May 28, 2012

No division in the past few days had as many wild turns of fortune as the AL Central. The Indians looked to take a firm hold on the division with a three game sweep of the Tigers to push the surprising Tribe 3 ½ games up, but then Cleveland got swept by the White Sox over the weekend, while Detroit then swept the Twins to salvage their week and climb back into the race. Entering Monday, the Indians' lead is down to just a half-game over the White Sox and three over the Tigers, the heavy favorite to repeat as AL Central champions before the year began. As a result the division that looked like it may have been the most one-sided in baseball before the season enters the unofficial start of summer as competitive as any in the game.

NOTE: All stats are through Sunday, May 27.

Rankings written by the Fangraphs staff. 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: .731; Current Winning Pecentage: .625; WAR Wins: 35; Current Wins: 30

The Rangers just keep rolling along, going 4-2 over the last week and maintaining their significant lead over the rest of baseball at the top of these power rankings. Last week's hero was Mitch Moreland, as he hit .421/.476/.842 to pace the offense. Moreland, who generally bats 9th for the Rangers, is now posting a 145 wRC+, putting him at the same offensive level this season as guys like David Ortiz -- not bad for a spot where a team generally puts its worst hitter.
2 Washington <a href=Nationals" title="Washington Nationals">
Last Week: 2
WAR Winning Percentage: .658; Current Winning Pecentage: .617; WAR Wins: 31; Current Wins: 29

How good is Washington's pitching? Its offense posted just a .306 on base percentage over the last seven days, yet the Nationals went 5-1 because their staff surrendered only 2.83 runs per game. Even the demotion of closer Henry Rodriguez hasn't really hurt the team, as Tyler Clippard has stepped right into that role without missing a beat. He might not have traditional closer stuff, but Clippard has shown that he's more than capable of holding late leads.
3 St. Louis <a href=Cardinals" title="St. Louis Cardinals">
Last Week: 3
WAR Winning Percentage: .649; Current Winning Pecentage: .542; WAR Wins: 31; Current Wins: 26

Even without Lance Berkman and Allen Craig, the Cardinals' offense just keeps mashing, putting up a combined .290/.346/.496 slash line over the last week. Still, St. Louis went just 4-3, losing yet another one run game to fall to 3-8 contests decided by a single run this season. That will likely even out a bit as the season goes on, and the Cardinals' record will improve as they come out on top in those close contests.
4 Los Angeles <a href=Dodgers" title="Los Angeles Dodgers">
Last Week: 4
WAR Winning Percentage: .634; Current Winning Pecentage: .681; WAR Wins: 30; Current Wins: 32

No Matt Kemp? No problem. The Dodgers scored 40 runs in six games last week, getting contributions from nearly everyone on the roster. Dee Gordon was in jeopardy of getting demoted to the minors, but responded by hitting .455 and not striking out once in the past seven days, while catchers A.J. Ellis and Matt Treanor launched four home runs between them. If the role players keep performing after Kemp returns, this team is going to be extremely tough to beat.
5 San Francisco <a href=Giants" title="San Francisco Giants">
Last Week: 7
WAR Winning Percentage: .562; Current Winning Pecentage: .521; WAR Wins: 27; Current Wins: 25

Melky Cabrera has placed the Giants' offense on his back and is carrying the load through the first two months of the season. After racking up another 14 hits over 34 plate appearances last week, Cabrera is now hitting .369/.412/.556, and his six triples are already a single-season career high. While in recent years the Giants have relied on their pitchers to keep them in games and hoped to claw out enough runs to scrape by, the offense is doing their fair share at the moment, and Cabrera is one of the primary reasons why.
6 Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 14
WAR Winning Percentage: .558; Current Winning Pecentage: .542; WAR Wins: 27; Current Wins: 26

