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Pecking order crystallizing as regular season winds down (cont.)

MLB Power Rankings
11Florida Marlins
Last Week: 14
Maybe the Marlins should yell at Hanley Ramirez more often. Ever since he and his double-play partner, Dan Uggla, stirred some controversy by engaging in a heated discussion over Ramirez's willingness to play hurt, the Fish have been on a roll, winning six of seven. Over that stretch, Ramirez is batting .421 with three home runs and nine RBIs, but Uggla has just three hits for a .143 average in what could well be his swan song season with the Fish. I don't think anyone's going to confuse the Marlins with the Swingin' A's or the Bronx Zoo Yankees of the 1970s, but it is interesting how clubhouse drama can sometimes be the spark that lights a team's fire. The only question now is if the Marlins have enough time left to make things really interesting in the NL wild card. Even with their recent hot streak, they're still 5 1/2 games out and still have road series against the Cardinals and Phillies left this season.
 
12Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 13
Joe Mauer can only do so much, and unless the Twins' superduperstar of a catcher starts getting some help from his fellow lefty slugger, the Twins playoff hopes are all but extinguished. Until hitting a game-winning home run off Roy Halladay in the eighth inning on Wednesday night, Justin Morneau was mired in a miserable 4-for-44 slump, which translates into a .091 batting average, with 0 home runs and three RBIs. In fact, the home run was only his second in the past five weeks. This slump may just be a sign of things to come. September has traditionally been Mauer's worst month, with career lows in home runs, RBIs, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
 
13Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 11
There hasn't been a trip to New York this disastrous since the Kellermans'. Not only did the Rays lose four straight to the Yankees to run their losing streak to eight straight overall, they dropped hopelessly out of playoff contention and lost their slugging first baseman, Carlos Pena, for the rest of the season with a pair of broken fingers on his hand after he was hit by a pitch (naturally, the pitch was a strike). What's more, Jeff Niemann's Rookie of the Year hopes took a hit when the Rays' bullpen couldn't hold his victory on Wednesday night, although his manager still thinks his righty, who is tied for the AL rookie lead in wins (12) and innings pitched (161.1) and ranks first in ERA (3.57) should "easily" win the award. It's hard to believe that any Rays team could be termed a disappointment, but there's really no other way to view this club that many expected had a legit chance to repeat as AL East champions, and at least to be a much greater factor than it has been this season.
 
14Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 16
Yet another indicator of the Cubs' struggles this season: they have swept just two road series all year, one against the Nationals and one against the Pirates, which they finished off this week with a bit of history one night and a bit of comedy the next day. Unfortunately for the Cubs, most of their time away from Wrigley has been no laughing matter. They are now a combined 9-1 on the road against those two teams, and 21-39 in all the other unfriendly confines they've played this season. Fortunately, they have just 10 road games left.
 
15Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 12
Being swept at home by the Reds is likely going to be the final straw for the Braves, who are now 8 1/2 games out of the wild card and nine back in the NL East. Even having twice as many quality starting pitchers as every other team does, their offense has gone into a full-on September swoon. In dropping five of six this week, the Braves scored just 10 runs and batted .153 with 52 strikeouts. Bobby Cox may just try to get himself tossed from every game the rest of the season rather than watch his team self-destruct (it probably says something about the guy that even though he's won more games than all but three managers in baseball history he has a YouTube video titled "Bobby Cox Tribute" that is mostly just images of him being ejected from games.).
 
16Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 15
Ichiro-mania seems so 2001, like Destiny's Child or something, but it's back big-time now that the Mariners outfielder is closing in on becoming the first player in history to record 200 hits in nine consecutive seasons. As one writer discovered, the insatiable Japanese media has even started covering him covering Ichiro, which I can vouch from first-hand experience is an odd phenomenon (a Japanese TV crew once did an entire segment on me because I wrote a story about Hideki Matsui -- talk about your slow news days). Of course, the rest of the Mariners, who have lost four in a row, aren't particularly interesting right now to the press of any nationality. Besides, as much fun as it is to watch Ichiro hit, it's even more fun to be there when he unspools one of his awesomely bizarre quotes, like this one from a few weeks ago where he explained why infield singles are the Angelina Jolie of base hits. Quotes like that alone should be enough to get Ichiro into the Hall of Fame, but his performance on the field in Seattle has already done enough to merit inclusion as far as I'm concerned.
 
17Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 18
Let's recap: After spending millions of dollars to get Jake Peavy and Alex Rios to help them for the stretch drive, what do the White Sox have to show for it? So far Peavy has given them literally nothing, having yet to make his Pale Hose debut, and Rios has given them next to nothing, batting .157/.163/.241 with three RBIs since being brought over from the Blue Jays. Since the trade deadline, the White Sox are 17-20 and have dropped five games further back in the standings. To make matters worse, Mark Buehrle took more than a month after his perfect game to pick up another win, Jose Contreras and Jim Thome were traded, the general manager isn't quite sure what's gone wrong and the manager is trying to take all the blame. Sorry, Ozzie, that won't work. There's plenty of blame to go around here.
 
18Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 17
The latest Brewers game-winning celebration is causing quite the stir (surely there has to be a T-shirt somewhere for this, right?). The entire San Francisco Giants organization predictably hated it because it came against their team, Torii Hunter all but predicted a beanball war to start next season because of it, telling the Los Angeles Times, "If someone did that against us and we played them again, trust me, he'd get crushed, and we'd try to fight him." And Hunter laughed when he saw it (wonder what he'd think if he hadn't laughed?). Perhaps the Giants could take solace in the bad karma factor: after the exuberant display, the Brewers went to St. Louis and got swept by the Cardinals. This is only the latest controversy for this year's Brewers, who have now made enemies with the Cardinals, Dodgers, Pirates, Cubs, Giants and each other at various points this season. Maybe it's not a good thing then that they still have to play the Diamondbacks, Phillies, Astros and Rockies this year.
 
19Houston Astros
Last Week: 20
It was a big week for Papa Grande. Over the past five days, Jose Valverde got two wins, two saves, another year older and, possibly, a whole lot richer. First, Valverde, a free agent-to-be at year's end, told MLB.com that he plans on testing the open market, which is probably a good idea given the number of quality teams in need of a closer. Two days later, it was reported that there is a discrepancy with Valverde's birth date. The Astros had it listed incorrectly, and even Valverde's own website lists his date of birth as July 24, 1979, to the thumping bass of a Notorious B.I.G. soundtrack, no less. (If that doesn't say someone is around 30 years old, I don't know what does.) Baseball-reference.com also lists his DOB as July 24, 1979. The Astros, of course, have some experience with this kind of controversy, but this one isn't likely to become nearly as big a deal as the Miguel Tejada incident because Valverde has always considered his birth year to be 1978. However old he is, he's been highly effective this season, with a 1.91 ERA and 22 saves in 26 chances.
 
20Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 21
Another week, another young starter heading to an early end-of-season shower. Last week it was Marc Rzepczynski, this week it's Brett Cecil who will be shut down for the year after his start on Thursday because he'll have reached his innings maximum. Since their entire rotation is made up of young arms like Ricky Romero, Brian Tallet and Scott Richmond, it may not be long before they just start handing the ball to Roy Halladay every other day. At least he's not encumbered by any pitch counts, and is back to being himself this month. Perhaps because of the lingering trade rumors that dogged him throughout July, Halladay struggled in August, going 2-4 with a 4.71 ERA and being raked for a .316 batting average. But in two September starts, he's thrown a pair of complete games, the first a one-hit shutout against the Yankees, and the second a valiant effort against the Twins in which he allowed just one run through the first seven innings.
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