Thursday July 23rd, 2009

There is a fundamental dilemma with rankings like these and it is as follows: Should they reflect the entire season to date, or give more weight to recent events? Exhibit A: The Red Sox have beaten the Yankees all eight times the two have played this season, often convincingly, leaving no doubt that to this point in the season at least, they are the better team head-to-head. But the Yankees have been red-hot for more than two months now to surge past the Red Sox in the AL East. Although I prefer to give added weight to recent events, it seemed strange to move the Yankees ahead of the Red Sox until one of two things happened: either they actually beat them head-to-head or they moved into first place by multiple games. Well, with their next matchup still two weeks away, look what's happened. Since bottoming out at 15-17, 6 1/2 games out of first on May 12, the Yankees have the best record in baseball at 42-20, while the Red Sox have gone 34-27 over the same period. New York now has a two-game lead in the East. While the Yankees were sweeping the Tigers and Orioles in the Bronx, the Red Sox were dropping two of three in Toronto and getting swept in Texas (the Rangers have now won five of six against Boston this year). And so despite their winless mark against their archrivals, the Yankees have played too well for too long not to move them ahead of Boston in the rankings. In the end, though, all of that is just a battle for second place, because once again, the team at the top resides 3,000 miles away from the white-hot center of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry.

MLB Power Rankings
1Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 1
You'd think a team going as well as the Dodgers -- best record in the game, scoring the second-most runs per game in the NL, while allowing the second-fewest in all of baseball -- and winning in such exciting fashion (pinch-hit grand slams by guys celebrating their own remarkably realistic bobblehead giveaway that same night) and playing in a town with as many stars as L.A. would be able to attract a slightly higher level of celebrity to Dodger Stadium. Before facing the Marlins on Saturday night, the Dodgers will host their 51st annual Hollywood Stars charity softball game and I have to say, I'm a little disappointed with the wattage of stars they're getting to attend. Granted, I'm not especially knowledgeable when it come to Hollywood celebs (although I understand a lot of them are JUST LIKE US!), and I only knew 19 of the 30 "celebrities" who will be playing, but I have to ask: What is the explanation here? Is everyone in L.A. simply bored with the Dodgers' dominance? Will they show up half an hour into the game, and then leave after 45 minutes? Or is it just because the biggest sports fan in Hollywood is spending his summer watching East Coast baseball? (And getting mocked while doing it).
2New York Yankees
Last Week: 4
Perhaps no player has been more vital to the Yankees' burst past the Red Sox than A.J. Burnett. Since getting roughed up for the second time in as many starts at Fenway this year back on June 9, Burnett has made seven starts, going 5-1 with a 1.93 ERA while allowing just 35 hits in 46 2/3 innings. He hasn't been as overpowering during that time as he can be (with 42 K's), but he remains a fan of the game's best strikeout artists. During Old Timer's Day last weekend, Burnett had Dwight Gooden sign one of his 1985 Sports Illustrated covers, telling the New York Daily News, "I collect stuff from strikeout pitchers. I've got a bunch of 3,000 strikeout photos. Nolan Ryan, Gooden. [Bob] Gibson's one I don't have yet." Check out that Gooden cover because it shows just how insane what pitchers do to their arms thousands and thousands of times in their lives is. That is not a natural motion.
3Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 3
Vladimir Guerrero and Torii Hunter are now on the disabled list, though it hasn't stopped the Angels from going on a 21-9 tear, the best record in baseball over the past 30 games. But even if those hard-hitting Angels aren't around, at least the Angels got someone who looks like them, at least at the plate. Gar Ryness (that has to be a made-up name, right?) a.k.a. Batting Stance Guy, has been hired to be a part of Angels broadcasts to do his amazingly accurate replicas of the stances of Angels players. Ryness took his, um, skill, on the Late Show with David Letterman recently and even managed to turn Dave around with his imitations of Kevin Youkilis, Derek Jeter and Joe Morgan. For his entire repertoire, check out
4Texas Rangers
Last Week: 6
The Rangers' defense has been hailed as a huge part of their turnaround from a season ago, and with good reason. Heralded 20-year-old shortstop Elvis Andrus took over at shortstop, moving Gold Glover Michael Young to third base. But so far, Andrus has delivered mixed results. He ranks second among all shortstops with a .855 zone rating, leads the majors in total chances per nine innings and putouts per nine and is third in assists per nine, but he's already made more errors (12) than Young did all of last season while posting a lower fielding percentage (.984 for Young, .971 for Andrus). Before anyone starts with the Elvis-related puns, you should know he isn't a big fan of the King. Andrus doesn't have any Elvis songs on his iPod and he learned English by reading the lyrics to Rascal Flatts songs while listening to them. Please, someone in Dallas give the man a copy of Heartbreak Hotel.
5Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 2
The suddenly slumping Red Sox are just 1-5 in the second half, put one of their All-Star starters (the old guy, not the young guy) on the disabled list and have fallen to second place in the AL East. Their offense has been ice cold, batting just .223 in July, leading to a deal with the Pirates for Adam LaRoche (last year's deal involving the two teams worked out pretty well for Boston). Since being traded from the Pirates to the Red Sox is somewhat like being promoted to the major leagues, here's a quick primer on the newest BoSox player. His father's last-name is actually Garcia, making the LaRoches of Mexican descent, not French, according to his brother and now former Pirates teammate, Andy. He is a fantastic second-half hitter, batting .314/.374/.578 after the All-Star break the past three years, compared to .247/.326/.449 before the break. He has attention deficit disorder, which figured prominently in the most memorable moment of his career to date. He made a hunting video a few years ago for Buck Commander, which would like to know, Do you scout for deer in velvet? Which makes me want to know, why would one do that?
6Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 9
Ten straight wins for the defending World Series champs opened up some breathing room between them and the rest of the NL East, and they've now won 10 of 11 at home, too. Jimmy Rollins is starting to J-roll (finally) as well, batting .371/.451/.600 in July. Maybe it's the benching he got recently from manager Charlie Manuel that finally got him going, or maybe it's the weather. Or maybe it's Red Bull. Rollins did a promotional video for the energy drink company which came two days after he snapped a six-game hitless streak and began his current three-week tear during which he's hit .388 and raised his overall average from .205 to .238. The turnaround came just in time, now that Rollins has his own YouTube channel. Nobody wants to watch videos of guys who can barely stay above the Mendoza Line.
7Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 8
Twitter was invented for Joe Maddon. The Rays manager, baseball's favorite maverick, opines often at RaysJoeMaddon. Most of his posts are typical manager-speak, which means they have a hard time fitting the 140-character limit, such as this pre-All-Star Game post: "Spoke 2 players re slowing things down u dont want 2 leave & be upset with ur self 4 not taking time 2 enjoy Spoke 2 each, amazing group!" Maddon does, however, offer a few off-field gems, such as: "Pres Obama liked my glasses very stylish Congratulated me on being manager of the yr & I him on his successes Easy to talk to regular guy" and "I'm currently into Spanish wines right now something called Mira (Salinas) so good you can taste the dirt the grapes grew in." (By the way, what do you think the odds are he and Tony La Russa discussed their thoughts on Twitter during the All-Star festivities?) Here's a tweet I expect to come very soon: "When will Yanks go on losing streak? So frustrating 2 be playing so well since late April and still in 3rd Even worse than drinking bad wine"
8St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 10
Tony La Russa made a point of defending outfielder Chris Duncan this week to the Cardinals fans who have ridden the slumping outfielder lately, saying "I get so tired of the unfair treatment of Chris Duncan. Chris is the whipping boy. ... It makes we want to vomit," he said. "They aren't objective about him. This guy is treated unfairly. These fans have a reputation ... they deserve, but they have a couple quirks. And he is one of them." I give credit to La Russa for sticking up for his guy (even if Duncan, first by being demoted and then traded, was very quickly not his guy anymore), but it raises two interesting points. First, as anti-fan rants by managers/coaches go, I don't think it will have the staying power of this one (warning: very strong language) or this one. Second, there were several people I spoke to at the All-Star Game in St. Louis who were underwhelmed by the fans and felt they didn't live up to their reputation as the "best fans in baseball" because they were too quiet or cared only about the Cardinals' players without cheering much for the National League (granted, there wasn't much to cheer about). I still think Cards fans are as good as it gets, but could they be resting on their laurels a little bit?
9Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 11
It's hard to believe it's already been two years since the Mike Coolbaugh tragedy. Coolbaugh, in case you've forgotten, was a first base coach in the Rockies organization who was killed by a line drive off the bat of one of his players during a game. In memory of Coolbaugh, here are two must-reads: The first is from Mike's widow, Mandy, and the second is a brilliant story written in '07 by SI's S.L. Price. Do yourself a favor and read both.
10Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 5
What better way to take your mind off their 2-5 stretch and their dwindling AL Central lead than by celebrating the most wonderful time of the year. In July. On Thursday, the Tigers are hosting Christmas in July at Comerica Park, with Santa Claus throwing out the first pitch. That night, center fielder Curtis Granderson is offering a more adult gift: a wine-tasting and bachelor auction in which he, Edwin Jackson and Ryan Perry will be auctioned off during Granderson's benefit for his Grand Kids Foundation. With all due respect to rookie Perry and his 26 games of experience, any Tigers fan should be lining up to buy dinner for either Granderson or Jackson. If the Tigers get back to the World Series, they'll have Granderson to thank for getting them home-field advantage after he tripled -- bravely going for third base -- and scored the go-ahead run in the eighth inning of the All-Star Game. But Jackson, also an All-Star, remains the more important player and the bigger question mark. Thirteen of his past 14 starts have been quality starts, which would seem tough to sustain for a pitcher with a losing career record and 4.52 ERA.
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