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The 30, Week 10: Trading Places

Robinson Cano leads the Yankees to the top spot in a shakeup of our MLB hierarchy

Our Poignant Tweet of the Week comes from @dbk301, who writes: “As a Royals fan this draft was depressing. The Yankees can spend $200 mil on team, but Royals can’t spend $12 mil on draft.”

Yup, pretty much. Teams can’t help themselves (and the players union rightly won’t budge) when it comes to sky-high salaries handed out to free agents. So the owners, led by John Schuerholz and other hold-the-line hawks, figured why not save a couple million on the draft and international spending if they can’t pocket money elsewhere. Last week’s amateur draft revealed the early consequences: A compelling event if you’re a game theorist, but also one that restricts lower-revenue teams from investing heavily in the draft and has the net effect of widening the gap between haves and have-nots even more. Profits are wonderful, of course. Just remember that it’s a bigger share of those profits, not any semblance of “competitive balance,” that drives the Lords of the Realm.

Fortunately for the rest of us, this season has been both competitive and — at least near the top — balanced. It’s Week 10 of The 30.

Many of the stats and facts below are courtesy of the indispensable ESPN Stats & Info.

1. New York Yankees, 34-25 (281 RS, 241 RA) (last week: 4)

One of the many challenges in this little weekly exercise is trying to peg teams that clearly have the talent to rank higher but don’t have the on-field results to justify it. The Yankees endured slow starts from … just about everyone except Derek Jeter and Curtis Granderson, really, stranding them near the bottom of the AL East and lower in these rankings than you’d expect for a team this good.

Then everyone regressed to the mean at once. Mark Teixeira was hitting .212/.269/.364 on May 10; he reached .252/.325/.471 a month later. Robinson Cano was hitting .255/.303/.355 on May 5; he’s at .296/.350/.532. And Russell Martin has lost his mind, boosting his OPS 146 points in three weeks and clubbing four homers in five days, including a walk-off on Sunday. The pitching staff has also come on strong, led by Hiroki Kuroda (0.82 ERA over his past three starts) and Andy Pettitte (2.81 ERA in six starts this year, with a 4½-to-1 strikeout-to-walk rate). Even without Michael Pineda and Mariano Rivera, this is a championship-caliber team. As of right now, it’s also the best team in baseball.

2. Tampa Bay Rays, 35-25 (260 RS, 233 RA) (last week: 2)

For the second straight time, the Rays started their week looking like Evan Longoria’s absence was finally going to catch up with them. This time the Yankees inflicted the pain, holding the Rays to just one run in two games thanks to stellar starts from Andy Pettitte and Ivan Nova and a pair of lineups that looked helpless against two capable but also beatable pitchers. Tuesday’s loss made it six out of eight for the Rays. The reckoning was coming.

And then it didn’t. Tampa Bay reeled off four wins in a row, salvaging the final game of the Yankees’ series, then obliterating the Marlins in Miami by a combined 22-7 score over the weekend. After going 12 games without 10 hits or more in a game, the Rays did that three games in a row. After struggling all year at the plate and falling below the Mendoza line, Ben Zobrist whacked two homers and reached base all five times up on Saturday. After hitting .146 over a 46-game stretch spanning April 18 to June 7, Carlos Pena reached base three out of four times Saturday. Meanwhile, Matt Joyce, the one Rays hitter who’s raked all season, keeps getting pitched to, and keeps crushing the ball. And the bullpen is rounding into form as one of the league’s best, thanks to the emergence of former starters Jake McGee and Wade Davis, who set up noted archery enthusiast Fernando Rodney. The defense is showing improvement with Desmond Jennings back in the outfield and Zobrist settling in at second base. Also, Joe Maddon keeps pushing the right buttons. Up 3-1 with two on and one out in the fifth, the Rays manager pulled starter Jeremy Hellickson from the game. Hellickson had labored throughout his start, walking seven and chucking 108 pitches. Still, he was two outs away from qualifying for the win, and the added pressure of needing 14 outs from the bullpen had to be considered. Maddon made the switch anyway, bringing in right-handed ground ball specialist Burke Badenhop to face righty-swinging John Buck … and getting a 6-4-3 double play for his efforts.

