The CHEAP SEATS MLB POWER POLL: Week 8

Posted: May 23, 2011 by The Cheap Seat Fan in MLB
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Interleague play kicked off this week, and it had a direct impact on the Poll. The overall theme of this kickoff weekend in cross league play was largely geographic rivalries, and it produced some decisive in-state matchups, as fellas some major impact on the standings of the leagues they returned too.

Shin-Soo Choo and the Indians have the biggest lead in any division in baseball and their 29 wins are the best of any club. They're legit...and #1.

After the dust settles, the American League took a slight edge vs the National League, going 22-20 this weekend. But the impact of two series in particular made a big impact in the Top 3 of this poll, pushing two teams to new heights….starting at the top. Let’s go.

1. Indians (2): They were great to start the week in Kansas City (2-0), then bad in Chicago (0-2), but then finished up at their best, sweeping a weekend series against their stateside rivals in Cincinnati. By crossing league boundaries and beating up one of the NL’s best, they finally make their way over the hump to the top of the Power Polls. The Cinderella story in Cleveland keeps on going.
2. Phillies (1): For the first time in nearly a month, the Phils fall from the top of the rankings. Partially due to a quick sweep in St. Louis and struggles against Colorado to start the week off. However, Cliff Lee bounced back and struck out 10 of his former mates in Texas over the weekend, and now they finally get Chase Utley back this week, so a return to the top could be in short order.
3. Giants (5): The Giants ride their second strong win streak of the month to their highest ranking to date, and overall have won 12 of 15 games since opening up the month 2-3.
4. Rays (3): It’s getting crowded atop the AL East, but the Rays stay in this position after holding down the top of the division against a tough Marlins squad on the road this weekend behind yet another strong outing from James Shields (more on that later).
5. Cardinals (7): They bounced back strong from what could have been a deflating sweep in Cincinnati last weekend to take two of two from the N.L.’s best club (and Cliff Lee and Roy Oswalt specifically) to start the week, and finished it by winning a demanding series against the Royals in K.C. Now they have regained control of the Central, and hold their biggest lead to date.
6. Yankees (10): The Bombers put their tough times behind them with five wins last week, and have pulled back even atop the A.L. East with Tampa Bay. Curtis Granderson’s 16 homers are second in the A.L. and Alex Rodriguez finally hit his way out of his month-long slump with 13 hits last week, three of them landing over the fence.
7. Marlins (8): The Marlins continue to hang around as the best team in baseball that can’t get into first place, but they’ll be put to their toughest challenge of the young season now with their ace Josh Johnson sitting on the Disabled List with an injured shoulder.
8. Rangers (13): With the mediocrity of the A.L. West this year, all it takes is not losing too much and you’ll get your turn atop the division. And after going 3-4 last week that’s where the Rangers find themselves again. However, with Josh Hamilton and Nelson Cruz returning this week, they are in position to put some distance between themselves and the rest of the pack again.
9. Reds (4): They are currently stuck in a season-worst 5 game slide that has seen them fall out of first place, against the likes of the Pirates and the formerly secondary Ohio squad, the Indians, this week. With a trip to Philly to kick off this week, they’ll have to dig down deep to stop the bleeding.
10. Red Sox (14): Are they beginning to figure it out? Adrian Gonzalez is destroying the ball right now ( his 65 hits and 41 RBI both lead the Majors), and he went 10 for 15 over the weekend versus the Cubs. After going 8-2 over their last 10, they are the hottest team in the A.L. and a half game out of first in the East.
11. Braves (9): Injuries have taken Jason Heyward and Nate McLouth from their lineup, and for a lineup that is only hitting .242 as a team this season, these absences could put more pressure on their pitching than they can handle on a nightly basis.
12. Angels (6): Torii Hunter went 2-4 with a homer on Sunday, and since it is now clear that their best hitter, Kendrys Morales, will not play this season, Hunter has to get his overall production up (.231 average)  if the Halos are going to hang in with the Rangers, who are getting healthy in a hurry.
13. Brewers (20): The Brewers have been up and down all season, but now that their pitching is getting healthy they are quietly running into the Cardinals/Reds mix atop the N.L. Central. Key to this has been the turnaround of Yovani Gallardo (2 wins, 14 strikeouts in last 12 innings).
14. Rockies (15): The mediocrity of the Rockies continues, as they cannot find any measure of consistency, albeit against a tough schedule recently against the Giants, Phillies and Brewers. Ubaldo Jimenez’s Sunday performance (8 innings, 2 hits) could be a sign of hope, although they still dropped the matchup.
15. Tigers (11): When going is great, it’s great in the D, but when it’s bad….yeah. After being the bullies of the A.L. for the better part of the last two weeks, the Tigers could only mustered one win last week. After second losing streak of 5 or more games in the last month, they have slid seven games back of the Indians in the Central.
16. Blue Jays (16): With the East getting more and more competitive, the give me games become that much more important. Losing 2 of 3 to the N.L.’s worst in the Astro to start off their interleague schedule is a failure to capitalize on this rule.
17. Royals (12): Not sure of what to take from the Royals. They rode a team-wide hot streak to their best start in years, but now have lost 10 of their last 15 games and are headed down quickly. Now they have to resist the urge to spark relight their early season flame by putting too much of their youth movement into play too early, regardless of how well Eric Homser has fared thus far (.288 and 3 homers in first 15 games).
18. D’Backs (26): They made the desert the last place anybody wanted to be last week, winning six of seven against the Padres, Braves and Twins. Could they be putting themselves in line to be the party crashers in the West this season?
19. Pirates (19): Are the days of the guaranteed 100 loss Pirates a thing of the past? It’s still semi-early, but after going 4-1 against legit foes in the Reds and Tigers to end last week, they are looking like a legit .500 area team this year.
20. Mariners (24): Ichiro is struggling right now (.192 average last week), but with the efforts that Felix Hernandez (3.01 ERA, AL-Best 77 strikeouts) and young Michael Pineda (14 innings, n0 runs, 16 strikeouts and 2 wins last week) are giving they don’t need give much. They went 6-1 last week and pulled out of the A.L. West cellar for the first time all year.
21. Mets (21): The Mets are actually playing their best ball of the year right now, but you wouldn’t know it from owner Fred Wilpon’s financially frustrated outburst against some of his best players in Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran this week. By the time David Wright returns from his back fracture injury, this team could look completely different.
22. A’s (17): With the A’s bullpen struggles now joining their lineup in handicapping their starters potential, they have finally hit the bottom of the A.L. West. Their current five-game losing streak is their longest of the season, and has seen them top 4 runs only once and blow 2 saves.
23. White Sox (27): The Sox seem to finally be waking up. They are benefiting from the Royals and Tigers’ struggles and are moving up the division standings, and if Jake Peavy can keep throwing like he did this week (complete game 3-hitter, 8 strikeouts), the Sox will be a player in the A.L. Central picture before too long.
24. Dodgers (18): This is a team where only 3 guys (Kemp, Ethier and Kershaw) seem to be up to playing every time out, and it shows that perhaps the front office woes have impacted the on-field effort as well.
25. Orioles (19): The O’s are 2-7 in their last their last four A.L. East series, and are becoming the bonus win in the division for the East Coast top dogs. Zach Britton, who wasn’t even supposed to be on their roster right now, represents their only real chance at a win weekly.
26. Nationals (22): They have the lowest on-base percentage of any team in the National League, and are squeezing every bit of production they can get from their pitching staff. If they can find a way to get a few more games to Drew Storen (9 for 9 in save opportunities and 0.38 ERA), they’d be in much better shape.
27. Cubs (25): They took the fight to the Red Sox all weekend, but when your second best starter (Ryan Dempster) is sporting an ERA that is pushing seven (6.91) wins are going to be tough to come by. With uncertain injuries to Matt Garza and Marlon Byrd in play now as well, things aren’t looking up for the Cubs.
28. Padres (28): The Pads are struggling to put anything on the board, but Ryan Ludwick is doing his part with a ten-game hitting streak and a .439 average during it.
29. Astros (29): The biggest news out of Houston is that the Astros were sold this week, which should come as no surprise considering their 17 wins have them in the cellar of the league’s most wide open division by 10.5 games.
30. Twins (30): Delmon Young returned to provide some hope of a turnaround and Carl Pavano had his best outing of the year, but 15 wins at the end of May is still exactly what it looks like. This is probably beyond even Joe Mauer’s reach of salvation at this point.

