Your Monday Afternoon Power Rankings

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Last week’s ranking is in parenthesis.

1. Yankees (1): The deadline deals brought in all kinds of spare parts, but is Joe Girardi going to use them properly? Lots of platoons and rotations and substitutions and stuff are now possible for the Yankees. Which presents opportunities, but also presents many new chances to screw things up too.

2. Rays (2):  It’s damn close, and the Rays have the momentum, but I’m using Ric Flair rules here: to be the man, you gotta beat the man. The Rays can take over the top spot if and when they pass New York. Woo!

3. Padres (3): Ryan Ludwick would not be an improvement in the outfield for most contenders, but he is for San Diego. Nice debut yesterday too, running and sliding into home, showing no sign of the leg injury that has cost him some time this season.

4. Rangers (4): The Rangers’ additions at the deadline — Lee, Cantu, Guzman — were the sorts of things teams who are heading to the playoffs do. I like the depth moves.

5. Giants (6): The Giants made it pretty clear this weekend that the NL West is going to be a two-team race. Bye-bye L.A.

6. White Sox (8): The blessing and the curse that is Ozzie Guillen. He’s so oblivious to outside stuff that he has no real problem turning a slow starting team around. He’s also so oblivious to outside stuff that he has no real problem throwing some ethnic/racial bomb into a postgame interview.

7. Twins (10): Same Ric Flair logic applies to the Twins and Sox. Plus, even Ric Flair tempered his “woo!” a little bit when he merely beat up some jobber, and the Mariners are the baseball equivalent of George South.

8. Braves (5): They’ve been driving me nuts lately, stranding runners, making defensive miscues. Thank goodness the Mets come to town for three starting tonight. Of course, the way things have been going lately it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if Atlanta dropped two of three. There’s still a lot of 2006-09 in this team.
 
9. Phillies (11): At some point injuries become too much to overcome, no? How can a team lose Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco and Jimmy Rollins for stretches this year and still win it? If the Phillies do, Charlie Manuel has to win manager of the year, doesn’t he?

10. Red Sox (13): In a stretch of 17 days without a day off. This after coming back from a west coast road trip that felt like it lasted three weeks. Is it just me, or has the Red Sox’ season been really, really tiring?

11. Cardinals (7): I was confused by the Ludwick trade, and overall viewed it as a sideways kind of move for St. Louis that probably won’t make too much of a difference either way. I went on St. Louis radio this morning, however, and the coverage felt a lot like the stuff you hear after a national tragedy or a natural disaster occurs. It’s like everyone in Cardinals Nation (or whatever they are) is talking to everyone else in reassuring tones because, if they don’t, everyone will break down and bawl. To which I say: dudes: it’s just Ryan Ludwick.

12. Reds (9): A lot of nothin’ at the deadline, but calling up Aroldis Chapman to help the pen may trump the move St. Louis made.

13. Blue Jays (17): Big falloff from 12 to 13 this week. Basically, every team around 50-55 losses has been stinking lately. Not so bad that I’m going to elevate someone like the Astros above them, but between here and the true dreck at the bottom of the list, the specific order is rather meaningless. The Blue Jays have won six of ten, though, so I guess they’re the class of the 50-losers at the moment.

14. Rockies (15): I said the NL West is a two-team race. I suppose if the Rockies can take both games from an odd-for-this-time-of-year two game series with the Giants this week they can start working their way back into the conversation.

15. Athletics (16): Yeah, I know they’re behind the Angels, but Ric Flair rules don’t apply to battles for second place, jack! Woo!

16. Angels (20): Two of three from the Rangers is nice, but there’s still a great big chasm between those two teams.

17. Tigers (14): Amazingly, the acquisition of Jhonny Peralta hasn’t catapulted the Tigers back into the AL Central race.

18. Dodgers (12): No matter what has happened on the field this past week, it’s a sad, sad comment on the state of the Dodgers that a team with all of their financial potential is making little ticky-tack deals in which they’re getting money from teams like the Pirates rather than taking on salary and making bold moves in order to close the gap between themselves and the teams they’re pursuing. Teams that, had they been managed like the mega-market team that they are, they probably wouldn’t be pursuing in the first place.

19. Marlins (19): Dan Uggla became the Marlins all-time home run champ over the weekend, passing Mike Lowell. If Jeff Loria was smart he’d trade for Lowell right now and let them finish this thing off, Thunderdome-Style.

20. Mets (18): I’m listening to “Rust Never Sleeps” as I type this, and the narrator from “Powederfinger” seems less doomed than Jerry Manuel right now.

21. Brewers (21): Signing Corey Hart to an extension is the move of a general manager who doesn’t think a ton needs to happen to his team in order to be successful in 2011. The Brewers’ performance against the Astros this weekend made them look like a team who will not be successful until my kids are in college.

22. Nationals (25): They took the piss out of both the Phillies and the Braves in the last week and they held on to Adam Dunn.  That last bit may or may not have been the right move, but Nats fans have to feel pretty good about the past week, all things considered. Well, not the part in which the franchise pitcher goes on the DL, but the other stuff is nice.

