Gennaro Filice
Thursday July 10th, 2008

The Rays hold the top spot for now. After all, prior to this three-game losing streak, they ran off seven wins in a row. Also, they still have the best record in baseball. But let me get one thing straight: The top five teams are a toss-up going into the break. The Brewers take a leap with the addition of CC Sabathia. Both New York teams rise after banner victories over division foes. And the Nats hit the cellar.

MLB Power Rankings
1Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 1
It's the seventh inning -- do you know where Scott Kazmir is? Tampa Bay's All-Star starter hasn't made it through six innings in any of his last five starts, posting a 1-2 record. Regardless of how he started this season, Kazmir has a history of struggling with pitch counts. The Rays' ace needs to get back on track immediately. When a No. 1 starter constantly wears out the bullpen, the rest of the rotation pays the price.
First-half co-MVPs: J.P. Howell and Dan Wheeler. For years, Tampa Bay lost games with a simple call to the bullpen, but these two shored up the critical seventh and eight innings.
 
2Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 3
If there's one team that should truly feel slighted by the All-Star selection process, it's the ChiSox. John Danks has a lower ERA (2.52) than 11 of the 14 starting pitchers in the Midsummer Classic, while Gavin Floyd boasts 10 wins and a respectable 3.22 mark. Also, A.J. Pierzynski's offensive numbers blow away those of Jason Varitek. Not to mention Pierzynski's handling one of the best staffs in baseball. Then again, the Sox had a mind-boggling selection of their own in third baseman Joe Crede, who had no business making the team over Evan Longoria.
First-half MVP: Carlos Quentin. Surprising run-producer carried Chicago for the first two months of season.
 
3Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 4
Just when you thought it was safe to pitch to Manny ...
There was a rumor going around in recent weeks that Manny Ramirez had lost his edge at the plate, and an increased amount of challenge fastballs from opposing pitchers seemed to support this theory. But Boston's iconic slugger returned to form during a three-game sweep against Minnesota. Ramirez racked up six hits (including two game-changing blows) and six RBIs in the series. Just Manny being Manny -- once again.
First-half MVP: J.D. Drew. Drew has flourished since taking over the No. 3 spot for the injured David Ortiz.
 
4Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 5
Three reasons why Cubs fans should be wary of Rich Harden:
1. He's brittle as can be and recently lost velocity on his fastball. (Just last week, he publicly stated that his arm felt "dead.")
2. He's a fly-ball pitcher, that usually doesn't fly in Wrigley Field.
3. Billy Beane gave Harden up, even though he had him signed through 2009. The modest haul Oakland received combined with the timing of this transaction (weeks away from the deadline) leads me to believe that Beane just wanted to get rid of Harden ASAP. And remember, Beane usually has a far better feel for personnel than his peers.
First-half MVP: Geovany Soto. The latest in a long line of standout Puerto Rican catchers will be the first rookie backstop to start the All-Star Game for the NL.
 
5Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 2
I've just closed my eyes again,
Climbed aboard the dream weaver train ...

Cue up Gary Wright. Jered's getting back to "Dream Weaver" form. Weaver's been inconsistent for much of the season, but his last four starts should inspire Halos fans. During this span, Weaver has allowed four earned runs while striking out 23 hitters. A steady Weaver solidifies the Angels' starting rotation as the best in baseball.
First-half MVP: Francisco Rodriguez. Even after Wednesday night's blemish, he's still on pace to break Bobby Thigpen's single-season saves record (57).
 
6Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 9
After hitting six homers in the first three months of the season, J.J. Hardy matched that total in the first six days of July. But don't give the seventh month of the year all the credit; Hardy's surge seems to be the byproduct of a lineup shuffle. Since June 18, when Ned Yost returned his shortstop to the No. 2 spot (which he manned during his breakout '07 campaign), Hardy is hitting .402 with eight homers and 20 RBI.
First-half MVP: Ryan Braun. Fifty-six homers and 159 RBIs in his first 200 MLB games. Scary.
 
