Thursday May 26th, 2011

As Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci wrote last year around this time, "Oakland GM Billy Beane parcels the season in thirds: the first third for taking stock of your team, the second third for roster adjustment and the final third to let the modifications play out."

Now that every team has played between 47 and 51 games -- 29-31 percent of the season -- clubs are preparing to enter the roster adjustment period and at least three are probably looking very differently at their chances now then they were a week or so ago.

The Brewers, Diamondbacks, Mariners and Red Sox all began or ended a six-game winning streak within the past week. The Red Sox already had too much invested in this year's team not to continue to trudge ahead and hope to contend, but the other three will no longer be so quick to trade veterans or promote prospects.

The Brewers have won six in a row and 13 out of 16, jumping in the Power Rankings from No. 27 two weeks ago to No. 16 last week and now to No. 7. At the end of play on May 8, when they were 14-20, the debate of whether to hold onto free-agent-to-be Prince Fielder or trade him to maximize his return value was probably looming within the next month or so if not for the turnaround. After adding Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum to the rotation this offseason, Milwaukee appeared to be poised to make a run but tripped coming out of the blocks.

Meanwhile, the Diamondbacks have won 10 of their last 12 to ascend nine spots to No. 13 in the Rankings, and the Mariners have won eight of 10 to escalate 13 spots to No. 15. Arizona is 2 1/2 games out of the NL West lead, and Seattle is just 1 1/2 games out of first in the AL West. Only the Indians in the AL Central have a divisional lead of at least 3 games, and exactly half of all baseball teams, 15 out of 30, are within four games of .500, meaning the pennant chases could be especially tight this year. For that reason, look for the D-backs and M's to linger a bit longer before making any major moves.

NOTE: All stats are updated through Wednesday, May 25.

MLB Power Rankings
1Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 1
Earlier this week Indians second baseman Orlando Cabrera, a 15-year veteran primarily at shortstop said his double-play partner, Asdrubal Cabrera, is arguably the best shortstop in the AL and among the top three in the majors. It may sound like nepotism, though the two are not actually related, but there's no doubting that Asdrubal is a burgeoning star, as he is batting .306 and leads AL shortstops in hits (59), runs (33), RBIs (34), on-base percentage (.363), slugging (.539) and OPS (.902). Cleveland has rebuilt itself through wheeling and dealing, with the Cabrera-for-Eduardo Perez move one of the most significant. Among current Indians on the roster or DL, 14 were acquired in trades.
 
2St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 6
Once again, the Cardinals boast a one-two punch atop their rotation that is the envy of most of baseball. What's odd is that it's not the combo of Adam Wainwright (out after Tommy John surgery) and Chris Carpenter (1-5 with a 4.58 ERA), but instead Jamie Garcia (5-0, 1.93) and Kyle Lohse (6-2, 2.06) taking the honors. They are the only teammates among the season's top nine starters, as rated by ERA+, which neutralizes ERA relative to the ballpark and league average; 100 is an average score. Garcia and Lohse have a 190 and 178, respectively.
 
3Florida Marlins
Last Week: 4
No righthanded hitter has ever splashed a home run into McCovey's Cove beyond the rightfield wall of San Francisco's AT&T Park -- such a prodigious blast is particularly difficult when hitting to the opposite field -- but also no batter has ever hit either the giant Coke bottle or the giant glove beyond the leftfield wall, which Marlins rightfielder Mike Stanton nearly did in B.P. on Wednesday. His pregame blast went nearly 500 feet. The 21-year-old has nine home runs in the month of May and despite a slow April is on a better pace than last year. In his 2010 rookie season he hit 22 home runs in 100 games (one every 4.5 games), but this season he has 11 homers in 44 games (4.0).
 
4Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 7
All-Star second baseman Chase Utley made his season debut on May 23, an occasion that ought to have been jubilant, but was instead overshadowed by G.M. Ruben Amaro Jr.'s pregame pledge that he'll change the roster, through either trades or minor-league promotions, if the team didn't score more runs. Granted, the club hadn't had its best lineup together for even a single game, but these things start to happen when seven of the eight starting position players are between the ages of 30 and 38. Philadelphia had failed to score more than three runs in any of its previous nine games at the time of Amaro's comments, going 3-6 in that stretch. That night, with Utley going 0-for-5, the Phillies scored 10.
 
5Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 8
The star of Boston's series win over the Indians was undoubtedly Carl Crawford, who went 6-for-11 with two home runs, two doubles and six runs scored. Over his past 29 games since April 23 he's batting .289 and slugging .447, numbers in line with his career rates from before this season: .296 and .444. The reason it feels like Crawford is struggling so much -- besides his batting seven or eighth in the lineup most days and his .229 overall average -- is that he's still not getting on base as much as he used to. In those past 29 games he's walked only three times and has an OBP of .314.
 
