Thursday July 1st, 2010

Even winning doesn't come easy to the Orioles or Pirates. In the seventh inning of a 6-6 game Wednesday night against the A's, Baltimore designated hitter Luke Scott launched a deep flyball to left-center field. He sprinted out of the box, unsure if the ball would leave Camden Yards. It did, landing in the first row. By that time, however, Scott was limping around first base, having pulled his hamstring. He gamely completed his hobbled lap around the bases and the Orioles went on to win 9-6, but Scott will most likely be heading to the disabled list.

Baltimore and Pittsburgh are not just baseball's worst two teams, they are much worse than everybody else. Houston, Cleveland and Arizona all maintain a modicum of respectability while the Orioles and Pirates could have historically awful seasons. The Orioles are on pace to lose 112 games; the Pirates are on track for 106 losses. Only six teams in baseball history have lost as many games as Baltimore is projected to lose, most recently done by the 2003 Tigers, who were 43-119.

By one measure the Pirates may even be worse than the O's. Since 2003 there have been nine 100-loss teams, with season run differentials ranging from the '08 Mariners at negative-140 to the '03 Tigers at negative-337. But the Pirates already have a differential of negative-180 through just 78 games. Over a full season they're on course to finish with a differential of negative-373, which would be the worst since 1899. (Baltimore is on pace for a negative-288, which would be worse than any team of the last eight years except for the '03 Tigers and '10 Pirates.)

And so the Orioles and Pirates are jockeying not just for the No. 1 draft pick next year, but also to avoid the indignity of being included in the discussion of the worst teams of alltime.

MLB Power Rankings
1New York Yankees
Last Week: 1
Pitching coach Dave Eiland returned to the Yankees at the start of their homestand on Tuesday after having been on a 25-day leave for what he only called a "private, family matter." While Eiland was gone, the Yankees went 13-8, as the pitching staff had a 4.23 ERA. But A.J. Burnett was 0-5 with a 11.35 ERA in that span, which may indicate a reliance on Eiland's counsel. Indeed, a day after the coach returned to duty, he announced that he had corrected a mechanical flaw affecting Burnett, who gets his first chance to put Eiland's revisions to use on Friday.

The Yankees will look to protect their top ranking -- which they've now held three straight weeks -- with series against the Blue Jays and Athletics, a pair of hot-starting teams now fading to the bottom of the standings.
 
2Texas Rangers
Last Week: 4
After the Angels let Vladimir Guerrero leave in free agency, he landed with the division rival Rangers and is making them pay. The 35-year-old slugger has batted .625 in his first four games against the Angels with four home runs and nine RBIs, including two homers on Wednesday night. (Amusingly, Guerrero has yet to walk against Los Angeles but has hit a sacrifice fly, so this is rare instance where his on-base percentage against the Angels, .588, is actually lower than his average). Guerrero will almost certainly return to Angels Stadium again on July 13 as the All-Star started at designated hitter.
 
3Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 3
It was the series win the Red Sox wish never happened. Boston traveled to San Francisco and took two of three games from the Giants, but in the process saw a key player get injured each game. On Friday second baseman Dustin Pedroia fouled a ball off his foot and fractured a bone; on Saturday starter Clay Buchholz suffered a minor hamstring tear while running the bases; on Sunday catcher Victor Martinez broke his thumb on a foul tip. Never did the Red Sox imagine reaching midseason with Dustin Richardson, Gustavo Molina, Eric Patterson, Angel Sanchez and Daniel Nava on their active roster, yet they keep winning: The Sox have the majors' best record (27-11) since May 18.
 
4Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 2
The Rays are on the verge of seeing their season unravel. On Sunday center fielder B.J. Upton didn't seem to hustle after a ball hit into the gap, allowing the Diamondbacks' Rusty Ryal to turn a double into a triple. Back in the dugout, Upton and third baseman Evan Longoria had a heated exchange about the perceived lack of effort. Not helping matters any is that in the three games against Arizona -- which stars Upton's younger brother, Justin -- B.J. went 0-for-9 with four strikeouts.
 
5San Diego Padres
Last Week: 6
The Padres bullpen has been so effective that it has five members (Heath Bell, Luke Gregerson, Tim Stauffer, Joe Thatcher, Ryan Webb) who have thrown at least 16 innings of relief and have an ERA under 2.00, and that doesn't include Mike Adams who has thrown 37 innings with a 2.19 ERA -- a slacker by San Diego's high standards. No other major-league club has more than three relievers with a sub-2.00 ERA.
 
6Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 7
There was a surefire All-Star pitching Monday night at Turner Field, and it wasn't Stephen Strasburg. Opposing the Nationals rookie was the Braves' Tim Hudson, who last made an All-Star team in 2004 with Oakland, but who improved to 8-3 with a 2.37 ERA with the win over Washington. He's the undisputed ace of Atlanta's staff and ought to be heading to Anaheim over the All-Star break.
 
7Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 5
Center fielder Denard Span tied a modern-day record on Tuesday night by hitting three triples in a game against the Tigers. He became the 49th player to do so since 1900 and the first since Rafael Furcal in 2002. In recognition of his accomplishment the crowd at Target Field greeted him with a standing ovation as he strode to the plate in the seventh inning with a chance at history -- and then the fans promptly booed, the venom directed at the pitcher, when Span walked. Aging DH Jim Thome had tripled for the first time in seven years on Monday night, which Span joked had inspired him. "A triple for me is like hitting a home run for a power hitter," Span told reporters after the game.
 
8New York Mets
Last Week: 8
San Juan has been a "Bizarro" world for the Mets. In their series against the Marlins in Puerto Rico the previously undefeated R.A. Dickey got shelled for five runs in five innings to fall to 6-1. But left fielder Jason Bay, who had hit only four home runs all season, cracked two homers out of Hiram Bithorn Stadium.
 
9Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 11
He won't be Stephen Strasburg, but in Aroldis Chapman the Reds may have their own impact rookie arm to call up at midseason. Chapman, who left Cuba before the season, is making the transition from starter to reliever at Triple-A in hopes he can help Cincinnati at the major-league level this season. He had yielded just one run in his first three relief innings before getting smacked around for four runs in 1 2/3 innings earlier this week. Chapman could play a role like another stellar lefty, David Price, did for the Rays during their pennant-winning 2008.
 
10St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 9
On Monday Albert Pujols indicated that he wouldn't participate in this year's Home Run Derby, but on Tuesday gave longing fans a glimpse of what they're missing. Pujols homered twice off Arizona starter Dontrelle Willis, the 37th multi-homer game of the Cardinals first baseman's career, tying him with the legendary Stan Musial for most in club history. Pujols has 18 homers through the end of June this season after having 30 at the same point of last year.
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