Your Monday Afternoon Power Rankings

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Rays high five.jpg1. Rays: Having a perfect game thrown against them isn’t enough to knock ’em out of the top spot, but the Yankees had the better week and could have easily been ranked first here. If nothing changes next week I just might switch ’em anyway, because I’m tired of posting Rays pictures to the right.

2. Yankees: So why not rank them ahead of the Rays? Because while weekly records are important, big picture matters too. This big picture: (a) the Yankees’ bumps and bruises are troublesome; and (b) a week against the Orioles and the current iteration of the Red Sox does not exactly represent the largest challenge on the planet.

3. Phillies: Last week I said that the Cardinals series could be an NLCS preview. If so, it won’t be much of an NLCS. The Phillies are quite obviously the class of the National League at this moment.

4. Twins: Um, let’s just forget that I put them below the Tigers last week,
OK?

5. Cardinals: Dropping three of four to the Phillies wasn’t too fun, but getting fat on the Pirates and Astros takes the sting away.

6. Padres: I did not anticipate writing “the Padres face a big series this week which will determine first place in the NL West” at any point this season. That’s why they play the games.

7. Giants: Think they’ll make a play for Lance Berkman? Couldn’t hurt.

8. Tigers: The starting pitching is a cause for concern. Indeed, it has inspired me to poetry: “Verlander and Willis and hope the other guys don’t kill us . . .”

9. Rangers: David Murphy has exploded and Tommy Hunter and Derek Holland stand ready to contribute. You get the sense that, before now, the team has been playing with one hand tied behind its back. Now witness the firepower of this fully ARMED and OPERATIONAL battle station!

10. Nationals: And even if they win, if they win, HAH! Even if they win! Even if they play so
far above their heads that their noses bleed for a week to ten days; even if
God in Heaven above comes down and points his hand at the Nats side of the
field; even if every man woman and child held hands together and prayed
for them to win, it just wouldn’t matter because all the really good
looking girls would still go out with the guys from the Phillies because
they’ve got all the money! It just doesn’t matter . . . it just doesn’t matter . . .


11. Athletics: Philosophy 101: If a team was in a pennant race all
season and there was no one there to see it, would it still make some
trade deadline moves?

12. Blue Jays: For someone who was supposed to be a disinterested, lame
duck manager of a rebuilding team, Cito Gaston is doing quite a bit to
snag some manager of the year votes thus far, ain’t he?

13. Mets:  The fact that they’re playing the Nationals in a three-game
series that matters for both teams kind of boggles the mind. Oh, and
Jerry: now that this season is looking more promising than everyone
thought, kicking Oliver Perez to the curb is probably a more pressing
matter than you realize.

14. Reds: A very quiet 4-2 week.  They’re as close to first place as the
Tigers are.

15. Rockies: Evidence that your season isn’t going as well as you had
hoped: one
of your team’s most high-profile bloggers is waxing poetic about the
beauty of a day at the ballpark and how fun it is to watch baseball
regardless of who wins and who loses
. Contrary to what some of you
think, I’m not a Braves-specific blogger. I have been composing that
same sort of essay in mind for a couple of weeks now, however.

16. Red Sox: Evidence of a less-than-ideally-constructed team: when
Ellsbury and Cameron come off the DL, there’s a pretty excellent chance
that they’re going to lose one of their most important players thus far
— Darnell McDonald — to waivers.

17. Marlins: I think the NL wild card race is going to be wide open.
Mike Stanton is killing the ball down at AA. These two facts would
normally lead to a roster move that would benefit the team. But we’re talking about the Marlins here and they’re just not wired
that way. 

18. Brewers: This “score a whole bunch of runs, give up a whole bunch of
runs” Brewers remind me of the John Jaha/Jeff Cirillo Brewers teams.
Maybe a little of the Rob Deer-era too. And I’m not saying
it like that’s a bad thing.

19. Pirates: I stared at the Pirates for ten minutes, wondering if I was
going to do the emotionally-comforting thing and place them below the
Braves or the intellectually honest thing and place them above. Damn
intellectual honesty.

20. Cubs: I’d rather watch an interesting team lose 90 games than a
boring team lose 90 games, and at least Starlin Castro makes the team
interesting.

21. Braves: The fact that a 20 year-old rookie’s absence is so
devastating to the Braves’ chances of winning is a damning indictment of
how everyone else is playing.

22. Dodgers: If they could just find some loophole in the rules that
allows them to bat Andre Either with men on base in all nine slots of
the order, the rest season would be cream cheese.

23. Diamondbacks: Justin Upton: .220/.309/.382.  Wowzers.

24. Angels: They’ve won two of their last ten, and those two came
against a punchless Mariners team. Their saving grace is that the AL
West remains eminently winnable this year.

