PTBPR: MLB Power Rankings — First Half 2014

Jeff Samardzija and the Oakland A’s head Joel’s rankings going into the All-Star break

We’re at the All-Star Break, the “unofficially-official” halfway point of the baseball season, so it’s time for another installment of the Place to Be Nation MLB Power Rankings!

Here’s the first installment, as well as the second.

All statistics are thru games played as of July 13, 2014.

Previous ranking in brackets; team records in parentheses.

I’ll be tweaking things a little bit this these rankings, shortening up the write-ups for the bottom half of the list, while also giving my mid-season awards.

Division Rankings:

1. N.L. Central [5] Four out of five teams over .500, with all of them within 2.5 of the top spot. This topsy-turvy division could be a real roller-coaster all the way to the end, depending on how the Brewers, Cardinals, and Reds deal with injuries and, in Milwaukee’s case, tragedy.

2. A.L. West [3] Three teams posting winning records, with the Angels surging right behind Oakland. Seattle’s a sleeper, and Houston has a few compelling reasons to watch right now as well.

3. A.L. East [1] The Birds (both of them) are flying high right now, with the Orioles and Blue Jays  atop the division. Meanwhile, the Tanaka injury could sink the Yanks, while Boston and Tampa will probably cash in their chips soon and reload for 2015.

4. A.L. Central [6] After weathering a slump in late-May and early-June, the Tigers have run off an 18-7 stretch, building up a 6.5 lead over the second-place Royals.

5. N.L. East [4] This division has really begun to see the cream rise, as Atlanta and Washington are tied atop the standings, with all three competitors (Mets, Marlins, Phillies) below .500 and probably not looking to add much between now and the trade deadline.

6. N.L. West [2] The Dodgers got red-hot in June, while the Giants cratered. But this is still a two-team race, as Colorado, San Diego, and Arizona are all double-digits behind L.A. and San Francisco.

Team Rankings:

1. Oakland A’s [1] (59-35) The best team for the second PTBPR in a row. Adding erstwhile Cubs’ ace Jeff Samardzija and more depth in the very-capable Jason Hammel addresses the question mark of starting depth. They could still move an arm for a bat at 2B.

2. Detroit Tigers [5] (53-38) On June 18, the team was in second place, 1.5 games behind the Kansas City Royals, who had just ripped off 10 wins in a row. Since then, Detroit has gone 14-6 while the Royals have posted an 12-14 record, putting the Tigers back in the driver’s seat in the Central. At 6.5 games, they have the second-largest cushion among division leaders.

3. Los Angeles Dodgers [8] (54-43) A no-hitter for Clayton Kershaw, who is the best pitcher on the planet right now, along with a red-hot June (18-10 with a team ERA of 2.49), have put the Dodgers in command of the West.

4. Los Angeles Angels [9] (57-37) L.A.’s “other” team is 12-2 so far in July, thanks in large part to series against the mediocre White Sox and Astros, the slumping Blue Jays, and the M*A*S*H unit Rangers. It’ll be interesting to see if the Halos keep it up against the better teams.

5. Baltimore Orioles [12] (52-42) They’re 8-3 so far this month and backed it up with a strong June (16-12). The O’s are still getting strong offense (.737 team OPS) despite the continuing struggles of 1B Chris Davis. The defense (.698 DER) and pitching (3.84 ERA) have been good enough this year to keep the team atop a shockingly average division.

6. St. Louis Cardinals [6] (52-44) A good team that needs to hope George Kotteras allows them to weather the loss of catcher-extraordinaire Yadier Molina. They could also use an arm in case Michael Wacha can’t come back either. But the offense, particularly Matt Adams, is coming alive just as the Brewers fade.

7. Cincinnati Reds [19] (51-44) The loss of 2B Brandon Phillips probably hurts just as much as that of 1B Joey Votto. This team is one more injury away from falling out of it. Or, one good addition away from staying in it all year. Billy Hamilton continues to impress.

8. Seattle Mariners [17] (51-44) Superb defense (MLB-best .723 DER) and excellent pitching (3rd-best at 3.19) are keeping the mask on a still-putrid offense (28th with a .675 OPS). Adding a bat would help a TON at the deadline. Maybe a couple of them.

9. Pittsburgh Pirates [22] (49-46) The Buccos have gone 17-12 over the past month, thanks in large part to last year’s MVP. Andrew McCutchen has been absolutely bananas over that same stretch: .339/.394/.635 with 21 runs scored, 26 batted in, and 18 extra-base hits.

10. Washington Nationals [15] (51-42) They’ve not pulled away like most (including yours truly) were predicting last month, but the Nats have kept pace with the Braves in the East. It should be a two-team dogfight from here on out. Health and some shrewd general-managering by Mike Rizzo and Frank Wren will decide this one.

11. Atlanta Braves [7] (52-43) An offense that is still poopie (25th in MLB with a .684 OPS) is holding this team back worse than those embarrassing bungee-cord harnesses that some kids get subjected to.

