Thursday July 2nd, 2009

The NL West had its chance to catch the Dodgers with Manny Ramirez out. It didn't work. After 50 Manny-less games, the Dodgers went 29-21 and actually extended their lead in the NL West from 5 1/2 games to seven. The question now becomes: Has the rest of baseball missed its chance to catch the Dodgers in the power rankings?

MLB Power Rankings
1Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 1
As if Manny Ramirez's return to the Dodgers lineup wasn't a big enough story, there's this angle: He is actually needed back in L.A. Not that things are getting desperate or anything -- the Dodgers do still have the best record in baseball and the biggest divisional lead in the game -- but they endured a 2-5 skid that was their worst seven-game stretch at any point this season and their NL West lead briefly sank to six games, the smallest it had been since mid-May. There's also this: The Dodgers had been promoting their series in San Diego, where Manny will make his return, anyway, which means that even more L.A. fans than usual are likely to descend on San Dee-ago (which of course means, um, never mind) this weekend. According to the information on their website, the single room ($699), double room ($999), triple room ($1,399) and quadruple room ($1,699) options are all sold out. And I don't think it's because Hiroki Kuroda and Randy Wolf are starting.
2Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 2
What do a comedy writer, a documentarian, a NASCAR driver, two comedic film directors, a Harvard Law professor and a Fortune 500 CEO have in common? They were among the star-studded guests at the wedding of Red Sox owner John Henry last week. Henry, 59, married 30-year-old Linda Pizzuti, and the reception -- featuring Larry David, Ken Burns, Carl Edwards, the Farrelly brothers, Alan Dershowitz and Jack Welch, among others -- was held in the outfield at Fenway Park. Besides being a virtual gold mine of comedic material for several seasons' worth of Curb Your Enthusiasm, the reception marked the most impressive collection of talent there since Jim Rice, Fred Lynn and Dwight Evans (another invited guest) patrolled the outfield in the mid-1970s. For a wedding present, his team immediately dropped two of three, including an epic collapse in which they blew a nine-run lead against the Orioles.
3New York Yankees
Last Week: 4
Mariano Rivera recorded his 500th career save on Sunday, and the best part about it was that he celebrated exactly the way he did after saves 1 through 499. I touched on this in a previous PRs in reference to the Brian Bruney-Francisco Rodriguez controversy, but I think Rivera is the gold standard not only as a closer (check out Joe Posnanski's excellent column this week on that topic) but also as someone who wins with class. On the eve of his milestone, Rivera was asked about his lack of gesticulations and the demonstrative behavior of other pitchers like K-Rod, Jonathan Papelbon and teammate Joba Chamberlain and said, "I go home. Simple as that. I have nothing to say against them, because that's their personalities. My personality is just different. I try to finish and go home. I don't want to waste any time. That's the way it is." All closers should be that way, if for no other reason than it seems to send a much more demoralizing message to the opponent than wild acts of celebration, however genuine and personal they may be. That message seems to be, as it was when Barry Sanders would score a touchdown and flip the ball to the referee, that you expect to succeed, and that no one can stop you. Eventually, as we've seen with those many, many teams Rivera has vanquished over the years, the opposition starts to feel the same way.
4Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 3
I got some grief earlier this season when I named the players I would most like to start a team with at each position. One of the toughest players to leave off was Tigers centerfielder Curtis Granderson, who seems to be following the Tiki Barber path of building your media career while still in your prime as an athlete: in addition to his TV studio work, he has authored blogs at two different major sports websites. This week, he took note of the striking resemblance he shares with actor Dule Hill, a veteran of both The West Wing (Best. Show. Ever.) and Psych (and that weird commercial about programming your DVR in the middle of a bank robbery). Not only do the two look similar, they are multi-talented. Hill is a trained and accomplished tap dancer and Granderson is one of only a handful of players to have had a 20-20-20-20 season (doubles, triples, home runs and stolen bases) and showing 30-30 potential this season, with 18 home runs and 13 steals thus far. Edge: Granderson. (Sorry, Charlie Young.)
5Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 6
Dodgers manager Joe Torre says he's not a big fan of interleague play, but no team is going to miss playing the other league like the crosstown Angels, who went 14-4 against the NL this year, the best record in baseball. This month alone, the Angels swept the Giants, Padres and Diamondbacks and took two of three from the Rockies. The only NL team to give them trouble was, of course, the Dodgers, who won two of three a few weeks ago. Overall, the Angels outscored their NL foes 118-75, batting .297 (they're at .278 overall) while posting a 4.06 ERA (compared to 4.68 overall).
6Texas Rangers
Last Week: 8
Rob Deer was the ultimate beer-league softball player masquerading as a major league outfielder. Deer, you might recall, played for 11 seasons in the 1980s and 90s and in the eight years he played in more than 100 games he led the league in strikeouts four times. In those eight years he averaged 27 home runs and 162 strikeouts per season while batting .222. Then again, he also landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated and is still remembered fondly, as this T-shirt will attest. What does this have to do with the Rangers? Well, Chris Davis is making Rob Deer look like Tony Gwynn. Davis is batting .202 with 15 home runs and 11 strikeouts. Yes, 110 strikeouts. At his current rate of 1.5 K's per game and projecting that he'll play 155 games this year, Davis would strike out 235 times, shattering the record held by Mark Reynolds of 204.
7Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 11
Jeff Suppan is making $12.5 million this year as part of a four-year, $42 million contract he signed following the 2006 season, in which he helped the Cardinals win the World Series and was named NLCS MVP. Brewers fans apparently feel that was an unwise investment. Suppan found himself listed on eBay this week with an asking price of $0.01 and a line that read "Worthless Pitcher From Brewers." That may be a bit harsh. Suppan, who's 5-6 with a 4.86 ERA, is no Yovani Gallardo, but he's no Ian Snell, either. The bidding soared all the way to $20.50 before the site took it down. I'm not sure what Suppan's true value is, but I think it's somewhere between $20.50 and $12.5 million.
8St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 5
I really, really wish I could write about someone other than Albert Pujols this week, but when even the man's teammates are admitting that he's carrying the club, and when he becomes just the 10th player ever to hit 30 home runs before July 1, and he hits the longest home run in the history of the ballpark, we need to give him due. It especially needs to be noted when there's only one person in the known universe who can look at what Pujols has done this season -- a .332 average with league-leading totals in on-base percentage (.453) slugging percentage (.743) home runs (30) and RBIs (77) and go, yeah, that could be better. Who would say such a ridiculous thing? Albert Pujols, of course. "To tell you the truth, it might sound stupid and greedy, but in 2006, I was pretty locked in those first two months," he told "I don't think this year I have -- yeah, I've got 30 home runs, or whatever -- but I don't think I have that consistency that I had like I was the first two months in '06. It felt in '06 that every swing that I was taking, I was hitting the ball hard. I was seeing the ball so good. This year, yes, it's been great. It was a great month. So far, great season. But I felt that it's kind of like up and down." Yikes.
9San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 9
The best nickname in baseball belongs to Pablo Sandoval, who was dubbed "Kung Fu Panda" by teammate Barry Zito. The movie's tagline, "Prepare For Awesomeness," pretty well describes every at-bat for the 245-pound Sandoval. Not only is there an even-money chance he'll swing at a pitch in the dirt, over his head or anywhere in between, he's become one of the best hitters in the National League. He ranks in the top 10 in the National League in batting average (.332), slugging percentage (.556), OPS (.940), hits (89) and doubles (23) and just completed a red-hot June in which he batted .394. Sandoval has reached base at least once in every start since May 20.
10Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 14
Well, well, well, look who finally decided to show up. A seven-game win-streak, which was snapped on Wednesday, boosted the Rays into third place in the AL East and to within four games of first, the closest they've been since mid-April. Despite all the star power in Tampa Bay, their turnaround has truly been a team effort. Take, for instance, Ben Zobrist. He's started games at six different positions this season, and his hitting has not suffered at all. He's already posted career highs in every single offensive category, earning him the coolest T-shirt among any Rays player.
11Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 7
Their skid continued, yet somehow the Phillies have managed to hold their lead in the NL East. No Phillie is struggling like Jimmy Rollins, who was benched for four games, then returned to the lineup and promptly went 0 for 5 with two strikeouts, dropping his average to .207 and his on-base percentage to .250. After a slow April and a May in which he seemed to show signs of heating up, despite batting just .238, Rollins endured a miserable June, batting just .167. Perhaps most alarmingly, he's even struggling in hitters' counts, going 0 for 6 with 2-0 counts and 1 for 11 on 3-1 counts.
12Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 13
There are three pitchers in baseball with at least 10 wins and an ERA below 4.00. One is a 25-year-old who is the year's most inspiring story, one is a former Cy Young winner building a Hall of Fame resume and the other is a 30-year-old journeyman who just pitched one of the best games of the young season: a two-hit shutout against the first-place Dodgers in L.A. on just 86 pitches. Jason Marquis may not get the publicity of Zack Greinke or Roy Halladay, but so far this year, he's deserved every bit of the praise those two have received. With that in mind, here is your brief Jason Marquis bio: A native of Staten Island, Marquis pitched in the Little League World Series in 1991 and later, had a baseball-themed bar mitzvah. He has won at least 10 games in each of the past five seasons, and has played on a playoff team every year of his career. The key to his success this season has been a revamped windup that has helped him post the highest groundball-to-flyball ratio of his career.
13Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 10
During their recent four-game losing streak, the Blue Jays scored just six runs, and no bat has been missed more than that of Vernon Wells. Wells is rapidly becoming the hitter's equivalent to Barry Zito, a man with a nine-figure contract and very little production to show for it since signing for those mega-dollars. Wells is in the third year of a seven-year, $126 million contract, and each of those three seasons has been nothing like the peak years of his career that earned him that contract in the first place. This season, he's batting just .248 with a .301 on-base percentage and .388 slugging percentage -- career low marks -- and he was benched this week by manager Cito Gaston.
14Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 17
Last week, I mentioned that if Joe Mauer went into a slump you could blame it on the Power Rankings, not on his appearance on the cover of SI, which Mauer has proven to be unaffected by once before. Fortunately, Mauer keeps right on chugging along, batting .375 this week and keeping his average at a robust .392. Three years ago I was dispatched to talk to Mauer at the All-Star Game in Pittsburgh about his chances of reaching that milestone, and although he was hitting .378 at the time, he very politely told me it was crazy to talk about a catcher hitting .400, which he then proved by batting .311 in the second half and finishing at .347 (which still led the league). That said, I don't think Mauer will do it this year either, but I can't think of anything that would be more fun to watch during the second half of the season than anyone making a sustained run at .400.
15Florida Marlins
Last Week: 18
The schizophrenic Marlins went 14-8 in April, finishing the month in first place. They then went 9-20 in May, ending up in fourth place, 6 1/2 games out. They then went 17-11 in June, the second best record in the National League last month next to the Rockies, to pull into second place, 1 1/2 games behind the Phillies. Naturally, I expect them to fall completely flat in July and wind up back in fourth place by the end of the month.
16New York Mets
Last Week: 12
The injury-ravaged Mets just endured a three-week stretch in which they posted the worst record in baseball, along with three other clubs, going just 6-14. Even worse: They're being forced to hang out with each other. Manager Jerry Manuel ordered the team to travel to Miller Park together for the Wednesday finale of their three-game series. "I asked the guys what they wanted to do, and they didn't make a decision, so we made one for them and decided we'd come in together," Manuel said. Forced team unity, lengthy losing streaks, and a mostly anonymous everyday roster filled with minor league call-ups and very few consistently reliable major leaguers. The only thing keeping them from looking like the '62 Mets right now is guys tripping themselves in the outfield. Uh-oh ...
17Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 16
One mantra every team likes to live by is, Let's win this series. No team has been better at that lately than the Mariners, who have won eight of their past nine series (the outlier was a sweep by the Rockies in mid-June). The result has been that they've crept into playoff position, but also set themselves up as maybe the most interesting team to watch this month. Will any team have a tougher decision to make at the trade deadline than the Mariners? They are above .500, but only by two games. They are only 3 1/2 games out in the AL West, but five games out in the wild card. And even though their starting pitching has the best ERA in the American League (3.89), their most valuable trading chips are probably pair of starters, Erik Bedard and Jarrod Washburn.
18Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 19
The Reds may be in the midst of the year's best pennant race, but no matter what happens the rest of the way, their season can now be considered a success: They won the Ohio Cup. No, not that one. This one. By beating the Indians four out of six this year, the Reds laid claim to that most prestigious of all titles: Best Baseball Team in Ohio for 2009. Take that, Mahoning Valley Scrappers.
19Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 20
In a poll in this week's issue of Sports Illustrated, big league players were asked which manager they'd least like to play for. Ozzie Guillen ranked second, with 21 percent of the vote, behind only crosstown manager Lou Piniella. For the life of me, I can't figure out why. Unless it has something to do with him constantly calling out his own players in the media and belittling their performance. His most recent target: shortstop Alexei Ramirez, who had another costly defensive miscue last week, prompting Guillen to say, "I made a big mistake when I said in January that he is going to be a better shortstop than Ozzie Guillen. "I never thought I was that bad." Of course, just a few days later, Guillen had thrown his support back behind Ramirez, and insisted that anyone hoping he'd be moved to centerfield to make room for Gordon Beckham was going to be disappointed. What do you think the odds are that Beckham is playing shortstop by year's end while Ramirez is forgotten about?
20Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 15
I think it's safe to say the Milton Bradley experiment is officially a disaster. In spring training, general manager Jim Hendry told me he had a very honest and open discussion with Bradley over dinner one night about the then-free-agent slugger's perceived attitude problems, and Hendry wanted to make sure he wasn't about to invest a sizable amount of money in a walking powder keg. Hendry's worst fears have been realized, as Bradley has endured a lengthy and bizarre feud with the Chicago media, was suspended for two games for bumping an umpire, forgot how many outs there were in a game, and was sent home during a game by manager Lou Piniella after he attacked a water jug in the Cubs' dugout. Oh, and he's batting .242 with only five HRs and 17 RBIs. On the bright side, at least they're stuck with each other for another 2 1/2 years. If this relationship were a Milton Bradley board game, it would be Trouble.
21Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 21
The reason the Braves beat a pair of first-place teams in consecutive days had nothing to do with pitching, nothing to do with hitting and nothing to do with home field advantage. It did, however, have everything to do with Jeff Francoeur's underwear. According to the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Francoeur has lucky turkey underwear that was given to him as a Thanksgiving gift last year by his wife. (Let's pause to reflect a moment here on the giving of gifts at Thanksgiving. OK.) The Braves were 7-0 with Francoeur wearing his lucky boxers, so he had them washed so he could wear them again on Tuesday, when the Braves rallied to beat the Phillies in extra innings.
22Houston Astros
Last Week: 22
The Astros are going to a six-man rotation because, at least in part, they feel they are so loaded with quality starting pitchers right now that they simply can't justify letting any of them get removed in favor of Mike Hampton. (First take a moment to try and name at least two members of that rotation, other than Roy Oswalt ...) You have to love that kind of optimism for a group that ranks in the bottom third of all major league rotations in winning percentage (23rd), innings pitched (26th), hits (21st), runs (25th), earned runs (25th), home runs (tied for 21st), walks (25th) and opponent batting average (22nd).
23Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 23
The Pirates traded fan favorite Nyjer Morgan to the Nationals, and coming on the heels of the Nate McLouth trade last month and last year's deals that sent away Jason Bay and Xavier Nady, the most recent move didn't sit well with pretty much everybody. "That trade kind of made guys wonder what's going on," said pitcher Sean Burnett, who was shipped with Morgan to Washington. "We don't know what direction we're going in." If these were real pirates, there'd probably have been a mutiny by now. Someone in the Pittsburgh hierarchy has got to make it clear to the players and the fans just what the plan is for an organization that has not produced a winning season since 1992 or a legitimate plan to have a winning season anytime soon.
24Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 24
I don't want to read too much into one game, but if the Orioles core group of young players -- Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold, etc. -- ever gels into a serious contender, Tuesday night's historic win over the Red Sox may well be seen as the catalyst. The Orioles rallied from a nine-run deficit, the largest in franchise history and the first time that a last place-team ever came from that far back to win against a first-place team. Even more impressive, they were still down by eight runs with only nine outs remaining, and didn't even need their turn at bat in the bottom of the ninth to win the game after putting up five runs in both the seventh and the eighth. Even if the game never has any greater significance, it was still one of the most exciting games of the season.
25San Diego Padres
Last Week: 25
Adrian Gonzalez ranks second in the National League with 24 home runs, an especially impressive feat considering he plays half his games at PETCO Park According to the website Hit Tracker, Gonzalez hit the season's longest home run (measured by standard distance, which the site says is the estimated distance the ball would have gone if it was "uninterrupted all the way down to field level, and if the home run had been hit with no wind, in 70 degree air at sea level"), 476 feet against the Pirates in April. On the other hand, Gonzalez also leads the majors with four "lucky home runs" which are blasts that the site says, "would not have cleared the fence if it has been struck on a 70-degree, calm day." In other words, pretty much every day in San Diego.
26Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 26
With a .183 batting average, one home run and eight RBIs, Mike Aviles wasn't making anyone think of Cal Ripken or Derek Jeter at the plate. But now that their starting shortstop is out for the season with an elbow injury that will require Tommy John surgery, manager Trey Hillman has the following options at shortstop: Luis Hernandez, who was hitting .174 with 0 home runs and two RBIs. Or Tony Pena Jr., who was "hitting" .100 -- no that's not a typo -- with no homers and one RBI. In other words, the Royals shortstops now have the same number of home runs and three more RBIs than they would have if they pulled a lucky fan out of the stands and asked him to play shortstop all year. Which at this point, might be an idea worth entertaining.
27Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 27
The Moneyball era is over. Settle down, you and you. The statistical revolution isn't going anywhere, despite the best efforts of middle infielders from the '80s turned broadcasters. The movie version of the bestselling book, however, has been benched. Which means Brad Pitt will not be portraying Billy Beane, Scott Hatteberg will not make his long-awaited debut on the silver screen, and there aren't many reasons to watch the Oakland A's these days.
28Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 28
Mark DeRosa became the first member of the Indians to be traded this season, and the question now is, Who will follow the multi-dimensional infielder out the door? That isn't the only question besieging the Tribe right now though. Could Cliff Lee's days in Cleveland be numbered? Will Grady Sizemore officially wait until after the season to have surgery on his damaged elbow? Will Travis Hafner ever return to form? And did this team really win 96 games just two seasons ago, and 93 two years before that?
29Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 29
A week that included only one win and a five-game losing streak has left the D-backs buried in the NL West, 18.5 games out, and the normally mild-mannered Phoenix fans are getting restless. Over the weekend, they booed Justin Upton after a pair of defensive miscues, leading Upton to fake throwing a ball into the stands. Upton later apologized, but even though it was a classy move, I say, for what? It's not like he did something unprofessional, rude or disgraceful. Besides, he's one of the only bright spots the Diamondbacks have had this year, and by all rights should be in the All-Star Game in a few weeks.
30Washington Nationals
Last Week: 30
Another lesson in just how tough the big leagues can be: Just a few short years ago, Lastings Milledge was being hailed as a five-tool, can't-miss prospect. Then he started missing. He rubbed so many teammates the wrong way as a rookie with the Mets in 2006 that they posted a sign reading "Know your place, rook!" over his locker. The next season, he got into hot water for appearing in a rap song, and since then he's been traded twice and has fallen completely off the list of the game's future stars, spending all but seven games this year in the minor leagues (and dealing with a broken finger). He's still just 24 years old, but he may be running out of chances to build on all that promise he once showed.
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