Pepper Power ~ Week 12Posted 20 June 2011 by Pony Boy
Slop. That’s how I would characterize the MLB standings and these rankings. Only one team, Philadelphia, has better than a two-game lead in its division. Boston leads New York by two in the American League East. Nobody else leads by more than a game.
The Brewers, Braves and Cardinals all have 40 wins. All of them won two games last week. Flip a coin.
1. Phillies (45-28): They were in a holding pattern, these Phillies, as everyone started putting the Red Sox at the top of their rankings. Then, as if to remind us they’re still really good, Philadelphia rolled off seven straight wins, including five this week. In a year of mediocrity — or parity, if you want to put a smiley face on it — the Phillies remain the best team in baseball.
2. Red Sox (43-28): There have been no standings less stable than the AL East. Boston was famously in dead last in mid-April. Now they’re threatening to pull away from the pack. Welcome to the East. One week a team dips, then that same team gets hot and moves up. The Red Sox show no signs of slowing, though the injury to starting pitcher Clay Buchholz, and his 15-day DL stint, have to be a bit of a concern. Tim Wakefield can only look superhuman for so long before that knuckleball stops knuckling and the back end of the rotation falls apart.
3. Yankees (41-29): Statistical quirk. New York is 11-13 in series-opening games. That means they’re 30-16 in the other games. The Yankees are starting to deal with injuries, including Captain Derek Jeter, that could hamper their pursuit of the Red Sox. True fact: The Yankees employed The Karate Kid’s Pat Morita for years instead of a physical therapist.
4. Brewers (40-33): Sure, they went 2-5, but so did the next three teams in the rankings. At least they showed a sign of life against Boston on Saturday, eking out a 4-2 win that was bookended by blowouts. Bam. Three ‘B’ words in a row. And they said it couldn’t be done. Balderdash.
5. Rangers (38-35): Swept by the Yankees, Texas recovered some pride by taking two of three from the Braves. However, the Mariners are closing fast. You read that right. So, what to do? How about nothing but play the next nine games. That’s six with the Astros and three with the Mets. I like those odds.
6. Braves (40-33): Atlanta’s pitching has far exceeded hopes before this week. The problem is the offense. The Braves scored four or fewer runs in all but one game this past week. During a recent six-game win streak, Atlanta scored more than four runs twice. The Braves’ margin for error is razor thin. P.S. Turner Field is the second-most underrated park in baseball, behind Detroit. Discuss.
7. Cardinals (40-33): Seven straight losses are a concern. Losing Albert Pujols is a bigger concern. The big first baseman injured his left wrist during Sunday’s 5-4 win over the Royals. The Cardinals have been hit harder with key injuries than many good teams, but they need Pujols healthy to win the cluttered Central.
8. Diamondbacks (39-34): I just played a little game called Name an Arizona Diamondback. Um. Mark Grace? I was sure I’d feel silly about this after looking at their roster. No, I don’t feel silly. Sure, I recognize a bunch of names. But I don’t feel bad about forgetting they had J.J. Putz.
9. Giants ( 39-33): Losing four straight should hurt you in power rankings. Getting swept by the Athletics hurts more. I admit it. I still can’t come to grips with the fact that the Giants won the World Series last year. Better them than 43rd’s team, I suppose.
10. Reds (38-35): They scored just four runs in their three-game series with the Blue Jays. That’s backward from the normal problem, as Jay Bruce and Joey Votto normally provide plenty of offense. Cincinnati has four starters with an ERA over 4.00. Perhaps the offense is cooling down now that the pitching is coming around.
11. Tigers (39-33): Just as their series with the Rockies was going down the tubes, enter Justin Verlander. The ace shuts down Colorado. Problem solved. The Twins and White Sox shouldn’t be concerned about catching the Indians. They need to watch out for the Tigers. That’s just good advice, too. Watch out for Tigers.
12. Twins (31-39): Minnesota had five batters in its lineup Sunday hitting .200 or less. One of those was Joe Mauer. This will not last. The 22nd-ranked batting average and 24th-best ERA will improve. More wins will follow the Twins 14-out-of-16 hot streak. The thing is, they’re not *this* good. To be sure, the Twins have top-10 talent. But no team is 14-of-16 good. It’s payback for an awful April and May. I now wish I hadn’t thrown my TV out the window. It took a half an hour to get it off the wall arm. Anybody want a wall arm?
13. Mariners (37-35): A team with a .229 batting average is greatly overachieving. If you’re a big Seattle believer, you could make the argument that the batting average is going to go up, the offense is going to produce more runs to support its solid pitching staff (with a No. 6 ERA of 3.42), and the Mariners will stay at this level and contend for the West. I am not making such an argument.
