Gennaro Filice
Thursday July 24th, 2008

Lots of movement since the last time we crossed paths prior to the All-Star break. Boasting the best record in all the land, the Angels rise to the top of this column. At this point, Los Angeles looks like the most well-rounded team in baseball. As is the case every year though, the Halos could use another big bat to protect Vlad Guerrero (Mark Teixeira would certainly suffice ...), but don't expect owner Arte Moreno to give up any of his big prospects at the deadline. Moreno has always been committed to building the franchise from within. Meanwhile, the Brewers are the hottest team in baseball. Following CC Sabathia's third straight complete game, the FSN Wisconsin crew waxed poetic about the hulking left-hander, referring to him as "the best pickup in team history." And finally, a 1-8 stretch sends the Padres back to the cellar after a one-week reprieve.

MLB Power Rankings
1Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 5
After missing most of the first two months of the season with a strained left hamstring, Howie Kendrick hit the ground running. Literally. As usual the sweet-swinging second baseman is spraying balls all over the field (and hitting .341), but what has impressed me most is his increased activity on the basepaths. Kendrick has shown surprising speed in stealing seven bags and easily advancing two bases on singles by his teammates. I momentarily mistook him for speedster Chone Figgins while watching a game earlier this week.
 
2Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 3
The last edition of the Power Rankings featured midseason MVP's for each team. I chose J.D. Drew for the BoSox, but a number of readers responded with a vote for Dustin Pedroia. These savvy folks may have a point. Drew packed most of his production into June (.337, 12 homers, 27 RBI), whereas Pedroia has been effective all season. Pedroia leads the team in runs (70), hits (135) and doubles (30). It's easy to overlook Boston's mighty mite (this Photoshop gem says it all), but he's always right in the middle of a rally.
 
3Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 6
Nobody stares down a homer quite like Bill Hall. And the third basemen definitely admired both of his game-winning blasts at St. Louis earlier this week. Hall has spent much of the season unhappily platooning at third base with Russell Branyan. Recently though, the red-hot Hall has received the bulk of the playing time. Has he officially regained the everyday role? Ned Yost won't budge, telling MLB.com, "We go day-to-day ... what gives us the best opportunity to win?" As of late, the answer has been Hall.
 
4Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 1
The Rays are beginning to really show their youth in a vital area of the game: clutch hitting. Over the last 13 games, Tampa Bay is just 12-for-94 (.128) with runners in scoring position. It's no wonder the Rays have gone 4-9 during this span. All season long Tampa Bay skeptics have said inexperience would catch up to this team. Substandard hitting like this definitely adds fuel to that fire. If this team doesn't learn how to excel in the clutch, the season's best story will come to an end in September.
 
5Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 4
With the star power in the Cubs lineup, it's easy to lose Ryan Theriot and Mike Fontenot in the shuffle. But Chicago's double-play combination has sparked the Cubs offense, hitting a combined .360 in July. Dubbed the "Cajun Connection" for their Louisiana roots, Theriot and Fontenot are the same double-play combination that guided LSU to a College World Series title in 2000.
 
6New York Yankees
Last Week: 7
Melky Cabrera took fan interaction to a whole new level on Tuesday night. At the start of every game, the Yankee Stadium "Bleacher Creatures" perform roll call, in which they chant the name of every Yankee on the field until the player acknowledges them during a free moment between pitches. But Tuesday, Cabrera attempted to salute the crowd as a Denard Span base hit was rolling his way. The result: Melky botched the ground ball, allowing Span to advance to second base on the error. (The video can be seen here.)
 
7Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 2
Much has been made of rookie second baseman Alexei Ramirez's offensive prowess (and for good reason; the wiry 26-year-old has absurd pop), but he's also very talented in the field. On Wednesday, Ramirez made one of the most amazing plays of the year. Words can't do it justice -- just check out this video. "I don't even know how Alexei did that," Carlos Quentin told the Chicago Sun-Times. Don't be surprised if Alexei moves over to shortstop in 2009.
 
8St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 9
There's a lot of chatter about the National League being a two-team race between Milwaukee and Chicago. Why is everyone suddenly discounting this plucky Cardinals club. There's no such thing as a 103-game fluke, is there? Also, Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter are both looking to return in mid-August.
 
9Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 8
5-0, 0.26 ERA, 42 strikeouts and five walks.
Those are Francisco Liriano's numbers over his last five starts at Class AAA Rochester. So why in the name of Ron Gardenhire is he not with the big club? That's the million dollar question in the Twin Cities. Twins management claims there's no room in the normal rotation. Well, young hurlers Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey and Glen Perkins have performed admirably, but what about Livan Hernandez -- he of the 5.29 ERA? I don't think this is a case of Minnesota brass stalling arbitration, but it's becoming harder to understand why Liriano's still toiling away in the minors.
 
10Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 12
Curtis Granderson truly blossomed offensively in his breakout '07 campaign, hitting .302 and joining the extremely rare 20-20-20-20 Club (doubles, triples, home runs and steals). But the Tigers centerfielder did have a kryptonite: left-handed pitching. Granderson hit just .160 against lefties (as opposed to .337 against RHP) in 2007. This season, though, Grando actually has a higher average against left-handers (.306) than right-handers (.291). For the first few months of this season, Jim Leyland moved his leadoff hitter to the bottom of the order against southpaws starters, but that is no longer the case.
 
11New York Mets
Last Week: 13
What has gotten into Carlos Delgado? It seems like just yesterday that Mets announcer Gary Cohen was suggesting that Delgado accept the aging process and temper his slugger mindset at the plate. Then we entered July, and the 36-year-old began to party like it's 1999. Since the beginning of the month, Delgado has hit .406 with a .725 slugging percentage -- numbers reminiscent of his fertile years in Toronto. Heck, Jerry Manuel even moved him back to his old cleanup spot Wednesday night.
 
12Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 14
In his seventh major league season, Brett Myers can't hit the broad side of a barn with his fastball. Pretty shocking. Of his 95 pitches to the Mets Wednesday, Myers managed just 49 strikes. If Myers can't spot the heater, his filthy breaking stuff is completely irrelevant.
 
13Florida Marlins
Last Week: 15
Despite his small stature (5-foot-9, 205 pounds), Cody Ross has always boasted a massive power stroke. Hence, the nickname "Toy Cannon." But Ross' knack for swinging out of his shoes and pulling everything has made him a very streaky hitter over the course of his career. Lately though, Ross has toned down his all-or-nothing approach and attempted to use the entire field. The result: a recent 17-game hitting streak and .360 average in July.
 
14Texas Rangers
Last Week: 10
How much longer can the Rangers stick with C.J. Wilson as their closer? Does he really have the mental toughness necessary to lock down the ninth inning? Dallas Morning News writer Evan Grant counts the ways in which Wilson "makes him nervous." And yes, it's a meaty list.
 
15Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 11
After kicking around in the minor leagues for a number of years without ever getting a taste of the bigs, Brad Ziegler decided to convert his delivery from overhand to submarine, and the rest is history. Seriously, he has been on a historic run. On Tuesday the 28-year-old rookie reliever extended his scoreless innings streak to 23 2/3 innings, setting an American League record for longest shutout streak to start a career (since 1900). His bread-and-butter is a heavy sinker, which hitters can't help but beat into the ground. In fact, Ziggy hasn't allowed a home run at any level since dropping his arm angle.
 
16Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 18
Brandon Webb has received a ton of Cy Young consideration, but is he even the best pitcher on his own team. Dan Haren has a lower ERA (2.58 to 3.11), WHIP (0.95 to 1.16) and opponent batting average (.209 to .239). And even though he has made one less start than Webb, Haren has more strikeouts (119 to 116) and far fewer walks (24 to 36).
 
17Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 16
It's beginning to look like a popular offseason assumption was true: St. Louis fleeced Toronto in trading disgruntled/deteriorating third baseman Scott Rolen for Troy Glaus. While Rolen and his balky shoulder have managed just six homers and 30 RBI north of the border, Glaus has accumulated 18 jacks and 66 RBI in St. Louis. There are rumors that J.P. Ricciardi's days as Jays GM are waning. This botched trade certainly increases the heat of J.P.'s seat.
 
18Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 17
The Orioles have dropped 15 consecutive Sunday games. Can they snap this incredible streak of futility this week? Seems like a pretty tall task. Baltimore will face 11-game winner Ervin Santana and the Angels, owners of the best record in baseball. I feel the need for a good-luck charm ... Voila! A genuine Baltimore Oriole.
 
19Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 20
Fabulous promotion alert! If you're in the Cincinnati area Saturday night, make sure to get out to the ballpark for the 1980s-themed Adam Dunn bobblehead. That's right, a bobble head of Adam Dunn in Miami Vice duds. Can it get any better than that?
 
20Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 19
"Arena baseball." That's what Joe Torre called the style of play exhibited in his ballclub's 16-10 win in Denver on Sunday. The shocking thing is, the Dodgers piled up 16 runs without a single long ball. Then again, should this really surprise anyone? Los Angeles has the second-fewest homers in the National League with 71 in 101 games.
 
21Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 24
Don't look now, but the Rockies sit just six games back in the NL Worst. On Friday, Colorado begins a 10-game road trip to Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Florida. It's pretty safe to say the season hangs in the balance. The Rox have yet to play the Reds, but they just swept the Pirates last week and took three of four from the Marlins earlier this month.
 
22Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 21
Elbow tightness for Tim Hudson ... Oy vey! Atlanta's playoff hopes are hanging by a thread. But if Hudson joins John Smoltz and Tom Glavine on the shelf -- adios, Bravos.
 
23Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 22
At the outset of July, Zach Duke was quietly enjoying a respectable season in the middle of a train-wreck rotation. But his last three starts effectively tainted a half-season's work. Duke allowed 19 earned runs in just 13.1 innings and his ERA skyrocketed from 3.88 to 4.92.
 
24Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 28
The Indians enter July 24 having lost two straight, dropping them to 12 games under .500. They entered the same date last year having lost two straight as well, dropping them to 16 games over .500. Oh, what a difference a year makes.
 
25Houston Astros
Last Week: 25
Is Ed Wade delusional? The Randy Wolf trade is baffling. "We've got a million games left in our own division at this point in time," Wade said. "Our fate rests in our hands." How can any sane person honestly believe this Astros team -- which ranks 22nd in runs scored and 24th in ERA -- can catch division powerhouses Chicago, Milwaukee and St. Louis? Better question: How can anyone on Earth believe Wolf will be the man to spark this unfathomable rally? Let's refer to Wolf's numbers so far this season: 6-10, 4.74 ERA, 1.42 WHIP. And remember, he's going from one of the best pitching parks in the majors (PETCO Park) to one of the worst (Minute Maid Park).
 
26Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 23
Would any of you folks recognize Mike Aviles if he sat in your lap? I sure wouldn't. But the 27-year-old shortstop is one of the most productive rookies this season. Aviles, who snapped a 12-game hitting streak Wednesday, has settled into the No. 2 spot in KC's lineup with a .313 batting average. Aviles' rise has sent light-hitting shortstop Tony Pena Jr. to the bench. Though Pena may have found his true calling Monday night. Pitching mop-up duty in a 19-4 loss to Detroit, Pena recorded a 1-2-3 inning with a mix of low 90s fastballs and tight-breaking curves. He even caught Pudge Rodriguez looking at strike three on a nasty hook.
 
27San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 26
The Giants have long been obsessed with veteran players to a fault, but they've finally committed to a youth movement in 2008. Last Sunday lefty reliever Geno Espineli became the 12th San Francisco player this season to make his major league debut. Furthermore, the Giants traded Ray Durham and have informed Omar Vizquel that the kids will take over at shortstop. Now San Francisco GM Brian Sabean will look to unload a few more veterans (Tyler Walker? Rich Aurelia? Dave Roberts? Randy Winn?) before the deadline.
 
28Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 27
With a fifth straight loss Tuesday, the Mariners dropped to a season-worst 25 games under .500. Now the question becomes, will the Mariners lose 100 games for the first time since 1983? To avoid such a fate, Seattle must win 25 of its final 61 games. No easy task for this group.
 
29Washington Nationals
Last Week: 30
Well, at least Ryan Zimmerman is back in the fold. But GM Jim Bowden had a puzzling comment to the Washington Post regarding Zimmerman's return: "I don't think he's coming back 100 percent ready to go." What?!? Sixteen games out of first place, Washington is hurrying back its franchise player from the disabled list? I'm praying that Bowden was misquoted.
 
30San Diego Padres
Last Week: 29
Cha Seung Baek hit his first career home run last Sunday, and he sure soaked it in, trotting around the bases at a snail's pace. Cardinals fans -- generally referred to as the most refined bunch in baseball -- didn't appreciate Baek's slothfulness and wholeheartedly booed him as he strolled into home plate. But Baek claims he was just trying to conserve himself in the 95-degree heat. "[I] told myself I don't want to go fast," Baek told The San Diego Union-Tribune. "I needed to save energy for pitching." Cha, nobody's asking you to go Orlando Hudson, but a sensible jog would be nice.
 

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