As Grantland’s Shane Ryan ably documented last week, the Rays (and Orioles) have played more games against AL East foes than anyone else in the division, creating an opportunity to fatten up on weaker competition the rest of the way. The Rays have said they won’t rush Longoria back, with the start of a rehab assignment possible this week. The longer they keep this up (20-17 without their best player), the easier it’ll be to hold to that promise.

3. Texas Rangers, 35-26 (322 RS, 251 RA) (last week: 1)

Ugly seasons for two of last year’s top performers, a starting rotation that’s falling apart, and a record four games under .500 since May 1. If it weren’t for the Rangers treating the rest of the AL in April like Little League opponents, this fall would have happened a while ago. Sharp declines by Nelson Cruz and Michael Young weren’t altogether unexpected. Cruz’s 2011 playoff explosion notwithstanding, you could see some of his skills eroding, with diminished speed hurting his baserunning and defense, and diminishing plate discipline threatening his batting average and on-base percentage; Young could thank a gaudy .367 batting average on balls in play (high even for a player with a career .337 mark) for last year’s big results, but faced a likely correction in his year-35 season.

Texas’s pitching woes have been more alarming, though. Yu Darvish and Derek Holland might’ve been considered the team’s two best starters on Opening Day. But Darvish has struggled terribly with his command, issuing 18 walks in his last 20⅔ innings and leading some to wonder if the league might’ve figured him out. Meanwhile Holland lost 10 to 15 pounds in a couple weeks fighting a brutal stomach virus, then got sent to the disabled list with “shoulder fatigue” (code for “he lost so much strength running to the john, his fastball started looking like this“). Neftali Feliz is also on the DL, and the Rangers are trying to make do with the likes of Scott Feldman (6.39 ERA even after a strong start Saturday) taking the ball every five days. And maybe more Feldmans to come, if the groin strain Alexi Ogando suffered on Sunday proves serious enough to knock him out awhile. Still a loaded team, still a team with the will and the means to get reinforcements at the deadline as needed, just no longer top of the heap.

4. Los Angeles Dodgers, 39-22 (268 RS, 217 RA) (last week: 7)

Covering the Dodgers in last week’s Middle Relief column, I wrote:

It might seem weird to pick on the Dodgers after two wins in a row. Hey, it’s entirely possible that they’ll keep winning without Matt Kemp (as well as Ted Lilly, Mark Ellis, and several other players). It’s conceivable that their pitching will continue to dominate. It’s plausible that they’ll keep performing Jedi mind tricks on opposing managers like they did on Charlie Manuel, prompting the Phillies manager to leave a tiring Cliff Lee in to face light-hitting Elian Herrera Tuesday night, resulting in a hanging curve and a two-run double that knocked in the eventual game-winning run.

It’s just not very likely.

How many times can we keep saying that about this Dodgers team before it turns out to be spectacularly, permanently wrong? The ’88 Dodgers got spectacular seasons from Kirk Gibson and Orel Hershiser, solid support from their no. 2 and no. 3 starters, and an unhittable bullpen … and that was enough to win the World Series. Coming into this season, you could have drawn a similar path to success for the 2012 Dodgers: Matt Kemp, Clayton Kershaw, some decent starting pitching depth and bullpen contributions, then hope for the best. But at some point we might need to consider whether we underestimated what the Dodgers have beyond their top stars. Andre Ethier’s injury-plagued 2011 made us forget that he’s an excellent hitter when healthy. A.J. Ellis being buried in the minors for years might’ve obscured his amazing plate discipline and the good things that can happen to a player who never swings at bad pitches. Maybe Bobby Abreu coming back to the weaker National League for the first time in six years should’ve given us hope that he wasn’t done just yet. And yes, occasionally whatever pixie dust or random chance that causes a team to come back four straight times and sweep the Phillies on the road does last longer than the law of averages would have you believe.

Or they could just play .500 the rest of the season, win 89-90 games, and dare anyone in the NL West to top that.

