As much as I love the Olympics and the whole spirit of the games, I’m incredibly happy that they’re over with. Baseball (and preseason football) are back in the spotlight and that’s the only sport I need, especially with all the drama shaping up in each league’s respective pennant races. In the National League, we see divisional races that pit teams no more than 4.5 games apart, with only one game separating rivals Los Angeles and San Francisco. The American League features a wild card hunt that has six teams separated by no more than six games. This is the kind of finish to the season Bud Selig envisioned when he added the extra wild card spot to each league. Though many of the changes he puts forward in Major League Baseball tend to be behind by a few years (I’m still waiting him to decide whether both leagues should have the DH or neither should. The fact that two leagues play by different rules is archaic), he nailed this one.
The Nats have chugged along to win 10 of their last 12 and appear to be the toast of the National League. But I want to address the issue of Stephen Strasburg being shut down for the season. Jayson Stark wrote the Strasburg piece to end all Strasburg pieces over the weekend, which you all should read if you have any opinion on the situation. I came out of it feeling as though the Nats are denying Strasburg one of the few opportunities he’ll have to compete for a World Series. Generally, I side with ownership and management on these issues because it’s their team and technically Stephen is their property. Being cautious with one of your greatest assets so he can provide victories in years to come is the smart business decision. It protects their investment in him and I get it in most cases. But in this season, a season where they have the best record in baseball and have a real shot to bring a title home to DC for the first time since 1924. That doesn’t happen every season. And to deprive a pitcher like Strasburg, who is as competitive as they come, is a disservice to him, no matter the health implications. When he’s sitting in the dugout watching his teammates fight for a title, Davey Johnson will have to restrain him to keep him off the field. Injury or not, not many players have the chance to play in October.
(Upcoming Schedule: at San Francisco 3, NY Mets 3)
Texas has been impressive of late, winning each of their past three series. But I’m still concerned about that pitching staff. Sure, Derek Holland had a good start against the Tigers and held them to one run in over seven innings of work. A 4.92 ERA suggests that those starts will be as erratic as his mustache. Ryan Dempster was lit up in his first start to the tune of eight earned runs in his first 4 2/3 innings as a Ranger in Texas. I worry about National League guys having career years and then transitioning midseason to the American League. The offense is better in the AL and Arlington is a pitcher’s worst nightmare. And couple that with the fact that he hasn’t pitched a truly meaningful game in three or four years and you have yourself a guy who will be under a lot of scrutiny in October. Matt Harrison and Yu Darvish shouldn’t concern Ranger fans, but the back end of the rotation should alarm them quite a bit.
(Upcoming Schedule: at NY Yankees 4, at Toronto 3)
After dropping five in a row, the Reds did what any reasonable team on a slump would do: they beat up on the punchless Cubs. But lost in the recent three game winning streak is the bad news that Joey Votto recently underwent another surgery to remove a fragment that was floating around in his knee. Although the Reds hold a 4.5 game over the Buccos, Votto is a necessary cog for this team to hold on to the Central. The man has a WAR of 4.6 and he’s barely played since the All-Star Break. I’d say he’s pretty darn valuable.
(Upcoming Schedule: NY Mets 3, CHI Cubs 4)
Hit the jump for the rest of Christian’s power rankings…
The worries surrounding the Yankees’ shrinking lead in the AL East has slowed quite a bit after taking the final two games of a series against the Tigers and winning two out of three against the Jays. Next up, however, is a Texas team that appears to have regained its stroke after a month where they found themselves as one of the lowest scoring teams in baseball. With Tampa Bay quickly approaching in the rear view mirror, it’s time for the Yankees to put the pedal to the metal and show that they can compete with the big boys in the AL. Now that Derek Lowe and his 5.52 ERA have joined their bullpen, I guess anything is possible.
(Upcoming Schedule: Texas 4, Boston 3)
The best thing to ever happen to the Braves was their inability to land Ryan Dempster. After he vetoed a trade to the ATL, the Braves worked with the Cubs to acquire another one of their starting pitchers. They ended up with Paul Maholm and I think it’s safe to say that the early returns are glowing. After his first tough luck loss in which he pitched seven innings of three run ball, Maholm shut down the Mets, allowing only three hits and no runs. He was one of the more unheralded pickups of the offseason by the Cubs, but he could turn into a valuable guy in the pennant race and a name you could be hearing quite often in October.
