Dodgers Lead MLB Power Rankings (May 25)
1. Los Angeles Dodgers (30-14) – The Blue Crew have won 11 of their last 14 games despite the fact that star center fielder Matt Kemp has recorded zero hits over that stretch. Rihanna’s former boo has been sidelined with a hamstring strain since May 14, but he will begin a two-game Minor League rehab assignment on Sunday and could rejoin the team as early as Tuesday. Andre Ethier has picked up the slack for the Dodgers offense, whom many expected to desperately miss the services of Kemp. ‘Dre has driven in eight runs in his last nine games and currently possesses a .585 slugging percentage, easily the best of his career. The 30-year-old right fielder’s 40 RBI’s are tops in the National League.
Everyone knew Clayton Kershaw would deliver this season, but fellow starters Chris Capuano and Ted Lilly have significantly (and surprisingly) contributed to the Dodgers’ winning ways. In games that Capuano, Lilly or Kershaw have started, LA has won 20 of 26. Before moving on, I should note the Dodgers have won a scary 19 of 23 home games.
2. Texas Rangers (27-18) - The Rangers place in the top 3 in ERA, slugging percentage and on-base percentage, among other categories. Because they are such a balanced team, it’s easy to understand why last year’s American League champions lead the bigs in run differential at a clip of +1.8 runs per game. Josh Hamilton is posting numbers that are typically reserved for video games. But it’s not just him. Third baseman Adrian Beltre and Mitch Moreland are also providing power, not to mention Elvis Andrus, who is getting on base regularly so that the big boppers can drive him in.
On the pitching side, despite Japanese rookie Yu Darvish’s control issues, he appears to be worth every penny Texas spent on him (and believe me, they spent many a penny). Last year’s closer, Neftali Feliz, was pitching well in the starting rotation, but he is now sidelined with an elbow ailment. Whether or not he returns to the rotation remains to be seen. First-year Ranger Joe Nathan has been an impressive closer after struggling with the Twins last season.
3. Washington Nationals (26-18) – I find it funny that the Orioles and Nationals are playing so well in a presidential election year when all eyes are on the Baltimore-D.C. area anyway. Anyway, let’s get back to baseball. Although the Nats’ hitting has been mediocre, at best, the team possesses a dominant cast of pitchers. The team’s 2.90 ERA is easily the best in the majors. Opposing batters are hitting .219. It’s downright silly. Gio Gonzalez and Jordan Zimmerman may not get a ton of attention, but those two help Stephen Strasburg form the best 1-2-3 starting pitcher-punch in baseball at this moment. I kid you not. They are currently the best 1-2-3 punch. Why do I keep typing “1-2-3” and “punch”? I’m getting thirsty, while feeling proud of myself that I can indeed count. It turns out pre-school wasn’t a waste after all.
4. Cincinnati Reds (25-19) - Cincy has won six in a row and 19 of its last 29. In order to understand the Reds’ success, there are four names you need to know: Joey Votto, Aroldis Chapman, Jay Bruce and Johnny Cueto. While Votto and Bruce provide ample power for the team, Cueto serves as the unquestioned ace of the starting rotation and Chapman dominates in relief. Through 24.1 innings, the 24-year-old southpaw has yet to allow an earned run, while recording 43 strikeouts. That’s 15.9 K/9 and better than a 6:1 K/BB ratio. Opposing batters, be afraid. Be very afraid. If Chapman isn’t the team’s closer soon, Dusty Baker needs to ask his 13-year-old son Darren to manage the team.
5. St. Louis Cardinals (25-20) – The defending World Series champions are not the best team in baseball right now, but they are pretty darn good. Their run differential ranks second in the bigs at +1.42 per game, comfortably ahead of the third-best Dodgers, who come in at +0.98 per game. Without mainstay Pujols, the Cardinals offense has not skipped a beat. It remains one of the best offenses in the league thanks in part to 35-year-old switch hitter Carlos Beltran. Beltran’s power numbers are back to his 2006 levels. It should be interesting to see if he can keep up the stellar hitting he’s contributed. Although their pitching ranks in the middle of the pack, the starting rotation has worked wonders with the exception of Adam Wainwright, who has been inconsistent this season.
