Gennaro Filice
Thursday September 11th, 2008

Decided to play it safe this week and top the list with the one team guaranteed to play October baseball, the Angels. And with the Rays and Red Sox filling the next two slots, the Junior Circuit currently boasts the top three teams in baseball. Meanwhile, the two hottest teams in the game, Toronto and Houston, vault into the single-digits. At the other end of the spectrum, we have a brand spanking new cellar dweller. Having clinched a 16th straight losing season -- tying the 1933-48 Philadelphia Phillies for longest stretch of futility in pro sports history -- the Pirates should feel right at home at No. 30.

MLB Power Rankings
1Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 2
Prior to this season, the earliest the Angels' had ever clinched a division title was September 23. But the Halos bested that date by almost two full weeks this time around, clinching their fourth division title in five years on Wednesday. Champagne showers on the 10th of September? Time for us media folk to play the role of party pooper ... Did the Angels clinch too early?
2Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 1
Bradenton Herald writer Roger Mooney called Tuesday night's thrilling, come-from-behind victory "the biggest win in team history." If this is true, the Rays achieved the second-biggest win the following night. Twenty four hours after Dan Johnson, Fernando Perez and Dioner Navarro burned Jonathan Papelbon in the ninth, Carlos Pena belted a three-run, go-ahead blast in the 14th, giving the Rays to their first series win at Fenway Park since 1999. What will they do for an encore in Yankee Stadium this weekend?
3Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 4
Although the Red Sox remain 2 1/2 games behind the Rays in the AL East, they hold a commanding five-game lead in the Wild Card with just 17 games left. And they're getting healthy at just the right time, with Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, J.D. Drew and Sean Casey returning from the disabled list over the past week. While some fans dreamed of an October without the Yankees and the Red Sox, barring a collapse of '07 Mets proportions, it doesn't seem like that will happen. Though Boston does have seven games remaining against red-hot Toronto ...
4Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 3
With the Cubs mired in a 2-8 rut, a carefree summer in the Windy City has suddenly been overcome by a wave of anxiousness. After Tuesday's 4-3 loss to rival St. Louis, Lou Piniella predictably blew a gasket. "I know we're trying. I've got no complaints about the effort," Piniella told the Chicago Sun-Times. "But you've got to get the job done! We can talk about having fun. We can talk about relaxing. But you've got to get your damn shirts rolled up and go out and kick somebody's ass! That's what you've got to do! Period!" Luckily for Chicago, the Brewers are concurrently tanking. Furthermore, both Rich Harden and Carlos Zambrano are scheduled to return over the next three days. But the Cubs better get their act together because the remaining schedule includes four games vs. the Cardinals, three vs. Houston, six vs. Milwaukee and four vs. the Mets.
5New York Mets
Last Week: 6
Who needs a bullpen when you have Carlos Delgado? Honestly, this is getting ridiculous. The New York Times headline put it best following Tuesday night's 10-8 win over Washington: "Delgado (Of Course) Powers the Mets." The bottom line is, something magical happened when Delgado reached the tender age of 36 on June 25. Prior to that fateful date, Delgado was hitting .230 with 11 homers and 35 RBI through 74 games. Since then: .302, 24 HRs and 69 RBI in 68 games. Thirty-six never felt so young.
6Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 7
In just 38.2 innings of work this season, Eric Gagne has given up 11 home runs. Over his previous five seasons combined, Gagne pitched 232 innings and gave up a grand total of 12. There are many ways to spend $10 million, but this is not one that I would suggest.
7Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 11
After a series of poor starts in July, Toronto sent Jesse Litsch to the minors to work on his arsenal. The demotion drew outside criticism and could have crushed the 23-year-old hurler's confidence, but everything's working out peachy nowadays. Litsch is 3-1 with a 1.26 ERA since returning from the minors five starts ago. The crafty right-hander (Yeah, I said crafty right-hander -- why is that adjective always reserved for southpaws?) was overusing his cut fastball before his trip to the minors, but now he's keeping hitters off balance by mixing in two-seamers and four-seamers.
8Houston Astros
Last Week: 10
When asked about injured slugger Carlos Lee's timetable earlier this week, manager Cecil Cooper had this to say: "Put it this way, we'll be playing in October, and I plan on having him."
