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Powerful Rays

In the revolutionary spirit of the Fourth of July, the Power Rankings experience a sizeable shakeup, with a fresh team at the top and a fresh team at the bottom. On the heels of a sweep over their cross-town rivals, the red-hot White Sox jump into the top three. And considering the putrid NL West doesn't have a single team over .500, the division doesn't receive any representation in the top half of these rankings.

MLB Power Rankings
1Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 4
When Matt Garza's locating his two-seamer, he's one of the best No. 3 starters in the American League. And when Garza's one of the best No. 3 starters in the AL, the Rays are ... well ... the best team in baseball. OK, it's not that simple, but Garza's emergence (3-1, 1.55 ERA over his last four starts) gives the Rays enviable depth in the rotation. Combine the good Garza with Scott Kazmir and James Shields and you've got a team nobody wants to face in October. Garza's filthy two-seamer is nearly impossible to square up. It was on full display in Tuesday's win over the Red Sox. Faced with a sixth-inning jam, the Rays right-hander used the pitch to induce consecutive infield popups from J.D. Drew and Manny Ramirez. Opposing starter Tim Wakefield left the game thoroughly impressed. "I think Garza is probably one of their [best], if not their best pitcher on that staff," Wakefield told The Boston Globe. That's some high praise.
 
2Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 3
With his contract expiring at season's end, Francisco Rodriguez picked a pretty good time to chase the single-season saves record. K-Rod picked up his 34th save Wednesday, tying John Smoltz's record for most saves before the All-Star break. Rodriguez is on pace for 65 saves, which would shatter Bobby Thigpen's all-time record of 57.
 
3Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 10
Life is good on the South Side. The White Sox are one of the hottest teams in baseball -- having won seven straight -- and they earned a ringing endorsement from the North Side during a convincing sweep of the Cubs. "The White Sox should win that division half a dozen games or more, if you want to know the truth," Lou Piniella said. "Everybody looks at the Cubs -- look at the White Sox."
 
4Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 1
I'm sure members of "The Nation" will cry "blasphemy," but Tek's killing the Red Sox right now. Boston's beloved team captain Jason Varitek is mired in a 3-for-46 slump, dropping his season average to .216. During a huge at-bat in the ninth inning of Wednesday's series-sweeping loss to Tampa Bay, Tek failed to make contact on a hit-and-run, hanging Mike Lowell out to dry and killing Boston's potential rally. Tek's value to the Red Sox may not come across in the stat book, but the detriment of his bat sure does.
 
5Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 2
Don't think Jim Edmonds will be welcome back in San Diego any time soon. The Padres acquired Edmonds in the offseason with the hope that the aging outfielder would rediscover his power stroke and deftly patrol San Diego's spacious outfield. But 28 games into his Padre tenure, Edmonds was hitting .178 with one homer and eight RBI and playing center field with the grace of a donkey. So the Pads cut Edmonds, eating approximately $4.7 million. With Felix Pie struggling in center field, the Cubs decided to take a chance on Edmonds, a former public enemy No. 1 with the rival Cardinals. In 35 games with the Cubbies, Edmonds is hitting .292 with eight homers, six doubles and 24 RBI.
 
6St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 6
Reason No. 1,478 why Dave Duncan walks on water: Kyle Lohse. Lohse, who was unsigned until the Cardinals scooped him up in mid-March, went 9-12 with a 4.62 ERA last year. This year he's 10-2 with a 3.67 ERA and hasn't lost in his last 10 starts. Predictably, Lohse heaps praise upon Duncan's game planning. "I feel like a completely different pitcher out there," Lohse told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "I'm not trying to guess my way through the lineup. I know what I want to do. It's worked out really well."
 
7Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 9
The Twinkies are on a 16-4 tear, thanks in large part to Jason Kubel. The underappreciated outfielder/designated hitter is hitting .323 with five homers, 11 RBI and 19 runs scored over the 20-game span.
 
8Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 5
The radar gun has always been Rich Harden's best friend. But the gun turned on Harden Tuesday night, and A's fans have to be more than a bit distressed. Oakland's oft-injured fire-baller rarely eclipsed 90 MPH in a five-inning outing against the Angels. "My feel really was awful tonight," Harden told MLB.com. "I was fortunate to get through five innings with only two runs. There are just certain days when you feel kind of tired and your arm feels kind of dead." Oh, nellie -- not again. Harden made his 10th straight start in the rotation for the first time since 2005. How much longer can he extend the streak?
 
9Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 7
Sure, Manny Parra's seven-decision win streak is impressive. But the 25-year-old southpaw's 1.55 WHIP is most definitely not. Parra has an unsightly 14 walks in his last three starts alone. This kid's playing with fire, and a burn is long overdue.
 
