By Ted Keith
August 13, 2009

Remember that whole thing about the Yankees having a narrow lead atop the Power Rankings? Never mind. The Yanks used a dominating homestand that included a sweep of the Red Sox and two of three from the Blue Jays to extend their hot streak, improve upon the game's best record and solidify their place atop the rankings. There is movement at the bottom of the rankings however, as for the first time all year, the Nationals move out of the cellar. Meanwhile, a host of would-be contenders took some heavy losses this week (I'm looking at you Rays, Cubs and Giants), but none of the missteps are fatal ones.

MLB Power Rankings
1 New York Yankees
Last Week: 1
After sweeping the Red Sox and opening up a 6 1/2-game lead (now 5 1/2) in the AL East, things seem to be on cruise control in the Bronx. But there are some sticky issues. Chad Gaudin, formerly known best for having the worst goatee in baseball (and folks, that is saying something) is now going to be making some important late-season appearances. There's also the matter of Derek Jeter's foot (he left Wednesday's game after being hit with a pitch). And of course, there's the lurking Curse of the Famous Girlfriend. Since his relationship with actress Kate Hudson became public, Alex Rodriguez is batting almost 25 points higher than he was beforehand and his two key home runs helped sweep Boston and have inched him ever closer to elusive "True Yankee" status. But according to the info I could gather about their relationship from (and my wife), it seems Tony Romo played pretty well when he started dating Jessica Simpson, too. And that didn't end very well once the playoffs arrived.
2 Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 3
The Angels have gotten some stellar performances from little-known starters this year (see Palmer, Matt and O'Sullivan, Sean). The latest to make his big league debut is already a star -- sort of. Trevor Bell, who went 5 1/3 innings and got a no-decision against the Rays on Wednesday, is the grandson of Bob Bell, also known as Bozo the Clown. For those of you who haven't heard of him, Bozo was the legendary character of a children's show in Chicago for a quarter-century. Trevor himself used to act in commercials (Russell Athletic and Old Navy are reportedly among the ones he's starred in), although his days as a thespian may be running out. There will still be plenty of chances to see him on TV, though -- as a former first-round pick, he figures to have a fairly prominent role in the Angels' future plans.
3 Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 2
Has any manager in history been more adept at calling team meetings than Joe Torre? Part manager, part magician, Torre worked his soothing magic on the Dodgers again this week after his club dropped four of five and saw its NL West lead cut to 5 1/2 games, the smallest it had been in almost three months. The Dodgers then went to San Francisco and took two of three from the archrival Giants. "What I try to do is just talk about perspective," Torre told the Los Angeles Times. "Sometimes you're involved in the competition and you sort of lose perspective of where you are. I just want to give them my perspective. We really haven't played well here for a period of time and we're still controlling our own destiny."
4 Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 4
After a charmed run to the title last year, and a mostly pain-free summer, the drama is back in Philadelphia. Shane Victorino got ejected from a game while standing in center field (leading to some serious tampering of umpire Ed Rapuano's Wikipedia page), Jamie Moyer complained about being bumped from the starting rotation (but Moyer's old, and old guys complain about everything), Brad Lidge blew a save (yes, again) and the Phillies were swept at home by the Marlins and saw their NL East lead sliced in half. Naturally, amidst all this chaos and controversy, the man to turn to is a 37-year-old former Idiot with a surgically repaired arm who hasn't pitched all year and has won only 17 games the past three seasons combined. Stability, thy name is Pedro. Martinez was solid for five innings in his Phillies debut Wednesday, earning the victory at Wrigley Field and fulfilling his father's dying wish that his son would return to the big leagues and not let his frustrating 2008 be the end of his Hall of Fame career. Mission accomplished.
5 St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 6
Shaquille O'Neal is taking on Albert Pujols as part of his new TV series, and the two giants will square off Thursday in a home run-hitting contest which will air on an as-yet-undetermined date. (Despite Pujols' noted difficulties in this event, I still think he has the slight edge here.) O'Neal threw out the first pitch on Tuesday night and showed impressive form. On the list of first-pitches, it could have been much worse. It was even better than Kevin Garnett's first-pitch from a few years ago. But it made me wonder: Why can't baseball have an ambassador for the game like Shaq? Someone larger than life who brings a youthful exuberance to the game. Could Pujols be that guy? He's already being looked at as the game's Great Redeemer and brings comfort to the afflicted, so just add this to his list of things to do.
