Posted: Thu April 18, 2013 12:01PM; Updated: Thu April 18, 2013 12:49PM
Joe Lemire

Braves, A's stay on top, three teams make big jump to top six

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Jed Lowrie
Jed Lowrie has helped Oakland to an early lead in the AL West.
Brad Mangin/SI

The Braves and Athletics are again baseball's best -- by any measure.

Atlanta's remarkable pitching and defense have held opponents to less than two runs per game, easily the best in baseball, while Oakland's powerful lineup has slugged its way to 96 runs, 15 more than any other big league ballclub.

The two have the best records, the most wins in their last 10 games and the best run differentials in the majors, making them obvious choices to lead's MLB Power Rankings for a second straight week.

As a reminder, a new quantitative formula has been devised to rank teams based purely on performance and not on subjectivity. Half of the ranking is determined by season record, with one quarter on recent play (which includes a small strength of schedule component) and one quarter on season run differential.

These rankings are not based on who has assembled the best rosters and will not (necessarily) predict who will win finish with the best record this season, but they will tell you who is playing the best baseball right now.

NOTE: All stats are updated through Wednesday, April 17.

MLB Power Rankings
1Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 1
After putting baseball on hold and spending years traveling the West, working odd jobs and seeking an inner calm, Evan Gattis returned to baseball in 2010 and hasn't stopped hitting since. The catcher cruised through the minor leagues, hit 16 home runs in the Venezuelan Winter League (where he earned the nickname Oso Blanco, or White Bear) and now has four homers with a .914 OPS in 47 plate appearances with the Braves, learning first base on the fly in order to keep his bat in the lineup.
2Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 2
Oakland traded for Jed Lowrie with the intention of making him their super-utility infielder. Instead, he's played only shortstop and isn't likely to leave the position or the lineup any time soon, as he leads all shortstops with 22 hits, 38 total bases and a 1.110 OPS.
3Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 7
The Red Sox' patient approach at the plate is back. After a 2012 season when they had their worst walk rate since 1931 -- as defined by plate appearances per walk, which was a 14.41 -- they've rebounded this year with a 10.19 that's now more in line with their 21st century standard. Their pitches per plate appearance (3.97) is their second-best alltime.
4Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 15
We've learned three things about the Rockies: they can beat the Padres (6-0); they can win at home (5-0); and they can't beat the Giants (0-3). And we think we've learned that Dexter Fowler is developing real power. After hitting 15 homers in his first three seasons, Fowler hit 13 last year and already has six in the early going this year, including four away from Coors Field.
5Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 14
Problem: an uncertain closer situation. Remedy: win games by large margins. Of the Tigers' first nine wins, only twice was the margin of victory fewer than four runs. Not every Detroit lead has been bullpen-safe, however, as they have blown three late-inning leads and lost each game.
6New York Yankees
Last Week: 13
Few get hot quite like Robinson Cano. The second baseman, who had nine straight multi-hit games to finish the 2012 regular season, woke up in similar fashion last week, with multiple hits in five of six games, including his first eight extra-base hits (four doubles, four homers) of the year.
7St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 3
Life certainties: The sun will rise, the sun will set and Cardinals pitchers will lead the majors in groundball-to-flyball ratio. St. Louis has led the category every year since 2009, but this year's 1.83 ratio is their best yet, led by Jake Westbrook (3.56, second in majors) and Jaime Garcia (3.09, third).
8Texas Rangers
Last Week: 9
A more patient approach is working for Ian Kinsler: He is only swinging at 8.6 percent of first pitches -- as opposed to 18.6 percent last year and 22.0 percent for his career -- and is seeing a career-high 4.05 pitches per plate appearance. That may be part of the reason he's off to a hot start, with four home runs and a .909 OPS that, if sustained, would be a career high.
9Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 10
The Royals' reconstructed rotation is reaping rewards thus far. The four new acquisitions since the start of the 2012 season have each made three starts with sparkling ERAs: Wade Davis (2.25), Ervin Santana (2.45), Jeremy Guthrie (3.20) and James Shields (3.43).
10San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 5
This spring an AL scout said the Giants would get more offense out of shortstop Brandon Crawford, a prediction that has proved prophetic so far. He has upped his average and OBP from .248 and .304 last year to .320 and .414, with two home runs.
11Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 8
Arizona's M.O. this season is winning with a balanced, superstar-free roster, but if Paul Goldschmidt keeps slugging like he has been, he's going to emerge as the game's next elite first baseman. Goldschmidt has eight extra-base hits (five doubles, three homers), a .333 average and .996 OPS, which ranks fourth among major league first basemen.
12Washington Nationals
Last Week: 6
So far, Denard Span has been everything the Nationals could have wanted from a leadoff hitter and centerfielder. His .421 OBP leads the club's everyday players, and he has three defensive runs saved, according to Fielding Bible's Plus/Minus system, which is no insignificant amount so early in the season.
13Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 11
Only nine teams have ever had five pitchers make at least 30 starts in the same season and no one has ever had back-to-back seasons -- and the 2012-13 Reds won't be the first after ace Johnny Cueto (2.60 ERA in 17 1/3 innings) went on the DL with a strained triceps.
14New York Mets
Last Week: 12
