Baseball Focus midseason awards: NL

By Seth Needle, Baseball Focus Staff Writer

The NL was full of first-half surprises and new heroes. Yearly MVP candidates such as Ryan Howard (injury) and Albert Pujols (new league) aren’t a factor this year and have cleared the way for exciting new talent. There have also been big-time disappointments that garnered our LVP awards. Read through the full list below and our AL awards here.

MVP – Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pittsburgh Pirates are your NL Central leaders heading into the All Star Break, 11 games over .500. The last time the team lead at the break? 1997. The last time they had won at least 11 more games than they’ve lost this late in a season? 1992. Along with a revitalized pitching staff, McCutchen is a major reason for this development. The slugging center fielder leads the majors in batting average at .362, leads the NL in slugging (.625), is second in hits (112), OPS (1.039), third in OBP (.441), RBI (60), and runs scored (58), and fourth in HR (18). The Pirates have scored 345 runs on the season – between McCutchen’s runs scored and driven in, he represents nearly 35 percent of this figure. His 14 stolen bases aren’t too shabby, either. Simply put, he’s been a wrecking ball offensively so far in the first half. Along with his lock-down defense in center, he has his perennial-cellar-dwelling team in first place and is the first-half MVP.

Runners up: Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds; Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers; David Wright, New York Mets

Cy Young – R.A. Dickey, New York Mets

This is a two-person race – and oh, how close it really is. R.A. Dickey, or Matt Cain? Dickey has a stellar 2.40 ERA, fourth-best in the NL. Cain is at 2.62. Dickey is second in the majors with a 0.93 WHIP – Cain isn’t far behind at 0.96. Dickey has 123 punch outs, Cain 118. Dickey has two shutouts, as does Cain. Dickey has logged 120 innings – Cain 120.1. Dickey pitched 32 2/3 straight scoreless innings and went 42 2/3 without giving up an earned run. Cain pitched quite possibly the greatest game ever, striking out 14 in a perfect game. Dickey spun back-to-back one-hitters. When it comes down to it, Dickey has a better record, going 12-1, to Cain’s 9-3 mark. Only two other pitchers have recorded a similar or better record discrepancy at the break – Ubaldo Jimenez went 15-1 in 2010 and Roger Clemens 12-1 in 2001. As we’ve seen in recent years, wins aren’t a necessity to win the award, but in a race this tight, that might be the only determining factor.

Runner up: Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants

Rookie of the Year – Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals

Maybe you’ve heard of Mr. Harper? Since coming up at the end of April, Harper has been a spark plug for the Nationals’ offense, hitting 27 extra-base hits, scoring 43 runs and swiping 10 bases. His .282 average, 25 RBIs and .826 OPS lead all rookies, with only Zack Cosart’s 9 HRs better than his eight. Meanwhile, Harper has at least six fewer ABs than any other eligible rookie at the break. His bat, speed and gritty in the field have been major contributors to his team recording the best NL record at the break, as well as their first place finish in the competitive NL East.

Runner up: Wade Miley, Arizona Diamondbacks

Manager of the Year – Davey Johnson, Washington Nationals

As I just explained, the Nationals have the best record in the NL – a full two games better than the Pittsburgh Pirates. Yeah, if you had that as a prediction at the break, raise your hand. Congrats. The Nationals have put together a special first half, boasting the league’s best rotation with an opportunistic offense. And Johnson has been the master behind it all, managing a number of young superstars – the Nationals are the third-youngest team in the majors with an average age of 27.4. The two teams younger than them? The Royals and Astros, currently 9.5 and 15.5 games back in their divisions, respectively. On top of this, Johnson has had to closely watch innings for his young staff – Strasburg especially. In addition to their age, the Nationals have survived long stretches without key components. All Star closer Drew Storen has yet to throw a pitch, slugger Michael Morse missed 50 games to begin the season, while Jayson Werth injured his wrist in early May and hasn’t played since. And yet, the Nationals still lead the NL pack.

Runner up: Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates; Terry Collins, New York Mets

Least Valuable Player (Hitter) – Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee Brewers

Entering this year, the Brewers knew they’d have trouble replacing Prince Fielder’s bat after he left for Detroit. Little did they know they’d have to replace their leadoff hitter’s as well. To put it plainly, Weeks has flat-out stunk so far in 2012. After posting a recent three-year average of .257, Weeks failed to break the Mendoza line in the team’s first 85 games. Weeks has had trouble getting on base (.314 OBP), stealing bases (6) and scoring runs (34). To compare his previous three seasons again, his averages for these categories were .352, 13 and 92, respectively. So basically, only his stolen base averages seem to be on par. Worse yet, though, Weeks leads the NL in strikeouts with 100, worse than Dan Uggla or Danny Espinosa. Weeks only struck out 107 times all year in 2011. Yikes.

Runners up: Cameron Maybin, San Diego Padres; Dan Uggla, Atlanta Braves

Least Valuable Player (Pitcher) – Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants

Yes, somehow the Giants could have the first-half Cy Young and the least valuable pitcher. What the heck has happened to Tim Lincecum (3-10)? Of NL pitchers that qualify, his 6.42 ERA is almost a half run worse than the next pitcher. Of his 18 starts, only four have been quality, while he’s failed to make it to 5 innings four times. In his final two starts of the half, he pitched 6.2 IP giving up 16 hits, 13 ER and striking out just 5. His velocity is down and his control is all over the place. “The Freak” has been just plain terrible so far in 2012, and if he doesn’t improve quickly, he may be looking a 20-loss season in the face.

Runner up: No one’s even close to Lincecum here.

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Baseball Focus midseason awards: AL

credit: DailyVideoPicks.com

By Pat Ouellette, Baseball Focus Staff Writer

The Baseball Focus first-half AL awards may not be exactly in line with what the experts think, but that’s the fun of it, right? Though the Angels haven’t been the wrecking crew we expected, they were prevalent in our award hand-outs. Check out the bests and worsts of the first half in the AL below and who took home awards in the NL here:

MVP – Robinson Cano, New York Yankees

Expecting Josh Hamilton here? For most of the first half, I was too. Texas had a monster first half and has a chance to win 100 games. It leads the league in runs, batting average, on-base percentage and is second (to the Yankees) in slugging. Hamilton’s the poster boy for the Rangers, and his 27 home runs and 75 RBI top the AL. He’s certainly a worthy candidate.

But Cano’s importance transcends the numbers. In addition to his 20 home runs, 51 RBI and .953 OPS, Cano is clearly the least replaceable player on the Yankees. After watching my beloved Red Sox get hammered by a Bronx Bombers squad this weekend that isn’t as powerful as it once was, Cano’s value became indisputable in my eyes. Yes, Curtis Granderson is still hitting home runs, but he has been a bit inconsistent and doesn’t quite strike fear into opponents the way Cano does. Then there’s Alex Rodriguez, who can still put a charge into one here and there, but is no longer the force he was pre-knee injury. Mark Teixeira is having a decent season power-wise, but is hitting only .250. Nick Swisher has been in a year-long funk. Cano remains the rock on the first-place Yankees and my pick for AL MVP so far in 2012.

