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The 30, Week 5: Bird Is the Word

The Orioles keep silencing the doubters, while the top of our order is looking a little shaky

There’s only one way to introduce Week 5 of The 30. Here you go.

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

1. Texas Rangers, 18-10 (146 RS, 99 RA) (last week: 1)

A 2-4 week for the front-runners, and a few reasons for concern. Matt Harrison reeled off three strong starts to open the season. Since then: 8 1/3 innings, 22 hits, 15 runs, two homers, three walks, six strikeouts. The lefty claims a mechanical flaw was responsible for his recent meatballpocalypse, which seems to be a popular defense lately. Playoff hero Nelson Cruz went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts Sunday, dropping his season line to .216/.269/.324. He’s striking out more than four times for every one walk, and his isolated slugging (slugging average minus batting average) is a career-low .108. There might be a little bad luck involved: He has hit just one home run for every 16 fly balls he’s launched in the air, far below career norms. Still, late bloomers like Cruz often tail off quickly, and we’re talking about a soon-to-be-32-year-old corner outfielder whose mobility is slipping away. He’ll bounce back some, but you can bet the farm on Cruz’s best days being two years behind him. Adrian Beltre going through the 14,612th leg injury of his career doesn’t inspire confidence either.

2. Tampa Bay Rays, 19-10 (133 RS, 21 121 RA) (last week: 2)

Tampa Bay reeled off a six-game winning streak, dropped a game to Texas, then won six more in a row, bringing their home record to 13-1 — tied for the best home start in MLB history. In winning 10 in a row at home, the Rays delivered the following pitching line: 10-0, 1.45 ERA, 93 IP, 68 H, 21 BB, 101 K. The bullpen in particular turned things around after a terrible start, with Fernando Rodney shooting infinite imaginary arrows into the air to end games and J.P. Howell returning to his old, 85 mph-chucking dominant self after missing all of 2010 and looking awful last year.

But even with Joe Maddon pushing every button imaginable, you don’t lose the second-best position player in baseball over the past four seasons and come out unscathed. The Rays dropped two out of three at home to a (normally) offensively inept A’s team. They’re giving significant playing time to the likes of Elliot Johnson (.162/.262/.270), a catching tandem that can’t hit at all, and slap-hitting scrap-heap find Will Rhymes. And the pitching staff’s recent hot streak notwithstanding, two-fifths of the Rays’ starting rotation has pitched below replacement level, with 22-year-old phenom Matt Moore leading 2011 Rookie of the Year Jeremy Hellickson in the race to the bottom after getting rocked for eight runs in 4 2/3 innings against Oakland Sunday. An eight-game road stretch against the Yankees, the suddenly unbeatable Orioles, and a tough Jays team awaits.

3. Baltimore Orioles, 19-9 (131 RS, 97 RA) (last week: 8)

A week ago, we expressed concern over Baltimore’s pending schedule, starting with three games in New York and three in Boston. Five wins in a row later, it’s time to slot the O’s with baseball’s elite teams. Every time we promote Jason Hammel, he one-ups himself, striking out 13 batters and allowing just four runs over 12 2/3 against the Yanks and Sox and moving into the top 10 among MLB starters in Wins Above Replacement. Meanwhile, Matt Wieters and Adam Jones both rank in the top five for AL position players.

But this week’s hero has to be Chris Davis. The slugging first baseman/DH put up two horrible games in one Sunday, striking out five times, hitting into a double play, and going 0-for-8. But he would add another position to his repertoire at the end. After the O’s and Red Sox battled for 15 frames, Buck Showalter looked at his lineup card and found no relievers left. What he did find was Davis, who last pitched in competitive ball for the Longview (Texas) High Lobos. Not only did Davis hold the line, he looked downright dominant at times, hurling two scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and a walk, and striking out Jarrod Saltalamacchia (!) and Adrian Gonzalez (!!) while topping out at 91 mph with a wicked changeup (!!!). Finally, after 17 innings spanning six hours and seven minutes, the O’s completed their first series sweep at Fenway in 18 years, and Chris Davis became the first American League position player to earn a win since Rocky Colavito in 1968. The scouting report is out: Don’t mess with Chris Davis. Or the Orioles.

