Your Monday Afternoon Power Rankings


I ain’t gonna lie to you: I’ve probably messed some stuff up here, as I feel like I’m relying a bit too much on the standings this week and not capturing as much of the usual mojo, nuance, juju and other assorted intangibles which usually spice these things up. Vacations will do that to you.

Anyway, feel free to lodge your objections in the comments. But please, show your work and tell me why I’m wrong. Plain old “you suck” doesn’t help anyone.

1. Rays: Just lookin’ ahead: the Rays last ten games of the season break down like this: three against the Mariners, three against the Orioles and four against the Royals. Yeah, I know that all evens out with what the Yankees and Red Sox have done over the course of the season, but ending easy like that has to be a psychological boost for Tampa Bay.

2. Yankees: Can you guess which AL East team has the most losses in the month of August? If you guessed anyone other than “The Yankees” you probably need to see a doctor, because my asking this question in their entry was a pretty big hint, yo. And that’s not why the Yankees are number two instead of number one. At best it’s the third reason behind (a) the many Yankees injuries and/or ineffective starters; and (b) the Rays’ use of “Sweet Caroline” after beating the Red Sox last night which gives them bonus points for style.

3. Twins: Like I said, I’ve not really been following baseball the past several days, but I do get the impression that the Twins have picked up approximately 24 relief pitchers during that time. Am I far off?

4. Padres: The only downside to the Padres’ continued excellence
this year is that when the playoffs start we’ll be subjected to endless
talk about how surprising they’ve been, as if we all didn’t have ample
time over the previous six months to grok the concept.

5. Reds: I’m guessing this has been covered already, but barring Albert Pujols winning the Triple Crown, I’m having a hard time seeing how Joey Votto doesn’t win the MVP. Even if the Cardinals manage to win the division, the calculus on the part of the writers is going to be “Votto and Pujols had substantially similar seasons and we thought less of the Reds when the season began, thereby rendering his season more ‘valuable.'” And that’s before even figuring in the “we’re tired of giving the MVP to Pujols” thing.

6. Braves: Best part of my vacation: I was on a beach, drinking a coldie when that awful loss to the Rockies — after being up 10-1 — went down on Wednesday. Indeed, I wasn’t even aware of it until after the Phillies score came in, so I already had it in my mind that, hey, at least the Bravos didn’t lose any ground. ‘Course, had I been watching it I probably would’ve plotzed, live on the blog, as it was happening.

7. Phillies: Sweeping the Padres in Petco is impressive, but dropping four in a row to the Astros at home pretty much balances that out and prevented movement in both the standings that matter and these silly Power Rankings.

8. Rangers: That “playoff preview” against the Rays a couple of weeks ago didn’t go all that well for them, but the one against the Twins last week was nice.  They gotta go to Minnesota this weekend, though.

9. Red Sox: The Sox are 14-13 in John Lackey starts this year. Take that as evidence that the pickup wasn’t as successful if you will. Take that as mere coincidence if you will. I’ve just seen the stat written by a couple of Red Sox beat guys in the past few hours, so I figured it was worth parroting.

10. Cardinals: I (thankfully) missed the hubub over the Glenn Beck rally with Pujols and La Russa and everything, but did anyone ever ask Beck if his shoutout to the famous animal rights activist La Russa constituted Beck caving to the “radical anti-hunting, anti-gun, animal rights” crowd he warned us about just a couple of short years ago?

11. White Sox: Another thing I missed last week was Guillen’s son talking smack about Kenny Williams on Twitter. I kind of get Ozzie’s “hey, I can’t be responsible for what my kids says” stance. Indeed, the same day Oney Gullien was spouting off, my son was saying “hey, look at that fat kid” while standing approximately five feet away from the fat kid and his parents. Now, my son is five and Oney Guillen is 20, but other than that it’s a totally identical dynamic.

12. Giants: The Giants have had to worry about starting pitching of all things lately. Never saw that one coming.

13. Blue Jays: Nice series win against the Yankees last week. Toronto is 7-5 against New York this season.

14. Rockies: Ubaldo Jimenez — who launched a bunch of “can he win 30?” columns and blog posts earlier this season, has been stuck on 17 wins since August 4th and has only won two games since the All-Star break and has a 4.01 ERA since that time.

15. Athletics: I haven’t done the research, but I’m guessing a plurality of prognosticators picked the A’s to finish last in the AL West this year, so the fact that they’re looking pretty good to finish in second place is something. Not something particularly fulfilling and worthwhile, but not nothing.

