Your Monday Morning Power Rankings


I sort of don’t feel like doing little state-of-the-team factoids this week. They are who we thought they were for the most part. There’s an argument for making the Marlins last, but I almost feel sorry for them. There’s an argument to make the Twins even higher, but I’m not sure who to drop below them. There was a lot more bunching up of teams this week than there had been, so it wasn’t the easiest week to rank guys.

Anyway, my little weekend getaway stirred my wanderlust a bit and had me in mind of various other trips I’ve taken and stuff I’ve done, so I’m just gonna blurb little bits about experiences — good, bad, random — I’ve had in the various major league cities. Which may be problematic for Seattle since I’ve never been there, but I’ll worry about it when I get to it.

1. Red Sox (1): Did the Bunker Hill tour when I was a kid. There was a park ranger there — I guess he was a ranger — who tried to impress people by telling them that he could direct you from there all the way to your home without you hitting a red light. Doesn’t matter if you lived in Rhode Island or California. My dad listened to him do this schtick for a few minutes and then said “so, really, all you’re doing is telling people how to get to the interstate near here without hitting a light. Because once you’re in the interstate, you can get anywhere without hitting one.”  The guy was a bit deflated. I felt kind of bad.

2. Phillies (2): I’ve only been to Philly once. Around the fourth of July in 1989. Watched a Phillies-Braves game at the Vet on a Sunday afternoon. John Smoltz pitched a complete game. I cheered loudly for him and not a single person in the Vet said a word to me or took any kind of exception to my open Braves rooting. So I suppose that crazy hardcore Philly fan thing didn’t start until later.

3. Yankees (4): First trip there was as a tourist with my brother and my dad in 1988. My dad carried a map and a camera. My brother wore spandex bike shorts and carried a camera. I wore ugly Jams shorts, a Braves shirt and carried a camera. I’m surprised we all weren’t murdered, mugged and/or raped.

4. Indians (12): I’ve been to Cleveland too many times to count. Mostly on law firm business, as the firms I worked for were based there. I’m mostly over it now, but for a good long while I couldn’t drive into the city without getting a bit antsy from residual stress.

5. Brewers (3): I went to a big Irish festival there in — I think — 1986, at that big downtown fairgrounds place they have. Did you know that in 1986, the Milwaukee fairgrounds was extremely lax in carding people at the beer stands? Even if you were only 13-years-old? It’s true! Of course, back then I wouldn’t know what to do with a beer if you gave me detailed instructions. I think I held it for a while, acted like a big man with my brother and his friend who was with us, took one sip, hated it, and then tossed it someplace. Really, when you get down to a low enough age, youth drinking is a self-policing problem.

6. Cardinals (4): I was a big fan of the combined St. Louis Cardinals-Bowling Hall of Fame museum they had there when I visited in 2003.  Is it still there even though Old Busch Stadium is gone?  If not, what did they do with the big mannequins of Elizabethan English people lawn bowling?  Because if they’re not using them, I’m sure someone else could.

7. Braves (6): I have only been in Atlanta (a) at the airport on layovers; or (b) driving through on the way to Florida on I-75, the last time being 1984 or so.  It’s crazy that I’m such a big Braves fan and have never really stepped foot in that town.

8. Tigers-Rays (8), (11): My parents were both born and raised in Detroit so I spent a boatload of time there as a kid. They tell me about — and I see pictures of — what the city looked like when they grew up in the postwar years though the early 60s. There’s a lot of romanticism at play — my dad lived in Dearborn, which was then a highly-segregated suburb so he was shielded from real urban problems —  but it sounded like it was once a great city.  I hadn’t really been to Tampa until spring training last year. Meh. As I’ve written in the past, Florida doesn’t do much for me.

10. Giants (7): San Francisco is my favorite city in the country. I’ve never not loved life when I was there. I’ve never not wondered why I didn’t live there while I was there. I’m thinking that it’s about 80% weather — I hate the heat — but picking a place to live based on weather is a better reason than a lot of people choose to live places.

11. Reds (13): See the Cleveland recap. I went on a stretch of about seven years where every single time I drove to Cincy it was to deal with a hearing or a trial or a status conference for a case that was simply awful or sideways or eight shades of nasty. I’ve gotten over the Cleveland thing for the most part, but even yesterday, driving back through Cincinnati on the way home from Kentucky, the place just made me itch and shake. Forget it Jake, it’s my Chinatown.

12. Diamondbacks (9): The alpha and omega of my Phoenix experience was this past spring training, about which most of you read at the time. I could see liking the area for a few weeks in the winter, but it mostly seemed like a wasteland of freeways, strip malls and vast distances from point A to point B to me. And given that I live in Ohio, which has its own problems with that kind of sprawly stuff, it’s saying something that this bugged me so. Also, I couldn’t stop thinking that the water was about to run out.

