Thursday August 11th, 2011

With fewer than 50 games remaining for each team, every division -- except the American League Central -- is led by two clubs that have separated themselves from the pack.

While the Indians and White Sox have inched closer to the Tigers, in the other five divisions the gap between the second-place team and the third-place team is greater than the separation between the first- and second-place clubs.

A similar disparity exists in the Power Rankings. The top three teams -- the Phillies, Red Sox and Yankees -- are an elite class unto themselves while the other playoff contenders plus the Rays have established themselves as far better than the remaining 16 teams, none of which is any closer than 9 1/2 games of a playoff spot.

NOTE: All stats are updated through Wednesday, Aug. 10.

MLB Power Rankings
1Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 1
The Phillies' rotation rightly gets a lot of love, but that only makes the bullpen the club's unsung heroes, even if they were the stars of the MLB Network show, The Pen, just two years ago. Philadelphia leads the majors with a 92.1 percent save conversion rate. The team has had so many blowouts and complete games that the bullpen has only had 36 save opportunities in the Phils' 77 wins, but it has only blown three other chances. Ryan Madson is 22-of-23 with a 2.16 ERA, and Antonio Bastardo is 8-of-8 with a 1.41 ERA.
2Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 2
The season hasn't gone the way Carl Crawford envisioned it -- his average (.257), OBP (.293) and slugging (.396) are all his worst since his first two years in the majors in 2002 and '03 -- a but he's still had outbursts when he resembles the superstar the Red Sox signed him to be. In three games against the Yankees last weekend he went 9-for-12 and had his fourth game of at least four hits, which put him into a five-way tie for the major league lead. Of those five players, Crawford is the only one with fewer than 100 hits; he has 90.
3New York Yankees
Last Week: 3
Last week the Yankees completed an impressive four-game road series sweep of the White Sox in which their pitchers did not issue a single walk. According to, that tied the third-longest streak without a base on balls since 1919; the record belongs to the 2002 Yankees, who had a six game streak. New York's pitching staff, in its first year under new pitching coach Larry Rothschild, has reduced its walk rate from 3.4 every nine innings to 3.1. (The Yankees did, however, win the World Series in 2009 with a 3.6 rate.)
4Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 4
Now that the Blue Jays have called up Brett Lawrie -- the prospect traded for starter Shaun Marcum -- it's worth revisiting Milwaukee's offseason trades for Marcum and starter Zack Greinke, and it's immediately clear that the deals were worth it, despite the loot the Brewers had to give up. Most importantly, Milwaukee leads its division and the pitching staff has greatly improved. The rotation's ERA in 2010 was 4.65 (27th in the majors) and its K/BB ratio was 2.04 (25th). This year, led by Marcum (10-3, 3.62 ERA, 3.05 K/BB) and Greinke (10-4, 4.21 ERA, 5.36 K/BB), the Brewers' rotation ERA is 3.88 (12th in the majors) and its K/BB ratio is 2.81 (second in the majors).
5Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 5
Since returning from the DL, Chipper Jones has been reinserted into the Braves' lineup as the No. 5 hitter. How rare is it that Jones bats fifth? Before this season he had started only 16 games in his 18-year career when he wasn't batting third or fourth and hadn't done so since he started seven games in the 5-hole in 2005; before that, he hadn't batted anywhere else since 1997. Jones has gone 6-for-16 since his return but for the season is batting .264 with a career-worst .340 OBP this season.
6Texas Rangers
Last Week: 9
Seemingly every other night these days, the Rangers produce another comeback win. In their recent six-game homestand, on which they went 4-2, the Rangers had three comeback wins in which they overcame a deficit of three runs or more. Against Cleveland, Texas trailed 6-1 in the second inning in one game and 3-0 in the eighth in another before pulling out wins; against the Mariners on Tuesday Texas was behind 6-3 in the seventh before coming back to win on a Josh Hamilton single in the ninth for the club's sixth victory in its final at bat.
7Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 10
Bobby Abreu remains as stingy as ever with his swings. He offers at the least percentage of pitches (33.3) of any player in the majors but ranks 16th in the AL in OBP (.369) thanks to 69 walks; his rate of walking (14.9 percent of all plate appearances) is his highest since 2006. His power, however, has been nearly absent. Abreu has hit at least 15 home runs in 13 consecutive seasons and entered the year with a .488 career slugging percentage, but his two homers on Tuesday were just his fifth and sixth, to along with a .358 slugging percentage.
8Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 6
Doug Fister, the starting pitcher Detroit acquired from Seattle last month, has had the majors' worst run support this season, receiving 2.21 runs of backing for every nine innings that he's on the mound. So when the Tigers scored two runs in the first two innings on Tuesday night, rain came and delayed the game so long that he wasn't able to return to the mound. Fister is 4-12 despite a 3.37 ERA. In the last 40 years only two pitchers have had five or fewer wins with 12 or more losses while maintaining an ERA of 3.40 or less: Rick Lysander of the Twins in 1983 and Jim Willoughby of the Red Sox in 1976.
9Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 8
Just seven months ago before the start of spring training, Diamondbacks GM Kevin Towers said that the team would give pitcher Micah Owings -- who entering this season had nine career home runs and an .861 OPS -- some repetitions at first base in order to get into the lineup more. That hasn't happened and he hasn't hit particularly well (.235 average with no walks or extra-base hits), but Owings is having a terrific season as a pitcher. He's won three games in the last two and a half weeks and is now 6-0 with career bests in ERA (2.68) and WHIP (1.11).
10Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 13
Since the Indians last held first place in the AL Central by themselves on July 18, they've gone 7-12 and fallen two games back of the Tigers. But even after taking the first two games with Detroit in their ongoing three-game series, Cleveland still has 10 games remaining with their chief nemesis in the division, including the final three games of the season. That means the Tribe, which is 6-2 against the Tigers already, has plenty of time to make up ground.
11St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 11
The Cardinals lead the NL in runs (556) and all three entries on the slash line -- .270 average/.339 OBP/.421 slugging -- but their scoring could be even higher if they didn't keep tripping themselves up with double plays. St. Louis has grounded into 124 double plays, 20 more than anyone else in baseball, and it's not just because they've had more men on base than any other NL team; they are the team most likely to ground into a double play (14.4 percent) when there's a man on first and less than two outs.
12Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 12
At the conclusion of play on Sunday Rays first baseman Casey Kotchman's batting average, .336, was the same as what he slugged during a disastrous 2010 season in which he batted .217 with the Mariners. Tampa Bay grabbed him as a reclamation project on a minor league contract in the offseason. He started the year in Triple-A, received a quick promotion after Manny Ramirez's abrupt retirement and has raked ever since. Kotchman's average, now .340, ranks second in the AL and has been on the rise of late. He is 21-for-48 (.438) since July 29, including a walkoff home run Monday night.
13San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 7
The Giants don't hit many home runs, and recently there's been no one on base to witness it. San Francisco's last 19 home runs -- dating back to the fourth inning of a game on July 6 -- have all been solo shots, which ties the major league record set by the 1914 Phillies. The Giants are on pace for 559 runs, which would make them the 33rd team to score fewer than 600 runs in a 162-game schedule since 1982. The first 32 teams to do so won an average of 67 games (though the Giants have already won 64). Still, only two of the previous 32, the 1988 Padres and 2003 Dodgers, managed a winning record; neither made the playoffs.
14Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 19
One can't help but wonder what closer Sergio Santos has against the mound at U.S. Cellular Field -- or pitching the top half of innings -- as the righty has a pronounced home/road split this season. In 23 innings at home this year he has blown three of his 13 save chances with a 5.87 ERA and a .239 average against; in 25 2/3 innings on the road he is a perfect 14-of-14 on saves with a 0.00 ERA and .075 average against. In his two years as a major league pitcher Santos has allowed only three runs in 50 1/3 road innings and none since Aug. 21, 2010.
15Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 15
Brett Lawrie is everything the Blue Jays need right now. The 21-year-old rookie who debuted on Friday is young talent under team control for years as the nucleus around him develops. He's an infielder who moved from second base to third to fill a need. He has power (18 HRs in 69 Triple-A games). He had a splashy major league debut, going 5-for-11 with a homer in his first series. And Lawrie, who grew up in a suburb of Vancouver, is Canadian, which is no small thing as the Jays market themselves to be Canada's team.
