Your Monday Morning Power Rankings

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I gotta tell ya, no one feels like a number one team right now. Cleveland and Philly have the best records in baseball, but both are flawed teams who played some unexciting baseball last week.  Then you have Florida, but Philly beat them two out of three last week, so how can I put them above Philly?  Screw it: we ignore overall records at the top of the list this week and go with the hot hands.  Oh, and one more thing: there is so much damn compression right now, that you shouldn’t get too hung up on the rankings at the moment.  Five slots between teams could represent almost no difference in my perception of their mojo at the moment. I could have done a bunch of three and four-way ties at some of these rankings and it wouldn’t have made a big difference.

1. Reds (10): Are they the absolute best team in baseball? Eh, maybe not, but that’s not what the Power Rankings measure. I’m not sure exactly what they measure, but I know it when I see it, and the way I see it is that if you sweep your division rival and take over first place despite your ace relief pitcher doing a Steve Blass impression, you gotta be number one, at least for a week, OK? In other news, this is the first time that we’ve had two straight weeks of Ohio dominance at the top of the Rankings.

2. Rays (4): Kind of the same here in terms of what I feel about the Rays. Losing two of three to the O’s doesn’t feel like a number two team, but they’ve had a good run of late otherwise and are on top of their division and, dammit, no one else below them really excites me at the moment.  Really, aside from these top four teams, everyone is playing kind of blah baseball right now.

3. Tigers (16): The hottest team in baseball. Seven in a row and ten of eleven.

4. Giants (12): If you told me that the Giants would have the second to worst offense in baseball, that Pablo Sandoval would be hurt and Aubrey Huff and Buster Posey would be struggling and that, despite this, they’d be in first place in the West, I wouldn’t have really believed you. But I wouldn’t have called you crazy either. Because you can win with pitching.

5. Indians (1): Don’t read too much into the four-spot drop. Two rainouts on the weekend series and a few scorching-hot teams ahead of them will do that.  That said, it just seems like a matter of time before Detroit overtakes them in the real standings too, doesn’t it? Isn’t it time, now that all of the national outlets have gotten on board with their “hey, these Indians are exciting and special!” stories, for a decline? I admit that in this that I’m thinking of them as less of a baseball team and more of a stock, but it just seems to work like that a lot.

6-8. Phillies, Marlins, Braves (2, 5, 7): I guess in that order, because that reflects the standings, but you can make reasonable arguments in any order. They all went 3-3 last week. Braves won two straight series against the Phillies but are kind of getting away with murder as far their offensive holes go and of course they looked bad against the Nats. Phillies beat the Marlins in their mid-week series but in some ways the Marlins have been more consistent than the other two. They’re just all really even at the moment. I continue to believe that the Phillies will be the first to separate themselves, but they haven’t done it yet.

9. Cardinals (6): Remember last year how the Cards and Reds had that brawl, the Cards won the series and everyone said that, boy, this was the spark that was going to allow St. Louis to bury Cincy for good?  Well, life doesn’t work like that. As such, you should just ignore any grand pronouncements made about the impact of this past weekends’ series as well, because it kind of doesn’t matter. Same goes for Boston and New York too, by the way.

10. Angels (8): Lost two of three to Texas and two of three to the White Sox last week. The bullpen is a pretty big problem at the moment.

11. Yankees (3): I don’t hate the Yankees or anything, but I really do enjoy reading the tabloids after a weekend like New York just had. There’s no one who pumps success up to the stratosphere or beats struggles into the ground like the New York press.

12. Rangers (14): Josh Hamilton may start a rehab assignment soon.  They’re treading water well enough without him, but boy could they use him back in the lineup.

13. Rockies (9): Another bad week for Colorado. If you want to be a playoff team you don’t drop consecutive series to the Mets and Padres.

14. Blue Jays (21): Jose Bautista. Like I need to say more?  What’s the earliest anyone has anyone locked up an MVP?  Because this smells like one of those kinds of years.

15. Red Sox (17): It’s always nice to sweep the Yankees, but how big a feat is that at the moment? Ah, who cares: the Sox are at .500.

16. Royals (11): Two of three from New York was nice, but the wins stopped and the bats went cold as soon as they got to Detroit. Their next seven games come against Cleveland, Texas and St. Louis, so they had better find that mojo quickly.

