MLB Power Rankings (July 21): Braves, Tigers, A's Making Moves
In what will surely be the most exciting and turbulent last two months of a baseball season in recent memory, 13 teams in both leagues are in contention (five games or fewer back) for the fourth wild card spots available. And that doesn’t even include the six division leaders, all of whom – except the Yankees – have a lead of five games or fewer over the second-placed team in the division. In short, this baby’s going down to the wire.
If only there was a way to weigh the seasons and trends of these teams so as to predict a possible pecking order that would accurately rank the clubs by how strong they are…oh well, let’s go to the power rankings.
1. New York Yankees (57-36, +1)
Boasting the best record in baseball, New York hasn’t slowed down since the All-Star break, despite injuries to its Hall of Fame closer and two All-Star starters. The Yanks have been labeled “dependent” on the long ball, but they’re damn good at it, leading the league with 149 dingers.
2. Texas Rangers (55-37, -1)
The best overall offense in the game, led by inevitable-MVP Josh Hamilton, has been but average since the break, splitting six games against division rivals, scoring an average of less than three runs per game. With the Angels and the A’s streaking, is there cause for concern in Arlington?
3. Cincinnati Reds (53-40, +6)
Cincinnati has been Red hot these past few weeks after snatching the division lead from Pittsburgh in the process of sweeping the rival Redbirds. The Reds have been propelled into this position by just four men - Aroldis Chapman, Johnny Cueto, Brandon Phillips and Joey Votto – all of whom have performed without fail in spite of an otherwise average lineup and rotation.
4. Washington Nationals (53-38, -1)
There’s a storm coming, Nationals fans. Do you feel a coldness rushing over you, as if all life is about to be sucked out of your club? If you are, you’re not alone; in fact, all of baseball is hoping the same as you, that the Nats front office doesn’t, for all that is good in life and sport, shut down Stephen Strasburg when he reaches his “inning limit” later this season. But it is inevitable it seems, and I expect this No. 4 spot to be the highest the Nats will reach on our rankings for the rest of the season.
5. San Francisco Giants (52-41, +1)
Remember when reporters and fans alike were outraged that Giants fans stuffed the All-Star ballots with votes for their players, among whom were Pablo Sandoval, Melky Cabrera and Matt Cain? Well, the San Fran All-Stars shut up all of their doubters as Melky won the MVP, Cain got the win and Panda Bear hit the game-winning three-run triple. They’ve taken that momentum into the second half, having won six of seven to start the second half of the season.
6. Pittsburgh Pirates (52-40, +1)
Despite being supplanted atop the NL Central, the upstart Pirates continue to impress, led by their MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen. But the true key to Pittsburgh’s success so far is James McDonald, the team’s leader in wins and ERA as a starter. Cutch and Pedro Alvarez are great foundations for the offense, but in a pitcher-driven league, it’s been McDonald who has kept Pittsburgh in it so far.
7. Atlanta Braves (51-41, +8)
The Braves have made the second biggest jump on our ranking list, up from No. 15, winning by any means necessary. Thursday was a pitching duel that saw Tim Hudson outlasting Madison Bumgarner. Friday, the Braves, down nine runs through five, came all the way back, then lost their lead in the ninth, and then took it back in the eleventh to stymie the divison-leading Nats. And Saturday, Ben Sheets shut out Washington with a dominating pitching performance.
8. Los Angeles Angels (51-43, -4)
Mike Trout, Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo are quickly becoming the most feared trio of hitters in the game. But it hasn’t shown in the second half. The Angels dropped four spots this week due to their shaky 3-5 record after the break, all against elite American League teams. There’s a lot of potential in Anaheim for a dynasty, but if it’s not realized, then the disappointment will be immense.
9. Detroit Tigers (50-44, +9)
Detroit came into 2012 as one of, if not, the favorites to win the American League after they picked up Prince Fielder. Their first half was horribly underwhelming, staying below. 500 for most of the season; but recently, the Tigers have got their growl back. Having won eight of their last ten and taking advantage of this weekend’s series with the White Sox, Detroit is primed to take over the top spot in the AL Central, possibly for good.
