The Tenth Inning – Week 5

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By Mike Ivcic

One week after the NL power rankings, we turn now to the AL rankings, which finds a surprising team up top. I still believe Boston is probably the best team in the league at this point, but I can’t put them first in the rankings until they take over first place in the division. The month of May should provide a good barometer as to whether the teams that have leaped to the front early in the season will maintain that pace until the final weeks of the year. That said, here are the rankings for the first part of 2009 in the AL.

AL Early Season Rankings

1. Toronto Blue Jays – When a team leads a division that has the two LCS participants from the prior year AND the team with the highest payroll in the sport, it’s a good season. That said, the Jays have only played two division games all season long – let’s see what happens when they face the Sox, Rays, and Yanks head-to-head.

2. Boston Red Sox – Taking two of three from the Rays is certainly a boost to a club that has struggled against their Southern rival. There’s still no way around it, though – Big Papi needs to get back to his ’04-’07 form for Boston to become the hands-down favorite.

3. Los Angeles Angels – Don’t look now, but the Angels are about to reclaim their stake to the AL West. A team that was mired under .500 a week ago, the Halos have won four straight and look like they’ve recovered from the tragic start to their season.

4. Kansas City Royals – The Royals led the Central for most of the season until last weekend, when the Angels took them to task. The story of the season is clearly Zack Greinke, who has posted a 6-1 record with a 0.51 ERA, a 0.79 WHIP, and 59 strikeouts. Simply insane.

5. Detroit Tigers – Percentage points ahead of the Royals for first in the Central, Detroit has had surprisingly good pitching and a hot start from Miguel Cabrera, still hitting .378 for the year. The only issue now is getting closer Fernando Rodney (5.25 ERA) straightened out.

6. Texas Rangers – Andruw Jones is hitting .314, Kevin Millwood has a 2.52 ERA, and someone forgot to tell me the 2000 Atlanta Braves are now the 2009 Texas Rangers. While this likely won’t last, perhaps the good start is a sign the franchise is turning the corner.

7. New York Yankees – There’s a good chance that if the Yankee brass knew that Yankee Stadium Part 2 would play like Coors Field pre-humidor days, they would have taken the money they invested in Sabathia and/or Burnett and signed Manny Ramirez. He and A-Rod would have gotten along really well.

8. Seattle Mariners – Another team that has slowly come back to earth, the Mariners hot start was keyed by pitching, which has gotten progressively worse. They need another starter to go behind Felix-Washburn-Bedard, because the offense simply isn’t there to carry the team.

9. Tampa Bay Rays – They have rebounded nicely from a poor start, but the Rays are still missing critical pieces. Burrell’s hit one HR, Upton’s batting only .167, and Kazmir has a 5.92 ERA. That has overshadowed Longoria’s .358 average and 44 RBI’s after only five weeks.

10. Minnesota Twins – Traditionally one of the best second-half teams in baseball, the Twins will need it again if they want to contend for a division title that is clearly up for grabs, but they won’t have much of a chance unless Joe Mauer, one week off the DL, can stay healthy.

11. Chicago White Sox – Four regulars are hitting below .250 (Ramirez, Quentin, Fields, Thome) and Jose Contreras has been downright miserable (0-5, 1.89 WHIP, 8.19 ERA). Last year’s Central champs can’t be far from inciting another Ozzie Guillen rant.

12. Baltimore Orioles – The weaklings of the AL East are on the right path, but the younger players are a year or two away from becoming last year’s Rays. The bullpen is solid and the Nick Markakis-Adam Jones tandem has produced, but the starters need a massive overhaul to compete.

13. Cleveland Indians – Let the Cliff Lee trade rumors begin. The Indians had higher expectations going into the season, and they’re in a weak enough division that they can still challenge for the top, provided the pitching staff stops allowing so many runs (188, 3rd most).

14. Oakland Athletics – The influx of veteran talent has been a bust, with Matt Holliday, Jason Giambi, Nomar Garciaparra, and Orlando Cabrera are all hitting .231 or below. A second place preseason prediction in March is likely going to turn into a major firesale in July in the Bay Area.

This week, watch for…
1) Derek Lowe vs Johan Santana (Braves @ Mets, 5/11 and 5/12-13)
2) NLCS Rematch (Dodgers @ Phillies, 5/12-14)
3) Angels Schedule (vs Bos, 5/12-14; @ Tex, 5/15-17)

Look for my column, “The Tenth Inning,” every Monday for the UltimateCapper

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