(Note: This was originally posted on July 11. The records and standings reflect that.)
It's time for another one of these, and before I get started, I'd like to thank all of you who took the time to read the first edition earlier this season. Much has changed since then, so I'll certainly have to shake things up here in volume II.
Just a reminder, these power rankings are NOT based entirely upon the current records. If I focused solely upon the records, then we could all just look at the standings on MLB.com or in our local newspaper instead of reading something like this.
So what exactly is the difference?
Well, I'm projecting a little bit. Meaning, one team might have a better record than another right now, but if it's a slight difference and I think the trailing team will be superior in the long run, then I'll rank them ahead of the team with the better record.
I did my best to avoid making that confusing. My apologies if it still was. Anyway, let's get on with it...
30. Washington Nationals-25-60, last in the NL East
I'm sorry Nats, I had no choice. I like some of the talent on this roster -- Adam Dunn, Ryan Zimmerman, Cristian Guzman, Jordan Zimmermann, John Lannan -- but Manny Acta's bullpen seems to blow one game after another. This team can score, and I'm a supporter of their manager, but their bullpen sucks and their front office is even worse.
I do have to give Mike Rizzo credit for the Mike MacDougal pluck off the scrap heap, though. He's been the lone bright spot in the abysmal Washington bullpen.
29. San Diego Padres-35-51, last in the NL West
The Scott Hairston trade was a real head-scratcher to me. It's not like the guy is making $15 million a year, and he was one of their most productive offensive players.
I actually interviewed San Diego's general manager, Kevin Towers, for my book, Theo-logy: How a Boy Wonder Led the Red Sox to the Promised Land. KT's a great guy, but he's not working with much as far as funding and minor league talent go. I guess, in part he's responsible for the minor league talent part, but scouting and drafting become more difficult when the money isn't there for long-term commitments. This franchise is a mess right now.
28. Cleveland Indians-34-53, last in the AL Central
Like the Nationals, I tried to be patient with this club. They have some legitimate pieces -- Grady Sizemore, Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez, and even Shin-Soo Choo has been impressive -- but it's just not coming together for Eric Wedge's boys. Wedge and Manny Acta are in very similar managerial situations. Cleveland has had a few key injuries, but no excuses, this team isn't performing.
27. Arizona Diamondbacks-37-50, 4th in the NL West
This is a very strange group. It's essentially the same team from 2007, a team that went to the National League Championship Series, but now they suck. Obviously the absence of Brandon Webb makes a huge difference, but the offensive pieces remain in place.
The Bob Melvin firing definitely hasn't helped this club, and I'm starting to wonder about GM Josh Byrnes. He came from Theo Epstein's cabinet in Boston, but maybe he was given a little TOO much credit for that. I guess it remains to be seen. Nonetheless, his offense is impatient and seemingly unwilling to adjust its approach. More frustration is on the horizon.
26. Oakland Athletics-35-49, last in the AL West
I like what Billy Beane decided to do with his starting pitching: go young, use them all, and use them before they fully develop and hit free agency, where the Athletics always lose them. So Bob Geren runs Dallas Braden, Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, and Josh Outman (now injured) out there, and the results haven't been disastrous. The core of starting pitchers has shown plenty of potential, so much so that they could be quite good next year.
But that's next year. This is now, and the numbers aren't great, and the offense is erratic. Actually, erratic is probably too generous -- the offense is $hitty, there's no sugar-coating it.
25. Pittsburgh Pirates-38-48, last in the NL Central
Heading into the season, I was pretty sure that this would be one of the absolute worst teams in baseball. Now, they're bad -- don't get me wrong -- but they're not THAT bad. They are an ecclectic small-ball type team, but they don't necessarily play that style. It's difficult to explain, but basically, they are competitive.
The jury's still out on the Nyger Morgan/Sean Burnett for Joel Hanrahan/Lastings Milledge deal, but I wasn't ripping Pittsburgh's front office the day of the trade, unlike many others. Milledge is much younger than Morgan, and the Pirates already have a speedster that they want to rely on at the top of their order (Andrew McCutcheon). Milledge has extremely quick hands and he's shown some pop (14 homers at the major league level last year). Hanrahan has good stuff, too.
24. Kansas City Royals-37-49, 4th in the AL Central
I was 100 percent sure that their hot start was a fluke. Joakim Soria is a top closer and Zack Greinke is for real, but there's little else "real" about this team. Trey Hillman is unquestionably one of the worst managers in the bigs, and it doesn't help that his club's talent level is blatantly sub-par.
