Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies

Your Monday Morning Power Rankings

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The All-Star Break is here, and even though the season is more than half over, it’s that time when everyone assesses the so-called first half.  We’ll do the same here today. The rankings represent the current state-of-the-league, but the comments about each team are a bit more first-half all-encompassing.

As always, last week’s rankings are in parenthesis.

1. Phillies (1): They are who we thought they were. The best team in baseball. Not invincible as some predicted, but there are idiots who predict a lot of stuff.

2. Red Sox (3): Same story, though certainly a more tumultuous path to their current ranking. Slow start, pitchers’ injuries. It’s enough to keep them in a tight race. Probably tighter than everyone thought.

3. Yankees (2): It’s been a while since we’ve seen a combination of (a) a damn successful team; and (b) fan-base freaking out like we have with the 2011 Yankees. If you only paid attention to the commentary and not to the scores, you’d think they were .500 or something. Maybe worse.

4. Braves (4): Being 3.5 behind the Phillies is like being the plain Jane next to the homecoming queen. If the plain Jane were standing near anyone else, people would go “saaaay, look at her.”  I’d offer up the old Jan Smithers/Loni Anderson/WKRP analogy here, but every time I do that, I get about 10 pro-Smithers comments to every one pro-Loni comment. Which I get on some level — I’m a Bailey man myself — but it has made plain Jane/bombshell comparisons very, very tricky.

5. Rangers (11): Their place in the standings is about what we all expected. The number of games they are ahead of the second place team: not so much. Like a few teams, they look fabulous one week (like last week) and kind of blah the next. Hard to get a read, but you get the sense they’ll pull away eventually.

6. Giants (6): Winning close games, doing it without much offense. Yep, these are the Giants we’ve come to know and, well, know.

7. Angels (12): I thought they’d crater. I think a lot of people did. The only person I know who didn’t was my HBT Daily amiga Tiffany Simons, who predicted they’d win the AL West and bet me a nice meal in New York on the matter. The fact that they’re keeping it close has me worried. Then again, the fact that if I “lose” this bet, I take Tiffany out to dinner someplace in New York means that there really would be no losers here. Well, Tiffany maybe, but I don’t care.

8. Rays (5): Kind of what I figured. A little better than what I figured, but a solid third place with occasional friskiness seemed right. Losing Carl Crawford and all of that bullpen talent wasn’t nearly as big as some folks made it out to be given the young pitching. Of course, if you would have told me that they’d lose Evan Longoria for a while and that, when he came back, he’d be not-so-good, I would have guessed that they’d be behind Toronto at the moment.

9. Cardinals (8): Kind of the same thing here: a fair pick — not my pick, which I totally whiffed on (see Cubs below) — but a fair pick by anyone to be up at the top of the division. But not if you said that Pujols would struggle early and then break a bone in his friggin’ arm. Yet he did and he did and here they still are.

10. Diamondbacks (10): Anyone who says they thought the Dbacks would be here is lying. Show me the article with the time stamp verified by MLB authenticators and I’ll believe it, but this is not what anyone was expecting.

11. Brewers (9): Pre-season conventional wisdom was that the Greinke and Marcum moves could help fix the bad pitching and if that happened, watch out babies, because Milwaukee would be in it. Greinke has been the Brewers’ worst starter, but look out babies, Milwaukee is in it.

12. Pirates (14): Another shocker. I think people had generally positive thoughts about the direction of the team, but they were positive in the “OK, the sheer horror is probably over, so now we only have some run-of-the-mill misery ahead.” In contrast, this has been delightful.

13. Tigers (13)/Indians (7): The AL Central: everything you wanted in a division. And less.  Look, the Indians’ little run has been nice, but the fact that it has lasted this long without anyone else asserting themselves says less about the strength of the Tribe and more about the weakness of the division.

15. Mets (16): It was so easy back in February and March to feel like doom surrounded these guys, but so much of that was Wilpon/Madoff-related and relatively little of it was about the actual team. To me they felt like a .500 team. Maybe a skosh better if things broke right. Well, things have broke right. Or at least pretty darn well. I think folks should be pretty pleased about what has gone down, even if the future is uncertain.

