Joe Girardi

Your inaugural Power Rankings

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The only thing sillier than predictions about who wins each division several months before the season ends is judging which team is the best before any games are played.  But hey, that’s never stopped me before, so let’s have a Power Ranking, shall we?

And yeah, there is that big of a gap between the AL and the NL. It’s just astounding how much better the top teams in the junior circuit are.

1. Yankees: A 97-win team with rotation problems adds a couple of really good starters. Yeah, I think that plays.

2. Rangers: The two-time defending AL champs lose their top starting pitcher but add another one who, in my view anyway, will be better.  That plays too.

3. Angels: Huge additions in Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson, obviously, but they also had ten games to make up from the Rangers.

4. Tigers: Fielder and Cabrera are gonna be awesome to see. But there are holes in the lineup and, while still awesome, Justin Verlander can’t match 2011’s numbers again because, really, no one can do that. Right?

5. Rays: The deepest rotation in baseball means that if they have any problems — say Luke Scott is a bust and the bullpen falters — they have the chips to make some deals.

6. Red Sox: Nowadays everybody wanna talk like they got somethin’ to say, but nothin’ comes out when they move their lips, just a bunch of gibberish, and motherf***ers act like they forgot about how good this team was until September last year.

7. Phillies: Infielders on this team have a worse life expectancy than the drummer for Spinal Tap. But having Halladay, Hamels and Lee hanging around makes up for a lot of stuff. The 1990s-early 2000s Braves won division after division with dudes like Mark Lemke and Keith Lockhart in the infield. I think  the Phillies will be fine.

8. Diamondbacks: Will Ian Kennedy have a repeat year? Exceedingly doubtful. But Trevor Cahill has joined up, I’m curious about an entire year of Paul Goldschmidt, Justin Upton is still awesome and I don’t think the Giants will be substantially better than they were last year. Ergo, the Dbacks.

9. Braves: If Freddie Freeman’s spring training is any indication of how he’ll do this year the perpetual offensive problems this team has will be somewhat mitigated.

10. Giants: Whether you think this team will return to 2010 form has a lot to do with whether you think Melky Cabrera’s 2011 season was indicative of some new normal for him and that he’ll repeat it in AT&T Park. I kinda think it was a fluke.

11. Cardinals: I’m feeling kinda shaky about this given the Carpenter and Furcal injuries, but man, I JUST picked them to win the Central an hour ago, so I have to stick with this a bit longer, no? UPDATE: I have no idea why I thought Rafael Furcal was hurt. I haven’t slept a lot lately.

12. Brewers: Prince Fielder gone, but Aramis Ramirez in (and Casey McGehee out) is pretty decent compensation.

13. Blue Jays: The rotation is kind of a mess and the lineup is depending on a handful of bounceback years. But I could see this team competing and even winning the NL West or Central. Unfortunately, they play in the AL East.

14. Marlins: A bigger deal than all of their offseason additions is the return of a healthy Josh Johnson.  But more than this team’s prospects, I’m curious to see if Carlos Zambrano and Ozzie Guillen can avoid their particular brand of performance art this season.

15. Reds:  I’d feel better if not for the bullpen injuries, but the Reds are going to be pesky and, if things break right — or wrong for St. Louis and Milwaukee — they could take the division.

16. Nationals: Still a year away, methinks, but they’re not that far behind Atlanta and Florida. Injuries to those two teams could push Washington toward second place.

17. Indians: They’re gonna do what they always do: surprise for a nice long stretch, disappoint for a nice long stretch and finish fairly far back of the Tigers. Then next winter we’ll all talk about how they’re underrated again.

18. Rockies: Jamie Moyer is a great story, but it is telling that a 49 year-old soft-tosser made this rotation.

19. Royals: So many people’s sexy, breakout pick. Still a year — and a couple of starters – away in my view. Especially in light of the Soria and Perez injuries.

20. Pirates:  A.J. Burnett, Erik Bedard and James McDonald could — if they all hit the top end of their potential — make this team a potentially dangerous one. Still, the most realistic goal here is breaking the streak of sub-.500 finishes, not going to the playoffs.

21. Dodgers: Kershaw and Kemp, then a whole lot of nothing, all mitigated by optimism about the new owners.

22. Twins: If Mauer and Morneau are both really back this will look like a really low ranking in hindsight. But they gotta show me first.

