April is the best month of the year, as it brings the promise of another season of baseball. At Rant Sports, that means it is time to continue our Power Rankings for the 2012 season. For the second week, we will try to place a greater emphasis on how teams have performed over the first week of the season.
St.Louis Cardinals (This Week: 1, Last Week: 1) - Albert Pujols may be gone, but the Cardinals remain one of the top offensive squads in the game. Their pitching has been above average, and Lance Lynn has done a fantastic job filling in for the injured Chris Carpenter. They didn’t get enough credit for the work they did in the offseason, but in the early part of the season they look like the best team in the National League.
Texas Rangers (This Week: 2, Last Week: 2) -Like the Cardinals, the Rangers shown no reason to demote them from last week. While Yu Darvish wasn’t stellar in his debut, the rest of the pitching has been phenomenal and the offence remains above average. Still the class of the American League until one of the other teams steps up.
Detroit Tigers (This Week: 3, Last Week: 8 ) - They swept Boston and took 2/3 against Tampa. This was not an easy schedule for the Tigers, but they’ve proven they belong in a discussion of the elite teams in baseball. On a team with Justin Verlander, Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera, who would have thought that Austin Jackson would be the Tigers’ MVP through the first week?
Tampa Bay Rays (This Week: 4, Last Week: 4) - Few expected them to be leading the AL East at any point, but the Rays have gotten off to a fantastic start. The Red Sox have struggled, while the Rays have capitalized. The loss of Kyle Farnsworth has hurt the bullpen, which is the weakest link for the Rays. It was nice to see James Shields rebound against the Tigers, handing them their first loss of the season.
Arizona Diamondbacks (This Week: 5, Last Week: 13) - Clearly I underestimated just how talented the D-backs are. They’re 5-2, beating the Giants top three starters in Tim Lincecum, Matt Cain and Madison Bumgarner. It’s an important victory against a potential playoff rival. Arizona is winning with a combination of hitting and the bullpen, which has been good enough to offset a rough start for the rotation. With several promising starters waiting in the wings, Arizona should be a strong candidate to take off in the second half.
New York Yankees (This Week: 6, Last Week: 3) - It’s a small drop for the Bronx Bombers, but it’s not completely undeserved. They got swept by Tampa, and even though they beat Baltimore they were tied for most of the series. I still think it’s one of the better teams in the AL, but the Yankees need to get some wins on the board in order to get back in the top 10. They’re getting by thanks to strong performances from the bullpen, as CC Sabathia, Hiroki Kuroda and the rest of the rotation have struggled in the early parts of the season.
Toronto Blue Jays (This Week: 7, Last Week: 12) -General Manager Alex Anthopoulos has accomplished his goal of making the Jays a more athletic team. They’ve been aggressive on the base paths, taking the extra base and giving them more chances to drive a runner in. The defence looks fantastic, and the additions of Colby Rasmus, Brett Lawrie and Kelly Johnson has already made a significant impact. The Jays 4-3 record is no fluke, and after dominating the Boston Red Sox for 26 of the 27 innings played, it’s clear that the Jays could be a threat in the AL East much earlier than anybody expected.
Washington Nationals (This Week: 8, Last Week: 15) - The Nationals lead the NL East, but they’ve played against teams that aren’t expected to contend. They’ve got a big series against the Cincinnati Reds this week, their first true test. The best news that the Nats could ask for is the return of Stephen Strasburg. He’s struck out more than a batter an inning, and his ERA is a microscopic 0.69.
Los Angeles Dodgers (This Week: 9, Last Week: 20) - They’ve gotten off too a great start, but it’s tough to get excited when their competition has included the Pirates and the Padres. The pitching has been phenomenal, as Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley are both sporting ERA’s under 1. A breakout season from Billingsley could give them the edge they need to compete. Meanwhile Matt Kemp has picked up where he left off last season, a scary thought given that he was one home run away from joining the 40/40 club in 2011.
Milwaukee Brewers (This Week: 10, Last Week: 14) - Losing 2/3 to the Cardinals has to sting, especially given the fact the division has become so important with the addition of the second wild card. The Brewers rebounded against the Cubs, but the real test comes at the end of April when they play the Cardinals again in St. Louis.
Philadelphia Phillies (This Week: 11, Last Week: 6) -So far the Phillies have only been able to win game when Roy Halladay doesn’t pitch. They’ve lost 2/3 to the Pirates, and a big reason why is the offence has been non-existent. The losses of Ryan Howard and Chase Utley are crippling the lineup, and considering the struggles of Juan Pierre you have to wonder how long will the Phillies keep Domonic Brown in the minors? Not that he’s been great through his first week in the minors, but he’d have to be a better option than the corpse of Juan Pierre.
Chicago White Sox (This Week: 12, Last Week: 18) - Chris Sale and the bullpen have been outstanding, while Paul Konerko and Dayan Viciedo have been downright scary in the lineup. Adam Dunn has shown signs that he’s not quite done yet, and Alejandro De Aza could be on the verge of a breakout season. Although I’d feel more comfortable calling it that if he learned to take a walk. Something he’s yet to do all season. The biggest question might be why Brent Morel is in the starting lineup, and batting in the #2 spot. Because I sure can’t figure out why anybody would want to put him there.
New York Mets (This Week: 13, Last Week: 28) - I’m still not buying that the Mets can compete in the East, but there’s no denying they’ve been fantastic early on. Johan Santana has been sensational, and his return makes the Mets a much better team then anybody could have expected.
Atlanta Braves (This Week: 14, Last Week: 11) - The Braves schedule has been pretty soft so far, playing 3 games against both the Mets and the Astros. And yet they lost their first 4 games to start the season. The NL East is a tough division and the Braves can’t afford to be throwing games away here. It’s a great sign that Jason Heyward is off to a big start, as he might be the best hitter in the lineup. Rookie Tyler Pastornicky is doing a good job of helping Atlanta forget about the Yunel Escobar trade.
