Thursday April 28th, 2011

Only four teams have won at least five games since the previous edition of the Rankings: the Mets, Braves, Marlins and Phillies, making the National League East baseball's undisputed hottest division.

New York rose from the Power Rankings cellar to post the game's only undefeated week, rattling off six straight wins, while Atlanta, Florida and Philadelphia all went 5-2. The Phillies and Marlins have cracked the rankings' top three spots, while the Mets soared from No. 30 to 17 and the Braves from 23 to 12, each of the latter two's jumps aided by a lot of lackluster play from the teams above them.

How did the NL East quartet make such a move? Pitching, pitching, pitching. Aficionados of offense continue to be disappointed, as scoring is down across baseball, and in the past week four of the league's five best ERAs belonged to, yep, the Mets, Braves, Marlins and Phillies, with only the Cardinals crashing the East's party, all of them with team ERAs under 3.10. (The Nationals apparently missed the memo, going 1-5 last week with a 4.94 ERA.)

It could continue, as last week was no fluke for three of the teams. This season the Braves, Marlins and Phillies occupy the majors' Nos. 2 through 4 spots on the runs allowed leaderboard, trailing only Oakland.

NOTE: All stats are updated through Wednesday, April 27.

MLB Power Rankings
1Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 1
The Rockies' offseason was populated with one Michael Young trade rumor after the next. The trade seemed to make sense for both sides, but Colorado is probably glad it didn't make the move given the emergence of Jonathan Herrera. The 26-year-old is batting .317 and already taken 14 walks for a team-leading .442 on-base percentage. He's small -- 5'9", 178 pounds -- despite doing most of his growth early, when he was a youth team monster in Venezuela, regularly beating teammate Carlos Gonzalez's team, according to this Denver Post feature story, which also notes that Jose Guillen once confused him for a coach's kid.
 
2Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 3
These aren't your, uh, older brother's Phillies. The team has undergone a remarkable transformation -- while remaining extremely successful -- from hitting-dominant to pitching-backed in just two seasons. The opening of Citizens Bank Park was soon followed by the rise of Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and co., who belted an NL-best 1,249 home runs from 2004-2009; that was good for 178 per year, as they derived 40.6 percent of their scoring via the home run. Last year they fell to fifth in homers with 166. In 2011, on the backs of their rotation, Philadelphia has been winning despite hitting only 20 homers, ninth in the NL, and scoring only 28.7 percent of their runs with the longball.
 
3Florida Marlins
Last Week: 8
It's utterly preposterous what Josh Johnson has done so far this year. He's 3-0 and leads the NL in ERA (1.06) and the majors in WHIP (0.65) and hits allowed per nine innings (3.4). That only begins to describe his dominance. The 6'7" righty has had a no-hitter for at least five innings in three -- three! -- of his five starts. In fact, in the first three innings of Johnson's starts, he has yet to allow a hit, with opponents going 0-for-45 with 20 strikeouts.
 
4Texas Rangers
Last Week: 6
After 22-year-old closer Neftali Feliz was placed on the disabled list with shoulder inflammation, the Rangers turned to two men nearly twice his age. In the first game without Feliz, Darren Oliver set a franchise record for oldest Ranger to notch a save when he did so Saturday at the age of 40 years and 199 days. The lefty had one save in 2010, but the only other two saves of his career were in 1994. His record lasted only one day. On Sunday teammate Arthur Rhodes saved a Rangers win at the age of 41 years and 182 days. Rhodes made his first All-Star game in 2010 with the Reds, but he hadn't saved a game since 2008.
 
5Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 2
Travis Hafner may seem like a surprise entry on All-Star Game ballots ? this year's game is at Chase Field, home of the NL's Diamondbacks -- but this is the first year in which the D.H. is being sanctioned for use in Midsummer Classics held at NL parks. That quirk isn't the only reason Hafner has a good chance at election to his first All-Star Game. He's neck-and-neck with the Royals' Billy Butler as the most productive D.H. in the majors. Hafner has a .342/.393/.566 batting line and four home runs.
 
6New York Yankees
Last Week: 5
While players left and right have been felled for two weeks (or much longer) by oblique injuries -- most notably, Rays star third baseman Evan Longoria -- Alex Rodriguez's sore side muscle only caused him to miss two games. Upon his return, he hit a grand slam in his second game back, the 22nd of his career to pass Manny Ramirez and move within one of Lou Gehrig's alltime mark. A-Rod's great spring training has carried over into the regular season, as he ranks second in the AL in slugging percentage (.667) and OPS (1.108), trailing only Toronto's Jose Bautista in both.
 