The Pale Hose posted a team ERA of 5.50 over the last week, yet still went 5-1 due to the exploits of their batting order -- specifically Paul Konerko. The team hit an absurd .327/.391/.621 as a group, paced by Konerko's .538 average and 1.125 slugging percentage. To put it another way, Konerko had nearly as many extra base hits (7) as numbers of times he made an out (10). The weekend sweep of the Indians has put the White Sox in legitimate contention for the AL Central crown.
7 Tampa Bay <a href=Rays" title="Tampa Bay Rays">
Last Week: 9
WAR Winning Percentage: .556; Current Winning Pecentage: .604; WAR Wins: 27; Current Wins: 29

Perhaps the story of the season for the Rays has been the rejuvenation of closer Fernando Rodney. He was awful for the Angels last year, but an adjustment to where he stands on the rubber has led to a new-found ability to throw strikes, and Rodney's now pitching better than he ever has in his career. He did blow his first save Saturday night, but bounced right back with another save on Sunday, and his ninth inning dominance has been a key to the Rays early success.
8 Baltimore <a href=Orioles" title="Baltimore Orioles">
Last Week: 6
WAR Winning Percentage: .551; Current Winning Pecentage: .604; WAR Wins: 26; Current Wins: 29

Their 2-4 record over the last week might suggest that the Orioles are finally getting ready to fall apart as everyone expects, but all four of those losses came by two runs or less, and the Orioles actually outscored their opponents 28-25 during those six games. J.J. Hardy and Adam Jones continue to provide thump from positions where teams don't expect a ton of offense, and the production by role players such as Chris Davis and Wilson Betemit has kept the offense rolling. For the team to keep up in the AL East all season, though, they'll need Matt Wieters (.133 average with no extra base hits last week) to get his bat going again.
9 New York <a href=Yankees" title="New York Yankees">
Last Week: 11
WAR Winning Percentage: .545; Current Winning Pecentage: .553; WAR Wins: 26; Current Wins: 26

The cure for a struggling pitching staff? A weekend in Oakland. The Yankees surrendered just five runs in three games against the A's, sweeping the series and pushing their winning streak to five. Their next three series come against the Angels, Tigers and Rays, so the competition is going to get a little tougher, but there's no reason for panic in the Bronx. The Yankees may be in third place for the moment, but this team can really hit (116 wRC+, third best in baseball) and the pitching is good enough to get by.
10 Philadelphia <a href=Phillies" title="Philadelphia Phillies">
Last Week: 5
WAR Winning Percentage: .539; Current Winning Pecentage: .510; WAR Wins: 26; Current Wins: 25

The WAR formula doesn't know that Roy Halladay left his start on Sunday with a sore shoulder, so if that turns out to be something that lingers, the Phillies could be in for a significant slide. They desperately need Chase Utley and Ryan Howard back in the line-up, and have to hope that Jimmy Rollins' early season slump isn't the beginning of a serious erosion of skills -- he only has eight extra base hits on the year, and he's not getting on base enough (.284 OBP) to use his speed to score runs.
11 Boston <a href=Red Sox" title="Boston Red Sox">
Last Week: 10
WAR Winning Percentage: .537; Current Winning Pecentage: .489; WAR Wins: 25; Current Wins: 23

The Red Sox' staff continues to give up too many home runs ? surrendering nine more last week -- but at least Josh Beckett is showing signs of rounding into form. Another strong seven inning performance on Saturday continued a good run in May, and after allowing seven home runs in April, he's given up just two in the season's second month. Beckett's emergence was critical as the team continues to get very little from Daniel Bard (4 BB/2 K in 5 1/3 IP in his only start last week, a win in Baltimore), who may just need to go back to pitching in relief soon.
12 Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 12
WAR Winning Percentage: .524; Current Winning Pecentage: .489; WAR Wins: 25; Current Wins: 23