6 Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 5
Is it just me or do the Red Sox get into more brawls than anyone since the days of John L. Sullivan? In just the past few years alone, there's been some serious throwdowns with the Yankees (more than once), Rays (more than once) and, earlier this year, the Angels. You can now add the Tigers to the Red Sox's fight ledger, but at least the Red Sox are showing a little fight somewhere these days. They've already had three losing streaks in the second half -- one of five games and another of six games -- and will be in for a battle for the wild card as well as the AL East the rest of the way.
7 Texas Rangers
Last Week: 10
This week gave us an interesting glimpse into the social dynamic of a baseball clubhouse. It's certainly no secret that no team has 25 guys who all get along perfectly, and that some players are more respected among their peers than others. But rarely is the juxtaposition between the feelings teammates had for two players in particular as apparent as it was in Texas this week. When Josh Hamilton's relapse in his ongoing battle with alcohol became public, several teammates literally stood by him while he answered questions about it from the press. Later in the week, the team released Vicente Padilla and a large part of the reason -- perhaps even bigger than his underwhelming 8-6 record and 4.92 ERA or the fact that he put his teammates at risk for getting swine flu -- was the way he got along (or more accurately, didn't get along) with teammates. According to a report in the Dallas Morning News, "the move stems from Padilla not being a good teammate or role model for young players and from his lack of a positive attitude in the locker room." A more harmonious clubhouse may improve morale, but it's not going to be enough to overcome a growing deficit in the AL West.
8 Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 11
I'm going to start campaigning for the cycle. It doesn't get nearly as much pub as a no-hitter, but they're even rarer. According to major league baseball's official website, there have been 240 no-hitters but 230 cycles. And instead of a no-hitter, which according to superstition, should never be talked about, everyone talks about a possible cycle. Take the case of Troy Tulowitzki, who hit for the cycle last week against the Cubs, becoming just the sixth player this year to do so. Before his last at-bat, teammate Brad Hawpe all but ordered Tulowitzki to try for third if the opportunity presented itself. "You know how many chances in your career you are going to have to do this?" Hawpe told him. "One." I agree with Hawpe about seizing opportunities when they come along, but it would surprise exactly no one if this is not the last cycle of Tulowitzki's young career.
9 Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 8
Later this week, the B-52s will perform at the Trop, covering the same ground usually trod by Rays centerfielder B.J. Upton (always fun to book groups that haven't had a hit since the franchise has been existence, by the way), and one of their most well-known songs, "Roam", is especially appropriate for Upton, who is well-known for playing the shallowest center field in the game, forcing him to cover more ground than any other player in baseball (without wings, and without wheels, too). Among center fielders, Upton ranks fifth in putouts but just 17th in zone rating, and the Rays have no intention of forcing him to play deeper. "I hear all the time from opposing hitters, 'When are you guys going to move B.J. back?'" Rays coach Dave Martinez told "So that's great to know. We tell him all the time, you're doing us more good playing in than playing deep. More balls are going to get hit shallow than deep. And if the ball's hit high enough, he has no problem." Upton's stellar defense, including just one error all year, has helped offset his struggles at the plate, namely a .235 batting average and only seven home runs.
10 San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 7
As staggering as it may seem, their atrocious offense has only gotten worse in recent weeks. They averaged a paltry 4.2 runs per game before the All-Star break, but have dropped to 3.3 after. In fact, since the break, the Giants are just 13-14 and have scored 3 or fewer runs 16 times. Only three teams in the wild card era have ever posted an on-base percentage lower than the Giants' current .309: the 2003 Dodgers (who went 85-77) and the Tigers in 2002 (106 losses) and 2003 (119 losses). The lowest mark by a playoff team in that time was the .317 mark posted by the 1996 Dodgers, who were promptly swept in the first round of the playoffs.
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