7St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 12
Though beleaguered by a bacterial infection around his right eye, manager Tony La Russa is continuing his active managing style. He removed Ryan Franklin as closer in favor of Mitchell Boggs, who saved his first three chances before blowing an opportunity Wednesday night. He has used 21 batting orders in 24 games, not using any more than twice. And when rain was scheduled to hit St. Louis Friday night, La Russa shrewdly warmed up reliever Miguel Batista rather than scheduled starter Kyle McClellan. The game was delayed after Batista threw six pitches, and La Russa used McClellan after the rain delay in what became a 4-2 over their division rival Reds.
 
8Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 11
One year after allowing more hits (246), earned runs (117) and homers (34) than anyone in the AL and three years since throwing his last complete game, Rays starter James Shields went the distance in consecutive outings last week, beating the White Sox 2-1 and the Blue Jays 2-0, as he struck out 16 and allowed just four hits over those 18 innings. His groundball rate, swing-and-miss rate and strikeout-to-walk ratios are all pretty steady, meaning the turnaround can be at least partly explained by Batting Average on Balls In Play, which is generally around .300 for all pitchers. Last year Shields was a little unlucky (.345 BABIP) and so far this year he's been a little lucky (.243).
 
9Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 4
Upon centerfielder Peter Bourjos' call-up to the majors last year, he was the speedster and immediate defensive sensation that pushed nine-time Gold Glove winner Torii Hunter to rightfield, but Bourjos could barely hit, batting just .204. The Angels maintained all winter that he'd quickly develop into a significant offensive contributor, and he's done more than that in his first 25 games of 2011. Bourjos is hitting .318 and leads the majors with four triples and his team with a .541 slugging percentage.
 
10Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 14
The Reds' offense -- baseball's highest scoring, with 132 runs -- balances power and speed. Many of their hitters are clearly swinging to get elevation, as evidenced by their NL team leads in home runs (31), sacrifice flies (11) and the unfortunate side effect of infield pop-ups (14.0 percent); they rank third in the NL in flyball percentage (39.0). But Cincinnati also leads the majors in infield hits (29), according to FanGraphs, and ranks second in the NL in stolen bases (23).
 
11Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 10
If Ryan Braun keeps up his current pace, there'll be no disputing he's worth every cent of the now $145.5 million the Brewers owe him from now through the end of the 2020 season. On Thursday Braun agreed to a five-year, $105-million extension covering the 2016-2020 seasons ? a remarkably far-off deal that could work out but carries obvious risk -- but then he started hitting like he was still trying to earn it. In his next five games from Friday through Tuesday Braun went 9-for-22 with four home runs. He now leads the majors in homers (nine) and ranks fifth in OPS (1.143).
 
12Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 23
Through his first six starts, Derek Lowe is striking out 8.6 batters per nine innings, the highest rate of his career, and that includes his time spent as a closer. (With less need to pace themselves, most pitchers tend to strike out more batter as a reliever than as a starter.) The difference-maker? A slider that Lowe is throwing with more frequency. According to data at FanGraphs.com, he has reduced the use of his sinker from a career rate of 69.3 percent (and 63.9 percent in 2010) to just 46.4 percent this year, while upping his slider from a career rate of 15.0 percent (and 16.1 percent last year) to 26.9 percent.
 
13Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 16
On Saturday the A's snapped a 20-inning scoreless streak with a nine-run outburst against the Mariners that included a very unlikely event: a multi-home run game for Oakland, including one by shortstop Cliff Pennington. It was only the 11th homer of Pennington's four-year career, Oakland entered the game -- their 21st -- with only eight homers, so those two were a 25 percent increase on their season total. It was the team's second multiple-homer game of the year. The A's are second-to-last in the majors with only 11 home runs.
 
14Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 19
While most of the attention for the Dodgers has centered on commissioner Bud Selig's appointment of former Rangers president Tom Schieffer to head the team's day-to-day business operations, L.A's biggest immediate concern is in the ninth inning. On Monday closer Jonathan Broxton blew a save to the Marlins and saw his ERA bloat to 4.35, befitting a long reliever more than a closer. As well articulated by former SI.com contributor Jon Weisman, Broxton's problem has been about "a loss of dominance." His K/BB ratio has fallen from 3.93 to 1.14 in the last two years, during which time his swing-and-miss percentage has dipped from 31.5 to 22.3 and his average fastball velocity from 97.8 mph to 94.3.
 
15Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 18
Not that there was really any doubt, but Miguel Cabrera has, once again, confirmed that he is an otherworldly hitter, seemingly impervious to disruption. Despite the events of the spring -- namely, his arrest for an alleged DUI and the unfortunate details accompanying it -- Cabrera is off to one of his best starts. A year after leading the majors in RBIs (126) and the AL in OBP (.420), he's now second in the league in runs (21) and OBP (.442), while ranking fourth in OPS (1.031). He also leads the Tigers in doubles (seven), homers (five) and RBIs (16).
 
16Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 7
Since 2003, the Rangers and Royals share a spring training complex in Surprise, Ariz., and given the clubs' head-to-head matchups in recent years, one starts to wonder if the Rangers have spies or if the Royals have a double-agent selling all their secrets. Since the beginning of the 2005 season, Kansas City is just 17-35 (a .327 winning percentage) against their springtime neighbor, a record that includes Texas' three-game sweep of Kansas City last weekend. Admittedly, the Royals have only a .408 winning percentage overall since 2005, but the mark against Texas is their second-worst, as their record against the Yankees is a miniscule .0004 worse.
 
17New York Mets
Last Week: 30
Welcome back, Jason Bay. After missing the season's first 18 games with a rib cage injury, he returned last Thursday and doubled in his first game back, starting a six-game hit streak during which he went 9-for-23 with a home run and the Mets won each game. The wins may have been against the other sub-.500 teams, Houston, Arizona and Washington, but that's progress for both a player and a team that needed some good news.
 
18Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 21
In a three-game series last weekend, the Rays did not retire Jose Bautista until the fourth inning of the third game -- in his 11th plate appearance. In his first 10 times up, Bautista went 6-for-6 (one single, one double, one triple and three home runs) with four walks. "He's very reminiscent of Barry Bonds in 2002," Tampa Bay manager Maddon told reporters, regarding Bautista. "In the World Series where every time he swings the bat it looks like it's going over the wall. Tremendous plate discipline, very aggressive swing, it's an understatement to say he's locked in right now. He's just on a different planet." Bautista deservedly getting the Bonds treatment too: Through 21 games, he leads the majors in OPS (1.283) and walks (24) and leads the AL in home runs (eight) and OBP (.515).
 
19San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 9
Upon Cody Ross' return from the DL to the active roster, rookie first baseman Brandon Belt, who was batting .192 in 52 at bats, is gone but not forgotten. Belt homered in his first plate appearance back at Triple-A Fresno; he's playing outfield in the minors to make him more versatile; his name appears on the NL All-Star ballot that was released Tuesday; and the Giants have reportedly made Nate Schierholtz available in trade talk, suggesting they are looking to open a roster spot for Belt's return. And the way 21-year-old starter Madison Bumgarner is pitching -- 0-4 with a 6.17 ERA and 1.76 WHIP over 23 1/3 innings in five starts -- he could be next for a short visit to Fresno.
 
20Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 13
Through the first four weeks of the 2011 season, the sequel to the Year of the Pitcher has been more pronounced than the original -- just don't tell the Diamondbacks. Their team ERA (5.05) ranks last in the majors, meaning the Diamondbacks have largely had to slug their way to their first 10 wins. But hitting hasn't been a problem: Arizona is tied for second in the NL in home runs (27) and third in slugging (.431).
 
21Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 22
Vladimir Guerrero has started all 22 games for the Orioles, and he has drawn zero walks. A notorious freeswinger, Guerrero is outdoing even himself. Twice in his career he's had as few as 19 walks (in 1997, when he had 354 plate appearances, and in 2009, when he had 407 plate appearances). Only four times in major-league history has a player finished a season with at least 400 plate appearances and five or fewer walks -- last done by the Blue Jays' Alfredo Griffin in 1984. Guerrero is on pace, for now, to play 162 games, meaning he could become the 23rd player in history with 600 PA's and 15 or fewer walks, last accomplished by the Tigers' Deivi Cruz in 2000 and the White Sox' Ozzie Guillen in 1989. No player with 600 PA's has ever walked fewer than 13 times.
 
22Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 25
For a while, it seemed SI's famed cover curse extended to its Kids' magazine. Red Sox leftfielder Carl Crawford appeared atop April's baseball preview issue, only for him to begin the season 10-for-74 (.135). But as has been the case for most of the past decade, the Angels cure all Red Sox woes. Boston swept Anaheim in a four-game series -- since July 18, 2004, the Sox are 46-29 (.613) in regular and post-season games against the Angels, including three playoff series victories in four tries -- and Crawford smacked two-hit games on Saturday and Sunday, including his first home run of the season.
 
23Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 24
The Pirates are exactly the team that should have taken a chance on failed Angels prospect Brandon Wood. Rated as high as the No. 3 prospect in the game by Baseball America in 2006, Wood struggled in Anaheim, batting just .168 with a .197 OBP in 173 major league games over parts of five seasons. The Angels finally waived him last week and the Pirates, who were in desperate need of an upgrade at shortstop and plenty of time to be patient with a young player, claimed him. In his first start on Monday, Wood smacked a two-RBI double and in his first three games reached base in four of 10 plate appearances.
 
24Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 26
In adjusting to being a full-time D.H. for the first time in his career, Adam Dunn explained how he stays active between at bats: taking swings in the batting cage, playing a game in which he teammate Brent Lillibridge flip the ball back and forth using only their gloves and even working on his putting. "I would call it boring," Dunn said, "but I've got to have something to do. I can't sit there and watch because I'll feel useless." His swing isn't quite right (he's batting .172 with just two home runs), but that probably has more to do with his rapid return from early-April appendectomy surgery than anything else. The White Sox need more production from him -- but it's a lengthy list, as only Paul Konerko and Carlos Quentin are hitting well.
 
25Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 15
Rightfielder Kosuke Fukudome is off to an outstanding start. He's 22-for-48 with 10 walks, good for a staggering .458 batting average and .552 OBP. But only one of his hits have gone for extra bases -- it was a double -- and he has no stolen bases, making him wholly dependent on his teammates to drive him in. That hasn't happened. Despite leading off eight games for the Cubs and reaching base 32 times, he has scored just four runs.
 
26Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 28
This seems almost unfathomable for the Minnesota Twins, but the catcher position has been a glaring weakness so far this season. With Joe Mauer hurt -- he's played just nine games and has been ineffective when in the lineup -- the position has been handed over to Drew Butera, with some relief from Steve Holm. As a trio, they are batting .183/.227/.232. That's an OPS of .459, which ranks 29th in the majors for that position, ahead of only Boston. Meanwhile, former prized catching prospect Wilson Ramos, whom the club traded for reliever Matt Capps last year, is batting .375/.426/.563 for the Nationals.
 
27Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 29
Centerfielder Franklin Gutierrez is probably embarrassed that his medical condition -- irritable bowel syndrome -- was broadcast across the nation over the weekend on news wire services and TV tickers. But at least he finally has a diagnosis and can have it treated. Ryan Langerhans and Michael Saunders have platooned in Gutierrez's absence. Neither has hit well, with Saunders batting .240 while playing center and Langerhans .152, though the latter has three home runs and a .364 OBP at the position.
 
28Houston Astros
Last Week: 27
The Astros' pitchers are making a strong case to hit higher than ninth in the lineup. As a staff, they began the year with a .349/.378/.419 batting line with 15 hits in their first 43 at bats. All five starters have multiple hits, led by J.A. Happ who is 4-for-7 with a double and two RBIs. Interestingly, he's actually struck out three times, meaning all four times he's put the ball in play, it has been for a base hit (a cool 1.000 BABIP). The Astros' No. 8 hitters -- usually catchers Humberto Quintero and J.R. Towles -- are actually hitting even better (.337/.402/.506), giving the illusion that the pitchers are protecting them in the lineup.
 
29Washington Nationals
Last Week: 17
When catcher Wilson Ramos homered (twice) on Tuesday, he became the 11th National to hit a roundtripper this season, tying the Mets for the most players with at least one homer this season. The stat, however, can be a back-handed compliment: The good part is that a lot of players have some power, but the bad part is that it's a sign of large roster turnover. The all-time record for most players with at least one home run is 25, set by the 2001 Rockies. Second place belongs to the 2010 A's with 24. Washington is already halfway to its franchise high of 22 in 2006.
 
30San Diego Padres
Last Week: 20
It's starting to look like the Brad Hawpe experiment has already run its course. Hawpe, a successful outfielder with the Rockies for most of the past decade, inexplicably saw his power and on-base skills diminish last year, leading to his release and similarly sluggish offense after signing with the Rays. The Padres signed him to play first base -- where he played early in his minor league career -- but his bat hasn't rallied (.143/.191/.190, 0 HRs) and he hasn't exactly taken to first base, a point that was reinforced with a costly error Wednesday. It might be time to promote prospect Kyle Blanks for good and give him the at-bats.

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