By Ted Keith
September 03, 2009

September is here, traditionally the most exciting month of the regular season, and even if most of the teams have already started to either look ahead to October (Yankees, Cardinals, Phillies, Angels) or even to 2010 (the entire NL Central sans St. Louis and the already-eliminated Orioles and Nationals), there are several teams with plenty of unfinished business to complete this year, and that doesn't involve a recently fierce battle for the last spot in the rankings. The Twins have suddenly made a race of it in the AL Central, the Braves refuse to go away in the NL wild card and every team in the NL West has an important week ahead of them.

MLB Power Rankings
1 New York Yankees
Last Week: 1
The Yankees have to be feeling extremely good about their playoff chances now, and nothing says confidence like a 7 1/2-game lead in the division and a double-digit lead for a playoff spot with under 30 games remaining, which is why the Yankees felt perfectly secure in announcing pricing on playoff tickets this week. Perhaps most impressively, they're even reasonably priced (well, for Yankees tickets anyway). The famous Legends Field suites that went for $2,500 in the regular season are only $275 for the AL Division Series. George Steinbrenner has to be loving this. The Yankees longtime owner has his new ballpark, the best club in baseball, and now he's even getting a Yankeeography and praise for being "as important to the history of the Yankees as any player who's ever played for them." I think this guy (and a few dozen others) might disagree with that statement, but nevertheless, it's clear Steinbrenner has had a major impact on this franchise, and his money has had a major impact on this year's team becoming the odds-on favorite to win the World Series.
2 St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 2
Somebody throw a bucket of ice water on the Cardinals already because they are on fire. They put together the best winning percentage in baseball in August (.769) and increased their lead in the NL Central from a half-game at the start of the month to 10 1/2 by the end of the month. The biggest reason has been their phenomenal pitching; Cards hurlers posted a big-league best 3.06 ERA for August. That would make pitching coach Dave Duncan as much of an MVP for this team as Albert Pujols, and make keeping their pitching coach almost as big a priority as keeping their star slugger. Duncan took a game off recently for personal reasons and has been upset all year about the way his son Chris was treated by fans and by the way he was traded to the Red Sox. This has been the only sign of discontent in an otherwise harmonious summer in Redbird Land. The team chemistry is so good in fact that nearly every Cardinals player -- plus manager Tony La Russa and GM John Mozeliak -- showed up at Pujols' charity golf outing on their off-day last Monday. Of course, maybe they just wanted to see if Pujols can do with a golf ball and a driver what he does with a baseball and a Louisville Slugger, but still, impressive.
3 Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 3
The good folks at make some pretty cool stuff, like the Cliff Lee T-shirt mentioned in last week's PRs, but they still need to update their offerings. First of all, no Cole Hamels? And second, this Brad Lidge T-shirt, for instance, is looking painfully out of date now that Lidge has been nothing like the perfect pitcher he was last season, with the most blown saves (nine) and highest ERA (7.03) of any reliever in baseball. The Phillies have spent all week standing firmly behind Lidge as the man who will be closing games for them the rest of the year, and he responded by notching saves and perfect outings in back-to-back appearances for only the third time this season. Is he finally turning it around? Lidge thinks so. "It's finally getting to a point where my stuff and my control is as good as it's been all year," he said.
4 Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 5
The recent California wildfires have hit especially close to home for the Dodgers. Smoke from the flames was visible beyond the Dodger Stadium walls as they took on the Diamondbacks on Monday, and normal starting shortstop and leadoff hitter Rafael Furcal was not in the lineup in part because his family had been forced to evacuate to flee the flames that nearly engulfed his house. Furcal, who has some experience with fire safety, said flames were at one point as close to the home as "from home plate to first base" but he can rest easier now that his family has been able to return home after spending four days in a hotel. The rest of the team can rest easier, too, after taking a critical series from the Rockies in Colorado, stretching their NL West lead back to five games, and getting four veterans -- Vicente Padilla, Ronnie Belliard, Jim Thome and Jon Garland -- for depth down the stretch.
5 Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 4
The race in the AL West is getting less and less interesting, but the race to see who will get the ball for the Angels in the postseason just got much more interesting with the addition of Scott Kazmir. Jered Weaver and John Lackey figure to be locks to start in a postseason series, and unless he completely falls to pieces, it would seem that Kazmir would be a good bet to start one as well. If nothing else, it's clear the Angels are tired of dominating the AL West in the regular season only to fall short in the playoffs, since they finally traded a top prospect to get an expensive veteran during the season. Kazmir was effective in his first start for the Angels on Wednesday night, pitching into the seventh inning and giving up just one run and three hits. He didn't get the win, but in a matchup against an ace-caliber pitcher (Seattle's Felix Hernandez) he gave the Angels hope that he'll be a formidable matchup who can keep them in games against quality opponents.
