By Gennaro Filice
August 21, 2008
Baseball players aren't the only ones who go through occasional slumps. Baseball writers suffer the same fate every so often. And I laid an egg in last week's rankings, most notably in my placement of Tampa Bay (more on that later). To counter the rut, I gave myself a few mental health days and let the facial hair flow free. Then late Wednesday night I slipped on my golden thong and went to work. The result: a big shakeup at the top. Did I successfully bust the slump? You be the judge ...

MLB Power Rankings
1 Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 2
Are the Cubs, as many pundits say, the MLB's most complete team? It's hard to argue. The offense has scored the second-most runs in baseball (behind Texas), the starting rotation boasts the game's best ERA (3.75) and the bullpen is chock-full of highly effective power arms (Kerry Wood, Carlos Marmol and Jeff Samardzija). Disgruntled Cubs fans have hammered my inbox for months, claiming their squad deserves top billing. Well, break out the white flags and cue up the catchiest victory song in baseball: The Cubbies sit atop the throne.
2 Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 6
Back in the glory days, my Drivers Ed instructor repeatedly barked one order and one order only: "Never assume anything!" Unfortunately, I did not heed this advice while writing last week's rankings. When the Rays were ravaged by the injury bug, I assumed they would struggle a bit. In doing so, I completely overlooked Willy Aybar, Eric Hinske, Gabe Gross, Dan Wheeler and the rest of the Rays role players who have been getting it done all season long. Tampa Bay is 9-3 since Evan Longoria went down. So I apologize to the Rays crazies ... and to my Drivers Ed instructor. I feel like I just let everyone down.
3 Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 1
How many times can Garret Anderson hush the naysayers? The Angels' longest-tenured player just continues to produce at 36 years old. On Wednesday Anderson extended his hitting streak to 23 games by knocking in the game-winning run with a two-out single in the top of the ninth. During the streak, Anderson has raised his batting average from .266 to .288 and suddenly he's on pace for his seventh 90-RBI season. Doesn't sound too washed up to me.
4 Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 5
Snoop Dogg has yet to replicate the sheer awesomeness of his debut effort, Doggystyle, but I still enjoy some of the more contemporary stuff, such as Drop It Like It's Hot. Infectious beat, braggadocious lyrics, rhythmic tongue-clicking -- the song has it all. And recently, it seems like White Sox rookie Alexei Ramirez has taken the contagious chorus to heart. Check out Ramirez's home runs on Monday and Wednesday. Immediately following contact, Ramirez drops the bat ... well ... like it's hot.
"When you lace a hanging knuckleball, drop it like it's hot, drop it like it's hot, drop it like it's hot."
5 Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 3
I offer you a blind comparison of two National League pitchers' season stats:
Player A: 193.5 IP, 2.99 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 192 K, 49 BB, 8 CG.
Player B: 177 IP, 2.85 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 145 K, 42 BB, 3 CG.
Player A is CC Sabathia and Player B is Brandon Webb, the purported Cy Young frontrunner. Now, Webb does have a four-game lead in the win column (18 to 14), but Sabathia is 8-0 with a 1.60 ERA and five complete games as a Brewer. It's going to be difficult to beat Webb if he ends up with 23 wins and the Diamondbacks take the West, but, yes, Sabathia definitely deserves strong consideration for pitching's biggest prize.
6 Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 4
Well, the Clay Buchholz experiment has seemingly come to an end for the 2008 season. Buchholz, who entered this season with substantial hype following his no-hitter last September, was sent down to the minors after his latest debacle Wednesday night. The freshly minted 24-year-old gave up five earned runs in just 2 1/3 innings and dropped to 0-7 in his last 10 starts. According to Boston Herald writer Tony Massarotti, "no [Red Sox] pitcher with at least 10 decisions has ever finished a season with a worse winning percentage (2-9, .182) while simultaneously posting such a stratospheric ERA (6.75)."
7 Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 7
Francisco Rodriguez is well on his way to shattering the single-season saves record, but his actual dominance pales in comparison to that of Twins closer Joe Nathan. Nathan boasts a far lower ERA (1.00 to 2.75), lower WHIP (0.91 to 1.28), lower batting average against (.188 to .200), more strikeouts (59 to 57) and fewer walks (13 to 29). Nathan has blown three saves, but has yet to lose a game, while K-Rod has blown five saves and taken two defeats.
