By Joe Lemire
May 19, 2011

The local hoops talent may have taken this week's NBA Eastern Conference Finals to South Beach, but Cleveland isn't lacking in positive sports news.

Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert sent his bespectacled, bowtie-clad 14-year-old son to represent the team in Tuesday's draft lottery, and Nick Gilbert brought back the No. 1 pick. But Nick's luck didn't stop there: he also brought home to Cleveland the No. 1 spot in this week's MLB Power Rankings, as the Indians have returned to the top after a one-week absence.

What's more, the Tribe's in-state rivals, the Cincinnati Reds, have baseball's best record since May 3, as they've jumped to No. 2 in the Rankings. On a runs-per-game basis, the Reds have the majors' best offense, but the Indians rank second in offense and fourth in pitching and defense. All of this sets up the season's inaugural interleague showdown this weekend at Cleveland's Progressive Field with state bragging rights -- and the perch atop the Power Rankings -- at stake in the Battle of Ohio.

NOTE: All stats are updated through Wednesday, May 19.

MLB Power Rankings
1 Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 2
While the news of Grady Sizemore's disabled list stint is disappointing for the Indians (though at least it's not his surgically repaired knee), his absence has returned Michael Brantley to the leadoff spot, where he should be at all times whether Sizemore is healthy or not. Brantley is batting .294, is unafraid to take a walk -- 17 so far, part of a .368 on-base percentage -- and brings enough speed to steal as many as 46 bases in his 2009 minor league season. While Sizemore used to be that kind of speedster, he probably isn't the same runner now and shouldn't feel the pressure of a leadoff batter to run. Sizemore did hit six homers in his 18 games this year, so dropping him a few spots could help his run production too.
2 Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 10
The Reds' play has been blistering over the past fortnight, as they won 11 of 13 before losing to the Pirates Wednesday night. Their runs scored per game has increased a tick from 5.2 to 5.3, but it's their runs allowed that has more dramatically changed, falling from 4.8 to 3.6. The strikeout rate of Cincinnati's pitchers has dipped from 7.9 to 7.2 as have opponents' averages, from .262 to .223, suggesting that improved defense has played a role. And, yes, that does give me an excuse to link this highlight video of second baseman Brandon Phillips, in which his glove appears to superfluous equipment. (The favorite here is the between-the-legs flip -- and first baseman Joey Votto's gasping reaction -- that begins at 0:48.)
3 Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 3
In Dec. 2008 the Rays traded starting pitcher Edwin Jackson to the Tigers for outfielder Matt Joyce. Since then Jackson has been traded twice more, but he also made the '09 AL All-Star team and in '10 threw a no-hitter. Joyce, on the other hand, remained in the Rays organization but had trouble sticking in the major leagues until this year when he has finally broken out. While stroking 11 doubles and seven homers, he ranks among the top-three on the AL leaderboard in average (.365), on-base percentage (.434), slugging (.619) and -- thanks to his defensive contributions in rightfield as well -- Wins Above Replacement (2.9), according to
4 Florida Marlins
Last Week: 5
Shortstop Hanley Ramirez, a three-time All-Star and the 2009 NL batting champ, entered the season as a career .313 hitter, but he's been mired in such a season-long slump (.211) that his career average has dropped five points and this season's on-base percentage (.294) is lower than that. His only category lead is a bad one: most times caught stealing (five). On Monday night the Mets even intentionally walked the batter ahead of him, and he grounded out. "I would have pitched to myself, too," Ramirez told reporters later. After a subsequent move from No. 2 to No. 3 in the order, Ramirez homered on Wednesday. His struggles -- and those of starter Javier Vazquez -- are about the only cause for concern in an otherwise strong start for the Marlins.
5 Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 7
If Ferris Bueller needed a sequel, then "Brian McCann's Day Off" would make for a nice feature film, with plenty of heroic drama. The Braves catcher was not in the starting lineup Tuesday afternoon, but with the Astros leading 1-0 in the ninth, McCann pinch-hit and crushed a game-tying homer. In the 11th McCann made his second at bat . . . and hit a game-winning walkoff homer. Ballplayer celebrations, however, are not for the weak: McCann told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he "ate six pounds of dirt" at the bottom of the pile. His backup whom he replaced, David Ross, joked, "Part of me wants to give him this huge hug, and part of me wants to kick him in the groin because he made it look so easy."
6 St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 6
Manager Tony La Russa may have missed a week of game action while recuperating from shingles, but it's clear the game wasn't far from his mind. The innovative skipper clearly used his time away plotting new schemes. In his first game upon returning he drew up a lineup in which superstar Albert Pujols, a two-time Gold Glove-winning first baseman, started at third base for the first time since 2002. Particularly with Opening Day third baseman David Freese out with injury, that might be the Cardinals' best defensive lineup, because it allows Lance Berkman to play first base and anybody but Berkman to play rightfield.