Forgive my Jim Mora tone, but ... Playoffs?!?
Well, actually, Cooper's statement is far from crazy. The Astros, who boast an MLB-best 35-16 mark since the All-Star break, suddenly sit just four games behind Milwaukee in the Wild Card race. Not to mention the Astros close out the season with nine games against the lowly Pirates, Reds and Braves. Come October, somebody may owe Ed Wade a big apology ...
9Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 5
Before bat-smacking his way onto the disabled list, Carlos Quentin was a leading candidate for American League MVP and the type of player whose prolonged absence is easily worth four slots in these rankings.
10Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 8
If the Twins end up taking the Central, Justin Morneau merits some serious consideration for a second MVP award in three years. In fact, he deserves to be in the MVP mix regardless of what the Twins do the rest of the season. Morneau, who has played in every game this season, already set a career high in doubles (41) and with 119 RBI, he's just 11 away from his career high in that category. Minnesota easily leads the majors with a .312 team mark with runners in scoring position. Much of this is attributed to Morneau, who's hitting .377 in said situation.
11Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 9
Exactly one year ago today, the Phillies trailed the Mets by six games. Today, it's a 3 1/2 game deficit. Can lightning strike twice in the NL East? Philadelphia's remaining schedule is extremely manageable, but so is New York's. And there's no head-to-head action left. With Philly's offensive inconsistency, it doesn't look too favorable.
12Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 14
Jeff Kent blasted Vin Scully for suggesting he benefited from Manny Ramirez's protection (the audacity!), but Andre Ethier has no problem giving Manny credit. Ethier, who has hit in front of Ramirez for the last two weeks, told the Los Angeles Times he is grateful for "not only the protection and the confidence he adds by being in the lineup, but also the knowledge he has brought to us as a team and to me individually." In 13 games with Ramirez's protection, Ethier is hitting .500 (25 for 50) with 14 RBI and 17 runs.
13St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 13
Could Albert Pujols become the first one-armed player ever to win MVP? OK, so it turns out Pujols has actually been playing with a torn ligament since 2003, but his accomplishments this season are pretty mind-boggling nonetheless. Pujols comfortably leads the majors in OPS (1.122) and ranks second in batting average (.362). Thirty-three homers, 99 RBI and 90 runs aren't bad totals either.
14Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 16
Two valuable pieces of information I learned about the Indians by reading this article in Thursday's Cleveland Plain Dealer:
  • Scott Lewis' major league debut was every bit as impressive as it seemed from the corner of my eye while I was writing Wednesday night.
  • Kelly Shoppach refers to manager Eric Wedge as "Wedgie."
    15New York Yankees
    Last Week: 12
    New York begins the final homestand ever at Yankee Stadium on Friday. As it stands right now, the final start in the fabled stadium will fall to none other than Andrew Eugene Pettitte. Very fitting.
    16Florida Marlins
    Last Week: 18
    Can somebody please check Scott Olsen's pulse? Olsen, who started the year at 4-1, is 0-6 with a 5.74 ERA in his last nine outings. Not the best way to head into arbitration.
    17Arizona Diamondbacks
    Last Week: 15
    Since starting the season at 27-15 and gaining nationwide attention, the Diamondbacks have gone 44-59 since May 17. Recently, one of the biggest culprits of D-backs futility is recently acquired reliever Jon Rauch. Since coming over to Arizona shortly before the trade deadline, Rauch is 0-5 with a 6.41 ERA. Well, at least he still has that magnetic smile.
    18Texas Rangers
    Last Week: 19
    So much for the Kevin Millwood renaissance. Millwood pitched brilliantly in his final three starts of August (24.2 IP, 4 ER), but he's reverted back to substandard form in September: 9.00 ERA, 2.09 WHIP.
    19Detroit Tigers
    Last Week: 20
    At the age of 43, it appears that "The Roaster" is officially roasted. Kenny Rogers owns a plump 5.49 ERA and 1.62 WHIP, but the most telling sign of his demise may be that Rogers is 1-4 with a 7.07 ERA -- against Kansas City. Oh my!