23. Athletics: It’s probably going to be more fun to watch the farm system this year — which is stocked — than the big club.

24. Padres: Same here, really. They got a lot of talent back in the Mat Latos deal.

25. Cubs: The future is pretty darn far from now. How long will Theo and Jed’s honeymoon last?

26. White Sox: On the early stages of a rebuild. There will not be any sneaky contention here.

27. Mets: The legal cloud over the team has lifted. Johan Santana appears to be healthy again. Beyond that, I’m kind of at a loss as to where to find optimism here.

28. Mariners: They’ll score more runs this year. But that’s not saying much. They should still have one of the worst offenses in baseball, even with some dramatic offensive improvement.

29. Orioles: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: how they do will depend on young pitching taking a step forward.

30.  Astros: I think they’re gonna settle in this position for the long haul.

Jose Fernandez was remarkable on and off the field

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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Jose Fernandez’s love for baseball was born in Santa Clara, Cuba. It was there, alongside childhood friend and St. Louis Cardinal Aledmys Diaz, that he devoted hours to makeshift games of baseball. Often alone, often without a teammate, a playing field, or even a baseball, Fernandez would spend hours lobbing baseball-sized rocks in the air, hitting them with sticks, and circling imaginary bases.

The dream was to play in the Cuban National Series, a 16-team league that formed when the original Cuban League disbanded in 1961. When Fernandez became a teenager, however, his stepfather, Ramon Jimenez, defected to the United States. It took Jimenez 13 attempts before he made a successful escape, and soon he sent for his wife and children. Whatever baseball aspirations Fernandez had took a backseat to his own treacherous journey from Cuba to Florida.

After two unsuccessful attempts and two months in a Cuban prison, 15-year-old Fernandez, his mother, and his stepsister tried again. The voyage was tumultuous; at one point, Fernandez’s mother fell overboard. Fernandez dove in after her and helped her swim 30 yards back to the boat. It took another month and change before Fernandez was settled in Florida with his family, and from there, his baseball career appeared to flourish overnight. He enrolled in Braulio Alonso High School and pitched during two championship runs with the Florida Class 6A state champions, working a 13-1 record and 2.85 ERA in his senior year with two no-hitters.

By 2011, several weeks before his 19th birthday, Fernandez was selected by the Miami Marlins in the first round of the MLB draft. His ascension through the minor leagues was even more remarkable. In his first season with Single-A Greensboro, Fernandez contributed six innings of a combined no-hitter, pitched to a combined 1.75 ERA and 158 strikeouts between Greensboro and Advanced-A Jupiter, and was distinguished as the preeminent Marlins minor league pitcher of the year.

If the transition from Miami’s minor league circuit to the big league stage was a rocky one, Fernandez hid it well. He debuted with the Marlins on April 17, 2013, holding the Mets to five innings of one-run ball and striking out eight of 19 batters. Only six major league pitchers under 21 years old had struck out at least eight batters during their major league debut; at 20 years old, Fernandez was the seventh.

The rest of his rookie season was no less groundbreaking. Fernandez worked a 2.19 ERA, second only to Clayton Kershaw’s 1.83 mark among qualified starting pitchers, appeared in his first All-Star Game, was named Rookie of the Month in two consecutive months, and capped his year with a staggering 4.1 fWAR. The Marlins didn’t just find their next ace in Fernandez; they found one of the best starting pitchers of the decade.

This isn’t to say that Fernandez was perfect — no player is. Reports surfaced in November 2015 that the 23-year-old hurler was working under a strained relationship with the Marlins’ brass, refusing to adhere to dugout protocol and asking president of baseball operations Michael Hill when he would be traded. Per Andy Slater of slaterscoops.com, the higher-ups in the Marlins’ organization weren’t the only ones frustrated with their star pitcher. Casey McGehee reprimanded Fernandez for showing up late to the clubhouse, and unnamed players also expressed their hope that Fernandez would struggle on the mound in future starts as a consequence for his arrogant behavior.

Following the report, several players stepped forward in Fernandez’s defense. According to a report by FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, the worst criticism levied at Fernandez was that he occasionally acted his age. (Brian McCann, who confronted Fernandez in a benches-clearing brawl after the rookie’s first career home run, might have agreed.) Others, like right-handers Dan Haren and Tom Koehler, vocalized their support for the pitcher despite any underlying tension surrounding his potential departure.

