Thursday May 12th, 2011

To update a phrase: Neither home, nor road, nor day, nor gloom of night, stays these Phillies from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.

This year's Phillies have been dependable and efficient, boasting winning records in nearly every split: home or road, daylight or nighttime, one-run games or blowouts, against the East, Central or West. The lone blemish is a 1-2 record in extra-inning games.

Otherwise Philadelphia, a preseason favorite to have an historically great season, has the best record in the majors at 24-12, a .667 winning percentage. The Phillies don't have a winning streak longer than five, but only twice have they lost back-to-back games. Through their steady and at times spectacular play -- they've shutout six opponents already -- the Phils claim the top spot in this week's SI.com MLB Power Rankings.

The schedule gets tougher from here, however. Only seven National League teams had winning records last year. The Phillies, of course, were one of them and thus far they've only played two of the other six clubs with 2010 winning records for a total of 10 games (going 7-3), though their next five series -- at Atlanta and St. Louis and then home for Colorado, Texas and Cincinnati -- all feature teams with 2011 winning records.

NOTE: All stats are updated through Wednesday, May 11.

MLB Power Rankings
1Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 2
Chase Utley crushed two home runs and went 5-for-7 on Tuesday in his first extended spring training game as he recovers from a knee injury, but if Phillies fans are looking for more immediate good news below the major league level, they should be focused on rightfielder Domonic Brown. In 14 games at high Class A Clearwater and Triple-A Lehigh Valley, Brown already has four home runs to go along with a .358 average and .426 on-base percentage. Given the struggles of Philadelphia's corner outfielders, he could be an instant remedy.
 
2Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 1
A month shy of the two-year anniversary of the 2009 draft and all six college pitchers selected in the first round's top 15 picks have already reached the majors. The last of the group to make it was the University of North Carolina's Alex White, whom the Indians picked No. 15 overall, and who outdueled the Angels' Jered Weaver for a win on Saturday. White, who has thrown quality starts in each of his first two outings, was sufficiently impressive that he remained in the major league rotation even after Carlos Carrasco returned from the D.L. (Jeanmar Gomez was optioned instead.) White's in good company, as the other five college pitchers picked early in '09 were the Nationals' Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen, the Braves' Mike Minor, the Reds' Mike Leake, and the Royals' Aaron Crow.
 
3Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 8
A Rays outfielder was promoted and made a big splash, just as the fan base had long expected. The one catch is that, while Tampa Bay fans have heard about uber-prospect Desmond Jennings for years and have only seen him in a September cameo, it was Brandon Guyer that was promoted last week, homering in his first-major-league at bat. Guyer, 25, a fifth-round pick of the Cubs out of the University of Virginia, was acquired in the offseason's Matt Garza trade -- the same deal that brought new fan favorite Sam Fuld into the mix -- but was sent down after only one start. Jennings and Guyer, however, are both playing well in Triple-A and will push for more extended promotions this summer.
 
4New York Yankees
Last Week: 6
So I was off by a year. Before 2010, I predicted that Curtis Granderson would hit 35-40 home runs as a Yankee thanks to a flyball swing tailor-made for new Yankee Stadium. That didn't come close to happening last year when a slump and a groin injury derailed him in the first half and he finished the year with 24 homers and the worst OBP (.324) since he became an everyday player. But in 2011 Granderson holds the major league lead with 12 home runs -- a pace for 57 this season -- and it could continue: His flyball rate (51.1 percent) is the highest of his career.
 
5Florida Marlins
Last Week: 3
Introducing "The Sanchi." On Sunday the Marlins were led by first baseman Gaby Sanchez and starting pitcher Anibal Sanchez -- no relation -- who powered and pitched Florida to an 8-0 win over the Nationals. Anibal carried a no-hitter into the seventh and finished with 11 strikeouts and only two hits allowed in seven innings. Gaby went 4-for-4 with two doubles, a home run, three RBIs and three runs. Gaby was also named NL Player of the Week and enjoyed an eight-game stretch in which he batted .500 (16-for-32) with three homers and 13 RBIs.
 
