Your Monday Afternoon Power Rankings

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As was the case last week and many weeks before, the Yankees rule the roost.  If you have an argument against it, make it in the comments. Then have yourself committed to a mental ward for an acute case of the crazy:

1. Yankees: I gave half a thought to going with the crazy and knocking them down a peg for moaning about not getting Cliff Lee, but no need to punish the players simply because some anonymous whack job in the front office lacks perspective. They obviously didn’t need Lee anyway. They’re cruising and they’ll just get Lee this winter. For now it all looks like cream cheese.

2. Braves: If there was any doubt about who is ruling the roost in the NL East right now, the Braves’ successful road trip through Philly and New York — two of three from the Phils and the Mets — put that to rest.

3. Rays: Nice rebound week (and change) for the Rays, taking three of four from the Twins, sweeping the Red Sox and taking care of the Indians.

4. White Sox: Ain’t nobody hotter than Ozzie Guillen’s White Sox. Coming back from 9.5 down just over a month ago to take over the division is the feat of the year so far.

5. Padres: A weird road trip — all the way from San Diego to Washington for three games and then clear back to Colorado — discombobulated the Padres a bit.  Seeing them in those slug fests in D.C. was . . . odd.

6. Tigers: Trying hard to get the number of the black and white truck that just ran them off the road.

7. Red Sox: Still banged up and now there’s some back and forth in the press between Youkilis and Ellsbury. Nice time for a few days off to clear heads and heal bodies.

8. Rockies: Colorado, in contrast, doesn’t wand the music to stop for four days, because they’re on a roll, serving notice to the Padres that the West won’t be theirs for long. In fact, number eight feels a little low for them.

9. Dodgers: They’re not turning heads like the Rockies are, but they’re just as close to the Padres. Not quite as talented a team, however, so they have to make a deal to hang in there, I think. Unless of course you think Vicente Padilla is going to spin seven shutout innings multiple times over the second half.

10. Rangers: Bad first start notwithstanding, getting Cliff Lee
puts them in the driver’s seat in the West. Heck, they may have been
there anyway, recent stumbles notwithstanding, because the Angels are
stumbling just as much.

11. Mets:  It’s not my anti-Mets bias that has me believing that they’re not the biggest threat to the Braves in the NL East. It’s plain old objectivity.  Mike Pelfrey has struggled recently. R.A. Dickey could have a great second half, but I don’t know how much I’d bet on that. The bullpen looks tired. If Beltran comes back strong or if they make a big trade I think they can hang, but short of that there are reasons for concern.  

12. Twins: Like Aaron said this morning: Free fall. The starters are getting creamed, both Mauer and Morneau are hurt/sick/struggling/whatever. They’re farther back in the Central now than they have been all year and things are looking bleak. Is the break enough for them, or do they need to make a deal?

13. Phillies: Three straight walkoff wins for the Phillies through Saturday, and a couple of pitching gems to close out the weekend. The offense and the non-Halladay portion of the rotation is still a concern, however. How they come out of the break will determine whether last week’s Jayson Werth trade rumors were merely a function of panic or the emergence of a dominant theme.

14. Reds: The Phillies’ series was a pain, but thankfully the Cardinals have been stumbling too.  The Reds need help in the bullpen, though, and quickly if they are to keep setting the tone, because St. Louis isn’t going to be down like this for long.

15. Cardinals, Giants: Identical records and only a two-run difference in run differential. The Giants enter the break on an upnote and the Cardinals on more of downnote, but I like the Cardinals’ chances better simply because they have fewer good teams to contend with and a ton of games left against some really, really bad ones.

17. Angels: An ugly and uninspiring series against the White Sox and the Rangers getting Cliff Lee makes for a pretty dispiriting week in Anaheim. But hey, All-Star Game is in town.

18. Blue Jays: It’s just astonishing to me how big a difference there has been between Adam Lind and Aaron Hill in 2009 and Adam Lind and Aaron Hill in 2010. Oh, and if you’re going to have a silly little Home Run Derby anyway, what’s the point of leaving Jose Bautista out of it? I mean, he only leads the majors in home runs and stuff.

19. Marlins: Jeff Loria would like to thank LeBron James for taking the focus off the Marlins for the rest of the season and likely for the next several years.

20. Athletics: Any A’s fans looking for something to cheer them up in this pretty down season should read yesterday’s editorial from Andy Dolich in the Chronicle: “When fans of the Green and Gold are celebrating their fifth world
championship, it will be in Oakland.” Hey, delusion can be cheering!

21. Royals: Optimism is at an all-time high in Kansas City right now. Well, maybe not “all-time” but at least a recent high. I’m not believing that talk about the Royals being playoff contenders — leave that to the Yostafarians out there — but it’s certainly nice for the Royals to not be a laughing stock for once.

22. Nationals: Frankly, having the season descend into crud like it has is the best possible thing for the Nats, inasmuch as it allows them to simply shut down Strasburg when he reaches his innings limit and will give them the flexibility to make some moves. I mean, yeah, I like Adam Dunn a lot, but if he can be flipped for some useful parts, it will be a good for the long term outlook to trade him.