6 Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 7
He won't win a second straight MVP award this season, but Dustin Pedroia is proving his value to the Red Sox at exactly the right time. Since returning to the lineup on August 20 after spending time with his wife while she gave birth to the couple's first child, son Dylan, Pedroia has batted .362 in his first two weeks back. Boston has gone 9-3 with him back in the lineup and have upped their AL wild-card lead from one game to 3 1/2. It's another new chapter in the already bright career of the former Rookie of the Year, MVP and world champion that has made for an interesting book. Pedroia's autobiography, Born to Play, was released recently. It sheds some interesting light on how he got to be the tough, feisty player he is now, including a great anecdote in the opening chapter in which Pedroia details where his fearlessness in the game comes from (and where he first cursed as well).
7 Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 6
So much for that greatest-comeback-ever stuff. One week after looking comfortably in front in the wild-card race and on the verge of catching -- and perhaps passing -- the Dodgers in the NL West, the Rockies stumbled badly against their NL West rivals. First they dropped a series at home with the Dodgers that could have left them tied for first, and then were swept in San Francisco when it seemed they might be ready to bury the Giants and coast to the wild card. "If the Dodgers are caught, they're caught," shortstop Troy Tulowitzki told the Denver Post. "But I don't think we should talk about them anymore." (Tulowitzki has plenty of thoughts lately about what should and shouldn't be said. He called out some vulgar fans in San Francisco on Sunday after hitting a home run against the Giants and later chastised them publically for their behavior.) The focus turns once again to the wild card, where the Rockies will have the edge against the Giants thanks to a very favorable schedule lined up over the next two weeks: a 10-game homestand against three of the worst teams in the National League (Mets, Diamondbacks and Reds) and then three games at the last-place Padres before another showdown series in San Francisco with the Giants starting September 14.
8 San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 11
It took less than one year into a seven-year, $126 million contract for Barry Zito to be termed a bust, but despite the terrible time he's had in San Francisco so far, Zito has picked a heck of a time to resemble the Cy Young winner he was in Oakland. If the Giants already have the best 1-2 punch in the game, then Zito has remarkably become a very effective third wheel, perhaps the best in baseball in the second half of the season. Since the All-Star break, Zito is 4-2 with a 1.92 ERA, which ranks fourth in all of baseball, and his stellar outing against the Rockies on Saturday, in which he pitched one-run ball into the ninth inning, may have been the single best performance of his three-year career in San Francisco. If nothing else, Zito's revival takes some of the pressure off of newly acquired Brad Penny. That move wasn't exactly championed by Giants fans, who still think of Penny as a Dodger -- even if he doesn't. When reporters told him he'd soon be facing his old team in front of 42,000 fans who hate the Dodgers, Penny responded, "42,001." He may quickly turn some of those fans around if he pitches as he did on Wednesday night in Philadelphia: eight scoreless innings in a win.
9 Texas Rangers
Last Week: 8
Before beating the Yankees two out of three in the Bronx last week and looking like a genuine playoff threat, manager Ron Washington admitted it was a measuring stick series for his young club, but added, "They're all measuring stick series from now on." The Rangers measured up fine against the Yankees, but stumbled against the Twins in Minnesota before taking three of four from the Blue Jays back in Texas. Speaking of measuring up, Josh Hamilton has finally started hitting, batting .357 over the past month and notching his first two home run game of the year on Tuesday night. He'll have to keep that up now that Michael Young is out for two weeks with a bad hamstring.
10 Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 10
Nate Robertson hasn't done much on the field for the Tigers this year, going 1-1 with an ERA north of 6 and only one appearance since late June, but he may be single-handedly responsible for a big comeback win over the weekend. Robertson revived "Gum Time," his 2006 late-game rally superstition, and it worked. He popped in a wad of chewing gum (sugarless this time, to avoid the cavities he got from making it an almost daily ritual three years ago) and watched the Tigers overcome a late deficit to beat the Rays. When Justin Verlander saw Robertson chewing away in the dugout, he yelled "Chew that gum!" (the baseball equivalent of "Cut that meat!"?), and Robertson did, right through their rally. It's just another sign that this Tigers season is starting to look a lot like 2006, with the most obvious one being that for the first time since they went to the World Series three years ago, this Tigers team looks like a lock for the playoffs.
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