6St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 7
Two of the Cardinals' relief revelations this year have been young righthanders Fernando Salas and Eduardo Sanchez from Mexico and Venezuela, respectively. Salas, 25, has pitched 12 2/3 innings with a 1.42 ERA while Sanchez, 22, has stepped into the closer committee and notched saves on his first four tries while striking out 21 in 14 innings for an absurd 13.5 K/9 ratio. His first save came in just his sixth career major league appearance. That's a credit to international scouting and, of course, renowned pitching coach Dave Duncan. And St. Louis' biggest prize of all, Carlos Martinez, 19, made his U.S. minor league debut on Saturday, striking out six in four no-hit innings for the Class A Quad Cities River Bandits.
 
7Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 5
It wasn't as electric as Stephen Strasburg's debut last year, but Braves' top prospect Julio Teheran impressed in his first major league start on Saturday. For one, he faced a more seasoned opponent than Strasburg (the Phillies rather than the Pirates), but Teheran also only turned 20 in January, becoming the first person born in 1991 to reach the majors. He gave up three earned runs in 4 2/3 innings and took the loss, but Braves management expressed their delight. After all, Baseball America's preseason No. 5 prospect is 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA in 30 innings at Triple-A this year, so they know bright days are ahead as the crown jewel of the organization's embarrassment of pitching riches.
 
8San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 18
San Francisco's starting pitchers are keeping games low scoring and close -- and so too are their hitters. The Giants have won seven of their last eight games to jump into a tie for first place in the NL West while scoring more than four runs only once. Of those seven wins, their margin of victory was more than two only once, and the final score in that one was 3-0. The bullpen, however, has been up to the task. In its last eight games, Giants relievers have allowed only one run and are working on a 21-inning scoreless streak.
 
9Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 16
With only four strikeouts and more groundballs than flyballs, Saturday's start by Justin Verlander hardly seemed like the Tigers pitcher we've come to know except for the end result: total domination. Verlander mixed his standard 100 mph fastballs with hard breaking balls to no-hit the Blue Jays for his second career no-hitter. It happened to come after former Detroit ace Jack Morris offered a pointed criticism that Verlander was too in love with strikeouts. But this no-hitter suggests that Verlander, who is constantly evolving as a pitcher, can excel as more than one style of pitching.
 
10Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 12
Last week's Power Rankings touted the return of Johnny Cueto -- who threw six shutout innings in his first start since being activated from the DL -- but he hasn't even been the most impressive Reds starter to return from injury. Homer Bailey has allowed just one earned run in 13 innings, going 2-0 and striking out 12 compared to only one walk. But there is one major caveat to his dominance: Both starts have come against the last-place Astros, who rank last in the NL in homers and walks.
 
11Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 9
Manager Mike Scioscia won his 1,000th game on Sunday. The two-time AL Manager of the Year (in 2002 and '09) is the 23rd to win at least that many with the same team, and of course he has spawned three managers from his staff: the Rays' Joe Maddon and the Padres' Bud Black, each of whom has already won a league manager of the year award, and rookie skipper Ron Roenicke with the Brewers. Scioscia, the AL's longest-tenured manager, continues his outside-the-box thinking: On Tuesday he started second baseman Howie Kendrick, a career infielder, in leftfield. And now he'll have to get creative in replacing Kendrys Morales, who on Wednesday was ruled out for the rest of the season.
 
12Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 4
The curious case of Ubaldo Jimenez's disappearing fastball may be solved. According to data on FanGraphs.com, his fastball, which averaged 96.1 mph each of past two years, had averaged only 92.7 through first five starts this year, helping explain why he has a 5.88 ERA. But Pitch f/x data at BrooksBaseball.net shows his four-seam fastball averaged 94.6 mph in his fifth start on Friday and touched as high as 97.4. That's still slightly down from last year but far less cause for alarm for the burgeoning ace, if he continues his upward trajectory back to his norm.
 
13Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 13
First baseman Eric Hosmer had little left to prove in the minors, after beginning this season by hitting .439 in Triple-A in his first 26 games, helping push the date of his big-league promotion up a bit. So frenzied was his Kansas City debut that nearly 10,000 additional tickets were sold that day -- eliciting a comparison to Bo Jackson -- and he hasn't disappointed, going 4-for-16 with five walks (.409 OBP). On Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium he hit his first major league homer and added an extra-inning sacrifice fly for his first game-winning RBI.
 
14Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 11
A few hours after the A's learned that Dallas Braden will need what could possibly be season-ending shoulder surgery, the club caught a small break. While a quality starting pitcher like Braden is worth more than one win -- in fact, his Wins Above Replacement the past two seasons suggest he was worth three wins in each -- a major rainstorm washed out a game in which Oakland was trailing 7-0 in the fourth inning. By league rules it will be replayed in its entirety, which is no small matter for two clubs tied in the standings and expected to be competing with each other until September.
 
15Texas Rangers
Last Week: 4
Count Rangers first baseman Mitch Moreland among those who didn't appreciate the aforementioned cancellation against the A's. Moreland had a grand slam ? which would have been the first of his career -- wiped out by rain. For the second straight night the Rangers had pounded the ball while using a lineup manager Ron Washington crafted while watching Seinfeld.
 
16Washington Nationals
Last Week: 26
The Nationals, despite a 9-7 home record and a .500 overall record, are still not drawing the crowds they'd like. They're averaging 20,606 per game (49.6 percent capacity), down from 22,568 (53.9 percent) last year. Lacking (most likely) either Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper to put fans in the seats -- until at least September on both counts -- Washington is introducing Dollar Monday during which tickets, hot dogs, peanuts and parking will all go for a buck and will be followed by Two Dollar Ticket Tuesday. The Pirates are the opponent Monday and Tuesday; when they played last year, the first game drew 40,315 for Strasburg's debut while the next two games drew 40,643 . . . combined.
 
17Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 14
With a win on Sunday, the first digit of the Pirates' winning percentage was a '5' for the first time this late into a season since 2005. In their next game on Tuesday, Pittsburgh won again, pushing its record to 18-17 (.514). After 18 consecutive losing seasons, that's proper cause for celebration, particularly since their best offense is still to come, as Andrew McCutchen, Lyle Overbay and especially Pedro Alvarez are off to slower-than-expected starts. The flip side, however, is that Pittsburgh's starting rotation may be overachieving.
 
18Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 15
Adrian Gonzalez began the year, his first in Boston, while recovering from a shoulder ailment. In his first 13 games he batted just .250 with just one home run and a .396 slugging percentage. Since then the first baseman has batted .365 and has slugged .644. That larger gap between average and slugging -- 146 points in the first split; 279 points in the second split -- shows that he's driving the ball better for extra bases. He leads the majors with 86 total bases, is third with 21 extra-base hits and along the way has picked up an AL-leading 29 RBIs.
 
19Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 19
When Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hit streak was snapped on July 17, 1941, he went back to work the next day and started a new streak of 16 games. After Andre Ethier's 30-game streak ended Saturday, he too went back to work the next day. The Dodgers rightfielder hit a two-run homer on Sunday and smacked a single on Monday, his 50th hit of the season, putting on pace for 225 this season. He had hits on Tuesday and Wednesday too, giving him base knocks in 36 of the 38 games he's played this season.
 
20Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 20
The struggles of Cubs first baseman and all-around good guy Carlos Peña have been difficult to watch, as the 2009 All-Star and AL home run champ batted just .196 with the Rays last season with 28 home runs, his fewest in four years. He then had a wretched start to this year, batting .157 with zero home runs and six RBIs. But in his last seven games Peña is 10-for-22 (.455) with three homers and has doubled his season RBI total to 12.
 
21Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 22
Just as too many chefs can spoil the broth, so too, does it seem, that too many closers can spoil the save. The Blue Jays have four relievers (Jon Rauch, Frank Francisco, Octavio Dotel and Jason Frasor) with at least 32 career saves -- not to mention starter Brandon Morrow, who has 16 in his past life as a reliever -- yet have saved only 58.3 percent of all opportunities this year. Rauch was 5-for-5 before blowing his sixth chance and receiving the quick hook in favor of Francisco, who blew his third opportunity. Among the teams with a worse save rate are the White Sox, Orioles and Red Sox, each of whom have at least two past or present closers on staff.
 
22Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 29
Adam Dunn has always been one of baseball's most consistent hitters. For four season from 2005 through '08, he hit exactly 40 home runs, part of a larger (and still active) seven-year stretch in which he has hit between 38 and 46 homers with between 92 and 106 RBIs and at least 101 walks. So perhaps it's no surprise that Dunn isn't in the midst of a mere hitting streak, but that Mr. Consistent has had five straight games with a particular type of hit: a double. He's 10-for-21 in the streak (.476) and looks very much like the hitter the White Sox, who have won four of those five games, signed this offseason.
 
