By Ted Keith
May 28, 2009

The Dodgers keep beating up on the National League West, and at this rate, will probably clinch the division by the All-Star break, while the powerhouses in the AL East and NL East begin to assert themselves.

MLB Power Rankings
1 Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 3
It's just one big party right now in L.A., which makes the debut of Bleacher Beach at Dodger Stadium that much more appropriate. Two sections in the leftfield stands -- not Mannywood -- will now offer tiki huts, a lifeguard tower and a live DJ, while grilling hot dogs and hamburgers. For the fans who actually want to, you know, watch the game, they'll find a team worth paying attention to. After dropping the Freeway Series to the Angels, the Dodgers swept the Rockies in Colorado to push their lead in the NL West to 8.5 games and give them 33 wins on the season -- five more than any other team in baseball.
2 Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 5
A sweep of the Blue Jays at Fenway Park has helped vault the Red Sox into first place in the AL East -- a perch they hold despite a surprisingly shaky starting pitching from Josh Beckett (5.01 ERA), Jon Lester (8.00 ERA) and Daisuke Matsuzaka (10.32 ERA). Help is on the way, though. John Smoltz is on track to return in mid-June and Clay Buchholz took a perfect game into the ninth inning for Triple-A Pawtucket this week.
3 St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 9
The Cardinals have moved back into first place in the NL Central despite the relative slump of Albert Pujols, who has only hit one home run in the past 13 games. That one homer, though, may have been the coolest one of the year. Last Thursday, Pujols smoked a line drive off the Big Mac sign in leftfield that knocked out the "I." Perhaps the best part of the clip is the announcer saying Pujols' swing wasn't "grooved" right before the pitch was thrown. The pitching staff has been equally lights-out, allowing just nine runs over the past nine games.
4 New York Yankees
Last Week: 6
The return of Alex Rodriguez and a soft schedule are certainly factors in the Yankees' recent surge - they've won 12 of 15, including two of three against the Rangers in Arlington -- but it's harder to calculate the impact of a looser clubhouse atmosphere. A.J. Burnett, who has become known for smashing his teammates' faces with cream pies after walk-off wins as much as he is for anything he's done on the mound. With the help of Nick Swisher, the clubhouse DJ, the pair has been leading the change. The Yankees also had their first Kangaroo court since 1995 last week, with Mariano Rivera presiding as judge. No fines necessary for Mark Teixeira, who has been a model clubhouse citizen and has finally started earning his massive paycheck, batting .429/.492/.911 with seven home runs and 20 RBIs over the past two weeks.
5 Texas Rangers
Last Week: 4
The Rangers' usually reliable offense has been a bit top-heavy, leading the American League in home runs and slugging percentage but ranking just seventh overall in runs scored and 10th in on-base percentage. Forty-nine of their 76 home runs have come with nobody on base -- the most solo shots in the majors. Chris Davis (12 home runs, .265 OBP) and Hank Blalock (11, .280) have been especially one-dimensional in that regard. A boom-or-bust offense only increases the burden on the pitching staff, which has never been the Rangers' strength.
6 Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 3
A new victory celebration is all the rage in Milwaukee these days, and it's starting to get enrage some Brewers opponents. After each victory, the Brew Crew will untuck their jerseys, a sign of respect to outfielder Mike Cameron, who started untucking as a tribute to his father, a blue-collar worker who would come home and untuck his shirt after a hard day's work. Some teams, specifically the Cardinals, find it a bit disrespectful, but it's a trend that can't be stopped, especially now that a there are T-shirts to commemorate the trend. Among the stated reasons the site gives for why this has caught on (and why Brewers fans should buy the T-shirts): "Because it screams Milwaukee ... because the Cardinals think it's bush league ... because it makes Cubs fans angry."
7 Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 8
Rick Porcello won his fifth straight game Wednesday night, moving his record this month to 5-0 with a 1.50 ERA and a 2:1 K/BB ratio. Porcello's win streak is the longest by such a young player (he's 20) since Dwight Gooden did it in both 1984 and 1985 with the Mets. Porcello is no Dr. K (Dr. P?) but he is the very early front-runner for American League Rookie of the Year honors, and his performance has helped the Tigers to a 3.5 game lead in the AL Central.
8 New York Mets
Last Week: 10
No team in baseball has benefitted from instant replay this season as much as the Mets, who have gone a perfect 5-for-5, including four in a five-day stretch this week. Easily the most memorable was Omir Santos' two-out, two-run homer in the ninth off Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon on Saturday night that gave the Mets a 3-2 win. Daniel Murphy, who was benched for two days by manager Jerry Manuel, hit a go-ahead two-run shot against the Nats on Wednesday that was initially ruled a double.
9 Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 7
A few Philadelphia Phillies have been wearing a shirt reading "Free JC," a show of support for reliever J.C. Romero, who is still serving his 50-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance. Romero, who denied taking an illegal drug knowingly, and called the suspension "unfair," will be back next week, rendering the T-shirts obsolete but providing a much-needed boost to the Phillies' bullpen, which has been slow to repeat the success of last year's world championship form. Closer Brad Lidge, who blew another save last weekend, has been particularly dreadful, with four blown saves and an 8.85 ERA.
