A local blackout (electrical, not TV) prevented me from finishing this and getting it up before the games started, but it made for more interesting commentary...
One of the things that has become more noticeable as the year has gone in with the power rankings is how little they tend to change. Sure, there are some occassional fluctuations, but because so many of the components are relatively stable at this level of data, we won't see too many changes. The Top 7 teams are the same 7 as last week, and there's only been a bit of jockeying for position.
The system we use is a combination of ranks in the following category:
- Third-order Pythagenport winning percentage.
- "Scotto score," which, these days, is a look at a team's "Base Runs" scored and allowed.
- The average of a team's ranks in 5 "media" polls - SI.com, FoxSports.com, RotoTimes.com, Sportsline.com, and Baseball Prospectus' Hit List.
- A team's RPI, as per ESPN.com.
- Cardinals (1) - Most systems rank the Cardinals at #2, but they're generally (well, universally) regarded as a top 5 team, and they're the only team to have that distinction. That puts them on the top, and they remain the class of the NL.
- Red Sox (2) - 7 games later, the Sox haven't lost and they're the hottest team on the East Coast. Manny can be Manny all he wants, but Theo Epstein doesn't mess around and he could very conceivably deal him in the offseason. In either case, the Red Sox should win the AL East, at this point, Manny being day-to-day or not.
- A's (3) - Still incredibly hot at this point; they hit .286/.347/.462 in July and they averaged 5.96 runs per game over that stretch. Talk about the great pitching all you want, that offense has been superb over the same stretch.
- Braves (6) - Jeff Francoeur's tools are still winning the battle, but it's still early. His .407/.417/.814 line is one of the reasons for the Braves playing so well. Andruw Jones has cooled off, though, and Chipper Jones is day-to-day. They're also odds-on to win the NL East; Prospectus puts them at 78%.
- White Sox (4) - The media polls love them, but the stathead ratings don't. Pythagenport has them at 11th, Base Runs has them at 10th. They're 13 games up and were 15 up a couple of days ago, so if they blow this lead, it would constitute the greatest collapse in MLB history, at least this side of the boys at 161st St. last October.
- Yankees (5) - Speaking of the devil, if we picked the playoffs, the Yanks would be our wild card team, and the playoffs wouldn't have been all that unpredictable this year. They're going to have to slug their way through the dog days because with Leiter, Chacon, and Small doing some of the heavy lifting, they're going to have some problems there. Perhaps the least-discussed effect of this will be in terms of innings NOT saved by the rotation. Leiter is a 5-inning pitcher at this point, and the Yankee bullpen will be taxed night-in and night-out. The Yanks have a fair shot at that wild card, but they're going to be real tired.
- Indians (7) - The Hafner injury was a tough break for the Indians, who were riding his hot bat into the race. We don't know much about streakiness, but it's obvious that if there ARE hot streaks and cold streaks, Hafner was on one. You hope that he can come back hitting as well as he was.
- Astros (11) - If offense was the major factor that got the A's back into the race, pitching got the Astros there. In a hitter's park, they held opponents to a .227/.289/.338 line for the month of July. Their opponents averaged just over 3 runs per game. It's a special season to have seen two teams come back from the dead to storm into the playoff races... especially the two that I've picked to go to the World Series for the last 4 years. Except this year.
- Angels (8) - Still holding onto first place for dear life, but if this type of race keeps up in the AL West, it'll be yet another classic September for that division. There's a 4-game set in Oakland at the end of September, and that could be for the division.
- Mets (9) - As a Met fan, I can safely say that this last series against the Brewers was the worst series that I've ever had the displeasure to watch. The games were exciting, but the Mets threw away the last two through faulty and illogical bullpen management. The bullpen weakness finally caught up to them...
- Rangers (10) - The Rangers hit .281/.343/.513 at home, and .257/.319/.430 on the road. It's a HUGE split.
- Marlins (18) - Quietly sneaking back into the mix, in a year where the NL East isn't quite locked up, the Marlins could push their way into some serious competition for the last month. They're 6.5 back of Atlanta and just 4 back in the wild card race. As a popular pick for the division at the beginning of the year, and considering how "poorly" they've played, they're certainly in the race.
- Blue Jays (17) - Only 6 back in the division, and Pythagoras tells us that the Blue Jays should be winning the division by a game with a 61-45 record. There are problems with that rationale, but the Jays have played better than their record would indicate. I'm officially pulling for the Jays to do the impossible.
- Cubs (12) - Are you ready? This Sunday, on national TV.... the METS and the CUBS face off in history's first and probably last matchup between two men with the last name of Zambrano. Derrek Lee's cooled off over the last month... since the All-Star break, he's hit .275/.376/.525. That's much more in line with the projections of reasonable people.
- Phillies (16) - The Howard v. Thome thing will be very interesting this offseason. Ed Wade will try and move Thome and his monstrous contract, but is anyone going to even think about taking it? Howard is the more reasonable candidate to be dealt. For this season? The Phils remain over .500 and aren't done yet. So we'll save Howard v. Thome for November.
