Posted: Thursday July 28, 2011 12:35PM ; Updated: Thursday July 28, 2011 5:49PM
Joe Lemire
Joe Lemire>MLB POWER RANKINGS

Phillies back to No. 1 but deadline promises changes in store

Story Highlights

Philadelphia fell back to No. 2 last week because of Texas' 12-game winning streak

The Rangers are now No. 5, behind also the Red Sox, Yankees and Giants

Bottom five remains the same: Royals, Orioles Cubs, Mariners and Astros

The trade deadline creates Declare Your Intentions Week, which sounds like something fathers tell the young men courting their daughters, but it's likewise necessary for ballclubs to decide if they're going for broke in search of a World Series title, packing it in by selling valuable commodities to build for next year or remaining steady either through indecisiveness or faith that their team's inertia will carry them into the postseason.

The Brewers jumped the gun by acquiring Mets reliever Francisco Rodriguez two weeks ago, but the Giants and Cardinals got into the act on Wednesday. San Francisco obtained outfielder Carlos Beltran; St. Louis most notably acquired starter Edwin Jackson and relievers Marc Rzepczynski and Octavio Dotel, though at the considerable cost of centerfielder Colby Rasmus.

The middle of the pack is most interesting: While the Rays are probably close to selling because of the AL East roadblocks ahead of them, what will teams like the Diamondbacks, Pirates, Indians and White Sox do?

The intentions of the top of the leaderboard are clear -- hint: they're going for it -- but of the first se ven teams only the Giants have made a notable trade, so it remains to be seen how drastic a move any of the other clubs are willing to make.

For now the Phillies and Red Sox have returned to the top two spots after a one-week hiatus that was no fault of their own: When a top-five team, such as the Rangers last week, goes on a 12-game winning streak, they've earned No. 1. Texas quickly fell back to Earth but remains ahead of the Braves, who now must cope without catcher Brian McCann for a couple weeks.

NOTE: All stats are updated through Wednesday, July 27.

MLB Power Rankings
1Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 2
Ryan Howard's average (.249), OBP (.341) and slugging (.463) are all down for the second straight year, but until recently he had at least been making the most of his opportunities with men on base. Howard still leads the NL in RBIs (77) and the majors in go-ahead RBIs (25) and game-winning RBIs (15), and with two home runs this week finally ended what had been an 11-game homerless drought in which he went 6-for-43 with only three RBIs.
 
2Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 3
The Red Sox got mixed news regarding two key starting pitchers this week -- Jon Lester was good in his return from the DL (one run in 5 1/3 innings) while Clay Buchholz had a setback that required another visit to a specialist for his back -- but it was the top two hitters in their order garnering most of the headlines. Dustin Pedroia, with 41 hits, and Jacoby Ellsbury, with 38 hits, rank 1-2 in the majors in that category for July. Ellsbury leads the AL in home runs (eight) and slugging (.793) for the month; Pedroia is tied for second in homers (seven) and third in slugging (.753).
 
3New York Yankees
Last Week: 4
Yankees ace CC Sabathia has gotten even better as the summer temperatures have risen. He is 8-1 over his last nine starts with a 1.70 ERA and a 10.6 K/9 while averaging 7 2/3 innings per start. His best outing yet came Tuesday against Seattle when he carried a perfect game into the seventh inning and finished with 14 strikeouts. And, if history is any indication, his success should continue: Over the past three years, Sabathia has gone 15-1 with a 2.25 ERA in 18 August starts.
 
4San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 5
The Giants continue to be the poster-child for the dawning new era in baseball: great pitching and no power. San Francisco remains in first place in the NL West and hasn't lost a series since they were inexplicably swept by the A's in a three-game set that ended June 19. In the 32 games since the Giants allowed more than five runs just four times, but they remain the only team in the majors without a player to hit 10 or more home runs. Aubrey Huff and Pablo Sandoval lead the team with nine apiece, though trade acquisition Carlos Beltran arrives with the 15 he hit for the Mets.
 
5Texas Rangers
Last Week: 1
Derek Holland earned his ninth win of the season on Monday night after allowing just one unearned run six innings, though his margin was far more lenient as the Rangers beat the Twins 20-6. The outing lowered Holland's season ERA to 4.43, making him one of only three pitchers since 2000 to have three or more shutouts in a season and still maintain an ERA of 4.40 or higher, joining Albie Lopez in 2001 and Cory Lidle in 2004.
 
6Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 6
The major league leaderboard for most relief appearances reads as follows: 1. Jonny Venters, Atl 58; 2. Bill Bray, Cin 54; T3. Craig Kimbrel, Atl 53; Eric O'Flaherty, Atl 53. Notably, Bray has thrown only 33 1/3 innings, far less than the Braves' trio of Venters (62 1/3), Kimbrel (52) and O'Flaherty (48 2/3). Then again, it's hard to blame Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez too much for his heavy reliance on the trio when they collectively have a 1.44 ERA, 34 saves and 40 holds.
 
7Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 10
Ervin Santana was 0-6 with a 4.98 ERA in 10 career starts against the Indians before Wednesday, when he shed that bad history and threw a 10-strikeout, one-walk no-hitter and, most impressively says SI.com's Joe Sheehan, he was brilliant in high-leverage spots all game. The Angels already had the AL's best starting pitcher ERA, but this virtuoso performance is a reminder of how feared their rotation can be --- Santana is, after all, only their third starter.
 
8Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 8
Ryan Braun was held out of the Brewers' starting lineup 11 times this month with leg problems, but he didn't suffer any loss in power upon his return. In his five starts from last Tuesday through Sunday Braun homered in four of them while batting 8-for-19 (.421). Milwaukee, which scores 38.4 percent of its runs via homers (the NL's second-highest percentage behind the Braves), has needed the boost as Prince Fielder went from July 5 to July 27 without a home run, a drought of 58 at-bats.
 
9Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 11
Rookie Josh Collmenter has been living dangerously, but effectively, as a flyball pitcher in homer-happy Chase Field. Opponents are hitting flyballs on 47 percent on all balls put in play -- the highest rate among all Diamondbacks pitchers -- yet he's allowed only eight home runs in 92 innings, including only three in 47 1/3 innings at home. Collmenter, whose fastball averages only 87.3 mph, leads Arizona with a walk rate of 1.6 BB/9.
 
10St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 13
The Cardinals' pitching staff is eight in the NL with a 3.89 ERA despite ranking only tied for 14th in strikeouts (670). Three of St. Louis' starters -- Kyle Lohse, Kyle McClellan and Jake Westbrook -- have a K/9 that's less than 5.0. Only 15 MLB teams have even one pitcher with 60 or more innings and K/9 of 5.0 or less, and the Cardinals are the only club with three. With all those balls in play it's a good thing for St. Louis that its Park-Adjusted Defensive Efficiency ranks eighth in the majors, per Baseball Prospectus. Centerfielder Colby Rasmus did not fare well by advanced defensive stats, so his trade may not be a net fielding loss.
 
11Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 12
In 2009 Brandon Inge was an All-Star. He hit 27 home runs and played high-level defense at third base. But after batting .177 with a .242 OBP and one homer in 70 games this year, the 34-year-old was designated for assignment and accepted a move to the minors. Taking his place is trade acquisition Wilson Betemit, who in 2009 spent the majority of the season in the minors where he struggled with a sub-.300 OBP at Triple-A. Now, however, he shares Inge's lack of power (three homers) but hasn't been as much of an automatic out, with a .340 OBP this year and .378 last year.
 
12Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 7
The Pirates placed Alex Presley on the disabled list Monday and recalled Pedro Alvarez, a pair of rookies with reversed initials and reversed expectations. Alvarez, the No. 2 overall pick in 2008, is the prized prospect who broke camp as the Opening Day 5-hole hitter but had slumped all year, batting just .208/.283/.304 and eight exra-base hits (two homers) in 125 at bats. Presley, meanwhile, didn't make his season debut until June 28 but has been a spark plug with a .333/.402/.494 with eight extra-base hits (one homer) in 81 at bats.
 
13Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 9
Outfield prospect Desmond Jennings, whom Baseball America ranked as the game's No. 6 prospect prior to a 2010 season in which he had an underwhelming September call-up, finally got his first crack at the majors in 2011 and debuted in a big way over the weekend. Jennings reached base 10 times in his first three games with two hits in each as well as a combined two walks and two times getting hit by a pitch. Four of his hits went for extra-bases (three doubles, one triple), and he stole a base in each game. It was such a tour de force that the rumor mill exploded with B.J. Upton trade ideas.
 
14Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 14
The Indians' charmed season continues: the first major league hit in rookie second baseman Jason Kipnis' career was a walkoff single to give the Tribe a 3-2 comeback win Monday night over the Angels. According to Elias Sports Bureau, he became the first Indian since the RBI became an official stat in 1920 to have his first major league hit be a walkoff. Cleveland now has 11 wins in its last at bat at home, a 41-2 record when leading after eight innings and an 8-3 record when tied after eight innings.
 
15Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 15
What a coup by the Blue Jays: By trading two free-agent-to-be relievers (Jason Frasor and Octavio Dotel) and two young pitchers (Marc Rzepczynski and Zach Stewart), Toronto landed Mark Teahen, pitchers P.J. Walters and Brian Tallet and, most importantly, 24-year-old centerfielder Colby Rasmus, who had fallen out of favor in St. Louis but remains a terrific talent (23 HRs, .859 OPS in 2010) who is under team control for three more seasons. It's proof that the trade deadline doesn't have to be just about major contenders and rebuilding projects.
 
16New York Mets
Last Week: 19
Kudos to the Mets for staying firm while negotiating to trade Carlos Beltran and landing pitching prospect Zack Wheeler from the Giants. Wheeler, a righthander, was taken out of high school with the No. 6 pick in the 2009 draft, ahead of six college pitchers from that year's first round who have already made their major-league debuts: Atlanta's Mike Minor, Cincinnati's Mike Leake, Washington's Drew Storen, Kansas City's Aaron Crow, Cleveland's Alex White and Colorado's Rex Brothers. Wheeler has a 3.99 ERA in 88 innings of High-A ball so far this year.
 
17Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 22
General manager Kenny Williams admitted on Monday that the club could go either way at the deadline, becoming either a buyer or seller depending on how the White Sox play this week. On Wednesday he made his first trade -- moving Edwin Jackson and Mark Teahen to the Blue Jays for reliever Jason Frasor and minor league pitcher Zach Stewart, a trade that will save Chicago nearly $10 million -- but it didn't entirely tip Williams' hand, as Jackson was a surplus sixth starter. By winning Wednesday the Sox moved back to within 3 1/2 game in AL Central, leaving Williams' club, for now, closer to contending than selling.
 
18Florida Marlins
Last Week: 18
The Marlins are hoping history repeats itself with Chris Volstad. After optioning him to Triple-A for three weeks in 2010, Volstad returned to the majors and went 8-1 with a 4.32 ERA over his final 13 starts. Florida sent him back to Triple-A on Saturday -- his fourth straight season between the two levels -- after a July in which he lasted only 18 innings with an 8.50 ERA over four starts. He's 5-8 with a 5.58 ERA on the season.
 
19Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 17
At the end of play on July 17 the Twins were five games out in the AL Central but were about to play a pair of four-game series against the then co-leaders of the division, Cleveland and Detroit. Minnesota went just 3-5 and found itself seven games back in the division before rebounding to win a series with the Rangers (despite starting with a 20-6 loss in which position-player Michael Cuddyer pitched). The Twins still aren't selling as of Thursday morning, but they ought to be awfully close.
 
20Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 20
Drew Stubbs' walkoff home run Sunday night not only brought the Reds within three games of the NL Central leaders, but it also gave them their first consecutive wins since winning June 13-15. Stubbs has been a consistent presence atop Cincinnati's lineup with an OBP that has oscillated between .323 and .345 over the past two months to go along with 13 homers and 26 stolen bases. But he also leads the majors with 135 strikeouts. He's on pace for 210 strikeouts, which would be the third-highest total for a season in major league history.
 
21Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 23
The A's joined the small list of clubs to have signed their first-round draft pick when they inked Vanderbilt pitcher Sonny Gray to a $1.54 million contract on Monday. He's a man with a sense of humor -- he joked with the San Francisco Chronicle that his name is "an oxymoron" -- but he's also a man on a big-league fast track. After Gray spends two weeks in rookie ball, Oakland plans to send him to Double-A in August. Such a trajectory could have him in the majors by the second-half of next season. Rays ace David Price, who also went to Vandy and is from the same area of Tennessee as Gray, likened him to a slightly shorter Roy Oswalt.
 
22Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 24
Here's the Dodgers' problem: They're not playing long enough. Los Angeles is 5-0 in extra-inning games but hasn't played one since June 4, at which point the team was only six games out of first place in the NL West; it's 13 games out now. Of course a team can't actually control when it goes to extra innings, but having a good bullpen can help it win once it gets there. Rookie lefty Javy Guerra, whose fastball averages 94.1 mph, has been a recent bright spot: In seven scoreless outings from July 8 to July 25, he's notched a win and six saves.
 
23Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 16
The Rockies continue to struggle within the division. They've lost consecutive series to Arizona and Los Angeles and now have a 19-25 record within the NL West. They have a winning record against only the Padres (5-4) this season among the teams they play most often. It continues a pattern: Since the start of the 2008 season Colorado is 298-293 overall (.504) with a 178-153 (.538) record against non-divisional opponents and just 120-140 (.462) record against the NL West.
 
24Washington Nationals
Last Week: 21
The Nationals are rumored to be a major player in the trade market for a centerfielder, as they've been linked in the media to both the Rays' B.J. Upton and especially the Twins' Denard Span. If Washington is successful in getting one or the other, it'd make for a formidable outfield by mid-2012 when Jayson Werth and Bryce Harper are flanking either Upton or Span. That would, however, mean moving emerging Michael Morse (.906 OPS and 17 home runs) to first base fulltime and bumping underperforming and now injured Adam LaRoche out of the lineup, though he's set to make $8 million next year.
 
25San Diego Padres
Last Week: 25
Chris Denorfia tormented the Phillies on back-to-back days, robbing Raul Ibaņez of a two-run homer in a 5-3 San Deigo win on Sunday and then swiping home off pitcher Cliff Lee in a 5-4 win on Monday; it was the Padres' first straight steal of home since 1999. Denorfia is one of only three Padres with more than 100 plate appearances and an OPS over .700; with a .344 OBP and .386 slugging, Denorfia's is .730. He also ranks second among all NL rightfielders with at least 300 innings at the position in Ultimate Zone Rating (4.2).
 
26Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 26
The offense hasn't provided enough support for the Royals to go on a winning streak, but Kansas City's pitching just strung together 10 straight games without allowing more than five runs. The Royals pitched to a 2.72 ERA over 96 innings -- including holding the Red Sox, owners of the majors' best offense, to just one run over 14 innings Monday night -- but only went 6-4 because the offense provided 3.4 runs per game. The bullpen allowed three runs over 32 1/3 innings, led by Aaron Crow who threw 5 2/3 scoreless innings. Also, closer Joakim Soria has shaken off earlier struggles and has thrown eight consecutive scoreless innings.
 
27Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 27
Luke Scott underwent shoulder surgery on Tuesday, ending his season and potentially his tenure with the Orioles. He's due for another expensive paycheck via arbitration this offseason after receiving $6.4 million for 2011, making it no guarantee the O's tender him. Scott has been controversial off the field but, until his shoulder problems this year, had been a steady run producer on the field, having averaged 25 home runs with a .845 OPS with Baltimore from 2008-10. Nolan Reimold would seem to be the best in-house candidate to replace Scott's production.
 
28Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 28
The Cubs' rotation has been so decimated by injury and put together in such a patchwork fashion that only three starters have exceeded 60 innings this year, the fewest number of any major league team. Carlos Zambrano, Ryan Dempster and Matt Garza have all eclipsed 115 innings -- though at a collective ERA of 4.46 -- but the Cubs have had to rely on seven other pitchers to start games, with five of them having started at least five games each. Chicago's starters have a 5.08 ERA, second-worst in MLB.
 
29Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 29
The Mariners' interminable three-week nightmare is over. After losing 17 straight games -- an historically bad stretch for which the whole team was to blame -- Seattle received a stellar outing from ace Felix Hernandez and an overdue awakening from the bats on Wednesday to beat the Yankees 9-2. The losing streak swiftly ruined the Mariners' Cinderella playoff aspirations, and it also obscured a few indisputable facts: 1) there have been positive signs from the young position players, and 2) the offense still needs veteran help.
 
30Houston Astros
Last Week: 30
Since his batting average was .318 on June 17, Astros first baseman Brett Wallace has gone 16-for-88 (.182) with four extra-base hits (all doubles), and on Monday manager Brad Mills indicated that his playing time would be reduced in the near future. Wallace's season average (.279) and OBP (.355) are solid, but he's not driving the ball. He's slugging just .390 and ranks second among all NL hitters in groundball-to-flyball ratio (2.4). Among major league first basemen, he has the third-worst rate of at-bats-per-home-run (76.3) and the worst rate of at-bats-per-RBI (12.5).

 
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