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Aside from top-ranked Dodgers, American League reigns supreme

As we head into the All-Star break, we're constantly being reminded that this game "matters" because it decides home-field advantage in the World Series. But we don't need to wait for the game itself to know for sure that the AL is clearly the superior league. For one thing, they haven't lost an All-Star Game since Joe Torre's first year as a manager ... with the Yankees. Then there's the fact that the AL has dominated the interleague matchup for the past six years (going 137-114 against the NL this season). But if we need further proof of the AL's dominance, just check the Power Rankings. After the top-ranked Dodgers, who are clinging to a two-game lead over the Red Sox for the best record in baseball, the next five spots all belong to teams from the American League.

MLB Power Rankings
1Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 1
Enough about Manny. As Joe Torre said before Ramirez's return to New York on Tuesday, "Let's move on." Besides, since the Dodgers did more than OK without their dreadlocked slugger, they proved once and for all that they are not a one-man team. Take, for instance, the following: The Dodgers often start a food blogger and a bison in the last non-hitter spots in the lineup, and they're still getting more production there than anyone else in the NL. Andre Ethier, who had a food blog called Dining With 'Dre in the offseason, and Matt Kemp, who is nicknamed "The Bison" (one of the last cool nicknames in baseball), have a combined for 26 HRs and 99 RBIs thus far. In fact, no team in the National League has gotten more run-production from the seventh and eighth spots in the order than the Dodgers have. There are no easy outs here.
 
2Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 2
What did the Declaration of Independence do? That question was in the news for more than one reason this past week. The first is because of the Fourth of July holiday and the second because it is part of the civics section of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services exam that Boston's Jason Bay had to take in order to become a U.S. citizen, which he did last week. Bay, a native Canadian, followed up becoming an American by being voted an All-Star starter in our national pastime for the first time, and snapping out of his mini-slump. He's the third Red Sox slugger in recent years to become a U.S. citizen during the season. Bay batted .313 in his first six games as an American, and hit his first home run in two weeks. It was a better performance than Manny Ramirez had in his first six games after becoming a citizen in 2004 (.273, 0 home runs, .725 OPS), but not quite as good as David Ortiz (.391, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 1.032 OPS) who was also returning from a wrist injury.
 
3New York Yankees
Last Week: 3
Somehow, through three world championships, five All-Star Games and parts of 15 different seasons in New York, Jorge Posada has never managed to acquire the national cachet of, well, pretty much everyone else in his clubhouse. He has quietly gone about his business while being eclipsed by stars like Jeter, A-Rod, Rivera, Tino, Giambi, Matsui, Damon, etc. Next in line to overshadow the Yankees catcher: his wife. Laura Posada took part in the E! True Hollywood Story: Baseball Wives, and if nothing else, gave a more interesting quote than her husband ever has, telling the New York Daily News, "People think that just because you're married to a baseball player, that you're dumb, that you're a gold digger, that you're an ex-stripper. That's not the way it is. I still haven't met that one girl. Most of the girls that I know, that are baseball wives, are super sweet girls. They're successful in their own right." Posada (the catcher, not the budding TV star) is still plenty successful in his own right, too, batting .282 with 11 home runs this season while already surpassing his games-played total from his injury-ravaged 2008.
 
4Texas Rangers
Last Week: 6
Despite Andruw Jones' three homer night on Wednesday, the real slugging star in Texas remains Josh Hamilton, who is going back to the All-Star Game, but not back to the home run derby. That's too bad. Personally, I would have loved to see MLB just have Hamilton and Albert Pujols face off one-on-one in the derby. Give each guy 50 swings and see who hits the most out. In honor of the one-year anniversary of what may have been the single coolest thing I've ever seen at a sporting event, take a look back at Hamilton's amazing night in the Bronx last July. (By the way, what percentage of fans do you think actually remember that Justin Morneau, not Hamilton, won the derby last year? I say less than 20.)
 
5Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 5
There are plenty of reasons to vote for Chone Figgins to make his first All-Star team this week in the Final Vote. There's his .310 batting average and an on-base percentage approaching .400. There's his speed (his 24 stolen bases rank fourth in the AL) and his versatility (he's played at least 25 games at six different positions in his career). There's the fact that in the absence of David Eckstein, the All-Star Game needs a scrappy, gutsy player who can beat you with his heart (note to stat-heads everywhere: that was sarcasm). But this may be the best reason of all: If he gets elected, he promises to run out to his position during the game and do an Ozzie Smith-style flip. Figgins, who said he did the flip in high school and college, told MLB.com, "Flip for Chone and I'll flip for you." Unless Carlos Pena wants to dance the Tango with Brandon Inge, I'm sold.
 
6Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 4
If there's an area of concern with All-Star Justin Verlander -- and with a 9-4 record, 3.59 ERA and 141 strikeouts, which is tied with Tim Lincecum for the major league lead, there shouldn't be much concern at all -- it's this: The guy is throwing an awful lot of pitches. For the third straight start on Tuesday night, Verlander threw more than 100 pitches without getting beyond the sixth inning, and he ranks in the top five in baseball in total pitches thrown (1,944, third), pitches per game (108, fourth) and pitches per batter (4.07, third). He's actually cut down on the number of pitches per inning he had from last year (17.6 to 16.9), but as the AL Central race tightens, will the Tigers be able to rely on their ace as much as they might have to in order to hold off the Twins and White Sox, to say nothing of advance in October?
 
7San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 9
The biggest surprise in baseball may be that the Giants, losers of 90 games a year ago, are the wild card leaders despite an offense that ranks among the worst in the National League. The bigger surprise might be that the offense has actually been -- dare I say it? -- pretty impressive lately. The Giants scored at least nine runs just five times in their first 74 games, but they've done so three times in their past nine games (of course, they've also scored two runs or less three times in that span, but nobody's perfect). In that stretch, they have scored more runs (50) than any team in the National League.
 
8Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 10
Despite a four-game losing streak, there is some good news in Tampa Bay. Carl Crawford is heading to the All-Star Game for the third time, and may be headed for the most prolific stolen base season the game has seen in two decades. With 43 steals, he's only 17 away from establishing a new personal best, and he's on pace to become the first big leaguer to top 80 steals in a single season since Rickey Henderson did so with the Yankees in 1988. His exploits have helped make him the face of the franchise in Tampa Bay, where he will be honored this week with Carl Crawford Poster Night and Carl Crawford Bobblehead Night. It is not Crawford's first bobblehead, but since that one already made use of his base-stealing skills, the challenge is on for the Rays' marketing staff to come up with a cool one. Please just make sure you get the obvious details right.
 
9St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 8
Now that Colby Rasmus is well on his way to full-fledged big-league stardom, it may be time for him to upgrade his Web site. The bio links directly to his Wikipedia page, the most recent interview is from January 2007 (but it's an exclusive!) and there hasn't been a single addition to his "Articles" section since January of 2007. The best part about the site is the links at the top of the page to national baseball writers who say nice things about him. Let's see if I can come up with something that will get the Power Rankings linked atop his homepage: How about "Colby Rasmus Is the Best Player in Major League History Named Colby." No? Fine. I'll just join the chorus then: "Colby Rasmus is the best rookie in baseball." (At least until Tommy Hanson completes his transformation into John Smoltz, circa 1996.)
 
10Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 11
On top of getting the game-winning hit on Wednesday night and batting .464 over his last six games, Shane Victorino did some serious politicking to try and earn the last spot on the NL All-Star team. Among other things, he went campaigning with the mayor of Philadelphia to try and sway voters to his side (I think that falls under the category of playing to your base), and politicians responded in kind to try and get Victorino to St. Louis for his first All-Star Game. The governors of Hawaii and Pennsylvania agreed to a bet whereby whichever state got more people to vote for Victorino would receive eight (his jersey number) varieties of a local delicacy (pineapple if it's Hawaii and cheesesteaks if it's Pennsylvania) from the opposing state. Although the more important question nowadays in Philadelphia is, how many cheesesteaks -- and top minor league prospects -- would it take to get Roy Halladay to Philly?
 
11Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 12
Here's a headline you never expect to see: Rockies Take Offensive Refresher Course. What in the name of Andres Galarraga is going on with the bats in Colorado? The Rockies offense has been so mediocre lately it's making Dante Bichette's mullet turn over in its grave. The Rockies, who rank second in the league in runs, scored just 29 runs over a nine-game stretch (3.2 per game) that included only the eighth 1-0 game in the history of Coors Field, prompting manager Jim Tracy to hold a team meeting in an effort to get his hitters swinging again. Of all the sure bets in baseball, none is more of a guarantee than this: The Rockies offense will not be a problem over the long-term. They finally busted out for 10 runs on Wednesday, albeit against the Nationals, for their 23rd win in their past 30 games.
 
12Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 19
No team in baseball has a better record over the past three weeks than the White Sox, who have gone 14-6 over that span, and 8-2 in their last 10 to cut four games off their deficit in the AL Central. They also are about to get Carlos Quentin back from the disabled list. Quentin has been out since tearing a tendon in his foot in late May, but he should return after the All-Star break to a suddenly potent offense. The White Sox rank 11th in the AL in runs, but since June 27 have scored the second-most runs in all of baseball.
 
13Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 7
Ryan Braun learned a lesson the hard way this week: Don't call out your boss in public. After the Brewers lost three of four to the Cubs in Chicago, Braun said, "It would be nice to make a move. It would be nice to do something to help us out for the time being. The sooner we do it, the better." Aside from the fact that Braun may have a very short memory -- just last year, GM Doug Melvin went out and got CC Sabathia in early July -- what he said wasn't especially inflammatory. In addition to blaming the starting pitchers, he also said the offense got outhit in Chicago, and since what he said was completely true, the controversy could have ended before it began. But then Melvin fired back, saying in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "It was inappropriate for him to say what he said, and I'm not happy about it. To make the statements he made and also get on his teammates like that, it was irresponsible on his part. It just ticked me off." Melvin couldn't have been too happy to begin with. His team has lost five of six and fallen two games behind the Cardinals in the NL Central, matching their biggest deficit in the last two months.
 
14Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 14
Justin Morneau is skipping the home run derby in an effort to stay as fresh as possible for the second half. In recent years, the derby has drawn attention for sapping the power of its participants for the second half of the season, but is that really true? Here are the at-bat per home run numbers for the finalists in the last five home run derbies (in other words, the players who would have taken the most swings in the derby and thus, the theory goes, were most likely to have their swing be affected for the second half):

Miguel Tejada (2004): 22.9 pre-ASB, 16.3 post
Lance Berkman (2004): 17.8 pre, 18.6 post
Bobby Abreu (2005): 17.9 pre, 44.2 post
Ivan Rodriguez (2005): 49.7 pre, 25.8 post
Ryan Howard (2006): 11.3 pre, 8.8 post
David Wright (2006): 17.0 pre, 41.0 post
Vladimir Guerrero (2007): 22.2 pre, 20.2 post
Alexis Rios (2007): 20.6 pre, 41.9 post
Morneau (2008): 26.1 pre, 28.7 post
Josh Hamilton (2008): 18.0 pre, 22.5 post

Four of those ten actually did better after the break (although Rodriguez hit just eight homers in the second half in '05) and Morneau himself was only marginally impacted last year. In other words: Go defend your title, Justin. Maybe this time people will actually remember you won it.
 
15Florida Marlins
Last Week: 15
After years of haggling, the Marlins' new stadium was finally approved -- for good -- and the official groundbreaking ceremony will take place on July 18. The 37,000-seat stadium will feature a retractable roof and will be located on the site of the Orange Bowl. The only question now is, how many of their young stars will be there when it finally opens in 2012? No team loves a firesale like the Marlins, and this year's team has been one of the biggest surprises in baseball in the first half, staying within striking distance of the Phillies despite the fact that only one of their core of young pitchers who was meant to carry them this season (All-Star Josh Johnson) is over .500 or has an ERA below 4.30.
 
16Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 17
Among the least-discussed All-Star snubs is Mariners first baseman Russell Branyan, who ranks in the top five in the AL in home runs, slugging percentage and OPS and has been the source of much amusement for his teammates and managers. During a game earlier this season, Branyan wasn't holding on Jack Cust of the Athletics and when Branyan got back in the dugout, M's manager Don Wakamatsu asked why not. "He has the flu," Branyan told him. "I've never seen anything like that," said Wakamatsu with a hearty laugh. Branyan's majestic home runs have been causing jaws to drop all year, but none of his M's mates have begun clocking the hang time of his moonshots, like his teammates in Cleveland used to do. "I just hit 'em," Branyan told the Tacoma News Tribune. "I don't time 'em."
 
17Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 20
They just can't catch a break. Aramis Ramirez finally comes off the disabled list and pitcher Ryan Dempster goes on it, fracturing his toe after tripping on the dugout railing while trying to get on the field to celebrate a win. No sport manages to get players hurt in as many ridiculous ways as baseball. If nothing else, Dempster's injury gives everyone a chance to revisit their favorite bizarre baseball injuries. My favorites: Clint Barmes and the attack of frozen deer meat; Adam Eaton stabbing himself with a knife while trying to open a DVD; Joel Zumaya hurting his arm from too much Guitar Hero; and Chris Brown hurting himself while sleeping. (I'd mention an infamous one involving John Smoltz and an iron, but Smoltz swears it's not true.)
 
18Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 13
The bombshell announcement that Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi will listen to trade offers for Roy Halladay was greeted by the more-rabid-than-you-think Blue Jays fan base with a response that was ... measured? Indeed, the early returns suggest that Blue Jays fans aren't going to riot if Halladay were to be shipped below the border. Perhaps Ricciardi and the fans have given in to their fate as a .500 team with some serious climbing to do to get back in playoff contention. Besides, who needs a Cy Young winner when you've got Marc Rzepczynski (that's Zep-chin-ski. The R is silent, naturally)? Now there's a guy you can build a marketing campaign around.
 
19Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 18
There's a good rule of thumb in college basketball that you should never pick a team to make the Final Four if they lost a game by 30 points during the season, and I think the same lesson has to apply in baseball. If you lose by 20 runs at any point during the season, you have no hope of reaching the postseason. So despite the fact that the Reds are just 3 1/2 games out in the NL Central, you can probably pull the plug on Cincy's postseason chances after a 22-1 loss to the Phillies, the largest margin of defeat in the 141-year history of the franchise. Shortstop Paul Janish pitched for the second time this season, making him the second position player to do so this year, after shortstop Josh Wilson. In this admittedly small club, Wilson -- who pitched for both the Diamondbacks and Padres and has posted a 27.00 ERA in his two outings -- trumps Janish, who has a 49.50 ERA for the Reds.
 
20Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 21
Not a single Braves player has reached double figures in home runs, making them the only team to be so power-starved. Only one player -- Chipper Jones -- has as many as nine home runs. (Yes, Nate McLouth has a total of 14, but only five with Atlanta.) I think there's a decent chance Hank Aaron would be leading this team in home runs. And I don't mean the Hammerin' Hank of yesteryear who hit a record 755 home runs, I mean the 75-year-old team executive who hasn't faced big league pitching for 34 years. If nothing else, it would be cool to see.
 
21New York Mets
Last Week: 16
They've lost nine of 11 to fall four games under .500 for the first time since 2005, they have no offense to speak of, and they won't get Jose Reyes or Carlos Beltran back anytime soon. Also, they are hamstrung on trying to make deals to import some talent because they don't have the trading chips in their farm system. If they're looking for a center fielder, how about Lenny Dykstra? The ex-Mets and Phillies star, a former stock-picking whiz and surefire future reality TV star, filed for bankruptcy this week. He needs some money and the Mets need a center fielder. Besides, mentioning Dykstra allows me to show you this clip from maybe the greatest championship-season video ever made.
 
22Houston Astros
Last Week: 22
If it's July, it must be time for Roy Oswalt to take his performance to another level. For his career, Oswalt is just 34-32 from March through May (.515 winning percentage), but he's 24-12 (.667) in June and 76-24 (.760) from July through October. The Astros ace got started a little earlier than usual this year, going 2-0 with a 1.17 ERA in his past three starts dating to June 24.
 
23Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 24
Dave Trembley gave one of the great managerial tirades of the year so far in Seattle on Tuesday, accusing home plate umpire Tom Hallion of 1) being a liar and 2) not knowing the rules. As rants go, that was pretty good, but it's nothing compared to Trembley's predecessor as O's manager, ump-baiter extraordinaire Earl Weaver. Behold Earl in all his glory (warning: strong language).
 
24Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 23
Last week, I wrote that the Pirates' front office needed to offer some kind of explanation for the continuing series of trades that had left fans and even players puzzled as to what exactly the organization had in mind. Pittsburgh GM Neal Huntington explained that he made the Nyjer Morgan-and-Sean Burnett-for-Lastings Milledge-and-Joel Hanrahan deal because "In both Joel Hanrahan and Lastings Milledge, we acquired players with the upside to be solid to above-average Major League players." That's quite an optimistic projection for two guys from the worst team in baseball who are 1) a reliever who was arguably the worst pitcher on the team and 2) a hitter who has had character problems in his past and couldn't even stay on the big-league roster this year. At some point, the Pirates will have to consider acquiring established, quality major league talent if they hope to reach the playoffs, much less have a winning season.
 
25Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 26
Zack Greinke needs to start the All-Star Game if only to give Royals fans a reason to watch the game. It may be time to just call the statute that calls for one player from every team the Kansas City Royals Rule. For the 19th time in the last 20 seasons, the Royals are sending just a single representative to the Midsummer Classic (both Mike Sweeney and Mike MacDougal made it in 2003). And with all due respect to Ken Harvey (2004), Mark Redman (2006) and Jose Rosado (1997, 1999), most years they haven't been deserving of having even one player there. Greinke is more deserving than arguably any player they've sent to the game in two decades. Give the man a chance to start.
 
26San Diego Padres
Last Week: 25
They've won just one game all month and the two most notable things to happen to them all year are a trade that didn't go through and an invasion of bees that caused an hour-long delay in a game last week against the Astros. Still those sins are understandable. This one I don't quite get: On the team's official website, there's a quick two-minute video recapping the Padres history that hits on the franchise's high points -- Dave Winfield (my favorite player of all time) Tony Gwynn, etc. There is no Trevor Hoffman. How is that possible? How can they would keep the all-time saves leader and the man who will be only the third player in franchise history to wear a San Diego cap in the Hall of Fame out of a video like that? What the Hell's Bells is that about? I'm not sure what happened, but I am sure you shouldn't be able to make a video of any length recapping the history of the Padres without having Trevor Hoffman in there.
 
27Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 27
Nomar Garciaparra made his return to Fenway Park this week shortly after revealing that he has a "genetic condition" that affects the way his body recovers from injuries. This is exactly why some teams are trying to turn predicting injuries from guesswork to science. Garciaparra has not played more than 122 games in a season since 2003 but has signed three different contracts totaling more than $45 million.
 
28Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 29
No player has ripped his own team in public this year the way Mark Reynolds has, but maybe more of them should if the results would be the same. Following a loss in Denver, Reynolds said, "This is the major leagues. You can't go out there and make three errors and expect to win a game. We looked like the Bad News Bears out there. It's frustrating as (expletive) out there. It's to the point where stuff's got to change. You can give all the rah-rah speeches you want and have all the team meetings you want, yell at guys or whatever, but guys got to give a damn. I don't really see it. I know I care. I'm out there busting my tail every night. Physical errors are fine, but guys not doing the right thing, guys not being where they're supposed to be or guys giving up on (at-bats) is unacceptable at any level." The response to Reynolds tirade? Team president Derrick Hall complimented him via text message and the team ripped off a five-game winning streak, their longest of the season.
 
29Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 28
How's this for optimism? The Indians are a second-half team. It's true. Over the past four seasons, only the Yankees, Phillies and Angels have a higher winning percentage after the All-Star break than the Tribe. Which may have something to do with why GM Mark Shapiro announced this week that manager Eric Wedge will be finishing out the season as manager. Despite their track record in recent years, this Indians team is finished. There aren't a lot of teams that can already say with certainty that they'll be sellers at the trade deadline, but the Indians are one of them.
 
30Washington Nationals
Last Week: 30
Just when you thought the Nats' season couldn't get any more embarrassing, Willie Harris took a routine grounder off his cup, and double-play partner Cristian Guzman managed to kick -- yes, kick -- a ground ball almost 90 feet. This happened in the same game. It's only a matter of time before the Nats started hurting themselves out there. In the immortal words of Ron Burgundy, "Why don't you sit this next one out?"
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