Gennaro Filice
Thursday August 14th, 2008

The hottest team in baseball, Milwaukee, vaults into the top three, while Tampa Bay drops three spots on the heels of two huge injuries. Ownership of the Big Apple comes into question (at least for this season), as that other New York team leapfrogs the hapless Yankees. The new-look Dodgers see how the better half lives, entering the top 15 for the first time in ages. And the A's continue a rapid slide into oblivion.

MLB Power Rankings
1Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 1
By posting an 18-6 record since the All-Star break, the Angels have increased their division lead to 15 games. To put things in perspective, the next biggest edge in the majors belongs to the Cubs, who hold a 3 1/2-game lead over Milwaukee.
 
2Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 2
I was taking in a Cubs-Cards bout last weekend when, suddenly and without warning, I crossed over into ... the Twilight Zone. Jim Edmonds getting a curtain call in Wrigley Field? What's next, a Yankee Stadium roll call for Manny Ramirez? Wait a second ...
 
3Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 5
Milwaukee is unbeatable since the "Parra Push." Seriously, the Brewers have rolled off eight straight wins since Prince Fielder unleashed his "passion and intensity" on Manny Parra's chest. Granted, the teams Milwaukee has beaten -- Cincinnati, Washington and San Diego -- all reside at the bottom of these rankings. But an eight-game winning streak is an eight-game winning streak.
 
4Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 4
With Tim Wakefield on the shelf, Boston scrambled to find a dependable No. 4 starter and came up with Paul Byrd. Not a bad option. Byrd has plenty of pennant race/playoff experience and has been lights-out since the All-Star break (4-0, 1.24 ERA). Byrd credits his recent success to a talk with former All-Star hurler Bert Blyleven, who now works as a Twins TV broadcaster. Blyleven, a master of the curveball in his day, gave Byrd a few pointers on how to polish up his spinner, which has since become a reliable out pitch. Any chance Josh Beckett can teach Byrd to throw a 96 MPH fastball?
 
5Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 6
Javier Vazquez won his latest start to improve his career record to 124-123 -- a very fitting mark for one of baseball's most unpredictable pitchers from one start to the next. Each outing is truly feast or famine for the 32-year-old right-hander. Just look at his last eight starts: dud, gem, dud, gem, dud, gem, dud, gem. The rhythmic inconsistency is astounding.
 
6Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 3
Actual poll on the Tampa Tribune web site this week:
Which injured player will the Rays miss the most?
  • Carl Crawford
  • Evan Longoria
  • Chad Orvella
    Does someone seem a bit out of place here? The crazy thing is, last time I checked, Orvella had actually received 10 votes. (That Orvella family's a dedicated bunch ...)
    Yes, the Longoria and Crawford injuries are extremely damaging to Tampa Bay, but the dream season is far from over. The Rays' strength lies in their stellar pitching staff. They've been winning 3-2 games all season long, so why not do it for another month-and-a-half?
  •  
    7Minnesota Twins
    Last Week: 7
    Kevin Slowey is a wise, wise 24-year-old who realizes his limitations on the mound. "I don't think I have the stuff to get away with walking a lot of guys," Slowey said. Ah, sweet music to Ron Gardenhire's ears. And this isn't just lip service from Slowey; the Twins right-hander practices what he preaches. Slowey is averaging 1.3 walks per nine innings this season. In 16 of his 30 career starts, Slowey has gone completely walk-free. That's Maddux-esque.
     
    8New York Mets
    Last Week: 13
    Oliver Perez enters Thursday night's start against lowly Washington on a notable roll. The Mets lefty, who will be a free agent in the offseason, boasts a sparkling 1.71 ERA with an abnormally efficient 55-to-18 strikeout-to-walk rate over his past eight starts. Perez's agent, Scott Boras, is licking his chops. Can you say "salary drive"? I think we all saw this one coming from a mile away.
     
    9St. Louis Cardinals
    Last Week: 8
    It's starting to look like the Cardinals will regret giving up on Anthony Reyes. In his first two outings with the Indians, Reyes has pitched a combined 12 1/3 innings and given up a total of three earned runs. But I guess hindsight's 20/20. Reyes was 10-24 in his time with St. Louis, so it's hard to completely lambaste Cards management.
     
