June 25, 2012

This past week saw the conclusion of interleague play in its current format -- the Astros are relocating to the American League next year, which will force it to be a regular, season long occurrence -- and as usual, the AL dominated. AL teams won 142 of the 252 match-ups, good for a .563 winning percentage, and outscored their Senior Circuit brethren by 108 runs. This is the ninth consecutive year that the AL has come out on top, and its 142 wins is the third most that either league has racked up in one season of match-ups since interleague play began.

The good news for the NL contenders is that they won't have to play another AL team until the World Series, so they can now go back to padding their records against some of the weaker teams in their own league. No team will be happier to see interleague play end than the Rockies, however, as they managed just two wins in 15 tries against AL opponents.

NOTE: All stats are through Sunday, June 10.

Rankings written by the staff of Fangraphs. The system used to rank the teams is based not on the current standings or a gut feeling about team quality, but on how well they've performed at the underlying traits that predict future performance better than wins and losses.

wRC+ is an offensive index where 100 is league average and every point above or below that denotes how far from league average a player's performance has been up to that point. It is adjusted for park and league, so it takes into account the context of a player's surroundings, and allows for comparison of performance from players in different situations and in different times.

MLB Power Rankings
1 Texas <a href=Rangers" title="Texas Rangers">
Last Week: 1
WAR Winning Percentage: 0.675; Current Winning Percentage: 0.616; WAR Wins: 49; Current Wins: 45

Now the Rangers are just showing off. In a week where Josh Hamilton hit .190/.261/.333, Texas still went 5-1, showing that there's more to its success than just its star outfielder. This week, it was the pitching carrying the Rangers to victory, as Roy Oswalt was terrific in his debut on Friday (6 1/3 IP, nine hits, one run and six K's in a win over the Rockies) and Yu Darvish showed last Wednesday what he can do when he's throwing strikes (allowing five hits and three walks while striking out eight in eight innings in a win against the Padres). It might be getting boring seeing the Rangers in the top spot every week, but the reality is that they've earned their dominant position in these rankings, as they continually find new ways to show that they are baseball's best team this year.
2 Washington <a href=Nationals" title="Washington Nationals">
Last Week: 2
WAR Winning Percentage: 0.600; Current Winning Percentage: 0.586; WAR Wins: 42; Current Wins: 41

The Nationals were this week's winners of the Most Stressful Team to Follow award, as four of their six games were decided by one run. Even the two games that weren't one-run affairs were close, as Washington neither scored nor allowed more than five runs in any game all week. Given the Nats' top tier pitching staff and offensive struggles, low scoring games are going to be the norm for them, but they're going to need to get more than their offense gave them over the last seven days if they want to maintain their spot atop the National League East.
3 St. Louis <a href=Cardinals" title="St. Louis Cardinals">
Last Week: 3
WAR Winning Percentage: 0.590; Current Winning Percentage: 0.521; WAR Wins: 43; Current Wins: 38

The Cardinals won the battle for Missouri over the weekend, sweeping the Royals by scoring 30 runs in three games. These kinds of offensive outbursts are why St. Louis is still scoring well in this system even though their overall record doesn't reflect a premier team. When the Cardinals win, they win big, but they've fared poorly in close contests, going just 6-12 in one run games. Expect them to win more games in the second half than the first, as teams that can outscore their opponents by nearly a full run per game are too good to hang around .500 for too long.
4 New York <a href=Yankees" title="New York Yankees">
Last Week: 5
WAR Winning Percentage: 0.578; Current Winning Percentage: 0.606; WAR Wins: 41; Current Wins: 43

National League teams finally figured out how to beat the Yankees this week, as the Bronx Bombers went just 3-3 against the Braves and Mets after racking up three consecutive sweeps in the 10 days prior. However, the strength of the Yankees bullpen continued to be on display, as their relievers posted a 2.93 ERA and 2.01 FIP as a group. While Mariano Rivera may seem irreplaceable, the reality is that New York's 'pen is deep enough that it hasn't actually missed the all-time saves leader all that much.
5 Boston <a href=Red Sox" title="Boston Red Sox">
Last Week: 7
WAR Winning Percentage: 0.575; Current Winning Percentage: 0.528; WAR Wins: 41; Current Wins: 38

