Roy Halladay, Carlos Ruiz

Your Monday Afternoon Power Rankings


The Phillies tightened their grip on the top spot by taking two of three from the Red Sox. What else that could have shifted the fundamental balance of power in the baseball universe went down in the last week?

As always, last week’s rankings are in parenthesis. Thought about going with those fancy-looking bracket things once — {  } — but I grew up in West Virginia, and that’s too hoity-toity for me.

1. Phillies (1): Two of three from the Sox, two of three from the Jays and now the chance to smack down both Florida and Atlanta before the break. Everything is coming up red pinstripes right now. Just imagine if they truly did have four aces as advertised before the season began.

2. Yankees (2): 14-4 without Jeter. And now he’s back. Let’s count the wins for the next 18 games, shall we?

3. Red Sox (3): The Astros showed up at just the right time. They cruise into the break with Toronto and Baltimore.

4. Braves (7): I actually want to be harder on my Braves than this — like I said last week, they are hard to take at times and seem to play worse than their record suggests — but they have both the fourth best record in baseball and the fourth best run-differential. The pitching remains fantastic and there are signs — small ones — that there could actually be some offense hanging around this team in the second half. Really, I looked, and I am having a hard time ranking anyone besides those top three ahead of them here.

5. Rays (5): A mezzo-mezzo week, but it came against some good competition in the Cardinals and Reds.

6. Giants (6): They have a half game up overall on the Rays, but their run differential is not as good and their own mezzo-mezzo week was against worse teams.

7. Indians (10): There is a very decent chance Cleveland finishes the first half in first place. I didn’t think that was possible even after they had been in first place for a while.  Query: how much does this tell us about the Indians and how much does this tell us about the AL Central as a whole?

8. Cardinals (12): I’d probably hate being a fan of a Cardinals division rival. Everything always seems to break right for them. Cy Young pitcher goes down? They find decent replacements. Outfield has holes? They stick Lance Berkman into the juvenation machine and, just as always seems to happen in St. Louis and hardly anyplace else, it works.  Albert Pujols goes down until sometime in mid-to-late August and … he ends up coming back a good month early.  NL Central foes have to think there’s a certain unfairness to this.

9. Brewers (4): Getting swept by the Yankees in New York is not the worst thing that has ever happened to a contender, but losing two of three to Minnesota is not cool.

10. Diamondbacks (9): Getting beat by Rich Harden, like they did on Friday, has to be the baseball equivalent of getting struck by lighting. I mean, you know that if lightning is on its game, it can totally lay you out. But you just figure the odds of ever meeting up with it are too damn low to worry about.

11. Rangers (11): I have them a notch ahead of the Angels, with whom they’re tied and against whom they’ve split six games this year. The reason? Eh, no good ones other than the cut-of-their jib and my sense that they’ll eventually pull away. But then again, I’ve been thinking they’d do that for a while now and they haven’t done it.

12. Angels (20): They were not impressed with either the new-look Nationals nor the bankrupt Dodgers last week.  A really strange and streaky team.

13. Tigers (8): Anyone remember the last team that fired a pitching coach mid-season and then saw a sudden and dramatic turnaround? I can’t. This seems like a deck chairs move.

14. Pirates (18): One and a half games out of first place. The Pittsburgh Pirates. Do you believe it?  A fun team to watch too. At least they would be if I wasn’t blacked out of watching Pirates games by for some damn reason. Middle of Ohio is supposed to be Pirates territory, Major League Baseball? Really?

15. Reds (14): Only two games back, but the Reds feel like the team that is wasting more of its potential than anyone this year.

16. Mets (17): If Joel Sherman’s report about the Mets offering Jose Reyes a big deal is true, will that be the biggest victory of the season for them?

17. Rockies (16): Crushed by the Royals yesterday and, as an added bonus, Carlos Gonzalez got wheeled off the field after crashing into a wall. Not a banner day.

18. Blue Jays (15): They dropped four of six to the Pirates and Phillies last week. I think they’re happy to be done with Pennsylvania for the year.

19. White Sox (19): For as bad as it has been in the first half, they are still only 3.5 out and head into the break with series against the totally hap-free Royals and Twins. See the above comment about the AL Central, which is pretty darn hapless as a whole itself.

20. Nationals (13): They’re 4-6 since Jim Rigglemen called it quitsies. I have this feeling they’d be around 4-6 no matter what happened, but Washington either taking off or falling off a cliff would certainly help us writers with our narratives, you know?

21. Mariners (21): Only 11 runs were scored in the entire M’s-Padres series over the weekend. But hey, nine of them were from the M’s, so that’s something.

22. Athletics (25): The bright spots of the season are (1) Gio Gonzalez taking great strides forward; (2) Jemile Weeks impressive debut; and (3) Firing the manager? Really, is there a third here that I’m missing?

23. Padres (23): See the Mariners’ comment above and reverse it.

24. Marlins (26): A 4-2 week. Seems like the ship has been righted. The mast is still broken and they’re out of emergency flares, but at least the ship has been righted.

