Yankees nudge ahead of Rangers in Rankings
New York rides homers, Nats and Angels stay strong, first-place Bucs make huge leap
We watched in awe this week as the best players in baseball descended upon Kansas City and showcased their abilities to the world in the 83rd All-Star Game, the State Farm Home Run Derby and the SiriusXM Futures Game.
We saw those from the American and National Leagues suit up together and try to win a game, and in the end, the NL stayed on its recent roll, romping to an 8-0 victory and ensuring home-field advantage for its pennant winner in the World Series.
But the rest of the championship season beckons. And while we all love to star-gaze, this is a team game, and there are 30 teams out there trying to prove they're the best.
Well, which one is the best?
The Yankees are the club with the best record heading out of the break, and they've been winning despite serious question marks in their starting rotation because of injuries to Andy Pettitte and CC Sabathia and the loss of their legendary closer, Mariano Rivera. CC is expected to be back next week. It will take longer than that for Pettitte. So where does that leave the Bronx Bombers? Can they continue to homer their way to the top?
Not if the Texas Rangers have anything to say about it, and it's difficult to argue that they still don't belong at the top of the rankings. They've only won five of their past 10 games, but they entered the break on a two-game winning streak to keep their advantage in the AL West over the rapidly improving Angels at four games, and they'll get starter Derek Holland back from the disabled list this weekend.
Then again, those are just two AL teams. There's plenty of strength in the NL, too. Like in the nation's capital, for example, where the Washington Nationals have continued to ride their deep and talented young pitching staff to the best record in the NL.
Or maybe the best team really is the Angels, who have been surging since late April, when they called up 20-year-old outfielder Mike Trout, who hasn't done much besides becoming the league's leading hitter and basestealer. On top of that, he made one of the best catches of the year.
And what about the Pittsburgh Pirates? They have been one of the great stories of the past month, crushing the ball to vault all the way to the top of the NL Central, watching the resurgence of starter A.J. Burnett and enjoying the immense talents of MVP candidate Andrew McCutchen, who is having one of the biggest breakout years in the game.
If it isn't one of those five teams, who could it be? Maybe it's the White Sox, who seem to have pulled off a great trade by landing rejuvenated veteran Kevin Youkilis. Maybe it's the Dodgers, who are still in first place in the NL West. Or maybe it's the Reds, who are not far behind the Pirates.
For the third season, MLB.com has set up a panel of experts to vote on the top 15 teams each week. Three former Major League players -- Larry Dierker, Mitch Williams and Frank Thomas -- are part of the process, as are columnist Peter Gammons and Carlton Thompson, vice president and executive editor of MLB.com. Former general manager and current MLB.com analyst Jim Duquette, along with MLB.com columnists Mike Bauman, Hal Bodley, Anthony Castrovince, Richard Justice, Matthew Leach and Jesse Sanchez are also part of the group.
Agree? Disagree? The power is yours. Rank the teams yourself.
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How do they do it? Well, manager Joe Girardi can't seem to put too much of a finger on it, other than the fact that they lead the Major Leagues in home runs, but how about this? Rafael Soriano has been brilliant as the closer. The bullpen has been terrific as a whole. Bench players such as Andruw Jones and Eric Chavez are getting it done. And starters Ivan Nova and Phil Hughes are stepping up.
Eight All-Stars were selected from this team. Count 'em: Adrian Beltre, Josh Hamilton, Yu Darvish, Matt Harrison, Elvis Andrus, Mike Napoli, Ian Kinsler and Joe Nathan. Eight. That about says everything you need to know about Ron Washington's stacked team that's on a mission once again. And they might be after Zack Greinke, too.
Washington in the World Series is simply not a clown premise, bro. There's too much talent here to ignore, from the top of the rotation (All-Stars Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez) to the lineup (Bryce Harper, Michael Morse, Ryan Zimmerman). The Nats figure to get Jayson Werth back soon, which could make them even more potent down the stretch.
The All-Star Game was a good opportunity to see why this team has been doing so well lately. In addition to Trout's skills, fans have been treated to the raw power of Mark Trumbo and the steely composure of staff ace Jered Weaver, who is having another Cy Young-caliber year. Oh, and while he might not have been an All-Star, Albert Pujols quietly has 51 RBIs.
This team has been the story of baseball for the past few weeks. McCutchen has hardly made an out, it's tough to remember the last time Burnett lost, James McDonald is maturing into a high-end starter, and the rest of the young nucleus is picking up its game under the watchful eye of veteran skipper Clint Hurdle. It might be time to believe.
It didn't take long for the fans at U.S. Cellular Field to start their own "Yoooouuuuk" chants for the guy who promptly took home AL Player of the Week honors upon arriving from Boston. Youkilis has injected production at third base, where there had been virtually none, and he has appeared to have energized the rest of the club, which was already doing well thanks to a breakout year by starter Chris Sale and a healthy core.
Two words here: Matt and Kemp. Both figure to be back in the lineup as early as this weekend, which is absolutely necessary now that Kemp's run-producing partner, Andre Ethier, is the latest of the many Los Angeles players to land on the disabled list. You wonder when manager Don Mattingly is going to get a break, but then you look up and see they're still in first place. Incredible.
Dusty Baker's team got another win from unsung rotation hero Johnny Cueto before the break and has finally started receiving ace-like work from Mat Latos, the target in a huge offseason trade with San Diego. The rest of a durable rotation, the presence of perennial MVP contender Joey Votto in the lineup and closing games with Aroldis Chapman's 100-mph gas makes this team as solid an NL Central player as any.
It's getting past the time to be concerned about Tim Lincecum, but you know what? The rest of the Giants are doing just fine, thank you very much, and it was pretty clear in the All-Star Game, in which Matt Cain threw two scoreless innings, Pablo Sandoval tripled in three runs and Melky Cabrera homered and singled and took home MVP honors.
The second-hottest team heading into the break has ripped off four victories in a row and has a nice 26-17 record on the road. It was tough to lose Brandon Beachy from the rotation, but the Braves will now see what Ben Sheets can do. Meanwhile, Jason Heyward is picking things up, which bodes well for the offense.
Despite injuries and the losses from last year's roster, the Cardinals are still consistent. They are 46-40 coming out of the break, with even 23-20 records at home and on the road. They are getting a monster season from Carlos Beltran to take the place of Albert Pujols. The loss of Chris Carpenter has hurt, but they lost Adam Wainwright last year. In other words, don't forget about these guys.
There might just be something amazin' happening in Queens this year with an overachieving team that seems to have a heck of a lot of fun playing baseball. The Mets might not have the raw talent of other teams, but they've got a few players, such as David Wright, R.A. Dickey, Johan Santana, having great years, and there's no doubt that a winning chemistry exists.
The Rays can't get Evan Longoria back soon enough, but it's still going to be a while, so Joe Maddon's boys will have to find a way to win games. That means Tampa Bay needs better production from its lineup and more consistency from its rotation.
It's gut-check time for Buck Showalter's crew, but Baltimore remains in second place in the AL East and seven games above the .500 mark. Sending Jake Arrieta and Brian Matusz to the Minors delivered a message that the Orioles are serious about winning. The talented core of this team could very well respond.
They're baaaaack. Just when you started wondering how everything could go wrong for a team that looked so stacked heading into the season, Jim Leyland's club has started to turn it around, taking a five-game winning streak into the break. Forget about Justin Verlander's bad All-Star outing. This team is too good to be down for long.
This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.