23. Cubs: Owner Tom Ricketts said on Friday that “no one could have predicted the difficulty we’ve had” this far this
season.  Oh really? OK, I was wrong about Zambrano bouncing back and was overly concerned about Ted Lilly, but they looked like a fourth place team to me back on April 1st and at the All-Star break they’re in fourth place.

24. Brewers:  I know the Brewers draw well, but I hadn’t really thought of it in these terms before: “The Milwaukee Brewers play in baseball’s smallest market, but they have
sold more tickets this year than the New York Mets.”

25. Astros: Better play of late, but firing hitting coach Sean Berry and replacing him with Jeff Bagwell is a joke move. Like it’s Sean Berry’s fault the Astros suck. Like Jeff Bagwell will be able to do anything to turn things around. The reason Houston is terrible is because of Drayton McLane and Ed Wade, not because of the coaches. Unless Berry keyed Wade’s car or something, this move is all about making a scapegoat out of someone and is borne of the cynical belief that the identity of the hitting coach will get fans excited about a terrible team.

26. Mariners: Maybe the biggest failure in Seattle this year was the expectations game. So much activity in the offseason — and a lot of “Lee and King Felix a the top of the rotation!” hype — fooled a lot of people into believing that this team would do more than it was truly capable of. Objectively speaking, though, the Lee trade-and-flip worked out for them nicely and they’re a better team today than they were last week because of it. If they hadn’t brought Griffey back and if Jack Z. had said “hey, we’re rebuilding” a few times over the winter, people probably wouldn’t have been so down on the M’s in the first half.

27. Indians: Matt LaPorta and Carlos Santana have been great so far and give the Indians hope for the future. Sadly, however, departed superstars and hope for the future is not the sort of thing that’s going to make Cleveland fans feel good right now. Cliff Lee trade? LeBron James insanity? When does Browns camp start?

28. Diamondbacks: Headline “Dan Haren looking for strong second half for season.” Unspoken context: “for whom?”
 
29. Orioles: Of all the disappointments in Baltimore this year, perhaps the most surprising and the most depressing has been Matt Wieters’ .245/.315/.357 line in the first half. Remember back in the day when he inspired this kind of thing?

30. Pirates: There are a lot of sad comments that could be made about the Pirates, but maybe the saddest comes in the Post-Gazette’s first-half wrap up story in which it lists the season’s “high point” as the second game of the season when they had a big crowd for a game in which a boatload of tickets were discounted to $1.

Free agent reliever Eric O’Flaherty weighing interest from four teams

New York Mets pitcher Eric O'Flaherty throws against the Miami Marlins during the ninth inning of a baseball game in Miami, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015. The Mets defeated the Miami Marlins 8-6. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)
AP Photo/Joe Skipper
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Veteran reliever Eric O'Flaherty is coming off the worst season of his career, but there’s still plenty of interest in a bounceback, as ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports that he’s deciding between four teams and “should sign a deal by the weekend.”

You really can’t sugarcoat O’Flaherty’s 2015. The 31-year-old was flat-out bad, posting an 8.41 ERA and 21/18 K/BB ratio over 30 innings of work between the Athletics and Mets. Opposing batters hit .343/.427/.482 against him. I keep going back to check if that’s a misprint, but nope, it’s real. He also missed some time with shoulder inflammation. On the bright side, Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports reported last month that O’Flaherty feels healthy and believes that he has fixed his mechanics.

O’Flaherty’s career has veered off track since Tommy John surgery in 2013, but he has enjoyed plenty of success in the past and throws from the left side. He’s the kind of guy who will continue to get chances.

Mets sign outfielder Roger Bernadina

Cincinnati Reds v Arizona Diamondbacks
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Veteran outfielder Roger Bernadina has agreed to a minor-league contract with the Mets that includes an invitation to spring training.

Bernadina was a semi-regular for the Nationals from 2010-2012, but never developed as much as hoped offensively and didn’t play in the majors at all last season.

At age 32 he’s a career .236 hitter with a .661 OPS in 548 games as a big leaguer and given the Mets’ outfield depth–they already have Alejandro De Aza and Juan Lagares in bench/part-time roles–Bernadina seems likely to begin the season in the minors.

J.R. Graham is in The Best Shape of his Life

Minnesota Twins starting pitcher J.R. Graham celebrates after the final out as the Twins beat the Chicago White Sox 12-2 in  a baseball game, Thursday, April 30, 2015, in Minneapolis. The Twins won 12-2. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
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Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com reports that Twins reliever J.R. Graham has lost “roughly 30-40 pounds this offseason.” It’s not a result of workouts, though. Just a change in diet. Bollinger says that Graham cut out sugar, alcohol and foods heavy in carbs and focused on a high-protein diet with lots of salads, meats and vegetables.

That’s an awful lot of weight to lose in four months, but the dude is only 26 and guys in their 20s lose weight just by thinking about it. Which is so very annoying to those of us who aren’t guys in their 20s.

