Your Monday Afternoon Power Rankings

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Rays high five.jpg1. Rays:  Ho-hum, another two of three in each of their series last week. It’s exactly that kind of tick-tock boredom that is the stuff of division titles.

2. Yankees:  If one bum starting pitcher is your biggest problem, you’re doing pretty well.

3. Twins: Beating up on the Indians and the Royals may not be all that impressive, but it’s not like the Twins made the schedule. They’re winning the games they’re supposed to be winning and are continuing to look strong. Their next several games are against the Tigers, Indians and Orioles, so it’s only getting moderately harder as the month wears on.

4. Phillies: Dropping two of three to the Dbacks are one of those things that make you go hmmm, but after dismantling the Braves in the final two games of that series and then hopping a cross-country flight before Friday’s game, we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.  Now it’s three against the Giants. Anyone think Roy Halladay is going to have any problems against that offense tonight? Nah, me neither. The bigger question is whether the rest of the rotation can get anyone out who isn’t wearing a Braves uniform.

5. Cardinals: Three runs scored in their last three games. I’m tempted to say “Forget it Jake, it’s China Basin.”

6. Athletics: So far so good for an A’s team that is exceeding expectations, but one wonders if all the nagging injuries are going to catch up soon. You can’t get rich, after all, betting on things like “Eric Chavez is going to carry the offense.”

7. Padres: I still refuse to believe that they’re anywhere near as good as their record, but what happens on the field matters more than my beliefs.

8. Giants: Two out of three from the Cardinals is spiffy, but the return of the 2009 offense is not: 11 runs scored in their last seven games.

9. Angels: Series wins against Detroit and New York show that, slowly but surely, the Halos are righting the ship.

10. Tigers: The biggest question in Detroit: what’s wrong with Rick Porcello?


11. Rockies: Movin’ time: the Rockies being a stretch of 12
straight against the NL West.

12. Marlins: A nine-game
homestand awaits. Literally dozens of people will now get to see what
this team is made of.

13. Blue Jays: The concerns for this
team at this moment in time are more existential in nature than they
are competitive. Like, can they survive in Toronto. Interesting
article
. I’d be more sympathetic if the article wasn’t framed with
the plight of how hard it is to be a ticket scalper, because ticket
scalpers are a nothing but wretched hive of scum and villainy.

14.
Nationals
: As
Chris Needham notes
, you can squint a little bit at this team and
see a legitimately respectable bunch. It could all go sideways tomorrow,
but as I sit here right now I have no basis for saying that they’re
worse than any number of other teams.

15. White Sox: Columnist
writes obituary
, team sweeps weekend series. They need a few more
wins to start playing the “no one believes in us” card with gusto, but
it’s a start.

16. Mets: I can’t decide if they’ve really
turned the corner or if they just had the good fortune to play the Cubs
and Braves at their absolute worst. Let’s give them the benefit of the
doubt, though. They’ve gotten good starting pitching, Ike Davis has
given the fans something positive to talk about and the lineup shuffle
is working out. 

17. Cubs: It’ll take more than three
days of good baseball for me to give the “buy” recommendation on these
guys, but it was three days of good baseball. I missed Saturday’s game,
so I’m still waiting to see Zambrano come out of the pen.

18.
Rangers
: Adam
Morris at Lone Star Ball
pretty much sums up the feelings of fans
for every team not at the very top or the very bottom of this list when
he says “[w]hat is particularly annoying about being two games under
.500 is that
you can sit here and say, if we had just won this game, or this one,
we’d be at .500.  Just one loss that could have been a win.  And .500
feels a whole lot different than 2 games under.”  Ah, April.

19.
Red Sox
: Two of three from Texas, two of three from Baltimore, more
chances per-week to see a knuckleballer pitch . . . baby steps.

20.
Mariners
: Cliff comes back this week. All other comments about this
team are on hold until we see how it goes.

21. Brewers:
Trevor Hoffman pitched in a game with a 20-run lead last week. He also
pitched in a game while behind by 10. Let’s hear it for the Brewers for
confounding our tired old expectations about how to use a bullpen.

22.
Diamondbacks
: An 11 game road trip starts tonight. Why so long? Is
there a convention in town or something?

23. Braves:  The
only silver lining to their atrocious week is that, given how poorly
everyone is hitting the ball, the chance that hitting coach Terry
Pendleton will be given the manager’s job after the season is much, much
lower than it had been before. 

24. Dodgers: Dropping
series to the Reds and the Nats is not something a contender does, and
as I see this team right now, they’re not a contender.