16. Marlins: I should probably stick the Marlins in last place simply on the power of their greed and mendacity, but I’ll be fair and put them in a spot that is justified by their record. But seriously, screw Jeff Loria and David Samson.

17. Dodgers: The Dodgers’ most important battle of the season starts today, and it ain’t the three-game series against the Phillies.

18. Mets: Let’s see, look for a silver lining . . . look for a silver lining . . . OK: while there’s a decent chance the Mets will slide behind the A’s in runs scored this season, it’s not really likely that they’ll fall behind Houston, Baltimore, Pittsburgh or Seattle, so no worse than 26th in runs scored is probably clinched.

19. Tigers: Detroit takes two of three from the Royals and splits four with the Jays. That’s about right. 

20. Angels: Can you guess which AL West team has the most losses in the month of
August? If you guessed anyone other than “The Angels” you probably need
to see a doctor, because my asking this question in their entry was a
pretty big hint, yo. 

21. Brewers: Unless you take your Brewers baseball really, really seriously, an argument can be made that the entire season was worth it in light of the fact that it produced this.

22. Nationals: I’ve cited a number of reasons why I’m glad I was gone last week, but here’s a reason I wish I was blogging last week: In the wake of the Strasburg news, I would have been able to post this.

23. Astros: Houston has played spoiler for the Braves and Phillies in recent weeks. Now they get the Cardinals.

24. Cubs: There wasn’t a ton of baseball talk during my week in northern Michigan, but the topic that came up the most when chatting with random sunbathing and beer drinking Michiganders on holiday was Alan Trammell getting slighted by not being selected interim manager when Piniella stepped down. I don’t know that it was really a slight — the Cubs probably weren’t considering him for the full time job anyway — but Tigers fans of a certain age are rather protective of the guy.

25. Indians/Royals: The battle for fourth place in the AL Central has been neck and neck. Can’t say it’s been inspiring or exciting or anything, but it sure has been neck and neck! And yes, I know the Royals are up right now, but Cleveland has a much better run differential, so I feel pretty comfortable calling this a tie.

27. Orioles: Playing well, but the Orioles are the first team to be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs so I can only place them so high. I wonder how much money MLB made selling Orioles playoff ticket licenses?

28. Diamondbacks: The Diamondbacks are considering changing the
dimensions of Chase Field in order to make the park less hitter
friendly. I wonder if this option appeared above or below “get a decent
bullpen” on the list of run-suppression action items.

29. Mariners: I was trying to think of something good to say
about the Mariners and couldn’t come up with anything. Thank God, then,
for Carson Cistulli, who gives Mariners fans some reasons for optimism. [minutes pass]. OK, I just read that all the way through. I don’t think that was really meant to make anyone feel any better.

30. Pirates
: The Pirates have five starting pitchers with 10 or more losses this year. Don’t see that very often.

Royals will bring back Yordano Ventura to start Game 4

Yordano Ventura
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Thursday night’s rain delay cut Yordano Ventura‘s start short after just two innings, as the Royals opted to turn to reliever Chris Young instead of bringing the 24-year-old right-hander back out to the mound following the delay.

One benefit to that is what manager Ned Yost has decided to do now, which is use Ventura to start Game 4 on Monday. Had he thrown, say, 102 pitches instead of 42 pitches Ventura likely would have started Game 5, forcing the Royals to go four starters deep in their ALDS rotation.

Ventura struggled before the delay Monday, allowing three runs in two innings. However, he finished the regular season by going 7-1 with a 2.38 ERA and 81 strikeouts in 68 innings over his final 11 starts, which was enough to convince Yost he was the right pitcher to start Game 1 rather than trade deadline pickup Johnny Cueto.

Playoff Reset: Four games in one day!

Cole Hamels

Oh baby.

There’s baseball from noon to midnight today, with a pair of Game 2s in the American League and a pair of Game 1s in the National League.

Tons of great starting pitchers–including the best in the world and a trio of big-name trade deadline acquisitions–and we’ll find out if a home team can actually win a game after starting the playoffs 0-4.