Runners up: Hamilton; Jose Bautista, Blue Jays; Paul Konerko, White Sox

Cy Young – Jered Weaver

Numbers-wise, it’s a toss up between Weaver and Chris Sale (10-2, 2.19 ERA). What sets Weaver apart in my eyes was the way he carried an Angels team that underachieved for much of the first half. Before Los Angeles finally wised up and played Mark Trumbo every day, and Mike Trout took the AL by storm, the Angels’ offense struggled. Albert Pujols was fighting through a bad first half (.795 OPS), and Kendrys Morales wasn’t providing the needed punch for the Angels.

While C.J. Wilson (9-5, 2.43 ERA) has been a great No. 2, Dan Haren (4.86 ERA) hasn’t been himself and Ervin Santana (5.75 ERA) has been nothing short of brutal. Though he had a brief DL stint, Weaver proved his worth as the ace of the staff, recording a 10-1 record with a 1.96 ERA. Need consistency? Weaver has it in spades, allowing more than 2 earned runs only three times all season. It’s hard to imagine where the Angels would be without Weaver.

Runners up: Sale; Wilson; Felix Hernandez; Jake Peavy

Rookie of the Year – Trout

There have been a few debuts where the prospect has lived up to the hype, such as the vaunted and well-paid Yu Darvish or even Will Middlebrooks. None compare, however, to Trout’s impact since his debut. He has nearly single-handedly (along with Trumbo) pulled the Angels offense from its first-half doldrums and energized an older squad. Oh yeah, and his numbers aren’t too shabby: .341 batting average, 12 home runs, 41 RBI and 26 stolen bases. When we’re wrapping up our yearly awards, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Trout in the discussion for AL MVP.

Runners up: Darvish; Middlebrooks; Ryan Cook, A’s

Manager of the Year – Robin Ventura

The White Sox (47-38) didn’t light the world on fire in the first half, but based on expectations, Ventura should be proud of his team. They have a three-game lead in the AL Central and the rookie manager has held up well so far. He’s helped bring Adam Dunn back to life (25 home runs and 61 RBI) and his calming clubhouse presence has been a boon for Chicago, which badly needed stability after years of Ozzie Guillen’s rants and tantrums.

Runners up: Joe Maddon, Rays; Ron Washington, Rangers; Joe Girardi, Yankees

Least Valuable Player (Hitter) – Kurt Suzuki

Remember when Suzuki was a good player? He had back-to-back 70+ RBI seasons in 2009 and 2010 and was a solid player on a bad team. Now, he embodies the ineptitude of the A’s offense. In 232 at bats, he hasn’t homered, has driven in only 16 and sports a .506 OPS(!). And he’s walked a whopping nine times. So much for preaching patience, eh Billy Beane?

Runner up: Jamey Carroll, Twins

Least Valuable Player (Pitcher) – Nick Blackburn

Wow. An 8.10 ERA doesn’t even begin to tell the story for Blackburn. He’s given up less than 4 runs only twice all season and has allowed 90 hits in 63.1 innings. He’s walked 20 and struck out only 33. Want to hear something awful? Blackburn is making $4.75 million for these efforts and the Twins continue to throw him out there. Blackburn has made Jake Arrieta’s first half (6.13 ERA) look Cy Young-worthy.

Runners up: Arrieta; Clay Buchholz, Red Sox

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AL All-Star team breakdown

credit: ClevieWonder.Blogspot.com

By Pat Ouellette, Baseball Focus Staff Writer

In some instances, such as the indomitable Robinson Cano’s selection, AL fans got the All-Star starters right. But in others, they really dropped the ball and picked the wrong man. They got a bit too Yankee-happy, though with good reason considering New York’s stellar first half, and picked some big names over big seasons. Check out how different the Baseball Focus All-Star team would look.

Read Baseball Focus’s take on the NL All-Stars here.

CATCHER

Who made it: Mike NapoliThis is more of a reward for his amazing second half last season. As great as Texas has been in 2012, Napoli is batting a paltry .235 and sports only a .335 OBP.

Who should have made it: AJ Pierzynski or Joe MauerI wouldn’t have argued if Mauer (.324 average and .414 OBP) was chosen as the AL catcher. Mauer still hasn’t regained the power that he displayed during his 2009 MVP season, but that shouldn’t keep him off the roster in what’s been a relatively weak year for AL catchers. While Pierzynski (.285, 14 home runs and 45 RBI) will never be a sexy choice – and he’s made his fair share of enemies during his career – he would’ve been a worthy selection. He’s been a big part of Chicago’s solid first half, and has been more important to his team than either Napoli or Matt Wieters, who was picked as a bench player.

FIRST BASE

Who made it: Prince FielderFielder hasn’t had a poor season with 12 home runs, 53 RBI and an .860 OPS – he just hasn’t been his usual dominant self during what’s been a rough first half for Detroit.

Who should have made it: Paul KonerkoDespite fewer RBI, Konerko has been much more consistent than Fielder. He’s batting .335, has a sterling .962 OPS and has served as the calm leader for the White Sox, who have a rookie manager in Robin Ventura and a number of young players on the roster. He ended up us a reserve, but deserved to start the contest.

SECOND BASE

Who made it: Robinson CanoWe may as well pencil Cano into this slot for years to come, because he’s not going anywhere.

Who should have made it: CanoConsidering he’s been around since 2005, it’s hard to believe this is only Cano’s third All-Star game. Even Boston fans who adore Dustin Pedroia have to admire Cano’s supreme talent and recognize that the gap is widening between him and every other second baseman. His sweet swing has produced a .313 average with 20 home runs, 47 RBI and .962 OPS so far, numbers a first baseman would be proud of.

THIRD BASE

Who made it: Adrian BeltreBeltre continues to prove naysayers, who claim he’s a contract-year player, wrong with another very good year in Texas. The thing is, Miggy Cabrera has been better.

Who should have made it: Miguel CabreraMiguel Cabrera has been great with the bat (.319, 16, 65) but his defense at third base has gone largely unnoticed, committing only eight errors. Many projected him to be a disaster at the hot corner, but he’s been solid there so far in 2012. Beltre carried the Rangers in June, and with his first-half stats, .323 with 14 home runs and 52 RBI, there are certainly less worthy starters. Cabrera should be starting, though.

SHORTSTOP

Who made it: Derek JeterJeter’s had a pretty good year in 2012 and you knew if it was even close, the fans would have him start.

Who should have made it: Asdrubal CabreraCabrera has more than 100 points on Jeter in OPS (.862 to .752) and it’s not like he’s come out of nowhere. The Cleveland shortstop slammed 25 home runs and knocked in 92 last year. Again, not a shock that Jeter was selected to start and Cabrera earned a bench spot. In a perfect world, however, he’d be the AL starting shortstop.

OUTFIELD

Who made it: Josh Hamilton, Jose Bautista and Curtis Granderson

Who should have made it: Hamilton, Bautista, Mark Trumbo

Like Cano, Hamilton’s name should already be filled in on ballot cards for the next few years. Though the MVP favorite has slowed down a bit lately, his numbers are still outrageous. He owns a .314 average, 25 home runs, 73 RBI and 1.023 OPS, even after a long June slump. Hamilton really is the face of the All-Star game and fans made sure that the closest thing we’ll see to Mickey Mantle is in center field in Kansas City on June 10.

