Thursday July 22nd, 2010

MLB Power Rankings
11Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 5
If the Red Sox are going to make a run at the division-leading Yankees or even the wild card-leading Rays, now might be the time. Boston is slowly getting its injured cadre of players back: infielder Jed Lowrie and starter Clay Buchholz returned Tuesday, outfielder Jeremy Hermida returns Thursday and starter Josh Beckett returns Friday. While others who are a little farther away are still making progress -- catcher Victor Martinez is taking swings, second baseman Dustin Pedroia will be out of his protective boot in two weeks and outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury has begun baseball activities -- the Sox need to take advantage of their next seven games, which include a four-game set against the woeful Mariners and a three-game series against the Angels, whom the Red Sox already swept earlier this season.
12Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 10
As James Loney seems to be losing his home run power, his run production is actually improving. Loney has 64 RBIs (tied for fifth in the NL) even though he has only six homers. He is one of only two players with a single-digit home run total and at least 50 RBIs, the other being his L.A. interleague rival Howie Kendrick of the Angels, who has seven homers and 53 RBIs. Loney is driving in runs even though his HR totals have reached a plateau. He hit 15 HRs in only 96 games in 2007 and then had eerily similar '08 and '09 seasons -- both years he had exactly 651 plate appearances, 13 home runs and 90 RBIs. He's on pace for 10 homers this season.
13Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 12
The Phillies have strong interest in Astros ace Roy Oswalt, and that might grown even stronger given a Boston Herald report Wednesday that Pedro Martinez -- who helped pitch Philadelphia into last year's World Series -- won't return to the majors this season, though he is "wide open" to pitching in 2011. So the Phillies have one fewer option to fix their rotation woes, which include a 4.68 ERA by starters not named Roy Halladay.
14Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 16
As mentioned in this space last week, reigning AL MVP Joe Mauer is not having a great offensive season, and it took a bizarre turn Tuesday night when he decided to bunt with two on and one out in the seventh inning of a tie game; it went for a sacrifice from the $184 million No. 3 hitter, who didn't even have Justin Morneau hitting behind him. Mauer explained that the third baseman was playing back, so a bunt pushed down the line could have gone for an easy hit. He also noted that he's "not feeling the greatest at the plate right now" and blamed the out on poor execution. Manager Ron Gardenhire didn't seem to be thrilled. "I don't ever tell a hitter what to do," he said after the game. "He tried to drag bunt; I don't know what his thoughts were."
15Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 7
The loss of third baseman Brandon Inge to a broken hand for the next four-to-six weeks is bad news for the Tigers under any circumstance, but it's compounded by happening during a six-game losing streak and at the start of a very difficult stretch of schedule. Inge's injury occurred Tuesday night against the Rangers, the first of 31 straights games against teams above .500. Not counting the Tigers themselves, there are nine AL clubs with winning records, and Detroit plays seven of them in the next month, avoiding only the A's and White Sox.
16New York Mets
Last Week: 13
So much for Cy Pelf. Mike Pelfrey, who in June had writers breaking down his Cy Young candidacy, has fallen back to the pack. His season numbers (10-5, 4.01 ERA) are very good for a fourth starter, as that's what he's become in the past month, falling behind Johan Santana, Jon Niese and even R.A. Dickey. Pelfrey hasn't completed the fifth inning in any of his last four starts, going 0-3 with a 12.89 ERA in 14 2/3 innings over that span.
17Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 17
Hideki Matsui hasn't been what the Angels envisioned when they signed him in the offseason. He's hitting just .248 with a .329 OBP, and his 12 home runs are off the pace to match the 28 he had last year. Of course part of his power surge in 2009 may have been aided by the short right field in new Yankee Stadium, where he has continued to hit even while playing for the visiting team. On Wednesday he hit his third home run in five games in the Bronx, which is as many as Yankees center fielder Curtis Granderson, whose arrival in New York helped pave the way for Matsui's exit, has there in 35 games.
18Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 18
The Rays have long separated themselves from the Blue Jays in the AL East standings, but the two clubs are neck and neck in boring the heck out of fielders. The Rays' hitters have struck out the most batters (736) while the Blue Jays rank second (715); the Blue Jays' pitchers have the most strikeouts (698) while the Rays' pitchers rank second (692). That makes for a lot of balls not put in play. The most surprising inclusion on that list is Toronto's pitching staff, which still has a high strikeout rate despite losing Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett the past two seasons, thanks to the addition of Brandon Morrow (119 Ks) and the improvement of Ricky Romero (113).
19Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 20
The A's climbed back to .500 this week for the first time in over a month but now will try to stay there without the services of right fielder Ryan Sweeney, who will undergo season-ending knee surgery. Sweeney has been an excellent defensive outfielder the past couple of seasons (though merely average this year, according to Ultimate Zone Rating), but his injury will finally force the hand of manager Bob Geren to do what he should have done weeks ago: move Sweeney out of the No. 3 spot in the lineup. Sweeney batted third in 59 of his 77 starts despite just one home run on the season and a .373 slugging percentage in that lineup slot, which ranks 35th of the 38 players with at least 30 games batting third.
20Florida Marlins
Last Week: 19
If there was a lesson to be learned from the improbable injury of Kendry Morales -- he broke his leg hopping on home plate to celebrate his May 29 walk-off homer -- it was this: don't jump. Marlins pinch hitter Donnie Murphy, in just his fifth at bat since being promoted from Triple-A, hit his own walk-off home run on Monday night and knew enough to ease his way across the plate. "My first thought was don't jump," he told "Take it easy and just enjoy the moment."
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