Barely three weeks into this young season and there is already panic in Beantown and elation in the South side. Both of the “Sox” in the American League are doing the inverse of what was expected. Boston is in a free fall after a rain-shortened two-game sweep at the hands of the Red Sox, while hopes are high for the White Sox after a weekend sweep of the Mariners that included perfection from Philip Humber. Whether either of these teams fall back to the level expected at the outset of the season has become the question. We’ll explore those questions and more in a new and improved version of the weekly power rankings…
Pitted in a four-game series against the team most likely to dethrone the Rangers as American League Champions, Texas took the Detroit Tigers behind the woodshed and gave them an old-fashioned butt-whupping. The Rangers outscored the defending AL Central champs 27-12 and it just seemed ever so clearly that Texas was the better team. And did I mention that Texas took that offensive show to Boston for a two-game series earlier in the week for a tune of 24 runs?
It’s clear that this team will have the offense to power through what, at this point, seems to be a one team race in the AL West. But one shouldn’t overlook the impressive pitching outings the Rangers’ starters have produced. In each of the six games played last week (all of which were wins) the a Texas starter recorded a quality start. That’s impressive stuff for this rotation that some said would suffer without a bonafide “ace.” And on a scary note for all in the AL, Japanese import Yu Darvish looked at ease on Thursday night in Detroit, tossing 6 1/3 innings with only one run allowed and five Ks. He did walk five players, but the control definitely seems to be improving. (Upcoming Series: New York Yankees 3, Tampa Bay Rays 3)
Hit the jump for the rest of Christian’s power rankings…
They may have split a home series with lowly Minnesota earlier in the week, but their dominating performance in Boston over the weekend put the Yankees over the top in my humble opinion. It’s one thing to beat a team twice in their ballpark. But to beat your biggest rival as they commemorate their stadium’s 100th anniversary with hundreds of former players in attendance on Friday, and come back from a 9-0 deficit the next day with 15 consecutive runs is another thing all together. They embarrassed the Red Sox at Fenway and have caused “The Nation” to go into DEFCON 1. Who cares about the Twins? When you can do what they did to their bitter rival, that’s one of the more successful weeks of the season. (Upcoming Series: at Texas 3, Detroit 3)
This team is for real. It’s time for baseball to succumb to what is the top rotation in baseball. Oh, but you say the Phillies are still the best with Lee, Halladay, Hamels company? That’s so 2011. The Nats hold the league lead in team ERA, batting average against and are in a tie with the Dodgers for the league lead in strikeouts. The core of Strasburg, Zimmermann, and Gonzalez all have ERAs at or below 2.04 and all have WHIPs below one. And did I mention that those guys don’t even lead the team in ERA? The unheralded 5th starter Ross Detwiler has posted a ERA of .56 with only one earned run over his three starts. Even Edwin Jackson is sporting an impressive WHIP at .84. This team’s rotation is wheeling and dealing. If the hitting becomes par with the current pitching performance, the Nats walk away with the NL East crown. (Upcoming Series: at San Diego 3, at LA Dodgers 3)
The previous week’s performance, even with the sweep of Kansas City, had to be a little disheartening for Tigers fans. For a team that was supposed to be one of the better offense teams of the decade, Detroit simply can’t score runs. The Tigers put up 40 runs in the first six games against the Red Sox and Rays, but have only managed 30 runs in the 10 games since then. Detroit no longer has the “new car smell” they possessed in the opening weekend.
That being said, there have been some bright spots such as the performance of Drew Smyly. Thrust into the Tigers’ fifth rotation spot with no prior major league experience, Smyly has pitched admirably. Numbers like 16 IP, 2 earned runs, and a single walk are impressive for any pitcher, let alone a rookie. Detroit will need Smyly to hold up the back of the rotation as Doug Fister suffered a setback in his recovery process and Max Scherzer has been anything other than consistent. (Upcoming Series: Seattle 3, at NY Yankees 3)
As they boast the highest run differential in the majors, the Cardinals still don’t miss Albert Pujols. With this exciting start, along with the Blues’ playoff push and the Rams’ draft, St. Louis fans have trouble remembering the name of that fellow who chased more money out in California. All things Pujols aside, this team looks better than they did last year, which actually should be bad news for Cardinals fans as their past two World Series titles came after mediocre regular seasons.
