|MLB Power Rankings, 3/29||03.29.10 at 3:24 am ET|
Welcome to the first edition of the WEEI.com Major League Baseball Power Rankings. Every Monday throughout the season we will be bringing you an updated version of the list, which will be determined by record, ranking within each team’s division, and also which team would have the best chance at winning if participating in a best-of-seven series. Feel free to pick apart the admittedly imperfect rankings by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or sending a message via Twitter to twitter.com/bradfo. Enjoy.
1. Yankees. Why: If the Red Sox had Mark Teixeira, they would be No. 1, but they don’t, so the Yankees get the top honor. As comparable as the pitching staffs are, and New York’s complementary round of outfielders, I just can’t get past the fact the Yanks have something no other team in baseball possesses — the names “Teixeira” and “Rodriguez” slated into the middle of their lineup. What to watch: If Joba Chamberlain can become the dominant set-up man he once was.
2. Red Sox. Why: I think people in New England might be underrating this team a bit. The Sox are appreciably more talented than last Opening Day’s version, yet a fraction of the pundits are picking them to be a legitimate contender for the American League East crown. The biggest question mark as we storm toward the opener? The bench. Right now they don’t have proven answers at a variety of positions if the injury bug were to bite. What to watch: If part of this improved defense includes better controlling the opposition’s running game.
3. Phillies. Why: Roy Halladay will win 50 games. OK, maybe 40. Thirty? Whatever. Roy Halladay will win a crap-load of games, the rest of the rotation is solid enough, and the lineup will continue to offer more anxiety to National League pitchers than any other collection of bats. What to watch: If Jose Contreras actually can serve a purpose in Philly’s bullpen.
4. Rays. Why: I’m not completely sold on the Tampa Bay pitching staff, although James Shields and Matt Garza is a good place to start. I really like the versatility of the Rays lineup. General manager Andrew Friedman has done a good job so far of limiting the talent leaks despite a less-than-desirable payroll. The biggest challenge (Carl Crawford) is coming, but so far he’s stayed ahead of the curve. What to watch: If Sean Rodriguez, the key player acquired in the Scott Kazmir trade last season, can cement a spot in the everyday lineup and add yet another offensive threat.
5. Cardinals: Get ready for the drop-off. The reason St. Louis finds itself in this spot is the same reason the Yankees are No. 1 — the middle of the order. I’m a little sheepish about the rotation, especially if Chris Carpenter suffers through more physical ailments, but there is enough pitching depth, and offense, to figure things out as they go. What to watch: Brad Penny has had some rough spots this spring, but there still is some optimism regarding his stuff and conditioning. If St. Louis can get out of Penny what San Francisco did at the end of last season, that could potentially hand the Cards the division and pennant.
6. Angels. Why: The naysayers will point to the loss of Chone Figgins, John Lackey and Vladimir Guerrero, but the reality is that with the acquisition — and subsequent performance — of Scott Kazmir last season, along with the potential of Brandon Wood, there won’t be as much of a step back as some might think. What to watch: If Joel Pineiro’s National League success will translate into his second go-round in the AL.
7. Tigers. Why: The placing might be a bit high, but when you can start with the arms (not necessarily pitching) of Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, Max Scherzer and Jeremy Bonderman, living with a lineup with Carlos Guillen as the designated hitter can be tolerated. What to watch: How much of an influence Johnny Damon has on the team’s dynamic and if he can play 140 games to find out.
8. Dodgers. Why: The bats that can be found up and down the lineup (the combo of Andre Ethier and Manny Ramirez is perhaps the National League’s third-most potent 3-4), along with just enough pitching upside allows this team to push DodgerDivorce.com to the background and become the third-best team in the NL. What to watch: If Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley can establish themselves as a legitimate top-of-the-rotation foundation.