5. Washington Nationals, 35-23 (224 RS, 191 RA) (last week: 5)

If you want to know why we get frustrated when a Jason Heyward, Matt Moore, or any other highly touted prospect doesn’t destroy the league right away, look no further than the Nationals’ two young stars. Nineteen-year-old Bryce Harper continues to play like a 10-time All-Star, even in game-ending situations. Stephen Strasburg, with just 28 major league starts under his belt, marched into Boston and struck out 13 Red Sox, getting the Nats started on a three-game sweep at Fenway. How impressive was Strasburg’s feat? He was the youngest visiting pitcher to record 13 or more strikeouts in a game at Fenway in 94 years.

6. Atlanta Braves, 34-26 (288 RS, 257 RA) (last week: 11)

After losing eight in a row, the Braves stormed right back by winning eight of nine, including a season-high six-game winning streak. Befitting a deep team that lacks a superstar in his prime, Atlanta got contributions from every corner of the roster: Rookie Randall Delgado fired 6⅔ innings of one-run, seven-strikeout ball Wednesday, Dan Uggla walked four times in one game Friday, Craig Kimbrel made it 12 straight appearances without a run allowed (with 37 strikeouts and no homers allowed in 23 innings this year), and recent call-up Andrelton Simmons put on a daily defensive clinic. Now comes a huge three-week stretch: 12 straight games against AL East opponents (six vs. the Yankees) and an end-of-June NL East summit with the front-running Nats.

7. Chicago White Sox, 33-27 (291 RS, RS 256 RA) (last week: 6)

When it comes to innings limits, Washington’s plan to restrict Strasburg to 160 has garnered most of the attention. But what the White Sox do with their own 23-year-old ace could play as big a role in deciding a division title. Chris Sale hurled eight shutout innings Saturday, giving him the following line in his past five starts: 36⅔ IP, 19 H, 4 R, 7 BB, 43 K, 5-0, 0.98 ERA. Taking a starter that productive and shunting him to the bullpen, in any role, would usually be a colossal waste of talent. Except for one problem, in this case: With his most recent start, Sale surpassed his innings total for all of 2012. The Sox have 102 games left to play, meaning 20 more scheduled starts for Sale.

So what to do now? The team could elect to skip a Sale start here or there, but each one he misses lowers their chance of winning, and you can only skip so many before your rotation and bullpen start to become taxed. Setting a hard innings limit is also an option, though if the White Sox make the playoffs they’d surely miss having Sale take the ball against the league’s top sluggers. They could move Sale to closer (or another bullpen role) as threatened, reducing his workload and operating under the some-Sale-is-better-than-no-Sale premise. Or they could simply keep sending him out there, let him throw three times as many innings as he did in 2011, and see what happens. Put it this way: Neither Robin Ventura nor Don Cooper or anyone else in the White Sox front office … really no one except this guy is doing backflips over the pending Sale decision.

8. Baltimore Orioles, 34-26 (263 RS, 267 RA) (last week: 10)

A 4-2 week against the Red Sox and Phillies earns the O’s a two-notch promotion this week. Still, you see Brian Matusz last just two innings (against the loaded Red Sox offense, but still), and Jake Arrieta continuing the Veep Curse with his worst start yet (nine runs and 11 hits in four innings against a decimated Phillies offense) and you start to wonder how long Baltimore can keep living on its young starting rotation. At least there’s hope for Mark Reynolds, who slugged 37 homers last year but has just three this season; you have to figure he’ll be good for more than just hilarious strikeout montages sometime soon.

9. San Francisco Giants, 34-27 (239 RS, 234 RA) (last week: 15)

Make it 16 straight homerless games for the banjo-hitting Giants, who nonetheless keep climbing the ranks thanks to great pitching and as many singles, doubles, and triples as they can muster. As Rotoworld’s Matthew Pouliot notes, two more homerless games at AT&T Park and the Giants will hold the longest such streak in 52 years. With Buster Posey putting up a solid but unspectacular .350 wOBA this season, the only scary hitter in the Giants lineup lately has been Melky Cabrera. Actually, that depends on how you define scary: As San Francisco Chronicle writer John Shea tweeted, the Giants ran out Angel Pagan, Hector Sanchez, and Brett Pill as their 3-4-5 hitters on Friday, yet held the third-best record in baseball at the time. SB Nation’s Rob Neyer broke down how on earth that might be possible: strong bullpen work even without Brian Wilson, a big year for Ryan Vogelsong to follow 2011′s amazing comeback, and an outfield of Cabrera, Pagan, and Gregor Blanco that’s been shockingly good. With Pablo Sandoval just off the DL and three out of the next four series against sub-.500 teams before a showdown with the Dodgers, there’s a golden opportunity here to make a big run. Even if the Giants have to hail a cab to reach McCovey Cove.

