Texas Rangers v Baltimore Orioles

Your Monday Morning Power Rankings

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People who say things like “how can the Indians not be ranked number 2 when they have the second best record in baseball” do not understand the concept of Power Rankings. Yes, the season may have begun a week and a half ago, but if we merely cared about what has happened in that week and a half, we wouldn’t do a Power Ranking. We’d merely post the overall league standings.

Power Rankings are only partially about where a team currently stands on an objective basis. We’re trying to get at the gestalt of this damn season, son. We’re wrestling with some serious metaphysics here.  If that’s too heavy for you, hey, complain about these rankings and reveal your ignorance all you want. The rest of us will try not to mock you. We don’t have the time for it anyway, however, because understand what we’re up against and appreciate that somewhere between quantum physics and alchemy, the truth of the 2011 season lies, and this ranking is but one step of a grand experiment. Sometimes I don’t know how we even sleep.

As usual, last week’s ranking is in parenthesis.

1. Rangers (6): The best start in team history. They’re hitting and pitching better than almost anybody.

2. Phillies (2): The Friday loss to the Braves is illustrative of what rotation depth is all about. Contrary to the way they were talked about all winter, the value of The Four Aces is not about one of the big guys coming in and scaring the crap out of people and dominating on any given night. It’s about how, even if one gets beat up and causes the manager to go to the pen, the next two or three straight days you can still be assured of having the better arm than the opposition, making up for the bad game. The value of a rotation like this isn’t manifested in highlight reel moments. It’s about relatively boring night-in, night-out superiority. I watched this for the entire decade of the 1990s with the Braves. It gets kinda ho-hum after a while and then you look up in late June and you’ve got a nine game lead that looks safer than anything. “Oh my,” you say to yourself. “We truly are good.”  Given just how long a baseball season is, that’s a way scarier dynamic than any one three-hit shutout.

3. Rockies (9): They’re two extra inning losses away from a perfect record.

4. White Sox (7): As suspected, they’re beating the heck out of the baseball. The Rays series helped the pitching staff some, but how much of that was the Rays’ futility and how much was a suggestion that the Sox’ pitching is rounding into shape is an open question.

5. Reds (13): Some missed chances rendered the Dbacks’ series a flop this past weekend, but all-in-all the Reds have looked OK out of the gate, even though they’re down two starters and have one — Edinson Volquez — who isn’t exactly fooling anyone.

6. Indians (26): You do appreciate, do you not, that the stuff in the intro was mostly baloney and double talk? Fact is, it’s hard to do a serious Power Ranking this early in the season exactly because teams like the Indians are 7-2. On the one hand, I want to honor them for their fine week. On the other hand, we all know this won’t last. Even their team President doesn’t think it will and is just enjoying the ride while it lasts. So shall we. They’re way up here in the rarefied air of the top 10. Lower than their actual record would have them because it doesn’t seem fair to better-constructed teams like the Rockies and White Sox, but higher than they’ll be later in the year.  If the winning keeps up? Mazel Tov, you can stay up here. If not? Remember the early part of the year, Tribe fans, when things were fun.

7. Orioles (22): This ranking is more or less on the same theory as the Indians’ ranking was. Although, to be honest, I think they’ll finish the year ahead of the Indians. The lineup isn’t perfect. The rotation isn’t perfect. But they’ve each shown that, on a night when the other isn’t working, it can carry the load. At least if the stars align. At any rate, I wouldn’t put too much stock in the Rangers’ series. A lot of teams are going to look bad facing them this season.

8. Yankees (3): After a noisy start the bats have gone fairly silent lately. Does that worry you? Worries me a bit, I must admit.

9. Blue Jays (16): It’s early to say things like this, but they feel like a better team than their 5-4 record suggests. And they’re off to Seattle now, which seems like a nice place to improve that record.

10. Dodgers (20): Lots of slow starts up and down that lineup.

11. Royals (29): Also a bit of an Indians-Orioles story. Unlike those two, though, the Royals have shown a couple of flashes of what is likely to be the more dire remainder of their season than their pleasantly surprising good start.

12. Angels (19): I and a bunch of other people talk about how Mike Scioscia would be punting offense by playing Howie Kendrick so much, and then he comes out and hits four homers, walks five times and hits .412 in his first eight games.

13. Red Sox (1):  Too high? Eh. Probably too low, actually. Yes, the losing streak was ugly, but taking two of three from the Yankees — especially behind Josh Beckett’s strong night last night — show that this is a talented team that just fell on their face out of the gate. I wouldn’t be shocked if this was the lowest they went all year.

14. Brewers (15): Slow to start the season but they’ve righted the ship and now Zack Greinke is on his way back. Good things ahead.

15. Giants (4): The Dodgers come to town for three starting tonight. Let’s all keep our heads, people.

16. Athletics (8): It says something that all of the game stories I’ve read about yesterday’s 5-3 win lead with “wow, look at the offense!”  Five runs, people.