Bautista leads the MLB in home runs with 27 and “Joey Bats” has become a favorite. He just completed one of the best months of his career, hitting 14 home runs and driving in 30 in June. Despite a disappointing .243 average, Bautista keeps knocking them out and loves to show off his cannon arm in right. His starting job is well deserved.

Where the fans went wrong was the AL’s third outfielder. In about 40 less at bats, Trumbo has more RBI and only three fewer home runs than Granderson (23 homers). Building on a strong rookie campaign, he has forced his way into a starting role for the Angels, and his .973 OPS is second among AL outfielders (compared to .848 for Granderson). With 9 home runs and 27 RBI in June and one dinger already in July, it looks like Trumbo is just getting started.

DH

Who made it: David OrtizOrtiz has made quite the comeback over the past two seasons and the fans have noticed the strong rebound.

Who should have made it: OrtizWhen you consider how good Edwin Encarnacion (.292, 22, 55) and Adam Dunn (24 home runs and 58 RBI) have been, you realize how great Ortiz has been so far. He’s batting .302 with 21 homers and 54 RBI, but he’s striking out much less than he has the past few years (43 strikeouts to 43 walks) and has carried the Sox at times this year. Simply put, without him, Boston is much further out of the AL East race than it is at the moment (6.5 games). Whether it’s from the Sox or another team, Ortiz will get the multi-year extension he seeks this winter.

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NL All-Star team breakdown

credit: dirtyfantasybaseball.com

By Seth Needle, Baseball Focus Staff Writer

The National League All Star Team was announced this past weekend and feels very West Coast biased. Somehow the San Francisco Giants have three starters. Sure the team has been incredibly hot as of late, winning eight of their last 13, including four-straight shutouts at one point. But having three starters (possibly four if Matt Cain is given the ball)? Other than first timers Buster Posey and Melky Cabrera, the rest of the starting lineup has been here before – Carlos Beltran leading the way with seven selections. Let’s take a look at who was voted in, and who deserved to start the Midsummer Classic.

See how the fans did with the AL starters here.

CATCHER

Who was voted in: Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants

Who should have been voted in: Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia Phillies

Buster Posey is going to be starting a lot of these games going forward, and yes, he has the stats that would normally earn him this nod (.303 /.370 /.480 along with 10 HR and 42 RBI), but Carlos Ruiz is putting up a monster first half. Entering play Monday night, “Chooch” lead the majors in batting average (.356), was fifth in OPS (1.000) and third in OBP (.420). Ruiz has been one of the few bright spots on a horrid Phillies team thus far in 2012, and simply put, is a lot more deserved to be starting the game than Posey.

FIRST BASE

Who was voted in: Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds

Who should have been voted in: Votto

The fans got this one right. After signing a massive $250m+ contract in the off season, Votto entered 2012 with bullet on him to prove he’s worth the huge investment from a mid-market team. All he’s done since Opening Day is lead the majors in OBP (.471), OPS (1.103) and doubles (33), while having the second-most walks (60), second-best slugging percentage (.632) and fifth-best average (.350). His Reds are first in the NL Central and he’s an enormous reason why, playing above average first base as well. While his power seems to have slowed recently (14 HR), he’s on pace to shatter his previous best in doubles (40), and his peripherals are way ahead of those he recorded during his MVP campaign in 2010.

SECOND BASE

Who was voted in: Dan Uggla, Atlanta Braves

Who should have been voted in: Aaron Hill, Arizona Diamondbacks

The starter at second base is a tougher call – though any discussion should definitely not include Dan Uggla. Uggla has struggled mightily so far in 2012, recording the second-most strikeouts in the NL, while slugging only .410, which is where his worth is at. Instead, the race for starting gig at second is almost a virtual tie between Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros (.308/.350/.450) and Aaron Hill (.300/.360/.512). Altuve has been the sparkplug the Astros have sorely needed – scoring 45 runs, recording 89 hits and swiping 12 bases from the leadoff spot. However, Hill has had a historic first half. Recently, he completed his second cycle of the season (only the second player in the modern era to do so). Hill has slugged to the tune of .512 so far in 2012, with a .872 OPS. His 11 HR are most among NL 2B, and his .300 average is second only to Altuve. Hill, while normally inconsistent, was the best second baseman in the NL to begin 2012.

THIRD BASE

Who was voted in: Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants

Who should have been voted in: David Wright, New York Mets

The fans nearly got this one (W)right. Wright had been leading the race to start the game for weeks before San Francisco fans made up a 450,000 vote discrepancy in the final week to give Kung Fu Panda the nod. In a normal half season, Sandoval would be a fine choice – however, the Panda was sidelined for more than a month with a fractured hamate bone. Wright, meanwhile, continued playing at an elite level. Wright’s .354 average is tied for second-best in the majors, while his 1.006 OPS is fourth-best across both leagues. He leads all NL third basemen in average, OBP, slugging, OPS, hits, doubles, RBI and walks. Sandoval’s stats (.300/.362/.471) are nothing to sneeze at, but Wright has better numbers over more games. He should be starting in Kansas City.

SHORTSTOP

Who was voted in: Rafael Furcal, St. Louis Cardinals

Who should have been voted in: Ian Desmond, Washington Nationals

The battle for starting shortstop in the NL is a difficult one. While no one player owned the field, like Votto or Wright, Desmond was just a cut above. Furcal is simply a recognizable fan favorite, there’s really few other reasons he should be going to Kansas City at all – let alone starting. Desmond has contributed to lead the surprising Nationals to a first-place division finish at the All-Star break, hitting .276 with 13 HR, 43 RBI and 24 doubles. His RBI and doubles totals lead all NL second basemen, while his 89 hits are second only to Starlin Castro. Castro (.292/.315/.422) could have made a case here, but his inconsistent – and sometimes just lazy – play have made him seem more of a liability than budding superstar for the last-place Cubs.

OUTFIELD

Who was voted in: Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers; Carlos Beltran, St. Louis Cardinals; Melky Cabrera, San Francisco Giants

Who should have been voted in: Beltran; Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies; Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers

Carlos Beltran is the easy pick here – he’s enjoying a small revival in St. Louis, following in the wake of Albert Pujols’ departure. Beltran (.309/.396/.574), now 35, leads all NL OF in RBI (63), is second in HR (20), seventh in average, fourth in OPS (.969) and second in walks (41). His spot is deserved.

Melky Cabrera was another last-second vote in, thanks to the voraciousness of the Giants fan base. However, he is hardly undeserving, leading the majors in hits (111) and is fourth in BA (.352). Furthermore, he’s been able to translate these hits into putting runs on the board, plating 39 runs, while scoring 53 of his own (T-3 among NL OF) and swiping 10 bases (T-13).  Kemp (who won’t play) would easily have been one of the justified picks here after lighting the baseball world on fire in April (.417/.490/.893) with 12 HR and 25 RBI, but a bum hamstring has sidelined him pretty much since the beginning of May. A fan favorite pick here for sure, it’s too bad to see Kemp’s season derailed.

