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Dominant starting pitching carries Yankees to No. 1 spot

Regression to the mean was a key theme, as several teams with solid starts (Diamondbacks, Giants, Rangers, Reds) fell back to the pack, while several clubs who started more slowly (Angels, Mariners, Padres) played themselves into prime spots. More than two-thirds of the teams (22 of 30) have between six and nine wins, including 14 of the 16 NL clubs. That doesn't help poor Baltimore, which is starving for a win at 2-14, but at the top of the rankings five teams have clearly distinguished themselves as baseball's best. The recent work of the Yankees' rotation -- including Wednesday night's outing by Phil Hughes in which he took a no-hitter into the eighth -- gives them the top spot. (All stats and standings current through April 21.)

MLB Power Rankings
1New York Yankees
Last Week: 5
The dominant starting pitching is starting to prove its worth: The Yankees recently won five straight games -- one full lap of the rotation -- without allowing more than three runs in any of them and with the starter earning the win in each. Bonus fact: New York is the only major-league team not to play a game decided by one run this season, which essentially wastes the effectiveness of closer Mariano Rivera.
 
2Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 8
The Rays were dealt a difficult early-season schedule, with their first 13 games against fellow AL East opponents. Says starter Matt Garza, "Some of the best advice I ever got was from a veteran ballplayer, Shannon Stewart, who said, 'If you want to know if you belong in the major leagues, play in the AL East because that's where the show's at.' Three years here and I still haven't caught him lying." The Rays more than belong: They dominated that divisional stretch with a 10-3 record, including a four-game sweep in Boston, which vaults them over the Twins.
 
3Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 3
Smart move (so far) not to move Francisco Liriano to the bullpen: The left-hander is recapturing some of the unhittable stuff during his 2006 rookie season. Capped by eight scoreless innings on Wednesday, Liriano has thrown 21 innings in three starts had gone 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA and 17 strikeouts. Without him pitching to this high level, the Twins appeared to have a five-man rotation full of guys with third-starter talent. With Liriano at his best, suddenly that staff is a lot more fierce with a 1-3-3-3-3 lineup.
 
4Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 1
With Raul Ibanez off to a slow start, the Phillies lineup -- though potent at the top -- isn't very long. Ibanez's on-base percentage is reasonable (.339), but he's not hitting (.196 average) and thus not driving in many runs (six). The dropoff in production is significant, as the top three slot in the Phillies' lineup have all scored 15 runs each, while their sixth through eighth hitters have scored 15 runs total.
 
5St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 2
Tony La Russa made several curious managerial decisions from Saturday's 20-inning marathon -- double-switching Matt Holliday out of the lineup, calling a hit-and-run with Albert Pujols batting, using pitcher Kyle Lohse in left field and putting position players on the mound -- and admitted the next day that he would have used pitcher-turned-outfielder Rick Ankiel, had he still been on the team. It's hard not to feel cheated out of the drama of that moment, as it likely would have gone one of two ways: exceptionally well or disastrously wrong.
 
6Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 16
If this were a ranking for practical jokes, then the Braves would be No. 1. After Nate McLouth hit an extra-inning walkoff home run to win on Tuesday night, all of his teammates fled to the clubhouse so that McLouth, in his moment of glory, was left alone as he crossed home plate and entered the dugout, before eventually mobbing him out of sight of the cameras.
 
7Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 22
The most pleasant discovery of the Mariners season has been the pitching of second-year starter Doug Fister, who is 2-1 with a 1.42 ERA and 0.84 WHIP in 19 innings. He even took a no-hitter into the seventh inning in his most recent start. The least pleasant development has been the the unfortunate juxtaposition of Fister's strikeout signs (a white fist over a K) next to the retired number of Jackie Robinson. Oops. In brighter news Cliff Lee returns from the DL soon and had his suspension overturned.
 
8San Diego Padres
Last Week: 24
Pitching in a spacious home ballpark such as Petco is usually an invitation to pitch to contact, but Padres pitchers are third in the NL in strikeouts (116), thanks largely to a bullpen averaging 9.7 strikeouts per nine innings. The defense has been pretty good, too, with the NL's fourth-best defensive efficiency. Last year's breakout stars among their relievers were Heath Bell (42 saves as the replacement for legendary closer Trevor Hoffman) and setup man Mike Adams, who had a 0.73 ERA in 37 innings. This year the honor for now goes to Edward Mujica, who has a 0.58 WHIP and 9.6 K/9 rate. He's only allowed four hits in 10 1/3 innings, though three of them were solo homers.
 
9Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 6
So much for global warming: Hell just froze over. Johnny Damon's throwing arm is so weak that after Damon fled the Red Sox and signed with the Yankees, there were t-shirts being sold in Boston that read: "Looks like Jesus, Acts like Judas, Throws like Mary." I have long speculated that Damon might be naturally right-handed but never gave it a try. In any event, he notched an outfield assist and a compliment from manager Jim Leyland on his arm. Then again, Damon only was given the opportunity to throw out the runner because he tried tagging from first to second on a flyball, an obvious challenge to Damon's throwing arm.
 
10Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 23
The broken wrist suffered by catcher Jeff Mathis, who'll miss six-to-eight weeks, is no small matter. In the past three years Angels pitchers have an ERA that's nearly three-quarters of a run better pitching to Mathis (3.83) than to his co-starter, Mike Napoli (4.56). The Angels' best starter so far this season has been free agent signing Joel Pineiro (1.77 ERA), who has never thrown to Napoli, having made all three starts this season with Mathis behind the plate.
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