9. Rangers. Why: They would be higher if Rich Harden could be counted on, but, as we sit here, that isn’t an option. Texas’ young talent (Neftali Feliz, Julio Borbon, Elvis Andrus) makes this collection one of the majors’ biggest wild cards. Oh, and then there’s manager Ron Washington’s tenuous position in the world of public perception. Wacky times await Arlington. I just don’t know if that’s good or bad. What to watch: Not to repeat the obvious, but with Scott Feldman sitting atop the rotation, Harden’s reliability is key.
10. Rockies. Why: Colorado is the vogue pick in the National League entering the season for a few good reasons. Assuming the Rockies can find enough pitching talent to go between ace Ubaldo Jimenez and closer Huston Street, the lineup is balanced enough to make a legitimate run at the National League’s upper crust. Their inability to excel on the road (and the fact that they are the vogue pick in the NL) scare me. What to watch: The speed of outfielders Carlos Gonzalez and Dexter Fowler at the top of the order.
11. Braves. Why: This team could move up in a hurry if the veterans (Billy Wagner, Troy Glaus, Chipper Jones) stay healthy and productive, while Jason Heyward starts paving his path to Cooperstown. Where the Braves really can make hay is with their rotation depth, that’s assuming Tim Hudson can stay healthy and Tommy Hansen keeps moving toward becoming one of the National League’s elite starters. (Derek Lowe is a good anchor while the wait for Hanson proceeds.) What to watch: Wagner was throwing just as well this spring as he had been in his stint with the Red Sox (mid-90s). Now comes the question as to if that bionic arm can last an entire season.
12. Mariners. Why: I have to be honest, I initially thought this team was going to crack the top five. But upon further review, I can’t get past the inadequacies of the lineup and the lack of pitching depth after the world’s best 1-2, Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee. Remember the Blue Jays from a couple of years ago (Halladay, A.J. Burnett, Dustin McGowan)? They were really, really good. The kind of good the Mariners would take. But aside from a better defensive unit in Seattle, that Jays teams is my comp … right now. What to watch: The prospects of Casey Kotchman hitting third is offering some eyebrow-raising, but it will be interesting to see if he can be the type of player the Red Sox were pumping him up as before Adrian Beltre came to town.
13. Twins. Why: Just because, they’re the Twins. They’re always good enough, and even if they are going to go by (enter shiver down the spine here) bullpen-by-committee, you are left with the feeling that everything will work out just fine. I just don’t think they have as much overall talent as the Tigers, although the revamped middle of the infield (Orlando Hudson, J.J. Hardy) could offer a solid defensive anchor (albeit one with a healthy amount of offensive uncertainty). And what if Delmon Young finally busts out? Don’t count on it. What to watch: My feeling is that one of the relievers will emerge as the full-time closer, but the fact that they have to conduct this tryout-by-committee should raise some red flags.
14. Giants. Why: Did you know that Barry Zito’s ERA was 2.83 after the All-Star break last season? Couple that optimism with the top-of-the-rotation talent that comes with Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain and you have some serious potential. Like the Red Sox, they’re biggest concern revolves around their ability to slug with the NL elite. But unlike the Red Sox, the Giants don’t have the fail-safe of all-around run prevention, at least not as long as Edgar Renteria is playing shortstop. What to watch: How much of an impact prospects Buster Posey and Madison Bumgamer can have on San Francisco’s won-loss record in 2010.
15. White Sox. Why: I’m sorry, I’m just not sold. They have a chance to have one of baseball’s deepest pitching staffs, especially if the Jake Peavy gamble pays off, but the lack of shock-and-awe is a concern. A month from now we could be looking at the White Sox as one of the American League’s most talented teams, but there also are plenty of chances that may lead to just enough implosion to push them back into panic mode. And while many will be focusing on the big-money gambles general manager Kenny Williams took on Alex Rios and Peavy, the evolution of youngster Gordon Beckham could be what pushes Chicago to another level. What to watch: Just how much of an impact former game-changers Juan Pierre and J.J. Putz can make on the Sox’ lineup and bullpen, respectively.