16. Nationals (20): Another team that tells us how damn foolish we are to try to predict baseball. Did we expect this? Nah. Did anyone see Jim Riggleman quitting? Nah. Davey Johnson at the helm? Nah.

17. Blue Jays (18): In contrast, some things are kind of predictable: the Jays scoring well and hitting lots of homers yet being on the outside looking in in a tough division. Joey Bats is nice though.

18. Reds (15): Last year you got the sense that they caught every break. This year they have the best run-differential in the division yet they’re in fourth place. The worms turn, ya know?

19. Marlins (24): If, over the past 18 years, you said “the Marlins are gonna be a lot tougher than they seem on paper and than their payroll suggests, you’d be right most of the time. This is one of the few years you’d be wrong. Hanley Ramirez not showing up for most of the first half hasn’t helped. Nor has Josh Johnson’s injury.  This was not the team you’d guess would be most notable for hiring the second oldest manager of all time in the middle of the season. I’d guess that Kansas City or someone might, but not the Marlins.

20. White Sox (19): Adam Dunn: .160/.292/.305?  Hell, I would have guessed 10 games out of first, not just five. Either way, disappointing.

21. Rockies (17): Speaking of disappointing. Lots of smart folks figured they’d do better.

22. Twins (27): You could say disappointing here too. Or you could say: “Mauer and Morneau would have OPSs of .592 and .619, respectively, and they’d still only be 6.5 out?”  Eh, always look on the bright side of life.

23. Mariners (21): Down and up and down again, I still think you have to look on the season as successful so far, even with the current downward trajectory.  They learned that they can win with pitching and a couple of young bats at times. Even if more young bats to go along with Smoak and Ackley would be really, really useful.

24. Dodgers (26): Just dreadful. And unlike the Mets, they really can’t leave the business stuff to the side and just play because the empty seats and the much more high-profile nature of the business stuff makes it impossible to ignore.  Some nice pitching, give ’em that.

25. Athletics (22): Pretty dreadful here too. The idea was great: “OK, our pitching is awesome and our hitting sucks, so let’s try to fix the offense.”  The execution, though: not so good. They’re scoring fewer runs this year than last.

26. Padres (23): We now have scientific proof that, if you take away the lone elite bat from the lineup of a team that is always going to struggle to score runs, the prospects for success are somewhat diminished.

27. Royals (29): Early excitement notwithstanding, this is how it was supposed to be: awful pitching, some pop on offense, but mostly just vamping until the kids can mature.

28. Cubs (28): My pick of the Cubs to win the Central was not one of those deals where I would have been willing to bet the mortgage. I was feeling optimistic about a bunch of talented and overpaid people putting it together in such a way where the talent would show itself one final time. Bounce back seasons for Pena, Soriano and Ramirez. A good back end of the pen with Wood and Marmol. A pretty decent rotation, at least on paper.  Yeah, it would have taken some luck for it all to break right, but this struck me as a good break-right kind of club. And one, I must admit, that had I guessed right on, would have allowed me to look pretty damn clever come October.  Ah, well, you win some and you lose some. I mostly lose some when I try to make clever predictions.

29. Orioles (25): Amazingly, this wasn’t the .596 team Buck Showalter had after he took over last year.  I figured they would improve and, again, if everything broke right, challenge for 75-80 wins.  Not happening, though.

30. Astros (30): I got my Cubs, Steve Berthiaume has his Astros. Everyone has a pick like this from time to time. But really, that Astros pick was just nutso.

‘A lot of pain’ – Marlins cope with Fernandez’s death

JUPITER, FL - FEBRUARY 24: Pitcher Jose Fernandez of the Miami Marlins poses for photos on media day at Roger Dean Stadium on February 24, 2016 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
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MIAMI (AP) Jose Fernandez made his major league debut against the New York Mets in 2013 and was scheduled to face them again Monday night.

Instead, Miami mourns and the Marlins must push on without their 24-year-old ace, who was killed in a boating accident early Sunday.

“Deep in our hearts there is a lot of pain,” third baseman Martin Prado said. “Somehow we’ve got to overcome that.”

Fernandez and two other men died when their 32-foot SeaVee slammed into a jetty off Miami Beach at 3:15 a.m. Sunday, authorities said. The news sent shock waves throughout Major League Baseball.

