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.

Joe Blanton signs with the Nationals

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 07:  Joe Blanton #55 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches in the sixth inning against the Colorado Rockies at Dodger Stadium on June 7, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
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Jorge Castillo of the Washington Post reports that the Nationals have signed Joe Blanton to a one-year contract.

Surprised it took this long given that Blanton was excellent out of the pen for the Dodgers last year, posting a 2.48 ERA and 80/26 K/BB ratio over 80 innings. But even if it’s a late signing, it’s not a terrible one: Blanton will receive a $4 million salary and will have the chance to make an additional $1 million in performance bonuses. UPDATE: The salary structure is kind of odd. Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post reports that Blanton will get only $1 million in 2017, plus some incentives, and will have $1 million deferred to 2018 and $2 million deferred to 2019.

And he got two weeks off work. Bonus!

Baseball doesn’t need gimmicks to draw in young fans. It just needs to be baseball.

MESA, AZ - MARCH 6: Chicago Cubs ball and bat bags are seen prior to the game between the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds on March 6, 2015 at Sloan Park in Mesa, Arizona. The Reds defeated the Cubs 5-2. (Photo by Rich Pilling/Getty Images)
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MESA, AZ — I didn’t set out to ask Robin Mitchell about pace of play, rules changes, how to best execute an intentional walk or how to turn kids into baseball fans. I was interviewing her about other stuff. She brought those topics up on her own.

“I heard them saying that they were not going to throw four pitches for intentional walks anymore,” Mitchell said. “I’d prefer that they throw the pitches because anything can happen. There can be wild pitches. And that’s the exciting part of baseball. That you don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t think we need to speed the game along.”

For most baseball fans such sentiments are tied up with a devotion to baseball purism, tradition or their distaste for change. But such is not the case for Mitchell. While the lifelong Chicago resident went to Cubs games as a child, baseball has not been a lifelong obsession. Rather, it’s something she has become reacquainted with via her two baseball-obsessed boys, Jake, 11, and Bennett, 9.

Mitchell and her boys live on the north side of Chicago and, over the past two years, her sons have developed a huge affinity for the Cubs, almost by osmosis. It was certainly a good time for it, as the Cubs have become winners, and Mitchell allows that since Jake and Bennett didn’t “have to suffer through some of the more challenging times,” their attraction to the game became easier. It’s clear to her, however, that they are not going to be fair weather fans.

“They love baseball,” she said, implying that it’s not just homerism for the current World Series champions at work. They love the sport itself and began to play it too. It’s not easy for Mitchell to say whether their playing led to their fandom or vice-versa. It all sort of happened at once, with each reinforcing the other.

I asked her what about baseball, specifically, appeals to them. What, at a time when Rob Manfred and everyone connected to the game is worried about the sport’s seeming inability to attract and hold on to young fans, keeps Mitchell’s sons engaged.

For them, it seems to be all about accessibility and engagement. Being in Chicago and living close to a park is important, as is having all of the games available on TV. Also important to them: appealing young stars.

“It helps that the Cubs have some really nice players who seem like really nice guys,” Mitchell said. “Sometimes we see them in the neighborhood even. Ben Zobrist. Anthony Rizzo. David Ross. Whenever we’ve seen them out or at an event they’re always kind and polite and give the boys encouraging words.”

But isn’t baseball . . . boring? And slow? Don’t kids like video games and kinetic action? Doesn’t a 19th century pastime with a sometimes turgid pace turn off 21st century kids?

“No, are you kidding?!” Mitchell said. “We don’t leave the game before it’s over. That’s what we do. It doesn’t matter what the score is. We love the pace of baseball. In the world of electronics, with everything moving really fast and being gimmicky, there’s something I think that my boys and I find appealing about baseball. I can share it with them and we all just slow down.”

As we talked, Jake and Bennett ran around a field just outside the Cubs clubhouse, playing catch and practicing rundowns with a couple of other boys they just met. Mitchell and I spoke for nearly a half hour. They played the whole time and looked like they wouldn’t stop unless or until their mother dragged them away.

We have spent a lot of time lately talking about how to fix baseball. I don’t know that anyone has made a compelling case that, despite the challenges the game faces, it is actually broken. Robin Mitchell doesn’t think it is. Neither do Jake and Bennett. While Rob Manfred and Joe Torre propose increasingly unorthodox methods for speeding things up, some pretty basic and longstanding factors are continuing to attract young fans:

  • The availability of games almost every day;
  • An exciting and successful local team;
  • The charisma of baseball’s biggest stars;
  • The ability for kids to play the game themselves and to emulate those stars on a little league field; and
  • The chance for parents to share their love of baseball with their children.

These are the factors which have always made up baseball’s appeal. Perhaps Major League Baseball should concentrate on ensuring that those factors, which are proven to draw in fans, persist and flourish. Perhaps they should concentrate less on chasing hypothetical fans via gimmicks aimed at fixing problems which are far-from-established.