12. New York Yankees [10] (47-47) Losing Masahiro Tanaka to a partially-torn UCL for at least six weeks means this team is on the hunt for as many tradeable arms as it can get. Jeff Francis is not the answer. He’s filler until (hopefully) a better deal comes along. Still, with a suck-tastic offense in June/July (team OPS marks of .665 and .647) and a defense that is among the worst in MLB, it probably doesn’t matter who the team throws out there.

13. Toronto Blue Jays [3] (49-47) The only reason the grimly-reported Yankees are above the Blue Jays is that Toronto has played poorly this month, registering team marks that aren’t that much better than the Bombers, resulting in a 4-8 July thus far.

14. San Francisco Giants [2] (52-43) A month ago, the Giants were 43-24 and had an 8.5-game edge on the Dodgers. They’ve gone 8-19 since, allowing L.A. to take over the top spot in the N.L. West, albeit by one game at present. This team needs answers in a hurry. On a side note (or two): this is really cool and can we STOP calling him “Mad Bum”?!?!

15. Milwaukee Brewers [4] (53-43) The lowest-ranked division leader is reeling, having dropped ten of their 12 games this month. Everything’s been awful for the Brew Crew on the field in July (4.99 ERA, .645 OPS) while being even worse off it. Thoughts, prayers, & well-wishes to the family and friends of Jean Segura.

16. Kansas City Royals [25] (48-46) A brief stay atop the A.L. Central was followed by the team coming back to Earth. The Process has to be getting real old by now.

17. Tampa Bay Rays [21] (44-53) In May, the team had a 3.93 team ERA and a 12-17 record. During June, they were at 3.30 with a 13-16 record. So far in July? They’re 8-4 with a 3.62. Still not likely to contend and David Price is on his last few starts with the Rays.

18. Boston Red Sox [14] (43-52) They cut History’s Greatest Monster in A.J. Pierzynski and that should fix everything. Right?

19. Cleveland Indians [28] (47-47) A .500 performance in June (13-13) and a good July showing (8-4) have these lollygaggers picking up some steam.

20. Miami Marlins [11] (44-50) Giancarlo Stanton will probably do things in the Home Run Derby that would get most people arrested.

21. New York Mets [18] (45-50) Probably should be sellers. Probably won’t be. Sound familiar?

22. Chicago White Sox [20] (45-51) They’re bad, but in a non-descript way. You know they’re bad. I know they’re bad. But no one cares enough to say why. The most vanilla-bad team in a while.

23. Philadelphia Phillies [23] (42-53) General manager Ruben Amaro continues to be the most entertaining thing about this sinking ship. Those glory days of 2007-2011 seem like forever ago, don’t they?

24. San Diego Padres [24] (41-54) It’s a San Diego Padres Bullpen Blowout Special! Every available reliever must go! You want a Joaquin Benoit? We’ve got one! How about a Huston Street? That too! Lefties? We’ve got lefties! Supplies are limited, so act now!

25. Houston Astros [21] (40-56) George Springer continues to impress, while Jose Altuve [insert joke about height relative to talent]. This team’s not going too many places, but there are some nice pieces of the next great Astros team in place.

26. Colorado Rockies [16] (40-55) Oh, boy. When your owner gets found to be sending out emails to customers that basically say “We Suck!”, that’s really sometimes all you need to know. Pity Troy Tulowitzki.

27. Arizona Diamondbacks [29] (40-56) The D’Backs continue to do absolutely baffling things to “play the game right” and have dug themselves out of “worst team in baseball” status, but it’s too little, too late.

28. Minnesota Twins [27] (44-50) I do wonder if Joe Mauer’s still hurt or if he figures “What’s the point?”

29. Chicago Cubs [30] (40-54) A good haul in the Samardzija  trade with Oakland. Now they just need to move anything else not nailed down. They’re bad now, and they’re going to get worse, but it’s getting hard to argue with the collection of talent in the minors.

30. Texas Rangers [13] (38-57) When Scott and I did our podcast back in early June, he asked me which team would fall farthest between my end-of-May rankings and these. I said Texas, but even I am shocked to be putting them THIS low. I was honestly figuring they’d drop 7-10 spots, not 17! Injuries have killed this team. The Rangers have the worst record in baseball and have won just one of their last 13 games. A brutal, brutal year in Arlington.

Mid-Season Awards

MVP Cy Young Top Rookie Biggest Surprise (Player) Biggest Disappointment (Player)
American League 1. Mike Trout2. Victor Martinez3. Nelson Cruz 1. Felix Hernandez2. Garrett Richards3. Scott Kazmir 1. George Springer2. Masahiro Tanaka3. Jose Abreu Michael Brantley Eric Hosmer/Brian McCann (tie)
National League 1. Andrew McCutchen2. Troy Tulowitzki3. Yasiel Puig 1. Clayton Kershaw2. Adam Wainwright3. Johnny Cueto 1. Billy Hamilton2. Field Alfredo Simon B.J. Upton

That’s it this time! Enjoy the All-Star Break, everyone!