Stan 'The Fan' Charles' MLB Power Rankings
By Stan "The Fan" Charles
Including games on Sept. 2
As my MLB power rankings for this year come racing toward the homestretch, it is remarkable how much more interest there is in baseball with two wild-card teams advancing into the postseason.
I admit, I was only lukewarm on the concept and would rail hard against any further additions, but the new format has created a lot of the old-fashioned pennant races' air of the possible. In the American League, there are eight teams (including the surprising Oakland, Baltimore and Chicago) -- still alive, and in the National League there are still seven teams with a chance, although the Pirates' magical season needs one more improbable jumpstart.
A couple of things to look for before going into the team-by team rankings: The White Sox entered Labor Day with 29 games to play, and although they look as if they are fading, they may get the biggest boost from the schedule makers, as 18 of their last 30 games are against teams ranked 20-30 in the STFMLBPR. But, alas, the Tigers -- who pulled even in the AL Central Sunday night with a win on national TV -- also get 19 against those same bottom feeders.
Conversely, the Angels have just three of their last 28 games versus bottom feeders. Oakland, which is intensely fighting to head the Rangers and head off the Angels, have zero games against bottom feeders. The Orioles, who are in a similar boat in the standings as Oakland, have 13 of 29 games against the AL's bottom-tier clubs, as do their AL brethren.
1. Cincinnati Reds (82-53 overall, 5-1 since Aug. 27) -- It's nice to have a week during which you play Houston. The Reds may have Joey Votto back, and end up the week hosting the Astros for three. Questions abound about the rotation, but the Reds just keep winning.
2. Texas Rangers (79-54, 4-2) -- The season has been one long, taffy pull for the two-time reigning AL champs. Numbers don't always tell the whole story, but the Rangers are first in three of the four top offensive categories -- runs, batting average and on-base percentage -- and second in slugging percentage. But flip over to the pitching -- 12th in ERA, 17th in quality starts, seventh in WHIP and ninth in batting average against. Starters Yu Darvish and Ryan Dempster have been coming up big, and they have to keep it up. The Rangers are the most likely team to make it into the playoffs.
3. Washington Nationals (81-52, 4-2) -- Like their fellow NL division leaders -- Central rival Reds and West rival Giants – the Nationals look like locks to win their division. Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman got beat up badly the other night, and the club is not backing off about shutting down star pitcher Stephen Strasburg before the season ends. Although the Nationals have been a great story, their greatness is tough to see without Strasburg. General manager Mike Rizzo is too defensive about criticisms regarding the Strasburg shutdown.
4. San Francisco Giants (76-58, 5-1) -- What's that old saying, "When the going gets tough, the tough get going?" San Francisco lost their offensive MVP, Melky Cabrera, while the Dodgers brought in the big guns, but they just put their heads down and won 17 of 26 to expand their lead to 4.5 games.
5. Baltimore Orioles (74-59, 5-2) -- Baltimore's 17-8 run really stamped it as a serious player. General manager Dan Duquette is having a great run of adding meaningful additions (see: Lew Ford, Omar Quintanilla, Nate McLouth, Randy Wolf and Joe Saunders). At the same time, the brain trust was able to envision what third baseman Manny Machado could mean defensively, and what a guy like Brian Matusz could do as a reborn reliever. What's next?
6. Oakland Athletics (76-57, 7-0) -- The A's had a great week, beating up on Cleveland and Boston. It's a terrific story. Like the Orioles' Duquette, A's GM Billy Beane has done a remarkable job adding on, getting shortstop Stephen Drew, which allowed Cliff Pennington to slide over and replace Jemile Weeks at second. After starter Bartolo Colon was suspended for 50 games, Brett Anderson came in and didn't miss a beat. The youth of Oakland's starting rotation and a tough schedule still make its appearance in the postseason a stretch. Oakland may have peaked last week.
