Your Monday Afternoon Power Rankings

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These are last week’s. These are this week’s:

1. Yankees: The bullpen is kind of scary right now, but if there was ever a time for the Yankees to have to go through that it’s when the Red Sox are banged up and the Rays floundering.

2. Padres: Lots of people are agitating for Mat Latos to make the All-Star team. I’m guessing the Padres are just fine with the snub, though, given that he’s on an innings limit this year and probably could use the rest. Oh, and may the Force be with them.

3. Red Sox: Banged up, yes, but it’s cute how some people are pretending like there’s not enough talent in Boston to be able to ride out some injuries.

4. Rangers: If it turns out that Bengie Molina was the final piece to the World Series puzzle I’m probably just going to give up trying to understand baseball.

5. Braves: The Braves loss yesterday was no doubt a function of them not starting All-Star infielder Omar Infante. What on Earth were they thinking?

6. Reds: I got the feeling over the offseason that the Reds’ brass was looking forward to Dusty Baker’s lame duck status and ultimate departure. Now they’re going to have to figure out if they want to give him a contract extension. I bet they go ahead and give him one because they’ll think, hey, how can we not? Never mind that this would be a great opportunity to pull a Showalter-Torre kind of move.  I mean, just because things are going well doesn’t mean they couldn’t go better.

7. Rays: Why do I get the feeling that if the Rays don’t take this week’s series against the Red Sox that they’ll just fall out of it? I mean, I hate to subscribe to the whole “momentum” and “make a statement” school of thinking because it’s, like, 95% baloney, but it just feels like one of those series.

8. Mets: Jerry Manuel may very well have some hidden strengths as a manager. Managing the bullpen is not one of them. 

9. Tigers: The Tigers have pussy-footed into first place a couple of times recently, but with a three-game set against the Orioles and then their current co-leader Twins at home heading into the break, anything less than an outright division lead this time next week will have to stand as a disappointment.

10. Twins: Omar Infante and some other guys are pulling hard for Delmon Young to make the All-Star Game with that final vote thing so they don’t stick out so badly.

11. Dodgers: If last week’s news is true, this is basically the team Dodgers fans are stuck with. They’ve played pretty decent baseball recently, but I don’t think they have enough to hold off the Rockies, let alone catch the Padres.

12. Angels: They had better make some tracks in the next week or so, because they end July with 12 straight games against the Yankees, Red Sox and Rangers.

13. Rockies: Someone on the radio said this morning that the Rockies were looking like they about to go on another one of their patented runs. And I’ll grant that they’re looking better than they did earlier in the season. But they’re five games out right now. They’ve only been more than five games out on three days all year.  The fact is, the Rockies are chasing a much better Padres team than anyone they had to chase in the West during their runs of 2007 and 2009.

14. White Sox: It still blows my mind that one month ago today this team was 9.5 games out.

15. Cardinals: They were 13-13 in June. They’re 15 out of 30 in this week’s rankings. Just feels about right for them.

16. Phillies: When I started this feature back in April I gave a thought to making 30th place the “loser of the week” slot or the place for otherwise decent teams with dubious accomplishments. I decided against it, but if I hand’t the Phillies would be there for having dropped three of four to the Pirates.

17. Athletics: Attention everyone who just got excited about the A’s little run: it came against the Pirates, Orioles and Indians. They should have won those games. Call me when they beat someone who’s worth a damn.

18. Giants: The wheels are coming off. Low point of yesterday’s awful, 15-inning loss to the Rockies: Bruce Bochy pinch-running Eli Whiteside for Buster Posey late in regulation. Like Whiteside is faster or something. Then Whiteside — who has to remain in the game because the Giants have a 13-man pen despite having a great rotation and thus don’t have a full bench — makes an error and then struck out a couple of times before the game was over.

19. Blue Jays: The Jays are skidding too. But hey, at least the Halladay trade is starting to look better.

20. Brewers: Yovani Gallardo’s injury — assuming he’s out for any real time — is kind of like the knockout punch to a team that was already on the ropes. Now’s the time to think of who you can deal, Mr. Melvin.

21. Royals: For a team that sucks every year it’s amazing how they are always in the middle of trade conversations heading into the deadline. If they have that many valuable players why the hell don’t they ever win?

22. Marlins: My interest in the Marlins for the rest of the season is in their ability to serve as a barometer. They dropped two of three to the Braves last week and beat the Mets two of three. Once they play Philly again I should have a good read on how the East will play out for the rest of the season. It’s science, dudes.

23. Cubs: Never have I seen a team that had aspirations of being good before the season started look as bad as the Cubs looked losing to the Reds yesterday.

24. Nationals: Last week I made a joke that basically went “who’s gonna be their All-Star if Strasburg doesn’t make it? Matt Capps?!”  Well I’ll be damned.

25. Mariners: Yesterday may have been Cliff Lee’s last start as a Mariner. That was his last last start as a Mariner since his last start as a Mariner. His next last start as a Mariner should come this Friday.

