MLB Power Rankings Week 20: Base-Brawlin

Eric Ball@@BigLeagueEballFeatured ColumnistAugust 16, 2010

MLB Power Rankings Week 20: Base-Brawlin

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    The Reds and Cardinals Rivalry Has Been Reignited
    The Reds and Cardinals Rivalry Has Been Reignited

    A very eventful week around the majors. A brawl ensued in the Queen City after Reds 2B Brandon Phillips used some not so kind words to describe the rival Cardinals.

    The pushing match that landed a seven game suspension for Johnny Cueto and a shouting match between both managers was pretty interesting considering  there are six former Reds on the Cards and five former Cards on the Reds.

    And how would you like to be the Reds newly aquired OF Jim Edmonds? It's the second game with your new team and you are asked to fight ex-teammates of yours that you've know for years. In the end the Cardinals bats awoke from a deep slumber as they swept the Reds on their home turf.

    The Twins grabbed ahold of first place in the A.L. Central after taking two from the White Sox in Chicago.

    The Padres showed why they have been in first all year as they dispatched the Giants two times in three days in their big weekend series.

    All of these are small battles. The war has not been won.

    Stats are a huge part of baseball and we have reached the point in the season when they really start to mean something. Players that got off to red-hot starts have cooled off and slow starters have regained form.

    This week we'll look at stats that can explain why your team is either doing well or looking forward to next year.

30. Pittsburgh Pirates

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    HOUSTON - AUGUST 15:  Pitcher Jeff Karstens #27 of the Pittsburgh Pirates throws against the Houston Astros in the first inning at Minute Maid Park on August 15, 2010 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    The Pirates have fallen back into a very familiar place—last. The Buccos' are currently riding a seven game losing streak. Their team batting average and team ERA both rank 29th in baseball. Their best starting pitcher this year has been Paul Maholm has a 4.86 ERA.

    They have 13 road wins all year! The 13-47 road mark is far and away the worst in baseball. There is absolutely nothing positive that can be said about this franchise right now.

29. Baltimore Orioles

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    BALTIMORE - AUGUST 09:  Brian Roberts #1 of the Baltimore Orioles is caught in a run-down and tagged out by Alexei Ramirez #10 of the Chicago White Sox at Camden Yards on August 9, 2010 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Orioles won the game 3-2.  (Photo by Greg
    Greg Fiume/Getty Images

    How much difference can a manager make? The O's have been re-energized under new manager Buck Showalter. Baltimore is 9-4 under his watch and have been beating good teams like the White Sox and Angels.

    Reliever Jason Berkman will get an MRI on his right shoulder. Showalter says the right-hander will have the test Monday. Berken is 3-3 with a 3.03 ERA in 41 appearances. He was after converted from a starter to the bullpen this season, but he has allowed 13 earned runs in 17.1 innings over his last 14 outings.

28. Seattle Mariners

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    SEATTLE - AUGUST 05:  Chone Figgins #9 of the Seattle Mariners singles against the Texas Rangers at Safeco Field on August 5, 2010 in Seattle, Washington. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)
    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    After the Mariners fired Don Wakamatsu—the fifth manager to receive that fate this year—he went out with class after thanking the organization for the chance to manage and also thanked his coaches, players, fans and the media.

    The Seattle Times suggested that Wakamatsu lost credibility to rumored problems regarding his relationship with retired Mariners legend Ken Griffey Jr.

    The hitting has been the worst in the league and the pitching has been disappointing. Speaking of disappointing, Milton Bradley will be undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his ailing right knee on Tuesday.

    Bradley has not played since July 26th with patellar tendinitis in his right knee.

    While he’s been working to rehab the knee, it wasn’t getting better.

    “He’s had some discomfort there,” new Mariners manager Daren Brown said. “We’ll have an idea after that, seeing what’s going on and the time frames and all of that.”

27. Cleveland Indians

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    ARLINGTON, TX - JULY 05:  Travis Hafner #48 of the Cleveland Indians on July 5, 2010 at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Indians manager Manny Acta recently said he would use six starters for the rest of season, "but not necessarily in a six-man rotation."