16. Brewers. Why: Remember when I said the Dodgers looked to have the third-best 3-4 punch in the National League? Here is No. 2. Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder provide a great place to start when looking for optimism regarding the Brew Crew and ultimately will be what separates Milwaukee and its NL Central counterpart from Chicago. The rotation has the potential — repeat, potential — to be solid with Yovani Gallardo, Randy Wolf, Doug Davis, Dave Bush and Manny Parra — especially under the tutelage of new pitching coach Rick Peterson. But asking 42-year-old Trevor Hoffman to offer the kind of consistency he supplied in ’09 might be an unrealistic request. What to watch: It will be interesting to see if Milwaukee’s starters can hold down the fort long enough to give Doug Melvin a reason to pull off another C.C. Sabathia-esque acquisition.
17. Cubs. Why: They have talent, especially if Ted Lilly can stay healthy in the rotation’s No. 2 spot, but the lineup’s reliance on the likes of Marlon Byrd, Alfonso Soriano and Ryan Theriot — along with a somewhat questionable bullpen — presents the kind of doubt that seems to follow Chicago around. Bottom line: They’ve lost the benefit of the doubt. What to watch: If the back-end of the rotation leads to an ugly summer in Wrigley.
18. Mets. Why: No Jose Reyes or Carlos Beltran to start the season leaves the Mets with an uneasy feeling. But they will be back and most likely perform at a high level. The bigger issue for New York is a problem that may not correct itself — the starting pitching. I think the Mets will be better than a lot people believe, turning a blind eye toward what seems to be a disjointed roster and instead focusing on some pieces of high-level talent. What to watch: This I do know about this team — it will supply more drama than any other in the National League. The Mets could supply a great story with the roster coming together in an unexpected fashion, or the pitching could lead to a flurry of losses, followed by a another wave of firings.
19. Orioles. Why: I love the Kevin Millwood acquisition. If you’re going to try to nurture a group of young pitchers, Millwood is an excellent anchor. They have some scary bats in the form of Brian Roberts, Nick Markakis, Miguel Tejada, Matt Wieters and Nolan Reimold, with some solid complementary players sprinkled around the order. The rotation after Millwood is filled with the kind of question marks that come with youth, but this team will offer some scary moments for the American League’s bigwigs. What to watch: The velocity of closer Mike Gonzalez, whose fastball was one of the most talked-about items of spring training. Baltimore investments in the free agent market are few and far between, so when the O’s do dive in, they can’t miss.
20. Royals. Why: My sleeper pick! Why not? Zack Greinke and Gil Meche are a pretty solid 1-2, the middle of the order (David DeJesus, Billy Butler, Rick Ankiel) is intriguing, and they have a really good end of the bullpen thanks to Joakim Soria. If Kansas City could get former first-rounder Luke Hochevar to harness his stuff and enter into the rotation’s front end instead of back end, that would go a long way toward helping justify this faith in the Sons of Trey Hillman. Getting Alex Gordon back from a broken thumb and placing him back on the fast track to stardom also would serve KC well. What to watch: Butler’s emergence as one of the American League’s best all-around hitters.
21. Diamondbacks. Why: If Brandon Webb can get healthy, I’m giving these guys a substantial bump. That’s a big “if.” The lineup has a lot of potential, especially with the emergence of catcher Miguel Montero and the power of Mark Reynolds, but until a few of the participants emerge into lock-solid All-Stars, the next level will be a challenge to attain. It will be interesting to see how Edwin Jackson’s stuff translates into the National League, because if he does show the pre-All-Star break form of ’09 it could be a difference-maker for Arizona. What to watch: If onetime can’t-miss prospects Conor Jackson and Chris Young can get back on the path to stardom.
