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Separation week sees trio of teams make big moves in standings

When the 2010 season is reviewed, this past week may be known as Separation Week. Several playoff races became a little less murky, particularly in the American League Central and National League West. The Twins won six straight, as the White Sox lost four straight to give Minnesota a five-game lead; meanwhile, the Padres have won 9 of their last 10, including four in a row to take a six-game lead, as the Giants lost three in a row and four out of five.

Something similar happened in the NL Central as the Reds won five straight and the Cardinals lost four in a row, but Cincinnati started the stretch behind in the division, so its lead is currently only three games. Similarly, the Phillies have won four consecutive games to overtake the Giants on the NL wild-card leaderboard by two games.

So while the Rays and Yankees continue to flip-flop on the No. 1 spot of the Power Rankings, a little clarity has come to the rest of the Top 10, with the Twins, Phillies and Reds all moving up several spots as the White Sox, Cardinals and Giants all took a hit.

MLB Power Rankings
1Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 2
The Rays have been very streaky since their 22-7 start but are now on the upswing, with a five-game winning streak that includes a sweep over AL West-leading Texas and vaults them back into the top spot of the Power Rankings. For most of the season, Tampa Bay's offense has been up-and-down, with All-Stars Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria as the two constants. Not anymore. While Crawford continues to produce steadily, Longoria had a recent slump, though on Wednesday he did snap an 82-plate-appearance homerless drought that dated back to July 28.

The Rays will now try to protect their top ranking on the West Coast with four games in Oakland -- where Dallas Braden threw a perfect game against them on the last trip -- and three more in Anaheim.
 
2New York Yankees
Last Week: 1
Hey, was that Joe Girardi on the D train? Why, yes, it was the Yankees' manager riding the subway, accompanied by three of his relievers and Jane Lang, a 67-year-old woman and diehard Yankees fan who has been blind since birth but still attends some 30 games each season. After meeting her in her Morris Plains, N.J., home, the Yankees traveled with her to the Bronx the way she does -- New Jersey Transit followed by the subway. It's all part of the second-annual HOPE (Helping Others Persevere and Excel) Week, a charitable program begun last season that goes above and beyond the normal charity work of pro sports teams.
 
3San Diego Padres
Last Week: 2
Maybe Bud Black can be a pioneer: a major-league pitcher turned successful manager. While eight current managers were major-league catchers -- and Rays skipper Joe Maddon was a minor-league catcher -- only Black was a pitcher. Interim Mariners manager Daren Brown pitched but never reached the majors. While teams may shy away from most starting pitchers as managers because four days out of five they were not on the field, Black is proving it can be done, and he should be a shoo-in for NL Manager of the Year.
 
4Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 5
If he had been traded a day later, Derrek Lee's commute would have been a lot shorter. The longtime Cubs first baseman, who will be a free agent this offseason, was traded to the Braves Wednesday afternoon, so he left the Cubs in Chicago to join the Braves in Atlanta for their game on Thursday. But if the deal had happened a day later, all Lee would have had to do is walk from Wrigley Field's home clubhouse to its visiting clubhouse, as the Braves are opening a weekend series with the Cubs. Lee is having a bit of a down year (.256 average, .311 OBP, 16 HRs, 56 RBIs), but the Braves needed a bat with Chipper Jones lost for the season.
 
5Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 8
Jim Thome's 581st career home run was the first walk-off homer in Target Field history. The Twins designated hitter has been everything the Twins could have asked for when they signed him in the offseason: a fine .269 average but an excellent .389 OBP, 17 home runs and 44 RBIs while starting just more than half the club's games and pinch-hitting in about a quarter more. Thome is now three home runs shy of Mark McGwire for ninth on the all-time list.
 
6Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 10
Tuesday was All-Star Infielder's Welcome Back from the DL Day across baseball, as Boston's Dustin Pedroia, Atlanta's Martin Prado and Philadelphia's Chase Utley all rejoined their teams' lineups. In Utley's first two games back he went 2-for-9 as the Phillies took the outright lead of the wild card -- not that their standing in the wild card race was received too warmly in the clubhouse. As manager Charlie Manuel told reporters Tuesday, "We don't care about the wild card."
 
7Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 12
Pop quiz, hotshot: Who is the only closer in the majors with more than 30 saves each of the last four seasons? Considering this text appears under the Reds banner, the safe -- and correct -- answer is Francisco Cordero, who despite having his highest ERA (3.98) since 2000, is again racking up the saves for the Reds, with 32. Two more will likely join him later this season, as the Red Sox' Jonathan Papelbon has an even 30 and needs just one more save to join Cordero, and the Yankees' Mariano Rivera needs seven more saves this season. But no one else will be able to join the list. (Injuries have derailed the chances for Francisco Rodriguez and Joe Nathan to get 30 saves this season, and poor performance sank Trevor Hoffman's chance.)
 
8Texas Rangers
Last Week: 4
The Rangers are having trouble against the American League's best teams. After being swept by Tampa Bay, Texas is now 3-11 against the other current AL playoff leaders -- Rays, Twins and Yankees. If not for a 21-6 June, the Rangers are a .500 club (46-46), and injuries will make it hard to pick up the pace. They haven't had the services of second baseman Ian Kinsler for the past 19 games and now have lost Nelson Cruz to the disabled list and even third baseman Michael Young has missed the past two games with a strained neck.
 
9Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 7
No sooner did the Red Sox roll off three straight road wins(one against the Yankees, two against the Blue Jays) then they suffered their worst back-to-back losses they or anyone has had this season. Last Thursday Boston blew a 5-2 ninth-inning lead to Toronto. On Friday it lost a game to the Rangers after leading 8-2 in the fourth; that one ended with Nelson Cruz hitting an 11th-inning, first-pitch knuckleball off Tim Wakefield for a solo homer, just like Aaron Boone did in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS. Ouch. Not even the return of Pedroia or the sight of the Angels, against whom the Sox are 9-0 this year, could lighten the mood in Boston.
 
10St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 6
Where's Ryan Ludwick now? The Cardinals could have used an additional bat this past week, in which they've lost four straight games by a combined five runs. Starters Chris Carpenter, Jaime Garcia and Adam Wainwright each helped hold their opponent to exactly three runs, but the Cardinals scored two runs each time out. And with Colby Rasmus sidelined with a calf injury, St. Louis is missing the outfield depth they had before trading Ludwick last month.
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