Thursday April 15th, 2010

Armed with a press credential, the Extra Innings package, bookmarks to Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs and a limp thanks to an old Wiffle ball injury, I've been charged with the privilege of composing this season's weekly MLB Power Rankings. The Phillies open up in the top spot in the first of our 25 weekly installments of the Power Rankings having lost only twice, when the Nationals beat them 6-5 a week ago and when Jayson Werth shaved his beard, though it seems to be making a comeback. (Note that the Power Rankings this week and all weeks going forward are not based on potential or projections of where a team will be at season's end, but on how that team has played until this point of the season.)

MLB Power Rankings
1Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: N/A
They've have scored the most runs in the majors (64) and until Wednesday had given up the fewest (but are still tied for third best, with 29). They're reaching base most often (.401 OBP) and slugging the best (.533). They're even the only team to have thrown a complete game, thanks to new ace Roy Halladay. In other words, the Phillies are dominating every phase of the game and rightfully earn the No. 1 ranking for the first week.

Their efforts to protect the top spot do get tougher, as they welcome the Marlins over the weekend before embarking on a nine-game road trip to Atlanta, Arizona and San Francisco.
 
2St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: N/A
The shutout of the hapless Astros for Monday's Busch Stadium opener was akin to a college football power scheduling a Division I-AA for homecoming, but the Cardinals impressed in their first week by winning two series on the road, against division rivals Cincinnati and Milwaukee, losing their two games by just one run each. As important as the mashing of Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols (collectively, a .359 average with eight home runs) has been Colby Rasmus' on-base skills; he's drawn nine walks and has a .467 OBP, thus making the heart of their order even deeper.
 
3Minnesota Twins
Last Week: N/A
The most reassuring stat at the start of the Twins' season may be 65, as in the temperature at first pitch for the first game in Target Field history, temporarily alleviating concerns of an open-air stadium in Minnesota. For the rest of the season, the key number may be 100, as in the percentage of saves Jon Rauch has converted thus far in place of injured All-Star Joe Nathan. Rauch is a perfect 5-for-5 in the club's first nine games.
 
4San Francisco Giants
Last Week: N/A
Sure, Mark DeRosa and Aubrey Huff are collectively hitting just .238, but they've walked a combined 10 times already -- and perhaps that plate discipline is wearing off on their teammates. The Giants worked 30 walks in their first eight games (nearly double their per-game walk rate of the previous year), compared to just 16 in the same number of games to start last season, when they were the majors' least-patient team. As Carney Lansford, then the hitting coach of this free-swinging lot before being replaced by Hensley Meulens this past offseason said last year, "We don't have a lot of what I call 'professional hitters.'" The walk rate may not last, as the Giants see a major-league-low 3.61 pitches per plate appearance, but perhaps the influence of DeRosa and Huff can hone the plate discipline of their teammates the way Bobby Abreu impacted the Angels' hitters last season.
 
5New York Yankees
Last Week: N/A
The defending World Series champions have arguably had the toughest schedule over the season's first 11 days -- at the Red Sox, at the Rays, home for the Angels -- and have still taken care of business, going 5-3 and picking up their rings along the way. Two small warning signs: Javier Vazquez (0-2, 9.82 ERA) has looked like a true No. 4 starter so far, and Mark Teixeira (.097 average, 0 HR) has gotten off to a poor start even by his own lowly April standards.
 
6Detroit Tigers
Last Week: N/A
In consideration of their fans who are held up by traffic: The Tigers have decided not to score early in the game. They already have four comeback wins in which they trailed after the sixth inning. Detroit's five best-scoring innings have been the fifth through ninth, when they've pounded out at least five runs in each, led by 14 runs in the seventh.
 
7Colorado Rockies
Last Week: N/A
The Rockies have the NL's fourth-best run differential (plus-16), but all three teams that rank above them have had the luxury of playing the Astros. Colorado is 5-3 despite a sluggish start from shortstop Troy Tulowtizki (.212 BA, 0 HR, 4 RBIs) and the revelation that he chose a Miley Cyrus song for his at bat music (scroll down a little). Perhaps that's the culprit.
 
8Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: N/A
Admittedly, both of his starts came against the Orioles, but in the early going Matt Garza has looked like the ace he has long been expected to become, throwing eight innings of one-run ball for a win in each. Those long starts have been particularly helpful because the Rays bullpen has a 7.01 ERA in 25 2/3 innings, a level of atrocity that is better only than that of the Royals.
 
9Texas Rangers
Last Week: N/A
Nelson Cruz might have had a point in his commercial comparing credentials with A's closer Andrew Bailey. Cruz has been the AL's best hitter so far, slugging nine extra-base hits, including six home runs, in his first eight games. His Monday night homer gave the Rangers an extra-inning win and drew a gasp from the Angels when it was shown on their clubhouse television.
 
10Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: N/A
The story deservedly getting the most attention this spring is that of Mike Leake, the 22-year-old 2009 first-round pick who essentially jumped straight from college to the majors, except for six appearances in the Arizona Fall League. But it's the retention of 35-year-old third baseman Scott Rolen -- who signed a two-year extension in the offseason after being traded to Cincinnati at last year's deadline -- that's had a more meaningful impact on the Reds' early success, as he has belted three home runs and has compiled a .371 OBP, solidifying the No. 5 spot in the lineup.
 
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