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MLB Power Rankings: Houston, We Have Competence

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On behalf of the greater internet community, I would like to apologize to the Houston Astros.

Myself and others have been using the Houston Astros as a punchline for months now, to the point at which they were serving as a crutch. Need a quick joke? Make fun of the Astros. Need a little filler? Make fun of the Astros. Want to say something with which everyone listening will agree? Make fun of the Astros.

Don't get me wrong: times were good. The Astros jokes didn't get old, and their 0-8 start to the year was the most delightful sort of confirmation. But while the Astros are a funny team, and a pretty poor organization overall, their struggles blinded us to the wretchedness, to the thorough and pervasive inability being put on display in Pittsburgh.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are 7-12. While that's bad, it's still four games better than Baltimore. But that's a misleading figure. The Orioles have been outscored by 38 runs. The Pirates have been outscored by 82.

82 runs, through 19 games. The Pirates have been outscored by more runs than 13 teams have allowed. Nine teams have given up less than half as many runs as Pittsburgh's 147. The Pirates have already lost by six, seven, eight, nine, 14, and 20. They're on pace to score 554 runs and allow 1253 for a run differential of 699. I don't know the all-time record for worst run differential in history, but I declare with confidence that the Pirates are on pace to shatter that record. Shatter it, grind it up, and snort it, so that nobody else might attempt the same feat.

You know who else had a run differential of -82 through their first 19 games? The 1988 Baltimore Orioles. The 1988 Baltimore Orioles started the season 0-21.

There's a bit of good in Pittsburgh right now. Andrew McCutchen's a talented outfielder. Garrett Jones is a fun story. Evan Meek has found the strike zone. There's help coming through the system. The front office is intelligent and finally has the team headed in a direction. But while the Pirates may be in better long-term position than the Astros are, in the here and now, there's no comparison. The Astros, no doubt enthused by the return of Lance Berkman, have played well of late, pitching the crap out of the ball. And the Pirates have been outscored by 60 in losing seven in a row.

Rarely do things get this ugly, but when they do, they make men reconsider. I apologize, Houston. Your divisional rival has sucked way worse.

Also of note: other baseball!

30. Pittsburgh Pirates

SBN Blog: Bucs Dugout

2010 record: 7-12

Last week's rank: 26

This ship is taking on water faster than Paul Maholm can plug it: Through 19 games, he's the only pitcher who's made multiple starts with an ERA under 6. They've allowed 67 runs and scored just 12 while losing seven straight to the Brewers and Astros, and the schedule doesn't get any better. After finishing off a ten game road trip with games in Milwaukee and Los Angeles, they return home to host the Cardinals and Cubs. If they can keep it close, they've got a chance: They're 4-1 in one run games, and 1-10 in games decided by five or more.

29. Baltimore Orioles

SBN Blog: Camden Chat

2010 record: 3-16

Last week's rank: 29

The O's are 11 games back in the East already. Struggling? Yes. Is it going to get better? Probably not. O's fans should start looking at who to draft next year with a top-five pick. Fun fact: as of this writing, Dave Trembley still has a job.

28. Kansas City Royals

SBN Blog: Royals Review

2010 record: 8-11

Last week's rank: 28

The Royals still have seven players hitting over .290, and they continue to lead the American League in batting average by a wide margin with a .293 team average though Monday. One of those players is Jose Guillen, who has seven homers and reportedly looks much better at the plate after an injury plagued 2009. Rick Ankiel, meanwhile, leads the division in swings from his heels and could probably help the team more in the bullpen at this point.

27. Cincinnati Reds

SBN Blog: Red Reporter

2010 record: 8-11

Last week's rank: 23

If you happen to find some wheels, odds are they fell off the Reds: Through 19 games, they've got six regulars with an OBP under .300 and Mike Leake (3.92) is the only starting pitcher with an ERA under 5.50. They did manage a 3-3 homestand despite getting outscored 47-34, but if Scott Rolen (.283/.387/.604) is this team's best hitter all season, they're in serious trouble. They also lead the NL with nine caught stealings - making outs on the basepaths probably isn't a good idea when your team OBP is only .312.

26. Cleveland Indians

SBN Blog: Let's Go Tribe!

