Your Monday Afternoon Power Rankings


Last week’s Power Rankings are here.  As is usually the case, they have changed.

1. Yankees: Their rise to first has been occasioned by a lot of games against poor teams and the Rays’ recent slide. Not to be one of those people who nitpick success, but first place or not, they have room to improve.

2. Braves: Heyward and McCann have been slumping, they might add an outfielder and they will be getting Jair Jurrjens back soon, so we may not even be seeing this team at its best yet.

3. Red Sox: En Fuego. Cue the Mark Twain quote.

4. Rays: Still ahead of the Sox by a skinch in terms of winning percentage, but on a decidedly different trajectory. While everyone as totally high on the Rays for so long, it’s becoming apparent that this is a team that can be pitched to.

5. Mets: No one is ever as good as they look beating up on Baltimore and Cleveland and no one is ever as bad as they look losing two of three to the Yankees. I’m still not convinced that they’ll hang in it, but if they make a big move . . .

6. Rangers: En fuego like the Sox and could make a big move like the Mets. If they go from bankruptcy to winning the division I don’t think we’ll be able to hold back the “rags to riches” headlines.

7. Twins: Their idling has not only allowed Detroit to pull close, but it has allowed the Chisox to get back in it too. Or at least to think they can.

8. Padres: This is the kind of thing that you can’t do until late July or early August. Even then might be too soon. Sensors are picking up an enormous amount of hubris emanating from that nearby nebula, Captain.

9. Tigers:  The Pirates, Nationals and Diamondbacks are not the stiffest of challenges. Up ahead: Mets, Braves and Twins.

10. Cardinals: I had figured that the Reds would hit a skid or three and that the overall talent of the Cards would ultimately prove superior, but I’m going to write a bunch of crap this fall about how the acquisition of Jeff Suppan made all the difference. And don’t you think for a minute that I won’t!

11. Giants: Fun conversation going on in the Giants’ blogosphere: do you have to give credit to Brian Sabean for the fact that a bunch of his old guy and bargain bin pickups are hitting? My gut reaction: I’ll give him credit the minute he takes the blame for his old guy and bargain bin pickups who didn’t hit for the previous several seasons. And I’m still mad at him for not having Stan Conte’s back way back when

12. Dodgers: I’ve been yo-yoing them for a couple of weeks now. I had them too low two weeks ago and too high last week. This feels about right, though. 

13. Reds: You’re not going to have a more dispiriting series than the Reds had this weekend against the M’s. One run in three games. The only saving grace is that most of the fans back east were asleep when the games were going on.

14. Phillies: The lack of offense has been the problem during their big swoon, but Saturday’s atrocity against the Twins reveals what some of us thought was Philly’s biggest problem all along: a suspect pen. Sure, it was covered over to some extent back when Jose Contreras was doing his Dennis Eckersley impression, but that seems to be over now.

15. Angels: Brian Fuentes gives all of us hope that one day even we can close for a major league team. I mean, it appears as though results don’t matter, so why not us?

16. Blue Jays: Two of three from the Giants and two of three from the Padres. Too bad they don’t play in the NL West.

17. Rockies: Tulowitzki out for two months? Well, we’ll always have Ubaldo.

18. White Sox: Well, look who’s at .500. Give me another good week and I’ll pay closer attention. Two more good weeks and I may start believing.

19. Marlins: Four of six from Tampa Bay this year is almost enough to make fans forgive the vuvuzelas.

20. Athletics: Optimism in the A’s blogosphere: “no matter how bleak things feel right now it could be worse. At least
we’re not the Pittsburgh Pirates.”

21. Cubs: I was on the radio with Brian Moline at the mighty WDWS in Champaign, Illinois on Friday night and the subject of the Cubs’ maybe needing to sell off some players came up. I’m paraphrasing, but the conversation basically went like this:

Brian: So, is it time for the Cubs to make some moves? Maybe have a bit of a fire sale?

Me: [thinking for a second] . . . man, I don’t know that they have any players anyone wants . . .

Brian: Yeah, I think you’re right.

22. Nationals: 4-8 since Strasburg was called up. Which is probably the best thing that could happen for his development, really.

23. Royals: I’m finding myself scoping out Royals games just to watch David DeJesus to see if he’d be worth the Braves trading for him. It just feels so . . . dirty.

24. Brewers: Attention Brewers fans who think that the team needs to move Prince Fielder for some much needed pitching and a bat and some magic beans and stuff: it ain’t gonna happen.

25. Mariners: Your Cliff Lee quote of the day: “Another walkless performance from Cliff Lee last night puts him at four
unintentional walks and zero hit batters of 305 batters faced. That’s
1.31% of hitters.Cliff Lee also strikes hitters out, works fast, smiles and isn’t Carlos
Silva. He also isn’t going to be a Mariner for as long as Silva was.”

26. Indians: Carlos Santana is hitting .393/.514/.786 since being called up from Columbus. The Indians today send David Huff back down to Columbus. This is why I don’t go crazy to make it to a ton of Clippers games.

27. Diamondbacks: The Dbacks could trade a bunch of dudes here pretty soon, so at least fans will have something to hold their interest.

28. Astros: You could put any of the bottom three teams at the bottom and I’d be cool with it. We’ll lead with the Astros because they come first alphabetically, but really, you can make an argument that they are worse than the Pirates and Orioles.

29. Orioles: Signs you’re not having a good season: when you have to ask your manager how his current team differs from the team he coached for which lost 119 games.

30. Pirates: More telling signs you’re having a bad season: when you feel it necessary to fire an anthropomorphic potato dumpling for dissent.

Kudos to Fox for not going crazy with the curses

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I turned on last night’s Fox broadcast fully expecting them to spend too much time on history and curses and billy goats and black cats and Steve Bartman and 1908 and 1948 and all of that jive while spending too little time on the game and the players at hand. I will admit now that I was pleasantly surprised that that was not, in fact, the case.