4. Atlanta Braves, 18-11 (162 RS, 135 RA) (last week: 5)

Hell of a week for the Braves. In one four-game stretch, they start three games trailing 6-0, 5-0, and 6-0 … and come back to win 15-13, 9-8, and 13-9, the first of those games counting as the craziest of Chipper Jones’s career, per the future Hall of Famer himself. Chipper’s knees won’t let him play every day, but he’s producing when he does, racking up an early line of .318/.370/.576. He added to those numbers Saturday, banging out three hits, knocking in five runs, then adding a few choice words for Jamie Moyer after the 49-year-old lefty accused him of relaying signs from second base.

“That was all on Jamie Moyer,” Jones said. “He woke a sleeping giant tonight. He started chirping and it went all downhill from there. I have never relayed a sign to anyone while I’m on second base. But to be honest with you, every pitch he throws is 78 [mph]. So it’s not like we really have to relay signs.”

With those pointed words, Chipper easily earns our Sriracha Sick Burn of the Week.1 What he doesn’t get is the no. 3 spot in the order. Fredi Gonzalez said before Friday’s game that he was very pleased with Freddie Freeman’s production hitting third. Freddie might not be impressing Fredi with his patience (five walks in 125 plate appearances), but with 13 of his past 27 hits going for extra bases, the Braves will live with the hacks.

5. St. Louis Cardinals, 17-11 (152 RS, 90 RA) (last week: 3)

A 3-3 week, with the Cardinals’ loaded offense (39 runs scored in six games) balancing out some shaky pitching performances. On Wednesday, Carlos Beltran smacked two more homers and drove in two more runs than Albert Pujols had in all of April. The offense figures to get stronger soon, too: Allen Craig is back in the lineup, and Lance Berkman’s slated to return sometime this week. That’ll give the Cards multiple options, including giving Craig some time at second base (he played eight games there last year).

Oh, and here’s your weekly Lance Lynn update: 5-0, 1.60 ERA, 2.98 FIP, 8.0 K/9 IP, 1.9 BB/9 IP, .198 batting average on balls in play. He’s been lucky, sure. He’s also been very good.

6. Los Angeles Dodgers, 18-10 (11 115 RS, 103 RA) (last week: 4)

First stumble of the season for the Dodgers, and it came against two weak clubs (Rockies and Cubs). It could have been a lot worse, too, as Matt Kemp was pulled from Sunday’s lineup with hamstring tightness, threatening his streak of 392 consecutive games, but more important, threatening to subtract the best player in the league from an otherwise thin Dodgers lineup. The Dodgers did try to address one of their three replacement-level positions, scooping up Bobby Abreu following his release by the Angels and giving him some of Juan Rivera’s playing time. The next step should be more playing time for A.J. Ellis. One of baseball’s most underrated players, Ellis is hitting .280/.442/.433 even after an 0-for-3 on Sunday. He’s a walks machine even after subtracting the four intentionals he’s earned batting near the bottom of the order and is giving the Dodgers big production for about the league minimum. Dee Gordon might be the fastest runner in the league — he might also be the worst hitter in the league. Moving Ellis (way) up in the lineup and dropping Gordon to eighth would help the Dodgers get a little more out of what might be the biggest stars-and-scrubs offense in the league.

7. Washington Nationals, 18-10 (96 RS, 82 RA) (last week: 7)

Bryce Harper is such an exciting player …

How exciting is he?

He’s so exciting that …

We don’t bat an eyelash when he’s promoted to the no. 3 hole in his fifth major league game and responds by knocking in the winning run.

We marvel at his throws even when they don’t actually result in an out.