10. Chicago White Sox (50-43, -5)
Kevin Youkilis has been a spark-plug for the Sox so far, hitting .299 with 18 RBI in the 20 games since he’s been acquired. But since the break, Chicago’s been weak, winning three of eight. With Detroit on their tail, it begs the question: Does Chicago need to make one more move before the deadline to stop the Tigers' prowling?
Is it Moneyball all over again? Too soon to tell, but what we do know for sure is that this Oakland team is no pushover. Having won six of seven since the break, including three combined against the Rangers and Yankees, the A’s looked primed for a run at the wild card. Led by little-known Josh Reddick (.274, 21, 46) and big-signing Yoenis Cespedes (.304, 12, 44), Oakland and Billy Beane are representing the 99% well.
12. Los Angeles Dodgers (50-44, -2)
The “Magic” of the spring is gone, as is their division lead, but the Dodgers are still in it. Though ace Chad Billingsly is on the DL for now, it will certainly be tough to support the struggling lineup, led solely by the invincible Matt Kemp who is putting up MVP numbers once again.
13. Baltimore Orioles (49-44, -2)
14. Tampa Bay Rays (49-45, -6)
15. Boston Red Sox (48-46, -2)
16. Toronto Blue Jays (46-47, --)
There’s the Yankees…and then there’s the rest of the AL East. Don’t call it a copout! I seriously do not know where else to place all these clubs in the rankings besides together in the middle. In what was supposed to be the most competitive division in baseball this year, it has been so deservedly, but only for the bottom four. Baltimore has been a surprising upstart, but, as many predicted, they are falling – slowly, but still. Tampa Bay is an enigma to me; when they’re good, they’re really good. But when they’re bad… well, you get the picture. Toronto has been progressing steadily for the past five years, building a club built on a strong offense. But with Jose Bautista out for the near future, I can’t see the Jays staying in the wild-card hunt for long. And then there’s Boston, a mirror image of what Baltimore has been this season. They struggled early, but now with the Youker’s change in sock color and the return of Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford, they seem to be coming along. The one question that remains is can these four stop beating up on each other so bad that one of them – just one – can get a wild card spot?
17. St. Louis Cardinals (48-45, -5)
The defending World Series champs aren’t having a bad season by any stretch, but it’s certainly not what the Cards expected. The offense has been fine without Pujols, but without Chris Carpenter, the rotation has struggled. But maybe this is all part of the plan. Maybe for the Cards to win the World Series, they have to remain average for the first 3/4 of the season, then turn it on at the end (see: 2005 and 2011).
18. Cleveland Indians (47-46, -1)
The Indians are just teasing now. Two years in a row, they’ve maintained division leads early in the season and have eventually lost them likethat. Blame it on the pitching. Their top starters Justin Masterson, Derek Lowe and Ubaldo Jimenez have ERAs ranging from 4.29 to 5.24. And those are their top starters.
19. New York Mets (47-46, -5)
Oh, how the Met-y have fallen. R.A. Dickey and Johan Santana, the Mets’ 1-2 tandem that rivaled any in the bigs, have been subpar since the break. In fact, on Saturday, Johan was put on the 15-day DL. and to aid the Mets’ pathetic bullpen, Dickey came out of the pen, only to give up two earned. In shades of 2009, the Mets have followed up a great first half with a disappointing second, dropping six of their first seven.
20. Arizona Diamondbacks (45-48, --)
The big question around D-Backs camp recently is what Arizona’s going to do with Justin Upton. The best and most promising player on the team ahs struggled with power this season, while Arizona has struggled to repeat last year’s divison-winning success. As time creeps closer to the trade deadline, Kirk Gibson and the front office have a big decision to make. Should they trade Upton and rebuild or keep him and build around him?
