MLB Power Rankings, Week 1
Welcome to the inaugural edition of Grantland’s weekly MLB Power Rankings. Every Monday we’ll size up all 30 teams, evaluating each one based on a combination of recent play, overall team quality, and statistical spelunking.
Most teams have played just three games to this point, so most of what we thought five days ago still applies: A team with Triple-A-quality pitching isn’t going to top this list even after a perfect start, and a team with one of baseball’s best lineups isn’t going to come in last. But even after accounting for the near-meaningless nature of three (or four) games’ worth of results, a few early happenings, including a handful of significant injuries, have already begun to affect where some clubs stand. So consider these rankings something of a snapshot in time, subject to frequent, and dramatic change. Never more so than at the start of the season.
(Each team’s record is shown with runs-scored and runs-allowed totals.)
1. Detroit Tigers, 3-0 (26 RS, 14 RA)
For all the hand-wringing over Boston’s terrible pitching, we should probably acknowledge that Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera are in fact really, really, really good. The pair combined to go 10-for-23 with nine runs scored, five homers, and 11 RBIs over the weekend (I know, I know … still waiting for wOBA and xFIP in fantasy baseball), smashing everything from a game-tying, ninth-inning, three-run jack to a well-placed opposite-field single to set up the winning run.
Even better, Austin Jackson hit a blistering .571/.625/.857. It’s three games. We’re talking Dead Sea-sized grains of salt. But it can be instructive keeping tabs on players going through change, coming back from a major injury, or in Jackson’s case, making a big change in his approach. If two months from now Jackson’s still raking, we’ll look back on the great disappearing leg kick as the start of something big.
Even at the top, though, nobody’s perfect. Run prevention already figured to be an issue in Detroit given the Tigers’ shaky defense. Then Doug Fister strained a costochondral joint in his left side Saturday, landing him on the 15-day DL. Already there are concerns that he could be out considerably longer than two weeks, and that the Tigers don’t have an obvious candidate to replace him. This isn’t a critical issue for now — Detroit will probably win a few more 13-12ish games this year, and there’s little competition in the AL Central. But the Tigers might not stay in this rarefied air for long, Bash Brothers 2.0 or not.
2. Tampa Bay Rays, 3-0 (18 RS, 12 RA)
Welcome back, Carlos Pena. The old-new Rays first baseman slugged a cool 1.083 against the Yankees, highlighted by a two-out moonshot of a grand slam, on a 3-2 count, against the league’s best left-handed pitcher, in his first at-bat back in a Rays uniform. The fact that he raked all weekend, then tried to bunt with two outs, two strikes, and nobody on against a severe shift on Sunday is almost more interesting (and possibly a sign he’s been reading Joe Maddon’s little black book of insane baseball moves that often somehow work).
Let’s save some love for Jeremy Hellickson, who came within one pitch that missed being a strike by a couple inches of the first complete-game shutout of the season by any pitcher, against the Yankees no less, on his 25th birthday. Hellickson ranked among the league leaders last season in ERA while bagging Rookie of the Year honors. But some skeptics wondered if his subpar strikeout rate (5.6 Ks per 9 innings) portended major regression this year. I’m not buying it. As we discussed in last week’s prop bets rundown:
Tampa Bay Rays
Jeremy Hellickson: Total Wins in the 2012 Regular Season
I’m posting this Hellickson line here to highlight the fine work done by Mike Salfino and Bradley Woodrum on strikeout rates. Yes, eyeballing a pitcher’s K rate is one of the best ways to predict future results, even (especially!) when past ERA and win totals haven’t impressed. But as with most baseball matters, it’s worth digging a little deeper to find another layer of detail. Read Salfino and Woodrum, then don’t be surprised if Hellickson posts a strong follow-up to his Rookie of the Year campaign.
Finally, J.P. Howell needs his own sitcom. Like, now.
3. Arizona Diamondbacks, 3-0 (17 RS, 14 RA)
The Diamondbacks beat the second- or third-best trio of pitchers on one team in Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, and Matt Cain. They pulled off the sweep in especially impressive fashion, storming back from an early 6-0 hole to claim their third straight one-run win. The Diamondbacks and Giants may well go down to the wire as the NL West’s two best teams, making this early sweep a great one to have.