We get a tutorial from Batting Stance Guy on How to Imitate Bryce Harper.

We watch as Cole Hamels drills him with an early purpose pitch, only to see Harper respond by stealing home.

Adam LaRoche’s surprising, team-leading 148 OPS+ is due back Tuesday, and Ryan Zimmerman should be back soon too. But with Michael Morse still on the DL and Jayson Werth now out at least six to eight weeks with a broken wrist, the Nats desperately need more big moments from Harper. That and more of the same from the top-performing pitching staff in baseball.

8. Toronto Blue Jays, 16-13 (138 RS, 118 RA) (last week: 9)

Finally, finally, Brandon Morrow looks like he might’ve turned the corner. The perennially frustrating right-hander topped his previous six-shutout-inning start by going the distance against the Angels, striking out eight, walking none and allowing just three hits and no runs. If his numbers are any indication, Morrow might be taking a different approach, striking out far fewer batters (6.3 K/9 IP vs. 9.8 K/9 IP career) but also walking far fewer (1.7 BB/9 IP vs. 4.3 BB/9 IP career). As Rogers Sportsnet’s Shi Davidi reported, Morrow threw 102 pitches Thursday, 75 for strikes. Asked if that was a first for him in a complete game, Morrow quipped: “I’ve thrown 102 pitches over four innings before.”

A team expected to score runs but scrap for wins behind Ricky Romero instead ranks fifth in the AL in run prevention. Jose Bautista’s hitting .183 with a .171 BABIP; once those hits start falling in, this team becomes dangerous.

9. New York Yankees, 15-13 (141 RS, 129 RA) (last week: 6)

Simmons, JackO, and I covered Mariano Rivera’s likely season-ending knee injury at length Friday on the B.S. Report. But for all of Mo’s greatness and all the hysterics over his loss, he is still just a relief pitcher … albeit the best relief pitcher of all time.

Consider:

• Per Nate Silver’s research, a closer needs to show the true talent level of a 2.00 ERA to equal 200 innings from a 3.69 ERA starter. In other words, losing Michael Pineda for the season hurts just as much, if not more, than losing Rivera — especially if the Yankees were getting the Pineda they envisioned when they flipped Jesus Montero to make it happen.

• The Yankees’ bullpen is one of their bigger strengths even without Rivera, with Cory Wade and Rafael Soriano emerging as capable setup men and Boone Logan doing a mostly workable job as a LOOGY. The linchpin, of course, is David Robertson. Since the start of last season, Robertson has thrown 78 2/3 innings, struck out 121 batters, allowed one home run, and posted a 0.93 ERA.

• The Yankees got Nick Swisher back Sunday, and he responded by belting his seventh homer of the year. Call it a contract-year push or just one of those things, but Swisher’s been killing the ball this season, slugging a team-leading .628.

• Derek Jeter reached base four times in five plate appearances Sunday, and is now hitting .397/.439/.595. Whatever happens in the bullpen, the Yankees are still loaded on offense, and are still going to win a bunch of 10-5 games.

• Phil Hughes posted a quality start on Sunday. No, really! He pitched into the seventh, struck out seven and walked just one, and was still throwing 95 mph past his 100th pitch of the day. Yes, it was the Royals. But this is Phil Hughes, possibly the most frustrating starting pitcher in the game. An even competent Hughes in the no. 5 starter role would take a lot of sting out of Rivera’s loss.

Rivera says he’ll be back in 2013. The Yankees can still make a deep playoff run while he recovers.

10. Cleveland Indians, 15-11 (117 RS, 116 RA) (last week: 10)

You look at the Indians offense and you wonder why they’re not doing better than seventh in the AL at 4.5 runs per game. Jason Kipnis has hit the cover off the ball, trailing only Jose Altuve and Omar Infante (which is a whole other column for a whole other day) among second basemen in Weighted On Base Average. Through Saturday, Cleveland’s walk percentage was a sky-high 11.7 percent, versus the AL median of 7.6 percent; eight of the top 30 walkers in the AL were Indians. So why is this team seemingly underachieving on offense? One quirky stat: The Tribe’s hitting just .115 (3-for-26) with one extra-base hit with the bases loaded this season.