26. Indians: Shin-Soo Choo was one of the few Indians doing a thing this year and now he’s on the DL, possibly for the year.  That means that the offensive core of this team is Matt Laporta, Carlos Santana and, like, Michael Brantley.  All three of those guys have way more at bats in Columbus this year than Cleveland.  Should make the dog days particularly doggy this year.

27. Orioles and Pirates: Know what? Both of these teams had a good week or so, and I don’t think it’s fair to put one below the other. They’ve both been on the bottom this year and both likely will be again, but dammit, for this week they can share the relatively lofty heights of 27th place.

29. Astros: Houston has called up a couple of young guys in Chris Johnson and Jason Castro and have played fairly decently since then, but as long as Carlos Lee and Lance Berkman are hanging around this is a team that’s just going to depress Astros fans.

30. Diamondbacks: Fired manager, fired GM, a depressing DFA if Dontrelle Willis, and most of the good players will be traded in the next three weeks. But hey: racing giant-he
aded Mark Grace, Randy Johns
on, Matt Williams and Luis Gonzalez
.

Astros vs. Dodgers is a match made in heaven

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A lot of people who work at the league office or who take paychecks from the Fox network probably wanted to see the Yankees and the Cubs in the World Series. They won’t admit it, of course, but I suspect that many did, as the ratings for a Cubs-Yankees Series might’ve broken modern records. If they are at all disappointed by the Astros and Dodgers winning the pennant, however, they should let that go because they’ve been gifted by a wonderful matchup from a purely baseball perspective. Indeed, it’s one of the best on-paper matchups we’ve had in the Fall Classic in many years.

Before the Dodgers went on their late-August, early-September swoon, this was the potential World Series pairing most folks who know a thing or two wanted to see. At least I did, and I don’t think I was alone. It was certainly the matchup which represented the teams with the two best regular season records and storylines at the time. While Cleveland ended up winning more games than Houston did, for the first time since 1970 we have a World Series pitting two 100-win teams against each other.

Like that Orioles-Reds series in 1970, which featured Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, Tony Perez, Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson and a host of other All-Stars, the Dodgers-Astros provide us with an embarrassment of big names and future Hall of Famers. Dodgers starter Clayton Kershaw and Astros DH/OF Carlos Beltran are destined for induction already. Astros ace Justin Verlander may very well join them, especially if his late 2017 surge is evidence of a second career peak. Houston second baseman Jose Altuve‘s first seven years and Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen‘s first eight are the stuff upon which Cooperstown resumes are made as well. People will be arguing Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley‘s Hall of Fame case for years once he retires.

Youth is served as well in this matchup, with each club featuring a handful of the game’s best young players to accompany their big name veteran stars.

The Dodgers will bat their no-doubt N.L. Rookie of the Year first baseman Cody Bellinger second or third in the lineup every game. 2016 Rookie of the Year Corey Seager, who sat out the NLCS with a bad back, is expected to be activated for the Series where he’ll be the Dodgers shortstop. The Astros are actually an old team on paper — Verlander, catcher Brian McCann, starter Charlie Morton, first baseman Yuli Gurriel, outfielder Josh Reddick and DH Evan Gattis are all over 30 while Beltran is 40 — but young players are essential to their attack as well. Shortstop Carlos Correa just turned 23 and he’s one of the game’s brightest stars. Third baseman Alex Bregman, also 23, made the play that may very well have broken the Yankees’ back during Saturday night’s pennant clincher. Age aside, the Astros are the product of a major, multi-year rebuild and many of their players are making their first national splash this postseason.

Beyond just the names and resumes, though, the Dodgers and Astros represent a fantastic strategic matchup. The Dodgers attack this postseason has featured admirable plate discipline, with third baseman Justin Turner, right fielder Yasiel Puig and center fielder Chris Taylor all letting balls out of the zone pass them by while abusing pitches left out over the plate. Astros pitchers not named Justin Verlander, however, have lived by getting the opposition to chase bad balls. Game one starter Dallas Keuchel did this by relying on his very fast sinker. Lance McCullers pitched well starting Game 4 of the ALCS and pitched spectacularly closing out the final four innings of Game 7 mostly by virtue of his curveball, which Yankees pitchers could simply not lay off. Indeed, his final 24 pitches of Game 7 were all curves, many of them low and away. Who will give in first in this series?

On the side of things, Dodgers relievers have made a living by pumping in strikes. Particularly strikes high in the zone from Jansen and Brandon Morrow. There may be no better fastball hitter in all of baseball than Jose Altuve, however, and the team as a whole was one of the best in the bigs in dealing with gas in the zone. This was a big reason why the Astros struck out less than any team in baseball this year while simultaneously boasting the best offense in the game. The Dodgers throw strikes. The Astros make you pay when you throw them strikes. Again, something’s gotta give.

Maybe the suits in New York wanted the Yankees and Cubs. But everyone else is getting exactly what we want: a matchup of the two best teams in the game. A matchup of strength against strength. What is, from a purely baseball perspective, the best World Series we could’ve possibly hoped for.