17.  Athletics (13): Scott Ostler, talking about the A’s offensive troubles and their close-but-no-cigar comeback yesterday, had a pretty good line this morning: “If this had happened 5 miles away, it would be called torture.  The A’s don’t do torture. It’s something lighter they offer, more of a sustained frustration.”

18. Mets (23): A 4-2 week on the road with a couple of those wins coming against a pretty good team and the offense clicking nicely. Such a contrast to that dysfunctional team that plays on the other side of town.

19. Brewers (25): Quietly, as the Reds and Cardinals took front stage, Milwaukee had a very good week. Don’t count them out.

20. Nationals (19): Series ahead against Baltimore, Pittsburgh and the Mets. A chance for them to show that they’re more than the ~.500 team they’ve appeared to be?

21. Orioles (27): A 5-1 week for the O’s, who at the very least have shown that no one who expects to win the AL East can expect to do so by feasting on the Orioles anymore.

22. Diamondbacks (20):  The Dodgers series salvages what was an otherwise bad road trip.

23. Dodgers (24): The offense is sleeping. Is there a team more dependent on a couple of guys (Kemp and Ethier) than Los Angeles?

24. Cubs (22): Cubs’ offensive output in their last four games: 11, 1, 11, 0.  If they score 11 tonight, be sure to tune in Tuesday, because we may see something we’ve never seen before.

25. Padres (26): What’s got 50 thumbs and has scored 46 runs in its last six games? These guys, right here!

26. Pirates (15): The Pirates must have gotten tired of that patronizing “oh look! They’re over .500!” chatter from last week.  Dropping five in a row sure showed everyone!

27. White Sox (30): Signs of life: two of three from the Angels and two of three from the A’s.

28. Mariners (18): Sub-headline of Steve Kelley’s story in the Seattle Times about the struggles of the Mariners’ closer: “Should Brandon League remain the Mariners’ closer? Should he be demoted? Does it really matter?” Yep. Pretty much nails it.

29. Astros (28): At least they’ll soon have a new owner and all of the related hubbub that goes along with it to distract everyone from the miserable product on the field.

30. Twins (29): Let’s put it this way: Gleeman’s mom and I have been taking turns calling him every hour to make sure he isn’t harming himself or others.

2017 Preview: Minnesota Twins

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2017 season. Next up: The Minnesota Twins.

Which iteration of the Twins will we get in 2017? The second-place contenders of 2015, blazing their way through the standings with 83 wins and a handful of hot prospects? The burnouts of 2016, flopping to the bottom of the division with 103 losses and a lineup held in place by Brian Dozier and, well, Brian Dozier? Or something in between?

Finishing dead last has its perks, namely a first-round draft pick and the feeling that things can’t be quite as bad as they were the year before. Unfortunately for the Twins, the only major preparation they made for the 2017 season came in the form of a front office shakeup. Derek Falvey assumed control of the club in October, bringing GM Thad Levine into the fold in November as the club assumed a more analytics-friendly approach toward the rebuilding movement.

When it came to roster revisions, however, there wasn’t much moving or shaking this winter. Third baseman Trevor Plouffe, catcher Kurt Suzuki and left-handers Tommy Milone and Pat Dean vacated their spots on the roster. Falvey avoided some of the bigger bats and bullpen arms in free agency and opted to sign backstop Jason Castro and journeyman reliever Ryan Vogelsong instead.

By and large, the core of the Twins’ roster remained the same. Center fielder Byron Buxton, infielder/outfielder Michael Sano and right-hander Jose Berrios still form the nucleus of the club’s top prospects. Middle infielder Brian Dozier will also return in 2017, though he appears to be on borrowed time with the Twins after putting up monster numbers in the second half of 2016. Ervin Santana will head the rotation again, accompanied by fellow veterans Hector Santiago, Kyle Gibson and Phil Hughes, while right-handed relievers Brandon Kintzler, Ryan Pressly and Matt Belisle and rehabbing lefty Glen Perkins attempt to prevent another bullpen collapse in 2017.

Without any major additions to the team (and, excepting the departure of Trevor Plouffe, any major subtractions), the Twins will look to their existing cadre of players for significant improvements in 2017. Miguel Sano is expected to take over third base in Plouffe’s absence, which will bring a welcome end to his short-lived and wholly unsuccessful experiment in right field. Brian Dozier, Jorge Polanco and Joe Mauer should round out the infield, with Byung Ho Park and Kennys Vargas currently vying for a spot as the team’s designated hitter.