Kyle Lohse is actually pitching like an ace with Chris Carpenter’s return up in the air and reliever turned starter Lance Lynn is fitting into the rotation quite well with his three wins, 1.42 ERA and .74 WHIP. The Cardinals are lead on the other side of the ball by a resurgent Rafael Furcal (.369 BA, .423 OBP) and recharged Carlos Beltran (5 HRs, .403 OBP). This division looks even weaker after two and a half weeks than I thought possible, so if the Cards can play near this level for the rest of the season, this division should be wrapped up by early September. It’s a long season and a lot could happen, but see them as locked in as ever and playing hard on the Ewing Theory.
If Jesus Christ played baseball, he’d take batting advice from Matt Kemp. Kemp has nine HRs 16 games into the season. His OPS is at a Superman-like 1.467. He, along with solid contributions from Andre Either and the defending NL Cy Young champion Clayton Kershaw have the Dodgers comfortably atop the NL West. They will need some consistency from the rest of the lineup if they want to maintain their position because even as good as Matt Kemp is, there’s no way he can keep up this pace for the rest of the season. Guys like Dee Gordon, James Loney, and Juan Rivera need to put in some solid contributions with their bats. The dominance of Kenley Jansen and Javy Guerra at the back-end of the bullpen has been a pleasant surprise, but also needs to continue if LA wants to go to the playoffs. (Upcoming Games: Atlanta 3, Washington 3)
My darkhorse for the AL East crown is tied for the division lead. And now that Brett Lawrie and Colby Rasmus seemed to have warmed up in their series in Kansas City, things are only looking up. Keep in mind, their only consistent bat for a few seasons, Jose Bautista, is only batting .212 at the moment with an OPS of .732. This lineup is more balanced than those in years past and can survive the early slump of their marquee slugger. The pitching to this point has been above average, but anyone who doubted Ricky Romero before this season should have their helping of crow. Romero is pitching like an ace and hasn’t had a shaky performance yet this season. Closer Sergio Santos’ trip to the DL doesn’t really give me any concern as he was shaky and Francisco Cordero could stabilize the late innings in the great white north. Once all of the bats on this team warm up, this offense will be able to score with the best of the AL East. (Upcoming Series: at Kansas City 1, at Baltimore 3, Seattle 3)
The Pale Hose are far and away the biggest surprise of the season. Coming into the season, they had no idea whether they would sink into rebuilding mode or try to compete. It appears that this team is ready to compete. While I wouldn’t totally trust full comeback seasons for Adam Dunn and Alex Rios, their production has improved over that of last season and they couldn’t really do much worse than last season. What’s more impressive is the performance of the pitching in both the rotation and the bullpen. The perfect game by Philip Humber aside, Jake Peavy is starting to look like Jake Peavy again, Chris Sale appears to be ready for the starting role, and the bullpen is fantastic. They carry a 3.16 team ERA and have limited their opponents in the late innings. I’m just curious as to if their play is a flash in the pan or a sustainable trend. (Upcoming Series: at Oakland 3, Boston 4)
A flat hat to the side and the ability to close games. My Tiger of old, Fernando Rodney has made his return to the closing role and has done so swimmingly. If you put him in a non-save situation, he’ll blow that game without thought. But putting him in a save situation changes his psyche completely. The man is five for five in such situations and is beginning to look like the closer who lit up the league for 37 saves in 38 opportunities in 2009. But Rodney isn’t the guy propelling the Rays. It’s surprisingly the offense.