    Acta indicated he'd rather use the sixth pitcher for spot starts or to replace a young pitcher in the rotation. More rebuilding teams should use a six-man rotation after they've fallen out of contention.

    Travis Hafner has been activated from the disabled list this weekend and hit a grand slam in his first game back. He has been on the DL since Aug. 3rd with inflammation in his right shoulder, which he had surgery on in '08.

    Hafner was batting .267 with nine homers and 33 RBI in 82 games when he was sidelined. In eight games before going on the DL, he was 13 for 29 and was hitting .302 since June 7th. Now is the time to find out if Hafner has anything left in the tank.

    To make room for Hafner, the Indians optioned Jordan Brown to AAA.

26. Arizona Diamondbacks

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    PHOENIX - JULY 19:  Mark Reynolds #27 of the Arizona Diamondbacks is congratulated by teammates Miguel Montero #26 and Adam LaRoche #25 after hitting a 3 run home run against the New York Mets during the sixth inning of the Major League Baseball game at C
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Adam LaRoche, Miguel Montero, Mark Reynolds and Stephen Drew hit consecutive home runs in the fourth inning off of Milwaukee's Dave Bush to lead Arizona to an 8-2 victory over the Brewers on Wednesday. The four homers were on only 10 pitches! Quite the feat for the D-Backs.

    Bush became just the third pitcher to allow four consecutive home runs in one inning, joining the Angels' Paul Foytak (July 31, 1963) and the Yankees' Chase Wright (April 22, 2007) on that list.

    Miguel Montero hit two home runs in the Diamondbacks 9-2 win at Washington. It was Montero's fourth career multi-homer game. He had one each in 2007, 2008, and 2009. Montero is the only major-league catcher to hit two home runs in the last four seasons.

25. Kansas City Royals

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    KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 15:  Bryan Bullington #41 of the Kansas City Royals walks off the field after achieving his first Major League win with a victory over the New York Yankees 1-0 on August 15, 2010 at Kauffman stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Pho
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    Bryan Bullington, the No. 1 overall draft pick in 2002, threw eight impressive innings for his first major league win, leading the Kansas City Royals to a 1-0 victory over the Yankees on Sunday. Bullington (1-2) allowed two hits, walked one and struck out five.

    The Royals have traded outfielder Jose Guillen to the Giants in exchange for a player to be named later and cash considerations. I thought they could have gotten a lot more for him had they dealt him at the July 31st deadline.

    The oddity that is the Royals offense continues to defy logic. Kansas City has the second best team average in all of baseball at .275. Yet somehow they are 24th in RBI with 455. Least clutch team ever?

24. Chicago Cubs

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    SAN FRANCISCO - AUGUST 12:  Starlin Castro #13 of the Chicago Cubs singles in the eighth inning against the San Francisco Giant during an MLB game at AT&T Park on August 12, 2010 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee left Sunday's game in the fifth inning after experiencing lower back stiffness. He has been battling back stiffness the past few days.

    Cubs manager Lou Piniella has changed his starting rotation. Right-hander Casey Coleman will start Wednesday in place of Thomas Diamond, who has been placed into Coleman's long reliever role.

    Carlos Zambrano won for the first time since his banishment for a dugout tantrum in June, helping the Cubs win for the third time in 17 games.

    "St. Louis has good hitters and any time I face them I have to give a little extra," Zambrano said. "Today everything was working—split-finger, my sinker and my slider."

23. Washington Nationals

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    WASHINGTON - AUGUST 10:  Stephen Strasburg #37 of the Washington Nationals wipes his forehead during the game against the Florida Marlins at Nationals Park on August 10, 2010 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
    Greg Fiume/Getty Images

    Sunday's game between the Diamondbacks and Nationals was interrupted by protesters urging commissioner Bud Selig to move the 2011 All-Star Game from Phoenix because of Arizona's new immigration legislation.

    Before the game, about three dozen people protested outside Nationals Park. A banner reading "Bud Selig Move The All Stars Game No SB 0170" that was unfurled from a parking garage was quickly removed from the premisis.

