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.