By Joe Lemire
September 01, 2011

Since trading for Blue Jays infielders Aaron Hill and John McDonald on August 23, the Diamondbacks have been as hot as the desert sun, going 8-0.

Drawing such a correlation, of course, that the D-backs are winning solely because of those two men is silly. After all, Arizona's current nine-game winning streak started a day before they arrived and, more importantly, neither of them has thrown a single pitch. In the current hot streak the pitching staff has allowed more than two runs only once (in a game the D-backs won 9-4) while stringing together a 1.22 ERA.

So while Hill is 11-for-31 (.355) with four extra-base hits since his arrival and both he and McDonald have contributed defensively, the credit for this streak really belongs to the pitchers and, as noted below, the quality of opponents as Arizona -- which has ascended to a season-high No. 6 in the Power Rankings -- cleaned up on the downtrodden of the National League to build a season-high six game lead in the NL West.

NOTE: All stats are updated through Wednesday, Aug. 31.

MLB Power Rankings
1 Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 1
While the Phillies (3.04 team ERA) remain in striking distance of becoming the first team since the 1989 Dodgers to have a sub-3.00 ERA, the starters' ruthless efficiency of pounding the strike zone is on track to tie a major league record. Each of their five pitchers with at least 15 starts (Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt and Vance Worley) has a strikeout-to-walk ratio greater than 2.5 -- it's much greater for Halladay (7.6), Lee (5.0) and Hamels (4.6) -- which ties the major-league mark set by five other rotations, most recently the 2006 Twins.
2 Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 2
Remember when the Red Sox started 2-10? Vaguely? Since then Boston has played .659 ball, which if it had done from the start would have put them on a 107-win pace. Its intra-divisional play -- the AL East is the only division with four clubs at .500 or better and the only one where four teams have a positive run differential --has been particularly impressive: the Sox are 11-3 against the Yankees, the team with the AL's second-best record, and 32-16 against the AL East overall, a .667 winning percentage that is tied with the Rangers in the Al West for the majors' best mark within one's division.
3 New York Yankees
Last Week: 3
Curtis Granderson's 38 home runs, second in the majors, aren't the only way he has been Ruthian this season. He's also scoring runs at a remarkably efficient rate, crossing home plate a major-league-leading 47 percent of the time he reaches base (among players with at least 400 plate appearances). Granderson has scored 123 runs -- 26 more than anyone else in baseball -- with only 135 hits. If he continues on this pace, it'd be only the eighth season in history in which a player with at least 120 runs had a hit total that didn't exceed his runs by more than 15. The only player to do that twice? Babe Ruth in 1920 and 1928, though he had the benefit of averaging 144 walks those years; Granderson has had only 74 bases on balls.
4 Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 4
No team has received more home runs from its leadoff batters than the Brewers. Second baseman Rickie Weeks, who has been on the DL for a month with a sprained ankle, hit 17 homers in his 93 games atop Milwaukee's order before handing the reigns of the job to Corey Hart. The rightfielder has now started 40 games as the No. 1 hitter and smashed 11 home runs from that spot. Hart has been on a particular hot streak the last two weeks: a 13-game hitting streak with four homers. At one point he had six multi-hit games in a span of seven games.
5 Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 5
Because Hurricane Irene washed out the Braves' games on Saturday and Sunday in New York, which were followed by a regularly-scheduled off-day on Monday, Atlanta had a rare three-day, in-season respite that wasn't during the All-Star break. It's the rest that Braves relievers Jonny Venters and Craig Kimbrel -- each a first-time All-Star this year ? probably needed. Venters leads the majors with 72 appearances (for 75 2/3 innings and a 1.31 ERA) and Kimbrel, who has set the rookie record with 41 saves, ranks fourth with 68 appearances (65 2/3 innings, 1.64 ERA). Their bullpen-mate Eric O'Flaherty is tied for ninth with 64 relief outings (59 2/3 innings, 1.21 ERA).
6 Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 10
Few teams play to the level of their competition quite like the Diamondbacks, who have routinely dismissed weaker teams but struggled against the game's best. This season Arizona is 55-30 (.647) against teams that have a losing record and 23-29 (.442) against teams with a .500 or better record. Starting Aug. 9, Arizona won seven straight with sweeps of the Astros (.343) and Mets (.485), followed by one win over the Phillies before losing six straight -- two to the Phillies (.652), three to the Braves (.593) and one to the Nationals -- and now winning nine more in a row with three straight three-game sweeps over the Nats (.470), Padres (.438) and Rockies (.467).