21. Milwaukee Brewers (44-48, +1)
2011 NL MVP Ryan Braun can’t do it all by himself. Without Prince Fielder, Milwaukee has struggled all year to get back that offensive swag that led them to the NLCS last year. Add on that the Reds and Pirates both got better while the Brewers got worse, and you have a recipe for a mediocre fourth-place team. Maybe Zack Greinke’s new gargantuan contract will spice things up.
For all the media hype that the Marlins received in the offseason, they haven’t been much to talk about since. While Mark Buehrle has delivered as the team’s leader in wins and ERA, the big signing, Jose Reyes, has been subpar to say the least. He gets on base, sure. But there’s no power or run-producing coming from his bat this season. Is .268, 5 HR, and 24 RBI worth $10 mil a year?
23. Philadelphia Phillies (41-53, --)
Enough has already been said about the Phils’ travesty of a season. So let’s settle the talk. The season’s lost. There, I said it. Now, let’s move on to the more pressing news: Will the Phils trade Cole Hamels or won’t they? Like Arizona with Upton, Philly is struggling with this issue and haven’t seemed to make much noise so far. A trade would be a big sign that the Phillies are ready to call it a season. Put the fans out of their misery – sell the southpaw.
24. San Diego Padres (40-55, +3)
You forgot San Diego was playing baseball this season? Don’t worry, so did I. Comfortable lurking in mediocrity has become a trend down the I-5 as of late. Boasting the worst offense in the league, the Friars have had to make up for it with their pitching, which has been less mediocre, but just as unhelpful. It’s a lost cause in San Diego on the hole. But the Pads are on a four-game winning streak, so…
25. Seattle Mariners (40-55, +1)
Though Seattle is the odd team out in a competitive AL West, there’s reason for hope. As always, Felix Hernandez is putting up solid numbers, ever padding his resume for his big payday out east. But despite poor averages all around the lineup, youngsters Jesus Montero, Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager and Justin Smoak have all put up decent power numbers. They’re no Mike Trouts over there in the Emerald City. But there’s certainly potential for the future.
26. Minnesota Twins (39-54, -1)
My pick to place second in the AL Central this year has been, for lack of a better term, underwhelming this season. I overestimated the influence of a healthy Joe Mauer on the success of a young lineup, although he’s hitting .334 so far, and I underestimated the ineptitude and overall lack of talent in the Twins rotation – the team ERA is a lowly 4.85. Uhh, my bad.
27. Chicago Cubs (38-54, +1)
I know it looks bad, Cubs fans, but fret not while your crosstown rivals lead their division. There’s hope! The Cubs have won eight of their last ten and five of seven since the break. Starlin Castro has been dynamite all year and the eventual Ryan Dempster trade will yield a boatload of young talent ready to be molded by the Messiah himself – or, as Cubs fans call him, Theo Epstein.
28. Kansas City Royals (39-53, -4)
Every year we say “This is their year!” And then we say “Next year will be their year!” So when Billy Butler - BILLY BUTLER - is the lone player from your club to make the All-Star team because of a rule that requires every team to have one representative at the All-Star game, that should be a clue that this year is not their year. Oh, and their record and their team ERA (4.45) may tell you that too.
29. Houston Astros (34-60, --)
30. Colorado Rockies (35-57, --)
The most difficult decision I had to make in these power rankings was which club to put last because it is so rare that there have been two clubs that, from the offseason through the regular season, have had zero expectations for success and have underperformed. Houston, its move to the American League upcoming and inevitable, seem to have given up on all things winning, losing in any way possible from a 1-0 loss to the Padres on Thursday to a 13-8 trouncing by the D-Backs on Friday. But they’re not as disappointing and disgusting as the Colorado Rockies, who are led by an unbelievably inept rotation and bullpen that has posted a team ERA of 5.31 so far this season. That number is highest the Majors by more than 35 points! In an era where pitching is the dominant force, there’s no excuse for that number. And no, you can’t blame the Mile High air pressure either. Colorado, you’re just that bad.