    Steven Strasburg has been pretty mediocre since his return from the D.L. In two starts he has gone 9.1 innings and allowed seven runs while only collecting 11 strikeouts. Looks as if the rest of the league might be catching up to the rookie.

22. Houston Astros

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    HOUSTON - AUGUST 15:  Carlos Lee #45 of the Houston Astros singles up the middle scoring Hunter Pence from second base during a baseball game against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Minute Maid Park on August 15, 2010 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Get
    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Bud Norris struck out 14 Pirates while walking only one in the Astros 3-2 win. Norris is the second pitcher to record a game with 14-or-more strikeouts and no more than one walk this season.

    Carlos Lee made his first start at first base in nearly 11 years in Saturday's win over the Pirates.

    "We've been working on it," said Lee, who has been taking ground balls in pregame for about a month. "The only way to find out is to go out there and do it."

    Astros manager Brad Mills said rookie Brett Wallace will continue to get the bulk of the playing time at first base, but he said giving Lee a trial run there will help him see what options he has available going forward.

    "It's not a platoon situation," said Mills,

21. Milwaukee Brewers

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    HOUSTON - JULY 30:  Pitcher Manny Parra #26 of the Milwaukee Brewers throws against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on July 30, 2010 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Casey McGehee went 4-4 with a home run for the second straight game to help the Brewers beat the Diamondbacks, 8-4, on Thursday. McGehee is the third player in Brewers history to record two consecutive games with four or more hits while homering in both games, joining J.J. Hardy and Ryan Braun, who each did that in July '08.

    The Brewers have put reliever LaTroy Hawkins on the 15-day disabled list with weakness in his right shoulder.

    Hawkins is 0-3 with an 8.44 ERA. He was on the DL for two months ago with the same trouble in his shoulder. Hawkins will have an MRI next week to determine the severity of the problem.

    The Brewers selected the contract of right-handed pitcher Mike McClendon from Triple-A Nashville. Milwaukee also moved catcher Gregg Zaun to the 60-day DL to make room on the roster. Zaun was already lost for the season after surgery on his right shoulder.

20. Detroit Tigers

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    ST PETERSBURG, FL - JULY 27:  First baseman Miguel Cabrera #24 of the Detroit Tigers thinks he is safe on a play at home against the Tampa Bay Rays during the game at Tropicana Field on July 27, 2010 in St. Petersburg, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty I
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    Alex Avila's two-run, ninth-inning home run off J.J. Putz gave the Tigers a 3-2 win over the White Sox in Chicago. The last Detroit rookie catcher with a game-winning homer in the ninth inning or later was Lance Parrish/ He smacked a walk-off shot in the 16th inning against the Mariners in 1978.

    Starting pitcher Armando Galarraga and catcher Alex Avila got in a heated argument after the first inning of Sunday's game against the White Sox.

    Galarraga and Avila exchanged words after Galarraga pitched scoreless first inning. The verbal altercation escalated enough that they had to be separated. Gerald Laird stepped between them.

    The Tigers beat the White Sox on Sunday and finally won a road series. That's the first series they have won away from Comerica Park in their last 10 tries.

    Tigers and Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch is reportedly interested in buying the Pistons, who play their home games in the suburb of Auburn Hills, and may move them downtown.

19. Florida Marlins

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    ANAHEIM, CA - JULY 13:  National League All-Star Josh Johnson #55 of the Florida Marlins throws a ptich during the 81st MLB All-Star Game at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on July 13, 2010 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Twenty-year old Mike Stanton hit two homers in a game this week. The last player under the age of 21 to belt two homers in a game also did it for the Marlins: Miguel Cabrera in '04.

    This rookie looks like he is the real deal. While he is still trying to cut down on his strikeouts, expect Stanton to become the face of the Fish for years to come.

    The Marlins had all kinds of troubles knocking in runs this weekend against the Reds. They were a brutal 0-27 with runners in scoring position in the three game set.