But the best thing to happen to the D-Backs all weekend was actually Josh Collmenter getting torched in his first start of the season. The big righty had a surprisingly effective rookie season last year, primarily by pounding the strike zone (he walked just 1.6 batters per 9 innings) and benefiting from great defense and a little luck behind him (batting average on balls in play of just .255). But right-handed starters with 87-mph fastballs never last long in this game, and Arizona has two pitching studs waiting in the wings, with 2011 draftee Trevor Bauer very nearly major league-ready. You can make a strong case that Bauer would outperform Collmenter right now, limited seasoning or not. Once he cracks the Arizona rotation, a top four of Ian Kennedy, Daniel Hudson, Trevor Cahill, and Bauer, to go with a still-strong defense, balanced hitting, and an effective bullpen, will make the Diamondbacks a good bet to repeat in the West.
4. St. Louis Cardinals, 3-1 (24 RS, 15 RA)
The Cards are averaging six runs per game, which a team can do after losing Albert Pujols … if it still has Matt Holliday, Lance Berkman, leading breakout candidate David Freese, and newly signed Carlos Beltran leading the offense.
You know what’s really exciting, though? Lance Lynn getting off to a great start in his stealthily important transition to starting, firing 6⅔ stellar innings (eight strikeouts, one walk, two hits, one run) against a still-potent Brewers lineup. It says here that the sharps overreacted to Chris Carpenter’s spring injury and especially Pujols’s exodus. A perfectly functional first start by Tommy John recovery case Adam Wainwright (5⅔ IP, 6 K, 1 BB, 4 H, 3 R) only makes the Cards look even more dangerous.
5. Texas Rangers, 2-1 (11 RS, 6 RA)
Quick, name the second-most-valuable pitcher on last year’s pennant-winning Rangers team? That would be Matt Harrison, the lefty who became a full-time starter for the first time and ran with it, racking up 30 strong starts, keeping the ball in the park, and banking 4.2 Wins Above Replacement. He picked up where he left off Sunday night, blanking the White Sox over six innings. Losing staff ace C.J. Wilson (to the rival Angels no less) created the biggest question mark for this year’s Rangers team. We’ll see potential new ace Yu Darvish for the first time in a game that counts on Monday. But Harrison, Derek Holland (6 IP, 5 K, 6 base runners on Saturday) and Colby Lewis (6 IP, 9 K, 1 BB on Friday) will play integral roles in the Rangers’ quest to repeat as AL champs. They’re good enough to come through again.
6. New York Yankees, 0-3 (12 RS, 18 RA)
Have to strike a balance between early results and team quality somewhere; might as well be here. There’s no shame in losing to the Rays, who figure to be one of the best teams in baseball this year, as they have in three of the past four seasons. If anything, the worst performance by a Yankee over the weekend goes to Joe Girardi, who showed off a rare combination of overmanaging and undermanaging. Seeking to rest Nick Swisher after two backbreaking days of labor in a row, Girardi started Raul Ibanez in right field on Sunday, shunting Swisher to DH. Ibanez then proceeded to do this … not surprising for a guy who once did this. Later in the game, Girardi had right-hander Cory Wade ready in the bullpen with lefty masher Jeff Keppinger coming up. Wade stood and watched as LOOGY Boone Logan served up a big, fat meatball.
The lineup will hit, Sabathia and Rivera will shake off their lost weekend, and the Yankees will be fine. Still, if Michael Pineda wants to come back good as new on May 1, no one will object.
7. Toronto Blue Jays, 2-1 (17 RS, 12 RA)
In a terrible opening week for closers, Sergio Santos was not immune, heaving an armpit-high fastball to Asdrubal Cabrera and watching the ball fly out of the park in 0.001 seconds. The good news: The Jays twice rallied late to take two of three in Cleveland, and Brandon Morrow moved 1/32nd of the way toward justifying his own spot on the All-Breakout Team. This is a good team facing long odds for a postseason run, given the company the Jays keep in the East. But the Rays started their big run a year or two earlier than anyone expected; could happen here, too.
