Thursday August 18th, 2011

Welcome to Power Rankings' Second Annual Separation Week. It comes exactly a year after the first edition and the premise is this: In the past week several playoff leaders separated themselves from the pack.

The red-hot NL Central-leading Brewers have won 19 of their last 21 games, including six straight this week, while the second-place Cardinals muddled through a 3-3 record over their past six games, helping Milwaukee build its lead from four games to seven. That stretch of six games increased their likelihood of winning the division, according to, from 73.5 percent to a whopping 90.9 percent.

The similarly streaking AL West-leading Rangers have won 11 of their last 13 games and six straight this week, including three straight against their closest competitor, the Angels. Los Angeles also lost two straight to end its series with the Blue Jays, meaning Texas' lead has extended from two games to seven. Again, according to, the Rangers have increased their chance of winning the division from 68.9 percent to 95.9 percent.

And a much less pronounced example happened in the NL West, where the Diamondbacks recently won seven straight to turn a half-game deficit to the Giants into a 3 1/2 game-lead before a loss Wednesday night reduced it back to 2 1/2. During that time they improved their chance of winning the division from 41.8 percent to its current 65.9.

The Brewers' hot play helped them crack the elite top-tier of the Phillies, Red Sox and Yankees and move into the No. 2 spot while the Rangers, now up to No. 5, are on the verge of joining them as well.

NOTE: All stats are updated through Wednesday, Aug. 17.

