Your Monday Afternoon Power Rankings

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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.

Clint Barmes retires

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 29:  Shortstop Clint Barmes #12 of the Pittsburgh Pirates throws to first to complete a double play to end the seventh inning after forcing out Chone Figgins #18 of the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium on May 29, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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Veteran infielder Clint Barmes has announced his retirement.

Barmes was playing for Triple-A Omaha in the Royals system and he simply came to the decision to hang it up during a recent game when he was replaced late in the game to make way for a younger player. He tells Jessica Kleinschmidt of FanDuel that it was a cold night, he was stiffening up and, in a rather matter-of-fact tone, says he just decided that he had played enough.

Barmes, 37, played eight years with the Rockies, three with the Pirates and one each with San Diego and Houston. He was one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball for several years but one 23-homer season in 2009 notwithstanding, he never really hit and once the range started to go so too did his justification for being on a big league roster. Last season he hit just .232 with a .633 OPS in 98 games for the Padres. He hadn’t topped a .700 OPS since 2009. His hope to snag a utility infielder role on the Royals this spring didn’t pan out but the club signed him to a minor league deal after releasing him and it’s not crazy to think that he would’ve gotten a chance to play in Kansas City at some point this season.

Still, he sounds pretty fulfilled and content with his decision to hang ’em up. And, unlike a lot of guys, he got the chance to make the decision himself rather than have someone else make it for him.

Bartolo Colon: not always a longball threat

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 05:  Bartolo Colon #40 of the New York Mets heads back to the dugut after he struck out swinging in the third inning against the Baltimore Orioles on May 5, 2015 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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The baseball world went batty when Mets starter Bartolo Colon hit a homer a couple of weeks ago. That, combined with a few other nice offensive performances from pitchers in the days surrounding that led to a mini groundswell of “this is why the DH is dumb! Pitchers batting provides us with such wonderful entertainment!” chatter.

Which is fine as far as it goes. But for every yin of a serendipitous pitcher home run comes the yang of pitcher hitting futility. Or, in some cases, pitchers not even trying. Colon himself took that to the next level last night, telling the opposition to just groove him fastballs at which he promised not to swing due to a sore back:

At the plate, Colon did his best to not contribute to Gonzalez’s rough night, telling catcher Wilson Ramos he wasn’t going to swing.

“I swing at the balls pretty hard and I thought, not worth making my back worse, so I told their catcher from the beginning, `Just throw it right down the middle, I’m not swinging,'” Colon said through a translator. “After that first at-bat and they threw me that changeup, I was like: `No, I promise you. Throw it right down the middle. I am not going to swing.'”

And he didn’t swing. He struck out looking all three trips he took to the plate, watching fourteen pitches sail by in the process.

This is a venial sin, not a mortal one, as pitchers have been mailing it in at the plate since the game was invented (pitchers’ inability and lack of need to hit was being noted in the 19th century). But it is rather ironic that the majority of anti-DH sentiment comes from people who like to cite the purity of the game and all that jazz. I get the strong sense that folks who care about such things would, in all other instances, lose their minds if a player not only took three plays off in a game but literally told the opposition he wasn’t going to try.

Tony Gwynn’s family sues tobacco companies for wrongful death

Tony Gwynn
Associated Press
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The widow of Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn and their two children, former major leaguer Tony Gwynn Jr. and Anisha Gwynn-Jones, have filed a wrongful death lawsuit in San Diego Superior Court arising out of Gwynn’s death of oral cancer in 2014.

According to the lawsuit, Gwynn started dipping as a 17-year-old while playing baseball for San Diego State. According to the complaint, “Once Defendants got Tony addicted to their products, he became a self-described `tobacco junkie”‘ who used 1 1/2 to 2 cans of Skoal per day.” The suit seeks unspecified damages against Altria Group Corp., the parent company of Philip Morris, and US Smokeless Tobacco Co. LLC.

It will not be an easy lawsuit for the Gwynn family to win. While Gwynn himself cited his copious tobacco use as the cause of the salivary gland cancer which eventually killed him — and while it makes a lot of intuitive sense to assume that smokeless tobacco use + time = oral cancer — Gwynn’s specific form of cancer, of the parotid gland, is not associated with tobacco use. The gland which developed the cancer was around his ear and there has been no observed link between smokeless tobacco use and cancer of that particular gland, let alone any sort of consensus on the matter. There are strong links, obviously, between smokeless tobacco use and cancer of the stomach, esophagus, pancreas, mouth, and throat, in addition to other health problems.

None of which is to say definitively that tobacco didn’t cause Gwynn’s cancer — there just isn’t enough medical data on this form of cancer to be so certain — or that the defendants in this case may not settle with the Gwynn family to avoid the expense, risk and bad p.r. of defending a suit arising out of the death of a beloved figure. But it is certainly not a slam dunk by any stretch of the imagination, and Gwynn’s family will have the burden of proof.

