Thursday June 4th, 2009

It's only June, but some teams have already cast an eye toward the future, as evidenced by the plethora of young, homegrown stars that have been called up to the majors in recent days, sometimes at the cost of established veteran talent. In the last week alone, the Orioles, Pirates, Braves and White Sox -- four teams a combined 12 games under .500 and 5.5 games out of first place -- have each promoted their top prospect. Baltimore brought up catcher Matt Wieters, Pittsburgh traded All-Star center fielder Nate McLouth to the Braves and replaced him with Andrew McCutchen, the Braves released future Hall of Famer Tom Glavine and promoted pitcher Tommy Hanson and the White Sox brought up infielder Gordon Beckham, a top 10 draft pick just last season. Of that group, the Braves are the only team at .500 and fewer than 5.5 games from a playoff spot and thus have the best reason to not yet abandon their chances this year.

MLB Power Rankings
1Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 1
Still cruising in the National League West and maintaining a nine-game lead, which is nearly as big as every other divisional lead in the game combined. The only drama right now is whether or not Manny Ramirez will be voted to start in the All-Star Game. A new website has been doing its part to get the suspended slugger a starting nod in St. Louis. Ramirez is currently fifth in the voting, and his own bosses are split on whether he should be allowed to play. Dodgers owner Frank McCourt is all for it, but manager Joe Torre is against it. "Realistically, he didn't earn, other than from his reputation, to be in the All-Star Game. It probably isn't the right thing for him to be in it this year."
2New York Yankees
Last Week: 5
Talk of Derek Jeter's demise has been greatly exaggerated. The Yankees shortstop and future Hall of Famer has spearheaded the Yankees' surge to first place in the AL East by posting seven consecutive multi-hit games last week to jack his average from .287 to .319. He also got his 2,600th career hit, making him one of just four players (along with Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Stan Musial and Al Simmons) to reach that mark while also notching 200 home runs and 1,000 RBIs in their first 15 years. He also scored his 1,500th career run, joining Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Mickey Mantle as the only Yankees to do so. Said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, "He is really, really good right now."
3Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 2
Time to give some credit to Terry Francona, who won his 500th game as Red Sox manager on Tuesday. Only the Yankees have won more games than Boston since Francona took over before the 2004 season. Yet Francona's skills have been underappreciated, as evidenced by the fact that despite leading the Red Sox to the postseason four times in his first five years, not only has he never won an AL Manager of the Year award, he's never even received a first-place vote. He's earning some votes this year, though, with his delicate yet professional handling of the slumping David Ortiz and ability to juggle an underperforming starting pitching staff.
4Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 9
The Phillies feasted on the Nationals and Padres last week, going 6-0, but their upcoming schedule is brutal: a three game, NLCS rematch with the Dodgers in L.A., three in New York against the archrival Mets and then three at home against the Red Sox. The finale against Boston comes the same night that MLB Network will debut a reality series called The Pen, which will follow members of the team's bullpen and has been filming since spring training. This 'pen has not been as mighty as it was last season, when it topped the NL with a 3.19 ERA. This year's group ranks sixth, at 3.77.
5Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 6
Warning to fans at Miller Park: You are being watched. By everybody around you. A new program allows fans to turn each other in to ballpark authorities at Miller Field via texting as part of a new club initiative. The program, called "Play Nice: Be A Friendly Fan" is meant to allow fans to "discreetly alert stadium personnel due to any fan behavior issues." I have a feeling this will come in very handy whenever the Cubs are in town (although, if you tossed Cubs fans out of Miller Park, the place would be half-empty).
6Texas Rangers
Last Week: 4
A concern: The Rangers are just 5-11 against teams .500 or better, easily the fewest wins in baseball in that category. A bigger concern: Josh Hamilton missed what would have been his first trip to the new Yankee Stadium since he nearly knocked the old Yankee Stadium's walls down with his monstrous longballs during last year's Home Run Derby, and he'll be missing a lot more games over the next few weeks. He could be out until September with a sports hernia, which was originally diagnosed as a groin strain and is officially being classified as an abdominal strain. Since suffering the injury when crashing into a wall in mid-May, Hamilton had missed four games, all of which Texas lost. Manager Ron Washington called it "a big blow" and said "Someone has to step up. I believe someone will." This is an excellent chance for Nelson Cruz to get some well-earned publicity. Cruz, 28, leads the club in home runs (15), slugging percentage (.601) and OPS (.959).
