Stan 'The Fan' Charles' MLB Power Rankings
By Stan "The Fan" Charles
Including games on Aug. 26
For the last 18 weeks, I have dutifully worked on my first-ever MLB Power Rankings. I have enjoyed the process thoroughly, and am looking forward to the evolution of this formatted outlet, for what I think is a pretty good ongoing insight into the season at hand.
But, as with any evolving work, there comes a time when what you have done doesn't fit properly moving forward. So, as we drill down deep into the stretch run of the 2012 regular season, it's time to change up the editorial thrust, focus on the state of the game and spend the bulk of my words on the teams contending for the postseason.
When appropriate, we'll still throw in our two cents about both the bottom feeders and those teams chomping at their heels.
Last week once again showed how much Major League Baseball now resembles fantasy baseball. The trade between the Red Sox and Dodgers, which general managers Ben Cherington and Ned Colletti pulled off for their respective teams, had the upper-echelon fingerprints of team presidents Larry Lucchino and Stan Kasten. Thus, in one bold move, two of baseball's big-market teams got their groove back.
The Dodgers, with seemingly bottomless pockets, have picked up an unimaginable amount of talent for an equally unimaginable amount of money. Meanwhile, the Red Sox admitted the toxicity in their clubhouse had gotten so bad that they had to let go of what they were in order to become what they most likely will be again someday soon -- a worthy team for their fans to root for.
In smaller but creative ways, the Oakland A's, in picking up shortstop Stephen Drew, and the Orioles, in picking up left-handed starter Joe Saunders, are doing what they are capable of back in the real world. Elsewhere, two players in the Bay area, Giants outfielder Melky Cabrera and A's right-hander Bartolo Colon, have disgraced themselves with their use of performance-enhancing drugs. Cabrera and his handlers even went so far as to concoct a ridiculous scheme, creating a fake Web site for a fake product in order to gain Cabrera plausible deniability in an appeal. Instead, he has probably marked himself as unemployable.
So, without further adieu, here are the rankings through the games of Aug. 26.
1. Chicago White Sox (71-55 overall, 6-0 since Aug. 20) -- Do I really think the White Sox are the best team in Major League Baseball? Hardly. In fact, they may not be the best team in their division, and they still are not a lock to make the playoffs. But through it all, manager Robin Ventura has had a remarkable first season at the helm. It's easy to say this is a huge test week for the Chi-Sox, with four on the road against the Orioles and then three in Detroit against their division rival Tigers. But it's a test for the other teams, too. Right now, the Sox, based on their 6-0 week against the Yankees and red-hot Mariners, are pretty darned impressive.
2. Texas Rangers (75-52, 5-2) -- Last week was huge for Adrian Beltre, who hit three bombs versus the Orioles and then went for the cycle versus the Twins. The Rangers start the week with three games at home versus a tough Tampa team, and then end the week against the staggering Cleveland Indians. Ryan Dempster has had five starts as a Ranger, going 3-1.
3. Cincinnati Reds (77-52, 3-4) -- The Reds split a four-game series in Philadelphia, and then returned home to face the St Louis Cardinals, where they managed to avoid a sweep against the now second-place Cards. That latter series and the Pirates' sudden downturn have given the Cards hope and momentum. At 11-10 during their last 21 games, the Reds haven't had much momentum. Yet with six on the road in Arizona and Houston, Dusty Baker's boys play exactly who they need to in order to regain the upper hand.
4. Washington Nationals (77-50, 2-4) -- The Nationals came into the week scalding hot and won their first two this week versus Atlanta, but then the Braves won the series final and the Phillies swept them in the City of Brotherly Love. The Nats still hold a 4.5-game lead against Atlanta, but they have an odd two-game series in Miami Tuesday and Wednesday before coming home for four versus the red-hot Cardinals. The jockey has been there before, but the horse hasn't.
5. New York Yankees (74-53, 2-4) -- The Yankees of a few weeks ago, who calmly got on a roll and blew away the competition from their division rivals, now seem as if they are frantically holding off the fast-charging Rays and Buck Showalter's plucky Birds. They're hosting the Blue Jays for a three-game spanking, then their next 10 consist of three versus the Orioles in the Bronx, three on the road against Tampa and four in Baltimore. Pitchers CC Sabathia and Hiroki Kuroda are doing their thing, but Phil Hughes, Ivan Nova and Freddy Garcia are hardly confidence-inspiring options. The first few days of the week should be busy for general manager Brian Cashman, as he tries to procure a creative deal for an arm that can help during the postseason. I know Andy Pettitte is somewhere in the plans, but as great as he can be, he is not superhuman.