As for those most deserving, Carlos Gonzalez and Ryan Braun have been men amongst boys in the National League. Gonzalez’ .338 average is third among NL OF, while Braun’s .310 is sixth. CarGo (.338/.397/.603) will surpass 100 hits to go along with 60+ runs, and 10 SB at the break. Braun’s season has been just as impressive, especially considering his turmoil-ridden offseason and the loss of protection in the lineup when Prince Fielder left for Detroit. Braun has responded with a .310/.391/.601 line with 22 HR (first among NL OF), 55 RBI (tied for third) and 13 SB (12th). CarGo’s 1.000 OPS trails only Andrew McCutchen’s 1.007, and Braun’s .993 mark is good for third. Both players’ teams are vastly underperforming on the season and both are doing it without protection (Troy Tulowitzki has been lost for most of the season with a sports hernia). The NL has a number of very deserving OF enjoying great starts, but Beltran, Gonzalez and Braun should be the picks.

PITCHER

Who should start: R.A. Dickey, New York Mets

While no starter has been announced as of yet, R.A. Dickey HAS to be the choice here. Dickey leads the majors with 12 wins, has a miniscule 0.88 WHIP and 2.15 ERA. He recorded a skein of 44 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run, the longest since Orel Hershiser’s historic run. Dickey has made the Mets, who many believed would be a last-place team, relevant – at least to this point. Matt Cain would also be a fine choice (9-3, 0.95 WHIP, 2.53 ERA), especially considering his utterly dominant perfect game. But still, Dickey should be in line to start for the NL.

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MLB Power Rankings: July 2, 2012

credit: SBNation.com

By Baseball Focus Staff

The scorching Rangers stay on top for a second week, again the unanimous selection among the Baseball Focus staff. The Yankees, however, are closing in fast.

Top 10 (Overall record, Last 10)

1) Texas Rangers (50-30, 7-3) - Just in case there was any doubt as to who the best team in baseball is, Texas has gone a blistering 18-3 since June 8. You hear all about Josh Hamilton’s great season so far, but Adrian Beltre (.343, 4 home runs and 18 RBI in June) has been at the heart of the Rangers’ hot streak. (PO)

2) New York Yankees (48-30, 7-3) – New York took a hit to its rotation this past week when CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte both headed to the DL. While CC’s stint is likely more precautionary, Pettitte’s is expected to last well into August. The Yankees have suffered from injuries this past season as much as any other team, losing the likes of a starting OF (Gardner), their closer (Rivera), a top-to-middle-of-rotation arm (Pineda), and other valuable pieces . That being said, the Yanks find themselves just 2 games back of the Rangers for the MLB’s best record, and with a nice little 6-game cushion atop the AL East. A 7 game upcoming road trip through Tampa and Boston could propel the Yanks to perhaps an insurmountable division lead or bring them back to the pack. (RB)

3) Washington Nationals (45-32, 5-5) – We can ooh and aah over the Nationals’ pitching gawdy-ness all we want – but more needs to be made of their offense’s mediocre start. Sure, we know all about Bryce Harper, but, on the whole, the team’s hitters have been consistently middle of the pack. They’re 22nd in runs scored (316), 20th in batting average (.248), 22nd in on base percentage (.312) and 14th in slugging (.407). If the team has plans for deep into October, they need to be more selective at the plate. (SN)

4) San Francisco Giants (45-35, 7-3) – The Giants have certainly taken advantage of the Dodgers’ disastrous latter half of June. While Los Angeles has gone 2-8 over its past 10 games, San Francisco is 7-3. Melky Cabrera, Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey have all been raking for a team that, despite Tim Lincecum’s struggles, has a collective 3.37 ERA. With that said, adding a little punch to this lineup at the trade deadline could go a long way toward winning the West.

5) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (44-35, 7-3) – It’s tough to imagine how deep a hole the talented Angels we’re in to start the season, but they appear to have righted the ship. With 15 wins in their last 20, the Halos have closed the gap on the Rangers to just 5 games. The Angels pitching staff is so well rounded that each of their top 3 leads the team in major categories – Weaver in ERA (2.31), Haren in SO (81) and Wilson in wins (9). (RB)

6) Chicago White Sox (42-37, 6-4) – One of the surprise division leaders heading into the All Star break, the White Sox will be tested immediately after, going on the road for 16 of their first 19 games in the second half. Furthermore, 10 of those games are against the Red Sox, Tigers and Rangers. We’ll get a great look at this team’s makeup through that stretch. (SN)

7) Los Angeles Dodgers (44-36, 2-8) - The Dodgers rank 24th in the majors in runs scored, but had been embarrassingly anemic before last night’s eight-run outburst. Between June 23-29, L.A. scored six runs in seven games and in the process lost its NL West lead to the Giants. That type of poor offense makes you wonder why the Dodgers didn’t make a harder push to get Kevin Youkilis on the cheap.

8) New York Mets (43-37, 5-5) – The Mets are perhaps baseball’s most overachieving team at the midway point of the season. New York has generated 53 quality starts from their staff this season in 80 total games played, which ranks best in the majors.  David Wright seems to have fully recovered from concussion issues that slowed him down the last two years, and is on pace for career numbers in BA, OPS, and RBI. Furthermore, the Mets are coming off a 3-game sweep of the Dodgers in LA, where they allowed just 2 runs in the entire series. Two runs! (RB)

9) Cincinnati Reds (43-35, 5-5) – Tell me again why Johnny Cueto ISN’T on the NL All Star Team? All he’s done is compile a 9-4 record, alongside a 2.26 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 79 Ks in 107.2 innings pitched for the first-place Reds. His nine wins are T-6 in the NL, his ERA fourth and his IP 7th. Apparently Tony LaRussa really does have something against his former division rival. (SN)

10) Pittsburgh Pirates (42-36, 6-4) - Tell me if you’ve heard this before about an NL team: Led by James McDonald and A.J. Burnett, the Pirates can pitch but have a lot of trouble at the plate. Once you get past Andrew McCutchen (.993 OPS), the lineup thins out and Pittsburgh is going to have another second-half slide if it continues to not score runs (27th) and not get on base (dead last with a .294 OBP).