MLB Power Rankings
1Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 1
Antonio Bastardo and Ryan Madson have been the Phillies' best two relievers this season. They rank 1-2 on the team in saves, ERA and K/9 among pitchers who have made at least 10 appearances this season, yet both went a week between outings -- pitching Aug. 10 and not again until Aug. 17 ? thanks in part to two off days, a rainout and a complete game from Roy Halladay. Bastardo and Madson remain comparatively well-rested because of how deep Phillies starters go into games; Philadelphia is one of only three teams without a reliever who has made 50 appearances yet.
2Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 4
Given the inclination of MVP voters to give the award to a player on a playoff-bound team, then the Brewers' Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder are on the very short list of candidates -- Arizona's Justin Upton might be truly more valuable to his team's success because he doesn't have a power-hitting wingman, but Braun and Fielder have simply been the better hitters. Choosing between them, however, is tough. Fielder's OPS is .977; Braun's is .976. Fielder has four more homers and 11 more RBIs, primarily because he hits after Braun, who has scored three more runs. Braun also has 23 steals to Fielder's zero. The verdict? Too close to call.
3New York Yankees
Last Week: 3
Call him Captain Comeback. Since going on the disabled list with a calf strain in June, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter has been a new man at the plate. He batted .260 and slugged .324 with only 12 extra-base hits in 262 at bats before his DL stint; he is batting .342 and slugging .477 with 14 extra-base hits in 149 at bats since his return. And one thing Jeter has done well both before and after the injury is hit lefties: his .373 average against lefthanded pitchers ranks third in the majors.
4Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 2
If there was a preseason knock on the Red Sox' vaunted lineup, it's that it was too lefty-heavy with five of their nine regulars all fulltime lefthanded hitters. A check of the splits after 122 games shows that it hasn't really mattered. The Sox have an .805 OPS against righty pitchers and an .804 OPS against lefty pitchers. Boston is 47-34 (.580) in games when the opponent has started a righthanded pitcher and 27-14 (.659) in games when the opponent has started a lefthander.
5Texas Rangers
Last Week: 6
Texas manager Ron Washington recently gave Michael Young an endorsement for MVP consideration, and it'd certainly make for a nice narrative -- good soldier shakes off winter in which team desperately tried trading him -- though he probably hasn't been the league's best player. That said, Young has had an outstanding year ? as detailed by's Joe Sheehan -- and not just because he recently passed 2,000 career hits. His .342 average ranks second in the AL, as do his 36 doubles (though in a tie); his .879 OPS ranks 10th. His lack of power (only 10 homers) may hold him down in the eyes of voters.
6Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 5
Rookie outfielder Jose Constanza is already best known for two things that have nothing to do with his on-field play: He licks the bat after foul balls and his nickname is "George" because his last name is one extra 'n' away from a popular sitcom sidekick. But that only distracts from how productive he's been in his first 18 games as a big-leaguer. He's 25-for-65 (.385) with two homers and five steals, numbers so good that he has temporarily bumped slumping Jason Heyward, last year's NL Rookie of the Year runner-up, out of the lineup.
7Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 9
It's the pitching, stupid. Arizona, in the words of GM Kevin Towers, has "lopped off about two runs off our bullpen ERA and probably a run off our starting pitching ERA." Such improvement -- without sacrificing offense -- is how the Diamondbacks have snaked their way into first-place. now has the D-backs as a 68.0 percent likely entrant into the playoffs and, heck, they could even prevent the Phillies from sleepwalking through the NLDS.
8Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 12
In case anyone needed a reminder, the Rays' starting pitching is really good. In five straight games on the road -- all against AL powerhouses Boston and New York -- Tampa Bay's starters threw at least eight innings in four of them, headlined by David Price tossing 16 innings of one-run ball in beating both division rivals. James Shields added a complete-game victory over the Red Sox, and the Rays' rotation improved its ERA to 3.56, second-best in the league.
9Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 8
Delmon Young and his Twins teammates were riding the bus to Comerica Park to play the Tigers when he got the call telling him he had been traded . . . to the Tigers. At least the commute was short. Detroit, in need of better production from its corner outfielders, made to move to get Young and batted him third in his first game; he homered his first time up. So far, so good: Young is 5-for-13 (.385) and the rare intra-division trade made sense for both teams.
10Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 10
At a time when the Indians could ill afford injuries, both outfielder Michael Brantley, and second baseman Jason Kipnis went down. Mercifully for Cleveland, Brantley only missed four games and Kipnis is expected back Thursday after a three-game absence. Just as importantly has been the return of Shin-Soo Choo from his long DL stint, and he's gone 5-for-18 with two walks, including a three-hit night in a victory over the surging White Sox on Wednesday. With Brantley, Choo and Kosuke Fukudome, the Indians finally have three good offensive outfielders for the first time in the month it's been since Grady Sizemore made his own DL trip.