10. Cincinnati Reds, 32-27 (247 RS, 231 RA) (last week: 8)

Teams like the Rangers and Rays have garnered much of the recent acclaim for building homegrown winners. But where would the Reds be without their own deep stable of prospects turned major leaguers? The talents of perennial MVP candidate Joey Votto and fellow middle-of-the-lineup slugger Jay Bruce are well known. But the Reds also trot out rookie shortstop Zack Cozart (a plus defender on pace for nearly 20 homers), Homer Bailey (strikeout-to-walk rate of nearly 2½-to-1 from a no. 4 starter), Todd Frazier (slugging .596, collecting huge hits, smiting Justin Verlander 101 mph fastballs, and serenading fans with Frank Sinatra walk-up music), and our old pal Aroldis Chapman, who waited until June to give up his first earned run(s) of the season. Sure, they’ve fallen into a first-place tie with, of all teams, the Pirates. It’s incredible to think that this team might’ve flirted with the idea of trading Votto and rebuilding, before locking up both Votto and Brandon Phillips with long-term deals.

11. Los Angeles Angels, 32-29 (255 RS, 234 RA) (last week: 16)

Because Mike Trout and Mark Trumbo weren’t scorching-hot enough, let’s have ‘em play three at Coors Field. Sunday’s 10-run outburst hiked Trumbo’s season line to .326/.380/.632 and too many huge blasts to count. All the Trout Rookie of the Year talk is a tad premature, though — if anything we should start talking about his MVP campaign, given he’s already third (third!!!) in AL Wins Above Replacement, despite playing just 39 games this year. No, the newsworthy item was the long-awaited awakening of Torii Hunter. Hunter was slumping badly even before leaving the team under extraordinarily difficult circumstances. A weekend in Colorado proved to be the right tonic for his numbers, if nothing else: 9-for-15 with three homers and nine runs knocked in over the weekend. And the Angels have now won nine in a row on the road.

Blame the Angels’ slow start on Hunter, or Albert Pujols, or a bullpen that needed time to right itself, or a 5-10 record in one-run games that was partly due to that bullpen, and partly a product of bad luck. Whatever the case, they’re now hot on the Rangers’ tail, right where we expected them to be.

12. St. Louis Cardinals, 31-30 (307 RS, 252 RA) (last week: 13)

Lance Lynn has been as big of a savior as anyone in baseball this year, given the circumstances: With Chris Carpenter yet to throw a pitch in 2012, top pitching prospect Shelby Miller scuffling in the minors, and Adam Wainwright taking time to round into form after Tommy John surgery, Lynn’s 74⅓ innings of 2.66 ERA/3.13 FIP pitching have been a godsend. Well, the Cardinals could use another Lynn now that Jaime Garcia’s cranky elbow has been updated to left shoulder impingement, see you in a month (or more). Joe Kelly got the call from Triple-A and actually fared reasonably well for a big league debut: five innings, seven hits (five of them singles), one run, one walk, four strikeouts. Still, the Garcia injury will offer another stiff test for a team whose depth has been tested more than almost anyone else’s. If you had said at the beginning of the year that the Cardinals would be racked with injuries, but that Carlos Beltran and Rafael Furcal would miss just two games each, they’d have tossed you into get-away-from–Pete Campbell electroshock therapy right quick.

13. Toronto Blue Jays, 31-29 (293 RS, 260 RA) (last week: 14)

Other than walking a lot less (13.3 percent walk rate vs. 20.2 percent last year, though with fewer strikeouts this year too), the difference between Jose Bautista’s 2011 and 2012 seasons boils down to batting average on balls in play: a career-high (for a full season) .309 last year, just .204 this year, lowest in the majors. With his line-drive rate just about holding steady, that BABIP plunge can be blamed almost entirely on bad luck. In fact, a recent power binge (five homers in the past eight games) has Bautista on pace to top last year’s 43 homers, with 46 in 2012.

