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Yankees return to top spot as AL East powers assert themselves

Alex Rodriguez has a strained hip flexor that forced him to miss four games and return to the lineup only as the designated hitter. Mark Teixeira continues to hit below .230. A.J. Burnett has lost three straight starts during which time he's given up 16 runs in 16 innings.

And yet the Yankees march on. Winners of 12 of their last 16, they've been led by second baseman Robinson Cano, an early MVP candidate batting a major-league leading .370 with team highs in home runs (14) and RBIs (48). He's hit .400 with four homers during the club's recent hot streak, allowing New York to vault back to the top spot in the Power Rankings for the first time since April 22. Over that same time frame, the Rays have gone just 7-8, squandering their 4 1/2-game lead in the American League East. They're now tied with the Yankees, who return to No. 1 by virtue of their hot play, the best winning percentage in the majors since May 30.

Meanwhile, Boston is surging too, going 11-5 over the same time frame, closing the gap to just three games behind New York and Tampa Bay. And so not unexpectedly, as the season reaches 40 percent completion, the AL East triumvirate is demonstrating why they play in the baseball's best division, as all three join this week's top five.

MLB Power Rankings
1New York Yankees
Last Week: 2
When a member of the proud Yankee franchise accomplishes something for the first time in 73 years, it's pretty significant. On June 12 and 13, Jorge Posada hit grand slams in consecutive days, the first Yankee to do so since Hall of Fame catcher Bill Dickey in 1937. Posada hit the first on Saturday as designated hitter and the second on Sunday as catcher, his first time behind the plate in 28 days while recovering from a foot fracture. The only Yankee to hit grand slams in two straight days? Babe Ruth, in 1927 and '29. With the bases loaded, the 2010 Yankees, as a team, lead the majors in average (.429), grand slams (six) and RBIs (99, 35 more than second place).

Despite their hot play, the Yankees aren't even New York's hottest team and will try to protect their No. 1 ranking against the crosstown Mets, who visit for three games this weekend.
 
2Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 1
Catcher Dioner Navarro has been sidelined for a week with a freak airport injury that didn't even include heavy luggage, an overeager TSA agent or a motorized baggage cart. Instead, he merely swiveled his neck too quickly while stepping out of an elevator and looking for his family. It also could have happened if he had been watching his Rays fall quickly down the standings and the rankings by dropping four of six in the past week to fall out of sole possession of first place in the AL East for the first time since late April.
 
3Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 3
An All-Star every year he played in Boston and even World Series MVP in 2004, Manny Ramirez is undoubtedly a great Red Sox, but his late-tenure contract obsession and reported shove of a the club's traveling secretary shortly before he was traded to the Dodgers in the summer of 2008 soured all of that. So how will Manny be received in his return to Boston on Friday? The Red Sox can set the tone, if they prepare a special welcome back for him like the ones they extended Nomar Garciaparra and Pedro Martinez. If nothing else, the team understands the allure of Manny. When individual game tickets go on sale before the season, typically only the rivalry games form the Yankees are set aside for a special online lottery; this year the Dodgers tickets were also subjected to such a drawing.
 
4Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 4
Yes, Justin Morneau is on fire. He's batting .342 and leading the AL with a .452 on-base percentage, adding 13 home runs and 43 RBIs. And perhaps the Twins first baseman is too hot to handle: While hosting a Casino Night charity event to benefit the Arthritis Foundation, the Target Field kitchen caught fire.
 
5Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 8
When Daniel Nava hit a grand slam on the first pitch of his major league career, he joined an exclusive club, becoming only the fourth player to hit a grand slam in his first at bat and only the second to do so on his first pitch. The less exclusive club he joined was that of part-time Boston outfielders. With Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury having been injured most of the year, Nava became the seventh Red Sox left fielder of the season, joining Ellsbury, Bill Hall, Jeremy Hermida, Darnell McDonald, Josh Reddick and Jonathan Van Every. Third baseman Adrian Beltre is partly to blame, having collided with Ellsbury and Hermida while chasing pop-ups and breaking their ribs in the process, injuries that landed the latter pair on the disabled list.
 
6San Diego Padres
Last Week: 5
Last summer the Padres made a classic quality-for-quantity trade, sending former NL Cy Young winner Jake Peavy to the White Sox for Aaron Poreda, Dexter Carter, Clayton Richard and Adam Russell. Well, no matter what Poreda, Carter and Russell do with their pro careers, Richard is already proving the deal worthwhile so far. While Peavy struggles on Chicago's South Side (5-5, 5.62 ERA), Richard has been stellar (4-3, 2.71) for San Diego.
 
7Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 6
Kenshin Kawakami became the first pitcher with an 0-9 record to start a game for a team with a winning record, and he's racked up that lopsided mark despite a reasonable 4.42 ERA. The culprit? Poor run support, of course. In nine of his 13 starts the Braves have managed two or fewer runs, and they haven't scored more than four runs in any of the other four starts. Rotation-mate Jair Jurrjens is 0-3 over five starts -- and sidelined with a hamstring injury since April -- making 40 percent of the Braves expected rotation 0-12, making it all the more remarkable that Atlanta is still in first place in the NL East.
 
8Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 7
What has gotten into Jonny Gomes? The Reds left fielder is batting .302, 55 points higher than his career average. He has as many RBIs (48) as Robinson Cano and Josh Hamilton. And he's leading the majors in batting average with runners in scoring position (.458). "I was on the other side of the fence one time paying money for a ticket," Gomes told mlb.com, "so I like to see a good show, and if I have the opportunity to do that then I'm definitely going to do that."
 
9New York Mets
Last Week: 17
Manager Jerry Manuel engaged in a bit of wishful thinking over the weekend, saying that if the Mets' interleague series at Baltimore had been a week later, than rehabilitating center fielder Carlos Beltran would have been able to serve as designated hitter. That thinking was apparently totally wrong. Said general manager Omar Minaya, noting that Beltran won't return before the All-Star break, "Eventually, hopefully, he'll be [back] to where he was." In the meantime, New York has won 10 of 11 (though half those wins came against Baltimore and Cleveland) but its outfielders have hit just 15 home runs, tied for third-worst in the majors.
 
10St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 9
Will the legend of pitching coach Dave Duncan continue to grow? The renowned miracle worker with struggling pitchers has a new project: old friend Jeff Suppan, whom the Brewers cast off after going 7-14 with a 5.70 ERA in 2009 and early in '10. The Cardinals signed Suppan earlier in the week; he previously went 44-26 with a 3.95 ERA with the Redbirds from 2004-06. In Suppan's first start with St. Louis on Tuesday he allowed just one run in four innings and even hit a double in support his own cause.
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