By Ted Keith
August 13, 2009
MLB Power Rankings
11 Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 12
For all the fans out there who would prefer the media to stop talking about steroids, you now have a prominent supporter: Tigers manager Jim Leyland, who said last week that he was "sick and tired" of the continuing reports about steroids, and that while he doesn't blame the media for reporting on them, "The people who care about it probably don't like baseball." Leyland has never been shy about expressing an opinion, and it's understandable he would want to focus his attention on his team, which has continued to struggle offensively and has not yet gotten the expected boost from Jarrod Washburn, who is 0-1 with an 8.74 ERA in two starts since being brought over from Seattle.
12 Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 15
Much like the Marlins, the Braves are refusing to go away, taking three of four from the Dodgers in Los Angeles and now facing a crucial series against the Phillies in Atlanta this weekend. One man who won't be there is John Smoltz, although it would certainly be interesting to see him back in Atlanta, especially given the way he and the team parted ways after last season. But one player who could soon be arriving in Atlanta is Jason Heyward, a former first-round pick who just turned 20 last week and who has been destroying the pitching in the minors all year. Heyward has batted .405/.485/.730 at Double-A and could soon merit a call-up to the bigs. This wouldn't necessarily be a cup of coffee, get-your-feet-wet thing either. If Heyward is hitting that well, why not put him on the roster and see what he can do, if only as a pinch-hitter/pinch-runner/defensive replacement? The Braves may not hang around much longer in the playoff chase, but even if they falter, Heyward would give them a tantalizing look at their future.
13 Florida Marlins
Last Week: 14
How good is Hanley Ramirez? So good that a team had never before intentionally walked the man in front of him. Until Monday, that is. And given the results, it may well be the last time it happens. The Astros walked Nick Johnson to get to Ramirez, who followed by lining an RBI single to help the Marlins win. Ramirez has batted .418 with runners in scoring position this year, second in the National League. How good are the Marlins? Good enough to sweep the first-place Phillies in Philadelphia to kickstart a five-game winning streak that pushed them to within two games of the wild-card lead.
14 Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 9
The dog days (and a dreadful 1-5 week) came to the North Siders this week. According to the Chicago Tribune, Cubs announcer Bob Brenly -- who won a World Series as the manager of the Diamondbacks in 2001 -- called out some of the team's players for not hustling during a recent game in Colorado, and Ryan Theriot admitted the club "didn't have much intensity that day." Theriot deserves credit for his honesty. For all the statistical analysis that has helped offer a better understanding of the game, it's worth remembering sometimes that exhaustion, extreme weather and sometimes sheer laziness can have as much bearing on a player's performance as his stat line. The trick for the Cubs now will be finding a way to get their intensity back before they fall hopelessly out in the NL Central and wild-card races. A week-long West Coast road trip, including a playoff rematch and possible playoff preview with the Dodgers, looms starting on Monday.
15 Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 17
Say this for Ken Griffey Jr. The man may be a 39-year-old, .225 hitter, but he still has a knack for drama. Last Friday, on his own bobblehead night, Griffey hit a home run to help spark a Mariners victory. (Call me crazy, but I don't recall Griffey playing for the Spirit, but yet somehow he has a bobblehead with them. Odd.) With their playoff hopes fading, and with Erik Bedard's season now over (probably should have traded him before he required surgery on his pitching arm), Mariners fans are going to need reasons to keep coming to the ballpark next month. Seeing a living legend and civic icon certainly ought to be reason enough.
16 Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 13
White Sox general manager Ken Williams made news twice this week, first for getting Alex Rios on a waiver claim from the Blue Jays -- and giving up nothing in return -- and then for getting ticketed for jaywalking on his way to the ballpark in Seattle the same day. Given Williams' skill as a negotiator, I'm a little surprised he didn't talk his way out of it, or at least manage to convince the cop to give him something in exchange. Regardless, the Rios deal makes the White Sox much more interesting this season and beyond, since the deal can't be deemed good or bad until it's better known just how much return value the Sox get over the length of the contract. That said, I applaud Williams for not being afraid to take a risk, especially with his mediocre team still very much alive to repeat as AL Central champs.
17 Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 18
The Twins are fading fast, dropping seven of nine to start the month and falling four games under .500 for the first time since late May (before beating the Royals on Wednesday). There is still a race worth watching, however. Justin Morneau enters the final seven weeks of the season among the top AL MVP candidates. He'll get plenty of votes for his .300 average, an OPS near 1.000, 28 home runs and an AL-best 91 RBIs, and you've got to love someone who hosts a Casino Night (easy Bud Selig, it's for a charitable cause). Just watch out for this guy.
18 Houston Astros
Last Week: 19
Aaron Boone returned to professional baseball this week just four and a half months after having heart surgery. He's hoping to be in the majors by the end of August, which would complete one of the more amazing comebacks in the majors in recent years. Boone's already had quite the career: the son and grandson of big leaguers, an All-Star, and the reason why Alex Rodriguez was traded to the Yankees. And, of course, this. In other words, it's not like the guy needs to come back -- and given the Astros stumbling play of late, it's not like they need him -- but it's impressive nonetheless that he'll now get to go out on his terms.
19 Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 16
The magic is definitely gone in Milwaukee, and now so too are J.J. Hardy and Bill Hall, two players who were instrumental in breathing some much-needed life back into Brewers baseball these past couple seasons. Hardy was demoted to the minors and Hall was designated for assignment, clearing the way for Alcides Escobar to take over full time at short. Was it only a year ago that the Brewers were challenging the Rays for best story of the year, a longtime loser who had finally found the right formula of young players -- and one very talented import -- to make a riveting playoff push that electrified an entire city? It seems much further away than that. Since the start of July, which began with the Brew Crew in first place, they've gone just 13-22 and dropped 8 1/2 games in the standings. It's enough to make Bernie Brewer (and some other folks) long for his beer mug.
20 Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 20
Perhaps the Blue Jays fortunes were doomed as far back as 2007 in a town that doesn't even have a major league team. At the winter meetings in Nashville that year, it looked for a time that the Jays were about to send Alex Rios to San Francisco for either Tim Lincecum or Matt Cain. At the time, Giants GM Brian Sabean called those discussions "intriguing, but not enough to pull the trigger." Now, those discussions would be called "insane" and if Sabean pulled the trigger on a deal like that he'd be arrested. Lincecum is on pace for a second straight Cy Young and Rios is headed to the White Sox having never gotten any better than he was that day back in 2007. The Blue Jays now have neither player, and even if their financial situation has improved, on the field at least they are worse off because of it.
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