14. Boston Red Sox, 29-31 (306 RS, 286 RA) (last week: 12)

An ugly 1-5 week, but they remain this high given their brutal schedule, run differential, and quality personnel — at least on paper, they’re quality personnel. While much of the concern for Adrian Gonzalez has centered on his supposedly balky shoulder, he also hasn’t walked in 100 plate appearances, dating all the way back to May 15. Whether that’s Gonzalez pressing in trying to regain his usual power stroke or something else, the Red Sox surely didn’t pay $154 million to get Yuniesky Betancourt’s evil twin. With Dustin Pedroia looking limited with a bad thumb (3-for-24 with no extra-base hits), Kevin Youkilis alternating between DL stints and not hitting (.231/.314/.372), and Jacoby Ellsbury still missing in action, this is merely a good Boston lineup right now, instead of what should be a great one. This would be a great time for Clay Buchholz (2.88 ERA, 2.9-to-1 strikeout-to-walk rate in his past five starts) and the recently activated Daisuke Matsuzaka (four runs allowed in his first start, but also eight strikeouts and just one walk in five innings) to pick up the slack.

15. Pittsburgh Pirates, 32-27 (191 RS, 208 RA) (last week: 20)

Fifteen years ago, a plucky Pirates team shocked the baseball world, holding on to first place as late as July 17 before fading down the stretch, finishing second in a ludicrously weak NL Central while winning 79 games. Yes, these are your Jermaine Allensworth Pirates once again, at least in terms of obscurity and team quality. The 2012 Buccos do differ in a couple of ways, though, none of them having anything to do with a young Tracy Morgan playing a little-known outfielder in a post–”Weekend Update” sketch. For one thing, these Pirates rank second in the NL in run prevention behind only the stingy Nats. James McDonald has led the staff this year, but he’s gotten ample support from A.J. Burnett, whose 7⅓ innings of two-run ball Sunday dropped his season FIP to 3.14 and his xFIP to 3.17; if you were ever going to give a pitcher a mulligan it’s Burnett, who’s given up more than two runs just twice in 10 starts … one of them a 12-run torture-fest in St. Louis. These Pirates also sport a bona fide star in Andrew McCutchen (12th in the NL in wOBA).

The problem is McCutchen’s supporting cast, which borders on historically bad. As ESPN’s David Schoenfield tweeted, Clint Barmes, Alex Presley, and Garrett Jones have combined for nine walks and 111 strikeouts this season. Such offensive sieves are killing the Pirates offense, which is averaging just 3.24 runs scored per game. Per ESPN Stats & Info, since the mound was lowered in 1969, no team has scored as few runs as the Pirates have and finished at or above .500. Since 1901, only five teams with that run production have topped .500; none of them had a winning percentage as high as the Pirates’ current .542 mark. As big a disaster as Clint Barmes’s two-year contract might be, good luck finding a shortstop who can hit and field his position anywhere on the trade market. But if the Bucs want to have any shot at winning even this lousy division, they have to do better than Jones and Presley at first base and left field, typically the two highest-offense positions on the diamond. If the Pirates are still in first a month from now, how they handle the trade deadline could be one of this year’s most fascinating subplots.

16. New York Mets, 32-29 (262 RS, 281 RA) (last week: 9)

We can’t skewer the Mets that badly for their 1-6 week, not after facing the pitching-rich Nationals and the stacked Yankees lineup. But those losses did underscore some of the Mets’ biggest weaknesses, from their black hole at first base (Ike Davis is .167/.248/.258 even after a game-tying hit in the ninth off Rafael Soriano Sunday) to their never-ending bullpen woes.

17. Miami Marlins, 31-29 (228 RS, 256 RA) (last week: 3)

You can say the same about the Marlins and their 0-6 week against the tough Braves and Rays. Miami called up Gaby Sanchez from Triple-A before Sunday’s game; getting something closer to the guy who made last year’s All-Star Team and not the guy hitting a buck-ninety-eight with one homer would be swell.