10New York Yankees
Last Week: 8
Much has been made of the Yankees subpar pitching, but the biggest problem has been the underachieving offense. The Bronx Bombers have been held to two runs or less in 27 games this season. This happened just 33 times in the entire '07 campaign. As is to be expected, Boss Junior (a.k.a. Hank Steinbrenner) publicly vented on Wednesday: "We've got to start hitting. It's getting ridiculous. We've got to start waking up." The Yankees responded with their highest offensive output of the season in an 18-7 drubbing of the Rangers. Go ahead, Hank, gloat a little.
 
11Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 11
With a 4.58 ERA and 1.44 WHIP, second-year pitcher Kyle Kendrick has no business being 8-3. But that's the luxury you have when you're receiving over eight runs of support per game. Seems like Kendrick's teammates are making amends for that preseason prank in which they convinced the impressionable young hurler he had been traded to Japan. Meanwhile, prank ringleader Brett Myers has given up a MLB-high 24 homers and was just demoted to Triple-A Lehigh Valley. Karma, my friends, karma.
 
12Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 15
George Sherrill is showing some chinks in the armor. With the second-most saves in baseball (27) behind Francisco Rodriguez, Sherrill has been one of the biggest surprises in the first half of this season. But Baltimore's first-year closer has three blown saves and two losses in his last nine outings. While Sherrill's hat bill could use a good bending, the real problem has been his abandonment of the fastball. No need to get cute with the offspeed, Georgie Boy -- just bring the heat.
 
13Texas Rangers
Last Week: 17
Texas locked up Ian Kinlser in the offseason with a five-year, $22 million deal. What a steal. The 26-year-old second basemen is currently performing like a $100 million player. Kinsler leads the American League in runs (74), hits (114) and extra base hits (44) and has 13 homers and 23 steals to boot. Not to mention he's on pace to drive in 96 runs ... from the leadoff spot. Due to Red Sox Nation's voting prowess, Dustin Pedroia will probably get the starting nod in the All-Star game, but Kinsler is the deserving party.
Behind the most productive offense in baseball, Texas is surging back into the AL West picture. After taking two of three from the Yankees in the Bronx, the Rangers are 35-24 since April 30.
 
14Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 14
During all the preseason discussion about Detroit's unbelievable offense, how many times was Marcus Thames mentioned? After starting the year as Detroit's fourth outfielder, Thames has taken over in left field and blasted 11 homers in the past 21 games. Of his 16 jacks on the season, 11 have either tied the game or given the Tigers the lead.
 
15Florida Marlins
Last Week: 13
The Marlins have a new ace: Ricky Nolasco. Nolasco has won eight of his last 10 outings and over his last five starts, he's 4-0 with a 1.96 ERA. Nolasco credits his success to a cut fastball he added to his arsenal during Arizona Fall League. He loves busting left-handed hitters in on the hands with the new pitch.
 
16Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 20
Is Alex Rios suffering from the infamous post-Home Run Derby slump? Jays fan and Power Rankings reader Brian Nairn of Windsor dropped this valid question in my inbox, and he could be on to something. Rios smacked 17 four-baggers before the break last season. Following a second-place finish to Vladimir Guerrero in the Derby, Rios went on to hit just seven homers in the second half of '07. This season, he's gone yard just four times. This is definitely not the production Toronto was looking for when it gave Rios a $64 million extension earlier this year.
 
17New York Mets
Last Week: 18
Entering this season, I happily bet a cubicle-mate $20 that Johan Santana would win 20 games. Needless to say, I'm not sitting pretty, with Johan possessing a 7-7 record. While I haven't completely given up hope (Johan did go 13-0 in the second half of '04 ...), I'm preparing my parting words to Andrew Jackson and a chunk of office pride. But what really irks me is Johan throwing his new teammates under the bus. "I'm doing my job," Santana told the New York Post. "Other than that, there's nothing else I can do. I can't go out there and do the things that my teammates have to do." Yes, Johan, your 3.01 ERA definitely deserves better than an accompanying 7-7 mark. But you have 137.5 million reasons to refrain from whining to the media.
 
18Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 12
Randy Johnson's chances of joining the 300-win club are getting slimmer by the start. The Big Unit, who turns 45 in September, entered the season with 284 wins, giving him an outside shot at the exclusive fraternity. (I hear Cy Young's hazing is brutal -- Frat! Frat! Frat!) But after starting the season at 4-1, Johnson has lost his last six starts, posting an appalling 7.94 ERA. Stuck on 288 wins, he definitely won't reach 300 before his contract expires at the end of the season. Will any team give him a chance to reach the milestone in 2009?
 
19Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 16
With Edgar Renteria hitting just .268, it must be agonizing for Tigers fans to check up on the player management gave up to acquire the veteran shortstop: Jair Jurrjens. The rookie is 8-3 with a 2.94 ERA -- the fifth-lowest mark in the National League. Jurrjens shut out the Blue Jays for eight frames last Friday, extending his scoreless innings streak to 21 2/3. Following the game, Bobby Cox raved to the media about his 22-year-old hurler: "That's one of the best games I've seen pitched, ever." That's coming from a man who's seen his fair share of well-pitched ballgames.
 
20Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 19
In the preseason, Trey Hillman earned the adoration of stat-heads nationwide by publicly announcing his love of on-base percentage. Hillman's proclaimed fondness with walks had the blogosphere buzzing. But here we are halfway through the season, and the Royals are easily dead last in bases on balls with 214 (133 less than the Cubs). Disgruntled Royals followers have taken to calling the team "Hillman's Hackers."
 
21Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 24
Although the Dodgers trail first-place Arizona by just a game-and-a-half in the depressing NL West, their playoff hopes took a serious hit Wednesday when it was announced that Rafael Furcal, the unquestioned motor of LA's offense, will undergo back surgery Thursday and may miss the rest of the season. The dynamic shortstop is irreplaceable. Plain and simple: The Dodgers are four games over .500 with Furcal in the lineup and eight games under without him.
 
22Houston Astros
Last Week: 23
Lance Berkman's new fan club, "The Little Pumas," represents everything that's right about fandom -- grown men procuring the cheapest standing-room-only tickets they can find, tossing on full-body puma suits and clawing their brains out all game in support of their beloved first baseman. And for all you Houston-area readers interested in spicing up your nightlife, The LPs have an open invitation for membership on their official website. Yeah, this is a tech-savvy bunch.
 
23Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 21
It's very nice to see Jason Bay returning to form after a forgettable 2007 campaign. Though I thought he was recommitted to stealing bases in '08? J-Bay's one swipe in the past 35 games doesn't really support that April assertion.
 
24San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 25
With his perfectly manicured soul patch, frightful tattoos and 97 MPH fastball, NL saves leader Brian Wilson immediately stokes any viewer's curiosity. And the intrigue only increases once Wilson converts a save and flashes a mysterious "X" sign. What's the meaning of Wilson's celebratory arm-cross? Although Wilson refuses to divulge the gesture's significance, some good old-fashioned Google digging leads me to believe it's the symbol for One More Round (or OMR), a mixed martial arts clothing company. Lends new meaning to the term "lights-out closer."
 
25Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 27
With Edinson Volquez stuck in a bit of a rut, Cincy's other high-ceiling hurler, 22-year-old Johnny Cueto, is back on the up and up. Cueto, who started the season with a bang but then struggled mightily, pitched his third straight gem Saturday. The most encouraging aspect is his mental growth in such a short period of time. Following his 10-strikeout debut on April 3, Cueto tried to simply blow every hitter away for a couple months. These attempts to strike out the world reaped minimal success. Over his last three starts, though, Cueto has concentrated more on command and craftiness. He's learning to keep hitters off balance by using his changeup and slider more often. And thankfully, that ERA is south of 5.00 for the first time since April.
 
26Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 22
C.C. Sabathia may be in his last days with the organization that drafted him, but he's doing his best to make sure the Indians receive solid compensation in the event of a trade. Since kicking off the year with four horrible outings (and a 13.50 ERA), C.C. has posted a 2.16 ERA with 109 strikeouts and just 20 walks in 14 starts. That kind of dominance should demand some nice youngsters as the trade deadline approaches.
 
27Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 30
With J.J. Putz on the shelf, Brandon Morrow has taken over the closer role and the 23-year-old has been nothing short of brilliant. Morrow converted his fifth save Wednesday and hasn't given up an earned run since May 12 (a span of 18 appearances). On the season he boasts a 0.71 ERA and 35-to-8 strikeout-to-walk rate. Morrow's strength is his blistering fastball, but his breaking ball is steadily improving. Earlier this week, FSN Northwest analyst Bill Krueger tried to pin Morrow with a new nickname: "The Vaporizer." The Vaporizer? Wait, so just because the guy went to UC Berkeley, we have to assume he's a pot head?
 
28Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 26
Did Aaron Cook even break a sweat during Tuesday night's complete-game shutout of San Diego? Cook needed just 79 pitches and 1 hour, 58 minutes to record 27 outs against the hapless Padres. As has been the case all season, Cook played the role of stopper, snapping Colorado's eight-game skid with his 11th win of the season. With Clint Hurdle as the NL manager, Cook can probably plan on spending the All-Star break in the Bronx.
 
29Washington Nationals
Last Week: 29
Ryan Zimmerman leads this team in home runs with eight. Ryan Zimmerman has been on the disabled list for the past 35 games.
 
30San Diego Padres
Last Week: 28
The Padres take over the cellar and they've earned it -- dropping 14 of their last 16 games. Over the last 10 games (nine of which were losses), San Diego's starting pitchers have gone 0-8 with a 7.24 ERA.
 

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