8. Cincinnati Reds, 2-1 (13 RS, 13 RA)
Two out of three against Miami is no mean feat, especially with Mat Latos and Bronson Arroyo both getting hit hard. Which makes Dusty Baker’s refusal to slot Aroldis Chapman into the rotation all the more frustrating. Yes, you’ll get games like Sunday’s, where the lefty flamethrower will shut down the opposition for two innings and win the game for his team. But with a weapon like Chapman, are 70 of sometimes high-leverage, sometimes not innings a better use of his talents than 30 starts? The Reds are one of many National League teams that could end the season in that 85- to 90-win range. Giving the gifted if erratic Chapman a chance to greatly improve the rotation is a chance Baker needs to take.
On the positive side: Two homers for Jay Bruce on Sunday, three for the series. He might hit 40 this year.
9. Los Angeles Angels, 1-2 (11 RS, 13 RA)
It was supposed to be the Albert Pujols coronation tour. Instead the Angels wake up Monday morning asking, how do we solve a problem like Mark Trumbo? The non-third baseman third baseman made three errors in the Halos’ first three games of the season, which didn’t cause either of their two losses (Dan Haren and Ervin Santana getting surprisingly lit up did) but didn’t help either.
Two factors in l’Affaire Trumbo confuse the hell out of me. First, Mike Scioscia was the manager who frittered away far too much playing time on Jeff Mathis, surmising that his defense was worth dealing with his Little Leaguer’s bat, even when the Angels had the resources (and Mike Napoli on the roster!) to do a lot better. So why would he so blatantly turn a blind eye to defense and play Trumbo out of position? Second … when did Mark Trumbo become the kind of hitter who’d make you so giddy that you’d accept Vaudevillian defense anyway? A rookie-best 29 homers were an impressive feat; less impressive was his execrable .291 on-base percentage. Alberto Callaspo has little to no power and was probably due for some regression after posting 3.6 WAR as last year’s starting Angels third baseman. But you can only wave away excellent defense and contact skills and a good batting eye for so long, especially for a player still in his prime in his age-29 season.
Signing Pujols and welcoming Kendrys Morales back from injury created a weird, overcrowded lineup that the Angels hope will be remedied by dumping Bobby Abreu. But as much as Mike Trout wresting away Vernon Wells’s job might help the Angels, Callaspo taking over for Trumbo might help even more. It’s not an ideal situation to bench a player who cranked 29 bombs last year. That doesn’t mean it’s not the right decision for this Angels team.
10. Washington Nationals, 2-1 (12 RS, 9 RA)
Nine runs allowed all weekend, four of them in 3⅔ innings by Gio Gonzalez, the guy the Nats sold half the farm to acquire in an offseason trade. The bullpen was nearly flawless, though, a rough patch by Ryan Mattheus the lone blemish. Brad Lidge already looks like a huge bargain with his slider back, and Henry Rodriguez showed off filthy stuff in striking out the side for Saturday’s save. (We will grant that the middle of the Cubs’ lineup looks like a horror movie right now.) The Nats’ lineup looks pretty thin, though, especially with 2011’s 31-homer man Mike Morse rehabbing from a back injury. They get the Mets to start this week in what should theoretically be a very winnable matchup. Then again …
11. New York Mets, 3-0 (12 RS, 7 RA)
… who could have seen these next two teams coming, small sample or not? Actually the major projection systems were surprisingly bullish on the Mets, with some projecting them to finish just a tick shy of .500, despite Jose Reyes bolting for Miami and a ball club full of question marks getting left behind. David Wright (.667/.692/1.000), Daniel Murphy (.385/.429/.615), and Lucas Duda (two homers Saturday) paced the offense in the Mets’ sweep of Atlanta. Better still, Johan Santana pitched like … well, Johan Santana. Making his first start since September 2010, Santana shut out the Braves over five innings. He fanned five, surrendered just two hits and two walks, and left the Mets in sole possession of first place for the first team since May 2010. His fastball mostly hovered in the high 80s, so the Mets have to hope his velocity builds back up over time. But even vintage Santana relied more on killer fastball location and a wipeout changeup than pure gas, and post-injury Santana showed flashes of both.
