Thursday July 14th, 2011

With the National League defeating the American League in Tuesday's All-Star Game, Boston will be traveling to Philadelphia for World Series Game 1 -- if these Power Rankings hold up, of course.

A lot can and will change down the stretch, particularly with the July 31 trade deadline looming. The season got off to a bang about an hour after the Midsummer Classic ended, with the Mets shipping reliever Francisco Rodriguez and cash to the Brewers for a pair of players to be named later.

As all 30 franchises evaluate whether to be buyers or sellers -- or to hold-steady -- one or more players, managers, coaches, executives or judicial officials will stand above the rest in determining the success of each club.

So, without further ado, here is a special list: The Most Important Figure(s) for Each Team in the Second Half.

NOTE: All stats are updated through Wednesday, July 13.

MLB Power Rankings
1Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 1

Ryan Madson, RP
Injured closer Brad Lidge is making minor league rehab outings and hopes to make his season debut by July 22. Substitute closer Jose Contreras is off to get a second opinion on his forearm and his return is unknown. Madson, meanwhile, has his own injury (a bruised hand), but he's also the Phillies' best late-game righthanded option, as he's thrown 31 innings with a 2.03 ERA and converted 15 of 16 save opportunities. There's little depth in that bullpen beyond lefty Antonio Bastardo and rookie righty Michael Stutes, and Madson is Philadelphia's best in-house option.
2Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 4

Josh Beckett, SP
The righthander has been the lone member of the Opening Day rotation not to hit the disabled list this season, but worry grew when he finished only five innings in his last start because of a mildly hyperextended knee and then failed to make his scheduled appearance in the All-Star Game. Beckett has shown his ace form of yore (8-3, 2.27 ERA, 0.95 WHIP) and with the rest of the staff in disarray -- good returns from Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are also critical -- the Red Sox need him to finish as strongly as he started.
3Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 2

Dan Uggla, 2B
The Braves had one clear objective last offseason: add a righthanded power bat. That's why they traded for Uggla who, though he has hit 15 home runs, has batted only .185 with a .257 on-base percentage and 84 strikeouts in 374 plate appearances. As a result, the lefties in Atlanta's lineup are greatly outpacing the righties: a .755 OPS for lefthanded batters and .612 for righthanders. Uggla is the lynchpin of the lineup; with Chipper Jones out, Uggla has batted fifth, following lefties Brian McCann and Freddie Freeman and ahead of lefty Jason Heyward.
4New York Yankees
Last Week: 3

Phil Hughes, SP
While Bartolo Colon and Freddy Garcia have exceeded expectations for the Yankees, it's fair to wonder if the 38- and 34-year-olds can keep it up. Both are on pace for about 170 innings, a level neither has reached in at least five seasons. Hughes, meanwhile, endured dead arm for a while but has returned to the majors and displaced Ivan Nova from the rotation. Hughes' first start back wasn't bad -- two runs in five innings -- and he could be a major factor if he approaches his 2010 form, when he won 18 games and made the All-Star team.
5Texas Rangers
Last Week: 8

Josh Hamilton, LF
The 2010 AL MVP lost a month of his first half to an upper-arm fracture and then just before the break was involved in the tragic incident in which a fan fell to his death while trying to catch a ball thrown by Hamilton. It's been a trying time for Hamilton, who has handled the situation with the utmost class and respect (and even managed to hit a walkoff home run two nights later). In his short career, he's typically been a first-half player in part because he's had several second-half injuries; this season has gone in reverse. He's off to a great start in July -- 14-for-37 (.378 average) with three homers in 10 games -- and in spurts can singlehandedly carry the Rangers' offense.
6San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 6

Nate Schierholtz, RF
With earlier injuries to Cody Ross and Andres Torres in the Giants' outfield Schierholtz, who was primarily a defensive replacement in last year's postseason, has played the second-most games on the team and has its second-best OPS (.807), thanks to a .293/.343/.464 batting line. He even batted cleanup in the final game before the All-Star break. The club's pitching is of no concern, but it has scored the second-fewest runs in the NL. Schierholtz could potentially save San Francisco the trading chips it's reportedly considering using for the Mets' Carlos Beltran.
7Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 9