6New York Yankees
Last Week: 10
Mariano Rivera pitched one inning on Wednesday afternoon, closing out a 7-3 win over the Blue Jays, anticlimactic in that he didn't earn a save but historic because he became the first player in baseball history to reach 1,000 appearances with the same team. To give appropriate perspective on this -- besides the obvious that he's 13-for-15 in save chances with a 1.71 ERA this year -- only 25 other active pitchers have made even 500 career relief appearances, and none of them have done so with the same club. The active pitcher with the second-most appearances with just one club is Phillies reliever Ryan Madson with 450.
 
7Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 16
Celebrity deaths are notorious for appearing in threes, and increasingly so too are home runs. Five players in less than a fortnight had a three-homer game, perhaps none as unlikely as the one from Brewers rightfielder Corey Hart. His power pedigree is good -- he hit 31 last year and has averaged 22 over the past four seasons -- but he entered Monday's game with a .237 average and zero homers in his first 21 games of the season. For an encore he hit his fourth homer of the season on Tuesday.
 
8Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 5
Seemingly lost after Brooks Conrad's three-error playoff game last October is that he continues to be a remarkable pinch-hitter. Conrad entered Wednesday's game in the 11th inning and promptly hit a two-run homer to beat the Pirates. He had three pinch-hit home runs, including two grand slams, last year and five of his 11 career homers have come in pinch-hit situations. Meanwhile, the Braves' other accomplished pinch hitter, Eric Hinske, has been so good this month -- his .362 average in May ranks second among NL players with at least 60 plate appearances -- that he has started 11 of Atlanta's last 14 games.
 
9Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 2
The Indians not only swept the Reds but also blew up Cincinnati starter Edinson Volquez for seven runs in 2 2/3 innings, who in turn blew up at his offense after the game, criticizing them for not scoring more runs. That comment -- plus his performance, as he has a 6.35 ERA, leads the majors in walks issued (38) and hasn't lasted more than six innings in any of his 11 starts -- led to a demotion to Triple-A, where he joined a rehabbing Aroldis Chapman and starter Mike Leake. There also concern that Volquez, a fomer All-Star, simply isn't the ace the Reds thought he'd be. Volquez is erratic and injury prone, throwing 63 or more major league innings only once and issuing between 4.0 and 7.1 walks per nine innings each season.
 
10Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 3
So much for G.T.M.I. The Rays, who last year touted the slogan "Get The Man In" as a rally cry for situational hitting, perhaps need to schedule throwback t-shirts (all the way back to 2010) for their next themed road trip. On this recently completed road trip, in which they went 2-5, they were 1-for-11 with the bases loaded, stranding all three runners on five occasions. Tampa Bay has had trouble sustaining rallies and driving in runs when men are in scoring position. The club's .307 OBP with men on second and/or third ranks 28th in the majors; its .231 average ranks 21st; and its 10 sacrifice files are tied for 24th.
 
11San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 12
They couldn't have known it at the time, but the Giants' four-run, bottom-of-the-ninth comeback on Wednesday night to tie the Marlins might have been the worst thing they could have done. That sent the game to extra innings where not only did they still lose but also lost catcher Buster Posey to an ankle injury Florida's Scott Cousins slammed into him at the plate. At press time, the severity of the injury to the reigning NL Rookie of the Year was not known, but a DL stint is likely. In-house backup Eli Whiteside is a meager offensive option. Perhaps San Francisco will give old friend and job seeker Bengie Molina a call.
 
12Texas Rangers
Last Week: 14
The Round Rock Express enjoyed one of the best outfields in Triple-A history recently, as both Nelson Cruz and Josh Hamilton were doing what must have been successful rehab stints there, as both returned to the Rangers' lineup on Monday and promptly homered. In the 17 games that both players missed, Texas hit just 11 homers and scored only 3.3 runs per game.
 
13Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 22
In a dozen games since May 14 the Diamondbacks are 10-2 and had a six-game winning streak, their longest in three seasons. Arizona has lived perilously, as six of those 10 wins have been in one-run games, but closer J.J. Putz has been rejuvenated after bouncing around as a set-up man for the Mets and White Sox the past two years. Putz has saved five of the D-backs' last six wins and seven of the 10 wins in their recent hot streak. His 14 saves are tied for third in the majors, but he has the most saves among all closers with a perfect success rate.
 
14Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 9
Pop quiz, hotshot: Who ranks first in OPS among all major-league catchers? It's a Tiger and it's not free-agent acquisition Victor Martinez, who is primarily the DH anyway and whose OPS is 71 points behind his teammate, Alex Avila. Yep, it's the lefty Avila who has a .292/.358/.562 batting line for a .920 OPS and eight home runs, second on the team to only Miguel Cabrera. Avila, son of Detroit's assistant GM Al Avila, is arguably the game's most overqualified bottom-third hitter, as all of his starts have come while batting seventh, eighth or ninth.
 
15Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 28
The Mariners, who have won seven of eight, are the only team in baseball whose entire starting staff maintains an ERA below 3.90 while throwing at least 40 innings each. Rookie Michael Pineda leads the club at 2.16, followed by Felix Hernandez (3.01), Dough Fister (3.18), Erik Bedard (3.48) and Jason Vargas (3.86). In related news Seattle also has the only rotation in which all five starters have a K/BB ratio of 2.3 or better.
 
16Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 17
Red Sox set-up man Daniel Bard led all AL relievers with the best fastball each of the last two years, averaging 97.3 in 2009 and 97.9 in '11, but Angels closer Jordan Walden might dethrone him this season. While Bard has slipped to 97.1, Walden is setting the pace at 97.4, which ranks No. 1 in the majors among pitchers with at least 20 innings of work. The rookie has 10 saves, a 2.70 ERA and a 9.3 K/9. The latter is down from the phenomenal 13.5 he had in 15 1/3 innings of a September call-up last season.
 
17Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 19
The duration of Tuesday's game against the Rangers in Texas from the first pitch to the last pitch was a hefty six hours and 19 minutes, thanks to a scary weather delay of 2:58 in which softball-sized hail was reported in the area and a tornado warning was issued nearby. White Sox rightfielder Carlos Quentin still gets credit for his first three-home run game, though, even if it probably felt more like a day-night doubleheader given the long break before play resumed. Quentin leads the majors in doubles with 16 and leads the AL with 28 extra-base hits and with eight HBPs, while ranking in the top five in home runs (12) and slugging (.566).
 
18Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 20
The Orioles allowed 30 runs over two games in taking a 13-2 loss to the Yankees on Thursday and a 17-5 drubbing at the hands of the Nationals on Friday. Baltimore scored 24 runs combined in their next four games, winning them all to move back within one game of .500 and 3 1/2 games of the AL East lead. Such an example is given to explain how Baltimore, whose -32 run differential is fourth-worst in the majors, could possibly be keeping pace in the division. They've lost four games by at least 12 runs, while winning only one game by a double-digit margin. Their 6-3 record in one-run games (.667) is the best in the AL.
 
19Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 13
For nearly three years lefthander Jo-Jo Reyes has been good enough to earn starts and not good enough to win any of them. Since last winning on June 13, 2008, back when he was a member of the Braves, current Blue Jays pitcher Reyes has made 28 consecutive starts without winning a single one, tying the major league record set by Oakland's Matt Keough in 1978-79. During this stretch Reyes has also made three relief appearances with a no decision in each. Overall he has gone 0-13 with a 6.59 ERA, 1.6 K/BB and .316 average against in 142 innings. His teams have also only scored 54 runs while he's been on the mound, a paltry rate of 3.4 per nine innings.
 
20Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 11
The Rockies suffered a terrible blow in losing starter Jorge de la Rosa to a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his elbow, which will require Tommy John surgery to fix. Medical experts say such an injury happens from fraying over a period of time, leading to accumulated damage that eventually cannot be repaired with surgery. Indeed, de la Rosa's average fastball dipped from 93.4 mph to 92.7 mph this year, perhaps as a result. He also threw his fastball only 47.5 percent of the time this year, down from 53.5 and 59.6 percent the past two seasons. He was 5-2 with a 3.51 ERA and a career-best 2.4 K/BB ratio.
 
21New York Mets
Last Week: 21
Whether it was admitting that the Mets are "bleeding cash" to Sports Illustrated's Tom Verducci or criticizing his players to The New Yorker, owner Fred Wilpon has gone on an unorthodox publicity tour, but it didn't give a potential investor cold feet, as hedge fund manager David Einhorn invested $200 million in the team for a minority stake. That's all well and good, but it won't aid a pitching staff that's allowing 13 baserunners per nine innings, which ranks 26th in the majors, or the ERA of 4.09, which ranks 23rd.
 
22Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 15
Oakland's pitching continues to be dominant, but at some point the A's, who have lost seven of eight, are going to need a little more offense. Neither first baseman Daric Barton nor second baseman Mark Ellis, both of whom have played 48 games this year, have homered, and as a unit the infield has hit only 11 homers, the fewest in baseball. Ellis in particular has struggled, batting .202/.237/.274. His OPS+ is 44, the lowest among all players who have qualified for the batting title.
 
