Your Monday Afternoon Power Rankings

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Carl Crawford running.jpg1. Rays: This week: a Yankees sandwich between two stale slices of bread (Cleveand and Houston). Hard to say what a two-game series really means in the grand scheme of things, but it’s probably the best time to be facing the Yankees.

2. Phillies: Philly takes the “team most likely to run away with their division” sash from the Cardinals, activates Jimmy Rollins and prepares to step on the gas.

3. Yankees: That Detroit series was trublesome. Yeah, the weather sucked, but it was the first time I’ve seen the Yankees appear aimless, for lack of a better term, in eons. Thank God for the Twins. And no, I’m not worried about Rivera yesterday. He’s entitled to a bad day once in a while.  Call me if and when he goes all Trevor Hoffman. Then I’ll worry.

4. Twins: Dropping two of three over the weekend in a week in which they only played five games normally wouldn’t entitle a team to rank 4th, but (a) it’s the Yankees, they’re just the Twins’ kryptonite so I’m not gonna hold it against them; and (b) I’m not really seeing anyone who deserves to rank higher than them at the moment.

5. Reds: Don’t pay too much attention to that overall run differential (-1) in determining whether or not this team is for real. They lost a few games big early and have been closing that gap quickly.

6. Tigers: Three of four from the Yankees, two of three from the Red Sox. I don’t care how bad a year one team is having and how many little bumps and bruises the other has, that’s a good weeks’ worth of work right there.

7. Dodgers:  Too high? I dunno. They’re the hottest team in baseball right now, so they deserve some kudos.  Everyone will be on pins and needles waiting to hear whether Ethier goes on the DL, however.

8. Blue Jays: This may be the longest I’ve gone into a season without seeing a “the [Team no one expected to do anything but lose] are really turning heads!” feature in a major publication or website. Did I just miss it, or are the Jays just not registering on anyone’s radar?

9. Padres: If they had started out the season like everyone expected them to no one would be saying anything, but since they went all contenderish on us, criticizing the Padres for their lack of offense is totally legitimate.

10. Giants: This week they get a chance for revenge against the Padres for that sweep last week. I like their chances.


11. Cardinals: Albert Pujols in the month of May: 14-for-55
(.255) with one homer.  I don’t expect that — or the Cards’ current
swoon — to last.

12. Rangers: Giving up 27 runs to the
Blue Jays this weekend wasn’t exactly how they drew it up. Perhaps they
should just do what I used to do when I had a bad weekend in Canada:
pretend it never happened. Of course my bad weekends in Canada used to
accompany bachelor parties and copious amounts of rye whiskey, so I
didn’t remember much of them to begin with.

13. Rockies:
Will Jeff Francis save the season?

14. Marlins: The Mets:
the pause that refreshes!

15. Nationals: Calling Drew
Storen up could turn what has been an adequate-though-unimpressive
bullpen into a team strength.  Now, for that move with the rotation . . .

16.
Braves
: The offense is waking up, thanks in part to Bobby Cox
installing Eric Hinske in left field. Now, if only the gurgling,
swirling vortex of suck that is Melky McLouth would just go away.  What?
You mean they’re two different guys?

17. Red Sox: David
Ortiz heats up, Victor Martinez stays cool and the Yankees and Twins are
on tap.  The Sox have been playing better baseball lately, but they
need to step on the gas if they want to make any noise in this division.

18.
Athletics
: Justin Duchscherer was a high-risk, high-reward signing
to begin with this year, but losing him still stings.  Bill Beane went
up to the rooftop to flash the Jack Cust signal, but even the Three True
Outcomes king isn’t likely to right this listing ship.

19.
Mets
: If the A’s are listing, the Mets are hanging from the
Christmas Tree on the S.S. Poseidon.  Jerry Manuel plays the Leslie
Neilson role. And remember kids, this was back before Leslie Neilson was
funny. Dude plays the captain and he dies in the first half hour.

20.
Pirates
: The Pirates made the Reds look like they were pitching in
the Dead Ball era, and then came back and put 10 up on the Cubs Friday
night. This probably says something about all three of these teams.

21.
Cubs
: I’m just mad at these guys for
making me write that Alan Trammell isn’t the answer
this morning.
Alan Trammell is always the answer, in almost every context. In this he
is like Batman.