7 Texas Rangers
Last Week: 6
The Texas Rangers don't really have "backup" outfielders, per se, as it seems one of the starters is always getting hurt. All three Opening Day starters (Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Julio Borbon) have spent significant time on the DL, with Cruz now enduring a second stint after straining his hamstring. With third baseman Adrian Beltre set to return from his own DL visit, the Rangers are essentially making an even swap in terms of offensive production -- Beltre is batting .276/.318/.505 with 20 homers while Cruz is hitting .270/.322/.531 with 28 homers -- but this latest injury also opened the door for outfielder Leonys Martin, a Cuban defector who signed a $15.5 million contract in May, to receive a big league promotion.
8 Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 7
On Friday the Tigers begin a six-game stretch against their two closest competitors -- three at home with the White Sox, followed by three on the road with the Indians -- and they may have to proceed without outfielder Brennan Boesch, whose injured thumb continues to ail him. The trade for Delmon Young looks even more important now, as Boesch, who's batting .283 with a .799 OPS and 16 homers, has been the team's only consistent offensive threat from their outfielders and is the only one whose OPS is above the league average.
9 Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 8
After Rays rookie leftfielder Desmond Jennings had a career game on Sunday -- 4-for-5 with two homers, three RBIs, a walk and a steal -- he already began approaching the season numbers of Red Sox leftfielder Carl Crawford, who manned leftfield in Tampa Bay for nine seasons. As noted in a tweet from Baseball America's Ben Badler, Jennings at the time had eight homers and 14 walks in 149 plate appearances while Crawford had nine homers and 18 walks in 434 plate appearances.
10 Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 9
Maybe all Mike Trout needed was his 20th birthday. The outfielder, who along with Washington's Bryce Harper is one of the top two prospects in baseball, batted just .163 in 14 games in July. He returned to Double-A Arkansas, where he turned 20 on Aug. 7, but got a second chance at the majors on Aug. 19 and has scorched the ball since, going 10-for-25 with four homers in eight games (six starts). The Angels can use the boost in the arm after a disappointing series loss to Texas over the weekend, though the Halos do have the easier remaining schedule.
11 St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 14
The Cardinals have been by far baseball's best offensive team with runners in scoring position. Their batting average in such situations (.292), OBP (.376), slugging (.457) and OPS (.833) all rank first in the majors, with the OPS mark leading by a sizeable 25 points. To no one's surprise, Lance Berkman (.355, 1.176), Matt Holliday (.333, 1.020)and Albert Pujols (.308, .898) are all batting at least .300 with an .898 OPS with RISP. What is surprising is that, in admittedly fewer plate appearances, Nick Punto (1.120 OPS), Allen Craig (1.071) and Daniel Descalso (.909) each have higher OPS marks in those situations than Pujols. Berkman's OPS is fourth in the majors.
12 San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 11
Nearly every decision Bruce Bochy made last fall had the golden touch, but now nothing seems to work. The manager of the fading Giants called a special meeting with his starting pitchers, at which he reportedly told them not to be discouraged with their poor run support. Then, after Tuesday's defeat, was basically at a loss for words. It just might not be your year when ace Tim Lincecum has a 1.61 ERA in nine starts after the All-Star break, yet has a record of just 5-4.
13 Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 13
Three years after their trade of CC Sabathia, the Indians, who have been very successful with most of their trades the past few years, don't have anyone on the active major league roster to show for it. The Tribe traded Sabathia to the Brewers in July 2008 and received outfielder Michael Brantley, first baseman Matt LaPorta and pitcher Zach Jackson. Cleveland sent Jackson to Toronto in a 2010 trade; LaPorta, who has a disappointing .694 OPS for a player at a power position, was recently demoted to the minors; and Brantley, who has been a bit better (.702 OPS and good leftfield defense), needs surgery on a broken bone in his hand and will miss the rest of the season.
