Thursday May 27th, 2010

The swagger of David Ortiz is back. Emboldened by his hot hitting in May -- he's belted nine home runs, raised his average 123 points and ranks second only to teammate Kevin Youkilis in OPS this month -- Boston's designated hitter is starting to show his old moxie. In a radio interview last Thursday, Ortiz said he was "absolutely mad" when manager Terry Francona lifted him for a pinch hitter in April. "You gotta believe in your players, period," Ortiz continued. "You choose to have me on your roster since Day 1. You gotta ride with me." Then on Monday, after hitting a bomb at Tropicana Field, Ortiz completed his home run trot in 30.59 seconds, the first player in 2010 to take longer than 30 seconds to round the bases, according to

On Wednesday Ortiz batted third for the first time in nearly a year and promptly homered again, but his best at-bat of the day came in the top of the ninth. The Rays summoned sidewinding lefty Randy Choate to face Ortiz, who drilled a hard single through the left side of the infield and away from the shift. It was a sound piece of hitting in a tough matchup that more than any home run shows how locked in Big Papi is right now.

As he goes, so go the Red Sox. Winners of eight of their last nine, including a three-game sweep in Tampa Bay, the Sox are in third place in the American League East for the first time since April 28 and make their top-10 debut in the Power Rankings.

MLB Power Rankings
1Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 1
The Rays' offensive slogan is G.T.M.I., and that's exactly what they didn't do in a home series against Boston to start the week. The slogan stands for "Get The [Man] In" -- with the M actually standing for something considerably more profane than anything the family-friendly Power Rankings can print -- but Tampa Bay went 2-for-25 with runners in scoring position in the series. The Rays still have four more wins than any other team in baseball. To protect that lead they'll need to break out of their mini-slump at home against the White Sox and then on the road against the Blue Jays.
2New York Yankees
Last Week: 2
Mariano Rivera never threw a pitch on May 25, but the record books show he earned a save that day. That's because the Yankees closer saved the continuation of Tuesday's suspended game early Wednesday evening, but the statistics are all retroactively dated to when the game started. A few hours later, Mo saved the normal Wednesday game for good measure. Manager Joe Girardi had indicated that he wouldn't use any of his relievers in both games. Then he hedged himself between games, saying he'd check to see how they felt. Ultimately he used Rivera in both games. Hard to blame him.
3Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 3
The Twins' new stadium opened Minneapolis baseball to the heavens, knowingly subjecting games to inclement weather, though that was to be expected and even embraced. When a light rain fell in the second game of the season, the Target Field crowd cheered and chanted, "OUT-door BASE-ball!" Less anticipated, however, has been the abundance of wildlife taking up residence. Earlier this season, an American kestrel bird watched a few innings from the foul pole, and then on Tuesday night -- just before rain suspended play for the first time in the new ballpark -- a squirrel briefly delayed play when it ran across the field, dangerously close to third baseman Brendan Harris' feet.
4San Diego Padres
Last Week: 5
Crippling pain? No problem. It's been that charmed kind of season for the Padres, and on Sunday starter Mat Latos was stricken with a migraine less than a half-hour before beginning his pregame stretching. He said he was fortunate to be pitching in Seattle where it was at least mostly cloudy -- whenever the sun shone through, the light worsened the migraine -- and he threw six innings, allowing only one run. What went unsaid is that he was fortunate to pitching against Seattle's lineup.
5Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 6
Stop me if you've heard the one about Dusty Baker and his mismanagement of pitchers ... With the Cubs, some think Baker's handling of Mark Prior and Kerry Wood led to their injuries. Now the manager of the Reds, Baker is working his relievers hard, especially Nick Masset and closer Francisco Cordero, each of whom have worked in 25 games, tied for third-most in the majors. And they're pitching almost an inning per outing, meaning they're not just situational relievers entering for one batter. Just a little farther down the list: Daniel Ray Herrera and Arthur Rhodes, at 21 appearances each. The Reds and Mets both have four pitchers with at least 21 relief outings; the Rangers, with Nolan Ryan hoping to end the coddling of pitchers are the only team with five.
6Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 4
Getting shutout in games started by a pair of no-name Mets, R.A. Dickey and Hisanori Takahashi, was just the latest indignity for a once-proud Phillies lineup. Philadelphia has finished first or second in the NL in runs scored in each of the last five seasons, but that offense has fallen silent in its last eight games. During that time the Phillies have gone 2-6, batting just .203 and scoring only 1.9 runs per game.
7St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 7
One major headline out of St. Louis this weekend was on a reported dugout spat between Albert Pujols and manager Tony La Russa. After Ryan Ludwick was caught stealing for the third out of the eighth inning on Friday night -- leaving Pujols standing in the batter's box -- Pujols reportedly threw his bat and helmet, and then hit two trays of gum off the bench. A heated exchange allegedly followed, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, with La Russa ending it by saying, "I (expletive) know how to manage." The question here is not whether this exchange happened, as Pujols has denied the report, but why was Ludwick attempting to steal second base in a 9-5 game with Pujols batting?
8Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 10
The Dodgers filed a lawsuit on Monday, suing comedian Jon Lovitz and 100 other individuals, alleging that the group failed to make good on $95,400 of season tickets for the 2010 season. Or maybe they simply didn't like City Slickers II.
9Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 9
And the Tigers all breathe a sigh of relief. Three days after getting beaned with a fastball to the helmet, center fielder Austin Jackson returned to play on Tuesday and even smacked a double. His eye was grotesquely swollen the day after getting hit (the helmet slammed into his face), but that cleared up and his at-bats showed no residual effects of being hit. He added another 2-for-5 on Wednesday.
10Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 13
In winning eight of their last nine, Boston's starting rotation has averaged just shy of seven innings per start and done so with a 1.92 ERA. The highlight of the week was Daisuke Matsuzaka's 7 2/3 innings of no-hit ball in Philadelphia Saturday night, just one start removed from giving up five runs in his first inning at Yankee Stadium. If he can be reliably effective going forward, Tom Verducci argues, he may be the key to Boston's stretch run.
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