Posted: Thu May 9, 2013 12:13PM; Updated: Thu May 9, 2013 12:12PM
Joe Lemire

Tigers ride quartet of arms to top spot, Cardinals stay No. 2

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Justin Verlander
Justin Verlander (1.55 ERA) leads Detroit's dominant starting staff, which has the Tigers in first place in the AL Central.

Conjure the profile of a top-shelf starting pitcher through the first five weeks of the season, and his numbers might look something like this: 4-1 record, 2.32 ERA, 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings and 2.1 walks per nine.

If that imaginary pitcher is leading your rotation every fifth day, you're in great shape, yet those are the average numbers of the top four pitchers in the Tigers' rotation -- Justin Verlander, Anibal Sanchez, Doug Fister and Max Scherzer -- meaning Detroit is getting that level of production to start 80 percent of its games. Fifth starter Rick Porcello struggled early but has pitched well in his last two outings and, in all, Detroit's rotation has logged quality starts in 12 straight games, during which time no starter has walked more than two in a game.

On the backs of that pitching -- plus, of course, a high-scoring offense led by Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder -- the Tigers have ascended to the top spot in this week's MLB Power Rankings. Their AL Central rival Indians, who have won nine of 10, join them in the top three, sandwiched around the Cardinals, who remain in second place.

As a reminder, this year's Power Rankings are now ordered based on a quantitative formula that considers season record, last-10 record (with a small strength of schedule component) and season run differential. This is done to remove subjectivity, and it explains why there's more week-to-week movement than in year's past, as the rankings more accurately rate the teams that are playing the best right now.

NOTE: All stats are updated through Wednesday, May 8.