    10Philadelphia Phillies
    Last Week: 10
    Brett Myers is returning to form just in time for the Phillies' playoff push. Since returning from the minors on July 23, Myers is unbeaten in four starts with a 2.10 ERA. It was strangely encouraging to see Myers get into a yelling match with Charlie Manuel when the manager removed him with two outs in the eighth inning of his start last Sunday. Seems like the competitive fire is back.
     
    11New York Yankees
    Last Week: 9
    Is Ian Kennedy trying to draw the ire of Yankees faithful? In his first start with the big club since May, Kennedy gave up five earned runs on nine hits in two innings. But following the game, Kennedy rationalized the outing in delusional fashion: "I felt like I made some good pitches," he told The Journal News. "I'm not too upset about it ... What was it, a bunch of singles and three doubles? I'm just not real upset about it." Less than 48 hours later, Kennedy was sent back down to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
     
    12Florida Marlins
    Last Week: 11
    Hanley Ramirez is one of the most complete offensive forces in baseball. But he has struggled in one key phase of the game this season: hitting with runners in scoring position. Ramirez owns a .211 batting average with RISP, and that's after a recent hot streak. (Through Tuesday, Ramirez possessed just a .193 average in these clutch situations.) If the Marlins are going to make a serious playoff push in September, Ramirez needs to start punishing opposing pitchers when they're on the rocks.
     
    13Los Angeles Dodgers
    Last Week: 16
    It's refreshing to see an obscure-but-effective middle reliever get the star treatment every so often. And that's exactly what happened Tuesday in Los Angeles, as the Dodgers held Joe Beimel Bobblehead Night. Beimel has been one of the Dodgers' most effective relievers in 2008, owning a 1.87 ERA over 53 appearances. The 31-year-old hurler has a strong internet following, thanks to a series of viral videos that began with "The Legend of Joe Beimel." This ceramic figurine will undoubtedly increase Beimel's cult status even more.
     
    14Toronto Blue Jays
    Last Week: 15
    Don't look now, but the Jays are just two games back of the Yankees for third place in the AL East. And this could be a fight to the finish; Toronto and New York face each other nine times in the final month-and-a-half.
     
    15Arizona Diamondbacks
    Last Week: 12
    Adam Dunn kicked off his D-backs tenure in predictable fashion: with a strikeout. With Dunn on the roster, Arizona now boasts three of the top five strikeout totals in baseball (Mark Reynolds and Chris Young own the other two). Playful prodding aside, Dunn is a solid addition to the Diamondbacks lineup. But where will he play once Justin Upton returns from the DL? I'm partial to the scenario that has Dunn moving to first base, Chad Tracy to third and Mark Reynolds to second. But Bob Melvin reportedly told Reynolds he would stay at third.
     
    16Houston Astros
    Last Week: 17
    What is the sound of a bone simultaneously breaking in six different places? It goes a little something like this. Eesh -- that's gruesome. Quite an unfortunate time for Carlos Lee to make his first trip to the disabled list. "I've never felt this good in my career at the plate," Lee told MLB.com. He wasn't lying. With 28 homers and 100 RBI through his first 115 games of the season, Lee was on pace to shatter his career-highs in both categories. Lee was hitting .372 with 24 RBI in 21 games since the All-Star break. The Astros have continued to roll without Lee -- running off seven straight victories -- but I have the feeling this will be short-lived.
     
    17Texas Rangers
    Last Week: 14
    We constantly hear how undesirable it is to be a Rangers starting pitcher, but there are some definite perks -- just ask Scott Feldman. Feldman gave up 12 runs to Boston in 2 2/3 innings on Tuesday ... and didn't get the loss. Talk about taking a teammate off the hook. Feldman is the first pitcher to allow 12 runs and not take a loss since 1918.
     
    18Baltimore Orioles
    Last Week: 18
    Pop quiz, hot shot: Who leads the American League in extra base hits? I'll give you a hint: He enjoys painting on naked ladies. That's right, Aubrey Lewis Huff leads the Junior Circuit with 62 extra-baggers. The 31-year-old has abruptly returned to 2003 form. Huff is on pace for 34 homers, 48 doubles and 108 RBI.
     