17. Marlins (17): With a left hammy and a right quad sidelining him in recent weeks, Mike Stanton’s legs are something to watch all year.

18. Braves (5): Collectively, the Braves have a .296 OBP. And the offense was supposed to be a strength.

19. Padres (23): Mat Latos will make his season debut today.  After finishing the 2010 season poorly and stinkin’ up the joint in spring training, all eyes are on the kid.

20. Diamondbacks (27):  Arizona could have lost yesterday’s game against the Reds but they fought back. I make fun of Kirk Gibson’s brand of intensity. There’s a long and rich history of the football mentality not being all that well-suited to baseball, and it’s certainly not something that is usually transferable from one person for whom it worked (Gibson the player) to his charges.  But maybe there’s something to it.

21. Pirates (30): Pirates pitchers lead the NL in bases on balls.

22. Cubs (10): The Cubs haven’t stolen a base yet, and when they tried to steal one yesterday, it ran them out of a potential ninth inning rally. I’m sure there’s someone who came of baseball-watching age in the 60s and 70s having a panic attack somewhere.

23. Nationals (24): In a world of low expectations, the Nats have to be OK with being 4-5 right now

24. Mets (21): There is probably a healthy philosophical debate to be had about whether it’s better for one’s psyche to simply be bad all around or to be good in certain areas only to have the bad ones cause you to lose games. The Mets are not a bad all-around team, but they have weaknesses that will test fans’ patience all summer long.

25. Cardinals (14): St. Louis has the National League’s most punchless offense at the moment. But don’t ask Tony La Russa about it.

26. Tigers (18): Yesterday Jim Leyland said that he could smell when players are struggling. Now would be an excellent time for the second Lynyrd Skynyrd reference of the Power Rankings.

27. Twins (11):  Just no offense there, though unlike some other teams struggling at the plate, this will change for the Twins.

28. Astros (25): ESPN’s Steve Berthiaume picked the Astros to win the NL Central. No word on if he regrets that pick yet.

29. Mariners (28): It’s possible that the Indians’ sweep of Seattle is evidence that the Tribe is just way better than we thought they were. It’s also possible that it simply means that the Mariners are as bad, or maybe even worse, than we thought they where.

30. Rays (12): This ranking is unfair given what I said above about 2011 performance-to-date not counting for everything. And I am certain that they will play better baseball soon and escape the cellar. But this is simply depressing to watch.

Settling the Scores: Memorial Day edition

ARLINGTON, VA - MAY 21:  American flags are shown after being placed by members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment at the graves of U.S. soldiers buried at Arlington National Cemetery, in preparation for Memorial Day May 21, 2015 in Arlington, Virginia. "Flags-In" has become an annual ceremony since the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) was designated to be an Army's official ceremonial unit in 1948  (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)
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Memorial Day commemorates the men and women who died in military service. At some point in the past couple of decades, however, it has become an all-purpose flag-waving, patriotism-declaring, civilians-in-camouflage holiday. It’s understandable why this is the case. We, as a country, haven’t always done mourning well. I think it’s part of our national cultural DNA that we don’t and it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does make days like this difficult.

I feel like the flag-waving and troop-supporting stuff is some sort of subconscious reaction to death. It’s our way of instantly trying to justify those deaths or to explain how they were not in vain, much the same way we might tell someone upon the death of a loved one that they’re in a better place or that they had a full life. Feeling the pain of loss is hard. We want to soften it in any way we can and make our pain serve a larger, better purpose. And so we get today, when Major League Baseball puts its players in camouflage caps and in jerseys with camouflage logos. They’ll sell them too, with proceeds going to good and noble veterans charities. The intent is noble and the ultimate effect of it all is beneficial. But it’s also a little beside the point. Maybe not beside the point as much as mattress sales or big celebratory barbecues which have come to characterize Memorial Day for so many, but still not exactly the purpose of the holiday.

I don’t condemn it. As I wrote last year, the men and women who actually fought and died in wars were hoping that they were, ultimately, making a better and happier world for those they left behind. And they no doubt hoped, among everything else they hoped, that others didn’t have to face what they were facing. They wanted our lives to be happy and our country to be safe and part of a happy and safe country involves 300 million people doing whatever it is they damn please, even if it’s just having barbecues and wearing camo at the ballpark.

I won’t say have a happy Memorial Day because that seems odd. Have any kind of Memorial Day you want, really, even if it includes barbecuing, drinking beer and wearing a cam ballcap. But as you do, please make sure you take some time to think about those who died in military service. And remember that they didn’t get to have as many days like the one you’re having as they were meant to have. And make at least some effort to offset your happy, patriotic or silly pursuits with some mourning and reflectiveness. It’s OK for that to stand on its own.