The Red Sox are essentially the American League's version of the Cardinals, posting a less than impressive win-loss record but playing like a team that is a legitimate contender for the World Series. In fact, the Red Sox have a similar run differential (+46) to the Yankees (+54), so the five run difference in record is mostly attributable to the distribution of when those runs have occurred. You'll likely read stories in a couple of weeks about how Boston's excising of Kevin Youkilis from the roster sparked their team's turnaround, but don't believe it -- the Red Sox comeback is already under way, as they're now 9-3 in their last 12 games and playing like a top tier club once again.
6 Los Angeles <a href=Angels" title="Los Angeles Angels">
Last Week: 10
WAR Winning Percentage: 0.556; Current Winning Percentage: 0.548; WAR Wins: 41; Current Wins: 40

The Dodgers may still have the better record, but the Angels are the Los Angeles team on the way up. They took two of three in the intra-city battle over the weekend, and are now 14-7 in June, while the Dodgers have played just .500 ball this month while waiting for Matt Kemp to get healthy. The Angels' surge continues to be driven by 20-year-old Mike Trout, who now leads all American League hitters in WAR. His line last week: .440/.517/.640. Forget just making the AL All-Star team -- Trout is among the early favorites for the league's MVP award.
7 Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 4
WAR Winning Percentage: 0.549; Current Winning Percentage: 0.589; WAR Wins: 40; Current Wins: 43

That the Dodgers haven't imploded without Matt Kemp is a testament to their team's resilience, but the reality is that their offense is in serious need of a lift. The team scored two runs in getting swept by the A's mid-week, and their team line of .180/.228/.238 was the worst in baseball last week by a good margin. A large reason for the offensive collapse is that A.J. Ellis has seemingly run out of fairy dust; he's collected just one extra base hit in June. He's still taking his walks, but his surprising power carried the team in the season's first two months, and now they're struggling to find alternative sources of since he's cooled off.
8 Arizona <a href=Diamondbacks" title="Arizona Diamondbacks">
Last Week: 16
WAR Winning Percentage: 0.546; Current Winning Percentage: 0.514; WAR Wins: 39; Current Wins: 37

The Diamondbacks have won four straight games, are 14-7 in June, and actually have the best run differential in baseball this month. While they dug themselves an early hole that might be tough to overcome, there's no arguing that Arizona is starting to come together. The D-backs hit .343/.388/.657 as a team last week, and the resurgence of Paul Goldschmidt and the continuing bounce back from Aaron Hill has given the line-up some thump even while they wait for Justin Upton to start hitting.
9 Chicago <a href=White Sox" title="Chicago White Sox">
Last Week: 8
WAR Winning Percentage: 0.546; Current Winning Percentage: 0.528; WAR Wins: 39; Current Wins: 38

The big story on the South Side is the impending arrival of Kevin Youkilis, acquired on Sunday from the Red Sox for utility infielder Brent Lillibridge and reliever Zach Stewart. The White Sox have gotten nothing from third base this year, and while Youkilis hasn't looked like himself to date, he still offers a significant upgrade and a chance to give Chicago another valuable bat in the middle of the order. At just 9-12 in June, the White Sox could use a lift, and the arrival of Youkilis might provide it.
10 San Francisco <a href=Giants" title="San Francisco Giants">
Last Week: 6
WAR Winning Percentage: 0.539; Current Winning Percentage: 0.548; WAR Wins: 39; Current Wins: 40

The Giants pitching staff was uncharacteristically poor last week, posting a 6.45 ERA in six games against the Angels and Athletics. While they were playing in AL ballparks and didn't have the benefit of getting the pitcher out several times per game, you still expect better from a team whose hallmark is quality pitching. Tim Lincecum's struggles continued, but the bullpen (7.79 ERA as a group) was the real culprit. Santiago Casilla has been a strong replacement for the injured Brian Wilson, but San Francisco might want to consider adding another relief arm for the stretch run.
11 Tampa Bay <a href=Rays" title="Tampa Bay Rays">
Last Week: 12
WAR Winning Percentage: 0.533; Current Winning Percentage: 0.556; WAR Wins: 38; Current Wins: 40