14 Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 15
It may be too little, too late, but the White Sox have enjoyed an injection of offense into their occasionally lackluster lineup from a trio of youngsters: centerfielder Alejando de Aza, catcher Tyler Flowers and Dayan Viciedo, who is learning to play the outfield in order to find room for his bat. Flowers hit a grand slam Sunday and seven of his 16 hits have gone for extra bases. Viciedo homered in his season debut and is 7-for-13. And de Aza has made the biggest contribution of all, batting .329 with a .936 OPS over 28 games.
15 Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 12
The Blue Jays may be buried in the standings, but they have more left to play for than the average fourth-place team. Jose Bautista could become the first Jay to be named AL MVP since George Bell in 1987. The development of power-hitting rookies Brett Lawrie and J.P. Arencibia is worth watching. And recent trade acquisition Kelly Johnson has the more subtle task of trying to play well enough to qualify to become a Type-A free agent (such ratings are based on a statistical formula), which would net an extra first-round pick if he leaves in the offseason; it's a positive draft-related purpose and the exact opposite of NBA or NFL fans who root for their team to lose in order to get a better draft pick.
16 Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 16
The great Yonder Alonso experiment continues. The 2008 first-round pick can obviously hit -- in 24 games since his July 26 call-up he's batting .389/.488/.722 with three homers -- but fielding has been an issue. He's blocked at first-base by Joey Votto, who incidentally is even more red-hot at .358/.483/.767 with 13 homers since that same date, and Alonso hasn't shown much aptitude in leftfield. That's why on Monday he made his first career pro start at third base, a position he hadn't played regularly since high school. The results? Inconclusive. The Phillies didn't hit a ball his way, oddly not even attempting a bunt at the newbie.
17 Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 23
Just what the Dodgers needed: turmoil with one of their three best players. While Matt Kemp is putting up MVP numbers and Clayton Kershaw should contend for the Cy Young, Andre Ethier is apparently at odds with the Dodgers. Ethier, who had a 30-game hitting streak earlier this season and is hitting .295 but with only 11 homers, revealed in a Los Angeles Times column that his knee has been ailing and that the team had told him to play hurt . . . only to recant the next day and say that the decision to play was his. And then the day after that he hit a grand slam to continue his seesaw week.
18 Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 17
Carlos Gonzalez and Troy Tulowitzki are making a habit out of ratcheting up their play in the second half of the season. CarGo has a career OPS of .817 before the All-Star break and .944 after it, including 1.054 this year; Tulowitzki has a career .794 pre-All-Star OPS split and .947 after it, including a 1.107 this season. So it should come as no surprise that the NL leaders in RBIs in the second half are Tulowitzki (37) and Gonzalez (35), the latter of whom was named NL Player of the Week for last week when he batted 13-for-27 with three homers and 10 runs driven in.
19 New York Mets
Last Week: 21
Jose Reyes had at least two personal motivations to return to the Mets' lineup as soon as possible, which he did on Monday after missing 18 games, beyond the obvious of wanting to help his team win. He no doubt wanted to minimize the "injury risk" label as he enters free agency this offseason, and, more tangibly, he was 40 plate appearances shy of the minimum to qualify for the NL batting title. Reyes is currently batting .336, which is three points better than Milwaukee's Ryan Braun.
20 Washington Nationals
Last Week: 18
Strasburg Strasburg Strasburg Strasburg Strasburg Strasburg Strasburg Strasburg Strasburg Strasburg Strasburg Strasburg Strasburg Strasburg Strasburg Strasburg. Yep, he's back. Last year's phenom, who has been out all season after having Tommy John surgery, will make his 2011 debut on Tuesday night.
21 Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 19
Only two teams this year have as many as five pitchers who have made at least 24 starts while maintaining an ERA under 5.00: the Rangers and the Pirates. Even as Pittsburgh's season has slowed, the starting rotation has largely continued its fine work of efficiency and, as importantly, durability. The best, of course, is yet to come as the Pirates have two elite starting pitching prospects on the horizon in Gerrit Cole (this year's No. 1 pick) and Jameson Taillon (last year's No. 2 overall pick) with 100-mph flamethrower Stetson Allie (a second-round pick in 2010) likely projecting as the closer of the future.
