Your inaugural Power Rankings

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Based on my thoughts about Opening Day, you may not be surprised to learn that, like the hyped-up spectacle of Opening Day, I am less than enamored with other kinds of empty hype too.  Something that is usually empty hype: Power Rankings.

Indeed, any team’s peak power — at least before the playoffs start — is both fleeting and, on the whole, irrelevant. A club may very well break out of the gate starting today winning eight of ten and scoring runs like they’re the 1931 Yankees or something. We’ll all swoon and they’ll rocket to the top of the Power Rankings. And it will mean nothing come July when their number two starter has forearm stiffness, their top slugger is 4 for his last 39 and their left fielder has a restraining order against him.  In short, a little snapshot of how teams are doing at any one moment of the season is probably pointless and almost certainly misleading.

So why even bother with Power Rankings, you ask?  Eh, they’re fun. They’re conversation starters. Coming as they do here at HBT (usually) on Mondays they’re a nice way to recap the previous week after we’ve sort of lost the thread during weekend barbecues and stuff.

But one thing they are not is particularly meaningful. As such, keep your complaining to a minimum. Or at least keep your complaining humorous and light.  I’d much rather see some nice funny commenter snark about how far my head is up my butt for any given ranking I give than I would some sober yet obviously insulted comment about how, clearly, I have disrespected Team X for the following ten reasons. Save it.  I don’t care who you root for. I don’t care who I root for. If you take these rankings personally or particularly seriously, you’re not worth the keyboard clicks it took for you to register your disgust.  This is supposed to be fun, so let’s have some damn fun out here, OK?

With that out of the way, our first — and most likely worst — Power Rankings of the 2011 season:

1. Red Sox: Everyone complained yesterday afternoon when ESPN came out with their four dozen or so individual staff predictions and over half of the predictors chose Boston to win it all. East coast bias, it was alleged. How bloody typical!  But really: even if you have another horse winning this race, how is Boston an unreasonable choice? On what planet are they not one of the top two or three best looking teams heading into the season? And if they’re not, who is better?

2. Phillies: I will not fret about this team unless and until the names Halladay, Lee, Hamels or Oswalt appear on the DL.  Until then, it’s pretty silly to pick against the team that will have a better starter going than the opposition will nearly every single night of the year.

3. Yankees: Nowadays everybody wanna talk like they got something to say, but nothin comes out when they move they lips, just a buncha gibberish, and motherf*****s act like they forgot about the fact that the Yankees scored more runs than anyone last year and actually look like they could score more this year.

4. Giants: The addition of Brandon Belt to the roster is encouraging and it’s hard not to love the rotation. But let us not forget that this was a team tailor made for playoff dominance last season, but which struggled through large parts of the regular season. They didn’t make the playoffs until the last day and wouldn’t have if the Padres hadn’t had an epic collapse. They’re better than that now, but not so substantially better that we should crown them as repeat champs already.

5. Braves: They were a trendy pick last year. They’re a trendy pick this year. And most of the people making trendy Braves picks haven’t lived through 25 years of teams that always — always — have one tremendous flaw or another. A flaw that they always come close to working through but which ultimately trumps whatever it was that started those trends in the first place. I don’t know what it is yet here. Could be the outfield again. Could be the back end of the pen. It’s a good team, but it’s a team that always seems more appealing on paper than it does once pitches start being thrown in anger.

6. Rangers: Can’t wait for everyone who thought it important that Neftali Feliz serve as The Established Closer starts screaming about how the rotation is in ruins, seemingly unaware that there might actually be a link between those two things.

7. White Sox: I love Adam Dunn in U.S. Cellular Field, but if there’s an under to bet on his home runs, I’d consider taking it. I haven’t consulted the hit tracker data, but it seems like Dunn’s bombs are always sure things. I don’t know that the smaller park will make as huge a difference in his home run totals as his presence will make a difference for the Sox’ lineup as a whole.

8. Athletics: There is no contending team with a smaller margin for error than the A’s. Everyone needs health to win, but the A’s are depending on young pitching, some of whom have fragile elbows.  This worries me more than a bit.

9. Rockies: What’s the hitter’s equivalent of “Spahn and Sain and two days of rain?”  Because it maybe could work for Tulowitzki and Gonzalez. Though, no, I’m aware of no rule or contingency in baseball which would allow for two players to take multiple lineup slots in one game, so perhaps I should just give up this fanciful endeavor.

10. Cubs: Wainwright is out for the year and Cueto, Baily and Greinke are on the DL to start the season. And people think I’m nuts to be picking the Cubs in the NL Central. Whatever, dudes.