The Rays got some bad news last week when Evan Longoria suffered a setback in his rehab assignment, and then Tampa Bay took another blow when Matt Joyce joined Longoria on the DL over the weekend. Without those two bats in the line-up, the Rays offense predictably sputtered, and they don't have enough depth to keep winning without those guys. For Tampa Bay to keep pace in the AL East, it has to get healthy and stay healthy. No team needs their superstar more than the Rays need Longoria.
12 Philadelphia <a href=Phillies" title="Philadelphia Phillies">
Last Week: 14
WAR Winning Percentage: 0.533; Current Winning Percentage: 0.459; WAR Wins: 39; Current Wins: 34

Hey Phillies: don't sell. A 7-15 record in June has pushed the team to a nine-game deficit in the NL East, and rumors continue to swirl around the organization due to the impending free agency of Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino. While the team has struggled in the first half, however, they look like a team that could make a run in the second half. Their underlying play is significantly better than their record and they are reportedly going to get Chase Utley back this week; he will represent an astonishing upgrade over what they got from Freddie Galvis in his stead. The Phils might not be able to run down the Nationals, but they have the talent to make a serious push for a wild card at least.
13 Cincinnati <a href=Reds" title="Cincinnati Reds">
Last Week: 9
WAR Winning Percentage: 0.530; Current Winning Percentage: 0.549; WAR Wins: 38; Current Wins: 39

Scott Rolen's return came just in time, as Todd Frazier's bat finally cooled off last week (.167/.250/.278) after he performed admirably during Rolen's absence on the DL. Even with Rolen, Cincinnati went just 1-5 last week due mostly to some poor pitching. Mat Latos, Bronson Arroyo and Aroldis Chapman combined to give up 15 runs in nine innings during that time, and they were only able to win when Johnny Cueto gave them another brilliant outing. While the focus has often been on their outfield issues, last week made it clear that the Reds need another pitcher for the second half.
14 New York Mets
Last Week: 17
WAR Winning Percentage: 0.523; Current Winning Percentage: 0.534; WAR Wins: 38; Current Wins: 39

R.A. Dickey is human after all, as the Yankees finally got to the knuckleballing hero and ended his ridiculous run of dominance that had lasted nearly two months. While giving up some runs to the Yankees isn't a sure sign of imminent collapse, the Mets can't expect Dickey to keep up his crazy first half pace, and should be careful about trading too much of their future to chase a playoff run this year. The Mets rotation is better than people expected, but their bullpen is still a disaster and their offense is mostly just David Wright.
15 Detroit <a href=Tigers" title="Detroit Tigers">
Last Week: 13
WAR Winning Percentage: 0.522; Current Winning Percentage: 0.486; WAR Wins: 38; Current Wins: 35

Detroit's offense essentially has five weapons: Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Austin Jackson, Alex Avila and Jhonny Peralta. The highest on base percentage any of those five posted last week was Jackson's .269, and they only combined for two home runs in the last seven days. It's amazing that the Tigers were able to go 3-3 while getting nothing from the guys who make their offense go. Justin Verlander (1.69 ERA in two starts) and the bullpen (0.69 ERA in 13 innings) should take a bow.
16 Baltimore <a href=Orioles" title="Baltimore Orioles">
Last Week: 11
WAR Winning Percentage: 0.520; Current Winning Percentage: 0.569; WAR Wins: 37; Current Wins: 41

After getting swept by the Mets to begin the week, it looked like the Orioles' bandwagon was headed for a cliff, but they managed to get things back on course by taking two of three from the Nationals over the weekend. Of more serious concern for Baltimore, however, is an offense that is starting to show some serious problems -- Adam Jones and Chris Davis have come back to earth a bit, and the ineffectiveness of Mark Reynolds is highlighted when those two aren't swinging the bats well. With J.J. Hardy struggling and Brian Roberts trying to get his feet under him again, the team's line-up has a lot of holes right now.
17 Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 15
WAR Winning Percentage: 0.506; Current Winning Percentage: 0.528; WAR Wins: 36; Current Wins: 38

There's nothing wrong with going 3-3 against the Yankees and Red Sox on the road, so the Braves have to be happy with how they ended interleague play, but their starting rotation continues to be surprisingly poor. Mike Minor and Tommy Hanson combined to give up eight home runs in three starts last week while Randall Delgado only got four batters out while giving up six runs in his lone appearance. Jair Jurrjens gave the team a much needed lift in Boston on Friday night, but his inconsistency means that he can't be counted on for a repeat performance, and the Braves are going to have to get improvement from the rest of their rotation to make a serious playoff run.
18 Milwaukee <a href=Brewers" title="Milwaukee Brewers">
Last Week: 18
WAR Winning Percentage: 0.499; Current Winning Percentage: 0.458; WAR Wins: 36; Current Wins: 33