25. White Sox: I am not making this up: when looking up info for this
team, I attempted to type in “White Sox schedule” in Google. Instead, I
typed in “Shite Sox schedule.” The first three results were two White
Sox blogs and the team’s official site.

26. Indians: I actually overheard this conversation between a father and
his ~10 year-old son as I stood in the raised viewing area above the
left field fence at Progressive Field on Friday evening: “This area is
called the home run porch.”  “Think we’ll get a ball, dad?”  “Well, the
Indians won’t hit it out here, but the Tigers might.”

27. Mariners: Twitter is messed up right now so I can’t find the exact
quote, but Sabernomics’
J.C. Bradbury said this morning — presumably in response to the
Mariners firing their hitting coach — that teams fire coaches to make
fans think that there’s order and reason in the universe and to shield
them from the fact that so much of what goes on in baseball is random. 
Now, I think that overstates the case — the fact that this M’s offense
sucks isn’t random, it was practically pre-ordained — but the point is a
good one.

28. Royals: Oh look! It’s the first “Zack Greinke just doesn’t know
how to win and all of you statsboys who love him can suck an egg

article of the season!  How anyone can misunderstand how bad this Royals
team is apart from Greinke is a mystery to me.

29. Astros: Richard Justice watches this team every day and he says that effort
isn’t the problem
. Just talent. Cold comfort when you’re as bad as
the Astros are, but I guess it’s enough to keep them out of the bottom
slot for this week.

30. Orioles: Hey! Three-game, midweek set against the Mariners! This
should be enjoyed by literally tens of people.

The 2017 Yankees are, somehow, plucky underdogs

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There’s a lot that has happened in the past year that I never, ever would’ve thought would or even could happen in America. Many of them are serious, some are not, some make me kinda happy and some make me terribly sad. I’m sure a lot of people have felt that way in this oddest of years.

There’s one thing in baseball, however, that still has me searching my feelings in a desperate effort to know what to feel: The New York Yankees are the postseason’s plucky underdogs.

This is not about them being lovable or likable — we touched on that last week — it’s more about the role they play in the grand postseason drama. A postseason they weren’t even supposed to be in.

None of the three writers of this website thought the Yankees would win the AL East or a Wild Card. ESPN had 35 “experts” make predictions back in March, and only one of them — Steve Wulf — thought the Yankees would make the postseason (he thought they’d win the division). I’m sure if you go over the plethora of professional prognosticator’s predictions a few would have the Yankees squeaking in to the postseason on the Wild Card, but that was nothing approaching a consensus view. Their 2017 regular season was a surprise to almost everyone, with the expectation of a solid, if unspectacular rebuilding year being greatly exceeded. To use a sports cliche, nobody believed in them.

Then came the playoffs. Most people figured the Yankees would beat the Twins in the Wild Card game and they did, but most figured they’d be cannon fodder for the Indians. And yep, they fell down early, losing the first two games of the series and shooting themselves in the foot in spectacular fashion in the process. Yet they came back, beating arguably the best team in baseball and certainly the best team in the American League in three straight games despite the fact that . . . nobody believed in them.

Now we’re in the ALCS. The Astros — the other choice for best team in the American League if you didn’t think the Indians were — jumped out to a 2-0 lead, quieting the Yankees’ powerful bats. While a lot of teams have come back from 0-2 holes in seven game series, the feel of this thing as late as Monday morning was that, even if the Yankees take a game at home, Houston was going to cruise into the World Series. Once again . . . nobody believed in them.

Yet, here we are on this late Wednesday morning, with the Yankees having tied things up 2-2. As I wrote this morning, you still have to like the Astros’ chances given that their aces, Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander, are set to go in Games 5 and 6. I’m sure a lot of people feel still like the Astros’ chances for that reason. So that leads us to this . . .

It’s one thing for no one to have, objectively, believed in the Yankees chances. It’s another thing, though, for the New York Yankees — the 27-time World Champions, the 40-time American League pennant winners, the richest team in the game, the house-at-the-casino, U.S. Steel and the Evil Empire all wrapped into one — to officially play the “nobody believed in us” card on their own account. That’s the stuff of underdogs. Of Davids facing Goliaths. Of The Little Guy, demanding respect that no one ever considered affording them. If you’re not one of those underdogs and you’re playing that card, you’re almost always doing it out of some weird self-motivational technique and no one else will ever take you seriously. And now you’re telling me the NEW YORK FRIGGIN’ YANKEES are playing that card?

Thing is: they’re right. They’ve totally earned the right to play it because, really, no one believed in them. Even tied 2-2, I presume most people still don’t, actually.

I don’t know how to process this. Nothing in my 40 years of baseball fandom has prepared me for the Yankees to be the David to someone else’s Goliath and to claim righteous entitlement to the whole “nobody believed in us” thing.

Which, as I said at the beginning, is nothing new in the year 2017. I just never thought it’d happen in baseball.