(Upcoming Schedule: San Diego 4, LA Dodgers 3)
Though Evan Longoria hasn’t been a huge factor in his return to the Rays lineup (6 for 23), the Rays have sure welcomed him back in grand fashion. They’ve taken six in a row and are gaining ground on the division leading Yankees. The reason they’ve been doing this well can be found in the pitching, in their past 22 games, they’ve given up more than five runs twice and more than three runs four times. That’s a recipe for success that’ll pull any team back into a divisional race.
(Upcoming Schedule: at Seattle 3, at LA Angels 4)
Hunter Pence is batting .184 since joining the NL West leading Giants. It’s not an impressive mark to say the least, but he may be the spark that San Francisco needed to stay ahead of the deep-pocketed Dodgers. The average really hasn’t been there all season as he’s been hovering in the .260s all season (career.288 hitter). What he provides is an above average glove and some major pop to a lineup that struggled in the past to put up runs. With Melky Cabrera having a career year, Buster Posey swinging the hottest bat in baseball (nine homers since the All-Star Break), and a rejuvenated Marco Scutaro, Pence could be the final piece to the Giants offensive puzzle.
(Upcoming Schedule: Washington 3, at San Diego 3)
Could Hanley Ramirez finally have figured things out? My thoughts say otherwise as I consider him about as sane as Leonardo DiCaprio in Shutter Island. But I applaud the Dodgers for opening the checkbook to take on this incredible talent who happens to be a complete headcase. He’s working wonders for them at the moment as he’s batting .288 with 18 RBI in his first 17 games with the club. One of my many worries with him though, is that once Dee Gordon is healthy, do they move Hanley back to third? Because when that happened in Miami, things went from shaky to disastrous.
(Upcoming Schedule: at Pittsburgh 4, at Atlanta 3)
Lost in the wonderful Cinderella story of the Oakland Athletics is that Bartolo Colon is in fact still pitching in Major League Baseball. It came as a shock to me as I was flipping through channels to see our big, fat buddy taking the mound against the White Sox. Though that start was less than stellar, he’s actually put together quite the stretch of starts. In his three previous starts, Colon allowed no runs over 20 2/3 innings and walked only two. With Jarrod Parker and Tommy Milone’s training wheels falling off in their past few starts, Colon needs to step up to keep the A’s in the wild card lead.
(Upcoming Schedule: at Kansas City 3, Cleveland 3)
I don’t think enough can be said about the job Jake Peavy is doing this season. Over his past three starts, he’s 2-1 with a 2.18 ERA and has struck out 18 in his past 20 2/3 innings. Without him, Chris Sale would be the only pitcher in the Sox rotation that would put fear into any other opponent. Excuse me if Francisco Liriano, Phillip Humber, John Danks, and Jose Quintana don’t put the fear of God into me. With a 3.08 ERA and 1.17 WHIP on the season, I think it’s safe to say that Jake is one of the leaders for the Comeback Player of the Year.
(Upcoming Schedule: at Toronto 4, at Kansas City 3)
Early on in August, Neil Walker is finally giving Andrew McCutchen a hand in propelling the awkward Pittsburgh offense. Since the month began, Neil has been raking, batting .324 with three homers and 12 RBI. With Cutch still batting a godly average of .362 (I can’t even explain to you guys how amazing that is considering its mid-August), a second consistent bat chipping in will surely take the pressure off of the soon to be NL MVP.
(Upcoming Schedule: LA Dodgers 4, at St. Louis 3)
Just when you think this team is dead, they rise back up again. They’re now only 5.5 games out of first and are one of the two leaders of the wild card chase. They did play the Royals and Mariners this week, but the week before, they took down the Yankees and the Rays. Wei-Yin Chen and Chris Tillman have done a masterful job in keeping the rotation afloat until Jason Hammel comes back and their 2.99 bullpen ERA ranks second in the American League and fourth overall. I guess there are reasons this team is doing better, but I still don’t see it lasting into September.