16New York Mets
Last Week: 18
The Mets have hovered near .500 most of the season, which is about what was expected of this year's club, though the execution thereof has been impressive given the rash of injuries afflicting the team and especially the infield. First baseman Ike Davis hasn't played since May 10. Third baseman David Wright missed 58 games. And on Sunday shortstop Jose Reyes pulled his hamstring, resulting in a second DL stint, and Dan Murphy -- who has started at least 24 games at each of first, second and third base -- injured his MCL, likely ending his season.
17Washington Nationals
Last Week: 20
Jordan Zimmermann is having one of the best pitching seasons that no one is talking about. The 25-year-old is 7-9 due to a run support average (i.e. runs scored per nine innings with him pitching) of 3.25, which is the sixth-lowest among qualified NL pitchers. But Zimmermann's 3.12 ERA ranks 12th in the NL and his K/BB ratio is 4.4, which ranks sixth in the majors behind only a grouping of the game's premier aces: three Phillies (Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee and Cole Hamels), Dan Haren and Justin Verlander.
18Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 16
There's little disputing that Yonder Alonso can hit. Fielding, however, is up for debate. He's probably best suited for first base, though reigning MVP Joey Votto has become a Gold Glove-caliber defender there and won't be moving anytime soon. The Reds tried Alonso in leftfield, though he has misplayed a few balls there. Now he's taking grounders at third base, a potentially last-ditch effort to get his bat in the lineup, as he has started the year 8-for-16 with two doubles and a homer. If third doesn't work, expect Alonso to be traded this offseason in hopes of returning value at a position of need.
19Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 17
According to STATS LLC, the Pirates made regrettable history last week: no first-place team had ever fallen to 10 games back of the division lead in a period of 13 days. An unfortunate losing streak of 10 games coincided with the Brewers winning 11 of 12. Worst of all, Pittsburgh now not only is out of the (reasonable) playoff picture but also now has an uphill climb toward their first winning seasons since 1992 which Tribune-Review columnist Dejan Kovacevic argued should be the recalibrated focus.
20Florida Marlins
Last Week: 14
The naysayers have long nicked shortstop Hanley Ramirez for a perceived lack of hustle, and much of it is not without merit. So the irony of last week's injury was that it came while playing the game at great effort. Most troubling for the Marlins' admittedly faint wild card chances, it occurred with Ramirez finally hitting like a reasonable facsimile of himself. He was batting .304/.385/.500 over his last 37 games. After Ramirez's shoulder sprain, however, Florida has lost seven games in a row -- and is 5-23 this season when he doesn't start -- and essentially killed what little was left of their season.
21Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 24
As the season has progressed, the Rockies have more and more resembled their can-hit/can't-pitch days of yore. Colorado's offense is tied for third in the NL with 533 runs and ranks with a .739 OPS, but its pitching ranks 14th in the league with a 4.29 ERA. And that gap only figures to widen in the final two months because starter Jorge De La Rosa is lost for the season and former ace Ubaldo Jimenez has been traded. Likewise, the offense could improve with leftfielder Carlos Gonzalez having returned to the lineup, centerfielder Dexter Fowler hitting well and shortstop Troy Tulowitzki historically being a second-half player (his career first-half OPS is .794; second-half is .943).
22Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 23
He's Godzilla once again. Oakland A's DH Hideki Matsui ranks among the game's hottest hitters since the All-Star break. Through Sunday he had a 15-game hit streak and at the time was 37-for-82 (.451) with five home runs since the break. It's a remarkable turnaround since a midsummer drought. After hitting his 499th career home run (combined total from Japan and the U.S.), it took Matsui 25 games to hit home run No. 500, during which time his average fell as low as .209 and his OBP to .290. Now his average is back to .261 and his OBP is .336.
23Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 27
Matt Garza has been the Cubs' lone bright spot in their rotation this year, in part because of a transformation since calling Wrigley Field home. In each of the last two seasons in Tampa Bay Garza was primarily a flyball pitcher, as seen by his 0.93 and 0.80 groundball/flyball ratios, but in Chicago he's keeping the ball on the ground at nearly twice the rate of last year with a 1.53 GB/FB. After giving up 53 home runs the past two seasons combined, he's yielded only 11 so far this year. His 3.81 ERA would improve with better fielding behind him, as his Fielding-Independent Pitching (or FIP), which is an ERA figure neutralized for defense, is 3.14.
24Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 21
Yes, Dodger Stadium is a pitcher's park, but that doesn't entirely excuse the Dodgers' considerable lack of power. Los Angeles has the fewest extra-base hits in baseball, with only 165 doubles, 19 triples and 75 home runs. Traditionally, first base, third base and leftfield are power positions, yet the men who have played the most games at those positions (James Loney, Juan Uribe and Tony Gwynn Jr.) have combined for nine home runs, and the middle infielders (Aaron Miles and Jamey Carroll) haven't picked up the slack, having hit just one homer.
25Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 22
A tweet from the Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo on Tuesday suggested that Twins leftfielder Delmon Young had been placed on waivers. Young, the key player received from Tampa Bay for starter Matt Garza after the 2007 season, had a career year in 2010 with 21 homers, 112 RBIs and a .826 OPS and seemed to be a cornerstone of the Minnesota lineup. But he has struggled badly this year, hitting only four homers with 31 RBIs and a .662 OPS. With rookie speedster Ben Revere having reached the majors -- and with Young entering the final year of arbitration after already having made $5.4 million this year -- perhaps the Twins are exploring the market to see what kind of interest exists in Young and could consider shopping him this offseason.
26San Diego Padres
Last Week: 25
Veterans Brad Hawpe and Jorge Cantu failed to hit while playing first base. So too did touted prospect Anthony Rizzo. But Jesus Guzman, a virtual unknown 27-year-old rookie from Venezuela, has crushed the ball since getting his opportunity to play first for the Padres, going 43-for-123 (.350) with five homers, sufficient production that he moved into the lineup as the No. 5 hitter in July and got bumped to No. 4 in August and most recently even started a game at No. 3. His career minor league stats are impressive -- .305 average and .853 OPS -- but he only had 20 major league at bats with the Giants in 2009 before this season.
27Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 28
The latest in the Royals' youth brigade made his big-league debut last week, as second baseman Johnny Giavotella, who was batting .338 at Triple-A, went 2-for-3 with a double, RBI and walk on Friday. It was the first game of what is likely to be the Royals' infield of the future: Eric Hosmer, 21, at first base; Giavotella, 24, at second; Alcides Escobar, 24, at shortstop; and Mike Moustakas, 22, at third. Giavotella, who played college ball at the University of New Orleans, followed on Sunday with another two-hit game, this time including his first home run, which he hit off the Tigers' Max Scherzer.
28Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 26
Wins Above Replacement, or WAR, attempts to quantify a player's whole contribution -- offensive and defensive -- to his team. Even though the Mariners have a strong defense, their offensive production is so poor that the collective WAR of all their position players is 3.2, according to For perspective's sake, there are 41 individual position players with a greater WAR, led by Blue Jays slugger Jose Bautista's 6.8; no other team has a total WAR less than the Twins' 8.7.
29Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 29
Since the Summer Solstice, which was 44 games ago, Baltimore has won consecutive games only once and has put together a 12-32 record. During that time the Orioles' pitching staff -- the toast of the town earlier in the year before injuries and ineffectiveness rattled young starters Jake Arrieta, Zach Britton and Chris Tillman -- has a 5.84 ERA and allowed a .308 average against. Britton especially has had his fortunes change since the season's changed: He was 6-4 with a 3.10 ERA before June 21 and is 0-5 with a 10.27 ERA after.
30Houston Astros
Last Week: 30
Three key pieces of the Astros' future -- who spent the bulk of the year with the parent club -- are now toiling away in Triple-A Oklahoma City. Brett Wallace and Chris Johnson, the franchise's corner-infield cornerstones, were demoted a little more than a week ago and are hitting minor league pitching just fine: Wallace is 12-for-33 (.364) with five RBIs; Johnson is 9-for-32 (.281) with a home run and eight RBIs. Pitcher J.A. Happ, who was 4-14 with a 6.22 ERA and league-worst 4.8 BB/9, made his first start for Oklahoma City on Wednesday night and threw six shutout innings, allowing four hits and three walks.

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