7St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 3
Don't expect Cardinals manager Tony La Russa to join the Twitter craze anytime soon. With his club battling to stay on top of what has been the most competitive division in baseball this year, you would think La Russa would have more important things to worry about right now than Twitter, but he filed a lawsuit against the website because someone set up a fake Twitter page in his name that included several inappropriate comments, including references to late Cardinals pitchers Josh Hancock and Darryl Kile. You can check out the brief online, but be warned: It is definitely more than 160 characters.
8Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 7
The final demolition of Tiger Stadium was approved this week, prompting one fan to write on the Detroit Free Press' website "The demolition is testament enough to the spoilers of the earth that is Detroit." Between that, and the news about GM, it's been a rough week in Motown, but the Tigers continue to provide a welcome respite, leading the AL Central by 3 1/2 games. If Zack Greinke is the most surprising pitching star this season, a close second might be the man who is right behind him in the AL ERA rankings: Detroit's Edwin Jackson. When Jackson was dealt to the Tigers from the Rays in the offseason, it was assumed the Rays got the better end of the deal in obtaining promising youngster Matt Joyce. But Jackson has been a revelation, fronting a rotation that leads the AL with a 3.87 ERA.
9New York Mets
Last Week: 8
Francisco Rodriguez has been keeping the injury-riddled Mets afloat by going a perfect going 14 for 14 in save opportunities with a 0.73 ERA and 1.01 WHIP, which would be the lowest of his career if he keeps it up. J.J. Putz, the Mets other big offseason signing for their formerly beleaguered bullpen, has been so ineffective (1-4 with a 4.76 ERA) that manager Jerry Manuel has demoted him from his role as eighth-inning setup man in favor of flamethrowing rookie Bobby Parnell. One scout said this winter that Putz, an All-Star closer with the Mariners, was unlikely to take kindly to being a setup man and wouldn't be at all surprised to see him demand a trade by midseason. It will be interesting to see how this scenario plays out.
10Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 13
This week marked the 20th anniversary of Rogers Centre (nee SkyDome), which when it opened was considered a state-of-the-art facility where baseball often took a backseat to all its man amenities. While it is no longer the gold standard of ballparks, it has been the toughest place for AL opponents to play this season. Toronto is 19-8 at home for a .704 winning percentage, tops in the AL.
11Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 10
Getting swept by the then-first place Brewers was the least of Cincinnati's concerns this week. Ace Edinson Volquez returned the disabled list after pitching just one inning in his attempted comeback from the DL. The Reds didn't want Volquez to pitch in winter ball, but he did so anyway in an effort to prepare for the World Baseball Classic. Reds brass said they had no issue with Volquez, or any of their players, playing in the WBC, but that decision seems to be backfiring now.
12Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 12
For the first time since the summer of 1987, the Atlanta Braves have neither Tom Glavine nor John Smoltz on their roster, as Glavine was cut loose by the Braves on Wednesday. It's an unceremonious end for the future Hall of Famer, especially because he pronounced himself ready to return from rehab after he pitched six shutout innings this week in Class A. The move signals that the Braves are ready to give stud prospect Tommy Hanson his first shot with the club -- he'll make his big league debut on Saturday -- rather than the veteran Glavine his last chance. Expect Glavine to catch on somewhere soon and continue his 23-year career.
13Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 11
The hype that surrounded Jered Weaver when he made his major league debut in 2006 has long since subsided, but he's finally starting to justify it with his performance this season. Weaver, who set a career high with 10 strike outs on Wednesday to move to 5-2 and lower his ERA to 2.26, has been one of the most improved pitchers in the game this year. His ERA+ has gone from 103 to 197 (entering Wednesday's start) and his BABIP has shrunk from .301 to .240, ranking him fifth in all of baseball. Most of the credit is due to a slider that is much more effective now that he has finally found a grip that works for him. "Me and Mike Butcher worked on one in spring training," he said after beating the Jays. "I've gotten a good grasp on where to put it and where to locate it."
14Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 16
The Cubs offense that terrorized the National League last season has mostly been in hibernation this year, ranking 13th in runs and 15th in hits. They may need to make a move to get another bat, but one player who they won't be able to call on is Sammy Sosa, who said this week that he will officially announce his retirement from baseball soon. Sosa also said "I will calmly wait for my induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame." If the meager vote totals of Mark McGwire -- the man with whom Sosa will forever be linked for their home run chase in 1998 and disastrous Congressional appearance in 2005 -- are any indication, Sosa will be waiting a very long time.
15Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 14
It has to sting the Twins to see their former light-hitting shortstop Jason Bartlett (.272 with 10 home runs in four years in Minnesota) leading the MLB in hitting at .373 with seven homers, especially when their own middle infielders have been so wretched at the plate. Nick Punto, currently on the DL with a groin strain, was batting .187/.290/.211 when he went down and second baseman Alexi Casilla was at .168/.233/.211. If he had the plate appearances to qualify, Casilla would rank last in the AL in both average and OBP, while Punto would be third-worst in hitting and ninth-to-last in OBP.
16Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 21
The headline on the White Sox blog South Side Sox says it all: "The Savior Has Arrived." Gordon Beckham, the eighth overall pick in last year's draft, has been promoted to the majors and will debut on Thursday. When manager Ozzie Guillen was asked recently about bringing Beckham to the majors, he said "If we have Beckham here, we're in trouble." Now that Beckham has been promoted to the majors after tearing up minor league pitching -- batting .316/.371/.509, including .435 in a six-game cameo at Triple A recently -- Guillen has changed his tune, too, joking, "I hope he can save us." The Sox are in trouble, but it's not desperate. They're two games under .500 but only 3 1/2 out in the AL Central.
17San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 20
Disgraced former Bay Area sluggers have been popping up all over the place. First, ex-A's Bash Brother Jose Canseco got pummeled in his MMA debut last week, and then Barry Bonds showed up in a local yogurt commercial. The Giants could use either one of those guys right now, as their offense ranks dead last in the NL in runs, walks, home runs and on-base percentage.
18San Diego Padres
Last Week: 17
A 1-5 week has taken much of the shine off their recent 10-game winning streak. Padres bats continue to disappoint, ranking dead last in the league in base hits and batting average. Newly acquired Tony Gwynn Jr. is doing his part to buck that trend, and to live up to his father's lofty reputation, by batting .303 since his trade from Milwaukee, where he was batting .190. Tony Sr., who batted .338 during his 20-year, Hall of Fame career with the Padres, saw his son play for the first time in a San Diego uniform last week and said, "I'm not going to lie, I'd hoped it was going to happen."
19Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 18
The Rays are currently pulling a team Triple Crown, with Jason Bartlett leading the American League (and the majors) in hitting (.373), Carlos Pena leading in homers (17) and Evan Longoria leading in RBIs (55). All that offense hasn't helped them in close games, though, where they are 5-11 -- the worst record in the American League.
20Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 24
Matt Wieters batted .183 with no RBIs and five strikeouts in his first six games, making talk of how many MVPs he might win a tad premature. But that hasn't slowed the hype machine at all. If the website (subtitle: Facts So Good They Make Chuck Norris Cry) is any indication, O's fans' expectations remain perfectly reasonable, with a poll on how many MVPs Wieters will win and a mock Hall of Fame plaque that has him batting .417 with 826 home runs for his career and leading the Orioles' "twenty championship teams."
21Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 19
Ichiro Suzuki, one of the few Mariners not rumored to be on the trading block, extended his franchise-record hitting streak to 27 consecutive games on Wednesday night. Since Joe DiMaggio's 56-game streak in 1941, only 23 players have had streaks of at least 30 or more games. Ichiro paid expected deference to Joe D's record, saying, "I think it's true when they say it's the hardest record to beat." But his comment about what it meant to him to set the team record was a little more surprising: "Now I wish that I would have asked my wife, Yumiko, and my dog, Ikkyu, to come to the game today. But at the same time, if you think about it, if I didn't invite them, it means that much to me as well."
22Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 15
The Royals have dropped six straight and have scored only 11 runs along the way. They have the second-worst bullpen ERA in baseball at 5.27 (last in the American League). Part of that has been due to the absence of All-Star closer Joakim Soria, who has only appeared in eight games all year and none since early May, during which time the Royals went 5-16.
23Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 22
If it's June, it must be time for the Pirates to trade an All-Star. Last year it was Jason Bay (and the very serviceable Xavier Nady), this time it's Nate McLouth, who was dealt to the Braves for three prospects in Pittsburgh's never-ending rebuilding process. At least this move does more than just bring in players who are not big-league ready. It also opens the door for Andrew McCutchen to make his major league debut on Thursday for the Pirates. Despite being just 22 years old, McCutchen already has 511 games and over 2,000 plate appearances in minor league baseball under his belt. He was hitting .303 at Triple-A, and could be just the first of many moves the Pirates make as they -- once again -- start to look toward the future.
24Florida Marlins
Last Week: 23
The Marlins concluded a dreadful month of May with a 9-20 record, but June has started off with some good news: They took two of three from the Brewers in Florida; Dan Uggla reached the 100 home run mark faster than any second baseman in history; and Anibal Sanchez returned to aid a beleaguered rotation.
25Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 25
Batting just .182 with one home run, former first-round pick Conor Jackson has gone backward big time from his .300 with a respectable 75 RBIs a year ago, but it's still too soon for the 27-year-old to start thinking about a new career. Just in case, though, the former theater major at Cal and son of TV actor John Jackson will appear on an episode of General Hospital. Jackson told the Arizona Republic that he aced his role as a physical therapist on the first take, but said, "I was more nervous doing that than standing in the batter's box."
26Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 26
Only the Rays have as many players (nine) on the disabled list as the Indians, who this week lost outfielder Grady Sizemore to the DL. Sizemore could miss up to two months if he has to have surgery on his left elbow. As Sizemore exits, designated hitter Travis Hafner is expected to return after being out since April with a shoulder injury.
27Houston Astros
Last Week: 27
Hunter Pence is still probably best known as a guy who hurt himself by walking through a sliding glass door a few years ago, but he's very quietly been playing like an All-Star this season. Pence, who has moved to third in the Astros lineup, is batting .346 and ranks in the top 10 in the National League in batting average, hits and on-base percentage.
28Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 28
The Rockies axed manager Clint Hurdle this week after he compiled just one winning season in his seven years at the helm. The change hasn't made much difference so far. The Rockies are just 2-4 since making the switch to Jim Tracy.
29Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 29
Not even Matt Holliday was expecting his stay in Oakland to last very long, and there seems to be no reason why he should not be traded sometime soon. Holliday is fine with that possibility, telling Sirius XM radio in an interview this week, "I would assume that a smaller-market team that is into developing young players currently, that they will either trade me at some point or take the draft picks at the end of the year." It will be interesting to see what kind of trade value he has, especially since he has suffered a major dropoff since coming to Oakland, where he has hit .274 (he was at .321 a year ago with the Rockies) and his rate of at-bats per homer has gone from 21.6 to 27.1.
30Washington Nationals
Last Week: 30
Hard as it may be to believe, the Nationals are actually worse than expected. They are 14-36, six games worse than any other team in baseball, and six games below what their expected winning percentage should be. Based on their Pythagorean model, which projects a team's winning percentage based on runs scored and allowed, the Nationals should have 20 wins right now. The Nats are averaging 4.9 runs per game, but giving up 6.2, the most in baseball and a full run more than any other NL team.
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