(Also receiving votes: Red Sox, Orioles)

Bottom Five (Overall record, Last 10)

26) Seattle Mariners (34-47, 4-6) – Seattle continues to struggle offensively with a team BA of .233 which is 3rd worst in all of baseball. Producing runs is also a difficulty for a team that has scored more than 6 runs in a game just twice since June 8th. With a team payroll of around $85 million and a starter in Felix Hernandez due more than $19m+ in each of the next two seasons, nearly a 1/4 of the team’s whole payroll, perhaps the time to move on from King Felix is now. Certainly the M’s can lose 90 games without Hernandez and save the $50 million+ due. Might a package centered around Jacoby Ellsbury be a good fit to replace the aging and likely departing Ichiro? Although Ellsbury is under control for just one season past 2011, the M’s are likely to command a player which they would control for a longer period of time. (RB)

27) Houston Astros (32-47, 4-6) – Getting swept by the Cubs this past weekend stings. Badly. The team only scored 2 runs in the 3-game sweep, being thorough dominated by Paul Maholm and Travis Wood. Attempting to trade Carlos Lee is a step in the right direction, as is locking their up-the-middle combo of Jed Lowrie and Jose Altuve. Trading Wandy Rodriguez before the deadline is probably their next-best move. (SN)

28) Colorado Rockies (30-48, 4-6) - Switching between a four and seven-man rotation is never a recipe for success, especially when your team owns a 5.37 ERA and needs stability. As Mile High fans are so used to by now, the Rockies can at least hit well; they rank third in batting average (.270) and slugging (.451).

29) San Diego Padres (30-50, 6-4) – If it wasn’t for Chase Headley, there would likely be no reason to even watch the Padres. Headley is tops on the team in BA, HR, RBI, RS, and OPS, but isn’t helping an offensively challenged team that is 30th in RS.  Twenty-three-year-old rookie catcher Yasmani Grandal hit a pair of home runs — one from each side of the plate — for his first two major-league hits in a recent 8-4 win of the Rockies. So, there’s that. (RB)

30) Chicago Cubs (29-49, 5-5) – The Cubs need to find ways to score runs. They’re currently 29th in the majors with 286 runs scored, but Alfonso Soriano and Starlin Castro’s RBIs combined represent one third of this total. Add in Bryan LaHair and the portion is closer to 40%. With Anthony Rizzo now up, perhaps the offense will start to produce more, but they still need more punch. (SN)

(Also receiving votes: Phillies)

Compiled by Seth Needle, Pat Ouellette, Roei Biberstain, Ben Lynch and Max Leonard

MLB trade deadline fodder: Who to watch

credit: USA Today

By Pat Ouellette, Baseball Focus Staff Writer

MLB trade deadline discussion is beginning to intensify and it’s never too early to take a look at who is most likely to be traded before July 31. Baseball’s second Wild Card spot will add a wrinkle to the usual split between the “haves” and “have-nots” when it comes to buyers and sellers. Some teams are already sellers (Cubs), some will likely be buyers (Dodgers) and a few are stuck in between (Red Sox).

However, this list isn’t about where these teams are right now. There aren’t many playoff spots that look like they’re decided (with the possible exception of the Yankees). It’s where they’ll be about a month from now and whether they think they have a shot to get into the postseason. Remember, neither the Giants nor the Cardinals were exactly World Series favorites in 2010 or 2011, respectively.

Here are five of the most intriguing, potentially available 2012 free agents:

Zack Greinke (unrestricted free agent) – FoxSports’ Ken Rosenthal reported yesterday that the Brewers are resigned to the idea that Greinke will be dealt. While he has top-flight numbers (8-2, 2.81 ERA), Greinke hasn’t proven much beyond being a 15-game winner and No. 2 or 3 starter on a good team. Most big markets wouldn’t trust him to be their ace because of his past issues with anxiety. How much a team is willing to part with for him is probably the trade deadline’s biggest question at the moment.

James Shields (team option) – The Rays (40-34, third in the AL East) have a $9 million option on Shields, and where they are in the division or Wild Card races shouldn’t have too much of an impact on whether he’s sent packing. In the instance a team is offering a huge bounty (think what the A’s got for Gio Gonzalez), the Rays has shown throughout the years that they would be tempted to take the deal. Even at the cost of a very good No. 2 pitcher, bringing in young, controllable players is a top priority in Tampa. Unlike Greinke, Shields is battle tested in the AL East and has pitched in the postseason three times.

Cole Hamels (unrestricted free agent) – The Phillies have underperformed so far in 2012, but Chase Utley is close to returning to the Philadelphia lineup and Ryan Howard isn’t far behind. How much of an impact those two have on the Phillies is the variable here because Hamels is undoubtedly the most polished pitcher on the market. If Howard’s Achilles hasn’t healed, Utley is the same banged-up shadow of himself that he’s been the past few years and Philadelphia (36-40) is still well below .500, this could get interesting. When considering Matt Cain’s huge contract, what to do with Hamels (10-3, 3.03 ERA and 106 strikeouts) come July becomes that much harder to decide for the Phillies.

B.J. Upton (unrestricted free agent) – Surprise, another Ray on this list! Upton is well past living up to the seemingly limitless potential many saw in him 4-5 years ago, but he remains a great outfielder and base runner who can contribute at the plate. Keeping in mind that Upton is right next to Rajon Rondo in popularity of trade discussion, the Rays wouldn’t necessarily need a lot in return for a player who likely won’t back in 2013. His best fit would be a contender with a good lineup (where he wouldn’t be the focus) and that is in need of another piece.

Jose Valverde (unrestricted free agent)The Tigers (36-38) have fell far short of expectations so far and it looks like they will have an easier time winning the soft AL Central than claiming either Wild Card spot. Valverde has had his own problems, sporting a 4.03 ERA and three blown saves already this year after a perfect 2012. If the team is still scuffling come late July, GMs could target the free-agent-to-be. With Joaquin Benoit and Octavio Dotel at the end of the bullpen, the Tigers have arms in waiting if they get a solid offer for their closer.

 

Follow Pat Ouellette and Baseball Focus on Twitter.

MLB Power Rankings: June 25, 2012

credit: Star-Telegram.com

By Baseball Focus Staff

With the first unanimous selection this year among the BF crew, the Rangers have regained the top spot after a three-week hiatus.

Top 10 (Overall record, Last 10)

1) Texas Rangers (45-28, 8-2) – As if baseball’s deepest team needed any reinforcements, last week featured the arrival of Roy Oswalt, who showed no rust from his hiatus, going 7 strong in his first start of the season. Interleague treated the Rangers well, as they finished a 15-game stretch vs. NL opponents at 12-3. Offensively, the Rangers are tops in baseball in the four major hitting categories (RS, BA, OBP, SLG).  (RB)

2) New York Yankees (43-28, 7-3) – Though he sports only 6-7 record, the Yankees have to be pleased with Hiroki Kuroda’s consistency. The right-hander has allowed more than four runs only twice all season and more than three a mere four times. (PO)

3) Los Angeles Dodgers (43-30, 3-7) – The Dodgers endured an embarrassing sweep at the hands of the lowly Oakland A’s – a series in which they scored only 2 total runs – en route to a 1-5 AL road trip. Whereas any normal team’s hitting would improve with the addition of a DH, Dodgers DHs are actually hitting .050 points lower than their pitchers have on the year. Added fun fact:  In the month of June, superstar sluggers Trevor Plouffe and Brandon Moss have more home runs than the ENTIRE LA lineup. Even a broken and hobbled Matt Kemp would be an improvement at this point. (ML)

4) Washington Nationals (41-29, 4-6) – Through 14 starts, Stephen Strasburg has pitched 84 innings, just about half of the inning count the team reportedly wants to hold him to. With the Nats leading the NL East, does the team keep these plans. Furthermore, do they allow Strasburg to pitch in the All-Star Game? Does his appearance count against the yearly inning total? (SN)