Last weel was a bit weird for the Tigers. The began it by getting swept by the Indians but then returned the favor against the Twins, finishing with a 3-3 record and in the same place in the standings (third) they were on Monday. On the positive side, their offense finally got Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Alex Avila going a the same time, and even Brennan Boesch (.318/.400/.545 last week) got into the action and showed some signs of life. That said, everyone looks great against the Twins right now. Detroit's next nine games are against Boston, New York and Cleveland, so the Tigers are going to need to play well in order to make up some ground in the AL standings before we revisit these rankings next Monday.
13 Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 17
WAR Winning Percentage: .519; Current Winning Pecentage: .490; WAR Wins: 25; Current Wins: 24

Albert Pujols is alive! After a famous power outage to begin the year, Pujols hit four home runs last week, and thanks to the pitching staff's 1.69 ERA, the Angels finished the week with a 6-1 record. Standing 6 ½ games out of first place with four months to play isn't the best situation to be in, but with a resurgent Pujols and a strong pitching staff, the Angels are still a postseason threat if they can get to Octobe. They'll need to get some more offense from their outfield (just .212/.247/.282 last week) if they're going to keep rolling, though.
14 Miami <a href=Marlins" title="Miami Marlins">
Last Week: 15
WAR Winning Percentage: .510; Current Winning Pecentage: .542; WAR Wins: 24; Current Wins: 26

The leash that Heath Bell is being given due to his reputation as a proven closer is proving quite long indeed. Despite another awful week (15 batters faced, 5 hits, 2 walks, 1 strikeout) that saw him twice removed during save opportunities when he couldn't get anyone out, manager Ozzie Guillen insists that Bell is still his closer. The situation is simply untenable, however, as a contending team cannot continue to put their worst reliever in their most important situations. Pretty soon, the Marlins are going to have to start giving Steve Cishek the chance to show that he can protect ninth inning leads.
15 Atlanta <a href=Braves" title="Atlanta Braves">
Last Week: 8
WAR Winning Percentage: .499; Current Winning Pecentage: 0.531; WAR Wins: 24; Current Wins: 26

What happens when you hit .180 and your pitching staff gives up 13 home runs in a single week? You go 0-7 and fall seven spots in these rankings. The Braves just got their clocks cleaned by Cincinnati and Washington, and now stand in fourth place in the National League East, four games behind the division-leading Nationals. Atlanta has to get Mike Minor's home run problems under control sooner than later, because they don't have the depth of starting pitching that they were reported to have before the season began, and their offense isn't good enough to overcome the kind of deficits he's been putting them in too often.
16 Cincinnati <a href=Reds" title="Cincinnati Reds">
Last Week: 21
WAR Winning Percentage: .496; Current Winning Pecentage: .574; WAR Wins: 23; Current Wins: 27

A 6-1 week was enough to get the Reds back into the NL Central race, and the team can thank Joey Votto (256 wRC+) and Brandon Phillips (250 wRC+) for their recent success. With the middle of the line-up producing at those rates and 10 of the 12 members of the pitchjing staff posting an ERA of 3.09 or less over the last week, the Reds were tough to beat. They are posed to keep on rolling, too, as six of their next nine games are against the hapless Pirates.
17 New York <a href=Mets" title="New York Mets">
Last Week: 23
WAR Winning Percentage: .483; Current Winning Pecentage: .563; WAR Wins: 23; Current Wins: 27

Besides the Orioles, the Mets have been the other surprise contender this season, but unlike their counterparts in Baltimore, the hot start looks like it's beginning to fizzle out. David Wright returned to human levels of performance, bringing the offense down with him, and there isn't enough firepower elsewhere on the team to make up for his regression. The pitching was able to carry them to a 5-2 record against the Pirates and Padres, but their schedule over the next month is brutal, and the team will need to play much better in order to keep their heads above water against some very tough competition. The Mets next eight series are against the Phillies, Cardinals, Nationals, Yankees (twice), Rays, Reds and Orioles.
18 Arizona <a href=Diamondbacks" title="Arizona Diamondbacks">
Last Week: 20
WAR Winning Percentage: .479; Current Winning Pecentage: .458; WAR Wins: 23; Current Wins: 22

