Gennaro Filice
Thursday June 26th, 2008

As I stated a couple weeks back, these rankings will not lack fluidity. With Carlos Zambrano's injury being relatively minor and Alfonso Soriano's recovery going swimmingly, the Cubs return to the No. 2 spot. St. Louis felt the wrath of my foolishness last week, but this week they jump six spots. Meanwhile, the slumping Phillies and D-backs plummet out of the top 10.

MLB Power Rankings
1Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 1
Jon Lester has received plenty of attention (and deservedly so) for his success after beating cancer, but the 24-year-old is more than just a feel-good story -- he's currently Boston's steadiest starter. Lester has allowed three runs or less in each of his last 11 starts, posting a 5-1 record with a 2.13 ERA during that span. One thing to watch, though, is his innings count. Lester had the highest innings total of his professional career last season with 163. He's already at 103.2 innings this year. "There's a certain amount of confidence in his ability to handle a workload because of his endurance, his delivery, his arm action," Terry Francona told the Boston Herald.
 
2Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 3
Turns out Kerry Wood's not too shabby at this door-shutting business. The first-year closer converted his 10th straight save opportunity in impressive fashion Wednesday night, striking out the side with straight gas. Woods now has 49 strikeouts to just eight walks in 39.2 innings. Not to be outdone, setup man Carlos Marmol earned his MLB-leading 21st hold, striking out a pair of batters in the eighth. Marmol suffered two uncharacteristically wild outings last week, but he identified a mechanical flaw -- flying open too early -- in a recent video session and seems to be back on track. Marmol and Wood don't receive near the credit they deserve as one of the best game-ending combos in baseball.
 
3Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 4
While Erick Aybar's work at the plate this season has exceeded most expectations, his highlight-reel defense is a surprise to no one. The 24-year-old shortstop has all the tools to excel at the focal-point position, including plus range, quick hands and a cannon arm -- all of which were on display in this play against the Nats on Tuesday.
 
4Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 2
One of the biggest key's to Tampa Bay's breakout season is the reemergence of 38-year-old closer Troy Percival. Percival captains a much-improved bullpen, shoring up the all-important ninth inning. Therefore, Percival's feeble left hamstring is the Rays' chief concern these days. And according to the St. Petersburg Times, the injury "is a recurring problem that could limit his availability indefinitely."
"It's pretty much going to be a day-to-day venture is the way I'm looking at it," Joe Maddon told the Times.
Percival showed a glimpse of how the injury impacts his effectiveness on Tuesday, walking four batters in a shaky save conversion.
 
5Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 7
Justin Duchscherer made his first All-Star appearance as a middle reliever back in 2005. Scratch that. Duchscherer was an All-Star in '05, though he didn't actually appear in the game. But Duchscherer could have a chance at redemption in the Bronx in two weeks. In his first season as an A's starter, Duchscherer leads the American League with a 1.99 ERA. Far from overpowering, "The Duke" succeeds with pinpoint command. All-Star managers select the Midsummer Classic's pitchers, so Duchscherer's fate lies in the hands of Terry Francona. It probably doesn't hurt that Duchscherer threw eight innings of one-hit ball in a win against the BoSox last month.
 
6St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 12
Dear Cards faithful,
As many of you recently reminded me, I'm an (expletive). Last week, I had the nerve to place St. Louis in the 12 spot. My reasoning at the time: three straight home losses to Kansas City and the continued absence of Albert Pujols and Adam Wainwright. But it has become clear that this is flawed thinking. The Cards hold the fifth best record in baseball and simply find a way to win, with or without their two best players. As an act of contrition, I devote this space to the Batting Stance Guy's brilliant video on Cardinals batting stances, past and present. The Jack Clark impression is extra special.
 
7Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 11
When healthy, Ben Sheets is almost unhittable, as evidenced by his complete-game gem on Monday. Sheets (9-1, 2.59 ERA) finds himself right in the thick of the NL Cy Young race with Edinson Volquez, Brandon Webb and Tim Lincecum, amongst others. Of course, Brewers manager Ned Yost exudes a bit of nepotism when asked whether Sheets is the best of the bunch. "Oh yeah, no doubt," Yost said, adding that Sheets is better than "anybody in baseball, both leagues." Atlanta manger Bobby Cox is on board, too, especially when it comes to Sheets' spinner. "He's got the best curveball in baseball," Cox said.
C.C. Sabathia will be the most coveted starter in the upcoming free agency pool, but Sheets should break the bank as well, especially if he can eclipse 200 innings for the first time since 2004.
 
8New York Yankees
Last Week: 9
With Robinson Cano mired in a 0-for-17 slump, Joe Girardi took the second baseman out of the starting lineup two Saturdays ago. Cano broke the skid with a pinch hit in that game, and he's been on a tear ever since. In just 10 games, he's raised his batting average from .217 to .241. Point, Girardi.
 
9Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 13
Rick Anderson deserves some love. He may be completely anonymous on the national scale, but the Twins pitching coach does an outstanding job with the pieces he's given year in and year out. During Minnesota's current eight-game winning streak, Twins starters have given up just 11 earned runs in 52 innings. That's good for a 1.90 ERA.
 
10Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 8
Battle rapping is a cornerstone of hip hop. From Nas to 2Pac to Big L to KRS-One, most of the musical genre's giants established themselves by mastering the art of the battle rap. In preparation for the Crosstown Rivalry, Ozzie Guillen and Lou Piniella took a shot at the art form, exchanging lyrical haymakers in this delicious Chevy commercial. Sweet Lou's rhythmic shimmy is undeniably great, but I'm giving the edge to Ozzie, who delivers a knockout blow with the Minnesota Fats reference.
 
11Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 5
Of the 79 games Ryan Howard has played this season, he's gone strikeout-free just 11 times. Howard set the major league record with 199 strikeouts last season, but he's on pace to blow through that mark with 224. The amazing thing is, his 65 RBI are one shy of NL-leader Adrian Gonzalez. Talk about up and down.
 
12Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 6
Back on May 15, Brandon Webb improved to 9-0 with a win over Colorado and the Diamondbacks held the best record in baseball at 26-15. Since then, Webb has gone 2-4 (having given up 12 runs in his past two starts) and the D-backs have managed just a 14-24 mark. Arizona's declining offense is the key culprit in the team's regression, but Webb's recent mediocrity sure hasn't helped. Think positive, Arizonans, Webb went 10-4 after the All-Star break last year.
 
13Florida Marlins
Last Week: 10
What would Casey Stengel think if he saw Florida's current middle infield? Marlins second basemen Dan Uggla leads the majors with 23 homers and Hanley Ramirez leads all shortstops with 16 homers. That gives Florida 39 four-baggers from its double-play combination alone, which is more than the entire Twins team. The next-most-potent middle-infield combo is Chase Utley (22) and Jimmy Rollins (6) with 28. Uggla and Ramirez could become the first middle-infield tandem with 30 homers each.
 
14Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 15
The good news: Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney are back in the Tigers bullpen. The bad news: The hard-throwing relievers currently boast a combined 15.75 ERA. OK, so we're looking at a tiny sample size, as each pitcher's only made three appearances. It'll obviously take some time to knock the dust off these two power arms that played such a big part on the '06 AL championship team.
 
15Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 14
Almost three months into the season, the Orioles are still trying to replace Miguel Tejada. Baltimore started the season with Luis Hernandez at shortstop. Strike one. Hernandez's defensive abilities weren't as advanced as expected and he managed just one extra base hit in 79 at-bats. Next, the Orioles opted for Freddie Bynum. Strike two. The career utility man hit .192 before being designated for assignment last Sunday. Now the O's are down to Alex Cintron. "I don't really think I have anyone else who is an option right now," Dave Trembley told the Washington Post. Not quite a ringing endorsement for Cintron.
 
16Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 16
Is there a bigger mystery in baseball than Rafael Soriano's right elbow? The Braves closer has spent the majority of this season on the 15-day DL. What's the problem? Nobody really knows -- "soreness" is the vague explanation of choice. What's his timetable? Nonexistent. Bobby Cox thought Soriano could return last weekend, but continued discomfort put the kibosh on that. Elbow injuries are horrifying when it comes to pitchers, and undiagnosed elbow injuries ... well, let's hope someone figures this out soon.
 
17Texas Rangers
Last Week: 17
The Rangers currently lead the majors in runs scored, but they can't hold the top spot for long with Josh Hamilton (knee inflammation) and Milton Bradley (strained quad) sitting out. Neither injury seems too serious, but both of players have proven to be delicate in the past.
 
18New York Mets
Last Week: 18
It's always fun to predict which free-agent-pitcher-to-be will demand the most obscene amount of money in relation to his production. One potential candidate could be Oliver Perez. After a bounceback season with the Mets in 2007, Perez quickly reverted to his unbelievably erratic self this year. With a 5.29 ERA and 1.56 WHIP, he's on the verge of being taken out of the rotation altogether. But who cares about on-field production? Certainly not his agent, master spin doctor Scott Boras. Boras will hammer home one number: 27, as in Perez's age come free agency. Can't wait to see the original asking price ...
 
19Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 23
Admit it: You questioned whether Dayton Moore would pass a drug test after he signed volatile outfielder Jose Guillen to a three-year, $36 million contract. I know I did. And the deal looked even worse in May, when Guillen called his teammates "babies" during a profanity-laced tirade. But suddenly the Royals have won 10 of 11 with Guillen leading the charge. Guillen leads the majors with 28 doubles and ranks second in the AL with 60 RBI.
 
20Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 19
The Blue Jays dearth in the run-production area is frightening. Vernon Wells, who missed a month of action with a broken wrist, still leads Toronto with 31 RBI. Mr. Bonds says he'll play for the league minimum. I'm just saying ...
 
21Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 25
Whatever happened to former batting champion Freddy Sanchez? After winning the NL crown in 2006 with a .344 mark, Sanchez saw his average drop 40 points last season and this year he's sitting at .234. Don't think he'll be making a third straight All-Star team.
 
22Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 20
Barry Zito has been a complete and utter embarrassment this season. And prior to Wednesday's start, June was Zito's worst month ERA-wise. But interleague play brought the 126 Million Dollar Man a remedy: Cleveland's offense. Zito and the Giants bullpen held the Tribe to a single run. This marks the 27th time the Indians have scored two runs or less. That's over a third of their games this season. Guess that's what happens when your Nos. 3 and 4 hitters (Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez) fall off the face of the Earth.
 
23Houston Astros
Last Week: 27
"I lost my cool and I grabbed him by the neck and threw him to the ground. I jumped on top of him because at that point I wanted to beat his [butt]."
Many of us have imagined performing such acts on the boss, but Shawn Chacon actually satisfied the urge. That's his description to the Houston Chronicle of Wednesday's dustup with Astros GM Ed Wade. Houston owner Drayton McLane told the Chronicle there's "absolutely no way" Chacon will play for the Astros again.
Kind of puts a damper on Houston taking two of three in Tampa Bay last weekend.
 
24Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 21
Hitting .403 in June, James Loney is proving he can hit for average, but where's the beef? Loney hit 15 homers in just 96 games last season, but he only has six jacks through 77 games in '08. Truth be told, Loney never hit many homers in the minors. It's becoming increasingly clear that last year's power surge was an aberration. Looks like thee 24-year-old first baseman is more Sean Casey than Albert Pujols.
 
25San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 26
Jonathan Sanchez has grown exponentially since last season. The 25-year-old, power-pitching southpaw used to crumble at the first sign of trouble. Nowadays, he exudes confidence on the hill, getting out of jams by trusting his filthy arsenal. Last week, I mentioned the Giants record in games started by Tim Lincecum (which is now 11-5). Well, San Francisco is 12-4 with Sanchez toeing the rubber. The Giants still have a ways to go in their rebuilding process, but the pitching trio of Lincecum, Sanchez and Matt Cain is a nice start.
 
26Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 22
Jeff Francis is this year's Jeremy Bonderman. In 16 starts Colorado's Opening Day starter has allowed 19 earned runs in the first inning. That 10.69 first-inning ERA helps explain why the 17-game winner from last season has just three victories to his name in 2008. What's the rationale behind the early ineptitude? Francis is just as baffled as the rest of us. "If I had an explanation, I would nip it in the bud," Francis told the Denver Post.
 
27Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 28
The most dangerous job in baseball -- playing shortstop for the Reds -- has claimed another victim. Last Saturday Jolbert Cabrera (dislocated finger) became the fourth Cincy shortstop to hit the disabled list this season, joining Alex Gonzalez, Jerry Hairston Jr. and Jeff Keppinger. Keppinger returned to action this week. How can he break the hex? According to my expert source on the subject, White-Witch.org, all he needs is a sprig of rosemary, a piece of yellow paper, a red pen, scissors, a red cloth, paprika or red pepper and red cotton or string.
 
28San Diego Padres
Last Week: 24
Trevor Hoffman took his fifth loss Tuesday night after giving up back-to-back homers in the ninth, and home fans at PETCO Park showered him with boos. Jake Peavy, the game's starter, was incensed by the fans' antics. "I couldn't believe that," Peavy said. "That was as disheartening as disheartening gets." What's up with the Hoff? The future Hall of Famer has lost control of his mid-80s fastball this season. (Both of Tuesday night's jacks came off poorly-located fastballs.) If Hoffman's not placing his fastball, it doesn't matter how nasty the changeup is.
 
29Washington Nationals
Last Week: 29
Nick Johnson is well known for his patience at the plate, but the Nats first baseman has to be running out of patience with his brittle body. He's out for the season -- again -- after having surgery on his right wrist. Johnson's never had a problem getting on base (as evidenced by his .396 on-base percentage), but simply getting to the batter's box is a whole other issue.
 
30Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 30
Depressing Mariners statistic of the week: Seattle is hitting .232 with runners in scoring position, the lowest mark in baseball. Basically, with ducks on the pond, Mariners hitters take a step closer to Mario Mendoza.
 

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