Posted: Thursday May 5, 2011 12:26PM ; Updated: Friday May 6, 2011 11:10AM
Joe Lemire
Joe Lemire>MLB POWER RANKINGS

Indians take over top spot as surprise teams climb rankings

Story Highlights

The Marlins, Pirates and Royals are also defying preseason expectations

The Rockies drop out of the top spot for the first time in four weeks

The White Sox continue to drop, falling to No. 29 after being no-hit by the Twins

As the calendar turns to May, it's time to start wondering which surprise starters might fade and who could be for real. The Indians, widely expected to finish fourth or fifth in the American League Central, have baseball's best record. The Royals and Pirates -- who haven't finished above .500 since 2003 and 1992, respectively -- either have or are within striking distance of winning records. And the Marlins, who were pegged for about a .500 season, have the National League's second-best mark, trailing only their NL East rival Phillies.

Those four teams all currently rank in the top half of SI.com's MLB Power Rankings, with the Indians rising to No. 1, the Marlins remaining at No. 3, the Royals scooting up to No. 13 and the Pirates -- yep, the Pittsburgh Pirates -- soaring up to No. 14 after winning consecutive series against the team that was baseball's best (Rockies) and the club that remains the worst (Padres).

So what does the start of May mean? Of the six teams who were in the lead of their division at the end of play on May 1 in 2010, only two, the Rays and Twins, finished the year on top of their division. The other four -- A's, Mets, Cardinals and Padres -- all faded out of the playoff picture entirely, although three of the four merely to second place. (The Mets finished fourth.)

In 2009 two of the six teams leading their divisions on May 1 went on to win their division that year as well. In 2008 four of the six won their divisions. In 2007 it was three of six, and in 2006 only one of the six division leaders held on at the end of the season.

It's an admittedly inexact science, but if the last five years are any guide, somewhere between one and four teams of the May 1 division leaders -- this year, that list includes the Yankees, Indians, Rangers, Phillies, Cardinals and Rockies -- will hold at the end of the year. In other words, it's still too early to tell.

NOTE: All stats are updated through Wednesday, May 5.

MLB Power Rankings
1Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 5
The Indians have the sixth-best team ERA in the majors (3.35), and they've compiled that number with the youngest staff in baseball with an average age of 26.3. Indeed, Fausto Carmona and Mitch Talbot -- both 27 -- are the old men of the starting rotation, and only reliever Chad Durbin has hit his 30th birthday. Each pitcher has so little service time, in fact, that only Durbin is not under team control and will be a free-agent at year's end. Cleveland holds a club option on Carmona for $7 million, and five pitchers, including closer Chris Perez, are set for arbitration after the season. Otherwise, the young pitchers who have impressed to date are set to come back for roughly the league minimum salary.
 
2Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 2
The Phillies' four star starters are living up to the considerable hype so far -- they are collectively 13-5 with a 2.88 ERA -- while fifth starter Joe Blanton had been living down to his, going 0-1 in four starts with a 5.92 ERA before a recent trip to the DL. It's no wonder that the satirical online newspaper, The Onion, took a stab at a parody of this situation about a man who shares Phillies season tickets and is constantly stuck with all of Blanton's starts. Hope that fictional father enjoys the work of Vance Worley, who gave up just one run in six innings in his start on Wednesday.
 
3Florida Marlins
Last Week: 3
There are 12 managers who are in their first full season leading their teams, and the Marlins' Edwin Rodriguez is the only one of the dozen to be on a one-year contract. He's not the headliner that owner Jeffrey Loria has lusted after, particularly with the club moving into a new ballpark next year and needs to put fans in the seats, but it's hard to argue with the job Rodriguez is currently doing in Florida. Despite his best player, shortstop Hanley Ramirez, and his two other 2010 All-Stars, catcher John Buck and second baseman Omar Infante, all off to slow starts, the Marlins are 19-10, the third best record in the majors. While one month of play isn't enough basis for a contract extension, Rodriguez ought to be in line for one if his club keeps up its pace.
 
4Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 1
What a strange year Chris Iannetta has had at the plate. Despite having only 85 plate appearances this season, the Rockies' catcher is tied for third in the NL with 19 walks. In fact, among all players with at least 75 plate appearances, he leads the NL with a rate of 4.5 plate appearances per walk. But those are about the only times he's been stationed at first base. He has only a .188 average on 12 hits, of which eight have gone for extra bases. His four singles are the fewest among all players with 75 or more PAs.
 
5Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 12
One widely held belief of sabermetricians is that clutch hitting does not exist -- according to some research, players rarely repeat their performances in clutch situations from one year to the next. If that's the case, Braves catcher Brian McCann better enjoy the run he's on. He is batting .600 (12-for-20) with one home run, 15 RBIs and four walks while batting with runners in scoring position.
 
6New York Yankees
Last Week: 6
The tense offseason negotiations were only a start of the public hit on Derek Jeter. The aging future Hall of Fame shortstop is off to a sluggish start, batting .250 with 25 of his first 27 hits going only for singles and, as SI.com's Joe Posnanski details, 11 of them didn't leave the infield. Then an anonymous talent evaluator told the Bergen Record that it's "almost sad" to watch Jeter at this stage of his career. And then the Captain exited Wednesday's night game early with a hip injury. As effective as the Yankees have been offensively -- they lead the AL in home runs, OBP and slugging -- imagine how good they'd be if Jeter and his .308 OBP weren't batting first or second every game.
 
7St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 7
The Cardinals' lineup boasts the NL's top two hitters, as rated by both batting average and OPS, and amazingly neither is Albert Pujols. The renaissance of Lance Berkman and his nine home runs has obscured Matt Holliday's outstanding start, as the latter shook off his early-season appendectomy surgery and is absolutely crushing the ball. He leads the majors with a .413 average (23 points ahead of Berkman), he's atop the NL with a .509 OBP and is tied with the Reds' Joey Votto for the major league lead with 25 runs scored. His OPS (1.150) is second only to Berkman's 1.211.
 
8Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 8
A key part of the Rays' early-season turnaround has been their starting pitching. The entirely homegrown five-man rotation -- one more than the Giants who won last year's World Series with a homegrown four-man rotation in the postseason -- shook off Tampa Bay's 1-8 start and pitched the team to a 15-5 record over its next 20 games, thanks to a 3.04 ERA and nearly seven innings per start. And, thanks to an unprecedented bounty of draft picks in June, the Rays will have a prime chance to restock the minors with promising young pitchers.
 
9Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 9
The men playing the infield for the Angels last year ranked 29th in OBP (.293) and 27th in OPS (.661). With many of the same players this year -- Erick Aybar, Alberto Callaspo (who arrived midseason last year), Maicer Izturis, Howie Kendrick and Mark Trumbo (a late-season call-up last year) -- L.A.'s infield ranks 14th in OBP (.329) and seventh in OPS (.770). Izturis stands out above them all, as he has a .333/.328/.495 batting line, numbers so high that on Wednesday manager Mike Scioscia bumped him into the No. 3 slot of his lineup. His career OPS, however, is only .738, suggesting he won't be a long-term fit for the slot once he cools down, but it's worth riding the hot bat for now.
 
10Texas Rangers
Last Week: 4
Remember that time in January when it was a debate whether Neftali Feliz would start? Or that other time at the start of March?
 
11Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 13
First base is typically a power position, but there's nothing typical about Daric Barton. Last year he led the AL in walks with 110 but also finished fourth in sacrifice bunts, with 12. This year he played in Oakland's first 30 games, starting 27 of them, but is batting .204 with no home runs and a paltry slugging percentage of .291. The last time someone played at least 100 games and had a slugging percentage under .300 was in 1983, when the White Sox' Mike Squires and the Phillies' Pete Rose both did it. Squires was almost exclusively a defensive replacement for the Tony La Russa-managed team; Rose, the all-time hit king, was 42 years old that year and failed to homer in 493 at bats, batting .245.
 
12Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 10
None of Cincinnati's starters has an ERA under 4.00, and three of the five are above 5.60, so the Reds are hoping this weekend's return of Johnny Cueto gives them a boost. He hasn't pitched in the majors yet this season while recovering from a triceps injury but had a terrific 2010 in which he had a 12-7 record with a 3.64 ERA and 1.28 WHIP, prompting the Reds to hand him a four-year extension in the offseason. But his rehab starts in Triple-A haven't exactly gone smoothly: In four outings he's pitched only 14 1/3 innings with a 6.28 ERA and 1.74 WHIP.
 
13Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 16
Who are these guys? The Royals, even without blue-chip hitting prospects Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Will Myers, are crushing the ball. They lead the AL in runs, hits, doubles, triples and, just for good measure, stolen bases and sacrifice flies too. They rank in the top four in average, OBP, slugging and total bases. Among those leading the charge is rightfielder Jeff Francoeur, who has remade himself in Kansas City. In the past three seasons the noted freeswinger hasn't had an OBP of .310 or a slugging percentage of .425, both of which he's obliterating so far with a .357 and .623, respectively, including a team-leading eight home runs.
 
14Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 23
Despite having a bullpen populated with names few fans outside Pittsburgh would recognize -- except, perhaps, for closer Joel Hanrahan, who also filled that role with the Nationals, and for Evan Meek, who was an All-Star last season -- the Pirates rank second in the majors in reliever ERA at 2.44. Meek has been unable to repeat his surprise 2010 campaign, but Hanrahan has been terrific, with nine saves and a 1.69 ERA and Chris Resop is filling the role of this year's Meek. Resop has a 1.65 ERA and four holds in 16 1/3 innings.
 
15Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 22
In the seven games played since the last edition of Power Rankings, Red Sox starters didn't give up more than two earned runs in any game -- even in Wednesday's night game when they used three starting pitchers. Thanks to rain and extra innings, the Sox and Angels played a five-hour game in which starter Boston Josh Beckett had to exit after 4 1/3 shutout innings (because of the 2:35 delay); Tim Wakefield, who started Sunday's game, escaped a jam in his scoreless 2/3 of an inning; and then Daisuke Matsuzaka made his first career relief appearance in the 13th inning, allowing a two-run single to Bobby Abreu. It was the Angels' first victory over the Red Sox in seven tries, and Boston's third defeat this year in a game that could have (finally) pulled them up to .500.
 
16Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 15
Given the Tigers' resurgence since Jim Leyland became manager in 2006, it is easy (for non-Michigan residents) to forget just how bad the team was before he took over. As CBSSports.com's Danny Knobler details, Detroit had 18 losing streaks of at least eight games in the 10 years before Leyland entered the dugout. Since then, the Tigers are one of eight teams without a losing streak of more than seven games, though they had lost seven in a row before defeating the Yankees' CC Sabathia on Tuesday night.
 
17Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 20
Not long after the Rays' B.J. Upton hit a walk-off home run on Tuesday evening, his younger brother Justin followed suit with his own go-ahead homer in the eighth inning to lead the Diamondbacks to a 4-3 victory over the Rockies. Justin Upton's hot start had tapered the past two weeks but his Tuesday homer was one of three hits in that game, shooting his average back above .280, and showed a wealth of confidence as he took matters in his own hands by swinging at a 3-0 pitch rather than looking for a rally-starting walk. Upton has a stated goal of reaching the All-Star Game this year, which is being held in his home ballpark. "My goal is to be in rightfield in front of that 'Uptown' sign and in front of our fans," he told the Arizona Republic.
 
18San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 19
He can speak five languages, he's responsible for the spread of baseball in his native Curacao, he won a World Series ring in his first-year as a major league coach and soon the Giants' 43-year-old hitting coach, Hensley "Bam Bam" Meulens, will be able to add amateur astronaut to his long résumé, as detailed in this terrific mlb.com profile. San Francisco's offense this year, however, is not exactly out of this world. It ranks 14th of 16 in runs scored with 108 and last in the NL in OBP (.290).
 
19Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 14
As if Andre Ethier's chance at matching or breaking Joe DiMaggio's record of a 56-game hitting streak wasn't hard enough -- because of the media scrutiny and because of the sheer mathematical improbability -- the Dodgers rightfielder sat out Wednesday's game with elbow inflammation. Ethier failed to get a hit in the season's second game but has remarkably notched at least one in the next 29 games, a steak currently on pause while he's hurt. Even if it ends there, it's worth celebrating as the rate of attrition is high with each additional game. There have been only 53 streaks of at least 30 games, of which only 10 exceeded 35.
 
20Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 25
Chicago Tribune beat writer Paul Sullivan speculated in a blog post that the Cubs might have made history with their lineup on Wednesday afternoon, as manager Mike Quade filled in the Nos. 7-8-9 spots with leftfielder Alfonso Soriano, first baseman Carlos Peña and starting pitching Carlos Zambrano, who are making a combined $45.875 million this season. Those three all contributed to a 5-1 win -- Zambrano allowed only one run in eight innings while Peña homered and Soriano added a single -- but otherwise each has battled significant inconsistency so far this year.
 
21Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 27
First baseman Justin Smoak is developing into the middle-of-the-order power threat the Mariners have longed for. After a disappointing rookie season in 2010, Smoak has put together a batting line of .294/.396/.518 -- the OBP and slugging lead the team while the average ranks second to Ichiro Suzuki (who else?). Smoak has played through recent sadness, as his father passed away from lung cancer. Smoak missed six games on the bereavement list but homered in the game before leaving and in the first two games upon his return, a nice tribute to his father. According to the Seattle Times, catcher Miguel Olivo greeted Smoak at the plate after the homer in his first game back and said, "That was for Papa."
 
22Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 18
Last season under manager Cito Gaston the Blue Jays ranked last in the AL with 58 stolen bases and last in the majors with only 78 attempts. The only player with double digit steals, Fred Lewis, who had 17, left in the offseason, yet Toronto, under new skipper John Farrell is being much more aggressive on the basepaths. They are already 34-for-45 in stolen-base attempts, which equates to a pace of 184-for-243 on the season, which would triple last year's output.
 
23Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 21
Nick Markakis is having an uncharacteristically poor offensive season with a .216/.281/.319 batting line. Since April 14 Markakis had only two multi-hit games and just one extra-base hit (a double) until going 2-for-5 with a homer on Wednesday night. That alone isn't enough to end a slump that had persisted for three full weeks, which ought to be reason to drop him in the lineup for a few days. Also curious is that the lefty-swinging Markakis, who for his career has hit righties and lefties almost equally well, is hitting for a better average against lefties (.231) than righties (.208).
 
24Washington Nationals
Last Week: 29
The Nationals' bullpen phone likely has accrued some rollover minutes. Washington is the only team whose starters have completed at least five innings in every game this season. Three went at least eight innings in the past week. When they've been used, the Nationals' relievers have fared well, not allowing a run in the last five games in which they've appeared, led by Drew Storen, who has become the de facto closer with a 0.56 ERA and six saves in six chances, and by top set-up man Tyler Clippard, who has seven saves and a 1.42 ERA.
 
25Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 11
Zack Greinke, having recovered from the broken rib he suffered playing pickup basketball in spring training, made his long-awaited Brewers debut on Wednesday night . . . and was welcomed by his teammates committing three errors, including two on the first three batters he faced. Limited to no more than 90 pitches in his first start, Greinke only lasted four innings, giving up five runs (four earned) on five hits and one walk. He did, however, strike out six, showing glimpses of his ace material.
 
26New York Mets
Last Week: 17
With the Giants in town this week, the rumor mill heated up about Jose Reyes' next contract and/or destination. The Mets' shortstop, who is off to a great start with a .315/.366/.446 batting line and 11 stolen bases (tied for the major league lead), is due to become a free agent at year's end. If the cash-strapped Mets don't believe they can re-sign him in the offseason, San Francisco would make a likely trade destination. Reyes is even leading the Mets with three intentional walks, each coming in the past week with Daniel Murphy batting behind him. Murphy is 1-for-3 with a two-RBI double in the ensuing at bats.
 
27Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 26
Francisco Liriano certainly threw one of the least anticipated no-hitters in baseball history, given that he had never previously thrown a complete game, entered the game with an ERA of 9.13 and was in danger of losing his spot in the rotation. It will be interesting to see how he responds to that workload, which included 123 pitches, tied for the most in his career with a start almost exactly a year earlier on May 2, 2010. After that start last year, he went 0-3 in his next three outings with a 7.02 ERA and didn't complete more than six innings in any of them.
 
28Houston Astros
Last Week: 28
Though he was a two-time Pac-10 Player of the Year at Arizona State, a first-round pick and a prospect so highly-regarded that he was traded either directly or indirectly for Matt Holliday, Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt, Brett Wallace received little buzz in the preseason, likely owing to a disappointing .222/.296/.319 batting line in his first 51 major-league games last season. But all Wallace has done this year is rake. Until Wednesday's 0-for-4 performance that snapped an 11-game hitting streak, Wallace was batting .383 with a .448 OBP and .990 OPS, good for third, fourth and seventh, respectively, in the NL.
 
29Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 24
No-hitters are like weddings. It's the bride's day, but the event is not possible without the groom. In other words, while the Twins' Francisco Liriano was the star on Tuesday, his no-hitter wouldn't have been possible without a poor hitting day from the White Sox, an event that is rapidly becoming all-too-common for the South Siders. The only hitter with an average above .300 is Brent Lillibridge, and he only has 28 at bats. Chicago has averaged 2.5 runs in its last 21 games.
 
30San Diego Padres
Last Week: 30
Starter Dustin Moseley understands better than most that it's a blessing and a curse to pitch for the Padres. In six starts he is 1-3 with a 1.63 ERA in six starts. On first glance it would seem that he should have a better win-loss record, given that he is receiving just 1.2 runs of offensive support per nine innings from the anemic Padres lineup, more than half a run worse than second place on the list. But further inspection shows that his FIP -- Fielding-Independent Pitching, which adjusts ERA for defense -- is 3.51, meaning that Moseley would otherwise be allowing nearly two additional runs per nine innings if not for San Diego's first-rate defense.

 
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