7 Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 1
Before Monday Cliff Lee hadn't walked even five batters in a game since 2006, but in a 3-1 loss to the Cardinals he issued a career-high six walks. Last year Lee led the majors with a 10.3 strikeout-to-walk ratio, only the second time in history that a pitcher who logged enough innings to qualify for the ERA leaderboard boasted a K/BB over 10. (Brett Saberhagen, then with the Mets, had an 11.0 in 1994.) So while the Phillies have allowed the fewest walks in the majors, Lee, oddly enough, has walked the most batters of any Phillie.
8 Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 18
It's been a banner week of 2011 firsts for the Red Sox: first time at .500, first time a game above .500, first time two games above .500 and first time going undefeated on Tuesday and Wednesday in the same week. Admittedly this may be a trend only noted by someone who compiles Power Rankings for Thursday mornings, but before Tuesday's rainout and Wednesday's 1-0 win over the Tigers, the Red Sox were 2-9 on Tuesdays and Wednesdays this year, meaning all of their forward progress on weekends -- Boston is 13-6 on Fridays, Saturdays and Sunday -- was being nullified on weeknights. Also worth noting: Adrian Gonzalez hit his first home run while swinging like Ichiro Suzuki.
9 Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 9
Victor Martinez had three straight games with at least three hits and at least three RBIs last week, going 9-for-12 with four doubles, two homers, 10 RBIs and an otherworldly 2.383 OPS in that time, which coincided with a longer 13-game hitting streak. V-Mart's stretch of three-hit games was the fourth of its kind this year, but it was only the fifth of the past decade in which the streaking player combined three hits and three RBIs in each, joining the Marlins' Hanley Ramirez (in 2010) and Cody Ross (in 2008), the Rangers' Alfonso Soriano (in 2005) and the Angels' Jeff DaVanon (in 2003). That should make this the only time you read DaVanon's name on the Internet today, even though his streak was the best of all as six of his 10 hits were home runs.
10 New York Yankees
Last Week: 4
The drama of catcher-turned-reluctant-designated hitter Jorge Posada asking out of Saturday's lineup -- after the then-.163 hitter was demoted to ninth in the batting order -- engendered one positive development: Fans weren't as quick to notice how poorly the Yankees were playing. New York lost that night for its fifth straight of what would be six consecutive losses before righting the ship Tuesday with a win over the Rays. But as Posada noted, the only way out of his predicament is to hit. Right now, Yankees' DHs have a .189 average, which is 30 points worse than any other AL team, and their OPS ranks 12th in the league. Posada has started 33 of the team's 41 games at DH.
11 Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 12
On Monday and Tuesday the Rockies notched their first back-to-back wins in the month of May. After going 17-8 in April, Colorado started May with a 3-9 record, relinquishing what had been a 4 1/2-game lead in the NL West and now sitting a 1/2 game out of first. The culprit has primarily been a pitching staff that had a 3.53 ERA in April, in part by limiting opponents to a .306 OBP. In May, however, Rockies pitchers have issued 69 walks in 16 games, as compared to 75 walks in 25 April games. As a result, the staff ERA in May is 4.58 with a .336 OBP allowed.
12 San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 8
Maybe it's the uniform. Ryan Vogelsong, who hadn't pitched in a major league game since 2006, took over for injured Barry Zito and has fallen in line with every other Giants' starting pitcher. Overall this year Vogelsong is 3-0 with a 2.36 ERA and 1.05 WHIP and in his last two starts has not allowed an earned run over 12 1/3 innings, throwing a rain-shortened six-inning shutout on Saturday. Part of the reason for his success is that he's attacking the strike zone, throwing nearly 70 percent of his pitches for strikes and walking only two in his last two outings.
13 Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 21
If Dos Equis were to begin a baseball-centric ad campaign, they could do worse than Jose Bautista as The Most Interesting Man in Baseball. He's already got the beard and the superlative accomplishments that give weight to his swings, enough that they'd break a lesser man's bat. Bautista crushed a major-league-leading 54 home runs last year and, after a three-homer day against the Twins on Sunday, this year leads all of baseball in homers (16), runs (35), walks (37), average (.372), OBP (.522), slugging (.843) and total bases (102). Everything he does is interesting. Heck, he's even been picked off three times, tied for the most in the majors. Bautista has pulled 90 of his 129 career homers to leftfield -- and has only hit two to rightfield -- prompting an obvious slogan: "I don't always hit home runs, but when I do, I prefer leftfield."