18. Cleveland Indians, 32-27 (261 RS, 277 RA) (last week: 17)

Chris Perez since his Opening Day three-run blown save: 23⅔ innings, 15 hits, four runs, five walks, 22 strikeouts, one lost lunch. He’s a big reason why the Indians are 10-2 in one-run games and tops in the league in awkward postgame handshakes.

19. Arizona Diamondbacks, 30-30 (256 RS, 253 RA) (last week: 21)

A five-game win streak against the miserable Rockies and the slightly less miserable A’s finally propelled the Diamondbacks back to .500. The young, homegrown core that fueled the team’s 94-win season last year — Justin Upton, Chris Young, Miguel Montero — was supposed to lead the way again this season. Instead it’s been an even younger homegrown duo, 25-year-old Wade Miley and 24-year-old Paul Goldschmidt, who’ve loomed largest lately. Miley’s gone 4-1 with a 2.31 ERA and a near-4-to-1 strikeout-to-walk rate in his past five starts, while Goldschmidt is in the midst of a 17-game hitting streak that includes one stretch where he launched five homers in seven games.

20. Detroit Tigers, 28-32 (263 RS, 279 RA) (last week: 19)

The abject failure of the supporting cast behind superstars Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera, and Prince Fielder has fueled the Tigers’ downfall so far this year. Losing starting catcher and 2011 All-Star and Silver Slugger winner Alex Avila to the DL only made matters worse. The good news, other than Prince Fielder proving he is more nimble than Mary Lou Retton, is the return of Austin Jackson. Detroit’s center fielder was smoking the ball when he landed on the disabled list May 17. He’s back and kicking ass again, rapping a homer and a game-tying, two-run double Sunday to raise his season line to .324/.404/.552. If Jackson can be a capable third wheel all year long, that would go a long way toward pushing the Tigers back toward the top of one of baseball’s weakest divisions.

21. Philadelphia Phillies, 29-33 (261 RS, 262 RA) (last week: 18)

You really should be reading the excellent Phillies blog Crashburn Alley, if only for its regular “Why isn’t Charlie Manuel using Jonathan Papelbon?!?!” watch. This week: How, in a tie game, Manuel used a rookie making his major league debut instead of Papelbon:

Tie game on the road, use any reliever but the guy earning $50 million, the most ever for a relief pitcher. That’s been the M.O. of Phillies manager Charlie Manuel all season and the wayward strategy bit his team again yesterday when the Phillies lost 6-4 to the Baltimore Orioles. Vance Worley went six innings, followed by Jake Diekman and Antonio Bastardo with one inning each. With the game tied 4-4 going into the bottom of the ninth, Manuel turned to struggling right-hander Chad Qualls for two innings, followed by last night’s call-up B.J. Rosenberg, making his Major League debut. The game ended in Rosenberg’s second inning of work when Adam Jones hit a walk-off two-run home run.

Read the whole post. There’s no question the Phillies miss Chase Utley and Ryan Howard and Roy Halladay and Vance Worley and everyone else. But Manuel is managing as if he still has all those players, as if a loaded roster affords him the luxury of mindlessly managing by the book and not by using common sense. You can’t do that with a decimated roster, and it’s making a disappointing Phillies season even worse.

22. Milwaukee Brewers, 28-32 (264 RS, 284 RA) (last week: 22)

Zack Greinke hasn’t merely been the National League’s best pitcher this season — he’s also pitched with flair. Facing the Cubs last week, he got ahead of Chicago pitcher Paul Maholm 0-2 with the bases loaded. So he threw a 53-mph curveball, a huge lollipop of an eephus pitch. The pitch missed high and way outside, but the message was sent: No more generic chase-me offerings when way ahead of a hitter. It has to be something special. When Randy Wolf came back with a 56-mph curve the next day, you knew the intrastaff rivalry was on. Your move, Yovani Gallardo.