11. Twins: Their bullpen was just ripped to shreds in the offseason. They have reloaded on the fly and continued to contend before, but it’s a tall damn order this year.

12. Rays: Their bullpen was just ripped to shreds in the offseason. They have reloaded on the fly and continued to contend before, but it’s a tall damn order this year. No, this is not a copy-and-paste error.

13. Reds: The rotation is hurt or has mono or has looked shaky this spring. And the question must be asked: did they peak last year?

14. Cardinals: Every radio host I’ve spoken with this spring has asked me if the Pujols contract situation will hang over this team.  Question: after the first day of spring training, have you heard anything about it?  Nah, me neither.  I think everyone involved in this little dance is old and experienced enough to where it’s not going to be a problem until long after the Cardinals are out of the running. Or, if they’re in the race all year, until after the season.

15. Brewers: I think Brewers fans are tired of hearing people say that the team is “all-in” or “shooting the moon” this year or whatever. I agree, that’s getting tired. Thus I shall henceforth refer to the Brewers in terms of a group of roguish movie criminals coming together for that Last Big Score.  That always turns out well, doesn’t it?

16. Blue Jays: Like the A’s, young pitching, though young pitching without as high as an upside. As is usually the case, though, the Jays will probably be better than I figured and I’ll have, once again, missed the boat on why. I swear, it’s not a Canadian thing. They just sort of elude me.

17. Marlins: I was on a radio show this week and I started talking about how, at worst, even if he never figures anything else out, which I think is unlikely, Mike Stanton could be one of those really fun all-power guys I tend to like such as Rob Deer or Dave Kingman or whoever. The host was probably 25 and based on his response I’m quite sure he had no idea who I was talking about. I am old.

18. Tigers: Too many positions in that lineup where offense is being punted, I believe.

19. Angels: On days where Mike Scioscia decides to go defense-first at first base and start Howie Kendrick over Mark Tumbo, the Halos may well sport the worst offensive infield in the game.

20. Dodgers: People’s impressions of them are clouded by off-the-field problems, but if they get some offense to complement the rotation, they could be interesting.

21. Mets: People’s impressions of them are clouded by off-the-field problems, but if they get any starting pitching to complement the lineup, they could be interesting.

22. Orioles: This feels too low to me but I’m not sure who to demote. If things break right the O’s — were they not in the AL East — will be good enough to be interesting. Sadly, I can’t see them doing much better than fourth in the division they’re in, and for now I have them fifth.

23. Padres: Someone in the comments yesterday asked why everyone was disrespecting the Padres after what they did last year. I know. Totally unfair. I mean, just because you lose your best player and your number one starter is beginning the year on the shelf doesn’t mean you won’t still be good!  Oh, wait. Yes it does.

24. Nationals: I have traveled to the future and obtained a video of every Jayson Werth press conference that occurred between, oh, June 1st and the end of his current contract.

25. Astros: You know those ESPN “expert” predictions I mentioned above? Well, in those, ESPN’s Steve Berthiaume picked the Astros to win the NL Central. And with that, the season’s lone highlight is over.

26. Indians: The worst part about how this season is going to go will be when people — as they have done with the Cavs this year and as they have always done with Detroit — start to equate the team’s struggles with the city’s struggles and do so in a way that disparages Cleveland in some pretty unfair and misleading ways. No, the city isn’t in great shape, I’ll admit that. But it’s a place where, if you know someone who knows it well, you can have a great time. It’s a city with a lot of local pride. Lay off Cleveland, will ya?

27. Diamondbacks: Kirk Gibson started camp by talking about good defense, smart hitting approaches and playing the game “the right way.” I can’t wait, therefore, until the Dimondbacks’ best hitter is Russell Branyan. Between his iron glove and the fact that he is going to grip it and rip it like John Daly, Gibson is gonna have a coronary.

28. Mariners: Seattle’s first game is at 10:05 PM Eastern time tomorrow. You have until then to put your money down in the “what day will Milton Bradley flip the hell out” pool. I have May 19th.

29. Royals: I have this feeling that this is the year Jeff Francoeur really gets it together, figures out the strike zone and finally blossoms into the perennial All-Star that, by gosh, we all know he can be.

Did I keep a straight face there? What was my tell? This is important because I’m playing cards this weekend and I’m working on my bluff face.

30. Pirates: PNC Park is only three hours from my house. Nice place! It will be great that so many inexpensive tickets will be available for when I take impulsive road trips.

And with that, Gentlemen: start your whining.

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.