The other two victims were Emilio Macias, 27, and Eduardo Rivero, 25, according to Darren Caprara, operations director of the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner’s Office.

The Marlins’ Sunday afternoon game against Atlanta was canceled, but there were pregame tributes and moments of silence for him throughout both leagues. Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz asked the Tampa Bay Rays to cancel a pregame tribute they scheduled in his honor before his final game in their ballpark Sunday.

Fernandez’s backstory made his death even more heart-wrenching. He escaped from Cuba by boat on his fourth try as a teenager, and when his mother fell into the Yucatan Channel during the journey, he jumped in and pulled her out.

“I don’t have the words to describe the pain I feel,” Ortiz said. “Jose was one of the special cases. The story behind him and his family and the way everything happened. You know how remarkable his career was going. But the most important thing was his kindness and the kind of person he was. It’s hard, man.”

A jersey with Fernandez’s name and number hung in the Mets’ dugout as they played Philadelphia at Citi Field. Mets manager Terry Collins reminisced about Fernandez’s debut against his team three years ago.

“When the first pitch left his hand, the first thought is, oh, wow, this is something special,” Collins said. “This was not only one of the greatest pitchers in the modern game, but one of the finest young men you’d ever meet, who played the game with passion and fun and enjoyed being out there.”

Marlins players and team officials gathered at the ballpark to grieve together.

“All I can do is scream in disbelief,” said Hall of Famer Tony Perez, a Marlins executive and native of Cuba. “Jose won the love of all. I feel as if I had lost a son.”

An emotional news conference was attended by every player on the Marlins, except their ace. The players wore team jerseys – black ones.

Manager Don Mattingly and president of baseball operations Michael Hill flanked team president David Samson and unsuccessfully fought back tears. Slugger Giancarlo Stanton didn’t speak but later posted a tribute on Instagram.

“I’m still waiting to wake up from this nightmare,” Stanton said. “I lost my brother today and can’t quite comprehend it. The shock is overwhelming. What he meant to me, our team, the city of Miami, Cuba & everyone else in the world that his enthusiasm/heart has touched can never be replaced. I can’t fathom what his family is going through because We, as his extended Family are a wreck.”

Fernandez was on a vessel that hit a jetty near a harbor entrance, said Lorenzo Veloz of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The boat remained in the water for several hours, its engines partially submerged as its nose pointed skyward, as debris from the crash was scattered over some of the large jagged rocks.

Veloz described the condition of the boat as “horrible.”

There was no immediate indication that alcohol or drugs were a cause in the crash, Veloz said.

A native of Santa Clara, Cuba, Fernandez was unsuccessful in his first three attempts to defect, and spent several months in prison. At 15, he and his mother finally made it to Mexico, and were reunited in Tampa, Florida, with his father, who had escaped from Cuba two years earlier.

The Marlins drafted him in 2011, and Fernandez was in the majors two years later at 20. He went 38-17 in his four seasons with Miami, winning the NL’s Rookie of the Year award in 2013, and was twice an All-Star.

Last week Fernandez posted a photo of his girlfriend sporting a “baby bump” on his Instagram page, announcing that the couple was expecting its first child.

Fernandez became a U.S. citizen last year and was enormously popular in Miami thanks to his success and exuberant flair. When he wasn’t pitching, he would hang over the dugout railing as the team’s lead cheerleader.

“When I think about Josie, it’s going to be thinking about a little kid,” Mattingly said, pausing repeatedly to compose himself. “I see such a little boy in him … the way he played. … Kids play Little League, that’s the joy Jose played with.”

Mattingly then wiped away tears, and he wasn’t alone.

Associated Press writer Freida Frisaro contributed to this report from Miami.

All Marlins players will wear number 16 in honor of Jose Fernandez tonight

MIAMI, FL - JULY 09:  Jose Fernandez #16 of the Miami Marlins pitches during the game against the Cincinnati Reds at Marlins Park on July 9, 2015 in Miami, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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The Marlins game was understandably cancelled yesterday. The baseball schedule has always gone on in such situations, however, and the Marlins will host the Mets tonight in Miami.

As they do so, they will all be wearing number 16, Jose Fernandez’s number, in honor of their fallen teammate.

A nice gesture on what will certainly be an emotional night.