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Yankees and Nationals bookend final installment (cont.)

MLB Power Rankings
11San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 11
Losing three of four at home to the Cubs was the final straw for this team. That the Giants finally faded out of playoff contention came as little surprise to anyone who watched them all season. What has been a surprise is that Tim Lincecum has faded all but out of the Cy Young race as well. He's only 1-3 this month with a 3.60 ERA. He still leads the NL in strikeouts, complete games and shutouts and is second in ERA, but he's been passed in the Cy Young discussion by Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright. Still, with Matt Cain, Jonathan Sanchez and Madison Bumgarner, the Giants pitching should keep them legit contenders in 2010, making priorities 1-100 boosting their offense this winter. It's astounding they hung around as long as they did with only one player topping 20 home runs, 80 RBIs (Pablo Sandoval) and only two regulars (Sandoval and Juan Uribe) batting over .270.
 
12Texas Rangers
Last Week: 12
One thing on Omar Vizquel's offseason to-do list: become a bullfighter. "Just go and learn the basic stuff," he said recently. "There's a lot of things still to do." If one of them involves continuing his career into a 22nd season when he'll be 43 years old shortly after Opening Day, he'd be wise to listen carefully to his instructors and avoid fates like this one. On the Rangers offseason to-do list: settle their financial issues, settle on a starting rotation and bullpen, and hope Josh Hamilton gets his swing back. Two players they shouldn't have to worry about: Ian Kinsler, who joined the 30-30 club this year, and Justin Smoak, who powered Team USA to the gold medal at the World Cup of baseball and is looking every bit like the star he's been projected as for so long.
 
13Florida Marlins
Last Week: 13
They shouldn't let the fact that they ran out of steam overshadow another overachieving season. Despite the lowest payroll in the game, the Marlins managed to remain a factor deep into September. I think we're going to have to start referring to seasons like this as "Pulling a Marlin." This is the condition whereby a team is good enough to have a winning record and hang around the playoff race right until the end, but not good enough to actually reach the postseason. (This was formerly named after the Blue Jays, but while they too posted a series of respectable records, they never actually challenged for a playoff spot.) Since winning the World Series in 2003, the Marlins have four winning seasons in six years, as many as the big-market Mets and Cubs. Possible consolation prize: Hanley Ramirez winning the batting title. Second consolation prize: a treasure trove of quality young pitchers for next season, including Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco, who K'd 16 Braves on Wednesday.
 
14Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 16
Amid a disappointing season for the Rays in which so much more was expected of them -- how odd does that sound? -- the awesome season of Ben Zobrist must not be forgotten. Yes, he made the All-Star team, but that was due as much to the fact that his manager was calling the shots as anything else. On Monday night, Zobrist gave yet another example of his skill and versatility when he started the game at first base (only his second game of the year there) and made a diving stop, switched to right field and made another diving catch, and homered in between. All told, he's played every position but pitcher and catcher, and more than doubled his previous career highs in home runs and RBIs, while chasing a .300 average. Another odd-sounding thing for this club that was in the World Series last year and was expected to contend this year: The Rays will be a sleeper team in 2010. At least as long as James Shields rediscovers his previous form and young starters David Price, Jeff Niemann and Wade Davis improve.
 
15Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 15
I have many offseason questions for the Mariners, such as: Will they trade Felix Hernandez (they shouldn't)? Will Ken Griffey Jr. retire (he might)? Will Ichiro Suzuki ever get ejected again (I doubt it, but if you're gonna go, go with style). The only soothsayer who can answer these questions right now is Mike Blowers, a Washington native, UW alum and former Mariners third baseman who is currently an M's broadcaster. Blowers had the broadcasting moment of the year this year when he predicted, with alarming accuracy, the first home run of Matt Tuiasosopo's career, before the game even started. Even better was the reaction in the booth when Tuiasosopo did, in fact, go deep. Between this and the Rally Fries, Blowers is going to make people forget he ever played major-league ball.
 
16Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 14
Christmas will be here soon, and it's never too easy to start making a list. This week, Cubs manager Lou Piniella offered some of the presents he'd like this winter: a new leadoff hitter, improved health for Alfonso Soriano and Geovany Soto and an RBI-producing bat. This has been baseball's most disappointing team that failed to live up to some significant preseason expectations (um, my bad). In spring training, Piniella said that all the attention the Cubs were getting was undeserved. "Let's see it [on the field] first," he said then. We never did.
 
17Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 18
After making the postseason last year, missing the postseason this season has to sting for the Brewers and the more than 3 million fans who turned up in Miller Park this year. But the biggest letdown of the season came Saturday, when Ryan Braun belted a walk-off home run to beat the Phillies, rounded the bases and then ... nothing. No choreographed celebrations. No boxing-combo with Prince Fielder. No nothing. "I think everybody was probably interested to see what we would do," Braun said. "We had some good ideas, but it's not worth it." Even on Fan Appreciation Night? For shame. Braun at least sounded an optimistic note, adding, "We'll put that on hold for now." Just like their season: wait till next year.
 
18Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 17
Even when they were a regular postseason contender, the A's never seemed to draw too much attention, so it's understandable that as they wrap up a third straight losing season after making five playoff appearances in the first seven years of the decade, they are being overlooked again. Yet it's hard to ignore a team that has the best record in baseball this month, even if they are playing out the string. They've been an effective spoiler, dealing a body blow to the Rangers, and delaying the Angels' party by taking two of three in Anaheim this week. They need more offense, but with six starters age 25 and under, including a pair of impressive 21-year-olds in Trevor Cahill and Brett Anderson, the A's may be closer to returning to the postseason than most people think. At the very least, they'll enter 2010 as one of the most intriguing teams in the game. Your move, Billy Beane.
 
19Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 20
Another sign of the mid-market times: hoping that economic forces and a light free-agent market will keep teams with more money to spend out of the running for top available players, thereby leaving open the possibility that you'll have a shot at them. That's what Dusty Baker and the Reds are looking at going into this winter. "Hopefully, some of the other clubs have spent so much money that they can't add any more money (for player payroll)," Baker said. "I've heard it's a subpar free agent year; that might make it better for us, too. Some clubs might have to stand pat." I still think there's enough talent here to be a wild-card contender, but they may need to spend a little money somewhere. If nothing else, Reds fans can content themselves this winter with making plans to catch the team at its new spring digs in Arizona, reading Joe Posnanski's new book, The Machine, and rewatching this video over and over again.
 
20Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 21
The way the Dodgers and Yankees have dominated the Power Rankings this year, it's hard to remember a time when a team other than those two was ranked No. 1. Well, I remember who it was and I'm not ashamed to admit it. The Blue Jays were the last team other than those traditional powers to hold the top spot, and according to some fancy mathematics, they actually haven't been as bad as their record indicates. Entering Wednesday night, their Pythagorean win-loss record, which is their expected record based on their runs scored and runs allowed, is 82-76, compared to their actual record of 74-84. That minus-8 differential is the worst in the American League, and only one off the Washington Nationals for the worst in the majors. Eight more wins would give the Blue Jays a winning record, which wouldn't be enough to compete in the AL East, but might be enough to save GM J.P. Ricciardi's job and give a better indication of this team's performance this season.
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