    Is there cause for concern with ace Josh Johnson? He has given up 13 earned runs in his last three starts and his ERA has risen almost half a point over that time period. If the Marlins have any sort of hope of making the playoffs, Johnson will need to return to his near perfect form of earlier in the season.

18. Oakland Athletics

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    OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 08:  Daric Barton #10  of the Oakland Athletics misses a foul ball hit by Nelson Cruz of the Texas Rangers in the fourth inning during an MLB game at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on August 8, 2010 in Oakland, California.  (Phot
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Andrew Bailey threw a 20-pitch side session and said it "felt great." He threw all his pitches, and he needs another side session and/or a simulated game before getting off the DL.

    While manager Bob Geren had said "it's possible" that Bailey is coming off the DL on the home stand,

    Conor Jackson could come off the DL as early as tomorrow; he's played several rehab games and while he hasn't gotten a lot of hits, Geren said he doesn't need a hot bat as long as he's feeling healthy. .

    Michael Ynoa, the Dominican hot-shot prospect the A's gave a record $4.25M signing bonus to two years ago when he was 16, is going to have Tommy John surgery later this month.

    Adam Rosales has been placed on the DL. A specialist determined that what had appeared to be an old stress fracture on a recent MRI wasn't healed.

    Rosales has has had ankle trouble for more than a year, and this means that he has probably been playing on a stress fracture all this time.

    Injuries are piling up quickly in Oakland.

    A's starting pitchers have gone at least six innings in 14 consecutive starts, the longest such stretch in MLB this season. Yet the team is only 6-8 over that span.

17. New York Mets

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    NEW YORK - AUGUST 14:  David Wright #5 of the New York Mets in action against the Philadelphia Phillies on August 14, 2010 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Every team from here on out is at .500 or better. Pretty crazy for mid-August.

    The Mets slim playoff hopes rest on the shoulders of Carlos Beltran and Jason Bay. The overpriced under-performing stars need to start driving in runs to help out the Mets quality pitching staff.The Mets have a 3.70 team ERA, good enough for seventh in baseball.

    But, the dismal .249 team batting average is not going to get it done. The Mets have a team batting average of .212 since the All-Star break.

    The offense needs to wake up quickly. They have scored three runs or fewer in 10 of the past 13 games.

    Francisco Rodriguez was suspended for two days by the Mets on Thursday, a day after police said the star pitcher grabbed his father-in-law from a Citi Field family lounge, struck him in the face and banged his head against the wall.

    Rodriguez was arrested and charged with third-degree assault. The team put him on the restricted list and removed him from the active roster at one point.

    All is well as he pitched a scoreless ninth inning on Saturday, and he has also apologized to fans and has agreed to attend anger management classes.

16. Los Angeles Dodgers

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    ST. LOUIS - JULY 18: Relief pitcher Jonathan Broxton #51 of the Los Angeles Dodgers throws against the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium on July 18, 2010 in St. Louis, Missouri.  The Cardinals beat the Dodgers 5-4.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Imag
    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Jonathan Broxton, a '10 All-Star closer, is now a middle reliever.

    Manager Joe Torre said Broxton said he he will be removed from the closers role after a complete meltdown against the Phillies on Thursday.

    Torre will use left-hander Hong-Chih Kuo as his primary closer for now, but Octavio Dotel and rookie Kenley Jansen potentially could be used as well.

    Broxton has blown three of his five save chances since the All-Star break.

    He has allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on nine hits over eight innings since the Summer Classic, with 11 walks and an awful 10.13 ERA.

    Matt Kemp really needs to cut down on his strikeouts. He currently has 126, sixth most in baseball, and the slugger only has 38 walks. Kemp is better than the .261 average he is currently sporting.

    Ted Lilly has pitched well for the Dodgers since being traded to L.A. from the Cubs. He has gone at least six innings in every start and has allowed a total of four runs in three starts.

    The better he pitches, the more money Lilly will garner on the free agent market this winter. Don't think for a second Lilly isn't aware of this.

    I expect him to have a great finish for a team with a faint pulse of life in the playoff chase.

