Thursday June 25th, 2009

The Dodgers and Red Sox remain in the top two spots, and while the gap between those two seems to be closing, the one between them and the rest of baseball seems to be widening. Both teams are hot, having won 7 of 10, and both are dominating against teams in their respective divisions, which have turned out to be the two best in baseball. They both deserve credit for opening two of the three biggest divisional leads in the game (although the Tigers' edge in the AL Central matches Boston's at five games), doing so in the only two divisions in which there are three teams at least two games over .500. No one expected that to be a problem in the well-regarded AL East, but the traditionally mediocre NL West has been surprisingly competitive, featuring the red-hot Rockies and the Giants, who have the third-best record in the National League.

MLB Power Rankings
1Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 1
They won the Freeway Series with the Angels and are closing in on 50 wins already, while Chad Billingsley continues to make a compelling case to be the All-Star Game starter. They also managed to make Albuquerque, N.M., one of the hottest tickets in baseball. Manny Ramirez began a brief stint with the Albuquerque Isotopes, the Dodgers' Triple-A team, in advance of his July 3 return to the parent club. It's fairly well known that the Isotopes got their name from The Simpsons episode "Hungry, Hungry Homer," but what's less well known is that that episode also gave a new word to the Collins English Dictionary: Meh. When asked for his reaction, a blogger said, "This news makes me bored or indifferent."
 
2Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 2
Their current team has pushed its lead in the AL East to a season-high five games and some of their recent teams are being honored with a case at the Smithsonian. This week, the museum unveiled a display with Jon Lester's jersey from the 2007 World Series, as well as a base from the 2004 Series, both of which Boston won. Taking note of the fact that the museum also has numerous Yankees artifacts, Red Sox president Larry Lucchino said, "It's interesting that the Yankees stuff is from so long ago." Ouch.
 
3Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 7
Scott Boras vs. Jim Leyland. On one side we have baseball's uber-agent famed for getting his players the best and richest contracts in the game, and on the other a chain-smoking manager who has led three different teams to the postseason and is known for not taking a lot of gruff from, well, anyone. There was a lot of smoke but no fire this week when Leyland benched Magglio Ordonez "indefinitely." Boras responded in defense of his client, suggesting the move may have been financially motivated, since Ordonez is closing in on a $18 million contract option for next year that kicks in based on his plate appearances or games started. Ordonez has since returned to the lineup and the Tigers have kept right on winning, currently boasting the second-best record in the American League.
 
4New York Yankees
Last Week: 4
All the discussion about whether or not Joba Chamberlain belongs in the bullpen seems to have died down, and with good reason. Not only is he 4-2, but he also ranks second among Yankees starters in ERA (3.81) and leads the team's regular starters in fewest hits and runs allowed. Not to mention he's not needed as much in the late innings. The Yankees are 23-1 when leading after six innings, which means they've found a pretty acceptable bridge to closer Mariano Rivera, particularly in unheralded Alfredo Aceves, who has a 2.32 ERA in 31 innings pitched.
 
5St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 10
This is what nine years of performing with devastating efficiency and robotic excellence has wrought: After grounding into a double play to kill a rally in a loss to the Mets earlier this week, Albert Pujols said, "I can't get myself out? I'm human. What, am I supposed to hit everything out of the park?" I mean, no one really expects him to do that. But, um, could you? Because that would be awesome.
 
6Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 8
Forget for a moment that they've finally caught the Rangers atop the AL West or that they just got beat by their crosstown rivals in a weekend series. The thing that has really been causing a buzz in Anaheim is the new buzz cut of Vladimir Guerrero, who shed his dreadlocks for the first time since joining the club five years ago. I like the new look myself -- at best, they were only the second-coolest dreads among star right-handed hitters in L.A. -- but that might be the kindest cut Vlad endures this week. He may be dropped in the batting order, especially since he has only one home run and 10 RBIs this season and is batting .270 with runners in scoring position (compared to .324 in his career).
 
7Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 3
It's hard to imagine any team having a worse homestand this season than the Phillies just endured. They went just 1-8, including sweeps by the Blue Jays and Orioles, and they put three more players on the disabled list and Ryan Howard into the hospital. The biggest obstacle to their postseason chances may be once-friendly Citizen's Bank Park. After going 48-33 at home a year ago, the Phils are just 13-22 this season, the second-worst home record in the major leagues. The Phils are on pace to win just 31 games at home this year. In the wild card era, only one team (the 2001 Braves, who won 40 games at Turner Field) has made the playoffs with a losing home record.
 