By any measure, Matt Harvey was great in his first three starts, going 3-0 with a 0.82 ERA and 25 strikeouts in 22 innings, but the best illustration of his dominance is that he is allowing only 2.5 hits per nine innings. For perspective's sake, as otherworldly as Craig Kimbrel was last year, the Braves closer still allowed 3.9 H/9.
15Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 24
Starling Marte is your NL's early co-leader for longest hitting streak (10, and still active) and second in multi-hit games (eight), thanks to a torrid stretch in which he has gone 19-for-43 (.442) with six extra-base hits.
16Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 18
Orioles relievers have walked just seven hitters in 44 innings, a paltry rate of 1.43 per nine innings and the primary reason they have a 5.86 K/BB ratio that is 36 percent better than any other big league bullpen.
17Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 17
It should come as no surprise that the White Sox have the fewest walks in the majors (25) and that Dayan Viciedo has begun the year with 12 straight starts without drawing a free pass. Since 2010 White Sox players account for three of the nine longest season-opening walk-less streaks by a non-pitcher: Brent Morel (32 in 2011), Viciedo (23 in '10) and Alexei Ramirez (19 in '10).
18Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 19
Rookie Aaron Hicks won the job of Opening Day centerfielder outright , but he is just 2-for-45 (.044) and could probably use some time in Triple A (which he previously skipped) which, incidentally, would also alleviate the service time issue.
19Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 4
In addition to the resurgence of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, the Dodgers are getting outstanding work from their starting rotation, whose strikeout-to-walk ratio of 3.77 is the best in the NL; L.A.'s starter ranked ninth in the league last year with a 2.51 mark.
20Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 21
This is not the start they expected. Their only hitter with an average of at least .260 is Jose Reyes (.395), who now could miss three months with a sprained ankle. Jose Bautista has also been intermittently in and out of the lineup with minor injuries, but at least Brett Lawrie has returned after missing the first two weeks with an oblique strain.
21Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 29
Since installing Jean Segura as their No. 2 hitter, the Brewers have assembled one of the game's best top thirds of the batting order, with Norichika Aoki (.410 OBP), Segura (.378 average) and Ryan Braun (.528 slugging). With Aramis Ramirez and Corey Hart on the DL, however, the rest of the lineup has been lacking.
22Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 16
Though Roy Halladay has yet to rebound from his poor start, two other Phillies veterans are trending in the right direction. Chase Utley and Ryan Howard, both of whom had long DL stints to start the 2012 season, are hot -- Utley has hit all year with a .283 average, three homers and .894 OPS, and Howard has picked it up over the last week, going 10 for his last 31.
23San Diego Padres
Last Week: 28
Run prevention has been a Padres hallmark, but so far San Diego has allowed the most runs in the NL with 75. Only veteran Jason Marquis has an adjusted ERA (i.e. ERA+) above league average among the starting pitchers, and the club's defense ranks in the bottom third of the majors (per Baseball Prospectus' park-adjusted defensive efficiency).
24Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 23
It's not a good sign when your starting pitchers rank 1-2 in the AL for most runs allowed, but that's where Cleveland's Brett Myers and Ubaldo Jimenez sit two weeks into the season. Each got their in part by different means: Myers has allowed the most homers, with eight; Jimenez is tied for third in walks issued, with 10.
25Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 26
Look around the infield dirt and the Mariners have former top prospects at catcher (Jesus Montero), first base (Justin Smoak), second base (Dustin Ackley) and third base (Kyle Seager), yet the four of them and shortstop Brendan Ryan have combined for zero homers with a .188 average. As a result, Seattle's infielders have a .522 OPS overall, which is the worst in the majors.
26Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 20
For eight straight games, the Rays scored four or fewer runs and had seven or fewer hits, which was tied for third-longest in the past decade. For the season Tampa Bay ranks last or second-to-last in the AL in nearly every meaningful offensive category, including runs, hits, doubles, average and slugging, as well as third-to-last in home runs and OBP.
27Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 25
The Cubs' bullpen has the worst ERA in the majors (6.06), is tied for the most blown saves (four) and has the third-worst WHIP (1.54), but if it's any small consolation (probably not), their FIP -- Fielding-Independent Pitching, which adjusts ERA for defense -- is merely in the bottom third of the majors at 25th, suggesting that the relievers themselves are not solely to blame.
28Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 27
Only two AL starters have WHIPs over 2.00 and they are the Angels' Jason Vargas and Joe Blanton, while rotation-mates C.J. Wilson (1.50) and Tommy Hanson (1.46) are merely below-average with the amount of runners they allow.
29Houston Astros
Last Week: 22
The Astros were swept during a three-game set in Oakland to start this week, but the worst part for Houston may have been seeing two of its starters give up six runs while failing to complete the first inning. On Monday Oakland victimized Erik Bedard and on Wednesday it was Bud Norris, who had entered the outing with a 1.96 ERA while accounting for two of his team's four wins.
30Miami Marlins
Last Week: 30
The average major league team right now has scored 61 runs and hit 14 homers with a .717 OPS. Miami has scored 32 runs and hit three homers with a .543 OPS. It's not such a small sample size anymore either, with 530 team plate appearances which, if compiled by a single player, would be enough to qualify for the batting title.
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