15. Los Angeles Angels

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    ANAHEIM, CA - AUGUST 15:  Erick Aybar #2 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim is tagged out at second base by second baseman Aaron Hill #2 of the Toronto Blue Jays on a steal attempt in the fifth inning at Angel Stadium on August 15, 2010 in Anaheim, Cali
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Jared Weaver leads the majors with 182 strikeouts. Weaver has already racked up more K's than he did in all of '09. He continues to have a campaign that should put him on the ballot of American League Cy Young candidates at season's end, especially with that 1.08 WHIP he posses.

    Odd fact: Dan Haren has allowed 188 hits this season between his time as a D-Back and Angel, that is 11 more hits than the next highest total in all of baseball.

    Scott Kazmir's turnaround has been almost has been surprising. Before his last start, in which he gave up only three hits and one unearned run, Kazmir, who has a 1.36 ERA in his past two starts, had lost four straight with a 13.73 ERA in those outings.

    "I learned quite a bit as I was struggling," Kazmir said. "When you don't have everything working you have to go out there and battle every single day and it definitely weighs on you, but you learn in the process. You learn how to pitch without having your best stuff."

14. Colorado Rockies

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    NEW YORK - AUGUST 11:  Melvin Mora #6 of the Colorado Rockies celebrates the win with teammate Huston Street #16 against the New York Mets at Citi Field on August 11, 2010 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Nic
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    After weeks of trying to convince us that they had a chance of repeating the late season success of '07 and '09, it's starting to look like this season will result in a third place finish for the Rockies. The offense has been miserable on the road and their overall mark of 22-36 away from Coors is grotesque for a team with any playoff aspirations.

    They have two starting pitchers on the DL (Aaron Cook and Jeff Francis) and they have not been able to find a consistent lead-off hitter. Todd Helton is way past his prime and the relief needs some relief.

    When the Rockies stood pat at the trading deadline the message from above was sent—we give up on '10. The core of Carlos Gonzalez, Ubaldo Jimenez and Troy Tulowitzki is great, but they need some help.

13. Toronto Blue Jays

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    ANAHEIM, CA - AUGUST 15:  Jose Bautistal (R) #19 and Jason Frasor #54 of the Toronto Blue Jays congratulate each other following their teams victory over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim at Angel Stadium on August 15, 2010 in Anaheim, California. The Blu
    Jeff Gross/Getty Images

    Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos was convinced he made a solid investment by signing Ricky Romero to a five-year, $31.1M contract extension this week.

    It took the left-hander one day to show he is worth the money. Romero pitched seven solid innings on Sunday in a 4-1 victory over the Angels. He allowed six hits, struck out four and walked three while allowing one run.

    The contract, which includes a $1.25M signing bonus, runs from 2011 to 2015. It covers Romero's three arbitration seasons and one year of free agency.Romero will be paid $750,000 next season, $5M in 2012 and $7.5M in each of the next three years after that. There also is a $13.1M club option for 2016.

    He is the first player on the roster with a contract guaranteed through 2015, and it's just his second season in the big leagues.

12. Chicago White Sox

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    CHICAGO - AUGUST 01: Manager Ozzie Guillen #13 of the Chicago White Sox talks with his bench coach before a win over the Oakland Athletics at U.S. Cellular Field on August 1, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. The White Sox defeated the Athletics 4-1. (Photo by J
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    In the battle for AL Central supremacy, the White Sox lost two out of three to the Twins and have been knocked out of first place. Manager Ozzie Guillen feels that the media isn't giving his team any respect despite the surprisingly successful season.

    "Everybody asks, 'What do you think about the Minnesota Twins this year?' Well, that's the team that's supposed to be here today (Tuesday)," he said. "That's all it is."

    Guillen went on to say he feels "more proud of this ball club than any team I ever managed," and even vowed to write a book about this season.

    They were 9.5 games out in early June before winning 25 of 30 before the All-Star break to leap into first place. They are finally cooling off.

    The team has been struggling as of late. Over their last three series, the White Sox lost three of four to the Orioles, two of three at home to the Twins and two of three at home to the Tigers. Now comes the Twins again and on their turf no less.