Arizona clobbered its way to a 3-3 record last week, hitting .320/.381/.512 as a team. Justin Upton hit like an MVP candidate once again, and Jason Kubel, Paul Goldschmidt and Aaron Hill all provided enough support around him to propel the team's offense. Pitching remains a problem, however, and you have to wonder how much longer the Diamondbacks will wait before calling up top pitching prospects Trevor Bauer and Tyler Skaggs -- they're already staring at a 10 ½ game hole in the NL West, and can't afford to let the Dodgers get any further ahead as it is.
19 Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 19
WAR Winning Percentage: .468; Current Winning Pecentage: .404; WAR Wins: 22; Current Wins: 19

The good news for the Brewers is that they've played better than their record would indicate this year. The bad news for the Brewers is that they've still played pretty poorly, and even if their record lined up with their underlying performances, they'd still be well behind the Cardinals in the NL Central. With both Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum set for free agency at season's end, the Brewers are going to have to decide within the next four to six weeks whether they can climb back into the race, because if they can't, they'll likely need to move both pitchers for prospects at the deadline.
20 Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 13
WAR Winning Percentage: .468; Current Winning Pecentage: .553; WAR Wins: 22; Current Wins: 26

After sweeping the Tigers to begin the week, the Indians looked like the favorites to win the AL Central, holding a six game lead over Detroit at that point. They then went to Chicago and got destroyed, losing three games to the White Sox by a 35-16 margin and watching a good chunk of their cushion at the top of the standings get erased in a weekend. While the rotation was supposed to be the strength of the club, both Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson continue to struggle, so the Tribe might need to go shopping for a starting pitcher soon.
21 Houston <a href=Astros" title="Houston Astros">
Last Week: 18
WAR Winning Percentage: .456; Current Winning Pecentage: .468; WAR Wins: 21; Current Wins: 22

The Astros were projected by nearly everyone to be baseball's worst team in 2012, but they just keep rolling along, playing decent baseball and giving their fans reasons for optimism about the future. Jose Altuve and Jed Lowrie continue to be one of the better double play combinations in baseball, and despite some command issues last week (7 walks in 11 2/3 innings), Bud Norris flashes signs of being a legitimate front-of-the-rotation arm. There's not enough talent to contend this year, but there are building blocks in place in Houston.
22 Chicago <a href=Cubs" title="Chicago Cubs">
Last Week: 22
WAR Winning Percentage: .443; Current Winning Pecentage: .319; WAR Wins: 21; Current Wins: 15

The Cubbies have lost 12 straight games and have baseball's worst record, so why are they ahead of eight other teams in these rankings? Once again, it comes back to one-run games. Six of the Cubs losses during this streak have come by just a single run, so it's not like they're getting blown out on a nightly basis. The bullpen is bad and Bryan LaHair's slump has taken the offense down with it, but these issues are fixable -- LaHair will start hitting again and finding decent relievers is the easiest upgrade in baseball. The Cubs aren't good, but they aren't hopeless.
23 Kansas City <a href=Royals" title="Kansas City Royals">
Last Week: 25
WAR Winning Percentage: .443; Current Winning Pecentage: .413; WAR Wins: 20; Current Wins: 19

Jeff Francouer and Billy Butler combined to hit seven home runs between them, and struggling first baseman Eric Hosmer busted out with a .391/.440/.522 week, but the Royals still managed to score just 21 runs in six games. They'd gotten better at hitting with runners in scoring position since their season struggles in clutch hitting, but the old bugaboos returned last week, and so they only went 3-3 despite some huge performances from their young core of hitters.
24 Toronto <a href=Blue Jays" title="Toronto Blue Jays">
Last Week: 16
WAR Winning Percentage: .433; Current Winning Pecentage: .500; WAR Wins: 21; Current Wins: 24