10 Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 12
A sweep of the Astros moved the Reds to within 1.5 games of first in the NL Central. They now head out on a seven-game road trip -- three against second-place Milwaukee and four against the first-place Cardinals. The Reds have the second-best road winning percentage in the major leagues at .619, and have already beaten the Brewers two times out of three in Milwaukee earlier this season.
11 Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 14
After welcoming back Ervin Santana and John Lackey in recent weeks, the Angels got back Vladimir Guerrero from a five-week stay on the disabled list with a torn pectoral muscle. Guerrero hasn't done much, going just 2-for-12 in his first three games back without an RBI, but his presence in the No. 3 spot allows Bobby Abreu to move to No. 2 in the order. Only David Ortiz was a worse hitter from the No. 3 spot this year than Abreu, who hit his first home run of the season Tuesday. But Abreu is actually a perfect fit in the second spot -- in addition to his .309 average, he leads the team with 28 walks, a .414 on-base percentage and has 15 steals in 15 attempts.
12 Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 15
A sweep in San Francisco, highlighted by the first four-strikeout game in Chipper Jones' career, blunted the Braves momentum and left them at .500 -- three games out in the NL East. Rumors are swirling that slumping outfielder Jeff Francoeur, who has just a .275 OBP and three home runs, could be on his way out, possibly in a trade to the Red Sox. Francoeur isn't the only Braves outfielder who has yet to find a power stroke. The Braves have gotten just seven home runs all year from their outfield, the fewest in baseball.
13 Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 2
A winless nine-game road trip has left the Jays staring up at both the Yankees and Red Sox in the AL East and has caused a major slide down the rankings. Blue Jays bats went silent when it counted most during this losing streak, batting just .185 with runners in scoring position. They scored just 13 runs during the first eight losses before erupting for 10 on Wednesday, only to blow a pair of multi-run leads and lose to the lowly Orioles.
14 Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 20
Mauer Power is in full force these days. The Twins All-Star catcher hit three more home runs last week, bringing his total for the year to 11 in just 87 at-bats. Mauer is homering every 7.9 at-bats, the best ratio in the major leagues. Not bad for a guy who hit just nine home runs a year ago and has never hit more than 13 in a season. Mauer claims to not be doing anything different, saying he's kept the same swing he's always had. That swing was famously honed by a home-made device that has since been turned into a marketable teaching tool for young hitters.
15 Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 13
Zack Greinke has become such a hero in Kansas City that his starts now feel like holidays, hence the term "Greinke Day." There's even a blog set up, although whoever's running that site may, you know, want to have the clock actually work. (For the record, his next scheduled start is Sunday against the White Sox). If only every day were Greinke Day for the Royals. When he pitches, they're 8-2. In all other games, they're 15-22.
16 Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 11
Things are getting testy in the Windy City, and all the Cubs' frustration has been taken out on their poor, defenseless dugout Gatorade machine. On Monday, Ryan Dempster smashed it after being roughed up by the Pirates in a 10-8 loss. Then, on Thursday, Carlos Zambrano took a bat to it after being ejected for bumping the home plate umpire -- a tirade so violent that even famously combustible manager Lou Piniella said afterward, "Carlos has got to calm down." During spring training, the Cubs talked openly about his improved self-control while saying they didn't want to lose the aggressiveness that had been a large part of his success. The result of that attitude will be a suspension.
17 San Diego Padres
Last Week: 25
The most unexpected 10-game winning streak in the majors this season belongs to the San Diego Padres. Perhaps that's because it came on the heels of a stretch in which they opened the month by losing 13 of 15 games, leaving general manager Kevin Towers perplexed about his club's Jekyll and Hyde routine. "These last two years have been the most difficult for me in the sense of getting a pulse of the club," Towers told "Last year, I thought we made some moves, added pitching depth and would be better. Then we lost 99 games. But this year, I don't know. I still haven't figured them out. And I don't know if the rest of baseball has, either. Maybe that's a good thing."
18 Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 16
David Price made his long-awaited season debut but failed to impress, reaching the 100-pitch limit and getting pulled after just 3.1 against the Indians. Price gave up four hits and five walks and failed to hold a 10-0 lead. His inefficiency is especially alarming given the likely innings constraint he'll be under this season. The Rays prefer not to increase their young pitchers' innings by more than 20 percent, which means Price (who pitched 129.1 innings last year) can only go to about 160 innings this year. He's already pitched 37.2 combined between the majors and minors, leaving him with just 120 innings remaining this season. All of this means Price will have limited innings as a starter, which will be worth watching as the season progresses.
