Thursday June 16th, 2011

It's common to call any early summer slump a "June Swoon" but, though it does not rhyme, it's more apt to call the state of the Florida Marlins a "June Nosedive."

On May 26, just three editions of Power Rankings ago, the Marlins sat at No. 3 with a 28-19 record, only one game behind the Phillies. Then Florida went 3-4 over the next week and slipped slowly down to No. 6.

Cue the freefall. Since winning on May 31 the Marlins are a staggering 1-14 in the month of June, falling from No. 6 to 18 and now to 30 -- dead last -- in the Rankings. They obviously haven't played good baseball, but they haven't been terrible either, losing eight of those 14 by just one run. They have nearly as many hits (130) as they've allowed (136) and have made fewer errors (seven vs. 10) but have been outscored 87-50 thanks to way more men left on base, 127 to 94.

Shortstop Hanley Ramirez is off the DL and back in the lineup but still not hitting, one of four regulars (along with catcher John Buck, second baseman Omar Infante and centerfielder Chris Coghlan) with an on-base percentage below .310. The league average is .320, and Coghlan is the only member of that quartet who was not a 2010 All-Star.

The Marlins have fallen 10 1/2 games behind the Phillies and into a tie for last in the National League East. There's still time to start hitting and creep back up the standings, but they are already out of time to leave June with a winning record. With only 13 games left before the calendar turns to July, Florida would have to win out in order just to even their monthly mark.

NOTE: All stats are updated through Wednesday, June 15.

MLB Power Rankings
1Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 2
Phillies lefthander Cole Hamels is the youngest and least accomplished of the team's four aces, but he's having the best season. Hamels is 9-2 with a 2.49 ERA and NL-leading 0.92 WHIP. In his last six starts he's 5-0 with a 1.64 ERA. Key to his success this year has been an increasing reliance on the cutter, which he has commanded well enough that he has induced a career-high rate of groundballs (53.3 percent) and a career-low rate of walks (1.8 BB/9).
 
2Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 3
Because of their 2-10 start to the season, it took a while for fans to realize just how hot the Red Sox had been; the club had dug themselves an early statistical hole. Similarly, Josh Beckett's three-run, five-inning loss at Cleveland in his season debut -- as the No. 4 starter in the rotation, no less -- clouded everyone's early perceptions of the 2011 Beckett. Remove his first start and Beckett is 6-1 with a 1.66 ERA (it's still a major-league-leading 1.86 with that first start included), an otherworldly stat line he added to with a complete-game shutout win on Wednesday night against the Rays in which he allowed only one baserunner on an infield hit.
 
3San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 4
One of the Giants' rallying cries during their World Series run last year stemmed from a TV announcer's comparing the club's regularly close games to torture. It's been about as excruciating this year. San Francisco is 10 games over .500 despite a season run differential of just +1, which equates to an expected win-loss record of 34-34 rather than the actual 39-29. They are 19-9 in one-run games this season and 27-11 in such games dating back to Sept. 19, 2010, during which time closer Brian Wilson has 31 regular- and post-season saves.
 
4Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 6
From May 7 to June 12 the Brewers were the NL's best team, going 25-9 -- that's 3 1/2 games better than the rest of the pack -- and by capping it off with a three-game home sweep of the Cardinals, they snared sole possession of first place for the first time all season. Unfortunately for them, they didn't stay at Miller Park and promptly dropped two one-run games to the struggling Cubs at Wrigley. Indeed the Brewers have baseball's most exaggerated home/road splits: 25-9 in Milwaukee; 14-21 anywhere else. During that torrid 34-game stretch, it comes as no surprise that , even though they played 21 of those games at home and 13 on the road, they lost more games away from Miller Park (five) than at it (four).
 
5New York Yankees
Last Week: 7
Whether it's a getaway day, holiday or just a weekend day, New York has scheduled more afternoon games since moving into the new Yankee Stadium than anyone other than the Cubs do at Wrigley. Perhaps that's because they have been so good in day games lately. The Yankees have the best day-game winning percentage (.649) of anyone in baseball -- they are 87-47 in all day games, home or away -- since the start of the 2009 season. Their success has never been so pronounced as this year in which they are 17-3 in day games and 21-25 in night games.
 
6Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 8
Justin Verlander flirted with his second no-hitter of the season on Tuesday night in what eventually became a two-hit, one-walk, 12-strikeout complete-game shutout of the Indians to move the Tigers (briefly) into sole possession of first place in the AL Central. Verlander is leading the majors in WHIP (0.89) largely because he's walking the fewest of his career (2.1 BB/9) while still amassing huge strikeout numbers (8.5 K/9). His stuff has been so unhittable he's throwing by far his career's lowest rate of pitches in the strike zone (41.9 percent) but getting the most swings outside the zone (34.0).
 
7Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 9
In recent years the term Modern Triple Crown has arisen to signify a player who leads his league in average, OBP and slugging. What's lacking now is an appropriately derisive term for the opposite: the qualifying player who ranks last in all three categories. At the rate 2011 is going perhaps it can be named after its possible pioneer, Dan Uggla. The second baseman is last in the NL in average (.178), OBP (.248) and sixth-worst in slugging (.328). Entering the season his career standards were .263/.349/.488.
 
8St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 1
Matt Holliday is returning to the Cardinals at just the right time. The leftfielder, who missed a week early in the season after having an appendectomy and most recently went on the 15-day DL with a quad injury, will join a St. Louis team that has lost five straight, including a three-game sweep to the Brewers in which the Cardinals relinquished first place. In games in which Holliday -- who has a .342/.433/.542 batting line and six home runs -- has played, St. Louis is 27-17 (.614). When he doesn't play, the Redbirds are 11-14 (.440).
 
9Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 11
Catcher Miguel Montero had three doubles, four RBIs and two runs in Arizona's 12-9 victory over Florida on Monday, part of a 9-for-22 stretch (.409) in which seven of the hits went for extra bases (five doubles, two homers). Monday's game was only the 136th time since 1919 (the starting point of Baseball-Reference.com's Play Index search engine) that a catcher has had three or more doubles in a game and the first time anyone has done it in 2011. It was the second such game for Montero, who previously had three doubles in an Aug. 10, 2009 home game against the Mets.
 
10Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 10
Starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco was one of four players the Indians acquired from the Phillies for Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco in 2009, and though no one who's seen Carrasco pitch would accuse him of being a Lee impersonator, he's pitched like him his last two starts. In the midst of a slump Cleveland had a recent stretch where it went 2-9 over 11 games and both wins were by a 1-0 score in game pitched by Carrasco, who went 8 1/3 and 7 innings, respectively, in the two outings and walked only four combined.
 
11Texas Rangers
Last Week: 5
The Rangers play in an offense-friendly ballpark and feature a lineup full of sluggers, but they also have some speed. Texas ranks tied for second in the majors with 65 stolen bases -- paced by shortstop Elvis Andrus' 19 and second baseman Ian Kinsler's 13 -- and have the third best success rate (79.3 percent). Seven of the nine regulars and 13 total players have at least one steal. They've done this with only three steals contributed by rightfielder Nelson Cruz, who had 37 over the last two years and has been projected for regular 25-25 or even 30-30 seasons.
 
12Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 12
Ichiro Suzuki had played in 255 consecutive games before being given a needed day off last Friday, as he was mired in a 3-for-34 slump. It worked: He had two hits in each of his next five games, restoring hope that he may reach 200 hits and a .300 average in all 11 seasons he has played. He still has an uphill climb. The 37-year-old outfielder has 76 hits in 69 team games, a pace for 178 hits this season, and is batting .269. Another shorter streak is also in jeopardy: Ichiro has led the majors in hits in each of the last five seasons but is already 22 behind pace-setter Jose Reyes of the Mets.
 
13Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 13
In the first five seasons of James Shields' career, he threw five completes games and two shutouts. In his first 14 starts of 2011 he has already thrown four complete games and three shutouts, most recently adding to both numbers on Tuesday night to slow the streaking Red Sox who had been averaging 9.2 runs per game on their nine-game winning streak. Shields' K/BB rate (3.63) is a few hundredths below his career rate and his BB/9 rate (2.3) is a few tenths above his career rate, but he's had success by improving his swing-and-miss rate to 25.5, more than four percent better than what it has been the past three seasons. As a results he's allowing a H/9 rate (7.1) that's more than a full two hits better than his career rate.
 
14Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 14
It's unlikely anyone ever thought to make this wager, but you could have won a lot of money before this season had you bet that the Pirates would employ six catchers without promoting prospect Tony Sanchez, the No. 4 overall pick in the 2009 draft, who remains at Double-A despite all the commotion at the major league level. The sixth and most recent backstop, Michael McKenry, was acquired for cash considerations from the Red Sox while no other club has used more than four catchers this season. The expansion era record for most catchers is seven, established five times (thrice by the Mets) and most recently by the 2005 Mariners.
 
15Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 16
The Reds have scored an NL-best 345 runs, but they've also allowed 311 runs, the most among the 15 major league teams with a record above .500. But Cincinnati is trending in the right direction: In its last 10 games Cincy hasn't allowed more than four runs in a game and has gone 7-3, capped with a three-game road sweep of the Dodgers. Even last Sunday's loss was encouraging as Edinson Volquez, the Opening Day starter recently demoted to Triple-A, logged a quality start against the Giants.
 
16Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 17
Twins outfielder Michael Cuddyer has never stolen more than six bases in any of his 10 previous seasons, so when he swipes three bags in one game, there has clearly been a failing by the opposing team. Indeed, the White Sox have allowed the majors' greatest rate of stolen bases against the catcher (i.e. not including pickoffs), as opponents have been successful on 61 of 69 attempts (88.4 percent). Starter Gavin Floyd hasn't helped matters, as baserunners are a perfect 15-for-15 in stolen-base attempts with him on the mound.
 
17New York Mets
Last Week: 22
A 6'1" righthanded pitcher who rarely cracks 90 mph doesn't often generate much excitement in the scouting world, so it's no surprise Dillon Gee was a 21st-round pick out of college and spent nearly four full seasons in the minors before reaching the majors. Now the guy can't lose. In 2011 Gee has started 10 times and the Mets are 10-0 in those games. He's spotted his cutter very well and has a personal stat line of 7-0 with a 2.86 ERA and 1.08 WHIP.
 
18Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 15
The Blue Jays beat the Orioles 6-5 in 11 innings last Tuesday, adding to their AL-best record in extra innings. Toronto is now 7-2 when going beyond the standard nine, trailing only the Dodgers (5-0) for the majors' best winning percentage in extras. Pulling the lion's share of the extra pitching duty have been Jon Rauch, Jason Frasor and Shawn Camp -- each of whom have pitched in four such games -- and Luis Perez, who only pitched in one but threw 3 2/3 shutout innings. Though it's an admittedly small sample, the Jays have only allowed three extra-base hits (.311 slugging) and nine walks in 86 extra-inning plate appearances (9.6 PA/BB), compared to the relievers' .387 slugging against and 10.9 PA/BB rates in the regular nine.
 
19Washington Nationals
Last Week: 24
The Nationals welcomed third baseman Ryan Zimmerman back to the lineup after missing 58 games following abdominal surgery and enjoyed a five-game winning streak. Closer Drew Storen saved four games in a row, with set-up man Tyler Clippard securing holds in three of them while pitching four hitless shutout innings. But the most impressive pitching performance of all may have been Livan Hernandez's three-hit, no-walk complete-game shutout of the Cardinals despite reports that he is the target of an alleged federal money-laundering investigation.
 
20Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 25
Injuries continue to decimate the Twins. Most recently, it was first baseman Justin Morneau who was placed on the DL with a wrist injury, joining a host of others including catcher Joe Mauer and reliever Joe Nathan, meaning that the team's three highest-paid players -- who are collectively making $49.3 million this year, which is 43.6 percent of the club's season payroll figure -- were all simultaneously inactive. The good news is that Nathan recently faced Mauer in a simulated game, and Mauer is scheduled to rejoin the Twins on Friday. Also encouraging is that second baseman Tsuyoshi Nishioka, out two months with a broken leg, returned Wednesday night.
 
21Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 21
Charlie Blackmon was twice drafted as a pitcher (28th round by the Marlins and 20th by the Red Sox) but instead transferred to Georgia Tech, spent one year as an outfielder and was selected in the second round by the Rockies. After batting .337 at Triple-A Colorado Springs, he reached the majors when Dexter Fowler was injured and has started his big league career 12-for-35 (.343), albeit with no walks and just one extra-base hit. But he has shown enough with his bat that Colorado now intends to keep him around even when the slumping Fowler is healthy.
 
22Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 19
Credit the Orioles for resisting the urge to overuse their new toy. The club skipped rookie Zach Britton's start on Tuesday to help limit his innings this season. The 23-year-old's career high was 153 1/3 innings in the minors, so the team announced plans to occasionally push back his starts to make sure he doesn't exceed that number by too much (175-180 is the target for this year). Britton has thrown 82 innings already with a 3.18 ERA and 1.23 WHIP and an even better case of wishful thinking, telling reporters recently, "I know they are doing it for a good reason. It's not anything other than trying to get me to throw in September -- and even October, if we are in contention."
 
23Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 26
Vernon Wells had multiple hits four times in 35 games before going on the DL but has already done it twice in eight games since making his return, including his first three-hit game of the season on Saturday and his first two-homer game on Monday. Though Wells' season numbers aren't good (.193/.235/.327 batting line), the Angels apparently missed his presence in the lineup. The Halos are 22-21 with Wells playing and 11-16 with him on the bench.
 
24Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 20
In 2003 the Rangers went 71-91 but Alex Rodriguez's production -- an AL-leading 47 homers, 124 runs and .600 slugging -- was too much to ignore and he won the league's MVP trophy, only the seventh player to do so on a team with a losing record. This year Matt Kemp will make voters think seriously about awarding an eighth. The Dodgers are 31-39, a pace for a 72-90 record, but Kemp leads the NL in home runs (20), slugging (.638), OPS (1.058) and total bases (162) while ranking in the top-five in steals (16) and OBP (.420).
 
25Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 28
Alcides Escobar has held down his starting gig at shortstop because he's a whiz with the glove, either the second or third best defender at the position, depending on whether you check Plus/Minus or Ultimate Zone Rating. But recently he's impressed with the bat, too. Bill James invented a stat to gauge the hottest hitter in baseball, in which batters receive points for hits, walks, etc. The stat is moderated so that average is 72 degrees for room temperature, and right now Escobar is a scorching 104 degrees, the hottest hitter in baseball, thanks to an eight-game hitting streak in which he has gone 16-for-29 (.552) with six multi-hit games.
 
26San Diego Padres
Last Week: 23
The Padres' bullpen remains one of the wonders of the modern world. The group leads the majors in reliever ERA (2.49) despite a heavy workload. San Diego does not have a complete game from its starters, so the bullpen has been called upon in all 70 games this year and it leads the majors with six relievers who have made 27 or more appearances so far this year. Despite the frequent usage, those six pitchers -- closer Heath Bell, righty set-up men Mike Adams, Luke Gregerson, Ernesto Frieri and Chad Qualls and lefty Corey Luebke -- all have an ERA of 3.09 or better, paced by Adams' 1.17.
 
27Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 29
Rookie second baseman Jemile Weeks has hit three triples, which is pretty good considering he's only played eight career games and the entire Orioles lineup has hit only four triples in 65 games this season. Weeks, a 2008 first-round pick and younger brother of Milwaukee's Rickie Weeks, has been a rare bright spot for Oakland in the past month. Jemile Weeks has begun his career 9-for-28 (.321) with a walk and a steal.
 
28Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 30
Credit Cubs GM Jim Hendry for accountability. In the wake of what has become a second straight lost season, Hendry defended new fulltime manager Mike Quade and told USA Today that he understood why fans and writers have begun calling for new management. "I don't mind that," Hendry said. ". . . We should've done better the last year and a half. So that comes with the territory, and that is my responsibility." With about $50 million in salary coming off the books this offseason, the Cubs have a great opportunity to remake their roster, so it will be interesting to see whether ownership gives Hendry one more chance or entrusts someone new.
 
29Houston Astros
Last Week: 27
Pitching coach Brad Arnsberg has a personality that can't be missed -- upbeat and easygoing while harder working than nearly anyone in the business. Several pitchers have said he logs so many hours in the video room that it's hardly necessary to do one's own study, and Brett Myers cited Arnsberg as a key reason for signing a contract extension with the Astros. Yet not only was Arnsberg dismissed this week for philosophical differences, but he also said, "The last couple of weeks have really been a bear for me going to the ballpark." The pitching staff has underperformed (4.65 ERA, 15th in the NL), but it hasn't helped that the Astros' defensive efficiency is the second-worst in the majors.
 
30Florida Marlins
Last Week: 18
It's hard to misplace a man who's 6'7" and 250 pounds, but Marlins ace Josh Johnson has seemingly gone missing. He was baseball's best pitcher over the first six weeks (3-1, 1.64 ERA, 0.98 WHIP in nine starts) but hasn't pitched since May 16 because of a slow-healing shoulder injury. Florida even transferred him to the 60-day DL because the prognosis for a swift return was bleak. In his absence the Marlins are 8-20, the worst record in the NL. When healthy, Johnson only pitches every five days, but manager Edwin Rodriguez has acknowledged that the club has taken a psychological hit. Apparently a big one: Florida is 1-14 in June.

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