(Upcoming Schedule: Boston 3, at Detroit 3)
Adam Wainwright is back and I’m sure all of St. Louis is happy to see it. He hasn’t allowed more than two earned runs since July 13th and has an 0.81 WHIP for his two starts in the month of August. With Jaime Garcia out most of the year and Chris Carpenter shelved for the season, Wainwright turning it around is a crucial step if the Cardinals wish to return to the playoffs and defend their World Series Championship. He, along with Kyle Lohse and the somehow-still-effective Jake Westbrook are a good trio of guys who should keep them in the hunt through September.
(Upcoming Schedule: Arizona 3, Pittsburgh 3)
Still can’t figure this team out? Me neither. After what appeared to be the 20th turning point of the season against the Indians on Sunday, the Tigers started off by impressively taking the first two games in a series against the Yankees. They then managed to do everything in their power to lose the next two games. They looked impressive again in a defeat of the Rangers on Friday, only to be betrayed by their bullpen in the next two games. Some weeks the starting pitching is horrendous and other weeks, it’s the offense. Lately, the bullpen has been a dumpster fire. Mercifully for Tigers’ fans, they’re playing Minnesota this week so the stress level should go down a bit.
(Upcoming Schedule: at Minnesota 3, Baltimore 3)
Speaking of bullpen issues… The Angels’ bullpen hasn’t been very good lately. In fact, a word related to excrement would describe it quite well in August. Closer Ernesto Frieri, who started off his Angel career with 25 scoreless innings, has had a terrible August. His ERA this month is at 9.00. Hisanori Takahashi, Jason Isringhausen, and LaTroy Hawkins all have ERAs since the trade deadline and Scott Downs is still on the disabled list. It may not be time to panic in Tinseltown quite yet, but slowly but surely, lofty early season expectations are beginning to crush the Angels.
(Upcoming Schedule: Cleveland 3, Tampa Bay 4)
Last week, my boss Mark Travis wrote a piece regarding the NL Rookie of the Year, making a case for the Reds’ Todd Frazier. While I won’t go into as much detail as he did as I have limited space here, I’d like to cast my vote for the D-Backs rookie sensation Wade Miley. Lost in the NL West, Miley has assumed the ace role that established pitchers Ian Kennedy, Trevor Cahill, and Joe Saunders were unable to fill. On the year, Miley has recorded a WHIP of 1.12 and an ERA just a hair above 3 (3.02 to be exact). And though he doesn’t strike a ton of guys out (6.5 K/9), he doesn’t put a ton of guys on either as evidenced by the WHIP and his excellent 1.7 BB/9. And it’s not like he’s getting incredibly lucky either. His BaBIP of .282 isn’t far from .300, which is generally what league average is at the end of the year. He wasn’t the highest rated pitching prospect coming out of the farm (see Bauer, Trevor), but he’s provided the most results and I think that’s worthy of a rookie of the year vote.
(Upcoming Schedule: at St. Louis 3, at Houston 3)
Surprisingly, nothing much to report on the BoSox front this week. They’re still struggling without Big Papi (12-15 in his absence) and no one’s put up the numbers to cover what he was providing to this team (.316/.414/.609). It appears that it’ll be a second straight year that Boston finds themselves on the outside looking in with regards to the postseason.
(Upcoming Schedule: at Baltimore 3, at NY Yankees 3)
Lost in the Mets’ recent struggles is that R.A. Dickey is still pitching pretty well. Is he dominating for eight innings every start similar to the first half? Of course not. But he’s put up some nice starts of late and I feel like he deserves some recognition. In his past three starts (a common theme in the power rankings this week), he’s thrown 23 innings, allowed three earned runs, and struck out 27. I feel like he was exploited in the first half for his story, and now that attention has moved away from the Mets, his work no longer is as impressive. The stats show the contrary and the Cy Young spotlight shouldn’t move away from him quite yet.
(Upcoming Schedule: at Cincinnati 3, at Washington 3)
Catch of the year? I think so… Kudos to you Rajai Davis. You’ve taken the attention away from the injury-ravaged lineup and focused it on a feat of athletic superiority. Well done, sir. Well done.
