Baseball season is coming into the home stretch, as many teams are contending for playoff spots while others are just looking forward to seeing their September callups perform. In Illinois, the three teams of local interest (Cubs, White Sox, and Cardinals) are all in the hunt, which should make for an interesting September. The Cardinals and Sox both made quite a bit of noise at the July 31 trading deadline, adding Matt Holliday and Jake Peavy (right), respectively, while the Northsiders were less noisy. The White Sox were active even after the deadline, charitably taking on Alex Rios' awful contract to help out their good buddies, the Toronto Blue Jays.
This month's rankings look a lot like last month's, but we've tried to update our snarky commentary to more closely match the mood of the times: fearing government intervention in our nearly perfect health care system. Or maybe we kept making the same jokes as before. That's for you, the reader, to decide.
1. New York Yankees (74-45)
It's nice to be this deep. The Yankees are second in the league in runs scored and are doing so with boring, ruthless efficiency. Melky Cabrera's really the only weak link in the lineup (every other starter has at least 15 homers and an OBP of at least .344), and Chien-Ming Wang is the only black hole in the rotation. It's $200 million worth of vanilla, but they're getting it done.
2. Los Angeles Dodgers (70-49)
Remember when the Dodgers had the best record in baseball? No more. They’re 6-10 in August with four losses in extra innings. The Rox are just four games back. The team is relatively healthy though (save for Hiroki Kuroda’s face), so we feel pretty good about their chances to hold on in the West.
3. Los Angeles Angels (71-45)
Scoring even more runs than the Yankees, the Angels have bludgeoned opponents to make up for what's been a subpar, injury-plagued rotation. Guess which Angel is hitting .304 with 26 homers and 78 RBI; if you said first baseman Kendry Morales, you'd be correct. Matinee idols Matt Palmer and Jason Bulger have combined to go 15-2, also confounding prognosticators.
4. Philadelphia Phillies (66-49)
The NL’s best offense just keeps chugging along. Now that Jimmy Rollins’ bat has awoken (.279 AVG & .566 SLG% since the All-Star break), the only real question left to answer in the City of Brotherly Love is whether Pedro Martinez will be anything more than a sideshow distraction down the stretch. Cliff Lee has allowed 3 earned runs in 24 innings since arriving in Philly.
5. St. Louis Cardinals (68-52)
Boy it’s gotta be tough to be a Cubs fan this year. The Cardinals acquired a player the Cubs should have never let go in Mark DeRosa and then a suddenly reborn Matt Holliday while the Cubs failed to address their deficiencies at the deadline. Now St. Louis is threatening to run away with the division. Thanks go to the spectacular starters Chris Carpenter (13-3, 2.27 ERA) and Adam Wainwright (14-7, 2.62 ERA) and a career year from newbie closer Ryan Franklin (30 saves, 1.16 ERA).
6. Boston Red Sox (66-51)
Boston's been left in the dust by New York in the AL East race, and they're left to hope they can hold off the Rangers and Rays for the Wild Card spot. Their pitching staff after Josh Beckett and Jon Lester is a well-documented mess, and they've been reduced to trading for Alex Gonzalez to have someone to play shortstop. Not a good sign.
7. Tampa Bay Rays (63-54)
For a team with two-thirds of a lineup and three-fifths of a rotation, the Rays are holding their own. Jeff Niemann has stepped up in the rotation to cancel out Scott Kazmir's struggles, and Ben Zobrist has tried to pick up the slack for BJ Upton and Dioner Navarro, but they haven't been able to recreate the magic of 2008. It looks like third place is in their future.
8. San Francisco Giants (64-54)
We’re as surprised as you to see the Giants this far up in our rankings, but you can’t deny how effective their young pitchers have been. Tim Lincecum is likely going to win his second straight Cy Young and still has a decent shot at the pitcher’s Triple Crown (Ws, Ks, and ERA). If this team could just learn how to hit the ball into the bay on occasion, they’d be scary good.
9. Texas Rangers (67-50)
Care to hazard a guess as to which AL pitching staff has surrendered the fewest runs? Yep, you're looking at 'em. If you get a chance to watch recent callup Neftali Feliz pitch, by all means do so. He has Gooden-like movement on his fastball and a ridiculous slider, which have resulted in 16 K's in 10 innings thus far.
10. Atlanta Braves (62-57)
Atlanta has turned it on since the All-Star break and so far the acquisitions of Nate McLouth and Adam LaRoche have panned out splendidly. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: The Braves’ pitching staff is pretty darn good.
11. Colorado Rockies (66-53)
Just how in the hell are the Rockies this good? They score a lot of runs, which is not news. More importantly, they’ve been keeping runs off the board (6th best NL ERA and an above-average defense). Still seems flukish to me. After all, we’ve seen Jason Marquis pitch.