The Jekyll-and-Hyde routine from the team's starting rotation continues, as Zack Greinke and Michael Fiers combined for 17 1/3 scoreless innings between them this week, while Randy Wolf and Tyler Thornburg gave up 14 runs in their 17 innings of work. Shaun Marcum's recurring arm problems are an issue for a team that is already thin at the back of the rotation. Ryan Braun continues to hit and Aramis Ramirez is showing signs of life, but the Brewers simply need better starting pitching than what they're getting now, and it's an open question as to whether or not the guys they have on the roster are capable of giving it to them.
19 Toronto <a href=Blue Jays" title="Toronto Blue Jays">
Last Week: 21
WAR Winning Percentage: 0.457; Current Winning Percentage: 0.514; WAR Wins: 33; Current Wins: 37

Speaking of teams with problems in their starting rotation, that brings us to the Blue Jays. Injuries have torn apart Toronto's pitching staff, and fill-ins Jesse Chavez (10.58 ERA) and Joel Cerrano (15.00 ERA) didn't perform very well last week, while Henderson Alvarez (13.50 ERA) continued his regression to the mean in quick fashion. While the Blue Jays have a strong enough roster to be a contender, they'll have to leapfrog two teams ahead of them in the AL East to steal a wild card spot, and given the rash of pitching injuries, they might not have the horses to keep up in the toughest division in sports.
20 Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 19
WAR Winning Percentage: 0.456; Current Winning Percentage: 0.443; WAR Wins: 32; Current Wins: 31

Since beginning the year 3-13 and causing panic in the streets of Kansas City, the Royals are 28-26, and their young talent continues to give the city some hope for the future even if they aren't ready to contend just yet. Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas provided the thump on offense, and the return of catcher Salvador Perez should give the team a boot in production as well. As usual, though, the issues with pitching continue, as Felipe Paulino was just lost to Tommy John surgery, and an already pitching-starved team will have to replace its most effective starter.
21 Miami <a href=Marlins" title="Miami Marlins">
Last Week: 20
WAR Winning Percentage: 0.453; Current Winning Percentage: 0.472; WAR Wins: 33; Current Wins: 34

A 9-0 victory over the Blue Jays on Sunday may have averted total disaster, but the Marlins are in free fall right now. They've been awful in June, winning just five of 21 games and getting outscored by 66 runs, by far the worst mark in baseball. There are scapegoats anywhere you want to look, but the bullpen was perhaps the biggest disaster last week, giving up 22 runs in 20 1/3 innings pitched. Miami has more talent than it has shown, but its early season success has never been matched by its underlying performances.
22 Pittsburgh <a href=Pirates" title="Pittsburgh Pirates">
Last Week: 26
WAR Winning Percentage: 0.442; Current Winning Percentage: 0.535; WAR Wins: 31; Current Wins: 38

If it wasn't for Joey Votto going bananas in Cincinnati, Andrew McCutchen might be the easiest MVP selection in some time. The Pirates star centerfielder just continues to blister the baseball, hitting .500/.560/.965 over the last week, and is providing enough value to help the Pirates hang around in the NL Central race against improbable odds. While Pittsburgh still needs some better hitters around McCutchen to keep pace with the Reds and Cardinals, it has yet to fall back as expected. If the Bucs are still playing well after the All-Star break, expect them to go get McCutchen some help.
23 Cleveland <a href=Indians" title="Cleveland Indians">
Last Week: 22
WAR Winning Percentage: 0.440; Current Winning Percentage: 0.521; WAR Wins: 31; Current Wins: 37

The Indians continue to play to the level of their opponents, sweeping the first-place Reds to start the week but then dropping two of three to the fifth-place Astros over the weekend, including two utter beat downs on Saturday and Sunday in which Cleveland was outscored 15-2. With three games against the Yankees on tap and match-ups against the Orioles, Angels and Rays to follow, the last two weeks before the All-Star Game should give us some answers as to whether the Tribe can actually hang with the best teams in the AL.
24 Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 23
WAR Winning Percentage: 0.439; Current Winning Percentage: 0.380; WAR Wins: 31; Current Wins: 27