(Upcoming Schedule: CHI Sox 4, Texas 3)
After being swept by the Cards to end last week, the Brewers responded with a triumphant sweep of the division leading Reds. Unfortunately, they followed it up with a series defeat to the Astros. It couldn’t help that Ryan Braun is mired in a bit of a slump, batting .200 over the past week and .250 in the month of August. It’s not like that’s really kept the Brewers from going anywhere (probably the most boring team of the 2012 season), but still, it’s never good to not have the reigning MVP stroking the ball night in and night out.
(Upcoming Schedule: at Colorado 3, Philadelphia 4)
Sneakily becoming a sleeper to contend for next season, the Padres are red hot right now. Before Sunday’s loss, the Pads were riding a six game winning streak and looked good in doing it. Just thinking about their team next year makes me giddy. Yasmani Grandal behind the plate, Yonder Alonso and Chase Headley manning the corners, Jedd Gyorko holding down second, Cameron Maybin and Carlos Quentin patrolling the outfield, and a rotation that features Cory Luebke, Tim Stauffer, Edison Volquez, and Andrew Cashner. If there’s a team with a brighter future, I just don’t see it. I’m straight up in love with this Padres team and I don’t care who knows it.
(Upcoming Schedule: at Atlanta 4, San Francisco 3)
(Upcoming Schedule: at LA Angels 3, at Oakland 3)
If you want a team that is the model of consistency, this is not your team. After an impressive seven game winning streak, the M’s messed around for a couple games before going on a five game losing streak. Of course, they’ve taken their next two, so the only logical thing is for another winning streak to begin. And in other news, Jason Vargas has been very, very good for Seattle. In fact, he hasn’t given up more than three runs since a 10 run meltdown against Arizona on June 20th. Seattle was smart to keep him despite the constant trade deadline rumors.
(Upcoming Schedule: Tampa Bay 3, Minnesota 3)
I’m going to give you guys a challenge: Name five position players on the Phillies not named Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, and Jimmy Rollins. Stumped, aren’t you? So am I. When they talked about selling at the deadline, they sure weren’t kidding. At least they’re the most experienced AAAA team in the majors.
(Upcoming Schedule: at Miami 3, at Milwaukee 4)
I hate to give you the same link twice, but I find a lot of humor in Miami ranking 18th in attendance this season. So much for the traditional attendance spike new stadiums experience in their opening season. No offense to the Miami fans who read this piece (because if you’re reading this, you’re better than most fans of this team), but they have no idea how to support a professional sports franchise.
(Upcoming Schedule: Philadelphia 3, at Colorado 4)
While we’re on the topic of attendance, Minnesota, a fourth place team, is drawing over 35,000 people per game. The only other sub .500 teams above the Twinkies in attendance are Philly, Boston, and the Cubs (traditional high sellers). For a team that never had any expectations coming into the season (unlike Boston and Philly), I’d say that’s something Minnesotans should be proud of.
(Upcoming Schedule: Detroit 3, at Seattle 3)
Last Wednesday, Jeremy Guthrie threw eight shutout innings against the White Sox in US Cellular Field. I thought I’d seen it all, but I guess I was mistaken. 2012 may be the end of days after all.
(Upcoming Schedule: Oakland 3, CHI Sox 3)
I watched a Cubs/Reds game last Friday where five errors were committed. All five of those errors were committed by the Cubs and each one was worse than the next. Whether it was Starlin Castro letting the ball roll under his glove or an inexperienced catcher throwing the ball into right field on a steal attempt and rookie center fielder Brett Jackson letting the ball roll by him as the run scored, it was ugly. Yet I couldn’t help but laugh. I haven’t seen anything that funny happen on the diamond without Kenny Powers on the mound.
(Upcoming Schedule: Houston 3, at Cincinnati 4)
The only thing keeping the Rockies from being the last team on this list is the next team on this list.
(Upcoming Schedule: Milwaukee 3, Miami 4)
The last team to be this bad was the Cleveland Spiders. That’s not good company.
(Upcoming Schedule: at CHI Cubs 3, Arizona 3)