22. Angels: Only two and a half back. The
Angels are a big train that takes forever to get moving, but they
always move.  I get this funny feeling we’ll be having the same
conversation this fall that we always have: “wow, how did anyone doubt
these guys back in May?”

23. Indians: I’m just waiting for
the first “what will LeBron’s free agency mean for the Indians”
article, because you know it’s coming.

24. Brewers: Ken
Macha has to be on the hot seat right now, no? I mean, this is a team
that fired its manager a week before it went to the playoffs a couple of
years ago.

25. White Sox: “They’re universally poor in
all phases of the game; offense, pitching,
baserunning, defense and coaching all deserve some of the blame. But the
largest share of the blame (aside from obviously underperforming
players) has to lie with the front office who allowed a team to be
constructed in such a manner that nearly everything had to break
right just for the Sox to compete.”  And
this is a Sox blog, talking
.

26. Mariners: As David
Cameron points out
, 22 of the Mariners
next 29 games come against teams currently over .500.

27.
Diamondbacks
: I didn’t think the Dbacks pen could be as bad as
their numbers suggested, but then I watched their series against the
Braves and all was confirmed.

28. Astros: On pace to be
one of the worst offenses of all time. Which in that park is saying
something.

29. Royals: Ned Yost should retire right now
and leave as the winningest manager (percentage wise) in Royals history.

30.
Orioles
: The Orioles’ starting first baseman has zero home runs and
six RBI in 107 plate appearances this season.

The Cubs are in desperate need of relief

Associated Press
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Tonight in Chicago Yu Darvish of the Dodgers will face off against Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs. If this were Game 1, we’d have a lot to say about the Dodgers’ trade deadline pickup and the Cubs’ budding ace. If this series continues on the way it’s been going, however, each of them will be footnotes because it has been all about the bullpens.

The Cubs, you may have heard, are having tremendous problems with relief pitching. Both their own and with the opposition’s. Cubs relievers have a 7.03 ERA this postseason, and have allowed six runs on eight hits and have walked six batters in seven innings of work. And no, the relief struggles aren’t just a matter of Joe Maddon pushing the wrong buttons (even though, yeah, he has pushed the wrong buttons).

Maddon pushed Wade Davis for 44 pitches in Game 5 of the NLDS, limiting his availability in Games 1 and 2. That pushing is a result of a lack of relief depth on the Cubs. Brian Duensing, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Jr. all have talent and all have had their moments, but none of them are the sort of relievers we have come to see in the past few postseasons. The guys who, when your starter tosses 80 pitches in four innings like Jon Lester did the other night, can be relied upon to shut down the opposition for three and a half more until your lights-out closer can get the four-out save.

In contrast, the Dodgers bullpen has been dominant, tossing eight scoreless innings. Indeed, Dodgers relievers have tossed eight almost perfect innings, allowing zero hits and zero walks while striking out nine Cubs batters. The only imperfection came when Kenley Jansen hit Anthony Rizzo in Game 2. That’s it. Compare this to the past couple of postseasons where the only truly reliable arm down there was Jansen, and in which Dodgers managers have had to rely on Clayton Kershaw to come on in relief. That has not been a temptation at all as the revamped L.A. pen, featuring newcomers Brandon Morrow and Tony Watson. Suffice it to say, Joe Blanton is not missed.

Which brings us back to Kyle Hendricks. He has pitched twice this postseason, pitching seven shutout innings in Game 1 of the NLDS but getting touched for four runs on nine hits while allowing a couple of dingers in Game 5. If the good Hendricks shows up, Maddon will be able to ride him until late in the game in which a now-rested Davis and maybe either Strop or Edwards can close things out in conventional fashion, returning this series to competitiveness. If the bad Hendricks does, he’ll have to do what he did in that NLDS Game 5, using multiple relievers and, perhaps, a repurposed starter in relief while grinding Davis into dust again. That was lucky to work there and doing it without Davis didn’t work in Game 2 on Sunday night.

So it all falls to Hendricks. The Dodgers have shown how soft the underbelly of the Cubs pen truly is. If they get to Hendricks early and get into that pen, you have to like L.A’s chances, not just in this game, but for the rest of the series, as bullpen wear-and-tear builds up quickly. It’s pretty simple: Hendricks has to give the Cubs some innings tonight. There is no other option available.

Just ask Joe Maddon. He’s tried.