13. Rangers (10): Like Atlanta, I’ve only driven through and flown through Dallas. The Winter Meetings will be there this December, so I’ll give it a better look. I was a big fan of Austin, though, and I’m guessing that no matter how much fun I have this December, that Big D won’t be passing up Austin as the coolest Texas town.

14. Mariners (14): I would very much like to go to Seattle some day, but it just hasn’t come up.

15. Rockies (19): I didn’t spend much time in Denver when I drove through Colorado on my big winding road trip back in 2003, but I did decide that if I ever wanted to escape from my world that I would change my name and rent a room above a bar in Salida, Colorado. I felt some serious inner peace in that town. And I hear that the ski place just up U.S. 50 at Monarch Pass isn’t very crowded, so that would be good. I mean, hey, even if you escape from the world, you gotta pass the time, right?

16. Nationals (24): I lived in D.C. for three years when I was in law school. I liked it very much. My love of San Francisco notwithstanding, however, I never really want to live in a city any bigger than Washington. And anymore when I visit Washington I feel like it’s too big for me, at least in terms of traffic and hassle. I’m more likely to move into a fortified compound out in the country than to a big city, I presume.

17. Blue Jays (17): I’ve only been through Toronto on the freeway. We took a family vacation to Nova Scotia when I was a kid though, and I liked that. And yes, I realize that those two things have nothing to do with one another. It’s like when you meet someone from Canada and say “you’re from Canada? Do you know John from Thunder Bay?”  Sorry Canada.

18. Mets (15): I actually got closer to Citi Field while landing at LaGuardia than I ever got to Yankee Stadium. I probably need to apply myself to baseball in New York a bit better.

19. White Sox (16): If you go to college anywhere in the Midwest, you know at least five people who live in Chicago. And you likely spent your early-to-mid 20s (post-college) visiting them from time to time and wondering why they still get to live like they’re in college while you have some adult existence back in whatever city you live in.  The city is like a decompression chamber for people making the transition from college to adulthood. Keeps ’em from getting the bends.

20. Pirates (20): I like driving in to Pittsburgh because one minute you’re basically going through a big forest, and then you hit a tunnel and — bammo! — you’re downtown. You feel like you’re getting away with something.  Also, french fries on a sandwich is so full of win.

21. Twins (27): I have never been to Minneapolis. At least outside of the airport. I suppose Gleeman would show me around if I went.

22. Athletics (28): Obviously a totally different place than San Francisco, but my forays to the East Bay always come on those trips I take to S.F., so all of that deluded magic from which I suffer rubs off on Oakland too. I suppose that the best way for me to become realistic about the Bay Area would be to just go to Oakland for a week and pretend that I, you know, lived in Oakland.

23. Angels (23): My entire impression of Orange County comes from the one Angels game I took in eight years ago, from driving between L.A. and San Diego and from watching “Arrested Development” reruns.  So I’m on a 2-to-1 good impression ratio.

24. Orioles (22): While walking around the Inner Harbor in 1996, I passed Richard Belzer. He was wearing a black suit, a black shirt and shades. It has occurred to me that the change in Detective Munch’s wardrobe from the early seasons of “Homicide” on though his time on “Law and Order” were inspired by Belzer’s own tastes.  Which is kind of sad, because the Munch character was an interesting one early on — kind of an angry, disheveled sad sack — and became far less interesting as Belzer and his shows’ writers turned him into a cartoon character/self-parody. Oh well.

25. Dodgers (21): I have a friend from college who lives in L.A. who I visit every couple of years. He lives a decidedly non-9-to-5 existence, so he doesn’t fight traffic that much, doesn’t go out shopping into the retail hellscapes or any of that. When I hang out with him, I am lulled into a false sense of “I could live in L.A.-itis.”  I realize, however, that I would probably take hostages if I had to be in that dystopia for more than a few days at a time. And yes, that’s the case even if it is a somewhat pleasant dystopia due to the weather and stuff.

26. Royals (26): I am not a man of faith, but I had a near-religious experience at Arthur Bryant’s once, so that has to count for something.

27. Marlins (18): I had a bad impression of Miami based on childhood vacations (see link above in the Rays entry), but Old Gator took me to a great Cuban restaurant when I was down there last year, and that helped a lot. I have this feeling that I’d have a much better appreciation of Macondo if I bunked at Gator’s place for a week or so.

28. Padres (25): My brother lives in San Diego. It’s positively lovely there. The only thing keeping me from putting it up with San Francisco on my “I’d live there in a hearbeat” list is that, well, my brother lives in San Diego.