It’s probably futile to dream of a Mets deal that sends $55 million worth of Santana to a pitching-needy club for top-flight prospects. But if the worst-case scenario is Santana gives us glimpses of the one-time best pitcher on the planet while the Mets spring the occasional surprise, that’d be a lot better than anything you could have hoped for a week ago.
12. Baltimore Orioles, 3-0 (15 RS, 5 RA)
Even with Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau back and healthy(ish), the Twins are a bad team that’s going to lose a lot of games this year. But let’s not nitpick too much here. The Orioles are an even less talented squad, and even the players’ moms wouldn’t dare pick them to finish anywhere but last in the AL East this year. Sweeping the first series of the season and yielding just five runs over three games to do it is prettay, prettaaaaay heady stuff for what could be baseball’s second-worst team by year’s end. The Orioles’ deal for Jason Hammel looks especially nifty after one start, with the usually forgettable righty taking a no-hitter into the eighth on Sunday before settling for just two hits allowed in the best start of his career. Nick Markakis, the guy who does just a little less than your fantasy team had hoped every year, surged to a .556/.667/1.444 start.
It won’t be long now before everyone overreacts and praises Buck Showalter’s managerial genius, the way some pundits did when the O’s held onto first place for all of 10 games last year. But for a team with perhaps more questions to answer than anyone else, you smile, accept your baby steps, and move on.
13. Los Angeles Dodgers, 3-1 (21 RS, 16 RA)
I’d like to tell you that taking three out of four from the overmatched Padres is a big deal, that Chad Billingsley’s 11-strikeout gem was a sign of his breakout finally arriving and not a case of a good day against a mediocre lineup in a pitcher’s paradise of a ballpark, that Andre Ethier’s going to drive in 150 runs and make $150 million on the free-agent market for his efforts. But I can’t. We’ll need a lot more evidence before you should get excited about the 2012 Dodgers, even if the arrival of new owners bodes very well for the future.
So how about this:
“His fastball will raise the hackles on your neck.” —Vin Scully, on Padres relief pitcher Andrew Cashner.
If someone finds a substance that can make people immortal, Vin Scully should get first dibs. He’s one of the best reasons there is to love baseball, whether or not you’re a Dodgers fan.
14. Philadelphia Phillies, 1-2 (6 RS, 7 RA)
Another of the benefit-of-the-doubt teams, but Philly is nowhere near the Yankees this week for the simple reason that they’re not as good. You’ll see Phillies starters give up something close to two runs in 20 innings again this season, against better lineups than Pittsburgh’s, too. But the Phils’ lineup is going to have a lot of slow nights for as long as Chase Utley and Ryan Howard are out, especially if Placido Polanco looks as cooked offensively as he did last year. Ruben Amaro Jr. gets criticized in analytical circles for some of his moves, none more so than the $125 million extension Ryan Howard just started earning while he sits on the disabled list for the next couple months. But he’s also extended the Phillies’ run about as long as you could possibly hope for with a team this old. If this is the year it all ends, it’ll have been a helluva run. Even with the likes of Freddy Galvis posting nightly 0-fers, though, there may be more yet to come. It might take Roy Halladay striking out 200 and walking 12 to do it … but you can’t put that, or anything else, past him.
15. Miami Marlins, 1-3 (14 RS, 17 RA)
An optimist would look at Ricky Nolasco’s strong first start (8 IP, 5 K, 0 BB, 3 R, 5 H) and note how huge a big year by one of the Marlins’ lesser pitchers would be to the team’s playoff chances. A pessimist would look at out-of-position left fielder Logan Morrison, out-of-position third baseman Hanley Ramirez, and the rest of an uninspiring defense and wonder if that could be the undoing of a team with the bats to win a division that lacks a clear best team. Does Jeffrey Loria have a rainy-day fund he can tap to make a big in-season trade, especially with all that Albert Pujols money not spent this offseason? Feels like the entire NL East could be swung by one aggressive move for any of four possible contenders, really.