Baltimore Orioles (This Week: 15, Last Week: 29) -They got swept by the Yankees, but they pushed them to extra innings for two of the games. That’s really impressive, and these O’s might be better then we gave them credit for. Top prospect Dylan Bundy has allowed zero base runners and struck out 12 in 6 innings of work. So there is hope for the future, and it could come sooner then you think. And after beating the Jays, they’re in a four way tie for first in the AL East.
Seattle Mariners (This Week: 16, Last Week: 27) - It’s early in the season, but they’re looking much improved over last season. The offence has been middle of the pack, which is an amazing turn around for a team that had one of the worst offences in the past 30 years. Michael Saunders is making the most of his unexpected opportunity, while Chone Figgins and Ichiro Suzuki are off proving there is still a little life in their bats.
Kansas City Royals (This Week: 17, Last Week: 19) -They took 2/3 from an impressive Angels team, and it doesn’t get easier for the Royals. They’ve got the rival Tigers next week, and then they’ll welcome the Blue Jays. Amazingly, it’s the pitching that’s giving the Royals a chance to win. In Greg Holland, Jonathan Broxton, Tim Collins and Aaron Crow they’ve got a bullpen filled with high strikeout pitchers, making it nearly impossible to beat the Royals if they have a lead in the late innings.
Cincinnati Reds (This Week: 18, Last Week: 10) - The Reds finished up 3-3 against the Marlins and the Cardinals, which all things considered isn’t a bad start. Their schedule doesn’t get any easier with a series against the Nats and then another one with the Cardinals. Cincinnati has a very difficult schedule early on but that doesn’t excuse the 3-5 record.
San Francisco Giants (This Week: 19, Last Week: 9) - They got swept by the rival Diamondbacks, and their pitching looks awful. Tim Lincecum’s velocity has dropped from averaging 94 MPH in his rookie season to 90 this year, and there are concerns about whether he’s playing through an injury. If he’s not injured, then he’s going to have to learn to pitch without the killer fastball. With a lineup that’s not that intimidatingthe Giants need Lincecum to remain pitching at a high level in order to make the playoffs.
Oakland Athletics (This Week: 20, Last Week: 23) - It doesn’t matter what year it is, the story with the Athletics is that their pitching always keeps them in games. Yoenis Cespedes continues to mash, although his strikeout rate is extremely high. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when the league gets a second look at him.
Los Angeles Angels (This Week: 21, Last Week: 5) - They lost 2/3 to the Royals, and already trail the Rangers by 3.5 games. Not how the Angels wanted to start the season. The Angels have been fairly average across the board, and they’re still waiting for Albert Pujols to break out of his funk. It’s early, and the Angels should be back in the top 10 soon. But after a poor start, they’re on the outside looking in.
Boston Red Sox (This Week: 22, Last Week: 7) -One of the biggest drops of any team, the Red Sox have looked horrible against both the Tigers and Blue Jays. The bullpen is a mess, the bottom half of the lineup is almost an automatic out, and the rotation is not that impressive compared to other contenders. None of this should be a surprise though. Daniel Bard’s first start proved that while he can strike hitters out and keep the ball on the ground, his lack of efficiency will hurt his chances of going deep into the game. Bard shouldn’t be in the rotation, but he’ll likely remain there given what a mess the Red Sox pitching staff is.
Miami Marlins (This Week: 23, Last Week: 16) - The Marlins have gotten off to a tough start, facing the Cardinals, Reds and Phillies. However, Miami needs to be able to beat these teams in order to prove that they can contend in the NL East. So far, they haven’t been able to do that, and it’s why they’ve dropped down this week. The pitching has shown promise, and the lineup should improve as the season goes on. But I wouldn’t bet on the Marlins leading the division in September.
Houston Astros (This Week: 24, Last Week: 30) - I wasn’t expecting to move them from the 30 spot at any point in the season. They’re not in last place, which is a truly amazing feat given that virtually every above average, or even league average player was traded in 2011. Both the lineup and the pitching staff are producing, and the continued production from Carlos Lee is fantastic news.
Pittsburgh Pirates (This Week: 25, Last Week: 22) - They didn’t deserve to drop this far, so it says more about the teams that were behind the Pirates then anything else. They did a great job against the Phillies, and they’ve been winning with an outstanding pitching staff. Erik Bedard is leading the charge, and knock on wood will remain productive for the Pirates. If they can get AJ Burnett back soon, they might be able to play for a 500 season.
Colorado Rockies (This Week: 26, Last Week: 17) -The pitching has been a disaster so far. Michael Cuddyer has looked great in the first week, but the rest of the Rockies offence is lacking to say the least.
Chicago Cubs (This Week: 27, Last Week: 26) - The rotation has been fantastic, thanks to the unexpected transformation of Jeff Samardzija. Matt Garza and Ryan Dempster haven’t been too bad either. What’s costing them is that Carlos Marmol has walked and struck out 4 in 3 1/3 innings.
San Diego Padres (This Week: 28, Last Week: 24) -Mat Latos has been awful for the Reds, while Edison Volquez has been a very nice surprise for the Padres. Still, you’d love to see Yonder Alonso break out, although giving up on him after a week would be crazy.
Cleveland Indians (This Week: 29, Last Week: 21) - Signing Johnny Damon might help, but the reality is they have one of the worst lineups early on and a middle of the road pitching staff. That’s just not going to cut it.
Minnesota Twins (This Week: 30, Last Week: 25) - Given how bad the Twins are right now, if you’re not beating them by at least 2 runs it should be considered a loss.