Armed with a new ace, the Royals are up to second place in this week's Power Rankings, while the slumping Athletics take a big fall ahead of the trade deadline.
The Cardinals are No. 1 yet again in this week's Power Rankings, but the Royals are hot on their heels. Armed with new ace Johnny Cueto, Kansas City finished just five points behind St. Louis in the rankings, earning one first-place vote in the process. The red-hot Angels jumped to third, with the Dodgers and Pirates rounding out the top five.
For the eighth straight week, the Cardinals are on top and the Phillies own the basement, but there is movement elsewhere throughout. As long as those teams hang on to their current places, we'll highlight other teams in the rankings.
We're No. 1 We're No. 2: Royals
Already the owners of the AL's best record on top of last year's pennant, the Royals are hunting bigger game. On Sunday, they traded a trio of lefty prospects—Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb and Cody Reed—to the Reds for Cueto, giving them a No. 1 starter to front a rotation that's bordering on disarray. Kansas City ranked fourth in the league in ERA (3.60) and third in innings pitched (986 2/3) last year, and general manager Dayton Moore hoped to offset the loss of James Shields with advances from Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy. That hasn't been the case so far due to injuries and inconsistency, though reclamation products Edinson Volquez and Chris Young have helped pick up the slack.
Ventura's week was particularly adventurous. Shellacked by the Pirates last Monday—the lone loss in the team's three-game series—and carrying a 5.19 ERA, he was optioned to Triple A Omaha, but when Jason Vargas tore his UCL the next night, the 24-year-old fireballer was restored to the roster and responded by pitching a strong seven innings on Sunday opposite the Astros' Dallas Keuchel for his first quality start since May 31. That helped the Royals take the rubber match of that series and lowered this year's rotation ERA to 4.27, bumping Kansas City two places in the AL rankings in that category, up to 10th. More good news: While it's likely that Moore will seek some help in the outfield as the July 31 deadline approaches, Alex Gordon is making progress in his return from a groin strain. His eight-week timetable hasn't changed, it's all about October for the boys in blue.
Cellar Dweller No. 29: Brewers
It was no secret that the Brewers would wind up selling after the 7–18 stumble that cost Ron Roenicke his job (speaking of which, they're 36–38 under Craig Counsell), but not until Thursday did the inventory begin moving, and with a feel-good deal at that. Aramis Ramirez, who has already announced that this season will be his last, was traded to the Pirates, the team that signed him as an amateur free agent back in 1994 and for which he played during the lean stretch from '98 to mid-2002 before being dealt to the Cubs. The 37-year-old third baseman wasn't doing much with the bat (.247/.295/.430 with 11 homers), so the return wasn't overwhelming; Milwaukee received Triple A reliever Yhonathan Barrios, a 23-year-old converted infielder from Colombia who stands just 5'10" and whose peripherals paint him as more project than prospect.
The good news is that the returns should be stronger by the end of this week. Adam Lind (.285/.365/.500) is being pursued by the Cardinals, Carlos Gomez (.266/.334/.431) is attracting interest from a diverse group of teams (Astros, Giants, Indians, Mets, Orioles, Rangers), and Gerardo Parra (.317/.356/.505) is boosting his stock with a 12-for-31 jag to start the second half. Kyle Lohse? Not so much: His July 22 pounding by Cleveland pushed his ERA all the way up to 6.29.
Biggest Riser: Padres
Despite snapping a four-game losing streak by taking the last three games of their series against the Marlins and jumping from 23rd to 18th in this week's rankings, it's clear that GM A.J. Preller has to undo some of last winter's big doings. Reports that he asked for the return of San Diego's 2014 first-round pick Trea Turner—sent to Washington in the three-way Wil Myers trade—in a package for Craig Kimbrel suggest a whole lot of buyer's remorse, particularly given the dismal state of San Diego's infield. Speaking of which, who wants a lightly-used Jedd Gyroko, currently boasting a .212/.279/.333 line, -0.4 WAR over the last two seasons and only around $33 million to go on his five-year deal? Or a more heavily-ridden Shields, with a back-loaded deal beyond this year (three years and $65 million remaining) and an inflated home run rate (1.4 per nine) despite toiling in a pitcher-friendly park?
If there's good news for the Padres, it's that Saturday featured Ian Kennedy's third quality start out of four, lowering his season ERA to 4.58, and Sunday featured the highly-sought Justin Upton doubling his July home run total and pushing his OPS for the month to .480. The bad news is that's what counts as good news here.
Biggest Faller: Athletics
Amid the weekend's three-game sweep at the hands of the Giants, Oakland's 2015 season finally found its perfect metaphor: a foul ball off the groin of Billy Burns that left one of the lineup's few bright spots (.305/.341/.397 for a 105 OPS+ and 20 steals) with what was officially termed a testicular contusion.
On the heels of a 1–5 week that saw the A's score a whopping 14 runs, fall from 15th all the way to 24th in the rankings and fail to contain old friend Josh Donaldson (5-for-13, three extra-base hits), the indignities are set to continue. Already, Billy Beane has dealt Scott Kazmir to Houston in exchange for a pair of prospects, including catcher Jacob Nottingham, but it's worth remembering that the last time Oakland acquired an A-ball catcher, it was Donaldson himself in the 2008 Rich Harden trade. There's usually method to Beane's madness, so keep an eye on the returns for Ben Zobrist, Tyler Clippard and whoever else is on the outbound this week.