MLB Power Rankings: June 18th to 24th

Nova notched his ninth win over the weekend for the Yanks

1. New York Yankees (+3, 40-25, 1st in AL East)

This Week: vs. Atlanta (3), @ NY Mets (3)

There is no team in baseball hotter than the Yankees, who backed up a sweep of the Mets with back-to-back sweeps of the Braves and Nationals, both on the road. Two of those wins last week thanks in large part to Ivan Nova’s masterful performances. He picked up wins #8 and #9 in what had previously been a forgettable season despite picking up seven wins. He gave up only one run in 14.2 innings with 10 strikeouts and only two walks. Partner the Yankees recent string of strong pitching with their Top 5 offense and, yeah, you get a team that is incredibly hard to beat on any given day.

2. Texas Rangers (+4, 40-27, 1st in AL West)

This Week: @ San Diego (3), vs. Colorado (3)

Even with Josh Hamilton hospitalized due to illness, the Rangers managed to have their way with the lowly Houston Astros over the weekend, sweeping them in three games. With Hamilton primed to return on Monday, the Rangers have themselves a pretty easy week coming up against the two worst teams in the NL West. Everybody likes to focus on Hamilton’s offensive prowess, Adrian Beltre deserves a lot of credit himself in the league’s best offense. He has four-straight multi-hit games to raise his season line to .309/.336/.504 with 11 home runs and 43 RBI.

3. Los Angeles Dodgers (-1, 41-25, 1st in NL West)

This Week: @ Oakland (3), @ LA Angels (3)

The Dodgers remain to hit just enough without Matt Kemp to keep them with the best record in the National League. How have they been able to do that, exactly? If you haven’t noticed the season Chris Capuano (8-2, 2.71ERA, 80 Ks in 86.1 IP), time to recognize, people. Sunday, he went 8 innings against the White Sox, striking out 12 while walking only one and allowing one earned run in a 2-1 victory. He’s been well worth the two-year, $10 million contract the Dodgers gave him in the off-season, and he’s even outperformed Clayton Kershaw thus far. It may not last, but Capuano has re-established himself as a bona fide #2 in a playoff-bound rotation.

4. Baltimore Orioles (+4, 39-27, 2nd in AL East)

This Week: @ NY Mets (3), vs. Washington (3)

News-flash: The Baltimore Orioles aren’t going anywhere. The Orioles shut-out the Braves in back-to-back games over the weekend thanks to strong efforst from Jason Hammel and Wei-Yin Chen. If you were wondering what the theme of this week’s post is, its impressive pitching performances from unexpected areas. The Orioles version is none other than Hammel. His complete game shut-out in Atlanta lowered his season’s ERA to 2.87, while locking down his seventh win. He’s striking out nearly a batter an inning while continuing to lead the Fighting Showalters to unexpected success. He’s lining himself up perfectly for his first All-Star appearance.

Cueto continues to mow through NL competition

5. Cincinnati Reds (+5, 38-27, 1st in NL Central)

This Week: @ Cleveland (3), vs. Minnesota (3)

It was a perfect week for the Reds, who are quickly rising up in the Rankings. While Joey Votto continues to put up MVP-caliber numbers and establish himself as the best NL first baseman post-Pujols era, we’re going to focus on the pitcher who has had the best ERA in the Majors over the last two years. That’s right, Johnny Cueto has been fantastic, and nobody should disclude him from All-Star starting assignments. Should he finally debunk the injury concerns and stay healthy throughout the whole season, he will certainly be in the discussion for Cy Young.

6. Tampa Bay Rays (-5, 37-29, 3rd in AL East)

This Week: @ Washington (3), @ Philadelphia (3)

Strange week for the Rays. They entered the week sporting the best rotational ERA in the AL, only to be blown up by the Mets in a 3-game sweep. How do you follow that up? Naturally by shutting out the Marlins two out of three games. Makes sense. It is really hard to be considered underwhelming when you’re a rookie who has won 4 games and has more strikeouts (79) than innings pitched (75.2). Yet, that’s what faces Matt Moore, who many had pegged as AL Rookie of the Year before the season started. Moore hasn’t been bad, he just hasn’t lived up to the high expectations placed on him. With Mike Trout being a monster right now, odds of Moore doing enough to recover (7 shut-out innings of 1-hit ball Sunday against the Marlins) are slim.