23. Cubs (22): I like Ted Lilly trade more than I probably should, probably because I like Blake DeWitt more than I probably should.

24. Astros (26): A nice little run after losing Oswalt and Berkman. Of course like the man sang: funny how fallin’ feels like flyin’ for a little while.  Reality of the gutting of this team will set in soon enough. As it should, because that’s what rebuilding is all about.  Just too bad it took the Astros this long to figure it out.

25. Royals (24): Ned Yost’s contract extension and the unloading of Ankiel and Farnsworth are both the kinds of moves that smart franchises in the Royals’ current state make.

26. Indians (23): The Indians sending money to the Yankees along with Kerry Wood is not too far behind “The Decision” in recent Cleveland sports atrocities. If I was running the Tribe I would have kept Wood out of spite and issued a press release — in Comic Sans font — decrying the chutzpah of Brian Cashman for asking for cash in the deal.

27. Diamondbacks (28): They should probably be bumped up a few spots for dumping Edwin Jackson on the White Sox, but the Nationals probably deserve an assist for that one, what with the deke-job they pulled on Kenny Williams.

Last: Orioles (30), Pirates (29), Mariners (27): The convention for ties in rankings such as these is to give all teams the same number that would appear next, which in this case would be 28. I can’t rate any of them that high, however, because they’re all just playing awful and uninspired baseball. The Mariners look like they’re trying to get someone fired. The Pirates are sending money to the Los Angeles Dod
gers in deals. The Oiroles a
re, well, the Orioles.  They all get a “last” in my book.

Brewers hold off the Dodgers to force Game 7 of the NLCS

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Down 3-2 in the NLCS, the Brewers faced a must-win situation during Game 6 on Friday. Any residual uncertainty they might have felt about their chances of extending the series was all but resolved in the first inning, however, when Jesús Aguilar, Mike Moustakas, and Erik Kratz combined for a four-run spread to take an early lead. Powered by those early-game RBI, as well as masterful performances from Wade Miley, Corey Knebel, and Corbin Burnes, the club surged to a 7-2 win to pull even with the Dodgers and force a Game 7 tiebreaker.

Left-hander Wade Miley trounced the Dodgers in 4 1/3 innings of two-run, four-strikeout ball. He was bested by David Freese in the very first at-bat of the night, which culminated with a 402-footer to right field to put Los Angeles on the board, 1-0. After a few scoreless innings from the Dodgers, Freese returned to torment Miley in the top of the fifth, this time with an RBI double that narrowed the Brewers’ advantage from four runs to three.

Things didn’t go nearly as smoothly for opposing lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu. In the bottom of the first inning, Ryu allowed a leadoff single to Lorenzo Cain, followed by a four-pitch walk to Ryan Braun. Jesús Aguilar came up to bat with two out and two on, then smacked a two-RBI line drive double to right field. Moustakas and Kratz went back-to-back-to-back with Aguilar, putting up another three runs on an RBI double and single, respectively.

The Brewers kept rolling in the second inning. Christian Yelich and Braun each collected a double off of Ryu, bringing Milwaukee’s lead to 5-1 over Los Angeles. Braun advanced to third on a Travis Shaw groundout, but with Aguilar up to bat, Ryu wasn’t going to chance a repeat of the Dodgers’ first-inning debacle. He intentionally walked Aguilar, then whiffed Moustakas on three straight fastballs to cap the inning.

By the time both Miley and Ryu were forced from the mound, the Brewers stood 5-2 above their opponents. Right-hander Corey Knebel worked a scoreless 1 2/3 innings, striking out Manny Machado to eliminate another potential rally from the Dodgers in the fifth inning and retiring all four batters in the sixth (save for Joc Pederson, who reached base after taking a 96.3-MPH fastball to the wrist). The righty received another significant opportunity to do some damage against the Dodgers in the bottom of the fifth, when he came up to bat for the first time in his professional career with the bases loaded and two outs… but saw just four pitches before swinging at a 1-2 pitch to end the inning.

After Ryu’s unexpected departure in the third, Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts cycled through five pitchers — Julio Urías, Alex Wood, Dylan Floro, Caleb Ferguson, and Kenta Maeda — in an attempt to squelch the Brewers’ comeback. The bullpen combined for four consecutive scoreless frames, but was ultimately foiled in the seventh, when, with runners on second and third and two outs, a wild pitch from Maeda ricocheted off the front of home plate and allowed Aguilar to plate yet another insurance run. Still not content with a two-hit, two-RBI performance, Aguilar came back in the bottom of the eighth with an RBI single — only moments after a failed double play that would have ended the inning — to bring the Brewers to a cushy 7-2 advantage as they entered the ninth.

No similar last-minute rallies awaited the Dodgers there. Rookie right-hander Corbin Burnes orchestrated another flawless 1-2-3 inning in the ninth, retiring Pederson and Puig with consecutive strikeouts and inducing a game-inning, series-extending pop-up from Matt Kemp to wrap the win.

Game 7 is set for 8:09 PM EDT on Saturday. The starters for both clubs have yet to be announced.