the beginning of June means that they're unlikely to challenge the 1962 Mets for 120-loss ignominy, leaving us all to wonder what might have been.

25. Minnesota Twins

Last Week: 21

Tough break for the Twins: Last year, while setting a career high with 35 homers, Josh Willingham drew a fair amount of attention as a midseason trade target despite having just signed a three-year, $21 million deal. This year, he's slumped to .224/.356/.398, and the Twins' chances of dealing him just took a major hit, as he'll be out for 4-to-6 weeks because he'll undergo surgery to repair a torn medial meniscus while allowing a bone bruise to heal. For what it's worth, he had in-season meniscus surgery on the same knee in 2010 and missed seven weeks.

26. San Diego Padres

Last Week: 20

Remember Chase Headley? After hitting .308/.386/.592 with 23 homers in the second half last year, he appeared primed for stardom, but this year, he's hit just .219/.317/.338 with six homers thus far, and his year-to-year OPS has declined by 230 points even with the changes to Petco Park. Since surging to within one game of the NL West lead on June 17, the Padres are just 4-11, knocking them back under .500 and into fourth place in the NL West.

27. San Francisco Giants

Last Week: 22

No hitting: On July 2, the Giants fell victim to Homer Bailey's gem, with Gregor Blanco's seventh-inning walk the only thing separating them from being victims of a perfect game. Indeed, San Francisco offense has fallen on hard times. It has averaged just 2.00 runs per game over its last 13, exceeding three runs twice in that span, over which the defending world champions are just 2-11, and now sit in last place in the NL West.

28. Chicago White Sox

Last Week: 27

Already, it's clear that the Sox plan to wave the white flag. According to reports, they're willing to trade anyone except Paul Konerko and Chris Sale, but from among their remaining regulars and starting pitchers, only Alex Rios, Adam Dunn and Jose Quintana are healthy and have an OPS+ or an ERA+ better than the league average. Rios, once a waiver-wire punchline, has about $20 million remaining on his deal through 2014. Unfortunately, the hottest commodity here, reliever Jesse Crain, just took his a microscopic 0.74 ERA and 11.3 strikeouts per nine to the disabled list due to shoulder tightness.

29. Milwaukee Brewers

Last Week: 26

As if things weren't already going badly enough, the Brewers announced that Corey Hart will miss the remainder of the season. After undergoing microfracture surgery on his right knee in January, he now needs similar surgery on his left one. That could end his tenure with the team, as he's a free agent this winter, but more importantly, it leaves the Brewers with the proverbial Gaping Vortex of Suck in their lineup. Milwaukee's first basemen are hitting just .196/.240/.338 for an OPS around 40 points lower than the next-worst team. Oh, and the Brewers are not likely to get Ryan Braun back until after the All-Star break, either.

30. Houston Astros

Last Week: 30

After averaging an even 4.00 runs per game through the end of May, the Astros offense has fallen upon hard times. Since the beginning of June, they've managed just 3.13 runs per game, and during a five-game losing streak that ended on Wednesday night they averaged just five. The sad thing is that during the same period, their run prevention has improved considerably; where they were allowing 5.67 runs per game previously, they're at 4.37 per game since June began. Houston has now overtaken the Marlins for the majors' worst record.

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