2010 record: 8-11

Last week's rank: 21

The offense is still only better than Baltimore's in the American League, but the Tribe continue to vaguely hang around. Another week gone, and they've still only beaten the White Sox more than once, posting a 3-9 record against clubs not managed by Ozzie Guillen. The good news is, they haven't played the Royals yet.

25. Houston Astros

SBN Blog: The Crawfish Boxes

2010 record: 8-10

Last week's rank: 30

What's more surprising: The fact that this team is 8-10, or the fact that they're getting huge contributions from Jeff Keppinger (.308/.400/.423) and Michael Bourn (.328/.435/.397) and they're still only 8-10? This team was 3-9 without Lance Berkman, and now they're 5-1 since his return. They're still getting next to nothing from Carlos Lee (.406 OPS) and Hunter Pence (.515 OPS), though. You could have made a lot of money by betting that Bourn would be the Astros' most productive outfielder.

24. Washington Nationals

SBN Blog: Federal Baseball

2010 record: 10-10

Last week's rank: 25

Washington's last ten games: WLWLWLWLWL. The Nationals like the sensation of hitting .500 so much they can't stop doing it. Tyler Clippard and Tyler Walker have combined for 33 strikeouts and six walks in 26 innings, given the Nats some semblance of solid relief for the first time in a good while.

23. New York Mets

SBN Blog: Amazin' Avenue

2010 record: 10-9

Last week's rank: 27

12 pitchers on the staff have thrown at least six innings. One of them has an ERA over 5, and seven of them are under 3. On the other hand, the rotation has a K/BB under 2, and that's including Johan Santana. There's some run prevention regression to be seen.  

22. Arizona Diamondbacks

SBN Blog: AZ Snakepit

2010 record: 9-10

Last week's rank: 19

Who had Dan Haren as the worst ERA of any Arizona starter three weeks in? Ok, smart-ass: did you pick Kris Benson as having the best? Still relying on offense, led not by Mark Reynolds or Justin Upton, but Kelly Johnson and his 1.242 OPS, which is #1 in the entire NL. He was non-tendered by Atlanta this winter - how is Martin Prado doing, Braves fans?

21. Chicago White Sox

SBN Blog: South Side Sox

2010 record: 8-11

Last week's rank: 24

The Sox are off the mat after a dramatic weekend sweep of the Mariners. However, had that series gone slightly differently, they could easily be nearly ten games under .500. Paul Konerko and Andruw Jones, both slugging over .700, have done all they can to keep the team's offense passable, as a number of Sox hitters simply haven't shown up yet. The AJ watch is on, as the team has limited time remaining to trade him before he becomes a 10-5 guy with veto power.

20. Los Angeles Dodgers

SBN Blog: True Blue LA

2010 record: 8-10

Last week's rank: 12

Lost road series to the Reds and Nationals, and also lost slugger Manny Ramirez. At least it's not for the reason they lost him about this time in 2009 - just a calf strain which sent him to the DL. Casey Blake picked up the slack, hitting .333 and driving in eight runs last week. Defense continues to be an issue, with the Dodgers having committed a major-league leading 20 errors already.

19. Toronto Blue Jays

SBN Blog: Bluebird Banter

2010 record: 10-10

Last week's rank: 16

The Blue Jays are still staying afloat, but who knows for how long? They're 3-7 over their last ten and two of those wins came against the Royals. I don't think the Jays or their fans have any serious aspirations about making any kind of run, but even so, losing a 13-12 barn burner to the Red Sox has to be all kinds of aggravating.

18. Texas Rangers

SBN Blog: Lone Star Ball

2010 record: 8-11

Last week's rank: 17

Getting let down by Neftali Feliz on Monday was only the latest in a series of early disappointments for a team many expected to do some big things. The pitching, for the most part, has been there, but the bullpen has chosen some unfortunate times to come apart, which is bad news for a team that's still struggling to score. Adding Justin Smoak should help, and Ian Kinsler isn't far off. Already 3.5 back of Oakland, though, the Rangers can't afford to lose much more ground if they want to make a run. Of note: Texas' next 16 games are against the White Sox, Royals, Mariners, and A's. There's ground to be gained.