23Washington Nationals
Last Week: 18
Of the Nationals' modern Mount Rushmore -- i.e. the four faces of the franchise -- only rightfielder Jayson Werth remains active with the major league club, batting .254 and leading the team in home runs (eight) and OBP (.452). The news is improving elsewhere. Bryce Harper continues to tear up Class-A pitching to the tune of .340/.425/.615 with 10 homers in 43 games, and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman has joined starter Stephen Strasburg in Viera, Fla., for rehab. Zimmerman, who is recovering from abdominal surgery, is on track to return to the big leagues in mid-June; Strasburg, recovering from Tommy John surgery, is progressing nicely and conceivably could pitch at the end of this season, though he also could return next spring.
 
24Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 26
The Pirates appear to be running suicides with their won-loss record, given the back-and-forth winning and losing streaks. Beginning May 7 Pittsburgh won three in a row, then lost six in a row, then won four in a row and now have lost three in a row. There's some manner of consistency to it. In only one of the nine recent losses have the Pirates scored more than two runs; in only one of their seven recent wins have they scored fewer than five runs. Also of note: They are the only NL team that has a winning record on the road (13-12) while having a losing record at home (9-14).
 
25Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 25
It takes a remarkable spirit to say "I'm blessed" and "I have no complaints" in the aftermath of a beaning that leaves you with multiple facial fractures, but Cubs centerfielder Marlon Byrd knows how fortunate he was to not have brain damage or lose vision after a fastball from Boston's Alfredo Aceves hit him near the eye. It'll be a while before he returns to action, though it could be later this year. The 33-year-old Byrd was in the midst of another fine season, batting .308/.346/.419 and defensively ranked fourth among all centerfielders in Ultimate Zone Rating.
 
26Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 23
By one metric, Matt Kemp has been the NL's best position player this season. According to WAR (Wins Above Replacement), as computed by Baseball-Reference.com, Kemp has contributed 2.8 wins more than a replacement player. He's batting .317/.395/.956 with 12 home runs. Five of his last 10 hits have been homers, as he appears to be settling in as the Dodgers' clean-up hitter. He finally has one spot in the lineup to call his own. In his career he's made at least 34 starts at each of the Nos. 1-8 spots. In 2010 alone he made at least 11 starts at each slot from No. 2 through No. 6.
 
27Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 24
Since taking two of three games at Yankee Stadium two weeks ago, the Royals haven't won any of their next five series, going 2-11 while scoring more than three runs only twice -- and losing both of those games, 5-4 and 9-8. Shockingly, this skid has coincided with the production of Melky Cabrera and Jeff Francoeur returning to Earth. The two had started a combined 87-for-299 (.291) with 13 home runs and 18 walks for a .333 OBP. In K.C.'s last 13 games the pair have gone 19-for-80 (.238) with only two homers and drawn just four walks for a .276 OBP.
 
28Houston Astros
Last Week: 29
Houston scored twice in Wednesday's game against the Dodgers, as far apart as possible. The Astros scored on the very first pitch they saw, thanks to a Michael Bourn solo homer, and on the very last pitch they saw, No. 117 of the game, as J.R. Towles singled home Brian Bogusevic for the walkoff win. The Astros are usually better late than early: It was Houston's fifth walkoff win of the season, but only Bourn's first career leadoff homer and the club's first leadoff homer since Kaz Matsui did it on Sept. 23, 2008.
 
29San Diego Padres
Last Week: 27
The Padres have been shutout a major-league-high nine times this season and have scored as many as three runs only once while going 2-7 in their last nine games, so they understandably want change. Eight of those nine games were played at home, where they've hit just 16 home runs and scored only 65 runs in 29 games (2.2 per game). That's compared to their offense on the road, where they've hit 15 homers and scored 106 runs in only 21 games (5.0). No wonder manager Bud Black broached the issue of moving the fences in at Petco Park, telling reporters, "I think there's room for discussion." San Diego also demoted rightfielder Will Venable to Triple-A; he had been their leadoff hitter in 22 games but has just a .293 OBP.
 
30Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 30
Kevin Slowey, on the DL with shoulder bursitis, hinted that the injury may have been caused by his conversion to relief pitching this year. Meanwhile, manager Ron Gardenhire doesn't want to move any of his current starters to the bullpen just to accommodate Slowey and suggested on his weekly radio show that he'll confer with the front office about possibly looking to trade the pitcher somewhere he can start. Given that the Twins are already an astounding 14 1/2 games out of first place in the AL Central, they should definitely trade Slowey and not stop there. Outfielder Michael Cuddyer and closer Matt Capps command nearly $18 million in salary this year and will be free agents after the year, so Minnesota would be smart to investigate trades for them and re-stock the minors with a few prospects.

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