7New York Yankees
Last Week: 10
While Alex Rodriguez's alleged infidelity and pending divorce have taken center stage in the New York tabloids and the blogosphere (check out the latest must-have item for All-Star weekend), the Yankees sure don't seem too distracted. Their current four-game winning streak includes two wins over Boston and two over Tampa Bay. Suddenly, the Bombers are just 6 1/2 back in the division race.
First-half MVP: Mariano Rivera. The cutter is as unhittable as ever, and Mo has yet to blow a save.
 
8Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 7
Apologies are in order, proud Minnesotans. In last week's Rankings, I unknowingly tweaked the entire fanbase by referring to this team as "The Twinkies." There was no malicious intent, I swear. I was just unaware of the nickname's offensiveness. But Twins faithful definitely filled me in; the inbox felt the wrath of the Land of 10,000 Lakes. One quick sampling courtesy of Jeff Johnson from Rochester, Minn.: "Stop with twinkies you [expletive]. It's Twins. Are you Packer fan you [expletive] [expletive] [expletive]?" I also stumbled across this Twins blog that is actually titled "Twins, not Twinkies." So, I'm sorry, Minnesotans. Lesson learned.
First-half MVP: Justin Morneau. Steady force has produced at least 20 RBIs every month.
 
9St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 6
If you had told me in spring training that Rick Ankiel and Ryan Ludwick would have 37 combined homers on July 10, I would have advised you to refill your prescription.
First-half MVP: Albert Pujols. This guy needs Tommy John surgery? The one-armed wonder boasts a 1.080 OPS.
 
10Texas Rangers
Last Week: 13
As if this team didn't have enough offense ... Fresh from Triple A, 22-year-old Chris Davis has five homers through his first 13 games. The sweet-swinging lefty has already been dubbed "Crush Davis" by the local folk, though I see minimal resemblance to Bull Durham's journeyman catcher Crash Davis. Anybody know if the kid believes in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days?
First-half MVP: Josh Hamilton. This was my toughest decision: Hamilton or Ian Kinsler. I was honestly about to flip a coin, but Hamilton smacked a game-winning homer off Francisco Rodriguez before I could find some spare change.
 
11Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 8
Jack Cust is probably the biggest all-or-nothing player in baseball, Ryan Howard included. In 346 total plate appearances this year, Cust has 16 homers, 61 walks and 110 strikeouts. Therefore, 54 percent of Cust's trips to the plate involve a pitcher and a hitter -- no fielder's necessary.
First-half MVP: Justin Duchscherer. "The Duke" possesses the lowest ERA (1.78) in baseball in his first year as a major-league starter.
 
12Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 14
Justin Verlander is officially Justin Verlander again. Since May 20, the Tigers' No. 1 starter has a 2.73 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. Verlander's current streak of six-straight starts with two earned runs or less is a career best.
First-half MVP: Curtis Granderson. Grando is the spark plug that makes this offense go. The Tigers were lifeless without him at the start of the season.
 
13New York Mets
Last Week: 17
Mike Pelfrey is riding his heavy sinker to the promised land. After starting the season at 2-6, the Mets right-hander is 5-0 with a 2.61 ERA in his last eight starts. The most stunning statistic, though, is his age: 24. Doesn't it seem like he's been toiling around in the Mets system forever? This is just a byproduct of the rabid New York media cycle. Pelfrey, drafted by the Mets with the ninth-overall pick in the 2005 draft, is right on schedule. On Tuesday, he outdueled SI cover boy Tim Lincecum.
First-half MVP: David Wright. Wright's defense leaves something to be desired, but he's on pace to knock in more than 120 runs.
 
14Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 11
With starting pitchers flying off the market at a rapid pace, who's left for Philadelphia, the purported contender most in need of a rotation upgrade? I'm personally not too high on overpriced A.J. Burnett (more on that later ...), Erik Bedard could be headed to the disabled list and ex-Phillie Randy Wolf supposedly has no desire to pitch in Citizens Bank Park. Suck it up, J.A. Happ.
First-half MVP: Chase Utley. He's cooled down after a fantastic start, but the season totals are still astounding for a second baseman.
 