17. Milwaukee Brewers

SBN Blog: Brew Crew Ball

2010 record: 9-10

Last week's rank: 20

It's hard to tell who the real Brewers are: The ones that swept the Pirates in dominant fashion or the ones that laid an egg and got swept by the Cubs. At the very least, Jeff Suppan is out of the rotation now and that should help: The team has gone 5-11 in his last 16 starts, while he's pitched an average of 5.1 innings and posted a 6.26 ERA. The Brewers aren't getting much from Prince Fielder early, but Ryan Braun is picking up the slack: Through 19 games, he's in the NL top five in batting average, hits, OPS, total bases and RBI.

16. Florida Marlins

SBN Blog: Fish Stripes

2010 record: 11-9

Last week's rank: 11

The Florida Marlins are 11-9 and a half game behind the Phillies, but nobody's noticed, because nobody remembers about the Florida Marlins. Ask someone how the Marlins are doing and they'll shrug and say, "I dunno, .500?" It says something about this organization that people take their competence and average play for granted. The Marlins are a minor miracle.

15. Chicago Cubs

SBN Blog: Bleed Cubbie Blue

2010 record: 10-10

Last week's rank: 18

The Cubs could be in a great position to make a run in the coming weeks: They've won five of six, outscored opponents 41-15 over that stretch, and eight of their next 17 games are against the Pirates and Nationals. Aramis Ramirez still isn't hitting (.139/.202/.292 as of Monday), but Geovany Soto (1.064 OPS), Kosuke Fukudome (.988 OPS) and Marlon Byrd (.923 OPS) are making sure his bat isn't too sorely missed. Meanwhile, the Cubs current starting five (Dempster, Silva, Wells, Gorzelanny and Lilly) have a combined ERA just over 2.00 in 16 starts.

14. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

SBN Blog: Halos Heaven

2010 record: 11-10

Last week's rank: 15

Okay, so Brian Fuentes blew a save immediately after coming off the DL, but taking a weekend series from the Yankees has a way of lifting the spirits. The Angels stand above .500 despite playing 13 games against New York, Oakland, and Minnesota, an accomplishment made doubly impressive when you consider that not too long ago these guys were 3-7. Brandon Wood has five hits in his last three games after collecting four in his first 13.

13. Seattle Mariners

SBN Blog: Lookout Landing

2010 record: 9-11

Last week's rank: 14

The Mariners' entire plan was to hang on and stay somewhat respectable until Cliff Lee could come back. They've been able to do it, but just barely, and now they've lost four in a row to AL Central opponents who, outside of those four games, are a combined 12-22. It's worth noting that, while Lee's return on Friday should help the team, both Doug Fister and Jason Vargas have been terrific over four starts each, leading one to wonder just how much better Lee could've been, if at all. The rotation's been fine. It's the lineup that continues to struggle. 

12. Detroit Tigers

SBN Blog: Bless You Boys

2010 record: 11-9

Last week's rank: 8

The Tigers only have 14 homers in 2010, and Miguel Cabrera and Magglio Ordonez have nine of them. Detroit does lead the league in OBP, however. On the whole, outside of Max Scherzer, the Tiger starters have been absolutely horrible, while the bullpen has been awesome. The combination of Valverde, Bonine, Zumaya, Coke, Perry and Ni has allowed just 13 earned runs in 60.2 innings of work.

11. Atlanta Braves

SBN Blog: Talking Chop

2010 record: 8-11

Last week's rank: 7

The ability is in there. It is. But Tim Hudson, Jair Jurrjens, and Derek Lowe have combined for 40 strikeouts and 35 walks over 12 starts, which doesn't inspire confidence. The Braves were supposed to ride a talented, deep starting staff into late-summer contention, but so far only Tommy Hanson has shown up.

10. Colorado Rockies

SBN Blog: Purple Row

2010 record: 10-10

Last week's rank: 13

While so far, so "meh" for the Rockies, they're still a few games ahead of last year's pace, and that turned out alright. Ubaldo Jimenez is 4-0 with a 0.95 ERA, though only one of those starts was in Coors. However, Jorge de la Rosa is the only other starter whose ERA is below five. Troy Tulowitzki returned, replacing his pod-person, and has hit .375 over the past week. Dexter Fowler is also dialing it up offensively.