14 Texas Rangers
Last Week: 15
Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz and Julio Borbon joined forced on Opening Day as the starting outfield for the Rangers and this week they were reunited -- on the disabled list. Trips to the DL have become annual rites for Hamilton and Cruz but with Borbon now out as well, the Rangers are forced to play Endy Chavez and Craig Gentry, who have combined for just10 hits all year, along with capable fourth outfielder David Murphy.
15 Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 14
The A's have sent 15 different pitchers to the mound this season, and not a single one of them has an ERA of 5.00 or higher. The club's cumulative mark is 2.68, easily the best in the majors though admittedly aided by a major league high 28 unearned runs allowed, but that every pitcher has been effective is rare. The last team to accomplish the feat of having every pitcher with a sub-5.00 ERA for a full season was the 1991 Dodgers. Eight teams have had a season with only one such pitcher in the interim, though only the 2002 Angels managed to do so after the 1994 strike and thus squarely in the middle of the Steroids Era.
16 Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 27
This is what Brewers GM Doug Melvin envisioned this offseason: the names of Zack Greinke and Shaun Marcum following one another in the win column on each turn through the rotation. The Brewers recently won six of seven games in which the sequence of Greinke and Marcum, both of whom Melvin traded for this winter, won the first and second and then sixth and seventh games of that stretch. Twice they needed significant offensive support for the victory, but Milwaukee has that luxury -- at least at home where it's averaging 5.5 runs per game, compared to just 3.0 on the road.
17 Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 11
The merits of Torii Hunter's outfield defense have demonstrated the biggest discrepancy between human-eye scouting and new-age statistical evaluation. Hunter won nine Gold Gloves from 2001 through 2009 and was a fixture on highlight reels for his spectacular catches, but advanced defensive stats such as Ultimate Zone Rating and Plus/Minus suggested he had lost a step at the end of that run, settling into an average or even slightly-below average centerfielder. With the call-up of speedy Peter Bourjos last year, the Angels even moved him to rightfield, but Hunter has thrived in right -- by all accounts. Plus/Minus rates him the game's best defensive rightfielder; UZR ranks him sixth in the majors.
18 Washington Nationals
Last Week: 16
Livan Hernandez made his major league debut by throwing three innings of relief for the Marlins in 1996. Since then, he has made 454 consecutive starts -- without ever going on the disabled list -- and in his start last Saturday he eclipsed 3,000 career innings, as he went seven innings in a 1-0 Nationals loss. He has a 3.92 ERA this season but is 3-5 because he's the 10th least-supported pitcher in the NL, receiving just 3.1 runs per nine innings he's on the mound. And earlier this year he drew this incredible compliment: "He's like the big guy at the company picnic who drinks all the beer and wins all the trophies," Pirates skipper Clint Hurdle, who briefly managed Hernandez in Colorado, told the Washington Times. "There's no doubt he's a smart guy, No. 1. He's a survivor, No. 2."
19 Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 22
The career of Paul Konerko is probably underappreciated. In his 12 full seasons he has averaged 30 home runs, 94 RBIs and a .282/.358/.505 batting line, yet made only four All-Star teams thanks to an abundance of talent at the position and because he's trended more toward consistent than spectacular. His 2010 season was spectacular, however, and remarkably he's on his way toward matching last year's .312-average, 39-HR, 111-RBI campaign. Just past the quarter point of the season he has 10 homers and 30 RBIs to go along with a .306 average.
20 Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 24
The AL Rookie of the Year may come down to a matter of preference among three starters. Seattle's Michael Pineda has the most power behind his fastball; Tampa Bay's Jeremy Hellickson has the most electric offspeed stuff; and then there's Baltimore's Zach Britton, who relieves heavily on his sinker, over and over again, accounting for some 73.3 percent of all his pitches. Britton ranks fifth in the AL in ERA (2.14) -- ahead of Pineda (2.45; 9th) and Hellickson (2.98; 14th) -- and has not allowed an earned run in his last 20 1/3 innings of work, which includes his first career complete-game shutout last Thursday.
21 New York Mets
Last Week: 23
As recounted in Wednesday's New York Daily News, three Mets were simultaneously at the Hospital for Special Surgery on Monday, as pitchers Chris Young and Jenrry Mejia underwent major arm surgery and third baseman David Wright went for tests on his back, which later proved to have a small stress fracture. Considering how much business the Mets have given them over the past few years, it's a good thing HSS is the team's official hospital. The timing of Wright's injury is especially poor, as New York had won four of five before his trip to the hospital and now both corner infielders are out, as Ike Davis remains sidelined with a sprained ankle.
