By Gennaro Filice
September 18, 2008

With a clean bill of health at the top of their rotation, the Cubs regain their rightful place as the second-best team in baseball. Philadelphia leapfrogs the Mets as this September begins to take on a familiar feel ... With 14 wins in their last 17 games, the Dodgers rampage into the top 10, while the Brewers plummet along with Ned Yost's pride. Meanwhile, at the other end of this column, the cellar welcomes back some American League ownership.

MLB Power Rankings
1 Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 1
The Angels have clinched the division and Francisco Rodriguez has broken the saves record -- so what's the point of following this team for the rest of September? Well, outside of Anaheim's pursuit of home-field advantage, I'll give you one good reason to tune in: Jose Arredondo. The 24-year-old rookie reliever has been one of the most overlooked cogs on baseball's best team. A former shortstop, Arredondo leads all major league relievers with nine wins and currently boasts a sparkling 1.33 ERA and .190 batting average against. Should K-Rod leave the Angels in free agency, Arredondo is the leading candidate to take over the closer role next year.
2 Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 4
With Carlos Zambrano and Rich Harden back in the fold, North Side residents have resumed normal breathing patterns -- at least until the ninth inning. Closer Kerry Wood has been a cause for concern of late, possessing a 13.50 ERA in September. Wood has allowed at least two hits in all five appearances this month, blowing a save and taking a pair of losses. Though I must commend Wood for that gutsy 3-2 curveball that froze Prince Fielder and won Tuesday night's game. That pitch took some major league cojones.
3 Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 2
This Rays team is chock-full of unsung heroes, but none more so than Andy Sonnanstine. Boston's Monday-night beatdown of Scott Kazmir brought the Red Sox within percentage points of the AL East lead. Following the game, the Boston Globe asked the question on many minds: "Is the clock striking midnight in Tampa?" But Sonnanstine came out the very next night opposite Josh Beckett and threw six brilliant innings of one-run ball, leading Tampa Bay to a 2-1 win. The Rays also prevailed Wednesday, winning the season series and increasing their division lead to two games. With 12 games remaining, Cinderella's still sporting both glass slippers ...
4 Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 3
With big payrolls and, inherently, high-powered offenses, the AL East has never been much of a pitcher's paradise. But Jon Lester seems to have baseball's most unforgiving division figured out. In his short career, Lester is 13-1 with a 3.17 ERA against AL East opponents. What does this type of production equate to in the NL West?
5 Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 11
They call him "Mr. September" ...
It's crunch time, and Ryan Howard's tearing the cover off the ball once again. Howard is hitting .393 with eight homers and 23 RBI in his favorite month. Not to mention Howard has struck out just once during the Phillies' current six-game winning streak. (Remember, this is a guy who already has 190 punchouts -- nine short of the major league record he set last season.) Comfortably leading the majors in home runs (45) and RBI (137), Howard is beginning to receive legitimate MVP buzz. But can a guy with a .249 batting average really take home the hardware? The lowest batting average ever for a league MVP was .267, posted by St. Louis' Marty Marion in 1944.
6 New York Mets
Last Week: 5
One statement I never could've imagined making prior to this season: Fernando Tatis' season-ending injury is a huge blow to the Mets. The resurgent slugger was hitting .297 with 11 homers and 47 RBI in just 273 at-bats. His injury strips the Mets of a highly valued right-handed bat at the No. 6 spot in the order. Suddenly, New York must rely heavily on a pair of rookies, as Daniel Murphy and Nick Evans will platoon in left field.
7 Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 12
Manny Ramirez isn't the only former Red Sox player blowing up in La La Land. Lately Derek Lowe is dealing like it's 2002. Lowe has allowed two earned runs or less in each of his past seven starts. During this month-long stretch, the free-agent-to-be is 5-1 with a 1.13 ERA.
8 Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 7
A.J. Burnett, 20-game winner? Yeah, it sounds weird to me, too. But Burnett (18-10) is just two wins away with two more starts left in the season. The Jays' hurler has enjoyed great success over his career against the two teams he's scheduled to face: Boston (5-0, 2.37 ERA) and New York (6-3, 2.58 ERA).
9 Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 9
It's been an up-and-down season for Mark Buehrle, but Chicago's Opening Day starter is coming into form at just the right time. The South Side southpaw has followed up his worst month of the season (5.86 ERA in August) with his best (1.40 in September). You won't mistake him for Tim Lincecum any time soon, but 19 strikeouts in Buehrle's last three starts is an impressive total for the soft-tossing lefty.
10 Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 6
Last Sunday, following Milwaukee's fourth consecutive loss to Philly, Ned Yost told reporters, "Everybody's frustrated. The day off will help us."
Talk about your all-time famous last words ...