11St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 11
Albert Pujols batted .245 in April, hit only two homers in May and broke his wrist in June. But with a Sunday night home run -- a mammoth 465-foot shot, no less -- Pujols regained the NL home run lead with 29, passing teammate Lance Berkman and the Dodgers' Matt Kemp. Pujols has started his career with 10 straight seasons with a .300 average, 30 homers and 100 RBIs, and to date he's batting .287 with 30 homers and 76 RBIs. He's obviously within striking distance of .300 and, since he's averaging 0.69 RBIs per game he's played, Pujols is pace to reach 102 if plays each of the Cardinals' remaining 38 games.
12San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 13
Call the CDC -- there's been such an inexplicable rash of injuries afflicting the Giants that there must be some rare contagious virus at work. Consider: in a matter of days reliever Sergio Romo and outfielder Carlos Beltran were placed on the DL, while outfielders Nate Shierholtz and Aaron Roward, infielder Jeff Keppinger, closer Brian Wilson and starter Jonathan Sanchez all had their playing time affected by injuries and soreness. Worst of all for the Giants, the outbreak happened during a four-game series in Atlanta against the wild-card-leading Braves.
13Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 7
On Aug. 18, 2009 the Angels' lineup featured nine regulars who were all hitting above .300, an especially noteworthy occurrence so late in the season. As the Angels wake up on Aug. 18, 2011, however, they don't have one player on the roster with more than three at bats hitting that high, toppingout with Howie Kendrick's .293. Their team on-base percentage is barely above that threshold, checking in at .309, 12th in the 14-team AL.
14Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 14
With his 10th home run of the season on Sunday, utility player Brent Lillibridge became the 28th player this season to have at least 10 homers and 10 stolen bases. What sets Lillibridge apart is that he's the only one who's not an everyday player. In fact, Lillibridge's 10th homer came in only his 170th plate appearance and only his 38th start of the season. He has entered the game as a pinch-runner 21 times, which is more than he started in any one position -- his 17 starts in rightfield are his most at any position this year.
15Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 15
Edwin Encarnacion didn't homer until May 29. His average was a paltry .240 on July 6. His OBP didn't reach .300 for good until July 17. Encarnacion, who hit 21 homers in 96 games in 2010, had a terrible first half but has been one of the majors' best hitters since. He broke out with seven hits over two games in Cleveland on July 7 and 8, and that started a stretch in which he's gone 45-for-120 (.375) with 12 doubles and six home runs. Until Tuesday he had a 13-game hitting streak and had hits in 19 of 20 games. He contributed a walkoff single in the 10th inning on Sunday.
16Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 18
The 2011 baseball season will be remembered as a disappointment in Cincinnati, but first baseman Joey Votto is having another excellent season. Votto said earlier this season that opponents were pitching him more carefully this year than last, when he won the MVP, and the numbers show that he's seeing the fewest percent of pitches he's even seen in the strike zone (41.0 percent). Give Votto credit for not pressing and overextending himself to pick up the slack for the underachieving Reds, last year's NL Central champs. Votto leads the NL in walks (88) and OBP (.434) by considerable margins while still batting .321 and slugging .528. Only his power has regressed somewhat, though he's still on pace for 26 homers and 67 extra-base hits, down from 37 and 75, respectively, last season.
17New York Mets
Last Week: 16
The advanced defensive statistics have not treated the Mets kindly. According to Ultimate Zone Rating, not one active Met has a UZR greater than 1.0, meaning no one has saved more than one run defensively; those that do rate that high are injured (Daniel Murphy at both 1B and 2B and Ike Davis at 1B). According to the Fielding Bible's Plus/Minus system, the Mets collectively have cost themselves 38 runs with poor defense, the fourth-worst mark in the majors. Third baseman David Wright does not fare well on either metric, as he has a -9.4 UZR and -11 Plus/Minus Runs Saved.
18Washington Nationals
Last Week: 17
The Nationals have used seven different leadoff hitters this season. They began the year with Ian Desmond up top, sporadically tried Jerry Hairston Jr. for a couple games, then moved on to Danny Espinosa, then found a mainstay (52 starts, though not consecutively) in Roger Bernardina, then tried Rick Ankiel and even Jayson Werth at No. 1, with Brian Bixler even getting one start. None of them has taken to the spot, and the seven have collectively hit .201/.267/.318, by far the worst average and OBP in the majors. On Wednesday Washington returned Desmond to the top for another tryout.
19Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 19
The Brewers swept the Pirates in three games at Miller Park last week, furthering Pittsburgh's misery in Milwaukee. In the last five seasons, from 2007 through 2011, the Pirates are 3-36 in games at the Brewers' home, where they have been outscored 249 to 128. Here's some brighter news for Pittsburgh: On Monday the Bucs inked No. 1 overall pick, UCLA pitcher Gerrit Cole, to an $8 million bonus. He likely won't need much time to reach the majors.
20Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 21
