Thursday June 10th, 2010

Since the morning of May 7 no city has enjoyed better baseball than Los Angeles. Though the Angels and Dodgers both spent at least five days in last place in April, that all turned around in the second week of May. From that point forward the Dodgers' 24-8 record is the best in the majors and the Angels' 21-11 mark is the best in the American League. The Dodgers have jumped from last to first; the Angels climbed from six games under .500 and third place to within a half-game of the AL West lead.

Though the Rays and Yankees remain the dominant teams in the AL, the Dodgers now have the best record in the National League and a Freeway World Series isn't looking so completely farfetched -- maybe Sports Illustrated was simply three years premature.

This weekend the SoCal rivals resume their twice-annual interleague series at Chavez Ravine, battling not just for local bragging rights but also for the title of Baseball's Hottest Team.

MLB Power Rankings
1Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 1
Not that we needed any more evidence of how global our world is, but the Tampa Bay Rays, who, without moving to Miami, would be hard-pressed to be farther away from the state of Washington, picked high school players from the Evergreen State with three of their first six selections. Their first pick was Josh Sale, an outfielder, from Bishop Blanchet High, and their most intriguing pick was Drew Vettleson, who is primarily an outfielder from Central Kitsap School but can also pitch with both hands. He hits 93 mph from the right and 88 from the left.

The Rays must now protect their No. 1 ranking -- a spot they've held since the last week of April -- with interleague battles at home against the Marlins and then at the Braves.
2New York Yankees
Last Week: 2
On each of the last six game days, the Yankees and Rays have either both won or both lost, so the margin separating the two in the AL East remains two games. New York has had one major bright spot of late -- not Mark Teixiera, obviously, as he's still batting just .224 -- New York is now starting to get what it expected out of starter Javy Vazquez. In his last four starts, he's 3-1 with a 2.81 ERA and 8.4 K/9.
3Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 8
One sign of a great bullpen is a club's record in one-run games. The Dodgers are 15-6 in those games, the majors' best winning percentage, and nine of their last 10 wins have been by one run. Good thing, too. The Dodgers have had trouble scoring. They've plated just 44 runs in their last 11 games. Take away their 12-run outburst on Monday aside, and they're barely averaging three runs per page.
4Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 3
The team nickname is starting to apply to their players' injuries, too. The club's starting middle infielders, second baseman Orlando Hudson and shortstop J.J. Hardy, have been sidelined by a pair or wrist injuries. Hudson is on the disabled list, and Hardy was on it earlier and is still struggling with the ailment. He had a cortisone shot on Tuesday. Minnesota second-basemen not named Hudson are batting just .179 with one home run. At short, Hardy himself is struggling, but his replacements (.235, 0 HRs) aren't faring any better.
5San Diego Padres
Last Week: 4
One former Padre voiced his anger this week over the firing of general manager Kevin Towers in the offseason. Speaking to, Jake Peavy, now a starter for the White Sox, said, "Kevin Towers getting let go out there is an absolute joke. You can quote me on that. . . . Kevin Towers put that team together. That's almost all his people there."
6Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 5
Slugging, apparently, is optional. Among players with at least 180 plate appearances -- and there are 184 of them -- the Braves have three of the worst slugging percentages in baseball, as center fielder Nate McLouth (.282, fourth), shortstop Yunel Escobar (.292, seventh) and left fielder Melky Cabrera (.308, 12th) all rate in the bottom dozen of the list. They have just 28 extra-base hits among them, a rate of just one every 21.1 trips to the batter's box.
7Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 6
The Reds are taking full advantage of Great American ballpark. Of their NL-leading 73 home runs, 47 have come in 33 games at home, against 26 homers in 27 games on the road. Brandon Phillips and Drew Stubbs are clearly the most comfortable playing alongside the Ohio River: Both have six home runs at home and only one on the road.
8Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 9
When the Red Sox signed third baseman Adrian Beltre to a one-year, $10 million contract in the offseason, it was done with the expectation that he'd provide average offense and spectacular defense. Instead, he's been balanced with very good offense and very good, if inconsistent, defense. He's hitting a team-high .329 with seven home runs and 40 RBIs, which is tied with Kevin Youkilis the team lead. But Beltre has also committed 11 errors, most in the AL. He does, however, still have the penchant for the spectacular play and leads the majors in Ultimate Zone Rating at third base.
9St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 7
In this year of the perfect game, Cardinals reliever Jason Motte threw one, too. It took him 11 appearances to compile it, and he also tacked on five more outs for good measure, recently recording a streak of retiring 32 consecutive batters, just nine shy of the record set by the White Sox' Bobby Jenks. But Motte wasn't too worried about receiving any notoriety for his efforts, telling Fox Sports Midwest, "I would have had to throw a million other scoreless innings for anyone to even really [notice]. It doesn't matter."
10Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 10
On a list of baseball's most underrated starters of the season, wouldn't Brett Cecil (6-2, 3.43 ERA, 1.01 WHIP), Shaun Marcum (5-3, 3.38 ERA, 1.13 WHIP) and Ricky Romero (5-2, 3.06 ERA, 9.1 K/9) all make the top dozen or so on the list? For all of the Blue Jays' prodigious power -- major-league-leading 97 homers and .460 slugging -- their starting pitching, led by those three, have at least delayed Toronto's fade from the league's upper echelon. They've done this with a rookie pitching coach, Bruce Walton, who was formerly the club's bullpen coach. He's also worked magic as a batting practice pitcher: his sessions have helped John Buck and now Aaron Hill improve their swings.
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