The real test, of course, will come when he is working out far more strenuously once spring training starts and gets into the season. Normal schmos like me can keep up that kind of diet without much of a hitch as long as we have the willpower. An athlete’s energy requirements are far greater and far more specialized, so he’ll need more fuel than he’s probably been getting this offseason. Word is, however, that professional sports teams have people on staff that, you know, have made monitoring that kind of thing their life’s work.

In the meantime:

“I can just feel the change,” Graham said. “The energy. Everything. I feel great. I’m excited to see how it’ll translate into spring. I know I shouldn’t have any problems because I’m stronger than I’ve ever been. I’m faster. All that. So it’s really exciting.”

It’s very exciting indeed. Because, with that, Graham becomes the latest baseball player to be . . . In The Best Shape of His Life.

The time my family invited itself to Gaylord Perry’s house for lunch

Gaylord Perry
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I mentioned my Gaylord Perry story in the last post. I feel like I’ve written this up before, but I couldn’t find it in our archives. Couldn’t find it anywhere. Maybe I’ve just told it to friends and radio hosts and people so many times that it feels like I’ve written it before. Oh well, I’ll tell it again because I like telling this story.

In 1984 I was on vacation with my family in the big RV, driving through North Carolina. As we always did on those long family road trips, my brother and I spent all of our highway time sorting through boxes of baseball cards we brought along with us. As we passed through a little podunk town, my dad suddenly pulled over and stopped to make a call at a pay phone. He got back into the RV and said “we’re stopping for lunch.” As we pulled away from the phone booth, I saw a sign that said “Welcome to Williamston, North Carolina, Home of Gaylord and Jim Perry.” Maybe Jim got first billing since he’s older. I don’t remember. But that was the upshot.

Five minutes later we are pulling up to a house next to a large farm. A woman came out of the house and said, “You’re the fella who just called? Come on in!” She welcomed us inside. “Gaylord will be here in a minute,” she said. My brother and I freaked out as we looked around the living room. There were photos of Gaylord Perry in action. Trophies and awards. Jerseys in frames. All kinds of other stuff. The thing I remember most was a giant leather chair shaped like a baseball glove that, to this day, I wish I had (maybe the 1984 version of this?). Five minutes later Gaylord freaking Perry walked in. He was wearing dirty jeans, work boots, a dirty white t-shirt and a Kansas City Royals cap. It was his first summer not playing baseball since he was a kid and he was spending it farming. Still had the cap on, though.

Gaylord and his wife, Blanche, were warm and welcoming. They said that not too many baseball fans just up and stopped by, but that they were happy someone did. Blanche made us sandwiches. Gaylord signed autographs (we had a few Perry cards in the RV stash). Even at that age I knew Perry’s reputation as a ball-doctorer. He told us a bunch of spitball jokes and stories which he had no doubt honed on the banquet circuit over the years, but they were mostly new to me. My parents, who were not baseball fans and didn’t know much about Perry apart from the fact that he was a famous baseball player, were delighted when Perry asked me to explain to them what I thought a spitball was. You could tell Perry thought that it was absolutely adorable that I thought the best way to doctor a ball was to, you know, spit on it. He talked about Vaseline and all sorts of other stuff, adding “or so I’m told” or “some people say” every now and again with a wink.

After lunch, Gaylord took us back to his office, in a separate building. He opened a file cabinet containing autographed baseballs from his former teammates and his friends in the game. I got a George Brett ball, which Perry said he gave me because Brett was the best player whose autograph he had sitting around handy. My brother said he was a Tigers fan so Perry gave him a Lance Parrish ball Perry had gotten somewhere along the way. He had a bunch of others too, but we weren’t greedy. He gave my mom a T-shirt he had which commemorated the Pine Tar Incident, in which he played no small part. He autographed the shirt for her, apologized for it being so big and said that maybe she could use it as a night shirt. My dad took Polaroids of my brother and me with Perry which I still have around here someplace. Then off we went, with Gaylord and Blanche Perry waving from the porch.

I was saddened to hear a couple years later that Perry’s life took an unfortunate turn not long after we met him. Two years later he lost his farm to bankruptcy. A year later Blanche died in an automobile accident. Perry went on to coach college baseball for a while. I remember seeing an interview with him around that time and he seemed like a much sadder guy than the smiling fellow we met that day in 1984. It makes sense given all that had happened.

In 2012, while in Scottsdale to cover spring training, I walked into the Giants clubhouse one morning and sitting at a table were Willie Mays, Ernie Banks and Gaylord Perry. They were there for some sort of pregame ceremony and were just shooting the breeze and telling old baseball stories. Perry was laughing and animated and at times was practically breathless due to all of the cackling. He had Mays in stitches too. It was fantastic to see him smiling.

When the conversation ended Perry got up and walked from the table. I thought about saying something to him about the time in 1984 when my dad impulsively took his kids to Gaylord Perry’s house and to thank him for the kindness he and his wife showed my family that day. I didn’t, though. He was soon in another conversation and, on some level, it seemed awkward for me to have brought that up there, in the clubhouse, wearing a press credential when people were working and preparing and things. In hindsight I wish I had.

I’m going back to Scottsdale to cover spring training again in March. I hope he’s there again. If so, this time I will.