Earlier this year shortstop Troy Tulowitzki half-seriously suggested that baseball should implement more doubleheaders, particularly on Sundays with Mondays as a league-wide off-day. Colorado better hope that doesn't happen, as it'd only double its pain. The Rockies have now lost a major league-record 17 consecutive Sunday games, which, as the Denver Post noted, is even worse than the Sunday performance of the 2008 Detroit Lions that didn't win a game all season but were spared losing more than 16 games by the length of the NFL schedule.
21Florida Marlins
Last Week: 20
Gaby Sanchez had a great start to the season ? batting .293 with 22 doubles, 13 homers and .846 OPS to earn his first All-Star Game selection -- but he hasn't been the same hitter since. He's 20-for-106 (.189) with a .581 OPS and just eight extra-base hits (three homers) in the second half. The rest of the Marlins, meanwhile, have hit better since the break: the team's OBP was .313 before and .332 after and their slugging went from .378 to .407.
22Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 23
The first three major league teams to win 10 games in August were the Phillies (majors' best record), the Brewers (NL Central leader) and the, uh, Cubs (nothing of the sort). But Chicago won 10 of its first 13 games this month, claiming series wins over the Pirates, Reds, Nationals and Braves in succession. Nothing in Wrigleyville can be easy, however, as Carlos Zambrano went on a locker-clearing, retirement-announcing tirade that led to a 30-game suspension without pay.
23Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 22
Power-hitting 1B/LF Brandon Allen never got much of a chance to prove himself at his last stop in Arizona, but he is making the most of his time in Oakland, following a trade-deadline deal for reliever Brad Ziegler. Allen has hit 20 or more homers in four straight minor league seasons but received only 29 at bats in the majors with the D-backs despite hitting three homers with a .351 OBP as he also struck out 13 times. With the A's, however, he's 8-of-15 (.533) with two triples and is showing the offensive pop at first base that injured starter Daric Barton has lacked.
24Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 24
Clayton Kershaw has thrown two shutouts this season and, though no other Dodgers starter has any individual shutous, the team collectively has 15, which puts it into a tie with the Phillies for the most pitched shutouts in baseball. Los Angeles shut out the Astros twice in a weekend series and has been preying on last-place teams: L.A. has shutout San Diego four times this year, Houston three times and Florida once. And, as noted by, the last time a sub-.500 team led the majors in shutouts was in 1996 when the 80-82 Marlins threw 13 shutouts.
25Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 25
Jim Thome hit two home runs on Monday to reach 600 for his career, becoming only the eighth player in history to do so, an achievement that got relatively little fanfare, despite Thome's reputation as one of the game's nicest guys and best sluggers. Thome, meanwhile, remains a productive lefthanded DH with a .259/.365/.513 batting line and 12 homers.
26Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 28
Sometimes the sixth time is the charm. Mike Carp is finally crushing the ball in this, his sixth tour of major league duty. He was called up in the middle of the Mariners' 17-game losing streak and belted four hits with four RBIs to help Seattle snap that streak on July 27. He was held hitless in the next game but then rattled off a 17-game hitting streak in which he's gone 26-for-69 with four homers and 18 RBIs. Carp, who turned 25 in June and has a triple-slash position line of 1B/OF/DH, has batted fourth for the entirety of his streak.
27San Diego Padres
Last Week: 26
Now that Ryan Ludwick has been traded, the Padres' active team leader in home runs is Cameron Maybin -- with eight. On a recent road trip in which San Diego went 6-4, the club hit four home runs in the first game and then hit only four more home runs in the next nine games combined. The Padres' total of 68 this season puts them on a pace for 88. Not since 1992, when five teams did it, has a club failed to hit at least 90 homers in a 162-game season.
28Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 27
While playing with the Yankees for five seasons and the Braves for one, Melky Cabrera had stretches of hot play that showed potential to be an everyday starter, but he could never string together a full season that justified his daily presence in the lineup. Yet in Kansas City it has all finally fallen in place: he has set career highs in doubles (33) and homers (16) and is likely to do so in all three rate categories on the batting line: .310/.343/.485. Cabrera only turned 27 last week.
29Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 29
Starter Jeremy Guthrie is 5-16 through 25 starts. It's an almost unfair number of losses given that his ERA (4.55) is only a little below the league average, but such is life for an Orioles pitcher: he pitches in a hitters' ballpark, he regularly faces the Red Sox and Yankees and he receives little run support. Guthrie has received only 3.73 runs of backing for every nine innings he's been on the mound; that ranks 83rd among the 105 major league pitchers with enough innings to qualify for the ERA title. Since 1903 only 25 pitchers have lost 20 games in a season, but only one of them, Mike Maroth of the 2003 Tigers, pitched after 1980.
30Houston Astros
Last Week: 30
It wasn't until their 83rd loss in their 121st game of the season that the Astros notched their first six-game losing streak of the season. But credit Houston for trying to reinvent itself. Its starting lineup on Saturday contained only one of the eight position players who started on Opening Day; that was leftfielder Carlos Lee, whose contract makes him immovable.

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