8Texas Rangers
Last Week: 5
Thanks to a five-game losing streak, the Rangers have ceded sole possession of first place for the first time since early May and they are looking for solutions both young and old for their suddenly struggling pitching staff. Orlando Hernandez, age ?, is at Triple-A and may be in line for a possible promotion to the bullpen in Arlington, where he could be joined by fellow righty Neftali Feliz, who has been moved to the bullpen from his traditional starter role and could be following a path similar to what Joba Chamberlain and David Price have done in recent years.
 
9San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 13
Only two National League teams have a better record than the Giants, which is absolutely astonishing given their minor league-level offense (which precludes me from ranking them any higher). But the middle relief has been the best in the National League, topping the Senior Circuit with a 3.34 mark. Bobby Howry's 4.15 ERA is the highest among the six relievers to have pitched in at least 20 games.
 
10Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 11
The key to Brian Tallet's success this season? As you might have guessed, it's all about the 'stache, maybe the best baseball has seen since the halcyon late-80s days of Keith Hernandez, Wade Boggs and Mike Greenwell. "It seems to be growing and getting darker at the same time," said catcher Rod Barajas to the Canadian Press. "I don't know how that's possible. He's got great hair, great facial hair, and I think that's distracting the hitters, getting their eyes off the ball and on him." If this keeps up, Tallet is going to deserve a commercial as awesome as this.
 
11Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 6
It's been a flood of bad news for the Brewers. A four-game losing streak. Another pitcher, this time Dave Bush, lost to injury. And a storm knocked out the power at Miller Park and caused water damage to the clubhouse and indoor batting cages. Most tragically for the good people of Beer Town, some beer had to be thrown out as well. My condolences.
 
12New York Mets
Last Week: 9
Has any team been as decimated by injury as the Mets this year? Three of their top four offensive players (Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran and Jose Reyes), two of their starting pitchers (John Maine and Oliver Perez) and their primary set-up man (J.J. Putz) are out with injuries. Yet somehow they are still keeping their heads above water in the NL East, at 35-34 and just 2 1/2 games out of a playoff spot. Jerry Manuel, normally not even the best manager named Manuel in his own division, may be doing the best job of any skipper in the league this year.
 
13Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 19
The Rockies rolled to 17 wins in 18 games before getting beat by the Angels on Tuesday night. The last team to win 17 of 18? The Rockies, who did it en route to the 2007 World Series. Clint Hurdle, who was let go as manager just before the Rockies began their run, says he knows exactly what has spurred this hot streak: the new manager. "It starts at the top," Hurdle said on MLB Network. New manager Jim Tracy's more mild-mannered style is being credited with relaxing the club and spurring their success. I'm sure it has helped, but teams are notably wishy-washy on what approach works best. The minute a laid-back manager stops winning, he's replaced with a more aggressive manager. When that guy stops winning, he's replaced with a laid-back manager. Maybe the winning and losing -- and the players in the lineup -- have more to do with it than the manager's personality? Just a thought.
 
14Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 12
Even a World Series rematch wasn't enough to get the crowds back to the Trop. The Rays game against the Phillies drew fewer than 20,000 fans on Tuesday night, about three thousand fewer than the Rays have averaged this season. They rank 24th in the majors in attendance, even though they are actually drawing slightly better than they were a year ago (averaging about 500 more fans this year). The prescription does not call for more cowbell, however.
 
15Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 14
Mark DeRosa ran into a phone during his return to Wrigley Field, which kept him out of the Cubs-Indians game on Saturday. This was a big letdown for the Wrigley Field fans who gave him a warm reception for his return to Chicago, and for DeRosa himself. "That whole phone incident, that stinks because I wanted a shot at Ted Lilly," DeRosa told the Chicago Tribune. "We've been talking trash to each other since spring training." Lilly can do all the smack-talking he wants to his old friend. Not only did Lilly beat the Indians as part of the Cubs' three-game sweep, he's having a better season so far than he did a year ago, while DeRosa's numbers are down across the board. Plus, the Cubs are still in the thick of the playoff chase, while the Indians are mired in last place. Also, Lilly didn't run into a phone this week.
 
16Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 17
Much like the Giants in the NL West, the Mariners are winning in spite of an inferior offense. Seattle ranks last in the AL in runs, and next-to-last in on-base percentage and slugging percentage. The Mariners swept the Diamondbacks to get back over .500 and are lurking in third place in the AL West, just 2 1/2 games behind the Rangers and Angels. General manager Jack Zduriencik says the team is still considering itself to be a buyer at the trade deadline.
 
17Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 16
Fear not, Twins fans: Joe Mauer is immune to the SI cover jinx. The last time Minnesota's hometown wonder was on the cover of the magazine, back in the first week of August in 2006, he followed up his appearance by batting .400 with a 1.279 OPS in the seven days his issue was on newsstands. Of course, there may be a Power Rankings jinx that we simply haven't discovered yet, so if Mauer goes in the tank this week, feel free to blame me.
 
18Florida Marlins
Last Week: 18
Only two players in Marlins history have been voted as starters in the All-Star Game: one is Hanley Ramirez, who moved back into the lead in voting among shortstops in the National League this week, ahead of Philly's Jimmy Rollins. The other? Gary Sheffield, who started at third base for the Senior Circuit in 1993, the Marlins' inaugural season. You could build a solid team of All-Stars the Fish have had that have never started the Midsummer Classic: Ivan Rodriguez at catcher, Derrek Lee at first base, Dan Uggla at second base, Edgar Renteria at shortstop, Bobby Bonilla at third base, Moises Alou, Miguel Cabrera and Jeff Conine in the outfield and Kevin Brown, Al Leiter, Josh Beckett, A.J. Burnett and Dontrelle Willis on the mound.
 
19Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 15
Joey Votto returned to the Reds this week and offered some very personal details about his time away from the club. Votto said he was struggling with severe depression after the death of his father last summer. "It was a very, very scary and crazy night where I had to call 911 at three or four in the morning. It was probably the scariest moment I ever had dealt with in my life, and I went to the hospital that night. There were nights that I couldn't be alone," Votto said. "The one night I was alone, the very first night I was alone, was when I went to the hospital. I couldn't take it. It just got to the point where I felt I was going to die, really." Votto admitted that part of his struggle was based on the fact that "we're supposed to be known as mentally tough and able to withstand any type of adversity." Given the fact that at least four players have had public bouts of anxiety disorders recently(Votto, Khalil Greene, Dontrelle Willis and Zack Greinke), there must be something baseball can do to help players better deal with stress and anxiety.
 
20Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 21
Scott Podsednik has stood out as a rare bright spot in a disappointing season on the South Side. Podsednik has batted .312/.365/.403, his best numbers since 2003, when he was 27 years old and had not yet had his first stint with the White Sox. Podsednik told MLB.com that he was already planning his second career when this season began and he was still without a contract -- "I had a flyer already set up for speed, strength and agility sessions for kids," he said -- but since arriving on the Sox' roster he's resumed his place atop their order and leads the team in hitting.
 
21Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 20
Derek Lowe is off to a fine start in his first season in Atlanta, but he made one of the more puzzling comments of the year this week when he said, in advance of the Yankees' visit to Atlanta, "Why does everyone get their panties in a wad when the Yankees are in town?" Given that Lowe spent seven seasons in Boston, he should know better than most that the Yankees are always a big deal. In fact, only the Cubs draw better (as a percentage of capacity) on the road than the Yankees do this season. As for why it matters against the Braves, well, in my experience, Braves fans do not take kindly to Yankees. Could have something to do with 1996. Or 1999. (Or, as several friends from that city always like to remind me, 1865. They didn't take kindly to that whole March to the Sea thing.) But according to a poll on the Atlanta Journal Constitution's website, there are no divided loyalties in the city: 97.6 percent of fans said they'd be rooting for the Braves in this week's interleague matchup.
 
