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Posted: Thursday October 1, 2009 1:26PM; Updated: Friday October 2, 2009 11:29PM
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MLB POWER RANKINGS

Yankees and Nationals bookend final installment of 2009 campaign

Story Highlights

The only question remaining for the Yanks: Will A-Rod finally show up in October?

Cards GM John Mozeliak deserves a bunch of credit for St. Louis' stellar season

Other teams had a worse record but no one had a worse season than the Mets

The last week of the season means the last edition of the Power Rankings. This week features obvious choices at the top (the likely eight playoff teams) and bottom (back to the cellar, Nats), and a slew of playoff-bound teams who aren't exactly playing confidence-inspiring baseball heading into the postseason. It also includes a sci-fi crazy pitcher who may be a Game 1 postseason starter, a SWAT team demonstration, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart clips and one last diatribe by a Windy City manager. See everyone in the postseason.

MLB Power Rankings
1New York Yankees
Last Week: 1
They spent over $1 billion on their new stadium and over $200 million on their payroll, so you just knew the Yankees would have to cut corners somewhere. That somewhere turned out to be cheap champagne for their AL East victory celebration last Sunday. "We just got whatever this time," clubhouse manager Rob Cucuzza told the New York Times. "We'll get better quality as we go along." Apparently, even the clubhouse guys are expecting an extended postseason run this year. With the best home record in a new stadium in baseball history, home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and 102 wins on the season (thus far), almost everybody else is, too. In fact, there are only two questions remaining for the team with the best record in baseball: Will Alex Rodriguez finally show up in October after batting .143 with 18 strikeouts in his last 16 postseason games? And how long will it take Yankee fans to boo him this postseason if he doesn't? One at-bat? Two?
 
2Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 4
I was recently asked on an L.A. radio show about whether teams should celebrate division titles like they just won the World Series, which apparently has been a hot topic lately in Southern California. First, yes, and second, they don't. As Angels manager Mike Scioscia noted after his Angels wrapped up their third straight AL West title and fifth in six years, the regular season is the longest grind of the year and winning it deserves to be enjoyed. But anyone who thinks teams celebrate just as hard or with as much joy and relief after winning a division as they do after winning the World Series has never been caught in the middle of a champagne shower. Now if you want to debate the merits of honoring a fallen teammate who was killed by a drunk driver by drenching his jersey with beer, that might be a discussion worth having. At least their hearts were in the right place.
 
3Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 2
You may think that now that they've clinched a playoff spot and all but wrapped up the NL West, there's nothing left to be excited about at Dodger Stadium this season. Well, you'd be wrong. Who will be more excited about Star Wars Night at Dodger Stadium this Saturday: the fans who get to show up in costume for the game (fair warning -- no lightsabers) or Dodgers pitcher Randy Wolf? Wolf is a huge Star Wars fan, which might not be that unusual (isn't everybody?), but not many have a seven-foot tall Darth Vader in their house and even fewer would admit it. The Dodgers didn't end the season as the imperialist army they were for most of the first half, but they still look like a good bet to finish with the best record in the NL and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. Biggest concern now, other than finally securing their division title: getting Chad Billingsley and Manny Ramirez straightened out in time for October.
 
4St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 5
Few people before the season would have picked the Cardinals as the NL Central champs, and even fewer would have guessed they'd be the first team in baseball to clinch their division. But wrapping it up early gives them plenty of time to rest their dinged-up regulars (Yadier Molina took a foul ball off his knee, and Albert Pujols limped around after a base hit at Colorado). It also gave Pujols time to plan his "Tony dip," the ritual whereby he dumps a bucket of ice on Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. From La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan to Pujols and Matt Holliday to the dominant duo of Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright, this was an impressive team effort all year long, and general manager John Mozeliak deserves a lot of the credit. This is a team nobody wants to face in the postseason.
 
5Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 6
Perhaps no team in baseball is more familiar with collapses than the Phillies, who have been on both sides of the September swoon (see: 1964 for worse; and 2007 for better). So you'll forgive the players and manager Charlie Manuel if they didn't exactly lighten up as they closed in on their third straight NL East crown. At one point before they clinched the division on Wednesday night, their lead had shriveled to just four games over the hard-charging Braves after being as high as eight games on September 20. Part of the reason may be fatigue. Six Phillies regulars -- Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Pedro Feliz, Shane Victorino and Jayson Werth -- have played more than 150 games this season. Then again, even some rival NL East managers don't think that should matter, since baseball is not a "physically taxing sport." Right, Jim Riggleman?
 
6Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 7
In 2007, the Rockies were the beneficiaries of a dubious call that went their way and helped them reach the postseason as the NL wild-card winner. In 2009, they got some more help and as a result, are on the verge of wrapping up their second playoff spot in the past three seasons. Clint Barmes appeared to make a spectacular, game-saving double play on Sunday that may very well have saved the Rockies' season, but the photographic evidence suggests Barmes actually dropped the ball (by the way, it's plays like that that cause MLB to use six umpires in the playoffs). This is reminiscent of Matt Holliday's famous did-he-or-didn't-he touch the plate on his game-winning slide in the one-game playoff for the 2007 wild card, another call that went Colorado's way. All those who hope baseball never fully institutes instant replay should be very glad that it looks like the Rockies won't be winning the wild card by just one game.
 
7Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 3
Six straight losses isn't nearly as frightening as having your certain Game 1 and 2 starters confront injury scares. Neither is the way you want to get ready for the postseason, but that's what the Red Sox are dealing with. First Jon Lester took a line drive off his knee courtesy of the Yankees Melky Cabrera (intentional?), and then Josh Beckett was scratched from his start on Monday night with a bad back, making his start this weekend the most eagerly anticipated tune-up in Fenway Park since the Phish show back in May. Good thing Clay Buchholz has been pitching like everyone always expected he would. He was 5-0 with a 1.32 ERA and .185/.233/.475 opponents batting line over his past six starts before being shelled by Toronto on Tuesday night.
 
8Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 8
Comerica Park: Come for the local SWAT team display, stay for the pennant-pressure baseball. On Wednesday, Detroit police planned to practice a "fast-roping" exercise (as demonstrated by the U.S. military) in advance of a Tigers' World Series celebration. I know Detroit has a bit of a reputation with championship celebrations, but this may be excessive, to say nothing of premature. After dropping the first game of a doubleheader to the Twins on Tuesday, the Tigers lead was down to one and they appeared in danger of missing the playoffs altogether. Then Justin Verlander bailed them out in the nightcap (he's now 11-4 after a Tigers loss this year) and their lead is up to three games entering Thursday.
 
9Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 9
Losing two straight in Detroit to fall three games back of the Tigers in the AL Central would be bad enough if it looked like they had a good chance of winning all their remaining games to keep the heat on the front-runners. But not only do the Twins need a win in the series finale on Thursday, they also have to find a way to beat likely AL Cy Young winner Zack Greinke this weekend. It was a nice comeback to get within one, but the Twins will kick themselves all winter that they waited until mid-September to finally start playing like a postseason contender.
 
10Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 10
As the Braves stormed to 14 wins in 16 games to put some serious heat on the Rockies, there was some discussion about their favorable schedule, which has them playing the Nationals seven times in their last 10 games. Phillies manager Charlie Manuel jokingly (I think) said recently, "The schedule has been perfect for them. Bobby Cox might have made that schedule up. He announced his retirement and they let him go ahead and make that schedule." That's obviously not true, but the Braves did win their first five games after Cox announced that the 2010 season would be his last as Braves manager. Along the way, they trimmed their NL wild-card deficit to two games at one point and people are noticing. Fox moved up the start time for their Saturday game to make it a nationally televised affair. Even though they remain a long shot to reach the postseason, they're already looking like a factor for next year. Since Atlanta is deep in the heart of college football country ... The Braves right now resemble the team that is finishing so strong that even if they fall short this year they'd open next season ranked in everybody's top five, as they'll have a fantastic pitching staff, a rejuvenated offense and the arrival of superstar prospect Jason Heyward.
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