Mike Trout, OF
The Angels' pitching staff has been brilliant -- ace Jered Weaver and closer Jordan Walden were All-Stars, starter Dan Haren should have been one and their rotation-mates all have sub-4.00 ERAs -- but like the rest of the non-Texas consortium of the AL West, the club could use an offensive boost, as L.A. ranks 10th in the AL in runs scored. The 19-year-old phenom Trout, who has received comparisons to a young Mickey Mantle (though he's still growing into the projected power), may be the Halos' best bet if given the chance to stay in the majors. If not, more consistency from Vernon Wells could do the trick.
8Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 5

Evan Longoria, 3B
An oblique injury suffered in the season's first week derailed much of Longoria's first half and other than a 10-game stretch from June 20 to July 1 in which he batted .317 with five home runs and 18 RBIs, the young third baseman hasn't gotten on track yet. Despite having the fourth best record in the AL, the Rays sit in third place in the AL East, six games behind the Red Sox and five behind the Yankees. While Tampa Bay's run prevention is in line with the East's heavyweights, they've scored 75 fewer runs than New York and 102 fewer than Boston.
9St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 10

Albert Pujols, 1B
Following a remarkable return from a broken wrist -- Pujols missed only 14 games -- the three-time MVP needed a few games to get in rhythm and entered the All-Star break having gone 5-for-8 with a double and home run in his last two games. After a slow start, his overall numbers (.280 average, 18 homers, 50 RBIs) are approaching Pujolsian levels, meaning the Cardinals' offense might only improve -- and they're already second in the NL in runs and first in average, OBP, slugging and OPS.
10Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 15

Zack Greinke, SP
The Brewers upped the ante on their 2011 season even more with Tuesday's trade for reliever Francisco Rodriguez, a move that solidifies their bullpen and bumps them up these rankings. Currently tied for the NL Central lead, Milwaukee needs Greinke to be better. He arrived via trade at great cost of talent, but has been the Brewers' worst-performing starter thus far. His record is 7-3 but he has a 5.45 ERA. His peripheral stats -- exceptional 12.0 K/9 and 6.2 K/BB rates and an unlucky .349 batting average on balls in play -- suggest a good chance for improvement.
11Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 12

Jeff Jones, pitching coach
Jones, the former bullpen coach, replaced the recently fired Rick Knapp as the Tigers have had poor starting pitching by anyone not named Justin Verlander. Detroit's ace is the only starter with an ERA below 4.50. Detroit could give the franchise's No. 2 pitching prospect, lefty Andrew Oliver, another chance this year; promote No. 1 prospect, 20-year-old righty Jacob Turner; or even make a trade for an available arm, such as Houston's Wandy Rodriguez. But, even with one or two new faces in the rotation, the Tigers need improvement from the pitchers already on the roster.
12Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 7

Shin-Soo Choo, RF
Choo was already off to a slow start before his DUI arrest on May 2, which by several accounts weighed heavily on him. After three straight seasons of at least a .300 average, Choo fell to .231 on June 14, only to rebound in his next nine games with a 10-for-28 streak (.357) before suffering a fractured hand. He had surgery and is now targeting an early August return. It's unlikely the Indians will add a major bat to their lineup at the July 31 trade deadline, but getting Choo back at full strength could be just as good.
13Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 11

Brandon Allen, 1B, or Paul Goldschmidt, 1B
The Diamondbacks need better production at first base: so far they've received a .691 OPS (12th in the NL) and only eight home runs from the position. Neither Juan Miranda nor Xavier Nady has contributed much and Russell Branyan has already been cut. But Arizona has two prospects at the position who are absolutely crushing the ball in the minors, with Allen at Triple-A (18 HRs, 1.006 OPS) and Goldschmidt at Double A (25 HRs, 1.056 OPS). One or both deserves a chance, and early Thursday Allen became the first to get that call.
14Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 14

Pedro Alvarez, 3B
It's hard enough to fathom that the Pirates are four games over .500 and one game behind the Brewers and Cardinals for the NL Central lead, but what's even more mind-boggling is that they've done it with little help from Alvarez. The No. 2 pick in the stacked 2008 draft -- ahead of Eric Hosmer, Buster Posey, Brett Wallace and Ike Davis, among others -- was disappointing in his first 36 games, batting .208/.283/.304 with only two home runs, before serving a lengthy DL stint with a quadriceps injury. Pittsburgh recently activated him and optioned him to Triple-A, but if the Bucs' improbable run is to continue, the club could use a healthy and productive Alvarez.
15New York Mets
Last Week: 13