23. New York Mets-40-45, 4th in the NL East
Talk about a team in disarray. Jerry Manuel is probably the only manager worse than Trey Hillman, and he gets even worse with Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, and Jose Reyes out of commission. Manuel can't handle a team when it's fully healthy and built to win, so now that he's left with scrap parts and quadrouple-A players, it's a natural disaster for everyone involved.
Especially us...the fans.
22. Baltimore Orioles-38-48, last in the AL East
It's difficult to rank this team because their division is so damn strong. I think, offensively, that this is one of the most talented groups in the game. They have a nice mix of young (Adam Jones and Matt Wieters), prime (Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts), and old (Aubrey Huff and Melvin Mora).
But their pitching sucks. Jeremy Guthrie is OK, but far from a true ace, and Brad Bergesen appears to be the lone bright spot. And yet, even with the pitching issues, I think they would contend for a playoff spot if they were a National League team. The explosiveness is there.
21. Cincinnati Reds-42-43, 5th in the NL Central
I thought they'd be a bit of a sleeper this season, and I'm not totally abandoning them, but they haven't been playing particularly well of late. Jay Bruce has been wildly inconsistent and clueless at times, and the Joey Votto absence hurt them a short while back. Edwin Encarnacion is another one of those headache-inducing offensive players, and Willy Taveras had the worst slump in baseball a few weeks ago.
This isn't a great team, but the NL Central is rich in parity. They might stick around, but it will be difficult without Edison Volquez and Johnny Cueto performing well with regularity.
20. Atlanta Braves-42-44, 3rd in the NL East
I really like the 1-4 in their rotation -- Javier Vazquez, Jair Jurrjens, Derek Lowe, and Kenshin Kawakami -- but Bobby Cox's club has struggled to find consistent offensive production. Nate McLouth had a good week after some time off with an injury, and perhaps he'll be the one to jump start this offense. Chipper Jones and Brian McCann have to be good in order for them to remain in the race.
19. Seattle Mariners-44-42, 3rd in the AL West
Offensively, I'm not sure how this team gets anything done. Ichiro's success is a given, but is Russell Branyan really their second-best hitter? Really? C'mon, that can't be right...
That means a ton of a credit has to go to rookie manager Don Wakamatsu, and a starting rotation that features the righty-lefty duo of "King" Felix Hernandez, and Jarrod Washburn.
18. Houston Astros-43-43, 3rd in the NL Central
I didn't think this club was as bad as it performed early in the year. They've shown signs of life, and everyone knows they're a tremendous second-half team. Why that is, I couldn't tell you, but they are consistently better as the season winds to its close. We'll see if that's the case again this time around...
I like the job Cecil Cooper has done, and this team has its share of big names: Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee, Miguel Tejada, Hunter Pence, and Roy Oswalt. They are certainly good enough to compete in that division.
17. Milwaukee Brewers-44-42, 2nd in the NL Central
This team has floundered, as I felt it would. I love their stars, Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder, but their starting pitching -- with the exception of Yovani Gallardo -- is bordering on laughable. Their new guy, 30-year old rookie Mike Burns, is a total joke. 85-88 MPH fastball with little league offspeed stuff. They are really desperate for help in that department, if you haven't already noticed.
Missing C.C. Sabathia, huh Milwaukee?
16. Chicago Cubs-42-42, 4th in the NL Central
Something's definitely amiss in this organization. The club looked pretty solid on paper heading into the season -- as it has in recent years when they reached the postseason -- but things are far from promising at the moment. Their starting pitching hasn't been as deep and effective as they thought it would be, and I'm sorry, I think Lou Piniella has become a horrific manager in his old age. That goes for pre-game structure and preparation, and in-game decision making.
15. Florida Marlins-45-43, 2nd in the NL East
This is a totally different team with Ricky Nolasco back in the groove. Nolasco was one of the premier pitchers in the National League in 2008, but he stumbled out of the gate in '09. So much so, that he spent some time down in AAA.
But now Ricky is back and good as new. His strikeout rate is recovering, and he's solidifying the top of that rotation alongside all-star Josh Johnson. Cody Ross is swinging a helluva bat, too.
14. Chicago White Sox-44-42, 2nd in the AL Central
For awhile it seemed like they'd be obsolete this year, but Ozzie Guillen has rallied his troops (as he has a tendency to do). The bats have come alive, led by Paul Konerko, and Alexei Ramirez is doing everything he can to shake off his sophomore slump.