M-V-Me: My Picks for each side’s best so far

NL-Joey Votto: Despite the Reds going through a rough patch and losing their grip on first place in the Central, he continues to pound the ball. His average sits at .335 (3rd in the NL) and his combined on-base + slugging is 2nd in league as well. He hit a huge homer to centerfield in Cleveland in Sunday, which could be a sign that he’s about to make a run up the power charts as well.(Runners Up: Lance Berkman, Ryan Braun)

AL-Jose Bautista: The Blue Jay plugged continues to kill the ball, and is in the rare position of having such a good season that his individual numbers are so good they override the mediocrity of his club. He is near the top of the Triple Crown categories by a comfortable margin with a .353 average (2nd) and 18 home runs (best in the Majors). It’s early to call it now, but he could be on the way to making his 54 homer breakout last year be an afterthought to this year’s performance.

Bautista is hitting round-trippers at a rate that may get the record books attention soon.

KINGS OF THE HILL

NL-Tim Lincecum: The 2-time Cu Young winner showed why he’ll definitely be adding to that collection again one day this weekend. He bounced back from one of his worst starts of the year with one of the his best of his career. He retired 21 straight Giants while walking none to land his 4th win of the year and lower his ERA to 2.06. He keeps on throwing, and the Giants keep on rising.

Lincecum sent 21 straight A's back to the bench in his second start of the week, and one of the best of his career.

AL-James Shields: Their timely hitting has gotten many of the headlines, but the real reason the Rays have resurrected their season so quickly is because of their pitching. And their biggest asset this year is Shields. He botched his fifth win yesterday via his 2nd shutout of the season with a career high 13 strikeouts. Overall, he is in the top 5 in wins (5), ERA (2.00) and strikeouts (73). (Runners Up: Trevor Cahill, Josh Beckett)

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