11. Boston Red Sox

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    I will be the first one to admit that Clay Buchholz is having a very efficient season. He has a 13-5 record, and is sixth in the majors with a 2.49 ERA. He leads the three Red Sox pitchers that have been very consistent for most of the year—Buchholz, Jon Lester, and John Lackey.

    Dustin Pedroia will be back at second base Tuesday night at Fenway Park—a great way for him to celebrate his 27th birthday.

    While Pedroia's brief two game rehab assignment in Pawtucket went well enough to propel the second baseman to Boston, veteran first baseman Carlos Delgado might have suffered a setback in his quest to return to the majors.

    Delgado, who hasn't played in the big leagues in 16 months because of surgical procedures on his right hip, had to come out of Sunday's game due to stiffness in his lower back around his left hip. The comeback for Delgado just took a wrong turn.

10. Philadelphia Phillies

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    NEW YORK - AUGUST 14:  Roy Halladay #34 of the Philadelphia Phillies delivers a pitch against the New York Mets on August 14, 2010 at Citi Field in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Placido Polanco's third-inning RBI single drove in Roy Halladay on Saturday with the first run for the Phillies at Citi Field, home of the Mets.

    Philadelphia had failed to score in its first 38 innings at Citi Field this season.

    The last visiting team to start a season with that many scoreless innings at one ballpark was the Cubs, who didn't score in their first 43 innings at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in 1992.

    Roy Halladay pitched eight scoreless innings in the Phillies 4-0 win over the Mets. Halladay has pitched at least eight innings without allowing a run six times in 25 starts in 2010.

    Phillies manager Charlie Manuel believes he'll have all-stars Chase Utley and Ryan Howard back soon, maybe even this week, as Philadelphia continues to get healthy.

    "I'm optimistic," manager Charlie Manuel said. "The doctor said what, eight weeks? He's going to be seven-something, so that's pretty close."

    Utley tore a ligament in his right thumb on June 28th, and the team expected the second baseman to be out until the end of August, putting his recovery slightly head of schedule.

    Howard, has a sprained left ankle that affects him when he plants his foot. He took light batting practice on Friday night and early batting practice on Saturday, and told Manuel that he's feeling better. Expect him to return in the next week.

9. St. Louis Cardinals

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    ST. LOUIS - AUGUST 15: Skip Shumaker #55 of the St. Louis Cardinals attempts to field a fly ball against the Chicago Cubs at Busch Stadium on August 15, 2010 in St. Louis, Missouri.  The Cubs beat the Cardinals 9-7.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
    Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

    Up and down week for the Cardinals. They were all riled up when they spanked the Reds three games in a row. A two-game deficit turned into a one game lead.

    Chris Carpenter was yelling to the top of his lungs at everybody—whether it was a teammate, Dusty Baker or Johnny Cueto.

    The Cards were fortunate to not collect any suspensions from the brawl. I thought Carpenter deserved a five game break for his role in reigniting the brawl. Only manager Tony La Russa missed any game action.

    They had all the momentum in the world as they traveled back home to take on the lowly Cubs. The Cubs took two in the three game set and now the Cards are back in second.

    After an extremely eventful week, the Cardinals only have one game gained in the standings to show for it.

8. San Francisco Giants

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    SAN FRANCISCO - AUGUST 15: Tim Lincecum #55 of the San Francisco Giants pitches against the San Diego Padres during an MLB game at AT&T Park on August 15, 2010 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    The NL West is really heating up. With a weekend series set between the division-leading Padres and second-place Giants, San Francisco pitcher Jonathan Sanchez guaranteed a sweep.

    "We're going to play San Diego, and we're going to beat them three times," Sanchez told the San Francisco Chronicle. "If we get to first place, we're not going to look back."

    Whoops. The Padres won two of them, and the Giants have to start worrying about their ace. In his last six starts, reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Tim Lincecum is 1-3 with a 6.15 ERA.

    He has been tinkering with his mechanics and the results have been the same. Huge issue for a team currently leading the Wild Card chase.