MLB Power Rankings
1Detroit Tigers
Last Week: 3
In his first four appearances spanning four innings, restored closer Jose Valverde allowed one baserunner (a walk) and was a perfect three-for-three in save chances. It's unlikely he'll finish the season with a perfect conversion rate, but it's a reminder that his 49-for-49 season was only two years ago.
2St. Louis Cardinals
Last Week: 2
The Cardinals' first 18 wins were all notched by their starting pitchers. It's an increasingly maligned individual stat but it does say a lot about the team: 1) quality starting pitching; 2) length from starters going deep into games; 3) good bullpen work to preserve leads; and 4) an offense that scores early, building leads while the starter is in the game.
3Cleveland Indians
Last Week: 13
Two pairs of AL Central teammates ranked in the league's top-six in OPS: Detroit's Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder (no surprise) sitting second and fourth and Cleveland's Carlos Santana (1.129) and Mark Reynolds (.962), who are first and sixth. They are a big reason the Indians rank third in the AL in runs per game (5.0) after ranking 13th last year (4.1).
4Baltimore Orioles
Last Week: 7
The Orioles have little trouble scoring runs (second in the AL), but imagine how much better their offense would be with a suitable designated hitter. Baltimore, which primarily starts Nolan Reimold and Steve Pearce at DH, has the league's worst offensive production at the position by a mile: a .492 OPS that is 115 points worse than second-to-last, which is AL newcomer Houston.
5Texas Rangers
Last Week: 8
Only once since the hitter-friendly Ballpark in Arlington opened in 1994 has the Rangers' pitching staff had a sub-4.00 ERA; that happened in 2010 with a 3.65. It has only been 15 games, of course, but right now Texas pitchers have a 2.60 ERA at home, which is the best such mark of any team this year.
6San Francisco Giants
Last Week: 11
The Giants' offense lacks patience and power but does not lack for runs. San Francisco sees the fewest pitches per plate appearance in the majors (3.70) and is tied for 25th in home runs (26) but went on a recent six-game winning streak in which it averaged 5.5 runs per game.
7Atlanta Braves
Last Week: 9
The Braves' six-time All-Star catcher Brian McCann made his season debut on Monday, but the biggest story of the week was their formidable bullpen blowing two games. Atlanta has already blown six leads this season, though its powerful offense has made up for it with seven comeback wins.
8New York Yankees
Last Week: 4
Eliminate Hiroki Kuroda's first start from consideration -- when a hand injury prompted a second-inning exit -- and the Yankees were 5-0 when he pitched until Tuesday's 2-0 loss to Colorado. All but one counted as a quality start, and his adjusted ERA+ (which factors league and ballpark) is seventh best in the AL.
9Cincinnati Reds
Last Week: 16
Last year the Reds had a .254 on-base percentage from their leadoff hitters, the worst of a major-league-wide .324 leadoff OBP, which was the worst in 35 years. Shin-Soo Choo has been responsible for raising both. His .453 OBP ranks third in the majors, and the MLB leadoff rate is .339 this year but eliminate Choo and it's only .334.
10Boston Red Sox
Last Week: 1
The rotation has been great, but the bullpen is struggling with injuries. Andrew Bailey was already on the DL when Joel Hanrahan joined him (Hanrahan's second stint of the year). Though Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa are plenty capable of manning the eighth and ninth innings, the Red Sox are stretched thin in creating that sixth- and seventh-inning bridge to get there.
11Arizona Diamondbacks
Last Week: 12
There have been already been 79 shutouts across the majors, which is a record pace for a single season, and the only team to have scored at least one run every game is Arizona. GM Kevin Towers didn't want a team so dependent on the home run -- which can lead to more slumps -- and in that regard he has succeeded.
12Colorado Rockies
Last Week: 6
Are the Blake Street Bombers back? Colorado hasn't eclipsed 200 home runs in a season since 2004, but this year's club is on an early pace for 221. Five Rockies -- Dexter Fowler, Wilin Rosario, Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and Michael Cuddyer -- have at least seven and are on pace for 33; no team has ever finished a season with five players hitting 30 or more homers.
13Washington Nationals
Last Week: 15
This is not the offense the Nationals were hoping for. They rank 13th in the NL in runs, and even their best player, Bryce Harper, is having his struggles against lefthanders. He has hit nine home runs with a 1.252 OPS in 93 plate appearances against righties but so far has hit one home run with a .531 OPS in 36 PAs against lefties.
14Kansas City Royals
Last Week: 5
Luke Hochevar, who was demoted from starter to bullpen long man in spring training, has deceivingly good numbers. He's allowed just one earned run in 11 1/3 innings (0.79 ERA) but has appeared in only two games in which the Royals were leading (one of them by nine runs), once in a one-run game and once in a tie game (on Tuesday). He has allowed all three runners he's inherited to score.
15Oakland Athletics
Last Week: 14
The Athletics' bullpen has been effective (3.04 ERA), but its principals are getting a lot of work. Oakland is the only AL club with five relievers who have made at least 15 appearances; Jerry Blevins, Chris Resop, Pat Neshek, Ryan Cook and Sean Doolittle are all on pace for 69 or more appearances -- only the 2006 Astros have ever had a quintet reach that number.