On the run prevention side, even when Ubaldo Jimenez does well, he looks lousy doing it. Cleveland’s big 2011 acquisition finally came up with an effective start, twirling seven shutout innings — against Texas, no less. Still, Jimenez walked five batters in doing so, and has now walked 25 batters (against 20 strikeouts) in 35 2/3 innings. It’s all been a bucket of weird for the Indians: Johnny Damon’s suddenly the team’s leadoff hitter, the ever-shaky Chris Perez leads the league in saves. Of course the Indians also lead the supposedly invulnerable Tigers by a game and a half heading into the second week of May. There are worse fates.

11. Detroit Tigers, 14-13 (115 RS, 118 RA) (last week: 11)

Our next mechanical-flaw bachelor is none other than Max Scherzer. You might remember Max Scherzer from driving every member of the Tigers coaching staff and every fantasy owner completely crazy every year with terrible starts, followed by some extra instruction (even in the minors), followed by a miraculous recovery. This time, following yet another fix job on yet another mechanical problem, Scherzer came back to throw seven innings of one-run ball, striking out nine, walking none, and looking like Good Max Scherzer has every year after he figures out whatever mysterious problems are ailing him.

Meanwhile, Delmon Young’s back after getting suspended for doing something terrible that made it into the New York Post, as opposed to the many terrible things other players have done that have met with lesser or nonexistent punishments due to lesser resulting publicity. Suspension aside, Young is back to remind us that he’s not a very good hitter (.233/.305/.315, making last year’s playoffs a distant memory) who also can’t catch or run particularly well. We’ve already seen Jim Leyland’s phenomenal pantomime for recently promoted 6-foot-5, 290-pound Brad Eldred. Presumably the signal to bring Young into the game is for Leyland to soil himself.

12. Cincinnati Reds, 14-13 (105 RS, 100 RA) (last week: 17)

Who is this impostor Mat Latos and what have you done with the bum who polluted the Reds rotation the first month of the season? Actually, Latos’s 11-strikeout, five-base runners-in-six-innings performance was far more typical of Latos’s pre-2011 results, when he pitched like a very good starter for San Diego, but without the extreme platoon home/road splits you might expect from a Padre. Latos’s big day does start to move his strikeout rate back closer to historical norms, and his velocity remains fine.

Elsewhere, interesting rebuttal from FanGraphs on the #FreeAroldisChapman movement, even if Chapman is being deployed (relatively) correctly as a high-leverage, non-closing reliever. Of course, this assumes that Dusty Baker will continue to use Chapman for the relief opportunities that warrant his special skills. So … yeah.

13. San Francisco Giants, 14-14 (108 RS, 105 RA) (last week: 13)

The Giants offense has been better than you might expect, ranking a respectable ninth in the NL at 3.9 runs per game after finishing 29th in MLB last year. But things could get worse quickly after San Francisco lost one of their hitters. If recent history is any indication, he’s going to be gone awhile, and it’s going to hurt.

Pablo Sandoval ranked second on the team in wOBA (slightly behind Buster Posey) before breaking his left hamate bone. Panda missed 41 games last with a broken right hamate bone, so that could be a reasonable precedent. Conor Gillaspie takes over at third in his absence, and projection systems aren’t impressed — ZiPS has Gillaspie hitting .258/.319/.367 in 2012. Of course, that would be a tropical paradise compared to Gillaspie’s partner on the left side of the infield: Brandon Crawford is now hitting .196/.217/.321 for the year.

