Gennaro Filice
Thursday August 28th, 2008

There's a bit of a shuffle among the top teams, as the Windy City now holds two of the top three spots. Philly leapfrogs the Mets due to New York's brutal bullpen and a key injury in the rotation. Red-hot Cleveland makes a substantial leap. Yes, the Indians have beat up on lowly teams -- Kansas City, Texas and Detroit -- of late, but prior to that the Tribe took two of three from the Angels. Furthermore, there are reports that Victor Martinez may rejoin Cleveland this weekend. (Maybe his power stroke will reappear too.)

MLB Power Rankings
1Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 1
With Carlos Zambrano mired in his worst month of the season (7.43 ERA in five August starts), it has become increasingly clear who the true ace of Chicago's staff is: Ryan Dempster. (Midseason addition Rich Harden doesn't qualify due to a limited sample size with Chicago.) Dempster said in spring training that the Cubs would win the World Series, and he's sure doing his part to meet that prediction. The starter-turned-closer-turned-started is 15-5 with a 2.85 ERA and 1.17 WHIP. He has yielded three runs or less in 23 of his 27 starts. "He's been our MVP," Mark DeRosa told the Chicago Sun-Times. "He is by far the most important person in this clubhouse."
Ryan Dempster = potential 20-game winner. Who'd a thunk it?
 
2Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 2
One-hundred-thirty-one games into the season, Tampa Bay has four starting pitchers with double-digit wins -- and Scott Kazmir isn't one of them. This is both a testament to the Rays' depth and proof of Kazmir's decline through the season. The presumed staff ace's ERA has steadily risen with each passing month (1.22 in May, 3.60 in June, 4.18 in July, 4.85 in August). After starting the season at 6-1, Kazmir is 3-5 in his past 14 starts.
 
3Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 4
With the Democratic National Convention in full swing, this column needs a political hook ... Thanks, Barack. In an interview with ESPN's Stuart Scott, Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama hammered home his South Side allegiance by taking a swipe at that other Windy City ballclub. "You go to Wrigley Field, you have a beer, beautiful people up there. People aren't watching the game. It's not serious. White Sox, that's baseball. South Side." (Bonus points for the parting directional shout-out -- very authentic.) North Side superstar Derrek Lee doesn't disagree. "I mean, he's right," Lee told the Chicago Tribune. "I think most of the fans [at Wrigley Field] are just there to enjoy the experience, and, uh, drink beer. I mean, is that not true?" Joe Biden ... or Derrek Lee?
 
4Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 3
Is Joe Saunders turning into a pumpkin? The All-Star hurler hasn't earned a win since July 30, allowing 12 earned runs over 6.2 innings in his last two starts. Saunders, whose sinker looks mighty flat lately, told the Los Angeles Times he's "in a funk." Turn that frown upside down, Joe -- only two days till Chest Protector Backpacks! ("It's a backpack that looks like a chest protector" -- brilliant!)
 
5Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 6
Boston's entire season rides on a tingling sensation, or lack thereof. At the time of publishing, Josh Beckett is scheduled to take the mound Friday night and test his "tingling" right hand caused by inflammation in his throwing elbow. And Boston's ace admits he's as nervous as his Beantown brethren. "It's tough," Beckett told MLB.com. "I think mentally it's equally as hard as physically. There's some sleepless nights."
 
6Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 5
On Sunday J.J. Hardy put the finishing touches on J.J. Hardy Bobblehead Day the only way he knew how: with a game-winning hit in the bottom of the 12th.
 
7Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 7
The Twins reacquired Eddie Guardado by trading Mark Hamburger and releasing Mike Lamb. On top of cutting red meat from the franchise diet, this move provides Minnesota with some much-needed support in the bullpen. Closer Joe Nathan has been lights-out all season, but the rest of the 'pen has struggled.
 
8Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 10
Chris Coste is one of the feel-good stories in today's game. The catcher spent 11 years in the minors before finally making his major league debut in 2006, writing a book about his trials and tribulations along the way. Coste has been extremely productive as Carlos Ruiz's backup this season, and the 35-year-old unexpectedly played the starring role in Tuesday night's dramatic, 13-inning win over rival New York. Coste entered the game in the eighth inning and ended up going 4-for-4 with the game-winning single.
 
9New York Mets
Last Week: 8
"Mets 'pen blows it again."
I've penned this quasi-rhyme in my notebook far too many times to rank New York ahead of Philly. I don't care what the standings say entering Thursday -- the Mets' bullpen scares the bejesus out of me. (Can't imagine what life is like for a Mets fan.) Not to mention stout starter John Maine may be done for the season.
 
10St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 9
When the Cardinals expand their roster Monday, one player who won't join the party is outfielder Colby Rasmus, Baseball America's No. 5 overall prospect entering this season. Rasmus has had a disappointing '08 campaign and recently missed a month with a knee injury. "He hasn't earned it," Tony La Russa told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
 
11Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 17
Grady Sizemore became the 31st member of the 30-30 club on Monday night. What are his chances of joining Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez and Alfonso Soriano in the ultra-exclusive 40-40 club? (Not to be confused with Jay-Z's swanky sports bars.) At his current pace, Sizemore will end up with 38 homers and 42 steals.
 
12New York Yankees
Last Week: 13
Alright, it's official (unofficially speaking): The Bronx Bombers' last game in 85-year-old Yankee Stadium will be played in September. Pretty upsetting for a franchise that hasn't missed October baseball since the Clinton administration -- first term. Don't get used to a Yankee-less postseason, though; with $88 million coming off the books after this season, it's a good bet New York will begin a new playoff streak in 2009.
 
13Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 14
Nice to see the 126 Million Dollar Man chipping in. Vernon Wells has four homers in his last four games. But management can't be too happy with the home run total (30) since Wells signed that massive contract before the '07 season.
 
14Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 11
For two years Arizona color guy Mark Grace has shamelessly pushed the nickname "The Sheriff" for D'backs 3B Mark Reynolds, and for two years the nation has turned a deaf ear. But Gracey may be on to something with his new moniker for Adam Dunn: "Thunder Dunn." Anything reminiscent of former Suns All-Star Dan Majerle is a winner in my book.
 
15Florida Marlins
Last Week: 15
Ricky Nolasco has been very impressive in his second full season. The 25-year-old hurler comfortably leads Florida in wins (13), ERA (3.62) and strikeouts (147). But two aspects of his game really stand out: 1) His walk rate (1.94 per nine innings) is very low for a pitcher his age; and 2) He was blowing 97 MPH in the eighth inning on Sunday.
 
16Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 12
Entering Thursday on the heels of six straight losses (including the last two to the lowly Nats), Los Angeles is now 11-14 since acquiring Manny Ramirez. After a torrid start in LA, No. 99 has zero RBI in his last nine games.
 
17Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 20
Suddenly, the Rockies sit just six games back of Arizona in the NL West. At this time last year, they trailed San Diego by 5 1/2 games in the Wild Card. I'm not saying, I'm just saying ...
 
18Houston Astros
Last Week: 16
What happened to the Big Puma's newfound fleet-footedness? Lance Berkman shattered his former career high of nine steals with 15 before the All-Star break. But in the second half of the season, Berkman is sitting on a swipes donut, having only attempted one SB. What gives? Berkman has suffered from lingering pain in his left hamstring.
 
19Texas Rangers
Last Week: 21
Is the third time a charm for Nelson Cruz? Cruz, who hit .342 with 37 homers and 99 RBI in 103 games for Triple-A Oklahoma this season, is back with the big club. And Ron Washington says he will play every day. The outfielder has always torn up minor league pitching but struggled at the major league level. In his two prior stints with the Rangers, Cruz hit just .231. On Monday he started off this stay with a bang -- going 3-for-5 with a homer -- but he's 0-for-7 in the last two contests.
 
20Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 19
It's being reported that Todd Jones is most likely done for the season. Now, is this good news or bad news for Tigers faithful?
 
21Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 18
So, the MLB finally implemented instant replay on "boundary calls" (aka home runs). As the system goes into play Thursday, one fan base will certainly experience a horrifying flashback ... Whatever happened to Tony Tarasco?
 
22San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 23
It's been an unpleasant season for the Giants, but there's a silver lining: a long-overdue youth movement. Even before September call-ups, San Francisco has already had 15 players make their major league debut this summer -- the highest number for an MLB team since 1954. And one of the most promising rookies has been 22-year-old catcher/corner infielder Pablo Sandoval, who is on fire at the plate. The stocky switch-hitter has hit safely in 10 of 12 games, boasting a .372 average. Sandoval hit his first home run in a key spot Wednesday night, helping Tim Lincecum earn his 15th win. Earlier this season in the minors, Sandoval proved he's one tough cookie, holding onto the ball in one of the biggest collisions these eyes have ever seen.
 
23Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 25
The A's are currently rolling with their first all-lefty rotation (Greg Smith, Dallas Braden, Gio Gonzalez, Dana Eveland and Dan Meyer) since the Vida Blue-led group in 1973. Quirky, but probably not too effective. After all, the majority of major league hitters are right-handed.
 
24Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 26
Couldn't help but laugh when I heard Bronson Arroyo's name being mentioned as a potential difference-maker before the trade deadline. But nowadays, it doesn't seem like much of a joke. Arroyo owns a 2.62 ERA over five August starts. Arroyo pitched a complete game Tuesday, allowing one run on five singles. Cincy was the last MLB team to record a complete game this season.
 
25Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 22
Let the countdown begin! The Buccos, who have gone 7-18 since trading Jason Bay, are just six losses away from an MLB record-tying 16th straight losing season. But hey, all they need to do to avoid the distinction is finish the year on a 24-5 tear.
 
26Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 27
The Braves have lost 27 consecutive one-run games on the road. That's just an amazing display of futility.
 
27Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 24
Less than two weeks from kickoff, the Chiefs are still searching for a No. 2 receiver to compliment second-year standout Dwayne Bowe. Might I suggest Joey Gathright? The Royals centerfielder ran one heck of a fly route Tuesday night. And his car-jumping prowess could come in pretty handy on the gridiron. Desperate times call for desperate measure, and the Royals' season has been over for months.
 
28San Diego Padres
Last Week: 28
With Dan Haren, Brandon Webb and Randy Johnson on the slate for Arizona, the odds of San Diego sweeping this week's three-game series were astronomical. But the Friars proved that their "spoiler" talk wasn't just lip service.
 
29Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 29
After Adrian Beltre's walk-off homer in the bottom of the 11th inning Monday, the Mariners went completely nuts. Winning pitcher R.A. Dickey told The Seattle Times, "We celebrated just like we would have celebrated if we were in a pennant race." Nothing like the manufactured excitement that comes from cutting a division deficit to ... 30 1/2 games.
 
30Washington Nationals
Last Week: 30
Lost in a sea of horrendous baseball, Lastings Milledge is enjoying the most productive month of his young career. Milledge, who spent most of July on the disabled list, is hitting .415 with six homers, 14 RBI and five steals in August. Suddenly, a 20-20 season is within his grasp!
Baby steps, people.
 

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