Evan Longoria is playing all-star caliber third base with a .339 BA, .429 OBP and .593 SLG. And off to another quick start is the young Matt Joyce, who has slugged four HRs in this young season. But most shocking of all, wait for it, Carlos Pena is batting above .300. It is early, but for a career .240 hitter, that’s pretty darn exciting. The team came into the season looking to get by on pitching, but it looks as though the bats might pull them through. (Upcoming Series: LA Angels 3, at Texas 3)
Atlanta has an offense? I was not aware. Michael Bourn has broken through after an early slump and is causing havoc for pitchers on the base paths with seven stolen bases. The mere presence of Bourn on the bases has a certain effect on pitchers that really assists the guy who’s at the plate. And it helps when Bourn is on the bases 40 percent of the time. Jason Heyward also seems to have found his stroke after a season long slump last year. He’s hitting .309 and is getting the job done on the bases with five steals.
While Jair Jurrjens may be a hot dumpster fire, Brandon Beachy is pitching like a bonafide ace. With a sub 1 WHIP and an unfathomable .47 ERA. Beachy has always had great stuff, but he has been incredibly efficient this season. When in a two strike count, batters are hitting a measly .131 against him. Never mind Tommy Hanson or Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy is the future ace of that Atlanta staff. (Upcoming Series: at LA Dodgers 3, Pittsburgh 4)
The Indians have done a fantastic job at feasting on the lower competition, posting a 7-2 mark against the Royals, Mariners and Athletics. And the cadaver of Travis Hafner is back and slugging his way through the competition (.357 BA, .509 OBP, .571 SLG). All we need is Grady Sizemore healthy and the man formerly known as Fausto Carmona and we could pretend to be back to the glory days of 2007. (Upcoming Series: Kansas City 3, LA Angels 3)
I guess I need to give some credit where credit is due. The O’s actually look like a baseball team right now. Matt Wieters might finally be the catcher and savior scouts thought he would be when he made his debut in 2009. He’s really hitting ball well as evidenced by his 1.007 OPS and stellar defense behind the plate. Adam Jones may also be finding his potential if this start is any indication. He’s displayed great ability in the field and increased his impact with the bat with 5 HRs and a .955 OPS. If those two play to their talent level, Baltimore might actually be legit. (Upcoming Series: Toronto 3, Oakland 3)
Michael Cuddyer has been a godsend for the Rockies. He’s added a pop to the lineup and is leading the team in BA, RBI, hits, and OPS. He was the only bright spot on a dreadful Twins team last season and is already making his impact felt in Colorado. His talents transfer wonderfully in Coors Field and fit even better with protection from Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. But another acquisition who was growing up during the height of Vietnam is contributing more than just added publicity. Jamie Moyer is actually leading the starting rotation in ERA. Moyer is simply a miracle of science. Kudos to him and keep up the good work, Jamie. (Upcoming Series: at Pittsburgh 1, NY Mets 3)
Another team who I thought would have a snowballs chance in Hell to make it into the top half of the rankings. David Wright has embraced his role as the franchise quite swimmingly and has carried the offense of this team with just fantastic numbers (.439 BA, .510 OBP and 1.120 OPS). If there’s a reason to root for this squad, it’s because of David Wright. He’s working his butt off to carry the Mets. If this team doesn’t hang around, I can only hope that New York moves him to a contender. He deserves it. (Upcoming Series: San Francisco 1, Miami 3, at Colorado 3)
All of a sudden there’s a little panic in the desert. After a bit of a hot start, they’ve faded of late due to a rash of injuries (Chris Young, Justin Upton, Daniel Hudson). And with the Dodgers off to a red-hot start, the D-Backs have been left in the dust. Arizona’s offense will suffer until Young comes back in two-three weeks, as he was their team leader in BA, HR, RBI, OPS, SLG, OBP and hits. And with Justin Upton hindered by a thumb injury, the D-Backs lost five of seven during the week. They need to diversify the offense so the load isn’t completely weighted on the health of two of the outfielders. Solid hitters like Miguel Montero and Jason Kubel need to step up and provide some offense in the meantime, so Arizona doesn’t fall to far behind LA. (Upcoming Series: Philadelphia 3, at Miami 4)