19 Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 21
Is it time to start talking trades already? The Mariners have slumped to 22-26, are six games out in the AL West and have dropped 20 of their last 30 games after a 12-6 start. With catcher Kenji Johjima now out for up to two months with a fractured toe, the Mariners have suffered yet another setback. Pitchers Erik Bedard and Jarrod Washburn and first baseman Russell Branyan might be attractive to potential buyers.
20 San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 18
Randy Johnson won his 299th game Wednesday, finishing a three-game sweep of the Braves. He'll go for win No. 300 next week against the Washington Nationals. It will be Johnson's first start in the nation's capital and a win would be just the fourth of his career against the Nats, among the fewest he's had against any team. He's beaten the Reds, Mariners and Rays three times each, and the Diamondbacks once. Of course, he won 118 games with the D-backs (and 130 with Seattle), so it's not like Arizona is unfamiliar with the Big Unit.
21 Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 22
Jake Peavy decided he didn't want to join the White Sox, rejecting a potential trade from the Padres last week, but there may be a big name arriving on the South Side before long. Gordon Beckham, the team's first-round draft pick a year ago, was promoted to Triple-A Charlotte. He has mostly played second base and shortstop, but general manager Ken Williams had Beckham playing third before he was promoted. The Sox haven't gotten much production from that position this season, with just a .227/.281/.314 line and only two home runs. "I want to see some production out of some people or I'm going to start making some changes," Williams said.
22 Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 23
Zach Duke is pitching well, and Matt Capps will likely not need to go on the disabled list after taking a line drive off his pitching elbow. So there's some good news there for the Bucs.
23 Florida Marlins
Last Week: 17
The Marlins present took a backseat to their future this week with news that Dade County officials had finally approved the team's retractable-roof ballpark. Ground-breaking is scheduled for July and the park is slated to open in 2012. According to, a team official estimated that poor weather had cost the team 60,000 fans in attendance at their recent homestand, or 6,000 per game. It could have had more to do with the fact that the Marlins went just 3-7 during the homestand and are now five games out in the NL East.
24 Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 24
Sweeping the Blue Jays was nice, but the really good news for Orioles fans is that super-phenom Matt Wieters has been promoted to the major leagues. As one Orioles blogger put it, "Everyone can start wetting themselves now." Please don't do that. As I wrote about before spring training, Wieters has been pegged as the future of the franchise since being taken with the fifth pick in the 2007 draft, but caution is probably in order. Here are some things Wieters won't do this season that overly excited fans may be hoping for: hit 30 home runs, turn the Orioles into a playoff contender, or walk on water. Try not to be disappointed.
25 Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 26
Dan Haren deserves better than this. The Diamondbacks righty is just 3-4 but has a 2.57 ERA with a 0.905 WHIP, and the best strikeout-to-walk ratio in the National League (7.0). Justin Upton, meanwhile, is red-hot, with 12 hits in his last 24 at-bats.
26 Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 29
Raise your hand if you thought Carl Pavano would ever be talked about as the best Indians starter this season. Liars. Although Cliff Lee's 3.04 ERA is demonstrably better than Pavano's 5.50, the oft-injured righty has three more wins, a better strikeout-to-walk ratio and a comparable WHIP, hits per nine and walks per nine numbers. I'm not saying he's better than Lee, I'm just saying I would have lost a lot of money this year if I took a bet that this would even be a discussion worth having.
27 Houston Astros
Last Week: 19
The Astros have lost seven in a row during which its pitchers have surrendered a .307 batting average and .558 slugging percentage. Things have gotten so bad that some are starting to wonder if it's time for manager Cecil Cooper to go. Cooper held a closed-door meeting with his team before Tuesday's game, but it didn't do any good, as the Astros dropped two more to the Reds and have fallen into the NL Central basement.
28 Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 27
Rather than focus on the last-place Rockies' continuing ineptitude, it's time for a long overdue shout-out to Rockies reliever and fellow Garden City High graduate Matt Daley, who made his big-league debut in late April. I was all set to offer congratulations to Daley a few weeks ago, but then an umpire kicked a bat in his way and he tripped on it, spraining his ankle and landing on the disabled list. Typical. Anyway, I think the last guy from my hometown who made it to one of the four major sports leagues was Don McCauley, an old running back with the Baltimore Colts who was mostly famous for breaking O.J. Simpson's NCAA rushing record while in college. So yeah, it had been awhile.
29 Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 28
Moneyball is coming to the big screen and they found a pretty well-known actor to portray A's general manager Billy Beane, the subject of the Michael Lewis' 2003 best-seller: Brad Pitt. They went for a slightly lesser-known actor to portray first baseman Scott Hatteberg: Scott Hatteberg. "I don't know how you can screw up playing yourself, but I'm afraid I will," said Hatteberg.
30 Washington Nationals
Last Week: 30
First there was the scandal that brought down their general manager. Then there were the misspelled names on the jerseys. The misspelled names on the bats. The losing battle against the tarp. A sausage-related mishap. And I won't even go into the potentially ridiculous steroid allegations that have just come out. But Nats, please, stop making yourselves look so ridiculous. And this is simply ridiculous.
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