22Houston Astros
Last Week: 23
On their website, the Astros are asking fans to vote for the best moment in Minute Maid Park history. It seems like the vote should come down to Chris Burke's 18th-inning home run to win the clinching Game 4 of the 2005 NLDS versus Craig Biggio's 3,000th hit. But maybe Jeff Bagwell can find a way to beat Burke and face off against Biggio in the final, in which case what we'd really be asking Astros fans to do is vote for who they love more: Biggio or Bagwell. Interestingly, there's no love in this poll for Derek Bell, one of the charter members of the Killer B's back on the late 90s Astros that won three straight NL Central titles. Bell has moved on to other things.
 
23Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 22
As the Bucs continue to struggle -- limping to four straight losses at one point this week -- attention has already turned to when Pedro Alvarez might reach the majors'. The No. 2 pick in last year's draft received his first promotion this week, going from high-A ball to Double-A after he hit .243/.337/.478 with 14 HRs and 55 RBIs in just 67 games in his first taste of professional baseball. The Pirates have not said when he might be in Pittsburgh, but as they trudge toward what is almost sure to be their 17th straight losing season, at least Alvarez is giving Pittsburgh fans something to pay attention to between the Penguins' parade and the opening of the Steelers' title defense.
 
24Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 26
Of all the tasks being put in front of Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters as the core of the Orioles' future, perhaps this is the most important: bring fans back to Camden Yards. Once considered the majors' most beautiful ballpark and a destination even for visiting fans, Camden Yards has been bleeding fans in recent years. The Orioles have seen their attendance drop four of the past five years (the only uptick came when they added fewer than 1,000 fans from the 2006 to '07 seasons). The Orioles this season rank 25th in attendance with an average of only 22,455, easily the lowest total in the history of Camden Yards.
 
25San Diego Padres
Last Week: 24
Without Jake Peavy, the Padres are scrambling for an ace. Actually, they're scrambling for any recognizable name in the rotation. So far, of the six non-Peavy starters they've used this year, only one -- Chris Young -- has a winning record in the major leagues. None has won more than 12 games in a single season. Which essentially means you can turn the lights out on this Padres team. Any disappointed Padres fans can comfort themselves with the knowledge that they live in San Diego, which is probably the best consolation prize I can think of.
 
26Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 28
The Royals are doomed to forever rue the fact they passed on drafting Albert Pujols (multiple times, as Pujols went in the 13th round). I cannot remember another player who so consistently tormented another team in a similar situation. The Royals better pray Pujols never winds up in the AL Central. After destroying them again last weekend, Pujols is now batting .394 with 14 home runs and 50 RBIs in just 42 career games against the Royals, who may want to just publicly apologize for passing on the K.C. JUCO star in the 1999 draft.
 
27Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 25
The A's held a reunion for their most recent World Series winners, the 1989 club that swept the Giants in the Bay Bridge Series known mostly for an earthquake and Storm Davis' mullet. Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire did not attend the reunion, but no one really cared because Rickey Henderson was there. In fact, no one else could have shown up and as long as Rickey was there, people would have been entertained (by the way, if you haven't read Tom Verducci's piece on Henderson from 2003, stop what you're doing right now and read it. Three words: "Rickey's the best."). He got the biggest cheers of all from his hometown crowd, where he had four different stints as a player and said later, "It's all goose bumps."
 
28Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 27
How desperate are the Indians and Pirates for rivals? They want to be rivals with each other. Pirates GM Neal Huntington said, "There's a natural rivalry between the two cities." Sure, if by "natural rivalry" you mean two teams in different leagues, different states, separated by a three-hour drive, who have never faced each other in the postseason, then, yeah, I guess I can see that. Or maybe it's just natural because they're both in last place right now.
 
29Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 29
Staring at an almost 20-game deficit in the NL West, the Diamondbacks' season was pretty much over anyway, but the nail will be driven in for sure if Brandon Webb is out for the season with an injured right shoulder that has kept him on the disabled list since April 13.
 
30Washington Nationals
Last Week: 30
The Nationals won consecutive series against the Yankees and Blue Jays last week, a rare bright spot in an otherwise lost season. They also welcomed their 10 millionth fan to a Nats home game since they moved to D.C. in 2005. Among the perks for being that lucky fan: a Ryan Zimmerman jersey and tickets to the Elton John/Billy Joel concert at the park in July. By the way, did you know Elton John is a huge baseball fan? It's true. He requested autographs from Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau recently and is a huge fan of the Atlanta Braves. These are the things you find out in the Nats' space of the PRs.
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