The scores:

Red Sox 5, Blue Jays 3
Orioles 6, Indians 4
Yankees 2, Rays 1
Nationals 10, Cardinals 2
Brewers 5, Reds 4
Royals 5, White Sox 4
Cubs 7, Phillies 2
Rangers 6, Pirates 2
Astros 8, Angels 6
Athletics 4, Tigers 2
Twins 5, Mariners 4
Giants 8, Rockies 3
Diamondbacks 6, Padres 3
Marlins 7, Braves 3
Dodgers 4, Mets 2

 

Should Dave Roberts have taken Clayton Kershaw out of Sunday’s game?

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 29:  Clayton Kershaw #22 of the Los Angeles Dodgers delivers a pitch in the first inning against the New York Mets at Citi Field on May 29, 2016 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
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Dodgers manager Dave Roberts will likely be second-guessed heavily during tomorrow’s news cycle. Starter Clayton Kershaw had pitched a terrific ballgame, as is his tendency, but with 114 pitches to his name, Roberts decided to pull him from the game in the eighth inning with two outs and a runner on first base.

Roberts opted not for closer Kenley Jansen, who hasn’t pitched since Wednesday, but for another lefty in Adam Liberatore. He was playing the numbers, with the left-handed-hitting Curtis Granderson coming up. Liberatore, much to Roberts’ chagrin, served up what turned out to be a game-tying triple to Granderson, hitting a rocket to right-center just out of the reach of a leaping Yasiel Puig.

Jansen has, for six years, been one of the game’s elite relievers. Kershaw, though at a high pitch count, doesn’t seem to suffer from the times through the order penalty like most pitchers. Kershaw’s opponents’ OPS facing him for the first time was .525 coming into Sunday. Twice, .597. Three times, .587. Four times, .526 (but this suffers from survivorship bias so it’s not exactly representative).

Furthermore, Kershaw held lefties to a .546 OPS over his career. Liberatore, in 99 plate appearances against lefty hitters, gave up a .575 OPS. Jansen? .560. It seems that, faced with three decisions, Roberts arguably made the worst one. Playing conservative with Kershaw at 114 pitches is defensible, but only if Jansen comes in. If Roberts wanted the platoon advantage, Kershaw should have stayed in.

Luckily for the Dodgers, Mets closer Jeurys Familia didn’t have his best stuff. He loaded the bases with one out in the top of the ninth on a single and two walks, then gave up a two-run single to Adrian Gonzalez, giving the Dodgers a 4-2 lead. Jansen came on in the bottom half of the ninth and retired the side in order to pick up his 15th save of the season.

Royals sweep White Sox over the weekend on three late rallies

KANSAS CITY, MO - MAY 28:  Brett Eibner #12 of the Kansas City Royals celebrates his game-winning RBI single with teammates in the ninth inning against the Chicago White Sox at Kauffman Stadium on May 28, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. The Royals won 8-7. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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The Royals had themselves a pretty good weekend. The quickly fading White Sox, not so much.

On Friday, the Royals fell behind 5-1 after the top of the sixth. They would score once in the bottom of the sixth, four times in the seventh, and once in the eighth to steal a 7-5 win facing pitchers Miguel Gonzalez Dan Jennings, Matt Albers, Zach Duke and Nate Jones.

On Saturday, the Royals entered the bottom of the ninth down 7-1. They scored seven runs on closer David Robertson and Tommy Kahnle to win 8-7.

On Sunday, the Royals were down 4-2 after the top of the eighth. They plated three runs in the bottom half of the eighth against Jones and Albers, going on to win 5-4.

Coming into the weekend, the Royals were 24-22 in third place. The White Sox were 27-21, a half-game up in first place. Now the Royals are in first place by a game and a half, and the White Sox are in third place, two games out of first.

Here’s video of the Royals’ comeback on Saturday, since it was so unlikely:

Report: Ryan Braun is “the hot name out there”

ATLANTA, GA - MAY 24: Ryan Braun #8 of the Milwaukee Brewers waits to hit during the first inning against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on May 24, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)
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In Saturday’s column for The Boston Globe, Nick Cafardo notes that, according to a scout, Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun is “the hot name out there.” Braun has been bothered by neck and back issues this year, missing on Sunday his eighth start out of the Brewers’ last 14 games, but he has still put up a quality .351/.424/.583 triple-slash line in 170 plate appearances this year.

More importantly for an acquiring team, Braun is in the first year of a five-year, $105 million contract. He’s earning $19 million this season and in the ensuing two seasons, and then his salary decreases slightly to $18 million in 2019, $16 million in 2020, and $15 million if both sides pick up his mutual option (else a $4 million buyout would be exercised).

Per Cafardo, the Astros, Cardinals, Red Sox, Phillies, Mets, Giants, and White Sox are potential landing spots for Braun.