6. San Francisco Giants (71-57, 5-2) -- I've got to admire how this team has handled the adversity of losing their MVP, Melky Cabrera, for 50 games. The club is using having a cheater as inspiration to get it past the downer. How will motivational trick No. 2 work? That is where the Giants get pissed off at the team behind them in the standings, the Dodgers, bringing on a couple hundred million dollars in contracts. As much as the Dodgers keep doing off the field, the Giants still swept them earlier during the week. Oh, did I mention San Francisco's next six games are versus Houston and the Cubs?
7. Atlanta Braves (73-55, 3-4) -- The Braves cooled off a tiny bit this week, but then again, they held their own against two division leaders in Washington and San Francisco. I know time marches on, but wouldn't you like the Braves' chances a lot more if Bobby Cox were still in the dugout? This week, they get the suddenly red-hot Padres in San Diego and then go coast-to-coast to play in Philly against a Phillies team hell-bent on finishing strong and short-circuiting the talk about a rebuilding job lying ahead.
8. Baltimore Orioles (69-57, 3-2) -- If there is a week that will be the Orioles' Waterloo, this is it. Their next seven are versus the first-place White Sox (four) and Yankees (three). Although it may not be known outside of Baltimore, the O's may have the smartest brain trust in the game, which is working together on all cylinders. Some of their competitors seem to be having problems figuring out how to cobble together five good starters, but the O's got Joe Saunders in a deal and have Jason Hammel coming back from the disabled list.
9. Detroit Tigers (69-58, 5-1) -- Motown stripers will be rooting for the Orioles to bash the White Sox, while they handle the Royals in Kansas City. If that scenario plays out, the Tigers could find themselves battling in Chicago for the division lead by week's end. They stand 2.5 games off the AL Central lead, and beating the White Sox may be easier than outdueling the A's, Angels, Rays and O's for the second wild-card spot. An ankle injury to MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera takes away a devastating bat and swagger from a team that has never quite been what it was supposed to be.
10. Tampa Bay Rays (70-57, 3-3) -- Along with White Sox, the Rays' 21-10 record during the last 31 games has been their division's best. Tampa currently stands four games behind the Yankees for the division lead and is just percentage points ahead of the O's. To show you how tough this is to handicap, the Rays have three games in Texas to start the week and end up with four in Toronto. At the same time, the O's have the White Sox for four and the Yankees for three. Meanwhile, the Yanks host Toronto for three before three against the O's. If the Rays can take care of business in Dallas, by week's end, they should be right on the Yankees' tails.
11. St. Louis Cardinals (70-57, 5-1) -- For a contender that took too long to get in its stride, every game becomes huge. The Cards can put nails in the Pirates' coffin and square up against the Reds, but, as aforementioned, Cincinnati seemingly has an easy week, with games against Arizona and Houston. So St. Louis' four-game series in Washington, starting Thursday, will say a lot. The Cardinals are still the only National League team to exceed 600 runs scored, and they have largest run differential (+126) in all of baseball. The Cardinals are 16-9 during their last 25 games, which means even if they can't overcome the Reds, they are now close enough to other contenders for a strong wild-card run.
12. Los Angeles Dodgers (69-59, 2-4) -- The Dodgers are all in. During the past 25-30 days, they have added Hanley Ramirez, Shane Victorino and Adrian Gonzalez to their lineup, and Josh Beckett and Joe Blanton to their rotation. They probably have added a reinvigorated Carl Crawford for the last five months of 2013. But since those acquisitions, the Dodgers are 13-12, while the Giants lost Melky Cabrera and went 16-11. This club is all out of excuses. Josh Beckett should pay dividends immediately.
13. Oakland Athletics (69-57, 4-2) -- Amazing depth developed in their starting rotation has the A's right in the thick of things. But, just as they celebrated the triumphant return of left-hander Brett Anderson, they lost Bartolo Colon to a positive performance-enhancing drugs test for the rest of the season. Starter Brandon McCarthy is back for another stint, in between trips to the disabled list. The addition of shortstop Stephen Drew demonstrates that general manager Billy Beane has not totally forgotten how to sprinkle in offense.
14. Los Angeles Angels (66-62, 4-2) -- Don't count them out just yet, but the Angels will have to go all out to sneak into playoffs. They squandered the four months of the season they owned LA. If LA Anaheim fans cared like Easterners, the Dodgers would have just regained the back page of the tabloids. The Angels still have Jered Weaver, perhaps baseball's best pitcher, and if Zack Greinke has designs on a huge free-agent contract, this might be the time to put together 45-50 scintillating innings.