8 New York Mets
Last Week: 8
Yes, the Mets bullpen is an absolute disaster these days, but the starting rotation currently looks like one of the best in baseball. In the last 10 games, Mets starters are 7-0 with a 2.07 ERA. During this stretch, Johan Santana and Mike Pelfrey each posted 16 innings of work while allowing a total of three earned runs.
9 St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 9
There are a bunch of unsung heroes on this ragtag group of overachievers, but one guy gets completely overlooked: Todd Wellemeyer. In his first full season as a starter, Wellemeyer currently leads St. Louis starters in ERA (3.79), WHIP (1.26) and strikeouts (100), while tying for second with 11 wins. Although the former reliever is a little light on the innings, he's been a huge savior for a rotation overwhelmed with injuries.
10 Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 10
Most shocking development of the week: Fans only slightly booed Jimmy Rollins in his return to Citizens Bank Park after he called Phillies followers "frontrunners" on The Best Damn Sports Show Period. Maybe Philly folks are a kinder, gentler bunch these days. ... And then there's this guy.
11 Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 15
Adam Dunn went yard in back-to-back games Tuesday and Wednesday, but his impact on Arizona goes far behind personal production. Dunn's presence in the lineup seems to have a generative effect on the rest of the D'backs. Arizona racked up at least 10 hits in its first five games with Dunn in the lineup. In the 11 games prior to his arrival, the Diamondbacks reached double digits just twice.
12 Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 13
Clayton Kershaw had Dodgers fans drooling in his major league debut back on May 25. The hard-throwing southpaw pitched six strong innings, allowing two earned runs and striking out seven. A quality start in every sense of the phrase. Then reality struck, and Kershaw failed to record a QS in any of his next eight starts. But following a brief demotion back to the minors in July, Kershaw has returned as a man on a mission. Over his last five starts, Kershaw is 2-0 with five quality starts and a 1.45 ERA. How will Kershaw handle a tight pennant race down the stretch? Remember, he's currently the youngest player in the bigs at 20.
13 New York Yankees
Last Week: 11
Trailing Boston by 5 1/2 games in the Wild Card race with 36 games remaining, New York's playoff hopes are hanging by the thinnest of threads. I'm going to wait one more week before potentially penning the Yankees' obit (they deserve the benefit of the doubt, having made the last 13 postseasons), but the Bronx Bombers are positioned squarely on their death bed.
14 Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 14
After facing Roy Halladay last weekend, Dustin Pedroia summed up the sinkerballing right-hander with a quick piece of advice: "He should make a pitching video." Halladay tossed his eighth complete game of the season (and 39th of his career), giving up one earned run. Cliff Lee (17-2) has the inside track on the AL Cy Young, but Halladay must not be discounted. "Doc is pitching like a Hall of Famer pitches," Toronto manager Cito Gaston said.
15 Florida Marlins
Last Week: 12
The free-swinging Fish have had a difficult time scoring runs recently, averaging just 3.6 runs per game in August. Two of the players who have struggled the worst are middle-of-the-order bats Mike Jacobs (.177 average this month) and Dan Uggla (.195 since the All-Star break). Last Sunday, Jacobs and Uggla each went 0-4 with four strikeouts. It's pretty tough to generate much offense when your No. 4 and 5 hitters both don golden sombreros.
16 Houston Astros
Last Week: 16
Carlos Lee shattered his finger two weeks ago, most likely ending his season. But suddenly it seems like the devastating slugger has returned ... in the form of Ty Wigginton. Wigginton is hitting .412 this month with a 1.248 slugging percentage and he's blasted five homers in the 11 games since Lee went down.
17 Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 19
Did Eric Wedge finally discover the solution to his never-ending, ninth-inning nightmare? (Alliteration!) Since taking over the closer role, Jensen Lewis has converted four straight saves. The 24-year-old hasn't allowed an earned run in his last nine outings. So is Lewis the long-term answer or just the next mistake by the lake (See: Joe Borowski, Masahide Kobayashi, Rafael Betancourt and Rafael Perez)?