6. Miami Marlins (24-21) – I know the Marlins have lost two in a row, but before that, the Fish won 16 of 21. It may have been the new stadium, the new jerseys or the new name, but Miami stunk in April. They were horrible, but boy did they turn things around! New Marlin shortstop Jose Reyes provides a great example of the difference a month can make. In April, the guy was batting .220 with a .293 OBP and only four steals. Through the first 24 days of May, Reyes is hitting .301 with a .394 OBP. For good measure, the speedster has stolen 9 of 10 bases during this lovely month of May.
Hanley Ramirez and Giancarlo Stanton are two others, who have improved dramatically from April to May. The 6-foot-5, 248-pound specimen has hit two grand slams this month. Stanton’s slugging percentage is a whopping .655 in May after his power was nowhere to be found in April (.342 slugging percentage). Someone should tell Stanton that he is only 22 years old and that he’s not supposed to be punishing opposing pitchers like this. Even manager Ozzie Guillen has calmed down after a rough start.
Carlos Zambrano’s last start not included, the 30-year-old Venezuelan is making a comeback of sorts after a number of subpar seasons. In his first year with the Marlins, the veteran has turned in seven quality starts out of nine tries.
7. Tampa Bay Rays (27-18) – The Rays are awfully streaky. They won 12 of 13 from late April to early May, only to lose six of their next seven. Now, Tampa Bay has won seven of its last 12. In short, the Rays will become even more dangerous when their star third baseman returns from the disabled list. I’m of course referring to Evan Longoria, not to be confused with the actress of Desperate Housewives fame. No, he was not married to Spurs point guard Tony Parker, but he sure can hit a baseball far.
8. Baltimore Orioles (28-17) – The Orioles are easily the biggest surprise of the season. Despite playing in the tough AL East, the Birds still hold the division lead. Center fielder Adam Jones is slugging a ridiculous .601. Baltimore leads the majors with 69 home runs, but finds itself in the middle of the pack in batting average (team average of .249). Such a reliance on home runs (like the Brewers, who will be discussed later) could spell trouble, but for now, the Orioles have little to worry about it.
Three of Baltimore’s starters have horrendous ERAs, but right-hander Jim Johnson is dominating from the ‘pen. The 28-year-old closer is tied for the major league-lead in saves with 16. To go along with the 16 saves, his ERA is a miniscule 0.87. Quite curiously, the Orioles have won 15 of 21 road games, but are only playing mediocre baseball at Camden Yards, where Baltimore has won a little more than half of its games.
9. Cleveland Indians (26-18) – While The Tribe has benefitted from playing 26 home games, it has also demonstrated an ability to win on the road, where it has won two-thirds of the time. The Indians don’t have any great hitters, but they do possess a number of solid guys throughout the lineup. On the pitching side, Derek Lowe is experiencing a renaissance of sorts. He turns 39 on June 1, but from the way he’s pitching, you would never know that. Last season, Lowe pitched so horribly for the Braves that it appeared his career had come to an end. This season, Lowe’s ERA is less than half of last season’s level. Although his WHIP is below average, he has done a tremendous job of stranding runners. Granted, the Indians have been playing some struggling teams, but Cleveland has to be encouraged with eight wins of their last 10 games.
10. Boston Red Sox (22-22) – In Bobby Valentine’s first year at the helm, things have been rocky, to say the least. However, Boston has recovered nicely from a miserable start by winning 10 of their last 13 games, while outscoring their opponent 71 runs to 40. That’s only 3.08 runs allowed per game over that stretch, which means Boston’s pitching staff has started to settle down. It’s no secret that the Sox have some scorching bats in their lineup, but that does little good if their pitchers give up a ton of runs. Bobby V must be encouraged by the improvement he’s seeing in his pitchers.
If a team does not rank in the top 10 or bottom six, they are not worthy of our attention. Either that or I didn’t think you’d want to read about all 30 teams. To be honest, I’m surprised you’re still reading at this point. Thanks for sticking with it!