16. Boston Red Sox, 0-3 (14 RS, 26 RA)
If you’re like me and you use Twitter heavily for baseball, you’ll probably end up following a whole lot of Red Sox beat writers, bloggers, fans, and well-wishers, simply by default. Which can be both entertaining and informative, especially after the worst weekend a Sox fan still shell-shocked from last year’s collapse could ever conjure in a nightmare.
Through the magic of Twitter, we learned the following:
• In the 20 innings that followed Jon Lester departing his excellent start Thursday, Red Sox pitchers got whacked for 25 earned runs on 33 hits, with seven homers. (@PeteAbe)
• Alfredo Aceves threw just seven pitches and didn’t record an out Sunday. Since Bobby Valentine surprised the baseball world by naming Aceves the closer, the man they call Ace has faced five batters and retired none of them. (@ScottLauber)
• Nick Punto’s three-hit day might’ve defied the skeptics who wondered why Valentine would bat him leadoff, thus guaranteeing more plate appearances to the team’s worst hitter than anyone else. But Punto’s two head-first dives into first base (one of which might’ve directly caused an out on a close play) confirm that while he might be an occasionally effective hitter, he’s also a professional troll. (Me)
• The last time the Red Sox and Yankees both started a season 0-3 was 1966. They finished ninth and tenth in a 10-team league that year. (@pgammo)
After the game, Valentine wouldn’t rule out moving Daniel Bard to the closer position before Bard can even make his first scheduled start of the season. Felix Doubront is already the fourth starter. There is no obvious candidate for the fifth starter’s job. And while it was just one start, a live viewing and a check of the excellent pitch-analysis site Brooks Baseball confirms that Josh Beckett was throwing batting-practice fastballs en route to yielding five homers and seven runs in Saturday’s 10-0 loss.
This is still a terrific offensive team with the horses to contend for a playoff spot. But with pitching attrition adding up and a bullpen already in disarray, it’s worth asking for the 378th time: How’s all that saved Marco Scutaro money doing?
17. San Francisco Giants, 0-3 (14 RS, 17 RA)
Three one-run losses to your biggest rival (this year and last, anyway) are going to hurt, no matter how you explain them. But those kinds of heartbreakers have a way of evening out over time, especially for a team that’s trotted out a solid bullpen for the past few years. Good signs abound: Top hitting prospect Brandon Belt is actually getting a clean look at a starting job (though the Bochy Exasperation countdown is down to one with Belt going 1-for-10 to start the year). Buster Posey (.333/.429/.583) is hitting the pre-injury Posey of 2010, at least so far (though curiously, with three errors in three games). And Sergio Romo has started his annual bid to become baseball’s best relief pitcher on a per-inning basis. But second base and shortstop will remain unholy out-making wastelands and the offense in general will remain sub-good. Worked in 2010. Might not work against a game Diamondbacks squad this year.
18. Atlanta Braves, 0-3 (7 RS, 12 RA)
Like the Giants, Red Sox, Yankees, Phillies, and other capable teams off to slow starts, we don’t want to read too much into the Braves dropping their first games of the season. A healthy Braves lineup will rarely look as bad as it did over the weekend. But getting your ass handed to you by the Mets? One of our Twitter favorites, Cyborg Tommy Hanson, isn’t happy.
CPU CANNOT COMPUTE HUMANEMOTION(“SHAME”) BUT AFTER BROOMSWEEP FROM LOS METS PLEASE INJECT ME WITH JONESJIM KOOLAID AS I CANNOT SELFTERMINATE
— CYBORG HANSON TOMMY (@CyborgHanson48) April 8, 2012
19. Kansas City Royals, 2-1 (13 RS, 11 RA)
A bumpy way to win two out of three from one of the teams expected to fare best this year in the AL, but two wins nonetheless. Jonathan Broxton striking out the side and pumping mid-to-high-90s heat to close out Sunday’s game starts to answer a bunch of burning fantasy questions, and also soothe doubts about the Royals’ bullpen sans Joakim Soria.
Meanwhile, for as much love as Jamie Moyer (deservedly) got trying to become the oldest pitcher ever to win a big league game, 34-year-old Bruce Chen dominated in his first start of the season (6 IP, 0 R, 3 H, 0 BB, 4 K) as he tries to become the first pitcher to start for every major league club, every Can-Am team, every beer-league softball team, and every pickup game you and your buddies organize before Chen inevitably shows up. All I’m saying is, could someone please buy me this T-shirt?
