Your Monday Afternoon Power Rankings

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As always, last week’s rankings are in parenthesis and this week’s ranking are kind of pulled out of my butt:

1. Yankees (1): I’ve lost track, but we’ve got to be approaching Boyz II Men “End of the Road” territory for consecutive weeks at number one for the Bombers. After that they only have Boyz II Men “I’ll Make Love to You” and, um, Boyz II Men/Mariah Carey “One Sweet Day” territory ahead of them. Man, what the hell was up with Boyz II Men?

2. Rays (2): The Rangers come in for a little ALDS preview. Actually, I think if this were the ALDS they’d be playing in Texas, but that’s quibbling. Easily the most interesting series of the week.

3. Padres (4): I think what strikes me most about what the Padres are doing is that it’s not like there are a bunch of guys here performing above their pay grade.Yorvit Torrealba, maybe, but it’s not like several players are playing substantially above their heads.

4. Rangers (3): Losing Nelson Cruz to his third hamstring injury of the year is not good news, but at least they have a cushion.

5. Braves (5): I’ll tell you this: if the Braves do get overtaken by Philly, I’m not going to bitch about injuries. For one thing, Philly had more injuries to more significant players than the Braves have. For another thing, bitching about injuries is one of my least favorite whines in all of sports. NFL coaches are the worst for this (“Not makin’ excuses, but boy, if it wasn’t for all these injuries . . .”), but baseball has gotten pretty bad about it. No, the fact is that I said back in March that this is an Atlanta team that — while promising — needed everything to break right. Until recently things did break right. If they go south now that just speaks to the fact that they had way less margin for error than other contenders, and that’s just how things go sometimes, ya know?

6. Twins (8): My comrade D.J. Short tweets that the Twins are first in all of baseball in batting average, on base percentage, OPS and runs since the All-Star break, all without Justin Morneau in the lineup. They took two of three from the Chisox last week and now get ’em at home Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. There’s still a ton of time, but the Twinkies could go a long way towards sewing up the division this week.

7. Phillies (6): The other side of the Braves-Phillies coin: it’s really hard for me to get worked up at the Phillies being the team most likely to overtake the Braves. I’ve spent all season trying to drum up a hatred for them, and I just can’t. The most aggravated I get is when the Dodgers or someone blow a lead against them like they did last Thursday or the ump blows a call like in that Marlins game the week before and that’s hardly the Phillies’ fault. And I like Charlie Manuel a lot. And one of my favorite team-specific blogs is The Fightins. Almost makes me wish the Mets were better this year so the division can have a proper villain.  

8. Cardinals (10): Quite a letdown losing two of three to the Cubs and losing the division lead after the emotional sweep of the Reds. But like Earl Weaver said: This isn’t football; we do this every day. As such, emotion doesn’t have a hell of a lot of place in this sport. It certainly can’t sustain you.

9. Reds (9): Not that the sweep meant nothing. I can’t in good conscience put the Reds ahead of the Cards after they got smacked down by them last week.

10. Red Sox (11): I bet Jacoby Ellsbury could really go for some spare ribs right now. Get it? SPARE ribs? Anyone? Hello? Is this thing on?

11. Giants (12): If the Giants season starts to go down the drain right now, some of the people in this room will point to the acquisition of Jose Guillen as the reason why, simply because of the timing. That would be wrong, of course, because there are many things that contribute to losing. That being said, I would be fine with such a misapprehension holding, because the world needs to be warned against things like acquiring Jose Guillen for the stretch run. 

12. White Sox (7): I was on MLB Network Radio last night, and host Mike Ferrin did a little “Empire Strikes Back” baseball associations quiz. One of the questions was which team’s bullpen is the most Lando Calrissan-like, meaning they can’t be trusted. I went with the Phillies on inertia, but I really should have gone with the White Sox. Back to back blown saves by J.J. Putz following a few notable Bobby Jenks meltdowns. I’m just trying to figure out who Lobot is.

13. Blue Jays (13): One of my favorite blog posts of the last week comes from Dustin Parkes over at Drunk Jays Fans comparing Jose Bautista to that girl you met on the rebound while beer goggling. Such analogies can be useful to understand sports. Such analogies can also go on a tad too long for comfort.

14. Rockies (15): In that same vein, Andrew Martin from Purple Row explains how the Rockies 2010 season is kind of like having to move on a Wednesday instead of a Sunday. It may not be as colorful an analogy as the Jays one, but at least it doesn’t inspire me to think of Jose Bautista sitting in a pickup bar.

15. Angels (19): A big jump this week. Bigger than they really deserve, actually, due to some demotions and the fact that I didn’t want to think too hard about them to be honest. Why? Because they have the Red Sox, Twins and Rays in their immediate future and I’m just gonna have to adjust them dramatically one way or another after that, I imagine.

16. Dodgers (16): They probably should have been docked several spots simply for that metldown against the Phillies on Thursday.

