Thursday August 6th, 2009

The Yankees maintain their hold on the top spot (barely) for the second straight week. As if the Dodgers righting themselves after last week's losing streak wasn't enough of a threat to the Bombers' No. 1 ranking, there's this: the Red Sox are coming, the Red Sox are coming. The same Red Sox who are a perfect 8-0 against the Yankees this season. First place in the AL East is on the line, and so is the top spot in the Power Rankings. And that's way more important, right?

MLB Power Rankings
1New York Yankees
Last Week: 1
Some things from 2007 are still fashionable. This T-shirt, for instance. General manager Brian Cashman said recently that Joba Chamberlain is in fact on an innings limit for the third straight season, but also indicated later that if the Yankees get to the postseason, "It's all hands on deck." So Chamberlain is on an innings count for the regular season, but not the postseason? That will be a difficult balancing act for manager Joe Girardi to handle. At the moment, Chamberlain has thrown 110.2 innings this season, the most of his professional career. He threw 100.1 innings last year, meaning he's only a few starts away from reaching a 20-inning increase from last season, and anything beyond that can be dangerous for young arms. He could go back to the bullpen, but he's not needed there as much, not with Phil Hughes posting a 1.53 ERA as a reliever and a .165/.218/.223 opponents batting line.
2Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 2
As if Andre Ethier hasn't done enough for the Dodgers this year -- batting .275 with team highs in home runs (22) and RBIs (69) and game-winning RBIs (11) -- he's also willing to go to the mat to help his club. A few weeks ago, Ethier led nearly 100 fans, each of whom paid $100, in a yoga class at Dodger Stadium that is part of the organization's ongoing effort to draw more women as fans. The Dodgers are showing off their Upward Facing Dog side, bouncing back from their first rough patch of the season to go 4-2 and reclaim the best record in the major leagues. They're also beating teams up -- trouncing the Brewers 17-4 on Tuesday -- and then taking the high road with any players who might try to enter their clubhouse trying to start trouble. "Some people have different manners at their homes," Ethier told the Daily Breeze after Prince Fielder tried to find Dodgers pitcher Guillermo Mota, who had hit him with a pitch in the ninth. "Some people don't have to knock. Some people just let themselves in. Who knows? Maybe that's the type of environment we seem to have over there."
3Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 3
They didn't make a move at the trade deadline, and as it looks right now, they didn't have to. The Angels, who just went 17-3 without Vladimir Guerrero (and 0-2 since he came back), have vaulted to a season-high 4.5-game lead in the AL West thanks largely to Kendry Morales, who's overcome a slow start and now ranks in the top 10 in the AL in home runs, RBIs, slugging percentage, OPS, total bases and extra-base hits. That's a pretty fair Mark Teixeira impression, offensively at least, and for $19.4 million less.
4Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 4
There has been serious excitement lately in Philly following the acquisition of a former Cy Young winner who has been brought aboard to help the Phillies repeat as world champions. I'm speaking, of course, about Pedro Martinez, who is slated to join the Phils sometime this week and most likely jump into the starting rotation. That means someone is going to head to the bullpen. It obviously won't be Cliff Lee, the non-Jheri curled, ex-Cy Young-winner who was added recently. Lee was superb in his Philly debut, pitching a complete game against the Giants. It could also mean that Brett Myers, once he returns from injury, is headed back to the bullpen, where he once served as the team's closer and where he might take some of the pressure off Brad Lidge, who has gone from Mr. Perfect to Mr. 7-plus ERA.
5Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 6
So a Red Sox fan I know was explaining recently why he wouldn't mind seeing a salary cap in baseball, and when I reminded him that leveling the financial playing field would eliminate one of the Sox's big advantages, he said that was OK by him because it meant no more "pink hat fans." Apparently, this is a fairly common sentiment in Red Sox Nation (it says more about longtime fans' frustration with newcomers rooting for the Sox because it's fashionable than it does about any kind of gender disparity). I don't think this will help those diehards feel any better. Besides, shouldn't all those new Sox fans be spending their time jumping from the David Ortiz bandwagon to the Victor Martinez one? All Martinez has done since he was brought over from the Indians is bat .476/.476/.714 with six RBIs in four games.
