By Ted Keith
July 16, 2009

Not a bad first half, huh? Zack Greinke turned into the year's best story; Ryan Zimmerman turned (briefly) into Joe DiMaggio and turned (very, very briefly) Nationals games into must-see TV; Manny Ramirez managed to disgrace himself without derailing his team; Alex Rodriguez has been (relatively) drama-free since his return; and Albert Pujols, well, he basically played like Albert Pujols. What do all of those players have in common? None of them are the most important players to their teams in the second half.

MLB Power Rankings
1 Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 1
Rafael Furcal, SS
The Dodgers signed both Furcal (or, in his case, re-signed) and Orlando Hudson this winter to be their table-setters at the top of the order, but only one of them has delivered with any consistency. While Hudson made it to the All-Star Game, Furcal has been a disappointment, batting just .256 with a .331 on-base percentage. The Dodgers haven't needed his production just yet -- they rank first or second in the league in runs, hits, batting average, on-base percentage, walks and stolen bases -- but their lineup becomes that much more dangerous when Furcal is on his game. The easy answer here seems to be batting him in the leadoff spot, where he's been since Manny Ramirez has returned. When batting first, Furcal is a .278 hitter with a .350 OBP. When he bats second, he's hit just .201 with a .272 OBP.
2 Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 2
David Ortiz, DH
There are almost no holes on this roster. It would be tempting to go with Daisuke Matsuzaka, who is 1-5 with an 8.23 ERA and is currently on the disabled list for the second time this season. But even without Dice-K, the Red Sox can boast five quality starters (Josh Beckett, Tim Wakefield, Jon Lester, Brad Penny and John Smoltz) plus they still could turn to Clay Buchholz if need be. With that in mind, I'm going with Ortiz. The full-blown crisis that was Big Papi Watch '09 has subsided now that Ortiz has rediscovered his power stroke, having hit 11 home runs in his past 32 games after hitting just one in his first 63. In fact, over those last 32 games, he has almost resembled the Papi of old, batting .284 with an impressive .383 on-base percentage and robust .657 slugging average, figures that bode well for continued improvement in the second half.
3 Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 5
Vladimir Guerrero, DH
Vladdy is on pace for what would easily be the worst offensive season of his career. He's batting .290 -- he hasn't hit below .300 in any of his previous 12 full seasons -- and with just four home runs and 21 RBIs barely resembles the fearsome offensive force he once was. The Angels put their cleanup hitter on the DL for the second time this season right before the break, and he's expected to miss at least three weeks with a strained knee. When he returns -- and how productive he'll be once he does -- will go a long way toward determining the Angels' fate in the AL West race.
4 New York Yankees
Last Week: 3
CC Sabathia, SP
With an 8-6 record and 3.86 ERA, Sabathia has been good, if not spectacular, in his first season in pinstripes. Fortunately for the Yankees, the second half is when Sabathia really shines. In his career, his winning percentage (.624 vs. .604), ERA (3.39 vs. 3.89) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (2.90 vs. 2.46) are all significantly better after the All-Star break. The only question now will be when or if his enormous pitching load from the past two seasons (and hefty count this year) will catch up to him, and thereby limit how much the Yankees can ask from their ace. In 2007 and 2008, while almost single-handedly pitching the Indians and Brewers, respectively, into the playoffs, Sabathia pitched 513 innings (including the postseason). Even going by just his regular season totals, no pitcher has thrown more innings over the past three years than Sabathia, whose total of 622.1 is almost 30 innings more than the next-closest man on that list (Roy Halladay).
5 Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 6
Rick Porcello, SP
At just 20 years of age, Porcello has wasted little time getting to the big leagues and proving he belongs. He spent just one season in the minors before joining the Tigers rotation and getting off to the best start by a rookie pitcher since arguably Dwight Gooden in 1984. But his sizable talent and importance to the staff -- he's 8-6 with a 4.14 ERA -- only add to the question of how much the Tigers can rely on him in the second half. In his only previous pro season he threw 125 innings at high-Class A ball, and this year he's already thrown 87 innings. The Tigers have done a good job keeping his innings count low so far, but will they still be able to do that if a postseason spot is at stake? Even if they do use him judiciously, are hitters starting to figure him out? In the past month, he's gone 1-2 with a 5.68 ERA while yielding a .378 opponents batting average.
6 Texas Rangers
Last Week: 4
Josh Hamilton, CF
Hamilton admitted he didn't feel like he deserved to be on the AL All-Star team after the first half he had, when he went on the disabled list twice and hit just .243 with six home runs, none since late May. Yet without getting much from their No. 3 hitter, the Rangers are in the thick of the playoff chase, trailing the Angels by just a game and a half in the AL West. If Hamilton ever finds the form that he showed in 2008, when he hit 32 home runs and led the league in total bases and RBIs, he's capable of carrying the Rangers along with him.
7 San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 7
Jonathan Sanchez, SP
Nice no-hitter, kid. Now keep it up. That might well be the thoughts of Giants manager Bruce Bochy and pitching coach Dave Righetti after watching Sanchez toss the year's first no-no last Friday. His gifts, most prominently a sweeping breaking-ball, were on full-display in that game, but they have been rarely seen in his other 13 starts this year. If Sanchez can pitch at a level even closely resembling the form he showed in shutting down the Padres, it would give the Giants a third quality young arm to pair with All-Stars Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain heading down the stretch in the wild card chase.
8 Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 8
B.J. Upton, CF
Justin, not B.J., made the first All-Star appearance for the Upton family, despite the fact that B.J. had a head start on his younger brother. B.J. got off to a slow start while trying to recover from a nagging shoulder problem but he has finally started to heat up. He was named the American League Player of the Month for June after batting .324/.395/.562 while scoring 20 runs and driving in 22. His emergence has helped kickstart the Rays, who have moved seven games over .500 and to within 3 1/2 games of the wild card-leading Yankees.
9 Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 10
Cole Hamels, SP
The good news for the Phillies: they're in first place. The better news for the Phillies: they're in first place despite getting a consistently inconsistent season so far from Hamels. The NLCS and World Series MVP was poised for superstardom this year, but after overcoming some elbow pain before the season began, he has struggled to find the form that made him so dominant last October. Hamels has won just once since June 4 and is 5-5 with a 4.87 ERA overall. Furthermore, only eight of his 17 starts have been quality starts, a figure that ranks below, among others, Ross Ohlendorf, Randy Wells and Kevin Correia. The sooner he starts pitching like the Hamels of 2008, the sooner the Phillies can start thinking about a third straight NL East title.
10 St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 9
Ryan Franklin, CL
The best closer in the National League this year has been ... Ryan Franklin? Yes, despite the presence of such luminaries as Trevor Hoffman, Francisco Rodriguez, Jonathan Broxton and Heath Bell, a case can be made that the best closer in the Senior Circuit has been Franklin, who until know has been better known for failing a drug test in 2005 and sporting the best (or worst, depending on your point of view) goatee baseball has seen since Jeff Bagwell. Franklin's 0.79 ERA is the best among all relief pitchers in the NL, and nearly a full run better than the next-lowest by an NL closer (Bell's 1.69). He's also 2-0 with 21 saves, just two off the league lead. With a scant 2 1/2-game lead in the NL Central -- the majors' most densely packed division race with five teams within five games of first -- Franklin and the Cards have very little margin for error.
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