Thursday September 23rd, 2010

Injuries are mounting for past and possibly present MVPs, giving playoff contenders concerns that go beyond which champagne to buy to celebrate their impending postseason-clinching celebrations.

The Rangers' Josh Hamilton, a leading AL MVP candidate this season, hasn't played since Sept. 4 in what only recently was diagnosed as two fractured ribs. He is targeting the final weekend of the regular season as a comeback. The Twins have already been without 2006 AL MVP Justin Morneau since early July and now catcher and reigning AL MVP Joe Mauer continues to miss time with knee soreness, though an MRI showed no structural damage. The Reds' Joey Votto, the likely NL MVP winner this year, joined the M.I.A. list this week with what manager Dusty Baker called a "very serious sinus infection." And the Phillies' Jimmy Rollins, the 2007 NL MVP, is out with a strained hamstring, though he says he'll be back soon.

The injuries may not affect those teams at the moment ? each of those clubs has either clinched (Twins) their division already or could this weekend ? but they could have a major impact on the postseason.

MLB Power Rankings
1Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 4
The Phillies are back where they started, sitting atop the Power Rankings for the first time since the PR's debuted back in April. They've played better than .700 ball the past two months but that's not been good enough for manager Charlie Manuel, who said with a smile, "I want to play .800." Lately they've been playing 1.000, winning 10 straight games. Bill James has a formula to determine how hot a team is. The baseline is 72 degrees (i.e. room temperature) for an average team, and clubs go up or down based on wins and losses. Five straight wins, for example, vaults a team from the baseline to 100 degrees. As of Thursday morning, the Phillies are not only the hottest they've been all season but the hottest any team has been in 2010 with a temperature of 128 degrees. (Earlier this month the Twins reached 120 degrees and the Rockies were up to 119.) The Phillies had fallen as low as 45 degrees on June 12 -- at which point they were 31-29 after going 5-14 in their previous 19 games -- but have ascended to their current scalding temperature.

The Phillies will try to protect their reclaimed top spot ? and clinch their fourth straight NL East title -- when they host the Mets this weekend and then travel to face the Nationals early next week.
2Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 3
A third baseman with a sub-.400 slugging percentage in Triple-A doesn't fit the profile of a player destined to succeed in the majors, but the Twins' Danny Valencia has provided enough pop to help Minnesota score 5.0 runs per game and go 60-38 since his call-up. At Rochester Valencia slugged .373 with no home runs in 49 games. Upon arriving in the majors, hitting coach Joe Vavra worked on his swing -- but kept his left pinky off the bat -- and as a result Valencia has hit .332 with five home runs and a .463 slugging percentage in the majors.
3New York Yankees
Last Week: 2
It has long been said that the Great Wall of China is the only manmade object visible from space. Though that's not exactly true, there are still only a few creations of man that can be seen beyond Earth's atmosphere, and this week we welcomed another: the 5' by 7' plaque honoring late New York owner George Steinbrenner in Yankee Stadium's monument park. It is massive.
4Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 1
If the Rays face their division rival Yankees in the ALCS, should the Rays consider not starting Matt Garza? Though he's having a nice season (14-9, 4.01 ERA, 1.27 WHIP) and undoubtedly one of his team's top starters, Tampa Bay has lost his last nine starts against New York, including twice in the last nine days. But it's largely a case of bad luck and poor run support: Garza is only 0-3 in those starts with a 4.78 ERA and is receiving just 3.3 runs of support per nine innings. The Rays last beat the Yankees in a game he started on May 12, 2008.
5Texas Rangers
Last Week: 5
Softening the loss of Hamilton for the Rangers has been the play of David Murphy. Since Aug. 31, he has hits in 18 of his 19 starts, including a 5-for-5 performance on Tuesday night against the Angels. No one will mistake his production for Hamilton's, but the former first-round pick of the Red Sox has some pop (11 home runs), some speed (13 steals in 15 tries) and some range (an Ultimate Zone Rating of at least 2.0 when playing either corner outfield position).
6San Diego Padres
Last Week: 7
At the bottom of the AP's recap of the Padres' Wednesday night victory over the Dodgers was this note: "[Heath] Bell is one save from tying Mark Davis ' 44 saves in 1989 as the most by a Padres reliever other than franchise career leader Trevor Hoffman." That's a reminder of how remarkable Hoffman was. He had nine seasons of at least 40 saves including 53 in 1998, making it noteworthy when someone is second fiddle. Bell is 43-of-46 on save chances with a 1.84 ERA over 63 2/3 innings; Davis that year was 44-of-48 on save opportunities with a 1.85 ERA in 92 2/3 innings and won the NL Cy Young.
7San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 8
Unless you're Manny Delcarmen, there's no better way for a mediocre Red Sox reliever to rejuvenate his career quite like moving to the NL West. After leaving Boston, Cla Meredith excelled with the Padres, and Rudy Seanez found success with the Dodgers. While Delcarmen has pitched poorly since being traded to the Rockies three weeks ago, two other Sox castoffs, Javier Lopez and Ramon Ramirez, have excelled in San Francisco. The Giants' bullpen as a whole has allowed three runs in their last 48 innings, as Ramirez has a 0.73 ERA in 24 2/3 innings and Lopez has a 1.04 ERA in 17 1/3 innings.
8Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 6
Jim Edmonds, a stretch-run acquisition, may have hit the ultimate walk-off home run. Unfortunately for the Reds, this one's not a good thing. After homering Tuesday night, Edmonds said he felt something pop as he rounded the bases. He slowed to a near-walk before reaching home plate and later explained that he's been battling an injury to his right Achilles tendon, which at the time he thought he had torn. Tests showed that it was not torn, but he was still in a protective boot on Wednesday. It's not a huge loss for the Reds -- Edmonds only batted .207 with a .281 OBP and three homers in 13 games with Cincinnati -- but it's a sad way to end a terrific 17-year career.
9Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 10
At least one thing went well for the Braves in Philadelphia: left fielder Matt Diaz -- nicknamed the "Corner Outfield Vigilante" by Deadspin -- tripped up a red spandex-clad streaker at Citizens Bank Park on Monday, earning him the rare distinction of being a visiting player to receive applause from Phillies fans. In other on-field news, the second-place Braves were swept by the front-running Phillies, effectively relegating Atlanta to the wild card.
10Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 9
There's only so much attention paid to the awards given to each league's player of the month, but it's fair to say that Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki has the NL's honor for September just about wrapped up. In August he batted .351 with a .417 on-base percentage and a .521 slugging percentage. Through Tuesday the first two were nearly identical in September (.351 and .412), but Tulowitzki was slugging a whopping .974 thanks to 14 home runs, to which he had added 34 RBIs. He became only the third player to hit 14 homers in 15 games, joining the Indians' Albert Belle in 1995 and the Giants' Barry Bonds in 2001.
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