Thursday September 9th, 2010

On April 22, in the second edition of the 2010 MLB Power Rankings, the top four teams -- in order -- were the Yankees, Rays, Twins and Phillies. On Sept. 9, exactly 20 weeks later, the top four teams of the Power Rankings are, yet again, the Yankees, Rays, Twins and Phillies.

The cream always rises to the top, eh? There were reasons to doubt, however. Though the Yankees and Rays have remained near the top all year, the Phillies struggled so much they fell as far as No. 17 in early July while falling to third place and six games back in the National League East. Soon thereafter the Twins fell to third in the American League Central and to No. 16.

But as the season enters its final three weeks, those top four teams that entered the year with the most talent are now playing the best baseball, separating themselves as heavy favorites in October.

MLB Power Rankings
1New York Yankees
Last Week: 1
Anytime you can look down from your place atop a leaderboard and see Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth behind you, you've done well for yourself in the game of baseball. Though Alex Rodriguez may be having the worst home-run season of his career (he has 22; his previous career low is 23), he can still drive in runs. Earlier this week he reached 100 RBIs for the 14th time, passing the aforementioned Hall of Famers on the alltime list. Still, it's been a strange season for A-Rod, as the Yankees are 65-50 (a .565 winning percentage) in games he has played but 21-3 (.875) when he hasn't.

The Yankees look to protect their No. 1 ranking with tough road series against playoff-bound teams, first the AL West-leading Rangers and then the Rays, with whom New York is battling for the AL East and the wild card.
2Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 2
What happened to Jeff Niemann? The Rays starter was quietly having as good a season as his more celebrated teammate David Price before going on the disabled list in early August with shoulder soreness -- he was 10-3 with a 3.12 ERA at the time -- and is 0-3 with a 20.70 ERA since returning. Despite repeatedly insisting that he's healthy, which radar gun readings and the Rays coaching staff supports, he hasn't been the same since his return. "There's nothing wrong," Niemann said in Boston on Monday. "There's no reason for this to happen." Not helping matters is that Jeremy Hellickson, the rookie pitcher who dazzled in his first four starts (3-0, 2.05 ERA) and would be Niemann's backup in the rotation, has been shelled in each of his first two relief appearances (a total of five runs in 3 1/3 innnings).
3Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 5
No. 1 overall picks develop at different paces, and of course Delmon Young sidetracked himself with his egregious minor-league tantrum in which he threw a bat at an umpire. Now, the top selection of the 2003 draft is finally emerging into a quality everyday player. His production this year -- .301 average, .332 OBP, 16 home runs and 97 RBIs in 132 games -- has helped the Twins cope with the long-term absence of Justin Morneau. Most impressively, Young has batted .367 with runners in scoring position, knocking in 77 runs in 147 at bats.
4Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 6
Jimmy Rollins is not a classic No. 5 hitter, which may explain why coming into last week he had started just seven games there in his career. He has speed, which is more advantageous atop the lineup (he has played 1,129 of his 1,488 career games batting leadoff), and he doesn't have a ton of power. But fifth is where Phillies manager Charlie Manuel started Rollins in consecutive games earlier in the week, and Philadelphia responded with wins in both, scoring 15 runs total. Then Manuel started Rollins in the No. 6 hole on Wednesday and the Phillies scored 10 runs in yet another win. After fielding several questions about his unorthodox lineup, Manuel told reporters, "You say what you want to say. I'll do what I want to do." Win is what the Phillies have done, surging back into first place.
5Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 3
The Rockies proved that Reds' rookie phenom
Aroldis Chapman is, in fact, human as they got to him and his 100+ fastball for three hits and a run Monday afternoon. But as the buzz remains around the young Cuban phenom, the Reds have another young pitcher who may be even more critical to their postseason run and that's Edinson Volquez. After returning from both Tommy John surgery and a 50-game suspension for a failed drug test, Volquez was good in four starts and terrible in his other four starts, so he was sent to the minors to regain his form and his confidence. Now he's back in the majors and could fill a key role. With Mike Leake on the DL with shoulder fatigue, Travis Wood eventually facing a limit on his innings and Homer Bailey pitching inconsistently, it's possible Volquez may be needed to make a playoff start.
6Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 4
Manager Bobby Cox seems to have rubbed off on his long-tenured star. Third baseman Chipper Jones managed to be ejected from a game recently despite being sidelined for the year with a torn ACL. Jones received the heave-ho from home plate umpire Doug Eddings after arguing balls and strikes from the dugout bench he was sharing with Cox, the alltime leader with 157 ejections. Of course, with the hard-charging Phillies having overtaken Atlanta in the standings, the Braves have a good reason for their tempers to flare.
7Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 9
Manny Ramirez didn't even start two of the games, but his presence was felt in helping the White Sox win their first seven games since acquiring Ramirez. In the first game he was going to pinch hit, but A.J. Pierzynski hit the game-winning home run with Ramirez in the on-deck circle. In the sixth game of the streak, he delivered an eighth-inning hit-by-pitch, as Chicago rallied for the win in the ninth. In his first 20 at bats back in the AL, Ramirez has seven singles -- good for a .350 average -- and though he has walked only once, he's already been hit by four pitches, boosting him to a .480 OBP. To what should his improved play be attributed? He's playing for a contract.
8San Diego Padres
Last Week: 8
For a team that hadn't lost more than three straight games all season, losing 10 in a row, as the Padres just did, was truly remarkable. It was their longest losing streak since 1994 and reinforced their slim margin for error. They managed to break the skid without young ace Mat Latos, who was sidelined with the stomach flu -- a creative way to hold him back from reaching his innings limit too soon.
9San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 10
In the late '80s, Giants shortstop Jose Uribe was a fan favorite, with San Francisco fans on either side of Candlestick Park alternately chanting "U" and "Ribe" when he came to bat. In 2010 another Giants shortstop, Juan Uribe, is giving fans reason to revive that chant with his timely power. Uribe hit a game-winning two-run home run off Dodgers closer Jonathan Broxton on Saturday and then homered again on Sunday as the Giants remain hot on the Padres' tails.
10Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 12
Carlos Gonzalez continues his torrid pace and, thanks to Coors Field, has a better chance than Albert Pujols or Joey Votto of completing the Triple Crown. But purely for the sake of the numbers, CarGo is having a phenomenal year, particularly over his active 16-game hitting streak. During this span, the Rockies are 12-4 while he has 10 multi-hit games, seven home runs and a .516 average. Six of the 16 games have not only been on the road but against the NL West contending Giants and Padres.
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