To be clear, the pregame show was a friggin’ train wreck in this department. There the narrative framing was basically wall-to-wall. In the first segment, Fox studio host Kevin Burkhardt used the phrase “reverse the curse” within his first thirty seconds of speaking. Then, before much if any actual game stuff was referred to, Burkhardt mentioned all of the following things in the space of a, maybe, 45 second span:

When the montage ended, Alex Rodriguez said that “every player wants to break that curse.” Then they threw it to the first commercial at 7:38 or so. In the second segment they ran a prerecorded thing about championship droughts, making liberal mention of 108 years for the Cubs and 68 years for the Indians, but then got down to some actual game breakdown.

In the third segment, Burkhardt threw it to the P.A. announcer at Progressive Field for player introductions, once again mentioning 108/68 years as he did so. After that, they ran a montage, set to Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers’ “The Waiting,” in which centenarians and other older folks talked about how long they’ve been — wait for it — waiting for an Indians or a Cubs championship. Lots of them mentioned billy goats and curses and stuff.

When that was over Fox finally threw it to Joe Buck and John Smoltz up in the booth. Buck added a punctuative “the waiting is the hardest part,” and soon after they ran a Buck-narrated pre-produced montage about what was going on in 1908 and 1948, saying who was president, noting when Model-Ts were invented and all of that, all set to “Time has come today” by the Chambers Brothers. So, yes, that was a lot to take in in the space of a half hour.

But that’s on me, right? Who in the heck needs to watch a pregame show? No one, really. Alex Rodriguez and Pete Rose are proving to be a nice combination for Fox — getting rid of C.J. Nitkowski has cleared the congestion a bit and both A-Rod and Rose are proving to be naturals after a 2015 in which they were somewhat clunky — but a pregame show is pretty superfluous. The actual baseball breakdown those guys provide can be accomplished in less than ten minutes. The rest of it practically begs for those narrative-servicing montages, and frankly, no one needs ’em.

Most notably, though: the curse and weight of history talk basically ended once the game got going. Indeed, Buck and Smoltz were shockingly and refreshingly narrative-free for most if not all of the contest. They talked about Jon Lester and his issues holding runners. Corey Kluber‘s slider. Andrew Miller being Andrew Miller. Kyle Schwarber being there at all. They did a really nice job of handling all of the Xs and Os the way you want your broadcast booth to handle it.

Smoltz in particular was outstanding, showing that Fox’s decision to make him their number one color guy while reassigning Harold Reynolds and Tom Verducci to be a fantastic one. A two-man booth is superior to a three-man booth in almost every instance, but the second man in Fox’s booth now mixes his insight and his regular conversation seamlessly. You never feel like Smoltz is talking down to you or speaking from his obviously superior place of baseball authority. His tone is as if he’s letting you in on stuff he thinks and hopes you’ll really appreciate knowing and he never plays the “I USED TO PLAY BASEBALL” card in the obnoxious ways some ex-player commentators do. And he’s right: we do appreciate what he tells us.

Beating up on Fox’s baseball broadcasts has been its own sport for many of us for several years, but there was nothing to really beat them up about last night. Sure, we could do without in-game interviews, but after the pregame show Fox showed remarkable restraint with respect to pushing history and narrative and curses and all of that baloney that has little if anything to do with the 2016 Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians. They kept it focused on the baseball game that was going on before us in ways they haven’t always done in the past. It was refreshing and, dare I say, downright enjoyable.

More of this please.

Republicans accuse Hillary Clinton of being a bandwagon Cubs fan

CHICAGO - APRIL 4:  Hillary Rodham Clinton throws out the first pitch before the Chicago Cubs Opening Day game against the New York Mets at Wrigley Field on April 4, 1994 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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This was inevitable: The Republican National Committee published a ridiculously detailed and self-serious opposition-research report accusing Hillary Clinton of being a “bandwagon” Cubs fan.

If you’re of a certain age you’ll recall that Clinton, who grew up in the Chicago suburbs, spoke about being a Cubs fan as a kid. You’ll also recall that when she was running for her senate seat in New York, she gave shoutouts to a heretofore unheard of Yankees fandom. A lot of people have had fun with this at various times — we’ve mentioned it here on multiple occasions — but I wasn’t aware that anyone considered it an actually substantive political issue as opposed to an amusing “politicians, man” kind of thing.

The Republicans think it’s serious, though. Indeed, there’s more detail to this oppo-hit than there is any of the party’s candidate’s position papers. And while someone could, theoretically, have a lot of fun with this kind of material, the opposition report is not even remotely tongue-in-cheek. It reads like a poisition paper on nuclear proliferation. If the GOP had been this serious about vetting its own candidate, I suspect they wouldn’t be in the position they’re in today.

As for the substance: eh, who cares? Sports is entertainment and cultural glue. As a kid in Chicago, being a Cubs fan is both fun and makes some sense. As a senator from New York in the early 2000s, you’re gonna get to go to some Yankees games and sit in some good seats and that’s fun too. And, of course, politicians are going to say opportunistic things in order to attempt to connect with their constituents. Think of that what you will, but if you think of that as something which reveals something deep and dark within their soul about what kind of person they are, you probably need to step away from the cable news for a while and get some fresh air. Or you probably need to admit that you already believed the worse about her and that this is just an exercise in confirmation bias.

Heck, at this point I almost hope she finds a third or fourth team to root for. Indeed, I hope she makes a comic heel turn, puts on a Chief Wahoo hat for tonight’s game and claims that, deep, deep down, she had always rooted for the Indians. Then even I could get on her case about it. And we could all talk about how, in her own way, Hillary was really bringing the nation together.