    19Cleveland Indians
    Last Week: 22
    It's no secret that the key to Cliff Lee's dramatic turnaround is his ability to work within the strike zone with pinpoint accuracy. This was on full display during Lee's victory (his 16th) over Toronto last Sunday. Of his 104 pitches over eight shutout innings, Lee threw 83 for strikes and had only one three-ball count. That's surgical precision. "He was throwing strikes, but not hitting the middle of the plate," Vernon Wells told The Canadian Press. "If you can hit your spots, you might as well just pound the zone."
     
    20Detroit Tigers
    Last Week: 19
    Welcome back, Miggy C. Miguel Cabrera, Detroit's 153 Million Dollar Man, has returned to his slugging self since the All-Star break, hitting .321 with eight homers and 34 RBIs in 26 games. All of the sudden Cabrera ranks third in the American League with 91 RBI. Just 25, Cabrera is well on his way to another 30-110 season (he has three already). "He's a force," manager Jim Leyland said. "We talked about how good he would be and he's gotten acclimated (to the AL)."
     
    21Colorado Rockies
    Last Week: 20
    Triple-A Colorado Springs first baseman Joe Koshansky hit for the cycle for the second time this season. What are the odds of that happening? Probably very similar to the odds of Rockies first baseman Todd Helton legitimately earning the rest of his $141 million contract.
     
    22Pittsburgh Pirates
    Last Week: 24
    Now that first baseman Adam LaRoche is done with his minor league rehab assignment, he's expected to finally take the field Thursday alongside his brother, third baseman Andy LaRoche, who Pittsburgh acquired in the three-team deadline trade with Los Angeles and Boston. Pittsburgh folks normally despise "brotherly love," but I think they'll make an exception for this situation.
     
    23Kansas City Royals
    Last Week: 21
    Mark Teahen is in the midst of a nine-game hitting streak. Of course, it turns Teahen has been using an official George Brett model bat. Just steer clear of the pine tar, Mark.
     
    24Atlanta Braves
    Last Week: 26
    Bobby Cox has now been ejected 142 times over his career, but Wednesday's dismissal will always carry a special place in my heart. Basically, Cox was tossed for arguing about the game's lighting. No joke.
     
    25Oakland Athletics
    Last Week: 23
    The A's swift decline has predictably been fueled by lackluster starting pitching. Billy Beane traded Rich Harden and Joe Blanton, and the remaining cast has struggled mightily. Since making his second All-Star Game appearance, Justin Duchscherer is winless in five starts with a 5.34 ERA. What happened to those two promising young lefties from the Dan Haren trade? Well, Greg Smith hasn't won since June and Dana Eveland was sent down to the minors. But hey, at least Gio Gonzalez and his late-breaking curveball look promising. It's all about finding that silver lining, folks.
     
    26San Francisco Giants
    Last Week: 25
    Every baseball-loving heart in San Francisco skipped a beat when a Brad Ausmus line drive nailed Tim Lincecum in the knee Tuesday. Fortunately, Lincecum escaped serious injury and plans to make his next start Sunday.
    I don't understand this opinion that the Giants should shut down Lincecum in September to save his arm. The kid is 35 innings below his total from last season with approximately eight starts left. An increase of 15 or so innings shouldn't make a huge difference, right?
     
    27Cincinnati Reds
    Last Week: 27
    Why on Earth did Cincinnati hire ex-Mariners GM Bill Bavasi? Watch out, Reds fans -- Adrian Beltre is just one more season away from free agency ...
     
    28Seattle Mariners
    Last Week: 28
    Is there a more frustrating fielder than Yuniesky Betancourt? The Mariners shortstop has all the tools -- great range, quick hands, plus arm -- to be a top-tier shortstop, but he constantly botches routine plays. Betancourt has the most errors (18) of any AL shortstop. His poor fielding has cost the Mariners two games in the past week. There was a time when I saw Betancourt as a future Gold Glove winner, but that vision is fading due to Betancourt's inconsistency. You can't play Mozart without mastering chopsticks.
     
    29San Diego Padres
    Last Week: 29
    It's been a long season in San Diego, but Padres faithful sure appreciated the product on the field Tuesday night. And no, I'm not talking about the team, but rather the shirtless hooligans who ran wild on the Petco Park Field. Bonus points for the tremendous slide into home plate.
     
    30Washington Nationals
    Last Week: 30
    Nick Johnson leads the Nationals with 33 walks. Did I mention that Johnson has been on the disabled list since May 13? Nationals baseball: Embarrassing our nation's capital one day at a time.
     

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