Thursday July 8th, 2010

Other than a one-day, half-game hiccup in late June, the Twins have ruled the American League Central since the season's second week, residing in first place from April 12 through July 4. But now that they've fallen to third place behind both the Tigers and the White Sox, the Twins may have the added incentive they need to go out and land a staff ace such as Seattle's Cliff Lee.

They could certainly use his help. Since the start of June the Twins are just 14-19, during which time their starters' ERA has jumped from 4.01 in April and May to 5.00 in June and July. With the team's increased revenue thanks to Target Field, not to mention the reported insurance policy the club had on injured closer Joe Nathan and his $11.25 million contract, the Twins probably have the money to land a big name at the deadline. And with talented (though slumping) catching prospect Wilson Ramos being blocked at the major-league level by Joe Mauer, Minnesota could be a good match with Seattle on a trade for the lefty ace.

The Tigers and White Sox won't remain idle -- and some reports suggest Chicago is heavily interested in Washington's Adam Dunn -- but the challenge of supplanting the Twins as AL Central champs will much greater if Lee lands in the Twin Cities.

MLB Power Rankings
1New York Yankees
Last Week: 1
Much of Robinson Cano's excellent season-to-date (.337 average, .390 on-base percentage, 16 home runs) is due to his hard work with hitting coach Kevin Long, who routinely sings Cano's praises. When it was announced that Cano would participate in the Home Run Derby next week, Long was less than pleased and, ergo, the next day Cano withdrew from the Derby. Turns out the team withdrew for him, initially, as Cano learned of his exit from the Derby when teammate Javier Vazquez showed him an online news story.

Coming off a sweep of the A's in Oakland, the Yankees travel to Seattle for a four-game series where they'll try to protect their No. 1 ranking leading into the All-Star break.
 
2Texas Rangers
Last Week: 2
The Rangers are reportedly trying to trade for Mariners starter Cliff Lee, who could be the piece that all but clinches their first postseason berth in over a decade, but first the team has to decide if they can afford a luxury like a new ace when they can't even pay for their uniforms. Among the revelations from the proceedings related to the Rangers' drawn-out bankruptcy and sale is that the club owes its official hat outfitter, New Era, a lot of money.
 
3Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 4
Though once seen as the future face of the franchise, could center fielder B.J. Upton now be trade-bait? A rumor started on Peter Gammons' Twitter account said as much while one Rays beat writer isn't so sure of the rumor's validity. Marc Topkin of the St. Petersburg Times suggested that Gammons, who is now employed by NESN, the Red Sox' own television station, could have made the rumor up in order to distract Upton. That hardly seems likely, but Upton was just 1-for-8 in the Rays' series this week with the Red Sox, which Tampa Bay swept.
 
4Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 6
When Omar Infante received a call from general manager Frank Wren on Sunday morning, he thought he had been traded. Instead, the news was that Infante had made the NL All-Star team, which even Infante himself didn't believe at first. His selection -- despite one home run, three steals, nine walks and too few at bats to qualify for the batting title -- appears to have been the result of NL manager Charlie Manuel's literal interpretation of a need for a multi-position utility player. Making matters worse is that Manuel already had that player in Infante's teammate Martin Prado, who has played every position except catcher and center field in his career. Prado's starting the All-Star Game but could have returned under a new re-entry rule. (Even the sponsor of Infante's own Baseball-Reference.com page disparages the pick.)
 
5San Diego Padres
Last Week: 5
What's even stranger than the Padres being in first-place with the All-Star break just days away? The Padres as trade-deadline buyers. Before the season, everyone expected trade rumors surrounding the possible jettisoning of All-Star first baseman Adrian Gonzalez to be at a deafening roar by now, but instead the Padres could be looking to not only keep Gonzalez but add a player for the stretch run. One recent report said that the Orioles had recently scouted the Padres minor-league system, suggesting at least the preliminary work on trade discussions.
 
6Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 9
Joey Votto had an interesting first 36 hours after learning of his All-Star snub. He was ejected for arguing balls and strikes in his first at bat Sunday afternoon, but then he responded in a more dramatic way Monday night at Citi Field, smacking three extra-base hits off the Mets, including two home runs, one of which hit the red apple beyond the center field wall. He could still reach the All-Star Game if voted in on the final-man ballot. To help his cause, the club's equipment manager wrote "Vote Votto" on batting-practice balls that may be caught by fans.
 
7Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 3
The Red Sox breathed a sigh of relief when Kevin Youkilis -- who earlier in the week received support for his All-Star candidacy from U.S. Senator John Kerry -- avoided serious injury Tuesday night. He left the game early with what he described as a "cramp" in his ankle but was back in the lineup the next day. Had Youkilis, who has played 22 games in the outfield during his career, gone on the disabled list, the Red Sox could have filled a DL-only roster that might win a few divisions in baseball: Catcher: Jason Varitek; First base: Victor Martinez; Second base: Dustin Pedroia; Shortstop: Jed Lowrie; Third base: Mike Lowell; Outfield: Jacoby Ellsbury, Jeremy Hermida, Youkilis; Starters: Josh Beckett, Clay Buchholz; Reliever-Manny Delcarmen.
 
8Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 14
Johnny Damon hit a third-inning single up the middle on Tuesday night for his 2,500th career hit, though his 2,501th was more important: an 11th-inning walk-off homer later that same night. Damon has barely slowed down the last few years and, if he keeps up his current pace, could reach 3,000 hits in early 2013. If so, given his steady high level of performance and two World Series rings, he'll start receiving consideration for Cooperstown.
 
9Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 15
Just as the White Sox started surging -- reaching second place in the AL Central on Wednesday for the first time since the second day of the season -- they received bad news: starter Jake Peavy, who threw a quality start in each of his five June outings (3-2, 1.75 ERA), left his start on Tuesday night with what's been described as a detached muscle and he could miss the rest of the season. When someone takes his next turn in the rotation, it will be the first start made by someone not in Chicago's original five-man staff.
 
10New York Mets
Last Week: 8
Johan Santana became only the second Mets pitcher and first since 1981 to hit a home run and pitch a shutout on Tuesday night. He didn't just hit a home run but did so while allowing only three hits. And he didn't just hit a home run but hit his first major-league homer on the 12th pitch of an at bat. It was a welcome good day for Santana, who was hit hard when he faced his former team, the Twins, in his previous start and who was in the news recently for sexual battery charges, though they were later dropped.
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