25. Kansas City Royals (17-26) – The Royals find themselves in the bottom-third of the majors in runs and ERA. After an infamous 12-game April losing streak, in which the Royals were swept by three teams, K.C. appeared to bounce back. It was a facade. The Royals have dropped six of their last nine. The Royals’ starting pitching is abysmal. Only Dominican pitcher Felipe Paulino provides any semblance of hope, but his career ERA is over 5, so his numbers will most likely regress to the mean once he makes more starts, effectively increasing our sample size. Billy Butler is a talented hitter, who should not have to suffer on this team. But don’t feel too bad for him, as he has 8.5 million reasons to endure the pain.
26. Detroit Tigers (20-24) – One season removed from an ALCS appearance, Los Tigres don’t have that bad of a record. It’s 20-24. Not great. Not terrible, either. With that said, they are clearly trending downward. The Motor City has seen its baseball team lose 21 of its last 32 games. In eight of those losses, the Tigers surrendered seven runs or more. With Justin Verlander, the best pitcher in baseball, on their roster, there’s no excuse for such poor play. Absolutely none. Plus, from a hitting perspective, Miguel Cabrera and newly acquired Prince Fielder are clearly not living up to their power potential. Fielder’s slugging percentage is down more than 100 points from a season ago.
27. Milwaukee Brewers (18-26) – The Brewers possess two glaring problems: poor pitching and a reliance on home runs. First, Zack Greinke’s shoulders must ache terribly after carrying this sorry rotation for the last couple months. Stat time: The Brew Crew boast a record of 7-2 when Greinke starts. In non-Greinke games, Milwaukee have won a putrid 11 of 35 games. Secondly, Ryan Braun, Jonathan Lucroy and Corey Hart are killing the baseball. Although Braun and Lucroy are hitting for a high average (especially Lucroy) too, Milwaukee has guys like Nyjer Morgan, Aramis Ramirez and Rickie Weeks, who can’t hit their way out of a paper bag. I’m especially concerned about Weeks, who has recorded four hat-tricks, including two golden sombreros, in his last eight games. That means he has struck out three times or more in four of his last eight games.
28. San Diego Padres (17-29) – In a way, the Padres should consider themselves lucky that they’ve only played 39 percent of their games away from home. Then again, they have played the talented Dodgers nine times already. The Fathers place in the top half of the majors in ERA (as in the “better half” because the lower, the better when discussing ERA), but hitting is their problem. Producing fewer than 3.3 runs per game will not get it done. The Padres rank second-to-last in runs and slugging percentage, while their batting average places third-to-last in the majors (they’re ahead of the Pirates and Athletics in that department). When your top run-producer (Chase Headley) is on pace for fewer than 80 RBIs, there’s probably good reason to panic.
29. Minnesota Twins (15-29) – The Twins’ pitching is horrendous and that’s putting it nicely. With an ERA of 5.38 and an opposing batting average of .283, I’m thinking of trying out for their team. I can probably only throw 70 mph (on a good day), but I have a tremendous work ethic. The Twins staff has struck out the least amount of batters (5.43 K’s per game), but then again, getting any type of out should be priority No. 1 for them. I’m going to keep listing the depressing Twins stats, so I hope you’re ready. Minnesota starters have produced the fewest amount of quality starts in the big leagues, racking up just 14 out of 44 games. By comparison, five teams have more than doubled that count (the Phillies, Angels, Nationals, Marlins and Dodgers). Because I need to say something nice about the Twins, I respect the fact that Justin Morneau appears to have regained some of his power though his batting average still isn’t there yet. Morneau should also be aware that it’s a good time to be Canadian. Aubrey “Drake” Graham and Justin Bieber know what I’m talking about.
30. Chicago Cubs (15-29) – Fans of the Cubbies have waited since 1908 for a World Series title. I’m pretty sure they can wait at least one more year. It’s looking like they’ll have to anyway. May is winding down, yet this year’s squad has only managed to win a total of 15 times (tied with the Twins for last in the majors). Things are only getting worse, as the club has dropped nine consecutive games. The team places 27th in runs scored and little-known first baseman Bryan LaHair is its only power hitter. It’s sad that the Cubs are the worst team in baseball, especially considering that the top of their starting rotation is pretty solid. Jeff Samardzija and Ryan Dempster have been throwing well, and Matt Garza hasn’t been performing too badly, either. Fun fact time: Among NL pitchers, former Notre Dame wide receiver Samardzija ranks in the top 10 in K’s.