25.
Astros
: Lance Berkman coming back made this team look a lot more
respectable.

26. Royals: I rip Dayton Moore a lot, but
this quote after the Royals cut Juan Cruz the other day actually made me
have sympathy for the guy: “We looked real smart and real aggressive
when we signed Juan Cruz. Now we look real stupid for signing
Juan Cruz.” Sometimes it just seems that everything turns to poop in
Kansas City.

27. Reds:
Lost in the talk of when Aroldis Chapman may come up is whose place he’d
take in the rotation. Homer Bailey is out of options and can’t be sent
down and Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake have actually pitched well. Do you
pull a Zambrano with Aaron Harang and make him a reliever?

28.
Indians
: They won some games and lost some games last week, but all
were lopsided affairs. The Pirates did that too, just before going into
the tank.

29. Orioles: It’s around 1PM on Monday as I
write this and, contrary to my prediction, Dave Trembley hasn’t been
fired yet. Does one win against the Red Sox really count for that much?

30.
Pirates
:  One of the ugliest weeks of baseball I’ve seen from a
team in a long, long time.

Video: Nelson Cruz hits second-longest home run of 2016

ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 14:  Nelson Cruz #23 of the Seattle Mariners celebrates his solo homerun with Daniel Vogelbach #20 of the Seattle Mariners to take a 2-1 lead over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim during the seventh inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 14, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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There’s certainly never a bad time to hit a home run, but when you get the opportunity to crush a triple-deck, 493-foot shot off of Tyler Duffey, you should take it. With the Mariners down 2-0 to the Twins in the fourth inning, Cruz hammered a fastball to deep left field for his 39th long ball of the season — and the second-longest home run hit in 2016, to boot.

It doesn’t hurt that the Mariners are 1.5 games back of a playoff spot, although they’ll have to oust the Blue Jays, Orioles, or Tigers to get a wild card. They’ve gone 3-3 in the last week, dropping two consecutive series to the Astros and Blue Jays and taking their series opener against Minnesota 10-1 on Friday night.

Cruz, for his part, entered Saturday’s game with a .299/.337/.610 batting line and six home runs in September. According to ESPN.com’s Home Run Tracker, Cruz sits behind Edwin Encarnacion and Mike Napoli with 13 “no-doubt” home runs in 2016, third-most among major league sluggers. It’s safe to say he can add Saturday’s moonshot to that list.

Marlins’ outfielder and undisputed home run king Giancarlo Stanton remains untouched at the top of the Statcast leaderboard with a 504-ft. home run, and it’s difficult to envision any slugger reaching beyond that before the end of the season. Even so, Cruz won’t need to clear 500 feet to extend an impressive hitting record. One more home run will put the 36-year-old at 40 on the year, making 2016 his third consecutive season with at least 40 homers, and his second such season doing so in Seattle.

Report: John Farrell won’t rule out a postseason return for Pablo Sandoval

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 11:  Pablo Sandoval #48 of the Boston Red Sox looks on from the dugout before the Red Sox home opener against the Baltimore Orioles at Fenway Park on April 11, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Orioles defeat the Red Sox 9-7.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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It’s been a strange season for Red Sox’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who lost his starting role in spring training, went 0-for-6 in three regular season appearances, and underwent season-ending surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in May. That was the last the Red Sox were supposed to hear about Sandoval until spring 2017, when he was expected to rejoin the team after a lengthy rehab stint in Florida.

On Saturday, manager John Farrell was telling a different story. Per MLB.com’s Sam Blum, Farrell hinted that Sandoval could return to the team as soon as October, albeit in a very limited capacity.

At the time of the surgery, it was all looking at the start of next Spring Training,” Farrell said. “We’re not getting too far ahead of ourselves here, but at the same time, we compliment him for the work he’s put in, the way he’s responded to the rehab, the way he’s worked himself into better condition. We’re staying open-minded.

If the 30-year-old does return in 2016, don’t expect him to look like the three-home run hitter of the 2012 World Series. Should the Red Sox lose another player to injury, Sandoval might be called on as a backup option, but he’s unlikely to see substantial playing time under any other circumstances. Despite making two appearances at DH in the instructional league, Sandoval has not started at third base since undergoing surgery, though Farrell noted that a return to third base would be the next logical step in his recovery process.

Sandoval has yet to hit his stride within the Red Sox’ organization after hitting career-worst numbers in 2015. According to FanGraphs, his Offensive Runs Above Average (Off) plummeted to -20.2, contributing approximately two wins fewer than the average offensive player in 2015. (The Diamondbacks’ Chris Owings held the lowest Off mark in 2015, with -26.3 runs below average.) Sandoval has not appeared in a postseason race since the Giants’ championship run in 2014.

Heading into Saturday evening, the Red Sox could clinch their spot in the postseason with a win over the Rays and an Orioles’ loss.