23New York Mets
Last Week: 26
Though the Mets just lost starter Chris Young to a shoulder injury (he's likely to be out all season), they've quietly enjoyed a terrific season from Carlos Beltran. His speed is gone after he underwent knee surgery in Jan. 2010, but the new rightfielder -- he moved off centerfield in deference to the younger Angel Pagan, who ironically is the one who's been hurt of late -- has been one of New York's best hitters. Beltran's 12 doubles are tied for the NL lead; his .380 OBP is second on the team; and he has five homers and a .892 OPS. Perhaps most impressively is that he has played in 35 of 36 games with 31 starts. Beltran is a free agent at the end of the year and such hot play could net a prospect or two for the Mets at the deadline if they trade him.
 
24Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 23
Apparently catchers are clutch. Last week this space noted how well Braves backstop Brian McCann was hitting with runners in scoring position but inadvertently neglected to mention the exploits of the Orioles' Matt Wieters. The much-hyped phenom hasn't strung together a consistent season yet -- he's got a .238/.319/.410 overall batting line -- but he's 12-for-21 (.571) with three homers and 19 RBIs with men in scoring position. The average major leaguer with 115 plate appearances has batted with 70 men on base and has 12 RBIs; in Wieters' 115 plate appearances he's had only 59 runners on but has 20 RBIs.
 
25Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 17
He's a 6-foot righthander whose fastball averages around 89 mph, but Diamondbacks' righthander Ian Kennedy is showing why he used to be such a prized prospect in the Yankees' organization. He is 3-1 with a 3.23 ERA and has made three starts of at least eight innings and no more than one run allowed, shutting down the Giants on Tuesday, the Phillies in a complete-game shutout on April 25 and the Reds back on April 8. In each of those outings he had at least eight strikeouts. Despite playing in Chase Field, the NL's most homer-happy ballpark (2.74 per game), Kennedy has allowed only three homers (with just two at home) in 53 total innings.
 
26Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 21
The Mariners' outfielders, non-Ichiro division, have barely been able to hit a lick. Normal centerfielder Franklin Gutierrez isn't yet back from his ailment, and the club's cadre of outfielders manning center and left have collectively hit for a .187 average, .270 OBP and seven home runs. It's no wonder, therefore, that Seattle decided to shake things up, designating Milton Bradley and Ryan Langerhans for assignment and promoting Carlos Peguero and Michael Wilson. Neither is considered a blue-chip prospect, but each has hit at least 25 home runs in a minor league season.
 
27Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 25
Rookie Brewers manager Ron Roenicke has been progressive with his infield defense, often overshifting even against righthanded batters, which many teams have been reluctant to do. It's hard to measure the defensive alignment's exact effectiveness -- pitching, obviously, plays a large role -- but there is a sign of it working. Opponents are batting .243 on groundballs this season, compared to .253 last season.
 
28San Diego Padres
Last Week: 30
Saves streaks are continued sporadically, unlike hitting streaks that are continued daily, which helps explain why Padres closer Heath Bell saving 41 consecutive games went so unnoticed. His streak ended Friday at the hands of the Diamondbacks, even though the game-tying run was scored on an error. Perhaps it's fitting, however, that he didn't eclipse legendary San Diego closer Trevor Hoffman. Bell, Hoffman and Rod Beck (who ended his career as a Padre) are all tied for the fourth longest streak in history with 41.
 
29Houston Astros
Last Week: 28
Jason Bourgeois, a 29-year-old second-round pick in 2000 draft, is with his sixth organization and in his fourth major league season. He had never made an Opening Day roster, nor even played a big league game in April or May, until this year. Yet this year he was batting .407 (22-for-54) with 12 steals and was becoming so valuable that he started Saturday's game at second base (where he had previously played six career innings) . . . and promptly strained his oblique and received a DL trip.
 
30Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 27
Denard Span is the Twins' early leader in WAR (1.6), owing largely to his outstanding defensive range in centerfield, but Monday night showed what Span can do as a batsman. In a game against the Red Sox he swung the bat 10 times and didn't miss on a single swing, on his way to a two infield singles and a walk in five plate appearances. He has great plate discipline: Span swings at only 16.2 percent of pitches outside the zone, the fourth lowest rate in the majors, and he makes contact on 94.0 percent of all swings, tied with the White Sox' Juan Pierre for highest rate in baseball.

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