Your Monday Afternoon Power Rankings

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It’s the second-to-last full-blown Power Rankings of the year — on October 4th I’ll rank the eight playoff teams and after that we’ll let the games speak for themselves — and for the second straight week we have a new number one.

1. Phillies (4): This is in partial recognition of their big winning streak and scorching-hot-September, but this is forward-looking too. They’re a playoff lock now, and with Halladay, Oswalt and Hamels, they have by far the best 1-2-3 punch of any of the potential playoff teams. I suppose a lot can happen in two weeks, but I like their chances to win it all better than anyone’s right now.

2. Twins (1): A bit of a letdown following the White Sox series caused them to drop two of three to Oakland, but — assuming Mauer’s knee thing from yesterday is no big deal — they’re still sitting pretty right now.

3. Yankees (2): They’re starting this week’s series against the Rays the same way they started last week’s series against the Rays: with a bullpen that could use a bit of a breather.

4. Rays (3): Taking two of three from the Yankees was sweet, but dropping two of three to the Angels was sour.

5. Braves (7): Not that they really kicked ass last week or anything — the Mets sweep was nice, but that Nats series was no fun for them, and they are farther behind Philly now than they were this time last week — but just about every other candidate for this slot had a worse week by my reckoning. I was half-tempted to make this a five way-tie between the Braves, Rangers and the three-contenders in the NL West, but that would have merely been fun, satisfying and time-saving, so why bother?

6. Rangers (9): A nice cushion gives them a chance to rest Josh Hamilton. Hopefully his MVP chances are the only thing that come out of this injured.

7. Giants (5): Their 1-2-3 — Lincecum, Cain and Sanchez — is pretty darn good too, but it looks like they’ll be in a dogfight all the way to the end. They have the division lead at the moment, but you won’t find bigger Philly fans this side of Pennsylvania than you will among the Giants during the Phils-Braves series.

8. Padres (8): The only good news this past weekend was that the Rockies got beat by L.A., keeping them at bay for the time being.

9. Rockies (6): Yesterday’s game was a heartbreaker, what with blowing a big lead against a team that had been sleepwalking and everything. One game may very well prove to be the difference in the west. Was that game it for the Rockies?

10. Reds (10): Sporting a 7-11 record in September which simultaneously should give Reds and Cardinals fans pause. The former for the team’s October prospects, the latter for what it’s failure to make up ground on a scuffling team means.

11. Red Sox (11): With J.D. Drew announcing his retirement effective after next season, the Boston writers have just over a year to decide on the next repository for their ire. I guess Lackey will work, but a real replacement will be someone who is actually pretty good most of the time, but whom they hate with an irrational passion.

12. Cardinals (13): They end the season with a four-game series against the Rockies, so it’s not 100% accurate to say that St. Louis is not longer a playoff factor. They are, but just not for their own chances. Beating San Diego this past weekend and crushing Colorado to wind things up would be a pretty neat trick.

13. White Sox (12): How long can Manny Ramirez be the scapegoat before people get bored and turn their attention to Kenny Williams and Ozzie Guillen? Jeez, Peter King was beating on Manny in his column this morning for cryin’ out loud, and he writes about football (or so I’m told).

14. Athletics (15): Based on the 2011 schedule, I’m wondering if there isn’t a plot to drive A’s attendance down even lower than it is. Instead of two series hosting the Yankees and Red Sox there’s only one. Interleague visitors: Marlins, Diamondbacks. Bud Selig doesn’t seem to want to make the case for San Jose overtly, but by gum, he and his schedule makers will do so passively!

15. Tigers (17): Austin Jackson, Alex Avila and Scott Sizemore led the Tigers to a sweep of the White Sox this weekend. Should Tigers fans be hopeful, or is this merely a quick trip to the Island of Flukeopolis?

16. Blue Jays (16): Jose Bautista will get his 50th home run this week in all likelihood. This is the first time 50 home runs has felt special to me since Cecil Fielder did it in 1990.

17. Astros (19): They have to finish 9-4 to reach .500.  Yes, I really was being serious when I said that I was following this “race.”

18. Mets (18): I have no idea how the Braves’ season is going to end, but even if it ends up short of the playoffs, Bobby Cox leaving with a sweep in his last series against the Mets makes for a fitting sendoff.

19. Angels (21): How you lose two of three to the Indians and take two of three from the Rays is a bit of a mystery, but there are a lot of mysteries hiding in the records of non-contending teams playing out the string.

20. Dodgers (19): Apropos of nothing, I noticed last night that someone with a Los Angeles Dodgers IP address had been Googling me by name and reading my personal blog. My first impulse was to worry that Frank McCourt had finally gotten fed up with me ragging on him all the time and was doing some intelligence work in preparation for my assassination, but then I remembered that hit men tend to work on a cash-only basis, so now I know I’m safe. 