Jose Reyes, SS
Presuming David Wright and Ike Davis return from injury and regain their high level of output, then resisting a trade of Reyes and retaining him with a long-term deal could be the difference between the Mets continuing to rebuild for a couple more seasons and being on the fast-track to a playoff run. Reyes is having an MVP-caliber season and showing not only his flashes of great speed (15 triples and 30 stolen bases), but also great maturity at the plate. He swings at fewer bad pitches and takes more walks, which is why he's blowing away his career bests in average (a major-league-leading .354), OBP (.398) and slugging (.529).
16Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 21

The bullpen
For as much talent and experience as the Blue Jays' relievers have -- four men have at least 36 career saves -- one would expect better performance than the bullpen's 3.65 ERA, which ranks 10th in the AL, and the 57.1 save percentage, which ranks 13th. Not only would improvement from Frank Francisco, Octavio Dotel, Jon Rauch and Jason Frasor help Toronto this year (it has a 14-19 record in one-run games) but also bolster their standing as chips at the trade deadline.
17Washington Nationals
Last Week: 16

Jayson Werth, RF
Few thought Werth's seven-year, $126 million free-agent contract was a good idea, primarily because of how such a long-term deal would end because Werth is already 32 and will be 38 in its final season. So far the start has been a disaster, too. Werth has a .215/.319/.362 batting line with 10 home runs in 88 games. The Nationals have some talented position players in their lineup -- primarily Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse and Danny Espinosa with hopes of Bryce Harper in 2012 -- but they need a better version of Werth in order to compete like the franchise hopes it will.
18Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 22

Ubaldo Jimenez, SP
The Rockies' team ERA and Jimenez's personal ERA are both 4.14, so it's not surprising that Colorado is five games under .500 when the staff ace has been no better than status quo for a club that ranks 13th in the NL in ERA this season. Jimenez's K/BB rate is nearly identical to what it has been -- 2.32 this year after 2.33 each of the two previous years -- but his 8.2 H/9 is way up over last year's 6.7. His batting average on balls in play is in line with the league average, meaning his struggles are likely more poor execution than bad luck. Also, his average fastball has dipped from 96.1 the past two seasons to 93.4 this year.
19Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 19

Edinson Volquez, Reds
The Reds have scored the most runs in the NL but have allowed the third-most, with a starters' ERA of 4.64, which ranks 14th. The most disappointing member of the staff has been Volquez, their Opening Day starter, who has a 5.93 ERA, 1.64 WHIP and one minor league demotion so far this season. He's been horrific in the first inning (12.38 ERA) and the sixth inning (12.91 ERA), making for some rough starts and early exits. He's shown only marginal improvement since his return to the majors -- his ERA was 6.35 before the move to Triple-A and has been 5.29 since, leading to a second demotion for the time being.
20Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 23

The M&M Boys
The Twins, at 6 1/2 games back in the AL Central, aren't done yet. They are 16-11 against division foes (0-5 against the Tigers but 16-6 against the White Sox, Indians and Royals) and start their post-All-Star schedule with three consecutive four-game home series against the Royals, Indians and Tigers. Those dozen games at cozy Target Field give Minnesota an opportunity at a run, but no matter how the Twins fare in the standings, they need to get franchise cornerstones Joe Mauer (signed through 2018 for $23 million annually) and Justin Morneau (signed for $14 million in 2012 and '13) back on track. Both have an OPS -- .619 for Morneau, .592 for Mauer -- that's well below league average.
21Florida Marlins
Last Week: 24

Josh Johnson, SP
The Marlins ace was off to an outstanding start (1.64 ERA over nine starts) before shoulder inflammation landed him on the DL, where he remains indefinitely. Johnson has said he wants to pitch again this season, and other players in similar injury situations have said that taking the field in September helps eliminate doubts before the offseason. There's also no point in rushing the 27-year-old back before he's ready, but returning to game action would provide a lift for both the pitcher and the team.
22Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 17

Ozzie Guillen, manager
Guillen is under contract through next year, but that hasn't stopped his name being linked to the Marlins' managerial gig. And the Sun-Times reported that Guillen didn't like what chairman Jerry Reinsdorf recently told him about his long-term future with the organization. That uncertainty is hovering around the team, but in the here and now the White Sox are only five games behind the AL Central-leading Tigers. With so many offensive players underperforming -- Adam Dunn, Alex Rios and Brent Morel are the three biggest culprits -- can Guillen find a daily lineup that will lead Chicago to the playoffs?
23Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 18