25. Orioles (22): Zach Britton’s offensive numbers: 5 for 8, 2B, HR 2 RBI, 1.750 OPS.  Vlad Guerrero: .277/.307/.377.  Sample size, schmample size, let’s make Britton the DH!

26. Dodgers (24): The team went 2-4 and bankrupt. Frank McCourt is still in control and could be for a while.  Hey, at least there wasn’t a major earthquake or anything.

27. Twins (28): There has been more talk about a closer controversy on this team than I can recall for any sucky team in recent years. It’s like everyone up in Minnesota forgot that no one really cares when a sucky team’s closer situation isn’t solidified.

28. Cubs (29): They really don’t deserve to move up because I truly think they’re the second to the worst team in baseball overall, but let’s acknowledge that they had a better week than Kansas City and give them a little something other than misery and doom. Congrats: you’re 28th. Don’t get used to it.

29. Royals (27): A 1 -5 week, but it ends with a monster game by Eric Hosmer. Such is the essence of a team on a promising rebuild.

30. Astros (30): I’m guessing that, if there was a panel who voted on these Power Rankings rather than it just being me pulling them out of my keister,  Philly at number one and Houston at 30 would be the only unanimous choices.

Maybe Alcides Escobar shouldn’t bat leadoff

Alcides Escobar

Alcides Escobar finished with a .292 OBP this year. He came in at .246 in 117 at-bats in August and .257 in 109 at-bats between September and October, so he wasn’t exactly flying high entering the postseason. Still, that didn’t stop Ned Yost from putting him into the leadoff spot for Thursday’s Game 1 against the Astros.

Yost finally did reconsider hitting Escobar first in September. It took Alex Gordon‘s return to health, plus the previous addition of Ben Zobrist to the lineup, in order to make that happen. However, it didn’t stick. Escobar hit ninth in each of his starts from Sept. 7-26, batting .236 with a .276 OBP during that span. With five games left to go, he was suddenly returned to the leadoff spot. The Royals went on to win all five games. Yost saw it as a sign, even though Escobar went 5-for-22 with no walks in those games.

Escobar went 0-for-4 in Thursday’s loss to the Astros. He did not swing at the first pitch of the game, which probably explains the defeat.

It’s been difficult to argue with Yost since last year’s World Series run and this year’s incredible run out of the game. The blind spot with Escobar, though, gets rather infuriating. One can defend hitting him leadoff against the Astros’ lefties. His career OBP against southpaws is .319 (.316 this year). Against righties, he’s the most obvious No. 9 hitter alive, with a career .258/.290/.342 line (.252/.284/.314 this year). He’s not a pace-setter. He’s not a spark plug. He’s a liability.

Astros top Royals in Game 1 of ALDS

Houston Astros' Jose Altuve, left, celebrates with teammate Luis Valbuena after scoring a run during the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)

After shutting out the Yankees in the AL Wild Card game on Tuesday, the Astros beat the Royals 5-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium. Road teams are now 4-0 to begin the 2015 postseason.

The Astros grabbed an early 3-0 lead against Yordano Ventura through two innings. Chris Young took over for the Royals after a 47-minute rain delay and was very effective for the most part, allowing just a solo homer to George Springer over four innings while striking out seven batters. Colby Rasmus, who homered in the Wild Card game, took Ryan Madson deep in the eighth inning to give the Astros’ bullpen some extra breathing room.

Collin McHugh stayed in after the rain delay and ended up tossing six innings while allowing just four hits and one walk. Kendrys Morales did all the damage against him with a pair of solo homers. He’s the first Royals player to hit two home runs in a postseason game since George Brett in the 1985 ALCS.

The Royals’ offense showed some signs of life in the bottom of the eighth inning with back-to-back two-out hits against Will Harris, but Oliver Perez got Eric Hosmer to foul out to end the threat. Luke Gregerson tossed a scoreless ninth inning to finish off the victory.

Consistent with their identity during the regular season, the Astros won despite striking out 14 times. The same goes for the Royals, as they struck out just four times. Despite putting the ball into play more often, the Kansas City lineup wasn’t able to muster anything aside from the home runs by Morales.

Game 2 of the ALDS will begin Friday at 3:45 p.m. ET. Scott Kazmir will pitch for the Astros and Johnny Cueto will get the ball for the Royals.

George Springer homers to extend Astros’ lead over Royals

Houston Astros' George Springer (4) celebrates with teammates after scoring a run in the first inning in Game 1 of baseball's American League Division Series against the Kansas City Royals, Thursday, Oct. 8, 2015, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
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After Kendrys Morales brought the Royals within one run in the bottom of the fourth inning with his second solo home run of the game, George Springer took Chris Young deep in the top of the fifth to extend the Astros’ lead to 4-2 in Game 1 of the ALDS.

According to Statcast, the ball traveled an estimated 422 feet and left Springer’s bat at 109 mph. Royals fans are happy it was just a solo home run. It could have been worse, as Jose Altuve singled to lead off the fifth inning before being thrown out trying to steal second base during Springer’s at-bat.

The Royals will try to answer as we move to the bottom of the fifth inning at Kauffman Stadium.