14. Arizona Diamondbacks, 14-15 (123 RS, 121 RA) (last week: 16)

The best GIF team of the week, and it’s not close (hat tip @ChadMoriyama, twice). Exhibit A: Joe Saunders Makes The Most Pathetic Glove-Flip Attempt in History. Exhibit B: Diamondbacks Let Their Viewers Know They Lack Audio in Best Way Ever. The frowny face was especially inspired.

15. Miami Marlins, 14-14 (100 RS, 104 RA) (last week: 24)

No more Heath Bell as closer, no problem. Steve Cishek’s striking out more than a batter an inning and figures to slide into the closer’s role on Tuesday, once Friday’s three-inning stout is far enough in the rear-view mirror. Far more relevant for the Marlins, Giancarlo Stanton has finally awoken from his early-season slumber, mashing five homers and two doubles in his past eight games. Meanwhile, Omar Infante might be the biggest individual surprise in baseball, hitting .329/.359/.651. There’s (lots) of question about whether this is sustainable, with 13.7 percent of Infante’s fly balls this year flying out for homers, vs. 5.2 percent for his career. It all added up to a six-game winning streak, a perfect week, and the biggest jump for any team.

The Marlins still need to solve the mystery of Josh Johnson, though. Advanced Stats say he’s fine, with Johnson’s strikeout and walk rates not far from career norms and a healthy ground-ball rate near 52 percent belied by a .439 BABIP and a 61.7 percent strand rate. Ozzie Guillen has wondered aloud if Johnson might not be 100 percent. With all the quality and depth of pitching that the Nats and Phillies possess, the Marlins really need Johnson to overcome … whatever the hell this is.

16. Philadelphia Phillies, 14-15 (110 RS, 109 RA) (last week: 20)

All-pitching edition!

• Roy Halladay’s velocity and strikeout rate might be down, but he continues to excel in one key area: a complete moratorium on home runs allowed. Doc has yielded exactly one homer this season. He’s given up just three dating back to last year’s All-Star break, a span of 132 2/3 innings.

• Blogger Jason Lukehart has started keeping a stat called “Madduxes.” To earn a Maddux, a pitcher must throw 99 pitches or fewer in completing a successful nine-inning shutout. Though we’ve had one no-hitter, one perfect game, and several extraordinary pitching performances, last week brought just the second Maddux of 2012: an 88-pitch gem by Joe Blanton against the Braves on Thursday.

Incidentally, we’ve long heard theories that hitters swing more frequently and umpires call more strikes on getaway day games, and Blanton’s whitewash of Atlanta seemed to support the idea. It might be time for a comprehensive study.

• Cliff Lee is due back Wednesday to start against the Mets. The Nationals have proven you can win with killer starting pitching and very little offense. Lee at full strength could make that an achievable near-term goal for the Phillies, too. With Chase Utley slated to start taking batting practice this week, there’s some cause for optimism here.

• Just in time, too. Cole Hamels said he hit Bryce Harper on purpose in Sunday night’s game, as “a welcome to the big leagues.” You better believe that’s a paddlin’ suspension.

17. Chicago White Sox, 13-15 (108 RS, 107 RA) (last week: 14)

The White Sox starting rotation had been humming along, and Chris Sale was a big reason why, posting a 2.80 FIP and a strikeout-to-walk rate of nearly 4-to-1 through five starts. Still, pitching coach Don Cooper & Co. saw a recent pullback in Sale’s velocity, combined with concerns of elbow tenderness, and pulled the plug on Sale as a starter. He’s now back in the bullpen, specifically taking over the closer role from Hector Santiago. Eric Stults gets added to the rotation in Sale’s stead, where the Sox hope he’ll be as exact as a shot to the heart.

It’d be nice to get a similar shot of adrenaline from the offense. Adam Dunn is hitting like vintage Adam Dunn, sitting at .250/.372/.590. But most of the team’s other hitters have struggled, with Paul Konerko raking as usual, A.J. Pierzynski showing some pop, Alejandro De Aza hitting infield doubles … and that’s about it.