21. Cubs (23): I know they’re behind Milwaukee in the standings, but a six game winning streak when they have every reason to pack it in ain’t hay. Mike Quade is making it really hard to hire someone besides him for the permanent job, isn’t he?

22. Brewers (22): I said this morning that the Astros could be a reasonable pick for third place next year. The big caveat: if the Brewers unload Prince Fielder — get me, I mentioned both baseball playing Fielders in the same post! — for a frontline starter, that could change things.

23. Marlins (14): Yeah, this is a freefall, but they lost every game last week for cryin’ out loud.

24. Orioles (24): And yes, they’ve had a much better go of it than Florida lately, but at some point you have to acknowledge that they still have 15 more losses than the Marlins do. You can’t just pretend the early part of the season didn’t happen, even if it weighs less and less each week. Because of that, this is really they’re ceiling, I think.

25. Indians (25): 9-8 in September and a half-game lead for fourth place over the Royals. Little victories, right?

26. Royals (26): 5-11 in September and a worse winning percentage in the second half than the first. Remember all of those “Ned Yost is resurrecting the Royals” columns from earlier this year? Yeah, whatever.

27. Nationals (27): Jim Riggleman is probably coming back. I suppose that’s the right move. This has nothing to do with anything let alone whether it is the right move, but I met Riggleman back in spring training, and I found him to be the most patient and polite of the eight or ten managers with whom I interacted.

28. Mariners (29): They still have a realistic shot of scoring below 500 runs for the seaso
n. A bit of a long shot — t
hey have to score 27 runs in 13 games to reach 499 — but I have faith.

29. Pirates (30); 30. Diamondbacks (28): Pittsburgh is probably still technically the worst team in baseball, but they did sweep the Diamondbacks, so I should give them their props for at least one week.

Shapiro, Murray defend Dellin Betances after arbitration feud

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 12:  Dellin Betances #68 of the New York Yankees and the American League pitches against the National League during the 87th Annual MLB All-Star Game at PETCO Park on July 12, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The dust hasn’t quite settled after right-hander Dellin Betances‘ arbitration hearing with the Yankees on Saturday. The case was decided in the team’s favor, awarding Betances with a $3 million salary for the 2017 season instead of the $5 million he initially requested. Yankees’ president Randy Levine held a press conference to voice his outrage over the figure presented by Betances and his agency, saying it had “no bearings in reality” since Betances does not have the elite closer status required for a salary bump of that magnitude.

Needless to say, the comments caused some consternation within Betances’ camp. The reliever publicly addressed the outburst, telling the press that he was prepared to put his differences with the team aside until he heard what Levine had to say. Via MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch:

Players union executive Rick Shapiro and Betances’ agent, Jim Murray, also spoke out in the right-hander’s favor. Shapiro presented Betances’ case during the hearing on Saturday and called Levine’s comments “an absolute disgrace to the arbitration process and to all of Major League Baseball.” In a report from FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, Shapiro added: “The only thing that has been unprecedented in the last 36 hours is that a club official, after winning a case, called a news conference to effectively gloat about his victory – that’s unprecedented.”

Murray spoke exclusively to Rosenthal, accusing the president of effectively bullying the 28-year-old during the arbitration process and claiming that Levine had both mispronounced Betances’ name throughout the hearing and blamed the reliever for “declining ticket sales and their lack of playoff history.” Like Betances, Murray said that the agency was ready to accept the arbiter’s decision and move on before Levine’s decision to air his grievances to the media. “The only person overreaching in this entire situation is Randy,” Murray told Rosenthal. “He might as well be an astronaut because nobody on earth would agree with what he is saying. Even the others in the room would disagree with him.”

Royals will experiment with Alex Gordon in all three outfield spots this year

CLEVELAND, OH -  MAY 7: Alex Gordon #4 of the Kansas City Royals reacts to a fan while on first base during the sixth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on May 7, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Royals’ manager Ned Yost is shaking things up in 2017, starting with left fielder Alex Gordon. Yost told MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan that “every scenario is open,” and expects to utilize Gordon in right and center field this spring while he figures out where to position Jorge Soler and Brandon Moss.

Gordon, 33, hasn’t manned right field since a three-game experiment with the Royals back in 2010 and has yet to play center field during any regular season to date. The focus, however, isn’t on Gordon’s capabilities. Among the three outfielders, he carries the best defensive profile and appears to be the most versatile of the bunch.

According to Flanagan, Soler and Moss are average on defense and will continue working closely with Royals’ coach Rusty Kuntz as the season approaches. One arrangement could see Gordon in center field, flanked by Soler in right field and Moss in left, though Yost foresees Soler taking some reps at DH if his defensive chops aren’t up to snuff.

While Moss is prepared to see starts at either outfield corner, Yost appears to be set on keeping Soler in right field, at least for the time being. The club is hoping for a bounce-back season from the 24-year-old outfielder, who was acquired from the Cubs in December after batting a lackluster .238/.333/.436 and sustaining a slew of minor injuries throughout the 2016 season.