Gennaro Filice
Thursday September 4th, 2008

Guess who's back on the throne? The same squad that holds the best record in all the land: Tampa Bay. Despite a number of key injuries, the Rays finished August with a 21-8 mark -- setting a franchise record for most wins in a month. Last week's No. 1, Chicago, seems fatigued in more ways than one. Meanwhile, the Mets continue to shoot up the rankings, regardless of their bullpen's frightening flammability. Houston makes the biggest jump of the week, though, riding its resurgent ace into the top 10. And in a shocking development, the scorching-hot Nationals (oxymoron?) leapfrog three unassuming bottom-dwellers.

MLB Power Rankings
1Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 2
While B.J. Upton has twice been benched for lazy baserunning, the Rays center fielder has also drawn the ire of many for his lackadaisical approach in the field (including a public chastisement in this column one month ago). But we criticize because we love. Upton's jaw-dropping natural ability sets the bar high. And here at the Power Rankings, we always give players a chance to atone for prior misdoings, which is exactly what Upton did Tuesday night. When Alex Rodriguez drove a ball to deep center field, Upton made this spectacular catch. I haven't seen a player deftly navigate a wall like that since Bo Jackson. And you have to love Upton's postgame quote to MLB.com: "That's what I'm out there to do, catch the ball. No matter how you catch it or how it looks, you've got to catch the ball."
 
2Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 4
While we're on the subject of fly-ball wizardry ... Torii Hunter stole his 8,734th home run last Friday with this fabulous grab, but he caught a face full of fence in the process. "I tasted the green monster and it was pretty nasty," Hunter said. "It tasted like collard greens. I'd like a strawberry wall out there." One night later, Hunter was at it again, denying Hank Blalock a four-bagger with this play. No collard greens this time, as Hunter kept his back to the wall. Lesson learned.
 
3Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 1
Do I sense a billy goat in the vicinity? Not only are the Cubs in the midst of a season-high five-game losing streak, but two of the team's most important arms are wearing down. Carlos Zambrano left Tuesday night's start with a sore shoulder. The eccentric hurler was scheduled to have an MRI on Wednesday, but he mysteriously skipped it. Meanwhile, Cubs manager Lou Piniella finally admitted Rich Harden is feeling "discomfort," which explains why the fragile right-hander is missing a turn in the rotation. North Siders wait with bated breath as their season hangs in the balance.
 
4Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 5
With Kevin Youkilis sidelined by illness Saturday night, Terry Francona moved white-hot Dustin Pedroia to very foreign territory in the batting order: cleanup. After Pedroia responded with hits in his first four at-bats, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen intentionally walked the diminutive slugger (we're talkin' 5-foot-9 on a really good day). Ozzie provided his unique analysis of the situation postgame: "I never thought I would walk a jockey. I must be the worst manager ever in the history of baseball right now, walking a guy that just came from being on the top of Big Brown to beat the White Sox." Pedroia has hit fourth in four of the past five games, going 11-for-17 (.647) with five extra-base hits and six RBIs.
 
5Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 3
As the AL Central race goes down to the wire, every game becomes a must-win. This was fully evident Wednesday night, when Ozzie Guillen brought Bobby Jenks in for a five-out save -- Jenks' longest outing to earn a save since Sept. 13, 2005. "I don't have the guts to do it [more often]," Guillen told the Chicago Tribune. "I did it because we needed it and, because that, we have a day off [Thursday]."
 
6New York Mets
Last Week: 9
The bullpen still terrifies me (Luis Ayala in the ninth -- really?), but I can't deny the results. And I can't deny that Carlos Beltran is playing like it's the 2004 playoffs. In his past 10 games, Beltran is hitting .395 with five homers, 13 runs and 13 RBIs.
 
7Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 6
One aspect of the CC Sabathia no-hitter controversy that has been completely overlooked: The official scorer's name is Bob Webb. The current National League Cy Young leader: Brandon Webb. But Sabathia has become a sexy candidate for the award with his stats as a Brewer (9-0, 1.43, 6 CG). And just think how nice those numbers would look with a no-hitter.
Surname pride runs deep. I smell a rat.
 
8Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 7
Francisco Liriano has been stellar since returning from Triple A Rochester to the Twins at the beginning of August, but he's been in a groove longer than a month. In his last 12 professional starts (six in the majors, six in the minors), Liriano is 10-0 with a 1.16 ERA.
 
9Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 8
Through the first half of the season, Pat Burrell was enjoying the type of contract year players dream of. But since the All-Star break, the 31-year-old free agent-to-be is hitting just .220 with a slender .717 OPS. "Pat the Bat," currently hitting .256 on the season, has eclipsed .260 just once since 2003. Will the slugger's inconsistency lead Philly to let him walk in the offseason?
 
10Houston Astros
Last Week: 18
As dominant as he has been lately, Roy Oswalt claims he's had the same stuff all season. "I ain't doing anything [different] than I did at the beginning of the year," Oswalt told the Houston Chronicle. "I'm just having better results. Instead of flares falling behind the infield, they're falling in front of the infield." With all due respect to Mr. Oswalt, I have to think this is more than just fortuitous flare placement. Oswalt has won five of his last six starts while posting a 1.59 ERA. This is the same guy who held a 5.45 ERA through the first two months of the season. Behind Oswalt's lead, the Astros have won 27 of their last 37.
 
11Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 13
The Travis Snider era begins in style at Rogers Centre. In his home debut, Snider, the Jays top prospect and currently the youngest player in the majors at 20, delivered three big hits in Toronto's 11-inning win over Minnesota. "I just tried to come out here and give the fans something to watch," the outfielder said.
Showmanship? Check.
 
12New York Yankees
Last Week: 12
I penned the Bronx Bombers' obituary last week. Yankee intrigue has been reduced to individual accomplishments, and chief among these is Mike Mussina's bid for 20 wins. Mussina holds the American League record with 17 consecutive 10-win seasons, but he's never reached 20. Moose improved to 17-7 Tuesday night. If the Yanks continue to start him every fifth game, Mussina has four more starts, leaving little room for error.
 
13St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 10
Yadier Molina is no longer an offensive albatross. Molina entered the year with a .248 career mark, but he's currently hitting a robust .307 with a career-high 55 RBIs.
 
14Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 16
Last weekend in Arizona, the Dodgers stayed right in the NL West race by beating Dan Haren and Brandon Webb on back-to-back nights. Can they repeat the improbable feat this weekend? Trailing by 1 1/2 games in the division race, the Dodgers are scheduled to face Haren, Webb and Randy Johnson in their final series against the Diamondbacks. Quite a tall task, though this time the series shifts to Dodger Stadium, where Los Angeles has gone 17-6 since the All-Star break.
 
15Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 14
Eric Byrnes is reportedly done for the season due to a balky hamstring. The guy goes from 21 homers and 50 steals last season to six homers and four steals in the first year of a three-year, $30 million extension. Painful.
 
16Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 11
Things you cannot do after Labor Day this year:
  • Wear white.
  • Claim you have more power than Victor Martinez.

    That's right, folks -- Vic, who missed two months with injury, is officially off the homer schneid. He hit his first bomb of the season on Tuesday, the day after our national holiday. Not to fret though, fans -- we're still locked up at zero longballs with Chone Figgins.
  •  
    17Colorado Rockies
    Last Week: 17
    One of the big reasons for Colorado's recent surge is ... Jorge De La Rosa. Yeah, it sounds weird to me, too, but "George of the Rose" boasts a 1.97 ERA in his last five starts (leading to four Colorado wins).
     
    18Florida Marlins
    Last Week: 15
    If the Braves fall in Dolphin Stadium and no one is around to see it, does Bobby Cox make a sound?
    On Wednesday the Marlins defeated the Braves in front of less than 600 fans. (Marlins reliever Joe Nelson counted 584 at first pitch, according to the Miami Herald.)
    For some strange reason, though, MLB.com chose to basically ignore the absurdly low attendance figure in its game recap.
    Paragraph 2 of MLB.com's game recap: "Ramirez homered, doubled and scored twice on Wednesday afternoon, helping lift the Marlins to a 5-3 victory over the Braves in front of 11,211 at Dolphin Stadium."
    Paragraph 14: "On a stifling 90-degree afternoon, the energy level in the park was low, as evidenced by a crowd reliever Joe Nelson said was significantly less than the announced attendance."
     