18. Oakland A’s, 15-14 (97 RS, 112 RA) (last week: 19)

Taking two out of three at Tropicana Field will move virtually any team up, and the A’s are no exception. A three-run jack by recently acquired Brandon Inge proved to be the difference in Sunday’s come-from-behind win. Still, Oakland remains dead-last in baseball with a .213 team batting average, which is largely what would cause a team to roster someone like Inge in the first place.

19. Los Angeles Angels, 12-17 (103 RS, 108 RA) (last week: 22)

Slowly but surely, the Angels are starting to reveal the team people thought they’d be at the start of the season. Jered Weaver tossed the 10th no-hitter in Angels history and 250th in MLB regular-season history, against the lowly Twins. Ervin Santana’s an abysmal 0-6, but he’s pitched much better of late, his 10-strikeout performance against Toronto over the weekend nullified by some more nonexistent run support (zero run support while he was in the game over Santana’s past five starts). The Halos have been aggressive in making upgrades, too, calling up Mike Trout, then trading for strikeout-happy Padre Ernesto Frieri (if he’s still available in your fantasy league, by the way, Frieri looks like he’ll see some saves with Scott Downs and LaTroy Hawkins both getting hurt).

But of course the biggest sigh of relief came after Pujols connected for his first home run of the year Sunday. The homer came on a slider, which incredibly was Pujols’s first homer of the year against an off-speed pitch all season. A total of 789 home runs were hit in the majors before Pujols hit his first. Pujols’s teammates all flooding into the clubhouse tunnel so he could arrive to an empty dugout was a nice touch; the Angels inviting Mario Mendoza for a motivational talk would have been better.

20. New York Mets, 15-13 (106 RS, 134 RA) (last week: 12)

Ugly 2-4 week for the Mets, and you can already see the NL East starting to take shape, with the Nats and Braves playing well, the Marlins suddenly on fire, and the Phillies starting to get healthy. All of which could leave the Mets in the cellar soon, as most people expected. Whatever happens from here, though, the Mets did right by Adam Yauch after the Beastie Boy’s death, having every Met use one of the band’s songs for walkup music.

The complete lineup:

Ruben Tejada — “Intergalactic”
Daniel Murphy — “No Sleep Till Brooklyn”
David Wright — “Brass Monkey”
Lucas Duda — “The New Style”
Scott Hairston — “Root Down”
Ike Davis — “Fight for Your Right”
Andres Torres — “So Watch’cha Want”
Josh Thole — “Make Some Noise”
Dillon Gee — “Body Movin'”

The only misstep here was nobody picking “Get It Together,” so you get that now.

21. Houston Astros, 13-15 (132 RS, 118 RA) (last week: 25)

Speaking of music, the Astros are trying to win your heart. They rank fourth in the NL in runs, third in hits, second in walks, second in OBP, and fourth in batting average. We know this because social-media-savvy Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow tweeted that. They rode that offense to a 5-1 record last week, with Jed Lowrie (.333/.426/.531) getting hot after coming back from injury, forming a potent keystone combination with Jose Altuve (.352/.393/.528). We’ll likely hear more about those two and other Astros top performers from @AstrosAnalysis, the new Twitter feed created to give followers even more sabermetrically friendly information about the team. Not nerdy enough for you yet? How about the Astros flashing run expectancy figures on the scoreboard at Minute Maid Park? It might take a couple years for the Astros to become true contenders again. But they already talk a good game, and it’s fun to hear.