5) Cincinnati Reds (39-32, 5-5) – Joey Votto is a man amongst boys. The NL MVP candidate is hitting .359 and has driven in as many runs as he has scored, 47. The Reds continue to surprise with a pitching staff comprised of relative no names, holding a 3.57 staff ERA, good for 8th in the majors. We should know a bit more about this Reds team in 10 days or so after a make-or-break West Coast trip that includes sets against NL West powers – the Giants and the Dodgers. (RB)

6) San Francisco Giants (40-33, 4-6) – Somehow, the Giants have survived the inexplicably lousy start of Tim Lincecum (2-8, 6.07 ERA), and are now making moves on first in the West behind tremendous pitching and a steady, albeit thoroughly unspectacular lineup.  They have the goods to make the playoffs, but if they want another ring, they will need their ace back.  Who out there would trust the likes of Barry Zito or Ryan Vogelsong in a clutch playoff game? (ML)

7) Baltimore Orioles (41-31, 5-5) – Losing Nolan Reimold for the season (neck) isn’t a surprise considering he’s had nerve issues for months. But that doesn’t make it less painful for a Baltimore offense that, beyond Adam Jones, has struggled mightily of late. (PO)

8) Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim (40-33, 7-3) – Did anyone forecasting AL ROY before the season list any player but Yu Darvish? We’re all going to be wrong – Mike Trout might have already locked up locked the award. He leads all qualifying rookies in BA, OBP, Slugging, OPS, steals, hits, walks and Ks. His .338 average is also good for second in the AL, while his 21 swipes lead the league. (SN)

9) Tampa Bay Rays (40-32, 5-5) – Tampa is staying in the AL East race with great starting pitching, as its 3.50 ERA is fourth in baseball and .235 batting average against is third. With Jeremy Hellickson (shoulder soreness) being replaced by prospect flameout Chris Archer, the Rays’ offense (.696 OPS) need to pick up the slack. (PO)

10) Chicago White Sox (38-34, 4-6) – Anyone else want to see Kevin Youkilis vs. A.J. Pierzynski fist-fight? In all seriousness, bringing Youkilis aboard for peanuts was a great, low-risk move for a team that had a great late-May run but has started to come back to earth of late. Youkilis’s best days are likely behind him, but he’ll get enough at bats to help Chicago.

(Also receiving votes: Mets, Indians)

Bottom Five (Overall record, Last 10)

26) Houston Astros (30-42, 4-6) – One would think a 5.80 June ERA would absolutely bury a team who had previously been pitching to a figure well under 4.00 for the previous two months.  However, the Astros have proved that is not the case, and that they are just as proficient at losing, regardless of how their pitching staff has been doing. Dallas Keuchel, that killer 1.29 start to your career may be impressive, but don’t expect that to translate to too many wins. (ML)

27) Minnesota Twins (29-42, 4-6) – Trevor Plouffe, are you kidding me? After hitting 10 HRs so far in June, he’s now tied with Miguel Cabrera with 15, more than Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, Nelson Cruz, Carlos Pena and Adrian Gonzalez. Even more astonishing, Plouffe had only 10 career dingers entering 2012. He’s certainly one of the few bright spots for the Twins so far this season. (SN)

28) Colorado Rockies (27-44, 3-7) – For a team that’s dead-last in their division and only 2.5 games clear of the worst record in the majors, the Rockies are third overall in slugging (.450), fourth in runs scored (355) and batting average (.267), and seventh in OBP (.330). All of this without Troy Tulowitzki, who’s done until at least August, if not for the season. (SN)

29) San Diego Padres (26-47, 4-6) – It really is getting harder by the day to recognize this roster. Despite being a small sample size, Jason Marquis’s 26 strikeouts and 2.05 ERA in 26 innings and is a bright spot on an otherwise-dismal squad. (PO)

30) Chicago Cubs (24-48, 3-7) – Aside from bringing up Anthony Rizzo today, not much positive can be said about these Cubs. A mere 10 road wins to this point in the season, the second-fewest total in baseball, won’t get it done. With an added Wild Card slot for the upcoming postseason, more teams find themselves in the mix and declining to move assists, rather looking to bring them in. The Cubs have positioned themselves to be in a good spot with Matt Garza being perhaps baseball’s top available starter and Reed Johnson, being perhaps one of the top utility OF’s on the market. (RB)

(Also receiving votes: Mariners)

Compiled by Seth Needle, Pat Ouellette, Roei Biberstain, Ben Lynch and Max Leonard

Are the Nationals becoming America’s team?

credit: ExpressNightOut.com

By Pat Ouellette, Baseball Focus Staff Writer

The comparison has likely been made before and will again. In many respects, the Washington Nationals are the Oklahoma City Thunder of baseball.

Though each have had great seasons to this point, both are struggling through the middle of June. The Nats (39-27) have lost four of five and the Thunder find themselves a 3-1 hole in the NBA Finals heading into Game 5 tonight. But that shouldn’t stop us from observing their similarities and how each could be among their respective sports’ most popular teams for the next 10 years.

Were the Nationals relocated within the past 10 years? Yup.

Does Washington possess some of baseball’s top young talent? Check.

Have they drafted well and been generally smart about veteran acquisition? You bet.

Chicks dig the K
Just as how the Thunder’s trio of Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden has fit into the new wave of NBA culture, the Nationals have evolved into a dominant force in the steroid-less era because of pitching. As Jayson Stark wrote about last week, baseball has quickly reverted back into a pitcher’s game. As a baseball purist, it’s hard not to love a dominant pitching staff. Coincidentally, the Nats happen to feature one of the game’s deepest rotations in the MLB.

Let’s start with Stephen Strasburg. The young flame-thrower has finally shown us what he can do when healthy: 9-1, 2.46 ERA and 110 strikeouts in 84 innings. The thing is, the numbers really don’t tell the story. Just like Justin Verlander now and Pedro Martinez before him, Strasburg is always must-see TV. Trying to grab a drink in between innings? Better make sure you’re back soon, or you could miss his mind-bending curve or 100-MPH fastball. How the Nationals handle his “innings limit” during a pennant race should be interesting.

Washington gave up a good chunk of the farm – catcher Derek Norris, right-handers A.J. Cole and Brad Peacock, and left-hander Tommy Milone – to bring Gio Gonzalez in and he’s delivered. With a 8-3 record, 2.52 ERA and 97 strikeouts in 78 innings, on most other staffs he’d be the ace. But for the Nationals, he’s the perfect No. 2 and has thrived in D.C. Throw in underrated hurlers Jordan Zimmerman (2.92 ERA) and Edwin Jackson (3.02 ERA) behind him, and you have a rotation that’s perfectly in-sync with the MLB’s new pitching-first mentality.