    19Texas Rangers
    Last Week: 19
    Brandon McCarthy spent most of the season on the 60-day DL with right forearm inflammation, but the towering right-hander has given the Rangers hope for the future in recent weeks. In his three starts since returning, McCarthy owns a 2.25 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. On Tuesday he gave up two runs over six innings for his first victory since July 27, 2007. Unfortunately, the announced crowd of 14,521 was the smallest of the season at Texas. The Rangers finally get a good start from a young arm and Rangers Ballpark's 33 percent full ...
     
    20Detroit Tigers
    Last Week: 20
    Following the Tigers' sixth loss in eight games Monday, Jim Leyland spent all of nine seconds with reporters. "I'll make this real easy for you. We basically threw a lot of balls when we should have thrown strikes. And we threw some strikes when we should have thrown balls. And that's the end of the conversation. I'll see you later."
    Simple game.
     
    21Oakland Athletics
    Last Week: 23
    Did anyone know Dallas Braden had this in him? Braden struggled mightily during his rookie season in 2007, going 1-8 with a 6.72 ERA. But the A's hurler is hitting his spots of late and holds a 2.76 ERA over his last five starts. The A's have stockpiled young starting pitching, so Braden will have to continue to produce if he wants to make the '09 rotation.
     
    22Cincinnati Reds
    Last Week: 24
    If nothing else, this Reds team has sure provided its fair share of rookie buzz in 2008. Following in the footsteps of Johnny Cueto, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce (not to mention Edinson Volquez, who doesn't technically qualify as a rookie), outfielder Chris Dickerson has instantly made his presence felt in the bigs. Dickerson, who was called up after the Reds traded Adam Dunn, is hitting .320 with six homers, 12 RBIs, 16 runs and five steals in just 19 games of service. Lot of hope for the future in The Queen City.
     
    23Baltimore Orioles
    Last Week: 21
    Which gives you more bang for you buck: a McChicken or nine innings of Orioles baseball? There's a new addition to Baltimore-area Dollar Menus, as the Orioles are selling $1 tickets to every September home game.
     
    24San Francisco Giants
    Last Week: 22
    Scott McClain has hit 355 homers during 15 seasons in the minors and four seasons in Japan, but he'd never hit a big-league bomb -- until Wednesday. The 36-year-old rookie hit a solo shot off Colorado's Steven Register in San Francisco's 9-2 win. Even though McClain has logged 19 seasons of professional baseball, he still got pranked like a rookie following the blast. When McClain returned to the dugout, his Giants teammates gave him the silent treatment before eventually showering him with congratulations.
     
    25Atlanta Braves
    Last Week: 26
    Greg Maddux tied Roger Clemens for eighth place all time with his 354th career win Monday. It took Maddux 736 starts to reach the mark, as opposed to 707 by Clemens. Wait a second. Maddux hasn't played for Atlanta since 2003. What is he doing as the subject of this week's Braves blurb? Well, at this point, I figured most Bravos buffs would rather reminisce on the past.
     
    26Pittsburgh Pirates
    Last Week: 25
    Steelers vs. Texans, Sunday, 1 p.m. (CBS).
     
    27Washington Nationals
    Last Week: 30
    Forget about 20 wins. Tim Redding must be ecstatic just reaching double-digits. In doing so, Redding became the first Nationals pitcher to reach 10 wins since Ramon Ortiz in 2006. (Jon Rauch led last year's staff with eight.) This Nats squad has won eight of nine games, so it gives me great pleasure to unlock the cellar door for the first time in weeks.
     
    28Seattle Mariners
    Last Week: 29
    The Mariners enjoyed their longest winning streak of the season: four whole games!
     
    29Kansas City Royals
    Last Week: 27
    Bombs away! It sounds like third-year GM Dayton Moore is about to blow up the Royals. "I've made up my mind on this team," Moore told the Kansas City Star. "I've got a pretty good idea on where we need to go and what we need to do. I've been watching this team for two years now. It's the same [core] group of guys."
    Only one way to cope with another failed campaign, Royals faithful: The Joe Posnanski Drinking Game!
     
    30San Diego Padres
    Last Week: 28
    The Padres easily have the fewest number of steals in the major leagues with 30. Now, PETCO Park isn't exactly an offensive Mecca. In fact, it's kind of designed for pitching and speed, right? Conventional thinking says the Padres could benefit greatly from a consistent running game. I'm talking to you, Bud Black.
     

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