12. Detroit Tigers (62-57)
There's no reason why the White Sox or the Twins couldn't make a run and catch the Tigers, who haven't been able to separate themselves from a very mediocre pack in the AL Central. However, they have just enough horses to stay safely above .500 so far, which might be just enough.
13. Seattle Mariners (61-57)
It took more than half a season, but Russell Branyan's batting average has final returned to the same area code as his track record indicated. The M's were able to parlay Jarrod Washburn into some prospects, and they're well-positioned for a run next season. They just don't have the bats (last in the league in runs scored) to make much noise down the stretch this year.
14. Chicago Cubs (60-56)
If the Cubs have any chance left at overtaking St. Louis it will be as a result of a relatively weak remaining schedule. An overwhelming majority of the teams the Cubs will face from here on out suck: Washington, the Mets (twice), Arizona, Pittsburgh (twice), and Cincinnati. The only overwhelmingly good teams they’ll face: St. Louis and San Fran.
15. Chicago White Sox (61-58)
Ozzie Guillen and Kenny Williams have been making a lot of racket lately about how their team is underachieving, but it's hard to see their point. Their defense is pretty miserable, which was apparent last season and hasn't really been improved this year. Jake Peavy may give them a boost, but will it be enough to catch the Tigers?
16. Minnesota Twins (56-62)
The Twins are scoring nearly six runs per game in August, but they're 4-11 for the month because their pitching staff is giving up nearly six and a half runs per game. The rotation is a complete mess, and it's going to cost Joe Mauer the MVP, and the team a playoff spot.
17. Florida Marlins (63-55)
Maybe the Marlins should be a little higher in our rankings, but we’re skeptical of this young team’s ability to stay the course in September. We’re probably wrong, though. The Fish have won 9 of their last 11 and are scoring runs in bunches.
18. Toronto Blue Jays (55-61)
If only White Sox GM Kenny Williams would fix more of Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi's problems (like he did by taking on Alex Rios' contract), Toronto would be in better shape. As it is, they're likely to be mired in mediocrity until someone else takes the reins.
19. Milwaukee Brewers (58-61)
The Brewers woeful second half can be summed up in one word: pitching. They have one of the worst staffs in the NL. My how things change in a year.
20. New York Mets (56-63)
So much for the Mets’ patented September choke job. They got a much earlier start this season. This could have been a different team if healthy. Instead, your team leader in home runs is Gary Sheffield with 10. And even he’s been injured a good chunk of the year.
21. Houston Astros (57-61)
The Stros are too damned old, a fact that’s finally impacting the W-L column. The team is just 6-9 in August, deflating any thoughts of another second-half run.
22. Cleveland Indians (51-66)
They're playing better of late, as unloading most of the recognizable names on their roster seems to have freed them from the burden of high expectations. What does Eric Wedge have to do to get fired?
23. Oakland A's (53-65)
After trading Matt Holliday and Orlando Cabrera and releasing Jason Giambi, the A's are left with an offense anchored by Rajai Davis and Jack Cust, which is great if you're in the PCL, but not so much in the AL West. Throw in a middling pitching staff, and it's a surefire recipe for last place.
24. Arizona Diamondbacks (54-65)
The fact that Danny Haren is on this pitiful team makes it almost impossible to have a man crush on him. Almost.
25. Cincinnati Reds (50-67)
Scott Rolen, welcome back to the NL, where your former teammates will throw fastballs at your skull. It must really suck to be a Reds fan. When all you have to get excited about is Joey Freakin’ Votto, that’s pretty sad. I bet Chris Sabo bobblehead night still packs ’em in, though. Those goggles were a thing of beauty.
26. Pittsburgh Pirates (48-70)
You know what this team needs? Ben Roethlisberger. He might be the only thing that could put butts in the seats of one of the best ballparks in the majors, PNC Park.
27. Baltimore Orioles (48-70)
The O's are still terrible, but the callups of Brian Matusz and Chris Tillman mean that Adam Eaton won't be pitching for them anymore. The kids might not do any better, but there's at least a chance that they might not suck in the future. Oh, and their outfield (Adam Jones, Nick Markakis, and Nolan Reimold) is really good, like, today!
28. Kansas City Royals (46-70)
Statistically speaking, is it really regression if you're miles below the mean to begin with? Here's to wishing that Zack Greinke can finish strong and win the AL Cy Young, if only to provide some sort of hope to a downtrodden fan base.
29. San Diego Padres (50-70)
David Eckstein. Everth Cabrera. Henry Blanco. Kevin Kouzmanoff. Will Venable. And somebody named Chase Headley. These players are regulars on the lineup card. No wonder you suck, San Diego. You even got the wrong Tony Gwynn in center field.
30. Washington Nationals (43-76)
Signing pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg with seven seconds to go before the deadline may have been enough to lift the spirits of your 136 fans, but it’s not enough to lift you from dead last in our power rankings. Sorry, Washington.