9. Boston Red Sox

SBN Blog: Over The Monster

2010 record: 9-11

Last week's rank: 6

The Sox continue to be a mediocre team, but it seems like they are turning a corner. Daisuke Matsuzaka will be rejoining the rotation this week, but no word yet if that's a good or bad thing for Boston. Fans nervous about Josh Beckett would be wise to remember how Beckett started off a year ago. He's been bad, but not in an unprecedented kind of way.

8. Oakland Athletics

SBN Blog: Athletics Nation

2010 record: 12-8

Last week's rank: 10

The A's were able to hold their own against the Yankees, and avoided a real scare when Brett Anderson's elbow problems turned out to be minor. Not a terrible week, all things considered. This team isn't going to sustain its current level of run prevention, but it is going to get Michael Wuertz back before long, which is only going to help out a bullpen that has the potential to be the most lethal in the game. Beware Justin Duchscherer's 1.82 ERA and 1.5 K/BB.

7. San Diego Padres

SBN Blog: Gaslamp Ball

2010 record: 11-8

Last week's rank: 22

Adrian Gonzalez has hit five of his six HRs on the road, and would be forgiven for texting GMs with a plea to get him out of Petco. But the way the Padres have been playing, he might want to stick around. They won eight in a row, outscoring their opponents 40-14 over that time. No-one in San Diego has noticed: crowds there are down more than 20% compared to the first nine contests last year. Padre fever!

6. San Francisco Giants

SBN Blog: McCovey Chronicles

2010 record: 11-8

Last week's rank: 9

Starters Tim Lincecum, Barry Zito, Jonathan Sanchez all have sub-two ERAs, led by Lincecum, who remains basically unhittable: three runs allowed in 27 innings. But the bats have regressed as expected, scoring only eleven times in the past seven games, as they went 2-5. Never mind Kung-Fu Panda; if Sandoval wants an animated nickname, Pablo and the Seven Hitting Dwarfs would be more appropriate.

5. St. Louis Cardinals

SBN Blog: Viva El Birdos

2010 record: 12-7

Last week's rank: 3

They managed to split a six game west coast road trip to San Francisco and Arizona, and in the NL Central that's enough to stay on top. The Giants and Cardinals managed to combine for just nine runs over three games over the weekend in San Francisco, where the Cards suffered their first series loss of the season. Don't look now, but Albert Pujols might be human: Even after a three hit day on Sunday, he's hitting just .207/.257/.448 since the 20 inning loss to the Mets a little more than a week ago.

4. Philadelphia Phillies

SBN Blog: The Good Phight

2010 record: 11-8

Last week's rank: 5

The Phillies started out 7-2 against Houston and Washington, but they've started to struggle against superior opponents, and even Roy Halladay was dealt his first loss last night. By a team in the National League! The nerve of some people. On the list of things the Phillies want to see, a .757 OPS from their future $125m+ first baseman doesn't place very high.

3. Minnesota Twins

SBN Blog: Twinkie Town

2010 record: 13-6

Last week's rank: 4

The Twins haven't slowed down and look peerless in the AL Central. Joe Mauer continues to be the scariest hitter in baseball, a terrifying Ichiro/Pujols hybrid at the plate, with a Molina brother's defense and Jeter's reputation as a great guy. Minnesota is getting contributions from everyone offensively, as the team is second the AL in runs scored.

2. New York Yankees

SBN Blog: Pinstripe Alley

2010 record: 12-6

Last week's rank: 1

The Yankees continue to be one of the top teams in baseball, notching a 7-3 record in their last 10 games. The scariest part? Robinson Cano and Andy Pettitte are the ones running the show. God help us all if Mark Teixeira and Javier Vazquez ever awake. Vazquez's 20 runs and 36 baserunners in 20 innings are cause for some legitimate concern.  

1. Tampa Bay Rays

SBN Blog: DRays Bay

2010 record: 14-5

Last week's rank: 2

So maybe the Rays are the best team in baseball. Tampa Bay just keeps rolling after their hot start in April. Everything is clicking for this team. Almost everything, at least - another sprinkle of Jason Bartlett could put them over the top.