7. Washington Nationals (-4, 38-26, 1st in NL East)

This Week: vs. Tampa Bay (3), @ Baltimore (3)

It was a strange week for a couple of teams. We can include the Nationals in on this parade, who went from sweeping Toronto to getting swept by the Yankees. Times don’t get any easier for the first place Nats, but if they want to be contenders towards the end of the season, this is the time for them to flex their muscle. We’ve done a lot of praising both Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez recently, but did you know both those arms trail Jordan Zimmermann in quality starts? Zimm’s 11 is one better than both his teammates, which makes his win total of only 3 that much more impressive.

Perfection!

8. San Francisco Giants (37-29, 2nd in NL West)

This Week: @ LA Angels (3), @ Oakland (3)

Perfection. That’s the only word needed to describe Matt Cain and his 14-strikeout, 27-up, 27-down domination of the Houston Astros last week. He put the exclamation point on his early bid to start the All-Star Game, which is exactly what the Giants need considering its almost official Tim Lincecum is not going to turn it around this season. And, while Cain garners the headlines, Ryan Vogelsong has backed up his unlikely 2011 All-Star season with another rather unlikely 2012 potential All-Star season. 

9. Los Angeles Angels (+4, 36-31, 2nd in AL West)

This Week: vs. San Francisco (3), vs. LA Dodgers (3)

The good times are rolling in Los Angeles yet again. The problem is, if they never do catch the Rangers at the top of the division, they’ll have to fight with the likes of the Rays and Orioles for the Wild Card, among others. The better news, this team is really hitting their stride with their best pitcher (Jered Weaver) remaining on the DL. With Weaver on the shelf, its C.J. Wilson who has been picking up the slack with his 7 wins, 11 quality starts and 2.30 ERA. Its even more important since Dan Haren is still not completely right on the mound, giving up 9 runs in his last two starts.

10. Chicago White Sox (-1, 35-30, 1st in AL Central)

This Week: vs. Chicago Cubs (3), vs. Milwaukee (3)

Despite a rather rough week, the White Sox remain on top of the AL Central thanks largely to the struggles of the other teams in the Central. The interesting question facing the White Sox this week is, with the lack of a DH at their use, how exactly do they plan on keeping Adam Dunn and his 22 HRs in the line-up? He will likely slot into the outfield, leaving Paul Konerko at work, but this could turn into a long week defensively for the South Siders.

Is this really happening?!

11. Pittsburgh Pirates (+0, 34-31, 2nd in NL Central)

This Week: vs. Minnesota (3), vs. Detroit (3)

After an early week sweep at the hands of the Orioles, the Pirates rebounded strongly with two wins over the weekend against the slumping Indians. A lot of attention has been paid to the Pirates three (yes, I said three) likely All-Stars in Andrew McCutchen, James McDonald and Joel Hanrahan, but its time to take notice of A.J. Burnett. Yes, THAT A.J. Burnett. The guy that is sporting a 7-2 record with a 3.52 ERA. Nobody, not one, expected that kind of rebound from the Yankee cast-off.

12. Atlanta Braves (-7, 35-31, 2nd in NL East)

This Week: @ NY Yankees (3), @ Boston (3)

How many times have we talked about the Braves being insanely streaky? Well, the Braves are on another one of their patented cold streaks, losers of six out of the last seven games. Another reason for their huge drop in the PR this week is due to the health, or lack there of, of Brandon Beachy. MLB’s leader in ERA was placed on the 15-day DL with right elbow soreness. Or, you know, the last thing you ever want one of your young starters ever experiencing. Ever.

13. St. Louis Cardinals (+5, 34-32, 3rd in NL Central)

This Week: @ Detroit (3), @ Kansas City (3)

There isn’t a more confusing team in the league right now than the Cardinals. The individual parts aren’t just more successful than the team right now, they’re incredibly more successful. The Cardinals are losing ground to the surging Reds right now, but there is plenty of time to gain some games back, so there isn’t a reason to be worried there. We’ve touched on Lance Lynn (and his 10 wins), but we haven’t discussed Kyle Lohse yet this year, who is also an impressive 6-2 and 2.98 ERA. That’s even more helpful considering Adam Wainwright is still trying to get things on track, Chris Carpenter is still out with injury, Jaime Garcia is on the DL and Jake Westbrook is looking more and more like, well, Jake Westbrook.

Be afraid. Be very afraid.