7. New York Yankees (76-57, 2-4) -- The Yankees get back third baseman Alex Rodriguez. OK, and that does what? Seriously, this team has lots of questions with age, injuries and its starting staff. The Yankees have the look of a scared club on the verge of collapse. The starting pitching has to be lights out, and with Phil Hughes, Freddy Garcia and David Phelps starting games, that seems like asking a 40-watt bulb to shine like a 100-watt bulb. To me, it would be a shocker if they make it past the first round. It also wouldn't totally shock this guy if they are entirely on the outside looking in.
8. Detroit Tigers (72-61, 3-3) -- Hmmm … the Tigers got swept during a three-game series versus the going-nowhere Royals, and then came home and swept the stumbling and bumbling White Sox. But there's a world of talent here, and they'll probably win their division. If the Tigers truly earn it, this is still a dangerous team. But this team is still a mystery with 29 games to go.
9. Tampa Bay Rays (73-61, 3-4) -- The Rays are just 6-7 during the past two weeks after close to two months of high-level ball. There's not a second to spare, as their next 12 are against the Yankees (six), Orioles (three) and Rangers (three). Tampa's pitching is still a strong suit, and offensively, the Rays needed third baseman Evan Longoria back. But they got him, and now they realize their scoring problems are far-reaching.
10. Chicago White Sox (72-61, 1-6) -- The White Sox have been on a roller-coaster ride in these rankings -- they vaulted from seventh to first after a 6-0 week, but now a 1-6 week has them tumbling all the way down to 10th. From afar, I can't quite put a finger on what happened, but having seen them up close in Baltimore last week, they looked more like posers than real threats. First baseman Adam Dunn's oblique injury couldn't have come at a worse time. The starting staff is looking vulnerable because of injuries and fatigue.
11. Atlanta Braves (75-59, 2-4) -- The Braves went down to the wire on Sunday and scored five runs with two outs in the ninth to avoid a sweep at the hands of the Phillies. Atlanta probably won't win the division, but pitching depth makes this team a tough out during a short series. The Braves appear to have a serious leg up on the Dodgers, Cardinals and fading Pittsburgh for one of two wild-card spots.
12. Los Angeles Angels (71-63, 5-1) -- The Angels have some ground to make up to get into the playoffs, but with dual series against both Oakland and Texas, they have the necessary face-to-face games to still be a real factor going into their last 10. First baseman Albert Pujols is playing through a leg injury, which visibly slows him and bears watching.
13. Los Angeles Dodgers (72-63, 3-4) -- One wonders whether perhaps, while the Dodgers were busy roster building, those players that had helped build up a terrific record might have felt a tad slighted. Although adding right-hander Joe Blanton, outfielder Shane Victorino and reliever Brandon League before the July 31 trade deadline may have helped, GM Ned Colletti went all in by picking up three more significant new faces in Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto from Boston. No sooner were the Dodgers all in than the club lost right-hander Chad Billingsley (elbow) and closer Kenley Jansen (irregular heartbeat). Management may not have given up on 2012, but more and more, it looks as if the Dodgers will continue to build toward a big 2013.
14. St. Louis Cardinals (72-62, 2-5) -- The last three weeks, the Cards came in at 3-3, 5-1 and 2-5. They are yet another one of the Dr. Jekyll-Mr. Hyde teams. I heard St. Louis Post-Dispatch beat writer Joe Strauss on XM Radio saying starter Chris Carpenter would pitch in the big leagues shortly. St. Louis could sure use him, but as I said during the spring, former pitching coach Dave Duncan may have been the team's biggest loss.
15. Pittsburgh Pirates (70-63, 2-4) -- The Pirates have won 12 of their past 32 games, going 1-5 versus the Brew Crew. One bit of good news for them is their next four series include 10 games against the Astros and the Cubs. That may provide Pittsburgh's best hope to keep the magic alive.
16. Milwaukee Brewers (65-68, 6-1) -- The last two weeks, the Brewers have gone an impressive 11-2. But don't be fooled, as the Brew Crew looks to be passing tiring horse, though they played spoiler to Pittsburgh's dream season by winning five of six games against them during the past two weekends.
