By Ted Keith
July 16, 2009
MLB Power Rankings
21 Houston Astros
Last Week: 22
Wandy Rodriguez, SP
On arguably the most surprising .500 team in the game, Rodriguez has been the most surprising player. He's 8-6 with a 2.96 ERA in what's shaping up as a career year for the 30-year-old lefty. Only Roy Oswalt has been as reliable in the Astros rotation this season, but Oswalt alone can't keep the Astros in contention.
22 Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 19
Edinson Volquez, SP
While Joey Votto has been the team MVP -- the Reds are 26-21 with him and only 8-13 without him -- he seems to be fully capable of staying in the lineup every day after taking some time off to deal with his father's death. Assuming he's a fixture the rest of the way, the X-factor for the Reds will be Volquez; when will he be back and what kind of pitcher will he be the rest of the way? Volquez, an All-Star a year ago, has made just nine starts all year and has been out since June 1 with elbow tendonitis. He still has an undetermined return date, but the Reds' playoff chances rest on whether or not he can return soon and resemble the pitcher he was during his breakout 17-6 season of a year ago.
23 Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 23
Nick Markakis, RF
Since breaking out two years ago with a .300 average, 23 home runs and 112 RBIs, Markakis has been a fan favorite in Baltimore but not built on that season as many expected. Yes, he hit .306 last year and upped both his on-base and slugging percentages, but he's regressed this season, batting .291/.349/.442 (down from .306/.406/.491 a year ago) and he has hit just eight home runs. He signed a six year, $66 million contact last January that paid him like one of the game's premier stars. Now it's time for him to start playing like it.
24 Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 24
Andrew McCutchen, CF
During their nearly two-decade-long rebuilding process, the Pirates have brought up several promising players, but perhaps none has been as exciting, or made as much of a dent right from the start, as McCutchen. His numbers thus far -- .292/.343/.455 with two home runs and seven steals in 36 games -- support the optimism he's brought to Pittsburgh as one of the central components of their future.
25 Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 25
Alex Gordon, 3B
It seems crazy to think about now, but it was only two years ago that Gordon was being compared to George Brett. Since then, the one-time No. 2 overall pick has had two mediocre seasons and drawn his most notoriety for being on a baseball card that was eventually rescinded. He's played just seven games all season, batting .095 before a hip injury landed him on the DL in mid-April. He should be back soon, but it is unclear how long, if ever, it will take him to start living up to the massive amount of hype that has surrounded him since arriving in Kansas City in 2007.
26 San Diego Padres
Last Week: 26
Kevin Kouzmanoff, SP
The most frustrated player in baseball has got to be Adrian Gonzalez. There is absolutely no reason to pitch to the Padres slugger, at least not until someone, anyone, in that lineup develops into a consistent offensive threat. The most likely candidate is Kouzmanoff, who ranks second to Gonzalez in both home runs (12) and RBIs (47), but is hitting just .244 with a .280 on-base percentage. Until there is someone who can take the pressure off Gonzalez, the Padres offense remains completely non-threatening.
27 Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 27
Matt Holliday, LF
It's hard not to wonder just how much Holliday was aided by playing in Coors Field now that his numbers have fallen off so dramatically in half a season in Oakland. Over his last three years in Denver, he averaged .329 with 32 home runs and 113 RBIs, but since being dealt to the A's, he's hit just .276 with eight home runs and 43 RBIs. Perhaps most tellingly, his slugging percentage has plummeted, down from .538 a year ago to .419 this season. It's been assumed that A's GM Billy Beane would deal the free-agent to-be by the July 31 trade deadline, but Beane could still decide to hold on to Holliday and take the two draft picks he'd likely receive in compensation. Perhaps the biggest upside to a trade would be the chances of landing talent that is closer to the major league level.
28 Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 28
Stephen Drew, SS; Chris Young, CF
When the "Baby 'Backs" surged to the NL West title in 2007, it was behind a core of emerging young talent that seemed to position Arizona as the team to beat in the league for the foreseeable future. But since then, with the exception of All-Star Justin Upton, that talent has remained largely dormant, most notably in Drew and Young. Drew, 26, has seen his average drop from .291 to .263 and his slugging percentage from .502 to .438. Even more puzzling is Young. Still just 25, his numbers have skidded from unimpressive (.248/.315/.443) a year ago to downright horrendous (.196/.289/.369) this season. Both Drew and Young need to turn themselves around soon, or the possibility grows larger that they never will.
29 Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 29
Fausto Carmona, SP
When the Indians decided to deal CC Sabathia last year, the blow was mitigated somewhat by the fact that they had another Cy Young winner in Cliff Lee still on the roster. But if they deal Lee, the best hope for their starting rotation they'll have left is ... Fausto Carmona? That too would be fine if Carmona at all resembled the pitcher who went 19-8 with a 3.06 ERA in 2007. Just two seasons later, he's 2-6 with a 7.42 ERA and was banished all the way to rookie ball. He's now at Triple-A, and because of a sinker that stopped sinking, and the Indians said it was "unlikely" that he would be recalled when the season resumes.
30 Washington Nationals
Last Week: 30
Stephen Strasburg, SP
Two words: Stephen Strasburg. (Who did you think I was going to pick, Austin Kearns?) Monday's firing of manager Manny Acta was the latest and most obvious sign that this is a lost season, so the priority now has to be getting Strasburg's name on the dotted line. Whether he pitches in the majors -- or anywhere else -- this year is not as important as locking up an essential piece of their plan to turn the franchise around.
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