Yost was fired the very next day, leaving Dale Sveum in charge for the final 12 games of the regular season. Whether or not the bold move works out, it feels pretty dirty now that Sveum admitted the Brewers pulled the trigger for straight shock value. The crew seems pretty satisfied, though, simply stating, "Our work here is done."
At this point, the Brewers' playoff hopes are getting slimmer by the second. CC Sabathia may have to pitch every two days if Ben Sheets is really done for the season.
11 Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 10
Having dropped their last four contests, the Twins are letting the struggling White Sox off the hook. It looks like Minnesota's ghastly bullpen might cost the Twins a playoff bid with its nightly nightmares. But let's try and look on the bright side. On Monday the Twins announced a new partnership with Target, a Minneapolis-based corporation. When the new ballpark opens in 2010, it will be known as Target Field. Sounds like a win-win deal to me. But I'm laying down one rule right off the bat: Nobody can refer to the ballpark as Tar-JAY Field. Please, people -- that quirky pronunciation sets us back as a society.
12 Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 14
All aboard the Choo-Choo Train. After missing most of last season due to Tommy John surgery, Shin-Soo Choo is making a name for himself in 2008. Choo is the hottest player in Cleveland's lineup, hitting .412 with a 1.113 OPS this month. As a native of baseball-crazy South Korea, Choo admits he has a one-track mind. "I can't do anything, just baseball," Choo told the Akron Beacon Journal. "The first day of (college) football season here, everybody in the clubhouse was excited. I am thinking, Why are baseball players so excited about football?' When I said this, everybody laughed."
13 Florida Marlins
Last Week: 16
The Marlins are the first team in major league history to have all four infielders hit 25 home runs. Shortstop Hanley Ramirez (32), first baseman Mike Jacobs (32), second baseman Dan Uggla (30) and third baseman Jorge Cantu (28) have combined for 122 of Florida's 196 bombs -- the third-highest total in baseball. Unfortunately, corner outfielders Josh Willingham and Jeremy Hermida have combined for 27. That's a strange role reversal in South Florida.
14 Houston Astros
Last Week: 8
Did anyone outside of Houston realize that Jose Valverde leads the NL in saves with 42? He's been a bit rocky at times, but "Papa Grande" has allowed one earned run in his last 22 outings, converting all 17 save opportunities in the process.
15 New York Yankees
Last Week: 15
As I mentioned last week, Andy Pettitte will appropriately close out Yankee Stadium as the Bombers' starter on Sunday night. Unfortunately, one key figure will not be in attendance at the historic ballpark's final night: Bob Sheppard. The Yankees' longtime public address announcer has missed the entire season due to health problems. Earlier this week he told Newsday that he will regrettably miss Yankee Stadium's last dance: "My heart will be up in the Bronx, but my body will be in front of my television." In honor of Sheppard, whose voice is like orange juice for your ears, let's go through the starting lineups from a Yankees-Red Sox game played last season.
16 St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 13
Through July 21, the Cardinals were tied for the Wild Card lead and two games back in the NL Central race. Since that date, St. Louis has taken a page out of the Braves' book, going 1-11 in one-run games. And that's all she wrote.
17 Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 17
Mark Reynolds is on a record pace. Unfortunately, that "record" is most strikeouts in a season. For most of the year, it looked as though Ryan Howard would break his own record of 199 (set last season). But as I mentioned before, the Phillies slugger is on an unprecedented streak of contact. Suddenly, Reynolds has one more strikeout than Howard (191 to 190) with 11 games remaining. The D-backs third baseman is on pace for 206.
18 Texas Rangers
Last Week: 18
Although his name sounds more "tween" icon than serious slugger, Taylor Teagarden can certainly handle the stick. Since being recalled on the first day of roster expansion, Teagarden is hitting .387 with five homers, four doubles and 16 RBI in just 11 games.
19 Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 20
It didn't take long for Micah Owings to burn his former team. Owings was the "player to be named later" in the Adam Dunn trade made between Cincinnati and Arizona last month, but he wasn't shipped to the Reds until last Friday. The following day, Dusty Baker called on Owings to pinch hit in the 10th inning and the pitcher delivered a game-winning knock off his former teammate, Tony Pena. Outside of occasional pinch-hitting, Owings made his home on the mound in Arizona. If he continues to struggle as a hurler, will the Reds try to transition him into a position player? He's a .319 career hitter with enough power to bring Great American Ballpark to its knees.
20 Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 21
Na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, na, Outman!
The A's have struggled since a midseason pitcher purge, but there's no need to worry -- Outman is here. As in Josh Outman. The conveniently named hurler earned his first major league victory last Saturday, holding a potent Texas lineup to one run over five innings. But after the game, Rangers manager Ron Washington wasn't feeling too complimentary: "I wasn't impressed. We had some scoring opportunities on him and when we didn't make them he did what most pitchers are supposed to do, make his pitches and get out of the inning. If he was around after the fifth, it would have been a different story."
