Thursday May 13th, 2010

Plagued with stomach pain Monday night, Padres reliever Tim Stauffer reached for his iPhone. Sure enough, there was an app for that. Using a WebMD program, he self-diagnosed an appendix problem and took a cab to the nearest hospital where he had an emergency appendectomy Tuesday morning. Unlike the organ he had removed, Stauffer has been an essential part of San Diego's early-season vitality. Mostly used in long relief, with one spot start on May 9, Stauffer has been the bullpen saver, throwing at least two innings in seven of his 10 appearances and allowing just one run in 23 1/3 innings -- a 0.39 ERA. And it's San Diego's pitching that has the club atop the NL West as the majors' biggest surprise this season. And in about four weeks Stauffer will be back by a phone again, awaiting the call from the bullpen.

MLB Power Rankings
1Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 1
Is there a small chink in the Rays' armor? The offense is looking a bit inconsistent. CC Sabathia took a no-hitter against them into the eighth. Dallas Braden threw a perfect game against Tampa Bay. Only third baseman Evan Longoria and left fielder Carl Crawford are having the seasons at the plate expected of them; in fact, they're the only two even hitting as high as .270. (Both are well north of that, with Longoria batting .326 and Crawford .316.)

To protect their firm grip atop the rankings, the Rays will merely need to take care of business against a couple of the AL's worst, as Tampa Bay hosts Seattle and Cleveland on a five-game homestand.
 
2Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 2
Another year, another season in which the Twins' pitchers pound the strike zone. Minnesota has issued only 84 walks, the fewest in the majors, and have been correspondingly efficient with their pitch counts, needing only 136.7 pitches per game, also the fewest in the majors. This, of course, is nothing new for the Twins: Since 2003 the Twins have never ranked lower than second in the majors in walks allowed, in large part due to the influence of longtime minor-league pitching coordinator Rick Knapp, who is now the pitching coach for the Tigers.
 
3New York Yankees
Last Week: 3
Backup catcher Francisco Cervelli is batting .408, utility infielder Ramiro Pena had hits in each game against the Red Sox and outfielder Brett Gardner, who doesn't start everyday, is batting .337 with a .420 on-base percentage and 16 stolen bases. Gardner has been especially impactful, having scored 26 runs, tied with Robinson Cano for the team lead. "When he gets on his base -- I'm not a pitcher -- but I'd think a pitcher would be like, 'Damn. Now I've got to worry about this dude,'" says right fielder Nick Swisher. "A walk or a single turns into a double real quick."
 
4Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 5
The Phillies will play three additional games at Citizens Bank Park this summer. Thanks to the G20 summit of world leaders in Toronto, the three-game interleague set between the Blue Jays and Phillies has been relocated to Philadelphia, because of security concerns that weekend in the Canadian city. It's a shame, too, given that Roy Halladay will now be deprived his hero's welcome in a return to Rogers Centre.
 
5St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 4
The Cardinals' run atop the NL -- at least according to these rankings -- ended last week after they lost three of four at the Phillies. During that trip manager Tony La Russa gave up on waiting for leadoff hitter Skip Schumaker (.218 average, .297 OBP) to wake up and he has since been demoted to seventh in the order. In a corresponding move, La Russa moved the pitcher back to the No. 9 slot after going 8-5 in 13 games with his pitcher hitting eighth.
 
6San Diego Padres
Last Week: 7
Since April 16, the Padres have had baseball's best pitching, a stretch in which the San Diego staff has a paltry 2.22 ERA. The Padres have kept the ball close to the plate, registering the major's fewest number of hit batsmen (three) and wild pitches (five, tied with St. Louis).
 
7San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 6
As far as pitchers go, Tim Lincecum is a decent hitter. He's 3-for-16 this year (.188) and is batting .144 for his career. But oddly, he's made it this deep into his career while batting left-handed, exposing his golden, two-time Cy Young arm to fastballs from opposing pitchers. Even at the sacrifice of his mediocre offensive abilities, shouldn't he start hitting right-handed?
 
8Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 8
While Curtis Granderson resides on the Yankees' disabled list, his replacement in Detroit, former New York prospect Austin Jackson, has 51 hits in 34 Tigers games, a pace for 243 over the course of the season. That would break the rookie record for hits, currently held by Ichiro Suzuki, who had 242 in 2001. Second place on that list is Shoeless Joe Jackson's 233 hits in 1911.
 
9Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 10
The Blue Jays still lead the majors in total home runs (52) and frequency (23.7 at bats per home run), in part because they've jumped on a lot of first pitches. Toronto leads the majors in swinging at the first pitch at 33.9 percent (the Red Sox are least likely, at 17.0 percent)and have hit a major-league leading 14 home runs on the first pitch. Toronto's total represents nearly 10 percent of all first-pitch homers in the majors.
 
10Texas Rangers
Last Week: 18
Perhaps fitting for team in which Nolan Ryan's name appears high on the masthead, the two pitchers in the majors who have hit the most batters are Rangers, Rich Harden and C.J. Wilson, who have plunked five apiece. Ryan hit 158 batters, sixth among pitchers whose careers began after World War I and fourth among non-knuckleballers. (Charlie Hough and Tim Wakefield are tied for second with 174 HBP apiece.)
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