22. Boston Red Sox, 11-16 (144 RS, 156 RA) (last week: 15)

There have been some decent moments, with the Sox alternating good weeks and bad since the start of the year. But the problems start to look more severe when they go from simple injury problems to chronic ineffectiveness by players who are actually healthy. Clay Buchholz’s latest debacle Sunday made it six straight starts with 5-plus earned runs allowed to start the season; that tied the live-ball era record set by Carl Doyle 76 years ago. Cody Ross and Mike Aviles have slowed down after big starts, Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s hitting for some power but also carries a .268 OBP, and Marlon Byrd hasn’t shown anything since coming over from the Cubs. Even the little things haven’t clicked. The Sox got stolen-base contributions from Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford, and Dustin Pedroia last year, finishing middle of the pack with 102 steals. This year, they’re 28th in MLB with just eight steals, to go with five caught stealings.

It’s not all bad news. The bullpen’s pitched infinitely better since getting rocked by the Yankees on April 21. And you have to love a rookie making his first big league homer a game-tying grand slam over the Green Monster. Given Kevin Youkilis has hit .205/.307/.345 since last year’s All-Star break and remains racked with injuries, we might see a lot more of Will Middlebrooks this year.

23. Colorado Rockies, 12-15 (146 RS, 153 RA) (last week: 23)

More on the Chipper vs. Moyer kerfuffle: Jones said he believes Moyer is paranoid about base runners relaying signs to hitters from second base because he used to play for the Phillies, a team supposedly known for stealing signs. Chipper added that he told a couple of Rockies he’d be happy to discuss the matter further with Moyer out in the hallway.

All of which is just crazy. There’s nothing immoral or unsporting about stealing or relaying signs, so long as it’s done within the flow of the game and not, say, 1951 Giants-style. Paying close attention and looking for little edges to exploit is a concept baseball players have tried to follow for as long as there’s been baseball. Even if Chipper was passing on signs to Brian McCann, good on him. If Moyer (or any other pitcher) is worried about the other team figuring out his signs, he’s got two choices: Do a better job of disguising those signs, or keep runners from reaching second base.

24. Seattle Mariners, 13-17 (116 RS, 120 RA) (last week: 18)

They’re still not winning much, but at least the Mariners are starting to hit for some power. During one recent stretch, 13 straight Seattle runs came via the home run. Kyle Seager’s hit three homers and a double and knocked in 10 runs over his past five games. He’ll see a lot more playing time, too, with Eric Wedge finally deciding that Chone Figgins (.189/.250/.305) doesn’t deserve an everyday job, his bloated salary be damned. Dustin Ackley’s now the team leadoff hitter, Seager should play most of the time at third, and Alex Liddi will also get some at-bats at third, as well as first. Watching all that young talent come up together and Felix Hernandez dominate the league again should make for an entertaining next five months, whatever becomes of the M’s record.

25. Milwaukee Brewers, 12-15 (110 RS, 138 RA) (last week: 21)

Last week I wrote:

Perhaps no team in baseball has a more favorable schedule just ahead than the Brewers: Padres, Giants, Reds, Cubs, Mets, Astros, Twins. If you’ve created some kind of InTrade program for The 30 (and you’re my kind of nerd if you did), Milwaukee’s the team to back for biggest potential mover in the next three weeks.

Turns out this only works if you avoid repeated catastrophic injuries. When Alex Gonzalez left Saturday’s game with a right knee injury, that marked the fourth straight game in which a Brewers starter had gotten hurt. On Tuesday, Mat Gamel tore his ACL and is now out for the season. On Wednesday, Ryan Braun hurt his Achilles tendon, two days after becoming just the sixth player since 1919 to hit three homers and a triple in the same game; luckily, Braun returned over the weekend. Carlos Gomez hurt his hamstring on Friday and landed on the DL, as did Gonzalez. The Brewers plan to give Cesar Izturis the bulk of the playing time at short. There are rumors of Derrek Lee possibly coming over to play first. But really, there’s no good way to sugarcoat it: With that much talent down and Prince Fielder already out the door, this might not be the Brewers’ year.