Whether or not the rumors had merit, Fernandez was spared the chopping block during his lengthy recovery process in 2014 and 2015 after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow. In 2016, he again proved his dominance on the mound. Through 186 ⅔ innings, the 24-year-old posted 16 wins, a staggering 12.49 K/9 rate, a 2.86 ERA and career-high 6.2 fWAR. It should have been just the second outstanding season of a lengthy career; instead, it was his last.

In the wake of today’s tragedy, it is difficult to dwell on Fernandez’s professional accomplishments. We know that he was more than the sum of his innings pitched in Miami, more than a feel-good story or a testament to the resilience of other players who defected from their home countries in pursuit of a better life. By all reports, he was a man of incredible courage, a cherished son and grandson, and a remarkable talent on the field. His life, as with any other, should be valued not for what he did or did not do, but simply because he existed.

What’s on Tap: Previewing Sunday’s action

SEATTLE, WA - SEPTEMBER 19:  Starting pitcher Taijuan Walker #44 of the Seattle Mariners pitches against the Toronto Blue Jays in the fourth inning at Safeco Field on September 19, 2016 in Seattle, Washington.  (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
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The last time the Mariners qualified for a postseason berth, I was eleven years old. My lone memory of the Mariners’ historic 116-win season has been reduced to a brief conversation with my father over nachos at our local Mexican restaurant. The details of our conversation are lost to me now; with an upbringing specifically tailored to Seattle Seahawks football, even the best and brightest of the Mariners’ glory days appeared as little more than a blip on my radar.

The Mariners enter Sunday with a 14% chance of securing a ticket to the playoffs. They’ll kick off the series finale at 2:10 PM EDT, during which Seattle’s Taijuan Walker will take on Minnesota lefty Hector Santiago. Neither pitcher looked dominant on the mound last week, with both Walker and Santiago lasting just 5  innings in their previous starts and giving up three runs and six runs in their respective outings.

What should have been an easy sweep for Seattle turned ugly on Saturday night as the Mariners battled their way to a 3-2 loss in Minnesota. Nelson Cruz‘s mammoth two-run homer was the only saving grace for an offense that has produced at a .263/.334/.437 clip in September. With a three-game set against the Astros on Monday and a final homestand against the A’s next weekend, it’ll take a significant push to propel the Mariners into October baseball.

Should they beat the odds and snap a 15-year playoff drought, however, I’ll be following every step of the way this time — whether the postseason goes the way of the Double or a Geronimo Berroa home run. (Just don’t make me give up my nachos.)

You can find more from Sunday’s action below.

New York Yankees (Michael Pineda) @ Toronto Blue Jays (Marco Estrada), 1:07 PM EDT

Boston Red Sox (Eduardo Rodriguez) @ Tampa Bay Rays (Jake Odorizzi), 1:10 PM EDT

Chicago White Sox (Carlos Rodon) @ Cleveland Indians (Josh Tomlin), 1:10 PM EDT

Kansas City Royals (Edinson Volquez) @ Detroit Tigers (Matt Boyd), 1:10 PM EDT

Philadelphia Phillies (Jake Thompson) @ New York Mets (Robert Gsellman), 1:10 PM EDT

Arizona Diamondbacks (Braden Shipley) @ Baltimore Orioles (Dylan Bundy), 1:35 PM EDT

Washington Nationals (A.J. Cole) @ Pittsburgh Pirates (Tyler Glasnow), 1:35 PM EDT

Cincinnati Reds (Brandon Finnegan) @ Milwaukee Brewers (Wily Peralta), 2:10 PM EDT

Los Angeles Angels (Daniel Wright) @ Houston Astros (Joe Musgrove), 2:10 PM EDT

Seattle Mariners (Taijuan Walker) @ Minnesota Twins (Hector Santiago), 2:10 PM EDT

Texas Rangers (Colby Lewis) @ Oakland Athletics (Jharel Cotton), 4:05 PM EDT

Colorado Rockies (Tyler Anderson) @ Los Angeles Dodgers (Brandon McCarthy), 4:10 PM EDT

San Francisco Giants (Ty Blach) @ San Diego Padres (Clayton Richard), 4:40 PM EDT

St. Louis Cardinals (Carlos Martinez) @ Chicago Cubs (Jon Lester), 8:08 PM EDT

Atlanta Braves vs. Miami Marlins: POSTPONED