The lineup is still four or five or six sluggers shy of formidable, but if Dozier can be counted on to repeat his 42-homer, 5.9 fWAR performance from 2016, there will be at least one Twin worth intentionally walking in 2017. Neither Miguel Sano nor Byron Buxton have quite found their footing against big league pitching yet, and another year spent struggling in the majors could mean another year of sub-optimal run production for the team as well. Jason Castro, who grades as an above-average defender behind the plate, is unlikely to provide any additional pop for the Twins at the plate after slashing just .210/.307/.377 through 376 PA with the Astros in 2016.

The pitching department also leaves a little to be desired in light of the league-worst 5.09 ERA they amassed last season. A veteran-heavy rotation could get a boost from the addition of fifth-starter candidate Jose Berrios, who is thought to be the favorite after fellow rotation candidate Trevor May underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this week. Right-hander Tyler Duffey and 23-year-old southpaw Adalberto Mejia are also waiting in the wings. Both have made convincing cases for their inclusion on the pitching staff this spring, but Duffey is coming off of a 6.43 ERA in 2016 and Mejia lacks some of the polish that Berrios offers. Still, stockpiling young pitching depth isn’t a bad thing, and could give the Twins a cushion in the event of injury or collapse down the stretch.

The bullpen outperformed the rotation in 2016, which is saying… something, though maybe not a lot. They still finished the year with a cumulative 4.63 ERA, good for last place among their American League rivals, and delivered just 2.1 fWAR while taking on the fourth-most innings in the league. The standout performer was 28-year-old righty Ryan Pressly, who worked a 3.70 ERA, 2.7 BB/9 and 8.0 SO/9 in 75 1/3 innings last year. In light of Ryan Vogelsong’s recent departure from the club, the Twins will round out their bullpen with left-hander Craig Breslow, who turned in a 4.50 ERA with the Marlins in 2016 and is looking for a bounce-back season of his own after reworking his delivery at age 36.

For now, it looks like Falvey and the Twins’ front office are taking a wait-and-see approach to the coming season, which bodes well for their long-term vision (assuming most of their young prospects pan out) and not so well for their chances of moving up in the division in the next year or so. That could change by the trade deadline if they can secure a worthwhile return for Dozier, though given the rumors of their understandably high asking price, it could take more than a few months to get a deal in place.

Even assuming that all the chips fall in the Twins’ favor in 2017 — prospects start hitting consistently, the rotation solidifies, and Falvey loosens the purse strings enough to net more established contenders — it’s difficult to imagine anything more than a fourth-place finish for the club as they continue to rebuild and regroup. Barring any major improvements on the inconsistent, if occasionally productive, lineup of 2016, another last-place finish feels imminent.

Prediction: Fifth place, AL Central.

Video: Angels use eight pitchers in spring training no-hitter

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Who says no-hitters can’t be just as fun when they happen during spring training?

Angels’ right-hander Bud Norris delivered two perfect innings on Friday night, paving the way for an eight-pitcher no-hitter against the Mariners at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Jose Alvarez, Cam Bedrosian, Andrew Bailey, Austin Adams, Drew Gagnon and Justin Anderson each filed a hitless inning of their own, leaving right-hander Abel De Los Santos to close out the ninth inning with just three pitches — and three game-saving plays by the defense.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that the Angels were facing a bevy of Mariners’ backups, rather than their starting lineup. In fact, Seattle’s lineup featured just two starting players — outfielder Leonys Martin and shortstop Jean Segura — while the majority of their everyday position players took on the Royals in a 4-3 win elsewhere in the Cactus League. The Mariners managed to reach base twice, first on catcher interference in the fourth inning, then on a four-pitch walk in the sixth, spoiling the Angels’ chances of turning their combined no-hitter into a combined perfect game.

Still, whether it’s executed in spring training or the regular season, against an All-Star lineup or one comprised of minor leaguers, a no-hitter is a no-hitter. The team’s eight-pitcher effort marked the first spring training no-no the Angels had completed since 1996, when they took on the Giants in a 15-0 showdown. Unfortunately for the 1996 squad, their regular season ended with a 70-91 record, good for last place in the AL West. Perhaps this no-hitter will prove a better omen for the coming season.