26. Pittsburgh Pirates, 12-16 (78 RS, 104 RA) (last week: 26)

Hey, last week’s recommendations weren’t all bad. Here’s one on Pedro Alvarez:

And yet … I’m telling you now to go get Pedro Alvarez in your fantasy league. Seven hits in his last 18 at-bats, with four doubles and two homers. He’s always had the power potential, his batting average will rise at least a bit more as more balls in play fall for hits (though he might still lead the league in strikeout rate), and talented teammates like Neil Walker and especially Andrew McCutchen just can’t stay this bad forever. Alvarez’s upside amounts to Mark Reynolds in a good year, so don’t expect any batting average help. But if you’re in a deep league and a frustrated leaguemate dumped him, pick him up.

All Alvarez did was blast three homers and drive in seven runs over the next four games. He’s now hitting cleanup in Pittsburgh’s lineup, having not done that before since a 10-game stint as a rookie in 2010. He’s hitting .247/.314/.571 for the year and is even drawing more walks with pitchers increasingly honoring his power. This has still been the least productive lineup in baseball for 2012. But you have to figure players like Neil Walker and especially Andrew McCutchen will have their own Alvarez moments where they finally get going.

27. Chicago Cubs, 11-17 (98 RS, 120 RA) (last week: 27)

Hey, look, it’s another closer who lost his job. In this case it’s heart-attack-on-a-plate Carlos Marmol, who now sits behind right-hander Rafael Dolis and lefty James Russell in the Cubs’ bullpen depth chart. While the Cubs hope to settle their bullpen issues with the switch, play-by-play man Len Kasper‘s trying to establish his own stathead hegemony by referring to run expectancy charts during broadcasts. One-third of the NL Central seems to be asking for a nerd hazing, is all we’re saying.

28. Kansas City Royals, 9-18 (104 RS, 133 RA) (last week: 29)

Mike Moustakas made a great bare-handed play to seal a win against the Yankees Thursday. But the play itself wasn’t as remarkable as what it gave the Royals: their first home win of the season. On May 3. Whatever shiny promise this season might’ve held for K.C. fans five weeks ago, it seems long gone now. As my Royals-loving, occasionally self-loathing partner in crime Rany Jazayerli tweeted: “I’m not advocating that the Royals release Hochevar after the game. But I’d completely understand if they did.” Yup, it’s gotten so bad that dyed-in-the-wool Royals fans are now convinced the team will just outright cut a guy who was only the no. 1 overall pick just six years ago.

Thank goodness they still have Frenchy to brighten people’s day.

29. San Diego Padres, 9-20 (94 RS, 118 RA) (last week: 28)

Another salient point by Mr. Jazayerli, following the Padres’ trade of Ernestro Frieri to the Angels for prospects Donn Roach and Alexi Amarista: “Very few relievers will earn draft compensation anymore — if teams want to cash them in for prospects, they need to do so early.” GM Josh Byrnes knows full well that the Padres might have an elite farm system, but that it’ll take time for all that talent to grow into a contender at the big league level. Better to be hyper-aggressive about dealing anything that’s not nailed down. The Friars signed Cameron Maybin to a multi-year deal as a sign they consider him a cornerstone player (despite his .219 batting average); he, too, was acquired in exchange for surplus relief pitching. Not every prospect is going to turn into Cameron Maybin. But good relief pitchers are usually nothing more than failed starters with decent stuff. Most teams have a million of those guys lurking in the minors; might as well cash ‘em in. Triply so if you’re a team like the Padres.

30. Minnesota Twins, 7-20 (92 RS, 151 RA) (last week: 30)

Brian Dozier’s the new starting shortstop, and the two-year deal the Twins gave Jamey Carroll over the offseason already looks like a waste. Meanwhile Justin Morneau’s back on the DL, the Twins have suffered the biggest year-over-year attendance drop by any team, down nearly 6,000 a game from 2011 numbers. They got no-hit by Jered Weaver, and posted a four-game stretch in which they amassed just nine hits, the lowest total for any team in a four-game stretch in modern MLB history.

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.

Archive @ jonahkeri

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