The Game: Texas Rangers vs. Toronto Blue Jays
The Time: 12:45 PM Eastern
The Place: Rogers Centre, Toronto
The Channel: MLB Network
The Starters: Cole Hamels vs. Marcus Stroman
The Upshot: Stroman coming back from what was deemed a season-ending knee injury in spring training to start Game 2 of the ALDS is a helluva story and the Blue Jays need him to come up big after David Price failed to do his part in Game 1. Yovani Gallardo somehow wriggled out of trouble against Toronto’s scary lineup, but as a left-hander Hamels has an even tougher assignment versus the never-ending right-handed power. Assuming it’s all in the lineup, of course. There are big health question marks for both sides, as Adrian Beltre, Josh Donaldson, and Jose Bautista all exited Game 1 with injuries and their respective statuses could swing the balance of power in the series.

The Game: Houston Astros vs. Kansas City Royals
The Time: 3:45 PM Eastern
The Place: Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City
The Channel: FOX Sports 1
The Starters: Scott Kazmir vs. Johnny Cueto
The Upshot: Two headline-grabbing trade deadline pickups with a lot to prove, as Kazmir and Cueto both struggled for their new teams. Cueto was bumped back to Game 2 after being acquired to front the Royals’ rotation and there was some speculation that Kazmir might not even have a spot in the ALDS rotation. Kansas City losing Game 1 last night and Houston having Dallas Keuchel waiting in the wings for Game 3 puts a ton of pressure on Cueto’s shoulders. Generally one of the toughest pitchers to homer against, he allowed 10 homers in 13 starts for the Royals and the Astros’ power-packed lineup will put him to the test all afternoon. Can the defending AL champs get off the mat quickly or will they head to Houston in need of a win to keep the season alive?

The Game: Chicago Cubs vs. St. Louis Cardinals
The Time: 6:45 PM Eastern
The Place: Busch Stadium, St. Louis
The Channel: TBS
The Starters: Jon Lester vs. John Lackey
The Upshot: Former Red Sox teammates Lester and Lackey square off in Game 1 of the first ever playoff series between two of the biggest rivals in baseball, with the Cubs fresh off their Wild Card game triumph over the Pirates and the Cardinals coming off an MLB-high 100 wins. Yadier Molina‘s ability to play through a thumb injury will be key for the Cardinals and it’ll also be interesting to see how much faith manager Mike Matheny has in Adam Wainwright to get late-inning outs as a reliever after returning from a torn Achilles’ tendon.

The Game: New York Mets vs. Los Angeles Dodgers
The Time: 9:45 PM Eastern
The Place: Dodger Stadium, Los Angeles
The Channel: TBS
The Starters: Jacob deGrom vs. Clayton Kershaw
The Upshot: Quite a way to finish an entire day of baseball, as the Mets go looking for their first playoff win since 2006 and Kershaw tries to cement his legacy as an all-time great by dominating in the playoffs like he does in the regular season. And don’t overlook deGrom, because last year’s Rookie of the Year winner has a 2.61 ERA and 349 strikeouts in 331 innings since debuting last May. Among all starters with at least 300 innings during the past two seasons Kershaw ranks first in ERA and deGrom ranks fourth, with Jake Arrieta and Zack Greinke in the 2-3 slots. This is a speculator pitching matchup.

Maybe Alcides Escobar shouldn’t bat leadoff

Alcides Escobar

Alcides Escobar finished with a .292 OBP this year. He came in at .246 in 117 at-bats in August and .257 in 109 at-bats between September and October, so he wasn’t exactly flying high entering the postseason. Still, that didn’t stop Ned Yost from putting him into the leadoff spot for Thursday’s Game 1 against the Astros.

Yost finally did reconsider hitting Escobar first in September. It took Alex Gordon‘s return to health, plus the previous addition of Ben Zobrist to the lineup, in order to make that happen. However, it didn’t stick. Escobar hit ninth in each of his starts from Sept. 7-26, batting .236 with a .276 OBP during that span. With five games left to go, he was suddenly returned to the leadoff spot. The Royals went on to win all five games. Yost saw it as a sign, even though Escobar went 5-for-22 with no walks in those games.

Escobar went 0-for-4 in Thursday’s loss to the Astros. He did not swing at the first pitch of the game, which probably explains the defeat.

It’s been difficult to argue with Yost since last year’s World Series run and this year’s incredible run out of the game. The blind spot with Escobar, though, gets rather infuriating. One can defend hitting him leadoff against the Astros’ lefties. His career OBP against southpaws is .319 (.316 this year). Against righties, he’s the most obvious No. 9 hitter alive, with a career .258/.290/.342 line (.252/.284/.314 this year). He’s not a pace-setter. He’s not a spark plug. He’s a liability.