And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - MAY 23:  Hunter Pence #8 and Matt Duffy #5 of the San Francisco Giants celebrates after Pence hit a walk-off rbi single to score Brandon Belt #9 (not pictured) against the San Diego Padres in the bottom of the ninth inning at AT&T Park on May 23, 2016 in San Francisco, California. The Giants won the game 1-0.  (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Dodgers 1, Reds 0: Clayton Kershaw with a two-hit shutout. And he only needed 102 pitches to do it. His opponent, Brandon Finnegan was almost as good, allowing one run over eight innings. And that run came on a double play. Low offense and both pitchers going the distance led to a game time of two hours eleven minutes. Welcome to 1966.

Giants 1, Padres 0: Johnny Cueto tossed a two-hit shutout of his own. And he had to, as the Giants and Padres traded zeroes until the ninth inning when Hunter Pence doubled in Brandon Belt for the walkoff win.

Mets 7, Nationals 1David Wright, Yoenis Cespedes and Neil Walker all homered, with Cespedes and Walker going back-to-back in the fifth inning. Bartolo Colon allowed only one run over seven innings. Colon also did this, due to a stiff back:

At the plate, Colon did his best to not contribute to Gonzalez’s rough night, telling catcher Wilson Ramos he wasn’t going to swing.

“I swing at the balls pretty hard and I thought, not worth making my back worse, so I told their catcher from the beginning, `Just throw it right down the middle, I’m not swinging,” Colon said through a translator. “After that first at-bat and they threw me that changeup, I was like: `No, I promise you. Throw it right down the middle. I am not going to swing.”

If you’re going to all gaga and anti-DH when pitchers hit homers, you kinda gotta contend with this too, do you not?

Cardinals 4, Cubs 3Randal Grichuk hit a walkoff homer. He’s also the latest addition to the “Describe in Literal Terms What Happened” All-Star Team:

“I was trying to battle and get a pitch in the zone and put good wood on it and get on. Luckily, I was able to get a homer.”

ESPN is busy preparing a seven figure offer sheet for him to be an analyst when his playing career is over.

White Sox 7, Indians 6; Indians 5, White Sox 1: The old Doubleheader of Existential Stasis, as the clubs split and ask themselves if it would have been better to never have left bed that morning. Todd Frazier hit a solo shot and Brett Lawrie hit a three-run homer for the White Sox in the first game. In the nightcap Jose Ramirez, Rajai Davis and Juan Uribe went deep for the Tribe. It doesn’t matter, I’ll probably get hit by a car anyway. Eat at Arby’s.

Pirates 6, Rockies 3: A scary moment when Pirates starter Ryan Vogelsong was hit in the face with a pitch. He’s been admitted to a hospital but seems alright. Wilfredo Boscan was the emergency reliever, allowing two runs on two hits and himself hitting an RBI single in four innings. It was a bad game all around for folks near home plate: umpire Jeff Nelson left the game after some debris hit him in the eye during a play at home.

Tigers 5, Phillies 4: Two homers for Miguel Cabrera who apparently did not feel any bad effects from that bruised knee on Sunday. Miggy also doubled and scored a run on a Victor Martinez single. J.D. Martinez and Nick Castellanos also homered for Detroit, which has won six of seven.

Marlins 7, Rays 6: Four hits for Ichiro, bringing the future Hall of Famer to 2,960 in the U.S. portion of his career. More importantly, one of his singles contributed to an eighth inning rally which helped the Marlins come from behind. Suzuki is 10 for 13 in the past three games. As a part time player he ain’t exactly as important to Miami as David Ortiz is to Boston, but he too is going out on top, presuming he is going out, hitting .417/.478/.467 on the season.

Angels 2, Rangers 0: The Angels were supposed to be a carcass on the highway after losing 40% of their pitching staff to ligament injuries but they’ve won eight of 11 because, well, baseball. Albert Pujols‘ homer in the third inning was his 569th, which ties him for 12th in career homers with Rafael Palmeiro. Nick Tropeano allowed four hits and one walk while striking out six while pitching into the seventh inning.

Royals 10, Twins 4: Sal Perez went 5-for-5, hitting a double, a triple and three singles while driving in one. Omar Infante only had one hit, but it was a two-run double and he added a sac fly to give him three driven in on the night. Ricky Nolasco gave up six runs on eight hits in less than three innings of work, so that continues to be a great situation for the Twins. Between this season, next season and his inevitable buyout, Nolasco is owed $25 million by the end of next year. The Twins have the worst record in baseball, which is saying a lot given that the Braves are in this league.

Athletics 5, Mariners 0: Rich Hill tossed eight shutout innings and notched his seventh win of the year, which is a pretty good trick for a guy pitching for a team that’s in fourth place and six games under .500.