- Twins (14) - The Twins began planning for next year once Torii Hunter slammed into that wall at Fenway. The Twins won't be going anywhere soon... Morneau will get better, Mauer will be an All-Star year in and year out, and Santana's the most dominant hurler in baseball. They're all under 30. They'll be back.
- Orioles (13) - That happened fast... a 2-16 stretch gets Mazzilli canned. Things fell apart very quickly here. Brian Roberts came tumbling down with the rest of the team; he hit .226/.308/.396 this month. His norm is somewhere in between that and the .379/.459/.726 he put up in April.
- Nationals (15) - The one-run magic is done. Cordero for Cy Young talk has been squelched for the moment, even though he HAS been exceptional this year. One of my favorite players, Brad Wilkerson, seems to have suffered greatly in the power department, probably partially due to RFK. On the road, he's hitting .290/.363/.481, but at home, he's hitting a mere .220/.351/.335. He's on pace for 64 extra base hits, which isn't all too far from the 73 he hit last year. I've gotta attribute some of that loss to the ballpark.
- Tigers (19) - Placido Polanco was locked up for 4 years in Detroit, and he's in the middle of a career year, hitting a combined .341/.404/.455. Great deal for the Tigers, you'd think. He's at least league average, he's an exceptional defender, and he can move around on the infield.
- Brewers (20) - They won two very exciting games against the Mets at Shea Stadium in dramatic fashion this week. On Tuesday, in Russ Branyan's first 3 at bats, he homered, walked, and struck out. How typical.
- Padres (21) - Inching back up to .500. How good of them. St. Louis might be rooting for the Astros to win the wild card so they can get the NL West winner in the first round. It would certainly be a nice draw for them, you'd think.
- Mariners (23) - Long Live the King, who starts out his long and prosperous reign over the American League with a mortal outing. He went 5 innings, surrendering 3 hits, 2 runs, 1 earned, 2 walks, and he got 4 strikeouts. We will see where it goes from here.
- Diamondbacks (24) - 5 under and a game and a half out of first place. It was a long, long time ago, but the D'Backs were in first place at one point this season. It's not quite over yet, here, even if they take the division with 79 or 80 wins. The playoffs are the playoffs, right? And anything can happen in a 5-game series...
- Reds (26) - So, is Ken Griffey Jr. back? His .284/.361/.536 isn't the Griffey of the past, but he's no longer a black hole for the organization. Plus, since June, his power has come back and he's hit a much more Griffey-esque .303/.389/.600. The injuries have prevented Griffey from having many of the records that he was once projected to have, but he's a Hall of Famer.
- Dodgers (22) - Only 3 players on this team qualify for the batting title, and two of them have OPSes under .700 (Cesar Izturis and Jason Phillips). A quick look at The Hardball Times' PrOPS tells us that Hee-Seop Choi has been a bit better than his .247/.331/.474 line; his line should (according to the system) be closer to .296/.373/.519. But give the man some credit; his isolated power has been good, again, and if he qualified, he'd be in the top 20 in the NL.
- Devil Rays (28) - 14-4 since the break?? They seem to do this most years - they play well for a bit and then they revert to their typical poor play. And, finally, Chuck LaMar should be fired, because Julio Lugo, Aubrey Huff, and Danys Baez are all rotting in Tampa.
- Pirates (25) - Zach Duke! Zach Duke! Hold off on the Cooperstown plaque, but he's been very good through his first few starts. The strikeouts have been inconsistent, but who cares? He's pitched well. The only worry I have is that in his 5 non-rain shortened starts, he's thrown over 100 pitches, each time. Again, while I don't really think that 100 should be the absolute threshold for a rookie pitcher, the danger is when the pitcher consistently goes that deep in the game without being physically ready for it. It's worth watching.
- Giants (27) - So Bonds might be coming back after all? My money's still on him being out for the season, and I've all but stopped paying attention to this stuff. When he starts chasing Ruth again, it'll interest me more, but, for now, I just can't be bothered.
- Rockies (30) - OUT OF THE CELLAR! Finally, they move up a spot. Actually, they tied with the Royals in terms of points, but I felt like being generous to the Rockies. Helton's on the DL now, so even more young guys get to play. Oh, and I'm casting my ROY ballot for Jeff Francis because he's got a 3.59 home ERA for the Rockies.
- Royals (29) - Mike Sweeney will pretty much assuredly clear waivers if he needs to, so he's still a candidate to be traded. I don't see it happening at this point. And I'll close with this: the trend in baseball, at this point, is for more parity. A lot of the reason that we didn't see more trades is because no one was quite sure if they were buying or selling. I think the deadline should be moved to August 15, so there's a bit more clarity in the standings.
Enjoy the week, and don't miss Zambrano v. Zambrano.