16Minnesota Twins
Last Week: 19
Twins pitching is back to its forte. For 14 straight seasons Minnesota ranked no worse than third in the AL in walks allowed, a streak that was snapped in 2011 and '12 when it ranked sixth both season. This year the Twins rank first in the majors, allowing just 2.40 BB/9.
17Pittsburgh Pirates
Last Week: 10
A.J. Burnett has made eight starts this season and hasn't allowed more than three runs in any of them. Opponents are batting .194 against him, and the righthander's 3.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio is easily the best of his 15-year career.
18San Diego Padres
Last Week: 24
The Padres have the NL's best record over the last two weeks (11-3) and it comes as little surprise that third baseman Chase Headley concurrently has a 13-game hitting streak; San Diego was 4-10 to start the year with Headley on the DL and is 12-8 since.
19Seattle Mariners
Last Week: 23
Seattle is where all former Mets should go. Leftfielder Jason Bay (.771 OPS), catcher Kelly Shoppach (.782 OPS) and reliever Oliver Perez (0.73 ERA in 12 1/3 innings) are all excelling, so it may only be a matter of time before outfielder Endy Chavez (.631 OPS) turns around his year.
20Tampa Bay Rays
Last Week: 20
The Rays are struggling to hold onto leads. Most glaring was their blowing a 7-0 lead to the Blue Jays on Monday, but in all they are just 11-7 when leading after five innings, a .611 winning percentage that's 166 points below the major league average this year of .777.
21Milwaukee Brewers
Last Week: 17
It's little surprise that the most valuable player in baseball might reside in the Brewers' outfield, but what's flooring is that it's Carlos Gomez, not Ryan Braun, who leads the majors with a 2.6 WAR (per FanGraphs). Gomez plays very good defense in centerfield and has a .386/.431/.675 slash line at the plate.
22Philadelphia Phillies
Last Week: 22
After a contentious offseason in which his only previous employer, the Rangers, dumped him in a trade, Michael Young has bounced back with the bat -- a .322/.394/.415 batting line, though with only one home run -- and hasn't been as bad defensively as feared. He rates a -2 runs saved at third base, according to Fielding Bible's Plus/Minus system, which is better than last season's -6 in fewer innings.
23Chicago White Sox
Last Week: 21
Amidst a host of depressing offensive statistics, the one that stands out the most is this: the offense's collective WAR (Wins Above Replacement) is a negative number -- -2.0, to be exact -- which means a lineup of replacement players would be two games better than what the White Sox have been fielding thus far.
24New York Mets
Last Week: 26
Perhaps this space should be devoted to weekly Matt Harvey tributes. After his almost-perfect game on Tuesday -- nine shutout innings in which he allowed one baserunner, an infield single, while striking out 12 -- he now leads the majors in ERA (1.28), WHIP (0.69) and hits allowed (4.0 per nine innings). The modern record for H/9 is Nolan Ryan's 5.26 in 1972; no pitcher has finished a season with a H/9 below 5.0 since 1884.
25Chicago Cubs
Last Week: 25
First baseman Anthony Rizzo already has 10 doubles and nine home runs, a pace for 91 extra-base hits over a 162-game season. That would rank fifth in franchise history behind Sammy Sosa's 103 XBH in 2001, Derrek Lee's 99 in 2005, Hack Wilson's 97 in 1930 and Rogers Hornsby's 94 in 1929. In other words, good company.
26Toronto Blue Jays
Last Week: 28
Even without Jose Reyes, the Blue Jays have been effective stealing bases. They are 25-for-29 with 86.2 percent success rate that ranks third in the majors. The Jays stole four bases in Sunday's win and two in Monday's win so, well, at least they've got that going for them.
27Los Angeles Dodgers
Last Week: 18
Juan Uribe is one of the game's most impatient hitters, annually ranking among the leaders in swing percentage. Twice in his career he has gone 29 consecutive games without drawing a walk. He entered 2013 with a career walk rate of 5.6 percent of all plate appearances, yet this season that has more than tripled to 19.4 percent. It defies explanation.
28Los Angeles Angels
Last Week: 27
When Josh Hamilton signed in Los Angeles, there were concerns that Angel Stadium might depress his production. While, yes, his two homers and .736 OPS in 16 home games are certainly subpar for him, they are still way better than his road production: one home run and a .424 OPS in 17 games as a visitor.
29Miami Marlins
Last Week: 29
Not only is starter Jose Fernandez (3.48 ERA, 9.3 K/9) proving his chops as a rookie, but now the Marlins also have outfielder Marcell Ozuna making a big, early splash. Ozuna, the No. 75 prospect on Baseball America's preseason list, has begun his big league career 13-for-35 (.371) with one homer and five doubles. Rookie second baseman Derek Dietrich made his debut Wednesday and went 1-for-3.
30Houston Astros
Last Week: 30
The Astros started the year with only four players older than 30 and the results aren't pretty: outfielder Rick Ankiel was designated for assignment; starter Erik Bedard was demoted to the bullpen; closer Jose Veras blew two of his first four save opportunities; and first baseman Carlos Peña is batting.230 with a .372 slugging percentage.
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