15. Pittsburgh Pirates (68-59, 1-5) -- In this corner, we were huge believers in Clint Hurdle's gang and its bid to end a 19-year run of sub-.500 records. When a team collapses and then kind of looks at what a short window of bad play has wrought, it just sort of folds. Now the Pirates have fallen to third place, eight games behind the Reds, and are going to have to regain all the lost momentum to put themselves in front of two other wild-card candidates, including the Cardinals, the Braves, the Giants or the Dodgers. It doesn't look good.
* * *
This new format for my weekly power rankings will have a point of demarcation between teams still in the playoff hunt and those that are deemed to have no shot. Although this week, these two sections fit nicely into 1-15 and 16-30, there may be times (say the Phillies go 12-2 during the next two weeks) when that number adds or subtracts a team or two.
16. Seattle Mariners (61-67, 3-3) -- Must be something in the Starbucks; the Mariners have become a red-hot team the last four or five weeks.
17. Philadelphia Phillies (61-67, 5-2) -- Phillies management needs to properly evaluate the roster. The Phillies probably already have who they want around and who they don't see as part of their future.
18. Milwaukee Brewers (59-67, 5-1) -- The Brewers had a big week, followed by a 2-5 week. They are similar to the Phillies, with nowhere near as many valuable chips.
19. Boston Red Sox (61-67, 2-4) -- The organization cried "No mas" and is now trying to go back to the basics of developing young and inexpensive players and doing a better job of prioritizing their own. All eyes are on manager Bobby Valentine.
20. Arizona Diamondbacks (64-64, 2-5) -- Ever see the great chicken run car race scene in "Rebel Without A Cause"? With recent trades of J.D. Drew and Joe Saunders, general manager Kevin Towers jumped out early, but in time to fight another day.
21. Kansas City Royals (56-70, 2-4) -- Everything felt so right; how did it go so wrong? Manager Ned Yost either gets an extension or walks the plank. The in-between would be murder. Other than that, the starting pitching was awful.
22. San Diego Padres (59-70, 6-0) -- See, sometimes ownership's uncertainty about a team's direction set these horrific situations in motion. New owners take over, a couple of guys sign extensions and they don't trade a guy like Chase Headley -- it all trickles down.
23. Colorado Rockies (51-75, 5-2) -- The Rockies are going nowhere fast. The highlight of recent travails was announcer Vin Scully's description (Google Vin Scully and fertilizer) of a ball caught or trapped by center fielder Dexter Fowler and the ensuing 6.5-minute delay as the umpires tried to get the call right.
24. Miami Marlins (58-71, 3-4) -- It had to be weird for the entire Marlins organization to have been in Los Angeles to witness how really big money works. The Marlins dabbled during the offseason at doing what Dodgers did, but fell way short.
25. Minnesota Twins (52-75, 2-5) -- There hasn't been much doubt about the status of Ron Gardenhire during his 11 seasons as the Twins' skipper. I'm not saying there is now, but 2013 will mark the first season Gardenhire will enter with his seat in jeopardy. General manager Terry Ryan's creativity and how he assembles the starting rotation will ultimately determine the skipper's fate.
26. New York Mets (59-69, 2-5) -- Let's be real, after David Wright and R.A. Dickey, are there any players that really make a difference? The exceptions might be getting two players off the books for 2014 -- Jason Bay (one year at $13 million) and Johan Santana (2013 at $25.5 million and 2014 at $25, with the club able to exercise a $5.5 million buyout after 2013).
27. Chicago Cubs (49-77, 2-4) -- The Dodgers just became the new Yankees for Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein, who left the Red Sox a year ago. Somewhere, Cubs owner Tom Ricketts can be heard whispering: "I know Theo can do it. I know Theo can do it." That somewhere could be a shrink's office.
28. Cleveland Indians ( 55-72, 1-5) -- The Indians' brass can say all the right things, but there is a lot of wrong to go around. W-O-W, this is a bad team.
29. Toronto Blue Jays ( 56-70, 0-5) -- The Jays would have finished the week 0-6, but Lady Luck gave them a rainout before traveling to Yankee Stadium for three and hosting Tampa Bay for four. It's as bad as it looks right now.
30. Houston Astros (40-88, 1-5) -- The team is so irrelevant that all the talk is about bringing back a 50 year-old pitcher who just threw 37 pitches for the Sugar Land Skeeters. It's sad and pathetic.
Posted Aug. 27, 2012
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