    And at the age of 32, Andres Torres has broken out in '10, keeping pace with the league's top dogs with 53 extra-base hits (36 doubles, five triples and 11 home runs).

    The fielding has been spectacular in San Francisco. They have only 45 errors this season, fewest in the majors

7. Cincinnati Reds

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    Wild week in Cincy. Brandon Phillips got the whole country's attention with his comment about the Cardinals. He promptly went 2-12 in the series as the Reds were swept and kicked out of first place. Lots of people in the media thought this was the beginning of the end for the young, upstart Reds.

    Instead, the Reds bounced back in a big way. They swept the Marlins and find themselves back at the top of the NL Central.

    Homer Bailey pitched six shutout innings on Sunday in his first start since late May. Bailey's return will be a huge boost to a rotation that has an incredible amount of depth.

    Aaron Harang is starting rehab this week and the opening day starter may not have a spot in the rotation when he returns.

    The Reds now get one of their toughest tests—a trip to Arizona, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Over the last five seasons, the Reds are 16-35 on the West Coast, where they've had many a season destroyed.

    LA has provided an especially bad time for the Reds—Cincinnati has dropped its last 12 at Dodger Stadium since '06.

6. Atlanta Braves

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    HOUSTON - AUGUST 11:  Pitcher Takashi Saito #40 of Japan, along with Troy Glaus of the Atlanta Braves makes a gesture to his heart after retiring the last hitter in the tenth inning against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on August 11, 2010 in Hous
    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    The Braves confirmed 3B Chipper Jones has torn the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.

    Jones' agent told The Associated Press on Thursday that the third baseman will need surgery and is done for the season, a major setback for the first-place Braves. Jones had bounced back from a disappointing start and was hitting .265 with 10 homers and 46 RBI.

    Now, Jones has another issue to think about—coming back from the second major knee injury of his career. His rookie season he tore up the same knee, but returned to become one of the greatest players, a six-time All-Star who won the NL MVP award in 1999 and the NL batting title in 2008. Is Chipper finished?

    The Braves are third in baseball with 90 errors. This is a problem that will be magnified as the playoff race heats up with the Phillies,

    Another concern of the Braves is the pitching of Billy Wagner of late. The 39-year-old lefty blew two saves last week and now is second in the majors with seven.

    Wagner has always been a top flight closer through his career, but age may be starting to play a factor. Sure, he has 29 saves and maybe he just had a bad week, but it's something to keep an eye on.

5. Minnesota Twins

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    CHICAGO - AUGUST 10: Jon Rauch #60 of the Minnesota Twins pitches in the 9th inning against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field on August 10, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. The Twins defeated the White Sox 12-6. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    The Twins have committed 48 errors this season, fewest in the AL The Twins prove time and time again how important defense can be for a successful team.

    This year they all lead the majors in batting average at .281. This is quite the feat considering they have been without former MVP Justin Morneau since July 7th. Joe Mauer leads the way with a .331 clip.

    The Twins made a statement this week as they took the series and first place from the White Sox. I don't expect them to relinquish their lead the rest of the way. The Twins will once again be dancing come October, this year it's because of the hitting to go along with the consistently stellar defense.

    Kevin Slowey pitched seven innings without allowing a hit before being replaced by Jon Rauch to begin the eighth inning with a 4-0 lead in the Twins 4-2 win over the Athletics, Sunday.

    Slowey was the first pitcher to be removed from a game in the eighth inning or later with a no-hitter intact and his team in the lead since '96.

    It was the right call, as the young Slowey was on a pitch count and he was already over 100 pitches. Plus, the game had not been decided yet. Tough call to make, but I think it was the right one.

4. Texas Rangers

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    OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 08:  Josh Hamilton #32 of the Texas Rangers looks on against the Oakland Athletics during an MLB game at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on August 8, 2010 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Josh Hamilton continues to have an outstanding season. His .362 batting average is almost 20 points higher than the next best average in all of baseball!

    His 80 RBI and 26 home runs are in the top 10 and his 37 doubles and 81 runs scored is fifth best in the majors. Hamilton is having a MVP-like season and is on the top of my ballot.