18 Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 18
Camden Yards hosted its 50 millionth fan Tuesday night. Kevin Gracie, a 24-year-old student, hit the jackpot by entering the stadium at just the right time. Gracie won $50,000 and a pair of season tickets for the next five years. The ballpark reached the milestone faster than any stadium in baseball history. That's quite a commitment from the Orioles faithful, who have seen just five winning seasons since the park opened in 1992, and none since 1997.
19 Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 20
One-hundred-and-twenty-seven games into the 2008 campaign, Tigers pitching has logged exactly one shutout. (Armando Galarraga and Freddy Dolsi combined to blank the Dodgers on June 13.) Reliever Casey Fossum's face says it all.
20 Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 21
Crank up the Shalamar! Ian Stewart is enjoying great success in his second time around. The infielder was disappointing during his initial stint with the big club this season, posting over five times as many strikeouts (28) as RBI (5) in 18 games. This poor production landed Stewart back in the minors for a few weeks. But since he was recalled on July 19, Stewart has knocked in 32 runs in 30 games.
"The second time around,
Ohh, the second time is so much better, baby."
21 Texas Rangers
Last Week: 17
There are reports that Ian Kinsler might be able to avoid surgery on his sports hernia. Texas is holding out hope that Kinsler may return from the 15-day DL at the outset of September. To be honest, a quick return from Kinsler really wouldn't do much for the Rangers, who are 15 1/2 games back in the AL West and 10 1/2 back in the Wild Card. But fantasy baseball leagues nationwide hang in the balance.
22 Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 22
Ian Snell is alive! Snell is 2-2 with a 3.77 ERA in his last five starts. Snell claims he was tipping pitches earlier in the season, but manager John Russell told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review he "didn't see that." Can Tom Gorzelanny use the same excuse?
23 San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 26
Matt Cain is reemerging as a Robin to Tim Lincecum's Batman. Cain battled inconsistency throughout the first half of the season, but he has shored things up of late, as evidenced by his ERA in July (1.88) and August (2.54). The key behind Cain's comeback: keeping the ball in the park. On Wednesday the right-hander gave up his first home run in 95 innings, a streak that dated back to June 4. Lincecum and Cain offer Giants fans a foreign concept: hope.
24 Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 23
When is it going to click for Alex Gordon? The vaunted third baseman's batting average is down to .254 (including an abysmal .205 mark against left-handers). Not to mention he easily leads the Royals with 15 errors. Maybe I'm just bitter because I drafted him in fantasy baseball over a certain Ranger by the name of Hamilton, but wasn't Gordon supposed to really break out this season?
25 Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 25
I know Billy Beane had his eye on the future when he made the Rich Harden trade, but it's impossible to completely disregard the events of Tuesday night. Harden overwhelmed the Reds, striking out 10 during seven innings of two-hit ball. The win lowered Harden's ERA to 1.50 in seven starts with the Cubs. On that very same night, Sean Gallagher, supposedly the best player Oakland received in trading Harden, gave up 10 earned runs in five innings. The loss elevated Gallagher's ERA to 6.55 in seven starts with the A's.
26 Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 27
All aboard the Cueto Coaster. Please keep your arms and legs inside the ride at all times.
Johnny Cueto's erratic rookie campaign has taken a turn for the better in August. Cueto owns a season-low 3.13 ERA this month and just held the mighty Cubs to one run over seven innings on Tuesday. Hold on to your hat, though -- Cueto is set to make his first ever start at Coors Field on Sunday.
27 Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 24
How bad have things gotten for the Braves? Gregor Blanco earned the Sonic Good Play of the Game Wednesday night ... for a bunt.
28 San Diego Padres
Last Week: 29
Padres catchers are hitting .195 this season. No other team in baseball has an entire position south of the Mendoza Line.
29 Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 28
Looks like Erik Bedard's upsetting first season in Seattle may be over. The 29-year-old southpaw, who has been on the 15-day DL with a sore shoulder since July 5, hit another snag in his recovery. When asked Jim Riggleman if this meant Bedard was done for the season, the manager said, "I guess I look at it as being kind of gravy if he does return."
30 Washington Nationals
Last Week: 30
At this point, I just feel sorry for Nationals supporters. Therefore, Washington receives a one-week reprieve from the standard parting shot. How about some positive reinforcement? Ronnie Belliard is hitting .444 in August!

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