6St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 7
From the Seriously, Albert Pujols Is Insane category: with the bases juiced this year (on behalf of baseball fans everywhere, let's hope that's the only time the words "Albert Pujols" and "juiced" are ever in the same sentence together), Phat Albert is batting .778 with five home runs and 24 RBIs. (His slugging percentage in those situations is 2.44. That literally made me laugh out loud. I have never seen anything so ridiculous.) He also spent 15 minutes before a game at Citi Field this week chatting with a severely handicapped fan, and then with a sea of friends who had come to see him. Then he went out and hit two home runs, including his fifth grand slam of the year. I'll have more next week about the Cardinals and protection, but with Ryan Ludwick returning to his All-Star form of a year ago by being named NL Player of the Month for July, and then the Matt Holliday and Julio Lugo trades, it seems safe to say the conundrum that was the St. Louis offense has been solved.
7San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 11
Yankees-Red Sox gets all of the attention, but Monday marks the renewal of the Dodgers-Giants rivalry. In over a century of meetings, the Giants hold a slight 1,157-1,134 edge, but the Dodgers currently own first place in the NL West. This year the Giants enter Thursday as NL wild card leaders and have won 8 of 10, while the Dodgers continue to lead the NL West. Imagine if these two teams met in the NLCS. Yankees-Red Sox? That is so five years ago. This would be a truly apocalyptic series, as the teams haven't met in a postseason since the 1889 World Series, when the NL champion Giants beat the American Association champ Dodgers (or Bridegrooms, as they were known at the time) in a best-of-nine series. With a seven-game lead, it's fair to assume the Dodgers have the regular-season crown all sewn up, but of course, we've made the mistake of assuming that before.
8Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 8
Things the Rays need: a new leadoff hitter (now that B.J. Upton and his .242 average and .317 on-base percentage in the top spot have been dropped down the lineup), a new place to put their bullpens, and some way to make up a four-game deficit in the wild card standings. A few things they could do without, helpfully provided by Royals ace Zack Greinke: pretty much the entirety of the Tropicana Field experience. "The Rays' PR department promotes the game like it's a club and not a baseball game. It almost doesn't feel like you're playing baseball when you're playing here. They do stupid music stuff. They have dancers everywhere, they have a DJ. They just do a bunch of stupid stuff that isn't baseball." Yeah, like beat you like you haven't been beaten all year. The Rays are 3-0 against Greinke in his five career appearances at the Trop, and have tagged him for a .314 average and 5.55 ERA. The most recent beatdown came on Monday, when they racked up 10 hits and 6 runs off the Royals ace in a 10-4 win.
9Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 9
They continue to have the best record in the NL since the All-Star break, but this being the Cubs, there are still plenty of issues to worry about. Geovany Soto is still on the disabled list, they can't seem to shake the Cardinals, and now the questions about who should be their closer started again after incumbent Kevin Gregg blew consecutive saves against the Marlins over the weekend, then complained of a dead arm and had to be shut down for at least a couple days. In spring training, it appeared the Cubs had two potential studs as closing options, but Gregg has posted a 4.17 ERA and blown five saves, and Carlos Marmol's ERA is almost a full run higher (3.63 vs. 2.68) than it was a year ago. Marmol's slump can mostly be blamed on control issues. He's walked more batters (49) than he did all of last year, in 35 fewer innings. When manager Lou Piniella was asked if he'd considered switching closers, he said, "Why should I?" You have to love that guy.
10Texas Rangers
Last Week: 5
An odd week of ups and downs. They didn't get Roy Halladay, but they did bring up Neftali Feliz, who promptly started pitching like Nolan Ryan, striking out the first four hitters he faced while throwing 100 mph lightning bolts. They did, however, put Ian Kinsler on the disabled list. Remember when Kinsler was playing like an MVP? It was right around the time he finished April with a .322/.384/.656 line, including a six-hit game against the Orioles. Since then, he's batted .219/.293/.431. It's almost amazing to think the Rangers are even in contention with Kinsler and Josh Hamilton giving them next-to-nothing for so long, but unless Kinsler returns to the field soon, and returns to form, it's hard to imagine Texas making up its deficit in the AL West, no matter how good Feliz is the rest of the way.
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