17. Philadelphia Phillies (64-70, 3-3) -- The Phillies are 25-19 since the All-Star break. That's after they dealt away Jim Thome, Shane Victorino, Hunter Pence and Joe Blanton. The return of Chase Utley and Ryan Howard was huge; not trading Cliff Lee and re-signing Cole Hamels was huger.
18. Seattle Mariners (65-70, 4-3) -- Seattle is putting together an impressive second half as it tries to make it over the .500 hump. One of the biggest disappointments for the M's has been the slower-than-expected development of the can't-miss pitching trio of Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker. But the good news is abundant, like the fact that the Astros' move to AL West will make it almost impossible to finish in the cellar for a few years.
19. Kansas City Royals (60-73, 4-3) -- At season's end, general manager Dayton Moore will have to quickly decide the fate of his skipper, Ned Yost. The Royals seem like the type of organization to go slowly on that front. Regardless of who the manager is going to be, it's up to Moore to get more starting pitching -- make that more quality starting pitching.
20. Arizona Diamondbacks (66-69, 2-5) -- Arizona easily could be a tad lower based on its 4-10 record during the last two weeks. But the Diamondbacks made a couple of deals that spelled "not all in," and the players seemed to sense that and have sputtered. Pitcher Wade Miley has the makings of a big-time starter, and Tyler Skaggs has shown glimpses, too. Outfielders Justin Upton and Chris Young have not lived up to what they needed to be.
21. New York Mets (64-70, 5-1) -- Jason Bay hit a grand slam to help the team sweep the Marlins. Now is that getting their money's worth, or what?
22. Colorado Rockies (55-77, 4-2) – From 1998-2004, first baseman Todd Helton averaged 117 RBIs. But during his last five, he has averaged 51. Age and injuries have played a large part in the decline. But this once-great player hangs around the Rockies' neck like an albatross. Luckily, Helton negotiated some savings two years ago on this all-too-long swan song, which still has one more year left.
23. Boston Red Sox (62-73, 1-6) -- Although the Red Sox's blockbuster trade sending Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto to the Dodgers was a selloff, the thought was that maybe those left on the wreck would pick up their games. Nope, ain't going to happen. As Red Sox Nation comes to grips with that fact, it might be a while. Manager Bobby Valentine now seems highly unlikely to return.
24. San Diego Padres (62-73, 3-3) -- Have to really hand it to Bud Black for holding this together. Their season reminds me of Sully's magic landing on the Hudson -- way down, but a total disaster was averted.
25. Minnesota Twins (55-79, 3-4) -- The team from the land of sky-blue water is finishing up back-to-back bummer seasons. The starting pitching has been abysmal. Did you know that at Target Field, the radio booth has been named the John Gordon Broadcast Booth? I didn't think so.
26. Miami Marlins (59-75, 1-4) -- I was looking at a Marlins box score the other day, and it hit me as I looked at their lineup: they are not good. They will need to get a big bounce-back season from starter Josh Johnson, or get a haul for him. Manager Ozzie Guillen's head has got to be on the chopping block.
27. Toronto Blue Jays (60-73, 4-3) -- Rogers Centre has been the center of a disappointing 2012 season. Starting-pitching injuries and poor performances have been the biggest culprits, but injuries to catcher J.P. Arencibia, right fielder Jose Bautista and third baseman Brett Lawrie were the last straw. But kudos to the Jays for taking four of seven against the Yankees and Rays.
28. Chicago Cubs (51-82, 2-5) -- It sure looks as if the lovable Cubbies are also the laughable Cubbies. Front-office tandem Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer better hope for significant progress next year. If the win-loss record is this bad, what's the excuse going to be?
29. Cleveland Indians (56-78, 1-6) -- The Indians ain't the Red Sox, so don't expect a trade-off of the players. That means someone has to take the fall -- most likely the skipper, likeable Manny Acta.
30. Houston Astros (41-93, 1-5) -- Does new owner Jim Crane really want to insult his fans by bringing in 50-year-old right-hander Roger Clemens as a publicity stunt intended to get one big crowd? It sure looks that way.
Posted Sept. 3, 2012