23. Seattle Mariners, 27-35 (257 RS, 269 RA) (last week: 26)

My three favorite things about the Mariners’ combined no-hitter Friday:

3. It might not have happened, again, if not for another possible blown call.

2. Seattle’s starter, Kevin Millwood, exited the game after six innings with a groin strain. Those six shutout innings bumped Millwood up to the seventh-most valuable AL pitcher in the past 30 days, running in the same crowd as Justin Verlander and C.J. Wilson, among others.

1. Jesus Montero scrambling around trying to hug each of the six Mariners pitchers who combined on the no-hitter evoked memories of Jim Valvano looking for players to hug after winning the national championship on a buzzer-beater in ’83. In both cases, it was glorious.

24. Oakland A’s, 26-35 (211 RS, 238 RA) (last week: 27)

Jarrod Parker nearly throws a no-hitter against the Rangers, the highest-scoring team in baseball. He then has his streak of 18 scoreless innings snapped against the Diamondbacks, allowing six runs on eight hits in five innings Saturday. Of course the A’s have also won just seven of their past 25 games, yet have gone 4-2 against Texas in that span. Can’t Predict Ball indeed.

25. Kansas City Royals, 24-34 (224 RS, 254 RA) (last week: 23)

Royals top prospect Wil Myers is annihilating minor league pitching, cracking 21 homers this season including a grand slam off Roy Oswalt last week. He’s beyond ready, but Kansas City has given no indication of when they’ll call him up. Two factors stand in his way. First, the Royals don’t want to start his service time clock, given that Myers hitting free agency early or even simply qualifying for arbitration earlier could cost KC multiple millions. Second, all the most logical positions for Myers are filled at the moment, especially if the Royals refuse to move or dump Jeff Francoeur off right field. In this latest rebuilding season for KC, it might be worth finding out if Myers has the range to handle center field. Hopefully the craftiness of future outfield mate Mitch Maier will rub off on him.

26. Colorado Rockies, 24-35 (301 RS, 334 RA) (last week: 24)

Losers of five in a row, with 44 runs allowed in that span — 28 of those in a three-game set against the Angels at Coors Field — with more runs allowed this year than any other team in baseball. When the time comes for the Rockies to try to contend again, you wonder what it will take to attract the first big-ticket free-agent starters to Denver since Mike Hampton in December 2000. Those were some really good schools that caught Hampton’s eye last time.

27. Houston Astros, 26-34 (261 RS, 289 RA) (last week: 25)

Another week, another Jed Lowrie update: top 10 in WAR, on pace for 32 homers. We’re not exactly sure how Lowrie’s involved with this Justin Maxwell web gem, but we’ll give him a hockey assist just for being vaguely in the vicinity.

28. Minnesota Twins, 24-35 (245 RS, 312 RA) (last week: 28)

Few if any players have been more responsible for the Twins’ recent 9-3 run than Trevor Plouffe. Minnesota’s newish third baseman has hit .400 over his past nine games with four homers and three doubles, raising his OPS 164 points in that span. With the Twins seemingly out of the race since Opening Day, players like Plouffe will get every opportunity to play every day, even if and when these kinds of hot streaks go cold.

29. San Diego Padres, 20-41 (205 RS, 275 RA) (last week: 30)

Carlos Quentin is on fire! Quick, let’s trade him! Ignore the talk about San Diego potentially re-signing their recently off-the-DL slugger. Quentin’s spent seemingly half his career injured, turns 30 in August, and is in his final year before free agency. If he keeps hitting like this — OK, not .429/.500/.971, since that would be beyond Ruthian, but at least at a solid clip — there’ll be too much interest from other teams to even remotely justify standing pat.

30. Chicago Cubs, 20-40 (222 RS, 275 RA) (last week: 29)

If Quentin is on fire, Alfonso Soriano has spontaneously combusted. The man with one of the most untradeable contracts in the game (owed $18 million this year and in 2013 and 2014 as well) is starting to make teams consider the once-unconsiderable. Belting 12 homers in fewer than four weeks, including three tape-measure shots in two days, will do that.

Filed Under: Teams, Texas

jonah_keri

Jonah Keri is a staff writer for Grantland. His book, The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team From Worst to First, is a national best seller. His new book Up, Up, and Away, on the history of the Montreal Expos, is now available.

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