Bryce Harper and Westbrook: Twins
Once you put aside the hype and No. 1 pick status, Harper is a dead-ringer for Russell Westbrook. Harper has loads of talent and there’s nothing he can’t do on the diamond. But questions remain about his makeup and how he relates to teammates and opponents. Many reporters have said that Harper’s teammates love him for his aggressiveness and passion for the game. The problem is that patience for breaking bats after strikeouts can wear thin after a while (read: Youkilis, Kevin). Sure, he’s 19 and has time to mature, but he has a great deal of entitlement, a trait shared by Westbrook (as seen during on-court arguments with Durant). Despite a strong showing at the major league level so far for Harper (7 home runs, .886 OPS in 175 at bats), it’s hard to not expect the other shoe to drop. This is pure speculation, but could he eventually grow tired of all the attention garnered by the pitching staff? We’ll see.

Ryan Zimmerman’s long journey
Like Kevin Durant with the Thunder, Ryan Zimmerman has been there with the Nationals from the beginning. Durant helplessly suffered through 20- and 23-win seasons during his first two years in the NBA, and now is enjoying the fruits of sticking around. Zimmerman is among the game’s best all-around players and, until recent health issues derailed him, was the face of the Nationals. He’s seen back-to-back 100-loss seasons, but made it through the tough times and is now on a potentially-great team. Similar to Carl Crawford under-performing during Tampa Bay’s breakout 2008 season, it’s almost not fair that Zimmerman is grinding out 2012.

Bringing in winning veterans
OK, so Jayson Werth’s contract is a punch line at this point and he’s currently on the DL. He did prove in Philadelphia, however, that he can be an important piece for a title-winning squad. We’ll see if he’ll actually contribute, but luckily for both him and the Nats, they’re not counting on him to be the central figure in their championship pursuit. Similarly, the Thunder traded a pretty good player in Jeff Green for Kendrick Perkins, who’s by no means a great player, but someone who fits perfectly in the Oklahoma City scheme because he doesn’t need the ball. Add in getting Edwin Jackson and Adam LaRoche, the team’s leading hitter to this point, and the Nats have solid track record of bringing in capable veterans.

The Nationals currently hold a three-game lead over the Mets in the NL Central, but how the rest of the season shakes out should be interesting. Even if Washington is only able to grab one of the two Wild Card spots, no one will want to face them come October. Considering how the Giants and Cardinals came out of virtually nowhere the past two years to win the World Series, they have a shot to capture the nation’s attention in the playoffs. Just as they’re saying in Oklahoma City, if this isn’t the year for this young group, there will be plenty of title opportunities in D.C.

Follow Pat Ouellette and Baseball Focus on Twitter.

MLB Power Rankings: June 19, 2012

Photo Credit: ESPN

By Baseball Focus Staff

Despite the surging Yankees, the Dodgers hold on to the League’s top spot for the second-consecutive week.

Top 10 (Overall record, Last 10)

1) Los Angeles Dodgers (42-25, 6-4)-  Five of their six losses in the month of June have been one run games, five in which they scored 3 runs or less, two of which they lost in the ninth and one in which they were no-hit.  Their starting pitching has been dominant enough to keep them atop the majors, but it’s hard not to think of what could be if their bats were plating more than 4.2 runs game this month. (ML)

2) New York Yankees (41-25, 10-0) – 10 wins in a row, and 14 of 16 overall (before last night’s game). Ivan Nova has solidified the top of the rotation with a team leading 9 wins. Curtis Granderson is on pace for 45 home runs and a +56 run differential is second only to the Rangers in all of baseball. Robertson’s return from the DL this week adds another quality arm to an already strong bullpen even without the services of Mo Rivera. With the financial flexibility to pick up a power hitting corner outfielder, things are certainly heating up in the Bronx. Carlos Gonzalez is a guy to keep an eye on.  (RB)

3) Texas Rangers (41-27, 8-2) – The Rangers’ staff isn’t just good, it’s exceedingly confident.  Scott Feldman has thrown all of the team’s intentional walks – two – both against the Mariners (Dustin Ackely and Ichiro no-less).  No other team has given out fewer than five free passes. (BL)

4) Washington Nationals (38-26, 6-4) Shake it off, Nats. Your recent sweep at the hands of the Yankees is just a minor speed bump in the road (plus, the Bombers just aren’t losing these days.) Sure, Michael Morse hasn’t been what you’ve expected (.211 / .246 / .281), but your pitching staff is still the best in the entire league (3.00 ERA), .11 runs/9 IP better than the second-best (Dodgers). (SN)

5) Cincinnati Reds (38-28, 7-3) – The NL’s hottest team has been powered by the league’s hottest hitter.  Joey Votto has put together an inhuman month of June, to the tune of .484/.564/.844.  His only fault?  He was caught stealing 3 of 4 times.  I think the Reds can live with that.  (ML)

6) Baltimore Orioles (39-28, 7-3) – The O’s have been expected to falter with just about every passing week, yet here they are deep into June just 2.5 games back in the AL East. 7-3 in their last 10, but more impressively 20-14 on the road thus far this season, are the birds with consecutive series wins over the Red Sox, Phillies and Braves. Jason Hammel has emerged and is bettering his career ERA by nearly two runs to this point in the season, currently standing at 2.87. Adam Jones is baseball’s forgotten AL MVP candidate leading the O’s in Avg, HR, RBI, runs and OPS. (RB)

7) Tampa Bay Rays (37-29, 6-4) – While showing flashes of why he was such a highly touted prospect, Matt Moore has been fairly inconsistent all year.  Yet, if the handsome rookie can consistently pitch as well as he did against the Marlins on Friday, the Rays may have the best rotation in the AL.  (BL)

8) San Francisco Giants (38-30, 5-5) – Matt Cain is finally getting the run support he had dreamed of / deserved. After finishing in the bottom 6 in run support three times in the previous five seasons, he’s now No. 60 with 5.85 runs per game. His 9-2 record and 2.34 ERA has him on the short list of NL Cy Young candidates right now. (SN)

9) Los Angeles Angels (36-32, 7-3) – The Angels have finally turned a corner, and there are no shortage of catalysts.  Albert Pujols is beginning to look like the Pujols of old, young guns Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo have already entered conversations of the game’s elite, and fireballer Ernesto Frieri has answered the team’s closer woes. With Jered Weaver returning soon, the Angels appear poised to make their rightful push for the AL West throne. (ML)

10) Chicago White Sox (35-32, 3-7) – Only one team in the AL Central has a plus run differential, and it’s not the power hitting Tigers. While under .500 at home, the White Sox are 6 games over on the road. While just 3-7 in their last 10, five of those losses coming by 2 runs or less. Also, raise your hand if you knew Paul Konerko has the AL’s highest batting average by nearly 30 points, while Adam Dunn leads the AL with 23 HR’s. (RB)

(Also receiving votes: Pirates, Cardinals)

Bottom Five (Overall record, Last 10)

26) Minnesota Twins (26-39, 5-5) – Nick Blackburn, Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano have pitched a combined 170 innings and given up 129 runs. Only 123 were earned, though. (BL)

27) Colorado Rockies (25-40, 1-9) – The Rockies have cut their Opening Day starter (Jamie Moyer), and are currently in talks to trade their No. 2 (Jeremy Guthrie) to the Blue Jays. Their No. 3? On the DL in the minor leagues (Jhoulys Chacin). Not a lot of bright spots for the Rockies’ pitching staff thus far in 2012. (SN)