The gap between the Blue Jays ranking here and their place in the standings has been a source of some controversy, but their recent performance shows why we've never been overly excited about how they were winning games. The pitching fell apart last week, giving up 49 runs in six games, and not surprisingly, the Blue Jays won just one of those contests. Colby Rasmus showing signs of life has been a positive development, but the team's run prevention just isn't strong enough to support the team's current record.
25 Colorado <a href=Rockies" title="Colorado Rockies">
Last Week: 24
WAR Winning Percentage: .432; Current Winning Pecentage: .370; WAR Wins: 20; Current Wins: 17

Another losing week continues the Rockies' problems this season, and unfortunately for Colorado, these issues just don't appear fixable in the short term. The team's run prevention is the worst in the National League, and while the pitching isn't great, the team's defense has been nothing short of a disaster. Even Troy Tulowitzki -- generally one of the National League's best defenders -- has made more errors this season than he did in all of 2011. The combination of lousy pitching and awful defense has sunk the Rockies season, and all they can do now is begin to look toward fixing things over the winter.
26 Seattle <a href=Mariners" title="Seattle Mariners">
Last Week: 26
WAR Winning Percentage: .422; Current Winning Pecentage: .420; WAR Wins: 21; Current Wins: 21

How bad was the Mariners offense last week? Justin Smoak was the team's best hitter, and he posted a .292 on base percentage. The offense was supposed to be improved through the acquisition of Jesus Montero and a full season from top prospect Dustin Ackley, but both have struggled mightily this season, and there simply aren't enough bats in the organization to compensate for those two not living up to expectations. For the third consecutive year, the Mariners are posting an offense that is among the majors' worst.
27 Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 28
WAR Winning Percentage: .407; Current Winning Pecentage: .489; WAR Wins: 19; Current Wins: 23

Speaking of bad offenses, if the Pirates continue their futility at the plate over the entire season, it would represent the worst offensive season by wRC+ since the turn of the 20th century. Andrew McCutchen has been brilliant, but nearly every other position player is struggling at the plate, and opposing pitchers are simply dominating the Pirates offense on a nightly basis. Even with a breakout season by starting pitcher James McDonald, this season has been nothing short of a disaster for the Pirates.
28 San Diego Padres
Last Week: 27
WAR Winning Percentage: .370; Current Winning Pecentage: 0.347; WAR Wins: 18; Current Wins: 17

The Padres scored 11 runs in their win over the Mets on Thursday, but only scored seven runs total in their other five games last week, which helps explain why they lost all five. That 11 run outburst was the first time they'd scored more than three runs in a game since May 16th, and they've only scored 4+ runs in a game 15 times all season. Playing in Petco Park doesn't make it easy to put together rallies, but the Padres simply don't have enough good hitters to put a competitive team on the field this year.
29 Oakland <a href=Athletics" title="Oakland Athletics">
Last Week: 29
WAR Winning Percentage: .329; Current Winning Pecentage: .458; WAR Wins: 16; Current Wins: 22

The A's continue to have the largest disparity between their current record and their expected record, but a 1-5 week where they scored eight total runs suggests that this ranking is a more accurate reflection of their overall team strength. Josh Reddick's power surge has kept the A's afloat early, but like the Padres, they just lack offensive firepower, and not all of their struggles can be blamed on the expansiveness of their home ballpark. Manny Ramirez's arrival and the return of Yoenis Cespedes should give the team a boost, but they're still not going to be particularly good.
30 Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 30
WAR Winning Percentage: .300; Current Winning Pecentage: .319; WAR Wins: 14; Current Wins: 15

Not to pile on Minnesota fans, who have had a tough enough time just watching this team on a nightly basis, but the Twins are far and away the worst team in baseball right now. To put their struggles in some context, they have combined for +2.1 WAR as a team -- there are 18 Major League players who have a better total themselves this season. The pitching staff has been an abomination, posting both the lowest strikeout rate of any team and the highest rate of home runs allowed in the sport, a bad combination if ever there was one.

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