29. Cubs (29): Yes, I drank Old Style at 10AM before a noonish start at Wrigley once. See that stuff above about Chicago being a way station for post-college life.

30. Astros (30): Never been to Houston. And not even the best Hayes Carll songs make me really want to change that.

2018 Preview: Texas Rangers

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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 2018 season. Next up: The Texas Rangers.

The Texas Rangers had been, more or less, the class of the AL West for several years, but that came to an end last year. Injuries, a bad bullpen and underachievement doomed them early and before all the leaves were on the trees the Astros had all but locked up the division. There were some bright spots — Adrian Beltre notched his 3,000th hit and Joey Gallo emerged as the 40-homer threat many have long thought he might be — but otherwise it was a bad year for the Rangers.

Will it be another bad year? Hard to say no, though there is a lot more upside with this club than with a lot of other sub-80 win teams from 2017. For that upside to pay off, however, the Rangers are going to have to win a lot of bets.

The outfield is a good place to begin looking for that upside. Nomar Mazara has not yet put it together over the course of a whole season, but he has shown some promise and could be poised for a breakout. Delino DeShields may not be what many thought he might be a few years back, but he’s got wheels and can get on base. Left field is being kept warm for top prospect Willie Calhoun who came over in the Yu Darvish trade and is having his service time manipulated, but he’ll be up soon. He’s expected to rake. Whether he can hold the position or, rather, will have to take at-bats away from Shin-Soo Choo at DH is an open question.

The infield needs a couple of fairly attainable things to happen for the lineup to really be a plus. First, it needs Adrian Beltre to be healthy and to show that he has at least some gas left in the tank. I have learned over the past 20 years to not bet against Adrian Beltre, ever, so Father Time will have to prove me wrong. It also needs Rougned Odor to snap back into shape after a lost-in-the-woods 2017. I hate the phrase “he’s better than that,” but he really is better than that. Elvis Andrus is Elvis Andrus and that’s fine. If Gallo can cut down on the K’s even a little bit and mix in a couple of more base hits to go with all of that power he could be an MVP candidate. In order of likelihood, I put it (1) Beltre being Beltre; (b) Odor bouncing back; and (c) Gallo cutting down on strikeouts, but if just two of those things happen the Rangers lineup will be in good shape.

There are a lot of question marks with the starting pitching and a couple of lottery tickets. Yu Darvish is long gone, but Cole Hamels remains at the top of the rotation. The problem is that Hamels had his worst full season in several years last year and it may be that all of the miles on his odometer are catching up with him. The biggest offseason pickup for Texas was Mike Minor, who had a monster comeback season with the Royals after multiple years lost due to arm injuries. That monster year came out of the bullpen, though, so it remains to be seen if he can move back to the rotation and remain both impressive and durable. He’s one of the lottery tickets, although one with much better odds than, say, the Powerball. He’s like a scratch-off with some risk but a decent shot at some winnings.

A longer shot is Matt “Mega Millions” Moore. The one time top prospect of the Tampa Bay Rays is still somehow just 28, but he’s coming off a lousy year in San Francisco, in which he led the NL in both losses and earned runs while plying his trade in a pitcher’s park. I guess you can be a silver-lining guy and say he’s durable again or you could do that thing where people look at a one-time phenom and imagine that he has at least one full-promise year in him, but it’s not super likely either. Martin Perez and Doug Fister round things out. You basically know what you’re getting out of those two at this point: competence, but not necessarily any shot at greatness. Bartolo Colon is knocking around and he’ll likely get some starts at some point. He always gets starts.

The bullpen was a mess last year. It’s not clear that it’ll be better this year, but it’ll certainly be more interesting, as Jon Daniels went out and signed Tim Lincecum and gave him a big league deal from which to launch his comeback. He may challenge for the closer role, though Alex Claudio has it for now. Matt Bush will look to recapture 2016 form as a setup guy. Jake Diekman should be back to full strength after a mostly lost 2017 due to colon surgery. Not a great group, truth be told, even if they will be fun to watch at times.

Overall, I think the Rangers are better than bad but the pitching is a big problem and they need too many things to go their way to count on being good. If everyone stays healthy and more than half of the guys who struggled last year return to form or fulfill potential, hey, it’s a pretty interesting group of players. A group which, while not good enough to challenge Houston, could be in the mix with the Angels and the Mariners to be a Wild Card representative.

If most of those bets don’t pay off, though, it’s gonna be a long year. I’m a risk averse gambler, so I’m going to hope to be pleasantly surprised, but I predict that the upside will remain out of reach.

Prediction: Fourth Place, AL West