15Florida Marlins
Last Week: 15
As a regional announcer, what can you do to maintain viewer interest in the latter innings of a blowout loss? The FSN Florida crew faced this challenge Tuesday night. Their solution: Mexican League baseball. With the Marlins trailing 10-1 in the eighth inning, viewers were treated to this unbelievable highlight from Alfredo Amezaga's winter-league days with his hometown team, Obregon. Playing shortstop, Amezaga dives deep into the hole to his backhand side and snags a hard-hit grounder. Then from his stomach, he delivers a no-look, 40-foot flip to second base for the force out. Even Ozzie's jaw would drop at the sight of that play. Guess that's why they call him "The Amazing Amezaga."
First-half MVP: Hanley Ramirez. On pace for 39 homers and 39 stolen bases.
 
16Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 16
A.J. Burnett seems to be the next big target for teams seeking starting pitching before the trade deadline. In response, I offer one simple question: Why? What makes everyone think Burnett is an ace or anything close to one? Not only is Burnett injury-prone, but he currently holds a 5.23 ERA, having given up at least six earned runs in four of his last seven starts. It's hard to understand why a fragile pitcher with a 78-74 career record and a well-documented temper garners so much hype.
First-half MVP: Roy Halladay. Only one team (Cleveland) has as many complete games as Halladay (6).
 
17Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 12
That Erik Bedard deal is starting to look real sweet for the Orioles. Closer George Sherrill has performed poorly of late, but he still has the second-most saves in baseball with 27. And 22-year-old center fielder Adam Jones is showing some real signs of growth. Jones hit .323 in June and he's smoking the ball in July (.323 AVG,.406 OBP, .600 SLG). Unfortunately, he's still sporting the comatose look on ESPN and Yahoo! Sports.
First-half MVP: Aubrey Huff. The good news: Huff has already eclipsed last season's upsetting total of 15 homers by three. The great news: He's a second-half player.
 
18Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 18
Justin Upton hasn't quite enjoyed the season many predicted following a huge April. But the 20-year-old -- yup, he still can't legally imbibe certain liquids -- shows flashes of absurdity, such as this 484-foot mammoth shot off Josh Banks on Sunday. Among all the talented youngsters on the Diamondbacks' roster, Upton is the most enticing player. I predict a solid second half for Upton, followed by a true breakout season in 2009.
First-half MVP: Brandon Webb. Came back down to Earth after winning his first nine starts, but still leads the bigs with 13 victories.
 
19Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 21
I have long been intrigued by the freakish athleticism Matt Kemp packs into his imposing frame. (Some refer to him as a modern-day Dave Winfield.) With Rafael Furcal and Juan Pierre on the shelf, Joe Torre is putting Kemp's athleticism to the test by pushing him to the top of the order. And I must say, it's pretty amusing to see a 6-foot-2, 230-pound leadoff hitter.
First-half MVP: Russell Martin. Martin has bounced back nicely from his 1-for-23 start.
 
20Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 25
Aaron Harang is expected to miss at least one start after returning to Cincinnati on Wednesday for an MRI on his sore right forearm. Hey, at least this helps explain why Cincy's Opening-Day starter is on pace to lose 19 games. It's called a silver lining, people -- work with me.
First-half MVP: Edinson Volquez. The Reds are 13-5 with Volquez starting; 30-43 with everyone else.
 
21Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 19
Brian McCann definitely does not receive the attention he deserves as one of the game's best young players. McCann has already equaled former Braves catcher Javy Lopez with his third All-Star selection. Did I mention McCann is 24 years old?
First-half MVP: Chipper Jones An 0-for-10 series in Los Angeles lowered his average to .375. The impossible run at .400 is waning, but he's always been a better hitter after the break.
 
22Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 23
Xavier Nady is on fire again. The X-Man's average is back up to .321 and he's on track for career highs in home runs and RBIs. Is this the year that Nady sustains his production through the second half? Better question: Will the Buccos keep him around to find out?
First-half MVP: Nate McLouth. Luckily, the Pirates finally gave McLouth a chance to start every day. And to think, he was being held back by Chris Duffy and Nyjer Morgan. (Who? My sentiments exactly)
 
23Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 20
Forget Jose Guillen, David DeJesus should've been the Royals candidate in the All-Star Game's Final Vote. DeJesus is the heart of Kansas City's offense. The veteran outfielder is pure hustle when he hits the diamond -- a true role model for the young players within this franchise. He also excels in the clutch, hitting a jaw-dropping .459 with runners in scoring position.
First-half MVP: Joakim Soria. Former Rule 5 pick is filthy in the final frame.
 
24Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 28
Garrett Atkins has suddenly developed quite the taste for left-handed pitching. Prior to this season, the Rockies third basemen never really favored lefties, but he is absolutely feasting on them in 2008. Atkins boasts the highest batting average in baseball against left-handed pitching at .479. With a 1.328 OPS, the Rockies third baseman basically turns into '01 Barry Bonds when opposed by a southpaw.
First-half MVP: Matt Holliday. Holliday's hitting .373 against left-handed pitchers and a lowly .335 against righties.
 
25Houston Astros
Last Week: 22
Michael Bourn is one of the most dangerous baserunners in baseball today. But it's difficult to wreak havoc on the basepaths when you can't get on base. Bourn easily possesses the lowest batting average (.202) of any qualified leadoff hitter in baseball. And now elder statesman Darin Erstad is cutting into his playing time.
First-half MVP: Lance Berkman. After posting a career-low batting average of .278 last season, Berkman has the second-highest mark in the game (.348).
 
26San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 24
Not everyone's enjoying an increased home-field advantage this season. The Giants play in what some consider America's best ballpark, but AT&T Park is a house of horrors for the home squad in 2008. San Francisco owns an MLB-worst 17-28 home record.
First-half MVP: Tim Lincecum. "Tiny Tim" leads the majors with 126 strikeouts in just 121.2 innings.
 
27Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 27
Nothing says cleanup hitter like a .577 OPS. That woefully low statistic belongs to Jose Vidro, the Mariners' No. 4 hitter against right-handed starters. Why on Earth would new manger John Riggleman bat Vidro fourth? According to Seattle Times writer Geoff Baker, it's a ploy to protect Raul Ibanez. Sounds like somebody's really overthinking lineup strategy. Vidro's OPS is 67 points lower than Juan freakin' Pierre!
First-half MVP: Brandon Morrow. Morrow has given up two earned runs in 32 appearances, and he's 8-for-8 in saves.
 
28Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 26
Life after C.C. (sorry, CC) didn't get off to the greatest start. Jeremy Sowers took the departed ace's spot in the rotation Tuesday night and proceeded to give up seven runs and 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings. Those are some big shoes (and pants) to fill.
First-half MVP: Cliff Lee. Has shaved almost four runs off last year's ERA.
 
29San Diego Padres
Last Week: 30
Jake Peavy's chances of repeating as the National League Cy Young winner are pretty much shot, thanks in large part to San Diego's wretched offense. While Peavy owns a stellar 2.67 ERA, he's barely above .500 in the win-loss column at 6-5. That's the problem with receiving an average of four runs of support per game.
First-half MVP: Adrian Gonzalez. Seventy RBIs is impressive. Seventy RBIs with his supporting cast -- that's unreal.
 
30Washington Nationals
Last Week: 29
Imagine being John Lannan. Nobody has suffered more from Washington's overall horrendousness than the rookie left-hander. Lannan has held the opposition to three runs or less in eight of his last nine starts, and what does he have to show for it? One win, three no-decisions and five losses. That just doesn't seem fair.
First-half MVP: Cristian Guzman. Slim pickings in Washington, but Guzman does lead the NL with 120 hits.
 

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