20. Pittsburgh Pirates, 2-1 (7 RS, 6 RA)
Horribly unjust to have the Buccos six spots below Philly after two walk-off, head-to-head wins, I know. Let’s wait and see if the Pirates can score more than seven runs in a series against non-Phillies pitching staffs. Better yet, let’s see if Erik Bedard, Jeff Karstens, and James McDonald can kick around National League lineups not decimated by injuries. Bedard could have staying power, though: Fifty strikes in 81 pitches over seven tidy innings is exactly the kind of performance Bedard can provide when healthy. The question is, how long can he stay healthy? And can the Pirates cash him in for players who’ll help the next winning team in Pittsburgh before that nearly inevitable injury happens?
21. Seattle Mariners, 3-1 (19 RS, 15 RA)
The M’s should probably rank higher, considering they might win 100 games if MLB follows through on its apparent promise for Seattle to play Oakland 162 times this year. They should also rank higher for Chone Figgins’s .412 batting average to start the season, small sample be damned. Figgins wasn’t quite the worst player in baseball last year (that was Adam Dunn), but making $9 million to hit a buck-eighty-eight with one homer still puts you near Dunn’s rarefied air.
22. Houston Astros, 2-1 (13 RS, 10 RA)
Bud Norris was one of my guys in this year’s fantasy drafts, which is saying something given my usually agnostic approach. But there was no risk of Norris being overvalued in drafts given the awful team that signs his checks. Even after striking out eight in seven strong innings Sunday, Norris remains unowned in 8.6 percent of ESPN standard 10-team leagues. At the very least, you should be able to trade for him in your league. Don’t sweat the potential lack of wins that being an Astro might entail. Norris is a fantasy find, the brightest pitching spot on an otherwise dismal team, and a decent bet to be part of the rotation for the next winning Astros team, whenever that might happen.
23. Milwaukee Brewers, 1-2 (14 RS, 20 RA)
Only the Red Sox ceded more runs per game than the Brewers, though in both cases a very good offensive opponent played a significant role in the carnage. Pretty amazing positive regression poster boy Zack Greinke and the Brewers’ pen actually shut out the Cardinals in the middle game of the series. Though most of last year’s offensive core remains intact, one of the players I fear the most this year is Aramis Ramirez. He has a long history of injuries, turns 34 this year, and earned a $36 million contract on the strength of his best season in three years. His weekend tally: 1-for-11, one extra-base hit, four strikeouts, one walk. So, so early. Just have a bad feeling there.
24. Colorado Rockies, 1-2 (10 RS, 13 RA)
What’s the deal with managers going with Sunday lineups three games into the season? Results aside, resting Nick Swisher by DH’ing him and resting a healthy Kevin Youkilis in favor of Nick Punto were curious decisions by two known tinkerers in Joe Girardi and Bobby Valentine. Still, no one plays the Sunday lineup card harder than Jim Tracy. There’s some logic to making sure all 25 players on a roster stay fresh, and when you have a bat as potent as Jason Giambi’s on the bench, it’s worth sneaking him some playing time. But the Rockies benched five of their regular starting eight on Sunday, and perhaps not coincidentally dropped the rubber match of their series to the lowly Astros in the process.
The worst part was an incredible, and sadly wasted, performance by Juan Nicasio. The neck injury he suffered last year against the Dodgers was one of the scariest you’ll ever see. Eight months later, Nicasio was back, rolling over a major league lineup (OK, it’s the Astros … call it a Triple-A lineup) and showing no ill effects from that frightening knockout. Between Buster Posey, Adam Wainwright, Johan Santana, and many others, this has to be one of the toughest years you’ll ever find to win National League Comeback Player of the Year. But the mere fact that Nicasio is back pitching, let alone pitching well, is one of our favorite stories in this young season.