21 Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 19
Yet another injury to the dilapidated mass of flesh and bone that is Joel Zumaya's right arm. Detroit's flame-throwing right-hander has been diagnosed with a stress fracture in his shoulder and must halt all baseball activity for six to eight weeks. Sadly, it seems like Zumaya's career is going the way of the trivia question: Oh, yeah ... I remember "Zoom-Zoom."
22 San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 23
The Giants are going to win Tim Lincecum a Cy Young Award -- or blow out his arm trying. The San Fran phenom tossed his first career shutout against San Diego last Saturday, but it took him a ridiculous 138 pitches. This coming directly after a 126-pitch effort on Sept. 8. And don't forget about the 132-pitch outing on Aug. 27. In three of Lincecum's past four starts, the Giants have allowed the 24-year-old to blow by the 120-pitch stop light. Not surprisingly, Lincecum easily tops the board in Baseball Prospectus' "Pitcher Abuse Points." Is Bruce Bochy the new Dusty Baker?
23 Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 22
For the first time in Coors Field's 14-year history, nine innings passed without either team crossing home plate. In last Sunday's Rockies-Dodgers game, the two teams played to a scoreless tie until Troy Tulowitzki singled in the game's only run in the bottom of the 10th. Three days later, the Rockies beat the Padres in another 1-0 final. There have now been seven 1-0 games in Coors Field history and two of them came within the span of four days. Did somebody crank up the humidor?
24 Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 28
The Royals have found the answer to all of their problems, and he goes by the name of Ryan Shealy. Hey, folks, the proof is in the pudding. Since being recalled from Triple-A Omaha on Sept. 2, Shealy's posted a .359 batting average with six homers and 12 RBI. Most importantly, the Royals are 9-1 with Shealy in the lineup ... and 57-83 without. Is Shealy the answer at first base for next season? Well, do the Royals enjoy playing .900 ball? (And does playful sarcasm come across in the written word?)
25 Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 24
With a 15-game hitting streak since the first of the month, Kelly Johnson boasts a .456 average in September. Of course, Johnson is barely outshining teammate Chipper Jones, who owns a .425 clip during this month. Showoff.
26 Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 25
At this point, you have to really wonder if Daniel Cabrera will ever put it together. The ineffectively wild flame-thrower led the AL in walks during each of the past two seasons and he's pacing the league once again in 2008. His 95-to-90 strikeout-to-walk rate is just pitiful.
27 Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 30
You can cross a man's ballclub, but never cross a man's beer.
I've taken repeated jabs at the Pirates all season long without consequence, but last week I bashed Pennsylvania's own Yuengling, and my inbox paid a harsh price. First and foremost, I love you proud Pennsylvanians. Anyone that threatens death for a contrasting brew opinion is a winner in my book. Though I can't help but feel misunderstood. Like I said last week, I personally pick Budweiser over Yuengling, but that doesn't mean Bud's my first choice. Bud is the cost-efficient option. In terms of the suds that make me salivate ...
I present to you the Beer Power Rankings -- End Of Summer Edition:
1. Bell's Oberon (Kalamazoo, Michigan)
2. Delirium Tremens (Belgium)
3. Stone I.P.A. (San Diego)
4. Pacifico (Mexico)
5. Full Sail Pale Ale (Hood River, Oregon)
28 Washington Nationals
Last Week: 27
It's been a long trip with some bumps in the rode, but Mike Hinckley has finally arrived. Hinckley was drafted by the Expos in 2001 and developed into one the Nationals' most coveted prospects by 2005. But shoulder surgery at the end of the '05 campaign threw a wrench into his development. After the ensuing drop in velocity, Hinckley eventually was converted into a reliever. Since getting called up on Sept. 2, Hinckley has made 10 appearances without being scored upon. He still has a long ways to go before equalling Brad Ziegler's record of 39 consecutive scoreless innings to start a career (set earlier this season), but Hinckley's just thrilled to be on a major league mound. "I'm going to come out every day and work my butt off and treat it like it's the last day I'll ever play in the big leagues," Hinckley told the Washington Post.
29 San Diego Padres
Last Week: 29
It's been a horrible season for the Padres, but the Gonzalez family can't complain. Adrian Gonzalez has already set career highs in home runs (34) and RBI (111) while playing alongside his older brother, Edgar, who is hitting a respectable .274 in his first big league season. And last week, the Gonzalezes, who actually grew up in San Diego and Tijuana, became the first brothers in Padres history to homer in the same game. Hit me with some of that funky stuff, Sly!
30 Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 26
Welcome home, Mariners -- the cellar has missed you.
Seattle must win six of its final 11 games avoid the franchise's first 100-loss season since '83. Rally time?.

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