14. New York Mets (+1, 35-32, 3rd in NL East)

This Week: vs. Baltimore (3), vs. NY Yankees (3)

More strange weeks to be had. The Mets went into Tampa and blew out the Rays, then returned home and didn’t hit a lick against the Reds. Luckily for them, it was an exceptionally hard weekend for NL East teams, so they still remain only 4.5 back of the Nationals and only 3 in the loss column in the Wild Card race (yes, I am keeping track of both these races in June). I don’t think I’ve gushed enough about R.A. Dickey just yet. Before Cain threw his Perfect Game, Dickey was the leader in the clubhouse for NL ASG starting duties. He sports 10 wins, hasn’t given up an earned run in four starts, struck out a career-high 12 against the Rays and has an ERA quickly approaching 2. The best part about Dickey: he gets two starts next week. Expectations are high.

15. Cleveland Indians (-3, 33-32, 2nd in AL Central)

This Week: vs. Cincinnati (3), @ Houston (3)

A hard week last week literally picks up right where it left off. The Reds swept Cleveland at Great American Ballpark last week, and now the two teams get to be reunited in Cleveland. No starter has truly distinguished themselves yet, though Derek Lowe has proven his off year last year was more fluke than norm. Regardless of what happens this week for the Indians, Cleveland is going to be a dark place if LeBron continues to lead the Heat closer and closer to glory. Sorry, didn’t mean to go there…

16. Toronto Blue Jays (-2, 34-32, 4th in AL East)

This Week: @ Milwaukee (3), @ Miami (3)

Rough week to be a Blue Jay starter. Kyle Drabek was lost for the season and then some with a torn ligament in his right elbow, plus Brandon Morrow has no timetable yet on his apparent oblique injury. The pressure is going to placed squarely on the shoulders of ace lefty Ricky Romero, who will be looked upon to keep this team in the midst of a potential playoff season.

17. Miami Marlins (-1, 33-33, 4th in NL East)

This Week: @ Boston (3), vs. Toronto (3)

Losers of 10 out of their last 12, things are pretty rough in Little Havana. The common theme in the last 12 games? The Marlins have not scored more than four runs during that span once, which is incredibly discouraging considering the amount of money they gave to what they hoped was a run scoring machine in Jose Reyes. As a Mets fan, some of this makes me happy. And by some of this, I mean every single bit of this. 

2 starts for Verlander this week hopefully will yield better results

18. Detroit Tigers (+2, 32-34, 3rd in AL Central)

This Week: vs. St. Louis (3), @ Pittsburgh (3)

When are the Tigers going to turn this around? Last week seemed to be a little encouraging, but it did come against two of the worst teams in the NL (Cubs and Rockies). They’ll be tested this week, playing two of the top teams in the Central. But, they’ll answer the call by running out Justin Verlander twice, who is still doing Verlander-ian things on the mound. If there was ever a week to steal a series or two and thrust themselves back into playoff discussions, this would be that week.

19. Boston Red Sox (+0, 33-33, 5th in AL East)

This Week: vs. Miami (3), vs. Atlanta (3)

Right now, the Red Sox merely need to tread water until they can get even remotely healthy. Added to the list of injured Sox players is Josh Beckett, who has problems with his shoulder. Missing Beckett would put even more pressure on rookie starter Felix Doubront, who has defied all odds and has become the most consistent starter in the Boston rotation. Outside of a stinker against the Nationals, Doubront has allowed three earned runs or less in 7 of his last 8 starts.

20. Arizona Diamondbacks (-3, 32-34, 3rd in NL West)

This Week: vs. Seattle (3), vs. Chicago Cubs (3)

Jury is still out on exactly what type of team the Diamondbacks can be this season. Trevor Cahill is getting into a dangerous groove, Daniel Hudson rebounded nicely after a poor outing last week to pick up his third win of the season and Ian Kennedy is still striking out a ton of batters. However, no pitcher has been better than Wade Miley (7-3, 2.39ERA). In fact, if it wasn’t for Miley’s incredible run of success, top prospect Trevor Bauer would be in the Majors by now.

21. Milwaukee Brewers (-1, 30-35, 4th in NL Central)

This Week: vs. Toronto (3), @ Chicago White Sox (3)

Not even Ryan Braun, who is going to make the MVP voting this year very interesting if he remains at his current pace, can correct the problems the Brewers are currently having right now. Corey Hart is hitting home runs (14), but not for his typical average (.250). Doesn’t help that big off-season acquisition Aramis Ramirez isn’t hitting for power (OPS of .767) or average (.252). Oh, and John Axford has been bad at the end of games (5.33 ERA). His likely replacement, Francisco Rodriguez, not entirely that much better (4.15 ERA). Something’s gotta give eventually, right?

How much longer will Hamels be in a Phillies uniform?

