Thursday July 23rd, 2009

MLB Power Rankings
11San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 7
Of all the laudatory things written about the Giants in last week's USA Today story, the most interesting was not the fact that manager Bruce Bochy has vowed to get a Mohawk if his team wins 10 straight games, it's this quote from Padres first baseman Adrian Gonzalez: "They're going to make the playoffs. After that it will depend on how well they hit." With all due respect to Gonzalez, that's a bold prediction for a team that ranks next-to-last in the NL in runs scored and home runs and dead last in on-base percentage and slugging percentage. Then there was this absolutely amazing stat in the San Francisco Chronicle: The Giants have not overcome a deficit of more than two runs to win all season long. I'm sorry, but no team is going to the playoffs with an offense that bad. And since they've lost five of six to start the second half, it looks like Bochy will get to keep all his hair for the foreseeable future.
12Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 14
When is having the ability to track down any ball a bad thing? When you hurt yourself by crashing fullspeed and face-first into an unpadded, unforgiving fence trying to catch a fly ball in the gap. Franklin Gutierrez, who leads AL center fielders in zone rating, ranks second in putouts and is a major part of the M's defensive revival, nicked up his elbow and knee on the play Tuesday. When is having one of your best defensive players get hurt a bad thing? Well, always. But especially when you're trying to decide whether or not to be a buyer or seller at the trade deadline, and when said player has his very own bobblehead night at the ballpark later that week.
13Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 12
While some people were making waaaay too much out of Barack Obama's first pitch at the All-Star Game, the players in the American League dugout were using it as an opportunity to mock White Sox lefty Mark Buehrle. "We saw that and turned to Mark and said, 'I think he throws harder than you do,'" Joe Nathan said. Might be. I don't think anyone had the radar gun turned on for the First Fan (I'm guessing 45 mph, tops), but Buehrle is in fact one of the softest throwers in the game. According to FanGraphs, his average fastball velocity has dropped each of the last three years, and this year is at just 85.5 mph. Further, he's only had one start this year in which he's broken 90 at any point. It hasn't affected his performance, though. Buehrle is third among AL starters in winning percentage, has his lowest ERA in four years and his lowest WHIP in eight years.
14Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 17
Are the Cubs finally -- finally -- making their move in the NL Central? They've won seven of 10 to get within a game of the Cardinals in the NL Central and are three games over .500, matching their best mark since mid-May. The next week will be very interesting: seven games against mediocre NL Central foes Cincinnati and Houston at Wrigley Field. If the Cubs are ever going to start playing like the juggernaut everyone expected, now would be the time.
15Houston Astros
Last Week: 21
The Astros will not go away. They swept the first-place Cardinals in Houston in advance of three games with the Mets and what's shaping up as a make-or-break seven-game road swing through the two teams ahead of them in the NL Central, the Cubs and Cardinals. By the way, is there a more unheralded slugger in baseball than Carlos Lee? Though his numbers are down from last year, he's still batting .307 with 15 home runs and 57 RBIs, well within range of his seventh straight year with at least 99 RBIs.
16Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 19
Greg Maddux was inducted into the Braves' Hall of Fame last week, and with this year's Hall of Fame ceremonies coming up this weekend, now is a good time to wonder: Will Maddux become the first player to get 100 percent of the vote? The answer is almost certainly no. Precedent alone suggests that since no player has ever gotten 100 percent, no player will. But just because that's the way it's been done doesn't mean that's the way it should be done. No one can say that Maddux, just like Rickey Henderson (who will be inducted Sunday), is not a Hall of Famer. No one can even say that Maddux, with 355 career wins, four Cy Young awards and 18 Gold Gloves, is not a first-ballot Hall of Famer. So anyone who doesn't vote for Maddux on the first ballot should lose their voting rights, plain and simple.
17Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 13
Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder form quite the 1-2 punch for the Brewers, in more ways than one. The All-Star duo has helped keep the floundering club in contention by combining for 41 home runs and each one is punctuated -- or punch-uated -- with the coolest home-run celebration baseball has seen in some time. The pair look like they're pantomiming a boxing match complete with a sweeping hook to finish it off. Fortunately for Braun, Fielder has no malicious intent when he does it. He's taken shots at teammates before when he wasn't kidding around and it wasn't quite as much fun to watch.
18Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 15
Ron Gardenhire, revolutionary. The Twins skipper is leading the charge to have baseball be more like football by adopting a challenge flag. "I've said all along, I want a red flag. If you use it and you're wrong, you don't get the red flag the rest of the game, but if you use it and you're right, you get your red flag back. It'd save me a lot of money, just throw the red flag," he said. "Football has a red flag, why can't we? I'd keep it in my sock like they do." I'd actually be fine with having each manager get one challenge per game now that baseball is allowing replay on home runs. The seal on allowing video into the game has been broken; Are we really that far away from seeing the day where managers get a challenge flag? I think not. It would make baseball more like football, and while I'm not sure that's such a good thing, I think a lot of people would like that.
19Florida Marlins
Last Week: 16
The Fish are not ready to sleep with the fishes just yet. After sweeping the Padres in San Diego, the Marlins are back over .500 and within hailing distance in the wild-card race. The key, once again, has been the starting staff, which produced three stellar performances from their inconsistent rotation against the Padres, the most recent being a 10-strikoeut gem by Ricky Nolasco. Since being recalled from the minors in mid-June, Nolasco has gone 5-1 with a 2.75 ERA and 11.0 K/9 while allowing only 38 hits in 52 1/3 innings pitched.
20Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 18
The Jays have gone just 6-10 in July to fall completely out of the race, and now Roy Halladay is on his way out of town. Or maybe he's not. But he still might be. With Halladay's possible departure, it may be time for Jays fans to adopt a new favorite player. How about Aaron Hill? He's already an All-Star, he's got more home runs than Vernon Wells and Alex Rios combined (and only eight fewer than he had in his entire career until this season) and he's not going anywhere for awhile, since he's signed through 2011 with club options for the three years after that.
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