25. Chicago White Sox, 1-2 (6 RS, 11 RA)
Feel free to hate Robin Ventura for installing untested rookie Hector Santiago as the team’s out-of-nowhere player to start the season (if you’re a fantasy player). Feel free to get excited about a White Sox bullpen that now features screwball specialist Santiago, perennially excellent lefty Matt Thornton, strikeout machine Addison Reed, and a good supporting cast (if you’re a White Sox fan). Feel free to feel sick every time you watch one-time can’t-miss prospect Gordon Beckham flail away as the Sox try to figure out how to salvage their second baseman’s flickering career.
26. Cleveland Indians, 1-2 (12 RS, 17 RA)
We’ve said everything that needed to be said about Chris Perez and suboptimal decisions driven by the save rule; Perez predictably gave up two more base runners on Sunday but still wiggled out of the jam with his first save of the season. A bigger problem might lie at first base, where Casey Kotchman figures to give Cleveland a big defensive upgrade over last year’s motley crew of first basemen, but with an offensive game not nearly strong enough to hang with others at the position. Forever lacking the power to be a real threat at first, Kotchman parlayed a fluky .335 BABIP into respectable offensive numbers last year. He’s 1-for-16 to start this season with a lone single on his ledger. In another case of “It’s early, but,” Kotchman’s a career .267/.334/.396 hitter; it would take a lot of defense to make that kind of line stand up in a league that has Pujols, Gonzalez, Konerko, and other sluggers at first.
27. Chicago Cubs, 1-2 (9 RS, 12 RA)
Two blown late-inning leads by the bullpen in the first two games, and very nearly a third on Sunday. Painful to watch if you’re a Cubs fan. But you don’t break the bank on relief pitchers when you’re unlikely to contend (arguably, not ever). The primary goal for rebuilding teams like the Cubs is to identify young, potential impact players who can be part of the next winning ball club.
Presenting … Jeff Samardzija. A wild, hard-throwing reliever for most of his big league career, the Cubs have been trying to polish the towering right-hander’s raw skills ever since he ditched football following a great career as a wide receiver at Notre Dame. In just his sixth start with the Cubs (and first since 2010), he delivered: 8⅔ innings, four hits, one earned run, eight strikeouts, and, most impressive of all, zero walks. The Shark threw 79 strikes to just 31 balls, averaged 96.3 on his fastball in the ninth inning (the fastest of any inning), and would have had a complete game if not for the 6,509th throwing error of Starlin Castro’s young career. It’s one start, against a below-average offense no less. But when your fans are reduced to booing Kerry Wood on the first weekend of the season, you take what you can get.
28. Oakland A’s, 1-3 (15 RS, 19 RA)
Yoenis Cespedes hit a ball 462 feet to dead center in Oakland, the longest homer hit by any player so far this season. You will now watch a GIF of that homer, and Cespedes’s off-the-charts post-homer swag, for the rest of the week. (He hit a belt-high, 84-mph cutter by the way, which doesn’t change one bit of that GIF’s awesomeness.)
29. San Diego Padres, 1-3 (16 RS, 21 RA)
They did it at Citi Field. Opposing players were suggesting it after one game at Marlins Park. Would the Padres consider moving in the fences at Petco Park, given the nightmares the stadium causes for the team’s sluggers, especially lefties? The Padres have built some terrific bullpens and resurrected the careers of several mediocre starters thanks to their spacious digs. But how to solve Petco offensively? Is it possible to exclusively draft and develop a generation of players who draw tons of walks, hit tons of triples, run like hell and field like demons? Would that flavor of player translate in road games, say at Coors Field? These are big-picture questions, of course. But in what will almost certainly be another rebuilding year for the Padres, one hopes that management is thinking of the big picture as the Pads try to get back to contending. It’s been just two years since a San Diego team won 90 games; feels like longer.
30. Minnesota Twins, 0-3 (5 RS, 15 RA)
The Grantland Power Rankings have very few hard-and-fast rules. This is one of them: You score a grand total of five runs in a series, against the Orioles no less, and we just move on. OK, one thing: Justin Morneau .400/.455/.600 in an otherwise lost series for the Twins. No one wants to see a star player robbed of his abilities the way Morneau’s been hurt by concussions and other injuries. Whatever happens in the Twin Cities this year, we’re rooting for a full recovery for that other great Canadian first baseman.
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