14. Rays (39-33): Bounced back from getting swept by the Red Sox by sweeping the Marlins. That’s not saying much, but the Rays are still fighting back, which is more than I can say for some teams below them in the rankings. Starting pitching has been the strength, and that doesn’t just go away in the wind. Tampa will be above .500 but I’d be shocked if it catches Boston or New York.
15. Indians (39-31): They get a token bump here, thanks to a 5-2 week. Yeah, we see you over there. Make it two weeks and I’ll bump them into the top 10. Maybe as high as No. 4, given how terrible the top 10 did this week.
16. Nationals (35-37): This week’s big riser, with a 5-1 mark. I had the Nats too low to fully respect their hovering-around-.500 effort this year. Since when is that laudable? Well, these are power rankings, not a lesson in what’s morally right. Move along.
17. White Sox (35-38): The Sox were swept by the Twins. Some games they couldn’t hit. In others, they couldn’t get an out. In any case, they showed their true colors. They’re old and they’re just not that good. That’s in-depth baseball analysis right there.
18. Angels (35-38): The Angels are MLB’s equivalent of the hare. Well, they could be. They’re too talented to be this low, right? Jered Weaver’s ridiculous. They have above-average starting pitching. They have decent batters. I keep waiting for them to decide to start the chase. Fortunately, they’re in the AL West. The chase will only last a week or two.
19. Pirates (35-36): Again, I hate to laud mediocrity, so I’ll laud improvement. Pittsburgh’s pitchers had an ERA of 5.28 last year. That number is currently at 3.52, eighth-best in the majors. It seems likely to go up — this is still the Pirates, no? — but it isn’t as bad as in the past. That’s something.
20. Blue Jays (36-36): Toronto has been the benefactor of good pitching since the early 1990s, when the Blue Jays picked up guys like Roger Clemens and Jack Morris, winning World Series along the way. So it shouldn’t be a surprise when the Blue Jays pitching gets hot, like it did in the last six games, posting a 2.17 ERA. The sad thing is Toronto still managed to lose two of those games.
21. Mets (35-37): Random stat: Jason Bay has gone 24 games without an extra-base hit. You know what happens when I get to the bottom 10 teams? I start throwing out random stats and talking about the time I drove by the team’s stadium.
22. Rockies (35-36): I drove by Coors Field in October of 1999. Actually, I’m pretty sure I walked around the stadium with a buddy of mine. It struck me that it was gigantic, the outside footprint of the stadium. I wonder if there are numbers on that so I can compare it to other major league parks. There are stupider discussions out there. I just tried to read a piece in ESPN The Magazine (Look, I had to ask the in-laws for something for Christmas and I already get SI and Time) by their stat guy. It was unreadable. Something about BWIAP. Brutal. Tell me how big this stadium is. Simple.
23. Athletics (33-40): Have won five straight to make everybody’s favorite little AL West team look like it has some life. I’m not buying it yet. But seriously. Sports Illustrated had five guys who picked the A’s to make the playoffs. Sidenote: SI’s experts were all male, with one minority in their midst. Just throwing that out there.
24. Orioles (32-37): Baltimore dropped six of seven games before picking up a pity win Sunday. Seriously. Who picked these lumps of crap to finish in the wild card? Show of hands. P.S. The same site that picked the Orioles to win the wild card is now openly wondering if they should trade away their talent. Beware Internet journalism. This site excepted.
25. Dodgers (32-41): Chavez Ravine is the one major league park I have not been to that I do NOT want to visit. Yes, that includes Oakland. Sidenote: I’ve been to 15 of the current parks. Dodgers fans are paying for their asshole-ness as the freefall continues. They went 1-5 this week. If it weren’t for Vin Scully and Tommy Lasorda, I would hate everything about this team, for no reason at all.
26. Marlins (32-40): Lost eight games this week and 10 straight. Florida was in the top 10 earlier this season. Remember that? Good times. Good times.
27. Padres (30-43): Racing the Dodgers to the bottom and winning.
28. Royals (31-41): I find it a little crazy that the Royals have the sixth-best batting average in the majors at .262. Of course, there’s no power in those bats, and the pitching is horrid, but nice job on the .262.
29. Cubs (29-42): Another surprise. The Cubs are hitting .265, fourth-best in the majors. They also have a worst-in-the-majors ERA of 4.79.
30. Astros (27-46): And the Astros round out the unholy triumvirate at the bottom. Know what they all have in common? The three worst ERAs in the major leagues. Pitching, people. Pitching.