    20Cincinnati Reds
    Last Week: 22
    Brandon Phillips is done for the season after breaking his index finger on a bunt attempt. Some Reds fans are wondering why Phillips was even attempting to bunt in the first place with two outs and runners on first and third in 11th inning of a tie ballgame. Regardless, he continued the at-bat after breaking his finger and delivered the game-winning single. Tough to see Phillips go, but that's a pretty gutty way to close out your season.
    21Oakland Athletics
    Last Week: 21
    Is there a more obscure setup-closer combo than Joey Devine and Brad Ziegler? Regardless of their anonymity, Devine (0.70 ERA) and Ziegler (0.52) combine to make one of the most imposing duos in all of baseball. Don't be surprised if they switch roles next season, though, as the fire-balling Devine has more of a closer makeup than the submarining Ziegler. What about Huston Street? So five minutes ago.
    22Colorado Rockies
    Last Week: 17
    Can anyone tell me what kind of pitcher the Rockies thought they were getting when they claimed Livan Hernandez off waivers? Probably not one with a 9.85 ERA through six starts. Though it was pretty easy for the rest of us to foresee.
    23San Francisco Giants
    Last Week: 24
    Brian Wilson has imploded recently. The Giants closer has allowed five earned runs in his last three outings, blowing two saves in the process. But not all Brian Wilson news is bad news. The former Beach Boy's new album received a sparkling review in the San Francisco Chronicle. (The little man's jumping off his chair in applause!)
    24Atlanta Braves
    Last Week: 25
    On Tuesday Mike Gonzalez blew his first save since June 25, 2004 (when he was a Pirate), ending the majors' longest active streak at 39. Ah, 2004. A time of "wardrobe malfunctions." A time of William Hung. And a time when the Braves were relevant.
    25Baltimore Orioles
    Last Week: 23
    The Orioles may want to consider saving Dave Trembley promotions for off days. On August 22, 2007, the Orioles announced Trembley, then an interim manager, would take over the team on a permanent basis. Hours later, the Orioles suffered the worst defeat in modern baseball history, losing 30-3 to Texas. Last Friday, Baltimore brass told Trembley he'd be back in 2009, and the Orioles proceeded to lose 11-2 to Oakland, thanks to one of the most embarrassing half innings of the season. The A's scored eight runs in the eighth inning on just one hit (a grand slam), as Orioles pitchers issued six walks -- four with the bases loaded -- and hit a batter. Said Trembley: "To be honest with you, I've never seen an inning like that. Ever."
    26Seattle Mariners
    Last Week: 28
    Like I've said 1,000 times before, Yuniesky Betancourt has Gold Glove potential at shortstop. It's easy to see on this spectacular play. If only he could learn to make the routine play ... well ... routine.
    27Washington Nationals
    Last Week: 27
    In the least surprising development of the week, Eli Dukes let his emotions get the best of him Wednesday night. As usual, the New York Post provided an eloquent, fair-and-balanced account of Dukes' antics: "Knucklehead Elijah Dukes had to be restrained from going after Mike Pelfrey, stuck his tongue out at the Shea Stadium Crowd, then finally incited the fans by waiving his arms and blowing kisses to their chorus of boos. It was Dukes at his petulant worst."
    I love you, tabloid journalism.
    28Kansas City Royals
    Last Week: 29
    Prior to next Wednesday's game, the Royals will host a Halfway to St. Paddy's Day Happy Hour." Any excuse for a drink, eh Royals fans. Can't blame you with this product on the field.
    29San Diego Padres
    Last Week: 30
    If you need any indication as to what kind of year it's been in San Diego, Jake Peavy has the third-lowest ERA in baseball (2.63) ... and a losing record (9-10).
    30Pittsburgh Pirates
    Last Week: 26
    With the Pirates in the cellar, I finally have the opportunity to express my one true beef with the Keystone State: Yuengling beer. Marketed as "America's oldest brewery," Yuengling receives sizeable hype in the Northeast, but I find it vastly overrated. Yes, it's cheap, but so are canned sardines. And don't tell me I have to try it out of the bottle -- been there, done that and despised the experience. When it comes to "affordable" beer, long live the King!

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