The Phillies can’t score. It’s as simple as that. They rank 29th in scoring with 43 runs through 16 games. That’s a little more than 2.5 runs per game. Luckily for Philly, they’ve only given up 46 runs, which averages out to around 2.8 runs, so they’re never really out of it. If it weren’t for the trio of Hamels, Lee and Halladay, they would’ve found themselves out of the NL East race fairly early. They’re really hurting without the run production of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley. Neither player is ready to come back any time soon, so Shane Victorino and Hunter Pence will have to shoulder the load of the offense. It’s a telling sign for a once dominant offense that the only player batting above .300 is Juan Pierre. (Upcoming Series: at Arizona 3, Chi Cubs)
Another week of baseball and another week of the Giants hanging in the bottom third of the league in offense. Something just doesn’t click on the offensive side of the ball for this team. That being said, if Bruce Bochy would let go of Aubrey Huff and realize that his days as a starter are over (.182 BA, .300 OBP), it could open the door to Brandon Belt, who is younger and more talented. Bochy just seems to have something against putting Belt in his lineup, even as they continue their struggles at the plate. On the upside, Matt Cain is pitching like a pitcher who received the largest deal ever for a right handed pitcher (1.88 ERA, .50 WHIP). And I think Tim Lincecum will be just fine after his sloppy early season starts. The Freak is just too gifted to burn out this early in his career. Good times are around the corner for him. (Upcoming Series: at NY Mets 2, at Cincinnati 3, San Diego 3)
My pick to win the NL Central isn’t look very solid right now. The Reds have simply been consistently inconsistent as evidenced by their 3-3 record over the course of the week. Some days they could score runs, other days they were held in check. Some days their pitching was fantastic, other days they were hit around like a pinata. They need to climb out of the bottom four in runs scored and desperately need Joey Votto to play like a man who’s earned a 10 year contract. Cincy has all of the power any team could desire (Votto, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips, Ryan Ludwick, Drew Stubbs, etc) and the perfect ballpark to show it off. It’s all a question of getting those bats heated up. (Upcoming Series: San Francisco 3, Houston 3)
If anybody knows what this team is supposed to be, please let me know. They rank third to last in fielding and the supposed ace of the rotation (Josh Johnson) sports the highest ERA of any Marlins starter. Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Reyes are fizzling early on this year and Stanton, who hit 34 HR last year, hasn’t notched one this season. Omar Infante and Emilio Bonifacio are arguably the early season MVPs of this team. At least Hanley Ramirez is starting to connect with the bat for the first time in two years and their park looks very, very nice. (Upcoming Series: at NY Mets 3, Arizona 4)
I love this Oakland team, but not because I think they can win any time soon. They just seem like a team of guys who are more than ready to play spoiler for the next two or three season. Yoenis Cespedes has shown that he has crazy power, but he also has shown a complete lack of plate discipline. The Cuban Centipede is striking out every 2.75 at bats and walking every 7.85 at bats. But they can teach him to be a little more patient. If he can become a disciplined hitter at the plate and use the tools he brought over to the US, this will be one of the bigger jackpots Billy Beane has ever hit as a GM. (Upcoming Series: Chi White Sox 3, at Baltimore 3)
Ryan Braun is batting .255 with only 2 HR, 7 RBI and only has two extra base hits in the past seven days. I hate to be that guy, but is he struggling now that he’s off of the juice? (Upcoming Series: Houston 3, at St. Louis 3)
Albert Pujols is almost three weeks into his Angels career and he has yet to hit a home run. Is he struggling because the difficulty of the league change? Is he injured? Is the pressure of being the center of the baseball world in Los Angeles getting to his head a little bit? I have no clue. But whatever is going on, Albert needs to turn his play around fast before his Angels fall too far behind Texas to climb back (currently seven games back). The starting pitching has been adequate (with the exception of the imploding Ervin Santana) enough to help this team win games. Is it possible that the aging outfielders and outstanding pressure on the team is weighing them down (as I predicted in March)? Manager Mike Scioscia needs to figure out whatever problem the problem may be and nip it in the bud before this whole season becomes a disappointment. (Upcoming Series: at Tampa Bay 3, at Cleveland 3)
BOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!! Sorry, I was just trying to get everyone in the mood for Red Sox baseball. But in all seriousness, the situation in Bean Town is a complete and utter disaster. Years of poor decisions and a lack of any real pitching depth have finally cost the Red Sox. The fans want to blame Valentine and fly him like a flag on Pesky’s pole, but their thinking is completely irrational. Here’s why:
(Upcoming Series: at Minnesota 3, at Chi White Sox 4)
Things are turning south in the Pacific Northwest as the M’s have stopped scoring like a normal baseball team. They could only muster seven runs against the White Sox this weekend and fell victim to a perfect game at the hands of Philip Humber. That’s right. Philip Humber. Not the brightest time for Seattle. And unfortunately, their gauntlet of a mid-April schedule doesn’t become any easier as they face off with the Tigers and Blue Jays. At least Felix Hernandez is still on his game (2.76 ERA, 1.02 WHIP). (Upcoming Series: at Detroit 3, at Toronto 3)
The Pirates have scored the least runs in baseball (30) and have given up the least runs in baseball(44). If this team had some semblance of an offense, they, similar to the Phillies could be cruising through the NL right now. But it must be lauded how impressive Pirate pitching has been to this point. A.J. Burnett tossed seven scoreless innings in his debut and looked much sharper than he did under the lights in New York. Erik Bedard is also putting together a nice little season with a 2.63 ERA in four losses where he received a total of three runs in run support. You can’t blame a guy for losing if his team is averaging less than a run per game in his starts. (Upcoming Series: Colorado 4, at Atlanta 3)
They aren’t nearly as bad as I thought they’d be. That could all change once they ship away Brett Meyers, Wandy Rodriguez and Carlos Lee, but the fact that they’ve been competitive and aren’t the worst team in the league should be a pleasant surprise to Houston fans. As barren as the team may be for talent, outfielders J.D. Martinez (.309 BA, 3 HR, .952 OPS) and Jordan Schafer (6 SB), along with second baseman Jose Altuve (.321 BA, 381 OBP) are promising young guys who could be the cornerstones of a decent team four or five years down the road. (Upcoming Series: at Milwaukee 3, at Cincinnati 3)
The pitching isn’t very good with a team ERA of 5.32 and there isn’t help coming any time soon. The Twins’ rotation of Francisco Liriano, Carl Pavano, and three misfits just don’t look like a major league rotation. If there is some good news in Minnesota, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau look fully healthy once again. No one knows how long it’s going to last, but we should all enjoy it while it does. It’s a shame when players with their level of talent and dedication fall victim to the injury bug. (Upcoming Series: Boston 3, Kansas City 3)
The rotation is shaky, the bullpen is minor league quality, and the only three position players who deserve to start in this league are Starlin Castro, Bryan LaHair and Darwin Barney. The loss of Ryan Dempster to the 15-Day DL really limits their pitching staff, which was already lacking depth when the season began. The Lovable Losers will hold true to their nickname this season. (Upcoming Series: St. Louis 3, at Philadelphia 4)
If there is any good news in San Diego, it’s probably because of Chase Headley. The third baseman leads the team in every significant offensive category. While that doesn’t say much seeing as he plays on the Padres, his 1.036 OPS and .432 OBP would beg to differ. (Upcoming Series: Washington 3, at San Francisco 3)
Rarely have I seen a team start any worse at home than the Royals. They haven’t won once in nine opportunities Kauffman Stadium, which will be the host for this summer’s All-Star Game. A team that looked promising before the season began just hasn’t put it together. Eric Hosmer (.183 BA) looks to be going through a sophomore slump, while Alex Gordon (.190 BA) is not performing to the level he did just one season ago. And as always, the Royals just have disappointing starting pitching, with the exception of Bruce Chen (2.00 ERA, .83 WHIP). (Upcoming Series: Toronto 1, at Cleveland 3, at Minnesota 3)