    We all know how great Cliff Lee is. But do you realize that Lee has thrown a total of NINE walks all season long? The fact that he has thrown 137 strikeouts to only nine walks is one of the most impressive stats I've seen all season long.

    Lee will play a pivotal role in the October fortunate of the Rangers.

    An MRI Sunday revealed that OF Nelson Cruz does not have a tear in his left hamstring, which tightened up and forced him out of Saturday night's game.

    The Rangers announced Sunday that the right fielder will travel with the team and be re-evaluated Monday.

    "I feel good," Cruz said Sunday morning. "I don't feel anything, but I don't want to take a chance today."

    While Cruz remains on the active roster, starting pitcher Rich Harden was placed on the 15-day disabled list with right shoulder tendinitis.

    Harden, who lasted just 2.1 innings in his last start, was slated to pitch Tuesday at Tampa Bay after having his weekend start pushed back. He'll begin rehab next week.

3. San Diego Padres

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    SAN FRANCISCO - AUGUST 15:  Miguel Tejada #10 of the San Diego Padres scores on a single hit by Ryan Ludwick against the San Francisco Giants in the sixth inning during an MLB game at AT&T Park on August 15, 2010 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by J
    Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

    Heath Bell has been the best closer in the game this season. He has 35 saves (best in baseball) and has allowed a grand total of one run in his last 10 appearances. The 32-year-old righty has been the MVP of the surprising first place Padres.

    In a "Giant-sized" series against second place San Francisco, the Padres ended up winning two out of three. Baseball fans across the NL West are waiting for the upstart in San Diego to crumble to pieces, but I don't think that is going to happen at this point. The Padres are not laying down and the Giants found that out the hard way this weekend.

2. Tampa Bay Rays

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    ST PETERSBURG, FL - AUGUST 04:  Infielder Evan Longoria #3 of the Tampa Bay Rays is congratulated by pitcher Matt Garza #22 after scoring a run in the ninth against the Minnesota Twins during the game at Tropicana Field on August 4, 2010 in St. Petersburg
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    Evan Longoria is often said to be the best young player in baseball. But, he has been in quite the slump since the Midsummer Classic.

    Since the All-Star break, Longoria is hitting just .245 with two homers. And if you go even farther back, you'll find it's been a bit of a rough summer. After hitting 10 homers in 51 games in April and May, Longoria has only hit five in 61 games since June 1st.

    Two starters, Jeff Niemann (10-3, 3.12 ERA) and Wade Davis (9-9, 4.45 ERA), both went to the disabled list with shoulder fatigue, joining first baseman Carlos Peña who beat them to the DL by a couple days. On the bright side, rookie starter Jeremy Hellickson was impressive in his second start. He's now 3-0 with a 1.35 ERA in three starts.

1. New York Yankees

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    KANSAS CITY, MO - AUGUST 15:  Alex Rodriguez #13 of the New York Yankees warms up prior to the start of the game against the Kansas City Royals on August 15, 2010 at Kauffman stadium in Kansas City, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    A-Rod crushed three homers in Saturday's game against the Royals. It was the fourth career three-homer game for A-Rod (only Carlos Delgado has more among active players, and Delgado is currently in the Red Sox's minor league system system).

    It was A-Rod's second career three-homer game as a Yankee. (Lou Gehrig, with four, and Joe DiMaggio, three, are the only Yankees with more.)

    A-Rod reached 20 homers for the 15th consecutive season. (Only Babe Ruth, with 16 such seasons, has a longer streak in American League history.)

    It was also A-Rod's 56th multi-homer game (seventh-most in history).

    Andy Pettitte isn't happy with the progression of his injured groin.

    "I thought I was ahead of schedule, but mound-wise, I'm not," Pettitte said. "I just want to be healthy. I know I'm being cautious, but I want to make sure I'm not being too cautious.

    "Whenever you take time off the mound, you have to get yourself back in shape," Girardi said. "We know that it's going to take some time. I knew Andy was frustrated the first day, so I'm not surprised that five weeks later, he's still frustrated."

    Pettitte called his latest setback "a little bump in the road".

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