17. Mets (17): The Mets are making one of their patented second half runs!

18. Athletics (14): Losing two of three to the Mariners is worse than dropping all three to the Twins.

19. Marlins (18): Their next ten come against the Pirates, Astros and Mets. If they’re not at least 6-4 on this stretch people should just stop going to their games.

20. Tigers (20): I know the Tigers are saying that yesterday’s dustup between Armando Galarraga and Alex Avila is much ado about nothing, the fact that Gerald Laird came out of it looking like the most reasonable one of the bunch means something. I’m not sure what it means, but based on his recent history, it’s something significant.

21. Astros (23): Correlation != causation!

22. Nationals (22): I love that Stephen Strasburg is the guy talking about how Bryce Harper needs to sign his deal. If Strasburg had clicked the ballpoint pen he used to sign his contract last year a couple of extra times he would have blown past deadline himself.

23. Cubs (26): If you had taken a Cubs fan forward in time from last spring and plopped him down this past weekend and allowed him to watch Chicago take two of three from the Cardinals on the back of a strong Carlos Zambrano start and a handful of Derrek Lee homers he likely would not have guessed that the team was sitting 17 games out of first place.

24. Diamondbacks (28): Can I tell you how happy I am t
hat Kirk Gibson is rocking the stache like it’s still 1986?

25. Brewers (21): This seems harsh, I suppose, but you can’t drop three of four to the Dbacks and not get docked a bit.

26. Indians (25); 27. Royals (24): Massive battle for these two teams this week. Who will emerge as the sole owner of last place in the AL Central?!

28. Mariners (30): Who said that firing everyone wouldn’t solve the teams problems? The Mariners fired everyone a little over a week ago and they beat up the Athletics and the Indians. They should fire the coaching staff once a month!

29. Orioles (27): I told you this morning that I’d dock them a place in the rankings because of the orange uniforms. That was a lie. I docked them two places after looking at the pics again. Not all throwbacks are created equal, my friends.T

30. Pirates (29): Pat Lackey of the Where Have You Gone Andy Van Slyke blog: “Does anyone doubt the Pirates are the worst team in the league anymore?
They reel off six-game losing streaks as easily as most people eat
breakfast.”  And Pat is not one of your bigger gloom-and-doomers as far as bloggers for bad teams go. Oy.

Astros push ALCS to Game 7 with 7-1 stunner against Yankees

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There’s just something about playing in your home ballpark. The Astros decimated the Yankees at Minute Maid Park on Friday, riding seven scoreless innings from Justin Verlander and a pair of big runs from Jose Altuve to win 7-1 and force a Game 7 in the American League Championship Series.

Through the first four innings, however, the teams looked equally matched. Luis Severino no-hit the Astros through 3 2/3 innings, losing his bid on Carlos Correa‘s line drive single in the fourth. The Astros returned in the fifth to do some real damage, drawing two walks and plating the first run of the night with Brian McCann‘s ground-rule double off of the right field wall. Things didn’t get any easier for Severino. Jose Altuve lined a two-RBI base hit into left field, upping Houston’s advantage to three runs.

Verlander, meanwhile, muted the Yankees’ offense with seven innings of five-hit, eight-strikeout ball. While he didn’t come close to matching his complete game effort in Game 2, he was still plenty dominant against a struggling New York lineup. No player reached past first base until the sixth inning, when a pair of base hits from Chase Headley and Didi Gregorius gave the Yankees their first runner in scoring position. That didn’t last long, though, as Gary Sanchez grounded out on a 3-0 slider to end the inning.

In the seventh, Houston’s ace got into another spot of trouble. He walked Greg Bird on six pitches to start the inning, then plunked Starlin Castro on the wrist. Aaron Hicks struck out, in part thanks to a questionable call by home plate umpire Jim Reynolds, but it was Todd Frazier who presented the biggest threat after returning an 0-1 fastball for a 403-foot fly out to left field. Luckily for Verlander, George Springer was there to bail him out with a leaping catch at the wall.

The Yankees kept things exciting in the eighth, too. Aaron Judge ripped his third postseason home run off of Brad Peacock, taking a 425-footer out to the train in left field to spoil the Astros’ shutout. That was the only real break the Yankees got, however, as Altuve, Alex Bregman and Evan Gattis returned in the bottom of the inning to tack on another four runs, including Altuve’s solo shot off of David Robertson:

Ken Giles handled the ninth, expending 23 pitches and giving up a base hit and a walk before retiring Frazier and Headley to end the game. Thanks to Houston’s winning efforts, the two teams will compete in their first seven-game Championship Series since 2004 — and this time, at least one of them is guaranteed to come away with a win.

Game 7 of the ALCS is set for Saturday at 8:00 PM ET. Houston right-hander Charlie Morton (14-7, 3.62 ERA) is scheduled to face southpaw CC Sabathia (14-5, 3.69 ERA).