22 Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 25
It's oft-said of teams eliminated from contention that at least they can play spoiler, and this year's Cubs have taken that opportunity to heart. From Aug. 1-4 they swept the Pirates in a road series that effectively ended Pittsburgh's season, and Chicago is doing the same in San Francisco, having won the first two games in their series to pile onto the Giants' already sinking playoff hopes. The Cubs-as-spoilers is not foolproof, however, as they have actually helped accelerate Milwaukee's chances. Chicago is 3-3 against the Cardinals in the last five weeks but 0-6 against the Brewers.
23 Florida Marlins
Last Week: 24
The big news for the Marlins this week was a setback for Hanley Ramirez, as he recovers from a shoulder injury, but on the bright side for Florida his replacement, infielder, Emilio Bonifacio, is establishing himself as a legitimate leadoff hitter. He's a slap hitter -- he's slugging just .372 -- but he's batting .284 and, more importantly, has a .357 on-base percentage thanks to his 51 walks in 504 plate appearances, a number that equals his total from the previous two seasons and 710 plate appearances combined. He's also a threat to run, having been successful in 31 of 40 stolen-base opportunities.
24 Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 26
The Mariners announced Wednesday that general manager Jack Zduriencik was returning on a multi-year contract, ensuring consistency of process in the front office and challenging the writers' ability to spell in the pressbox. Zduriencik took over as GM after the 2008 season. Seattle won 85 games in his first year, but that toal fell to 61 last year and 58 so far this year, though management endorsed his plan to build through scouting and development, noting the influx of young talent, headlined this year by second baseman Dustin Ackley and (presumably) next year by lefty starter Danny Hultzen.
25 Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 20
The A's pitching is so deep that it seems like this space features a different hurler every week. This time the honor belongs to Brandon McCarthy, whose eight-inning, two-run, 10-strikeout complete-game was wasted on Monday night when the offense managed just one run behind him in a 2-1 loss to Cleveland. Since the All-Star break, McCarthy is 6-2 with a 3.77 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 57 1/3 innings. After throwing only 119 1/3 innings from 2008-10 due to injuries, he's reached 133 2/3 innings this year with an impressive 4.2 K/BB ratio that's double his 2.1 career rate.
26 Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 29
What a difference a month makes. In rookie Zach Britton's previous start against the Yankees on July 30, he didn't survive the first inning as he was blasted for nine runs (six earned) in one-third of an inning. In a rematch on Sunday, however, he made one of the three best starts of his young career, keeping New York scoreless over seven innings on four hits and one walk with five strikeouts -- a start that was similarly impressive to other early-season gems: 7 2/3 shutout innings against Texas in April and a complete-game shutout against Seattle in May.
27 Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 27
Though his rookie season hasn't gone as expected, über-prospect Mike Moustakas is at least finishing strong. He homered in his second big league game on June 11 but hasn't done so since and watched his bating average dip as low as .182 on Aug. 16. After that low point, however, Moustakas started a 14-game hitting streak during which he has gone 22-for-52 with six doubles, raising his season average 50 points to .232. He hit as many as 36 home runs in a minor league season, so the power is sure to come once he gets comfortable.
28 Houston Astros
Last Week: 30
The least-discussed red-hot player in the game is Houston leftfielder Carlos Lee. The Astros' $100 million man led all of baseball in hits from Aug. 20 through Aug. 30, a span of 11 games in which Lee went 19-for-42 (.452) with six doubles, two homers and six walks. The 11-game hitting streak raised his average 17 points to .274 and his OBP 19 points to .336. Among players with at least 10 homers and 75 RBIs, Lee is the second-most difficult to strike out (10.1 PA/K) behind only Albert Pujols.
29 Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 28
The Twins, owners of the lowest-scoring offense in the AL, made some unfortunate history recently. In the midst of a seven-game losing streak, Minnesota played five consecutive games in which they scored exactly one run, tying the most in the majors since 1919. Theirs was the eighth such streak history but only the second in more than 40 years, joining the 2001 Tigers.
30 San Diego Padres
Last Week: 22
The Padres' offense apparently has an aversion to scoring a medium amount of runs. They have scored three or fewer runs in 75 games, which ranks as the third-most in the majors, but they have also scored 11 or more run in eight games, which is tied for the fifth-most in the majors. And so it should come as no surprise that, soon after scoring 14 runs on Aug. 20, San Diego had a five-game losing streak in which it tallied a total of four runs, never scoring more than one at a time.

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