Thursday May 20th, 2010

Just as the Dodgers reach the cusp of a single-digit power ranking, they hurt a pair of digits that kept them from making the leap. Los Angeles' nine-game winning streak was halted Wednesday night, a few days after right fielder Andre Ethier broke the tip of his right pinkie finger and a few hours after left fielder Manny Ramirez was a late lineup scratch, apparently having injured his toe while stretching. Yep, stretching. It's a classic case of Manny Being Manny, as he was loosening his legs and swung his left foot into a training room table, injuring his pinkie toe. Though Ramirez hasn't homered in more than a month, he's hitting .352 with a .473 on-base percentage. Ethier, meanwhile, was atop the Triple Crown categories at the time of his fracture, leading the National League in average (.392) and RBIs (38) and tying for first in home runs (11).

The Reds, meanwhile, have become the masters of winning by a skinny digit. Cincinnati leads the majors with 10 victories by a single run, three of them coming in their recent 9-1 stretch. And so baseball's hottest two teams -- and power rankings' fastest risers -- are the Dodgers and Reds, both of whom crack the Top 10, the first such appearance this season for L.A. and Cincinnati's first since the inaugural rankings on April 15.

MLB Power Rankings
1Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 1
Pat Burrell was signed to provide power from the right side of the plate, particularly against lefty pitchers. He fared so poorly that he was designated for assignment this week. No matter: The Rays have more wins (13) against left-handed starters, including a 2-0 record against the Mariners' Cliff Lee, than any other team in baseball. But one has to wonder if it'll last, as Tampa Bay is batting only .230 with 11 homers in 527 at bats against southpaws.

The Rays have already protected the top ranking spot for four weeks now, with a weekend interleague series at Houston and then three home dates with division rival Boston looming early next week.
2New York Yankees
Last Week: 3
Marcus Thames went from hero to goat in a New York minute. On Monday night he hit a walk-off homer off Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon to complete the Yankees' comeback win; on Tuesday night he dropped a ninth-inning flyball that led to two Boston runs and a Yankees loss. Therein is the summary of Thames: productive hitter, lousy fielder and mediocre placeholder for the injured Curtis Granderson.
3Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 2
The Twins lost the weekend series to the Yankees -- and subsequently fell behind New York in the all-important Power Rankings -- but they salvaged some pride in Sunday's win. Jason Kubel's grand slam off closer Mariano Rivera snapped the Twins' 12-game losing streak to the Yankees, including a three-game sweep in last year's playoffs.
4Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 4
Now manager Charlie Manuel regrets having talked as much as he did about allegations that the Phillies were stealing signs. Manuel's original reply was combative, as Ol' Cholly told opponents to "keep crying." A few days later, he changed his tune: "I shouldn't have said a word." Neither their manager's flip-flopping nor the controversy had much effect on the Phillies, who are still comfortably in first place in the NL East and highlighted the week with a three-game sweep of the Brewers.
5San Diego Padres
Last Week: 6
In the original Star Wars movie there's important dialogue just before Darth Vader and Obi Wan Kenobi engage in a lightsaber duel, in which Vader tells Obi Wan, his former mentor, "When I left you, I was but the learner. Now I am the master." That's essentially what has happened with Padres G.M. Jed Hoyer, the former protégé of Red Sox G.M. Theo Epstein. Hoyer has constructed a team whose run prevention skills are superior to Boston's. In Park-Adjusted Defensive Efficiency, the Padres rank third and the Sox 18th; in staff ERA the Padres rank second and the Sox 27th.
6Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 13
The Reds are red-hot, and even those covering the team are working at a faster pace. Legendary beat writer Hal McCoy wrote recently that he tried his first Mexican Coca-Cola at the advice of team broadcaster Jeff Brantley. Mexican Coke is made with real sugar, rather than high-fructose corn syrup, and McCoy reports it packs more of a kick than even Mountain Dew.
7St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 5
Albert Pujols recently batted fourth for the first time since May 30, 2003, a streak of 1,046 games. Some sabermetricians lauded the move, believing the No. 4 slot is more important than the No. 3 spot; others, such as SI contributor Joe Sheehan, think Pujols should bat third but the rest of the Cardinals lineup needs shuffling. Pujols himself was a bit more succinct: "I don't care where I hit," he said. "I'm just glad to be in the lineup." Um yeah, he's not leaving the lineup anytime soon.
8San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 7
Could there be some dissension in the ranks with the Giants? Second baseman Freddy Sanchez, who made his season debut Wednesday night, said his December shoulder surgery carried a recovery timetable of six months to a year, making his return in five months "ahead of schedule." The Giants, however, originally told reporters this procedure only took 10 weeks of rehab, prompting sarcastic coverage of his return, including this gem from the San Francisco Chronicle's Henry Schulman on Tuesday: "Freddy Sanchez is taking so long to return from shoulder surgery, Samuel Beckett's Godot is waiting for him."
9Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 8
Detroit's strong early-season play wasn't enough to mask the struggles of rookie second baseman Scott Sizemore (.297 OBP, 0 SB) or third-year starter Max Scherzer (1-4, 7.29 ERA). In a surprising shakeup the Tigers sent both to the minor leagues. They've just about made up for it with the call-up of Brennan Boesch, however, as the 25-year-old rookie is batting .372 with 19 RBIs in just 81 plate appearances. Detroit clearly knew who he was, but not many other people did. Baseball America didn't list him among the club's top 10 prospects as recently as January.
10Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 16
The Huffington Post reports that Dodgers center fielder Matt Kemp has bought a $3.2 million apartment in the ritzy The Carlyle Residences on Wilshire, built by the same developer who built New York City's famed Plaza Hotel. Included in the article was this nugget, that the building is "paparazzi-free," which is undoubtedly a necessity given that Kemp is dating singer Rihanna. But for such an exclusive, private address -- with prices ranging from $2.5 million to $5.6 million -- does it seem weird for the building to maintain its own Facebook page?
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