28) Houston Astros (28-39, 4-6) – Woof … when your two best players are Jed Lowrie and Wandy Rodriguez, times are tough.  At least they can spare themselves the sleepless nights wondering how they have only managed 5 wins in June.  On a positive note though, their AAA team is dominating Pacific Coast League.  That may not seem like much, but a fan has to have something to clutch to.   (ML)

29) San Diego Padres (24-44, 5-5) – San Diego continues to be baseball’s most offensively challenged team. Through their 1st 68 games of 2012, the Padres have hit just 36 home runs, seven fewer than the next-lowest team total in MLB (43 by the San Francisco Giants), and haven’t scored more than 5 runs a game since the end of May. A mid-week sweep of the Mariners was San Diego’s first 3-game winning streak of the season. Wrapping up an interleague series against the Rangers will conclude a tough stretch vs AL opponents. On the bright side, opponents are hitting just .247 vs Padres pitching, good for 10th in MLB. (RB)

30) Chicago Cubs (23-44, 4-6) – In what is most likely his last start at Wrigley, Ryan Dempster stymied the Red Sox AND tripled. He’ll be a valuable piece for contender soon. Supposedly, every player on the team is available – let’s see. Starlin Castro would be a steal for some team. Also, it’s Anthony Rizzo time already (23 HRs in AAA). Do it, Cubs. (SN)

(Also receiving votes: Mariners)

Compiled by Seth Needle, Pat Ouellette, Roei Biberstain, Ben Lynch and Max Leonard

MLB Power Rankings: June 13, 2012

via DodgerThoughts.com

By Baseball Focus Staff

The Dodgers have finally knocked the slumping Rangers, now ranked third, off their perch atop the Baseball Focus Power Rankings. Newcomers to the top 10 include the Pirates and Giants.

Top 10 (Overall record, Last 10)

1) Los Angeles Dodgers (40-23, 8-2) – A model of consistency, LA pitchers have maintained a sub 3.30 ERA in each month. Ted Lilly goes down and Nate Eovaldi (1.93 ERA) comes in and doesn’t miss a beat. Even multiple Matt Kemp injuries can’t keep the Dodgers down as they have received surprising production from recent after-thoughts. AJ Ellis, Jerry Hairson Jr. and Bobby Abreu are all currently hitting over .300. (ML)

2) Washington Nationals (37-23, 8-2) – The Nationals have won eight of 10, and the rate of their maturation should be scary for the NL. After blowing out the Red Sox on Friday night, the Nats pitched well and hit in the clutch over the next two games (both winnable for the Sox) to complete a Fenway sweep. Additionally, the Nats have the best Win% in the league when scoring 3 runs or less. Meanwhile, the Sox are 28th (2-23). (PO)

3) Texas Rangers (36-26, 5-5) – Has the Yu Darvish luster already begun to fade? After starting the season 4-0 with a 2.18 ERA, he’s gone 3-4 since, giving up 3+ earned runs in five of those starts. He did strike out at least seven in four of those starts, however. (SN)

4) New York Yankees (36-25, 9-1) –  The inevitable point in the season where the Yankees decide to stop coasting and play like the world-beaters they are has come. The lineup will always put the ball in the bleachers, but the secret to their recent rise to the top of the East is a 2.11 June ERA. (ML)

5) Tampa Bay Rays (35-26, 5-5) – Joe Maddon can do no wrong. Only he can bat the likes of Drew Sutton and Jeff Keppinger, lead off with slow footed Carlos Pena, user a closer who hasn’t had a sub 1.47 whip since 2007 in Fernando Rodney and STILL win games by the buckets in the ruthless and cannibalistic AL East. (ML)

6) Chicago White Sox (34-27, 6-4) – After a torrid stretch, the South Siders have gone 6-4 over their last 10 to let the hot Indians back into the AL Central mix. A big concern has to be the regression of Philip Humber (5.92 ERA) of late, as he’s given up five runs in three of his past four starts. (PO)

7) Atlanta Braves (34-28, 6-4) – After losing seven straight just two weeks ago, the team has snapped back into form, sweeping the Marlins in Miami and taking two of three in Toronto. With much-heralded prospect Julio Teheran finally coming up, their rotation (middle of the pack in ERA, WHIP, BAA) could get the boost it’s been lacking recently. (SN)

8) Baltimore Orioles (35-26, 6-4) – Adam Jones continues to show he’s worth the big contract extension he just signed. Currently, the All-Star center fielder is in the top 10 in the AL in batting average (.300), tied for fourth in home runs (17) and top 15 in RBI (37). Add in his nine SB so far, and Jones is off to his best start by a wide margin. (SN)

9) Pittsburgh Pirates (32-28, 7-3) – How does a team overcome a league worst .636 OPS and still achieve top ten status?  Lights out pitching (team 3.25 ERA) and a knack for keeping those inevitably meager leads (a league-leading 85% save conversion rate). Their bats need to come alive fast to maintain their winning ways, but solid pitching has won them 12 of their last 15 and a share of the NL Central lead. (ML)

10) San Francisco Giants (35-27, 8-2) – Hard to imagine Giants fans saying “Watch out for Vogelsong this year!” during spring training. But it’s been Ryan Vogelsong (2.26 ERA) serving as the staff ace while two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum has been nothing short of abysmal. Lincecum has lost nine straight and has allowed fewer than four runs only twice since May 4. (PO)

(Also receiving votes: Reds, Marlins, Angels, Cardinals)

Bottom Five (Overall record, Last 10)

26) Houston Astros (26-35, 3-7) – Think the Astros are happy about their upcoming move to the AL West in 2013? Since 2007, the ‘Stros are a combined 9-21 against the Rangers, going 4-14 in the previous three seasons. (SN)

27) Minnesota Twins (25-35, 8-2) – Scott Diamond (1.61 ERA) is the only Twins starter with an ERA lower than 6. Considering its generally anemic offense, it’s amazing that Minnesota is 8-2 over its past 10 and has won 25 games to this point. (PO)

28) Colorado Rockies (24-36, 3-7) – How do they follow up a 7-1 run in which they take two of three from the kings of the West in the Dodgers?  By, of course, promptly losing six in a row. Their team ERA has risen with every month and bringing back Jeff Francis (8 runs in 3.1 IP) is not the solution. (ML)

29) Chicago Cubs (21-40, 3-7) – Who told Alfonso Soriano that it’s 2002? Among the sport’s biggest contract albatrosses, Soriano had a solid May (seven home runs) and has remained hot in June with five home runs. (PO)

30) San Diego Padres (21-41, 4-6) – Trade him or keep him? That’s the major question for the Padres with resurgent slugger Carlos Quentin. Being from the area, the team may be compelled to finally extend one of their local sluggers. But if the price is right, anyone on the team is expendable. (SN)

(Also receiving votes: Royals, Mariners, Athletics)

Compiled by Seth Needle, Pat Ouellette, Roei Biberstain, Ben Lynch and Max Leonard

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