I like their pitching, all the way through from the starters to the back of the bullpen. That's a nice luxury to have. The foursome of Scott Linebrink, Octavio Dotel, Matt Thornton, and Bobby Jenks is arguably the best at the back of ANY bullpen.
13. Minnesota Twins-44-43, 3rd in the AL Central
Damn, Joe Mauer is good. So good. He's f'n awesome. Justin Morneau isn't too shabby either, and I love Rod Gardenhire's rotation. Francisco Liriano and Scott Baker haven't been as effective as the organization would have liked, but they've shown positive signs. While the club waits for those two to turn the corner, Nick Blackburn and Kevin Slowey have carried the load. Blackburn is one of the game's true breakout pitchers in '09.
12. Colorado Rockies-46-40, 3rd in the NL West
While the Bob Melvin firing hasn't done much for the Arizona Diamondbacks in the National League West, the Clint Hurdle execution has propelled the Rockies in a positive direction. While Hurdle was manager, Jim Tracy was one of the best coaches who WASN'T the main man in a major league dugout. The Rockies' front office was aware of that. Kudos to them; Tracy is pushing all the right buttons...
11. Toronto Blue Jays-44-44, 4th in the AL East
Wrong division, wrong time for these guys. I feel bad for GM J.P. Ricciardi, because he has collected a respectable amount of talent, and yet this organization is doomed behind the Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays.
As for that aforementioned talent, second baseman Aaron Hill has been outstanding, Marco Scutaro was the right fit for them at shortstop, Scott Rolen has more left in the tank than I thought he had, Adam Lind is one of the best, young left-handed hitters in the league, and they are rich in young starting pitching.
Don't forget about their bad luck with right handers Dustin McGowan and Shaun Marcum, both of whom have been out for the entire season with devastating injuries.
10. Detroit Tigers-47-38, 1st in the AL Central
I can't quite put my finger on it, but something tells me that they aren't going to finish the year in first place. I think it'll be the White Sox or Twins, but I don't have a good enough reason to supplant the Tigers on this particular list.
I've always been a fan of Jim Leyland and his managerial style, and Curtis Granderson and Justin Verlander are excellent organizational pieces...but something is missing. Like I said, I can't quite put my finger on it. But do you know what I'm getting at? They are just short, all around. Not enough firepower. Maybe I'm wrong -- we'll see.
9. San Francisco Giants-48-38, 2nd in NL West
It's tough to argue with Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain at the top of GM Brian Sabean's rotation. All things considered, that's probably the top 1-2 punch in baseball. "Probably" is probably too weak a word. Ah, puns.
Pablo Sandoval doesn't look the part -- he's rotund and appears that he should have played in a different, past era -- but man, he can hit. He's a natural that goes to all fields and has an absolute blast playing the game. What a pleasure to watch.
8. Texas Rangers-48-37, tied for 1st in the AL West
I'm not entirely sold on Ron Washington's knowledge of the game and ability to manage a major league team at a playoff level, but the Rangers have appeared to turn the corner as an organization. I'm not in love with the extension given to Washington, but it's difficult to discredit the work he's done THIS year. Past years, maybe; but not this year.
We all know the Rangers can hit, but they've been scrapping for victories when they've had to in '09. It hasn't been all mash and bash, especially with Milton Bradley (one of their top dogs last season) and Josh Hamilton (long injury hiatus) out of the lineup.
But the reigning homerun champ is back in the batting order now, and that should only help this ballclub. They're expecting Ian Kinsler to break out of a prolonged slump in the second half, as well.
7. St. Louis Cardinals-48-41, 1st in the NL Central
They ARE the best team in their division, but the margin from the pack is slim. Tony LaRussa and Albert Pujols are stabilizing forces for the Cardinals, and we can add Chris Carpenter to that list now that he's healthy and dealing.
But this club has holes; there's no question. LaRussa's bullpen has been pretty up-and-down, and can you really trust Ryan Franklin in a save situation down the stretch? He lost the job last year due to second-half ineffectiveness, and his stuff just isn't that great. He throws strikes and attacks the strikezone, but he's very hittable. That's not my type of closer.
6. Philadelphia Phillies-46-38, 1st in the NL East
When healthy, their lineup is scary good. Ryan Howard. Chase Utley. Raul Ibanez. Shane Victorino. Jayson Werth. Jimmy Rollins.
Damn, I wouldn't want to face them if I were an opposing pitcher, ESPECIALLY in their home park. What a joke; that place plays like your local little league field.