22. Philadelphia Phillies (+0, 31-37, 5th in NL East)

This Week: vs. Colorado (3), vs. Tampa Bay (3)

22 seems to be our line in the sand. Every team below this line seems to be a lock to miss the playoffs, and are the likely sellers at the trade deadline. The Phillies are officially teetering on irrelevance in 2012. Halfway through June, did anyone ever imagine being at this point with this team? I mean, I won’t lie, I’ve dreamed of this day for many, many years. But, did I think it would happen this quickly? And would I have predicted that Cliff Lee would have a goose-egg in the win column? Pinch me, I must be dreaming. Long story short, the Phillies are another two weeks of bad play away from embracing the fact that selling high on Cole Hamels and Shane Victorino is probably the road best traveled. (Hooray!)

23. Oakland A’s (+2, 31-36, 3rd in AL West)

This Week: vs. LA Dodgers (3), vs. San Francisco (3)

The team released Manny Ramirez from his contract so he could try and latch on with a team that will play him in the Majors this season. However, when a team like the A’s, who rank 24th or lower in four major offensive categories, can’t find a use for Man-Ram, there has to be more to the story than we all know. The good news in Oakland, Brandon McCarthy and Jarrod Parker are giving management hope for the future. If the team entertains offers for McCarthy at the deadline, it would be a huge mistake.

24. Kansas City Royals (+4, 28-35, 4th in AL Central)

This Week: @ Houston (3), vs. St. Louis (3)

Let’s play everybody’s favorite game: who will represent the Royals at the All-Star Game they’re hosting? Billy Butler has the best numbers, but he doesn’t out-rank other potential DHs like David Ortiz or Adam Dunn. Felipe Paulino would’ve been a really interesting name, but then he got hurt. Is it going to be Alcides Escobar at short? Or Mike Moustakas at third? What about Jonathan Broxton in the ‘pen? Speaking of Broxton, don’t you think teams in desperate need of bullpen help (ahem, Mets), will be looking at him at the deadline?

25. Seattle Mariners (-2, 28-39, 4th in AL West)

This Week: @ Arizona (3), @ San Diego (3)

Well, when the pressing question surrounding the Mariners right now is “Just how much can we get for Kevin Millwood at the deadline”, things aren’t going so well. It has to be uplifting to see young hitters like Jesus Montero and Michael Saunders beginning to produce more consistently. 

Is this the starting 2B in the NL?

26. Houston Astros (-2, 27-39, 5th in NL Central)

This Week: vs. Kansas City (3), vs. Cleveland (3)

Welcome to the Jose Altuve love-fest corner! Should he be the starting second baseman in the All-Star Game? .317/.359/.462 with 4 HR, 22 RBI, 43 runs, 12 stolen bases say absolutely. The voting? To be determined.

27. Minnesota Twins (-1, 25-39, 5th in AL Central)

This Week: @ Pittsburgh (3), @ Cincinnati (3)

Ben Revere, good to have you back. He’s always had the ability to play a Gold Glove-caliber center field. Now, he’s starting to hit like a potential All-Star. Not to mention, this guy the kind of speed to one day steal 60+ bases. Should he ever be able to draw more walks, you’re looking at a fantastic lead-off hitter in a line-up anchored by Joe Mauer for years to come.

28. Colorado Rockies (-1, 25-40, 4th in NL West)

This Week: @ Philadelphia (3), @ Texas (3)

With Troy Tulowitzki still on the shelf, its the Carlos Gonzalez show in Colorado! .335/.394/.629 (!!) with 17 homers and 51 RBI. Yeah, he’ll do more than fine for years to come in the Rocky Mountains. This could be just one of those down years for the Rockies as they look to rebuild their starting rotation. The long-term future of this team is still sky high. I’m not totally worried about them yet.

29. San Diego Padres (+1, 24-43, 5th in NL West)

This Week: vs. Texas (3), vs. Seattle (3)

Padre fans, rejoice! You moved up one full spot in the Power Rankings! There still isn’t much to complain about when you live year round in San Diego. I’ll trade you one week in the heart of summer here in Savannah. Let’s see who’s ready to leave first. Deal?

30. Chicago Cubs (22-44, 6th in NL Central)

This Week: @ Chicago White Sox (3), @ Arizona (3)

Well, Ryan Dempster has certainly done enough to put his stock at an all-time high. Its only going to be a matter of weeks before he calls a new clubhouse home. The haul the Cubs get back will be fun to evaluate. Until then, happy hunting!