22 Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 25
At least Armando Galarraga has that Corvette. The 29-year-old righthander, who famously missed a perfect game last year on a final-out blown call, received a consolation prize of a Corvette, thanks to Tigers sponsor General Motors. Detroit traded him to the Diamondbacks this offseason, where he was shaky in eight starts, compiling a 5.91 ERA and 1.62 WHIP and allowing a major league high of 13 home runs. Arizona designated him for assignment this week and he might clear waivers, given his $2.3 million salary, but returning to Triple-A -- as he did last summer after his near perfecto too -- is a signal that his career may be headed toward an ignominious end.
23 Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 19
The bottom half of the Dodgers' lineup has had remarkable difficulty scoring runs. Juan Uribe, Rod Barajas and James Loney -- who in varying orders are usually the team's 5-6-7 hitters -- all rank in the majors' top 15 for most plate appearances while scoring 11 or fewer runs, further evidence that Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp are generating most of L.A.'s offense. Similarly, the Dodgers rank 28th out of 30 in most men left on base (an average of 7.4 per game) and with runners in scoring position are the worst in the NL with a .221 average and .309 slugging and second-worst with a .315 OBP.
24 Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 13
Vin Mazarro undoubtedly arrived at Kauffman Stadium on Monday and went through his regular routine to prepare himself to start on Tuesday. Instead, after Royals starter Kyle Davies left game with an injury in the first inning, Mazarro began warming and later entered in relief, only to allow 14 runs (all earned) in what some have hailed as the worst pitching performance of alltime. Mazarro is not one of the organization's top prospects, though he was regarded highly enough that Kansas City traded outfielder David DeJesus to Oakland for him this offseason. He was demoted to Triple-A after his nightmare outing, paving the way for a higher-ranked prospect, Danny Duffy, to take his place in the rotation.
25 Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 20
After committing four errors that led to all seven of the Reds' runs in a 7-5 Cubs loss on Tuesday, Chicago manager Mike Quade said, "If we haven't reached rock bottom with this, we're pretty damn close." Those words might be meaningful if they weren't so utterly ridiculous given the franchise's history. Still, losing six of eight games might seem like a calamity for a rookie manager, so here's a bright spot to cheer him up: At the end of last week shortstop Starlin Castro had multiple hits in four out of five games and leads the majors in games with at least three hits (nine) and games with at least four hits (three).
26 Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 17
This is about the time that Captain Jack Sparrow should be hired to seek the black pearl, as the Pirates appear cursed. No sooner did they win on May 9 -- inching past a .500 winning percentage for the first time that late in a season since 2004 -- that they reeled off a six-game losing streak. During the skid, the Pirates averaged just 2.5 runs per game, and Pittsburgh is one of five teams yet to score double-digits in a game this season.
27 San Diego Padres
Last Week: 28
Such is the occasional peculiarity of baseball that light-hitting shortstop Jason Bartlett had an RBI in nine straight games, a streak that was snapped Wednesday, which tied Sixto Lezcano (1982) and Steve Finley (1996) for the Padres franchise record. Absent from the list are more notable sluggers Adrian Gonzalez, Fred McGriff and Gary Sheffield as well as legendary hit machine Tony Gwynn. But Bartlett and his .267 season average went 8-for-14 with men in scoring position over those nine games to knock in 12 runs but did not homer during the streak. While RBI streaks of at least nine games do happen occasionally, not since Pete Rose in 1975 had there been one of equal length without the aid of a home run.
28 Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 26
Well-respected Mariners blogger David Cameron reported on Twitter Tuesday that the Mariners were discussing internally whether to promote top prospect Dustin Ackley for Wednesday. That didn't happen, but Ackley's bat is certainly deserving. In his last 10 games Ackley has two or more hits in seven of them, batting .463 (19-41) with four doubles and two homers. His defense at second base seems to be holding him down a little longer -- as does the possibility of a Super Two designation -- but he'll still be one of the first top prospects to be promoted.
29 Houston Astros
Last Week: 29
Though the Astros pitching staff ranks last in the NL in wins (15), ERA (4.89), saves (5), hits allowed (420), runs allowed (224), homers allowed (47) and WHIP (1.52), the news isn't all bad. Wandy Rodriguez and Bud Norris have each made nine starts and kept their ERAs under 4.00. Rodriguez has a 2.05 ERA over his last six starts with a 7.4 K/9; Norris has a 3.00 ERA over his last seven outings with a 10.2 K/9.
30 Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 30
Baseball lost one of its great this week, as Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew passed away after a bout with cancer. Killebrew is No. 11 on the career home run list with 573 and received nice eulogies from SI writers Steve Rushin and Joe Posnanski.

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