22. Reds. Why: Joey Votto and Jay Bruce are pretty good cornerstones, and the pitching promise of Johnny Cueto offers a bit more giddy-up than the sometimes solid, sometimes not duo of Bronson Arroyo and Aaron Harang. That’s the good news. Having to rely on some of the other pieces to the puzzle (Orlando Cabrera, Scott Rolen, Chris Dickerson, Homer Bailey) isn’t quite so assuring. Things could work out, but I don’t think they will. What to watch: Everybody is getting giddy about Cuban fireballer Aroldis Chapman. But remember, there was a reason he was projected to start in the minors. There still is work to be done.
23. Marlins. Why: They aren’t as talented as the Reds, but I’m still hesitant to put them behind Cincy just for the mere fact that Florida wins more than it should and Cincinnati doesn’t. Still, the “ifs” that are strewn throughout the final four spots of the Marlins rotation is dicey. What to watch: It will be interesting to see if Anibal Sanchez takes advantage of his next (and perhaps) last chance to be a healthy, productive part of the Florida rotation. So far this spring, signs have been encouraging for the former Red Sox farmhand.
24. Athletics. Why: This isn’t a terrible team, but the A’s do represent the epitome of a club that is in the throws of rebuilding. Even their No. 1 starter, Ben Sheets, is there seemingly for the purpose of performing well enough for half of a season to be dealt off for the kind of foundational talent that Oakland has already secured in the past few seasons. What to watch: Coco Crisp will be hitting in the spot in the order that is perhaps his best fit, the No. 2 hole. After surgeries on both shoulders last season, the former Red Sox center fielder insists he’s healthy and ready to show the April promise flashed both with the Sox and Royals.
25. Indians. Why: There is talent here, just not enough to rekindle their success from a few years back. The key to Cleveland’s success in the coming years will be whether or not the pieces the Indians got in return for the high-priced talent they couldn’t afford to keep (i.e., C.C. Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez) were the right ones to hang their hat on. Some of those youngsters, such as slugger Matt LaPorta and pitcher Justin Masterson, will get a chance to prove their worth in key roles this season. What to watch: Outfielder Shin-Soo Choo might be the best player in the American League fans haven’t truly locked their radar on when identifying the next generation of perennial All-Stars.
26. Astros. Why: New manager Brad Mills is in a good situation in the sense that nobody expects much from this club, as Houston has made the commitment to turn the whole thing over. You look at the rotation’s top three — Roy Oswalt, Wandy Rodriguez and Brett Myers — along with a middle of the order that includes Lance Berkman, Carlos Lee and Hunter Pence, and there is some hope that a .500 record might be within reach. But the reality is that unless the Astros shake their underachieving status of a year ago, there isn’t much support to go around that lineup. What to watch: It will be interesting to see if Brandon Lyon fairs better as a closer now he’s back in the National League.
27. Padres. Why: Other than Adrian Gonzalez, the offense is going to be largely punchless. But because they have Adrian Gonzalez — or the players he could potentially fetch in any trade — and some solid arms (Chris Young, Heath Bell) they beat out three other teams. Watch to watch: If there is any drop-off for Gonzalez at all with the hype — but not the lineup protection — surrounding him.
28. Pirates. Why: Having seen this team a few times in the spring, I do feel like they might overachieve for a while. There is some good, young talent in the form of Andrew McCutchen, Garrett Jones and Lastings Milledge. But none of them can be truly counted on, yet that’s exactly what Pittsburgh will have to do. What to watch: The arrival of Pedro Alvarez on the scene, perhaps leading to a trade of one of the players involved in the Manny Ramirez/Jason Bay trade, third baseman Andy LaRoche.
29. Blue Jays. Why: Didn’t it seem like yesterday the Jays were loaded with front-of-the-rotation pitching? Now they have to hope that Shaun Marcum can bounce back from injury, Ricky Romero will repeat his first half of a year ago, and … well, that’s about it. Travis Snider, Adam Lind and Aaron Hill will be exciting to follow, but that’s about it. What to watch: Waiting and wondering what will become of the players acquired for Roy Halladay will be a great subplot this season.
30. Nationals. Why: Stephen Strasburg isn’t here yet. What to watch: When Strasburg arrives.
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