But Philly's starting pitching is completely and utterly unimpressive. Even Cole Hamels, staff ace and reigning World Series MVP, has been far from untouchable. He's had some really alarming, clunker starts this season. It mostly stems from overconfidence in his fastball, which he (occasionally) tries to sneak by hitters without locating well. His get-me-over fastball is a get-me-over-the-fence four-seamer.
Joe Blanton, Jamie Moyer, J.A. Happ...c'mon, they aren't scaring anyone.
5. Los Angeles Angels-48-37, tied for 1st in the AL West
After a slow start riddled with injury and heartbreak, Mike Scioscia's club is back to its regular season ways of dominance. It seems like this team is built to win in the regular season, every...single...year. They are the American League version of the 90's Atlanta Braves, or at least they're headed that way.
Their front office is solid, as is their roster, all the way around. Ervin Santana and Joe Saunders haven't been as effective as they'd like them to be in the rotation, but I have to think they'll improve in the second half. I guess that's not really saying much, because they've been pretty terrible.
Anyway, regardless of any of the specifics, I have a ton of confidence in this team. I'd be shocked if the Rangers beat them out for the division title.
4. Tampa Bay Rays-48-39, 3rd in the AL East
Put this particular group in any other division, and I think they'd be a first-place team. That includes the NL West, in spite of the Dodgers' impressive winning percentage. The Rays are arguably the best offensive club in baseball, boasting the likes of Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena, B.J. Upton, Jason Bartlett, and incredible upstart Ben Zobrist.
I didn't approve of Joe Maddon's decision-making in the postseason last year, but he's an excellent regular season manager. He knows how to get his players to respond, and he's pretty astute at handling the lineup and bullpen. His rotation is ripe with quality arms in James Shields, Matt Garza, Scott Kazmir, David Price, and Jeff Niemann.
3. Los Angeles Dodgers-55-31, 1st in the NL West
Joe Torre's on his way to another Manager of the Year award, though like Joe Maddon and Lou Piniella, I didn't approve of his postseason managing last year. I wrote a 20-page memo dissecting the specific decisions made by those three managers, I just don't want to get too deep into that right now.
Back to the task at hand, I'm not completely sold on this team as a World Series contender. Sure they have the best record in baseball right now, but we all know the National League West is weak. The Giants and Rockies have shown signs of life in the past month and a half, but they beat up on the Padres and Diamondbacks, like everyone else does.
The Dodgers are good, there's no doubt about that, but they have a tendency to go through scoring droughts. Those will occur less often now, with Manny Ramirez back in the lineup, and looking comfortable as ever.
As an aside, I hate that Torre bats Matt Kemp last.
2. New York Yankees-51-36, 2nd in the AL East
Joe Girardi's boys are mashing the ball right now, and it's not surprising with names like Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter, Johnny Damon, Robinson Cano, Hideki Matsui, and Jorge Posada sprinkled throughout the lineup.
C.C. Sabathia and A.J. Burnett are settling in at the top of the rotation, but Joba Chamberlain and Andy Pettitte are definitely concerns going forward. Joba can't seem to give Girardi any length, and the clock on Pettitte's great career is ticking.
On the bright side, Phil Hughes is developing into a more-than-adequate setup man for Mariano Rivera, who has returned to consistency after an alarming start to the year. This team's only glaring weakness is the back of its rotation.
1. Boston Red Sox-52-34, 1st in the AL East
If you're in first place in a division with the Yankees, Rays, and Blue Jays, then you're undoubtedly the premier team in baseball. It may be by a small margin, but Theo Epstein's collection of talent reigns supreme at the moment.
Terry Francona is one of the top managers in the game; there's Kevin Youkilis, Jason Bay, Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, J.D. Drew, and Jacoby Ellsbury offensively, with Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Tim Wakefield, and Brad Penny in the rotation.
Boston's bullpen is one of the elite, with Jonathan Papelbon anchoring the unit in the ninth inning. The Boston Red Sox have talent, depth, and a never-quit attitude across the board. They are the best team in the major leagues.
Comments? Questions? I welcome and encourage all opinions.
(The Red Sox are the new Yankees. How did they make the transition? "JFro," aka John Frascella, is the author of "Theo-logy: How a Boy Wonder Led the Red Sox to the Promised Land." It's the first full-length book centered on Boston Red Sox's popular general manager Theo Epstein. Preview or purchase it online at Amazon.com, Barnes and Noble or Borders. It's currently stocked in Barnes and Noble stores throughout the U.S. Also, check out John on Twitter.)