Ichiro Suzuki, RF
The Mariners rank last in the AL in runs, hits, average, OBP and slugging, and only one of their 12 players with at least 80 plate appearances has an OPS+ greater than the league average. That player is Justin Smoak and not Ichiro, who is having the first down year of his major league career with just a .270 average and .317 OBP. Dustin Ackley has hit very well since his promotion, but Seattle needs more offense to end its five-game losing streak and make one last run at the division title.
24Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 27

Kevin Gross, bankruptcy judge
Even with a four-game winning streak entering the break, Los Angeles is 10 games under .500 and 11 games back of the NL West-leading Giants. While it's disappointing that the most important decision of the second half will be made in a judge's courtroom rather than the club's executive offices, how the Dodgers' bankruptcy case is resolved -- and who the ultimate owner of the franchise is -- will be critical to all future business and personnel decisions.
25San Diego Padres
Last Week: 20

Randy Ready, hitting coach
Ready is the fourth Padres hitting coach in Bud Black's four and a half seasons as manager. General manager Jed Hoyer endorsed the work of Ready, saying in a recent radio interview with San Diego's 1090 AM that "Being a hitting coach for the San Diego Padres is a great challenge. . . . Pinning it on Randy right now is the wrong thing to do. I think you have to pin it on everyone, from me to Buddy to the players." Admittedly there's not an overflowing amount of offensive talent on the roster, but some improvement is necessary for the offense with the NL's fewest runs and worst OPS. Turning around struggling rookie Anthony Rizzo would be a helpful starting point.
26Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 25

Chris Carter, OF; Michael Taylor, OF; Jemile Weeks, 2B
With the A's 12 games out in the AL West, GM Billy Beane recently acknowledged to the San Jose Mercury News, "It would serve us better for the long-term to hold on to our young players and acquire more young players." Beane will now to try to trade some of the A's relievers and outfielders, but just as important is to see progress from the development of the prospects they already have. Oakland has committed to Weeks as their every day second baseman (he's batting .287 with a .313 OBP), while Carter has struggled (17-for-100) in his big-league cameos and Taylor has yet to earn the promotion from Triple-A. (Last year's top pick, Michael Choice, is crushing High-A pitching -- 24 homers and a .936 OPS -- but is farther from the majors.)
27Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 26

J.J. Picollo, assistant GM for scouting and player development
The Royals' primary storyline most of the season has revolved around its bumper crop of highly-rated prospects. First baseman Eric Hosmer, third baseman Mike Moustakas and pitcher Danny Duffy have reached the majors, but they are the proverbial tip of the iceberg, with most of the blue chips still in the minors. Kansas City's fast start has faded, so as the club puts its designs onto 2012, the focus shifts to the development of the farm system that Picollo oversees.
28Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 28

Jim Hendry, GM
It's a lost season for the Cubs, who have the second-worst record in the NL and are 12 games behind the division leaders in the NL Central, but they have expensive veteran players (most notably first baseman Carlos Peña, outfielder Kosuke Fukudome and reliever John Grabow) who will garner trade interest. In order to receive high-level prospects in return, Chicago may need to eat some of their salaries but the farm system could use a boost, particularly after several young players were sent to Tampa Bay in the offseason for starter Matt Garza.
29Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 29

Buck Showalter, manager
The Orioles have now played 145 games under Showalter, dating back to when he took over last August, and for the first 105 games were 58-47, a .552 winning percentage that included a 34-23 finish last year and a respectable 24-24 start to this season; for perspective's sake, .552 would be only .002 behind Texas for the third-best record in the AL this season. Since then, however, Baltimore has gone 12-28, with four distinct losing streaks of at least four games, including an active seven-game skid. The O's have won one of their last 13 games, and Showalter would do well to finish strong for the sake of the team's psyche.
30Houston Astros
Last Week: 30

Ed Wade, GM
The majors' worst team is also in the process of being sold, creating a state of flux in Houston that could complicate the trade deadline. But the Astros would seemingly be well-served in moving several trade chips to continue the process of replenishing the farm system that started last year with deals of Lance Berkman and Roy Oswalt. Part of Wade's task will be deciding which players are untouchable (probably Hunter Pence, Bud Norris, Jordan Lyles and Brett Wallace) and which are the best bets to shop (Brett Myers, Wandy Rodriguez, Michael Bourn and Jeff Keppinger are among the candidates).

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