Good news for the Rockies -- they're not as bad as their record shows. Bad news for the Rockies -- they're still bad. Their pitching staff was such a disaster that they've abandoned the normal five-man rotation, limiting their starters to just 75 pitches apiece and asking them to throw with three days rest between starts. If Colorado was looking to the schedule for a short term boost, forget it ? 11 of its final 14 games before the break are against the Nationals and Cardinals.
25 Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 27
WAR Winning Percentage: 0.431; Current Winning Percentage: 0.479; WAR Wins: 31; Current Wins: 35

Oakland's line-up is not exactly a who's who of offensive stars in baseball, but believe it or not, the A's have scored the most runs of any team in June, and their +40 run differential is the best in the American League this month. Josh Reddick has led the charge for Oakland, and is currently looking like the best acquisition any team made over the winter. Whether he can keep up his scorching power pace remains to be seen, but quietly, the outfield of Reddick, Yoenis Cespedes and Coco Crisp has been lighting pitchers up in June and putting a lot of runs on the board.
26 Houston Astros
Last Week: 28
WAR Winning Percentage: 0.420; Current Winning Percentage: 0.417: WAR Wins: 30; Current Wins: 30

This was always going to be a rebuilding year in Houston, and even after a surprisingly strong start, the Astros have settled in to their position as a team with not quite enough talent to compete on most nights. A contender looking for an offensive upgrade might want to consider calling about Carlos Lee, however -- he's one of the very best contact hitters in baseball and still has enough power to remain an above-average hitter. While he's not an asset on defense, there are several teams who could use a bat like Lee's in the lineup for the second half.
27 Chicago <a href=Cubs" title="Chicago Cubs">
Last Week: 24
WAR Winning Percentage: 0.413; Current Winning Percentage: 0.333: WAR Wins:30; Current Wins: 24

Rumors suggest that Anthony Rizzo could be on his way to Chicago to join the Cubs as soon as this week, which is well-deserved as he's proven all he can in Triple-A at this point. Between 2011 and 2012, he's racked up 104 extra base hits in 161 games in the Pacific Coast League, and he's even managed to improve his strikeout rate from last year. While he didn't have an easy transition to the majors in San Diego last year, Wrigley is a much better spot for a lefthanded pull-hitter with power, and Rizzo looks ready to come up and be an offensive contributor right away.
28 Seattle <a href=Mariners" title="Seattle Mariners">
Last Week: 25
WAR Winning Percentage: 0.409; Current Winning Percentage: 0.419; WAR Wins: 30; Current Wins: 31

The Mariners are known for having historically bad offensive teams, but lately it's been the pitching that has been the real problem. Last week, Seattle posted a 111 wRC+ on offense, but its pitching staff had a 7.52 ERA even while playing three games in Petco Park. Jason Vargas' home run issues were on full display in Arizona, while Kevin Millwood and Erasmo Ramirez gave up 15 hits in two starts between them. While the Mariners are supposedly built around pitching and defense, the pitching part of this roster isn't particularly good.
29 San Diego Padres
Last Week: 29
WAR Winning Percentage: 0.376; Current Winning Percentage: 0.356; WAR Wins: 27; Current Wins: 26

How to sum up the Padres in one sentence: Their best healthy starter at the moment is Jason Marquis. After getting released by the Twins, Marquis has found refuge in San Diego and is actually pitching pretty well, but when he's your best rotation arm, something has gone horribly wrong. However, help is on the way, as Andrew Cashner completed three dominant starts in Double-A while getting stretched out so he could go from a reliever to a starter and should be ready to join the rotation this week.
30 Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 30
WAR Winning Percentage: 0.343; Current Winning Percentage: 0.408; WAR Wins: 24; Current Wins: 29

In a miserable season in Minnesota, the Twins have had a couple of unexpected bright spots thanks to the strong performances from Trevor Plouffe and Scott Diamond. However, even those surprises seem to be waning, as Plouffe put up a .292 on base percentage last week (more in line with his minor league track record than what he'd done previously) while Diamond posted a 4.73 ERA in two starts and looked more like the back-end starter that he'd been projected as rather than the ace that he'd been pitching like since getting called up.

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