MLB Power Rankings for July 5th, 2013

jeff-lockeWe’re now at the halfway point in the 2013 MLB season and surprise has been a big theme this year. Picked by many to finish last in the NL Central, the Pittsburgh Pirates now have the best record in the Majors. The Oakland A’s have also exceeded expectations after posting 50 wins already and leading the AL West.

Of course, there have been some surprise struggles by teams that were supposed to be battling for division titles and a World Series appearance. The L.A. Angels (41-44), L.A. Dodgers (40-44), San Francisco Giants (39-45) and the Washington Nationals (43-42) definitely fit into this category. We won’t discuss these teams today, but we will cover the top 10 clubs in the MLB, as of July 5th, 2013.

1. Pittsburgh Pirates (52-32) – People have grown used to seeing Pittsburgh atop the standings….in football that is. But for the first time in over two decades, it’s the Pirates who are the talk of the Steel City. Looking at the stats, it’s not hard to see why Pittsburgh is the league’s best team so far. Their pitching has been outstanding, led by Jeff Locke (8-1, 2.12ERA) and Justin Wilson (7-1, 2.11ERA). Mark Melancon has been amazing in relief, posting numbers of 2-1, 0.87 ERA and 44 strikeouts in 41 innings. And let’s not forget about the defense either, which leads the MLB in efficiency.

2. Boston Red Sox (53-34) – Boston is now finding a little breathing room in the AL East after winning four straight games. Sure it took a sweep of the mediocre Padres to get here, but hey, wins are wins. And Clay Buchholz has been providing plenty of these, having gone 9-0 with a 1.71 ERA so far. Besides Buchholz and most of the bullpen, the rest of the staff has been average. Luckily, the Sox have been picked up by offense, with David Ortiz (.319 BA, 16HR) and Dustin Pedroia (.325, 13SB) leading the way.

carlos-beltran3. St. Louis Cardinals (50-34) – The Cardinals were leading all of baseball just a couple of weeks ago. However, that’s went out the window following a 2-6 stretch. Still St Louis has plenty to look forward to, including the seasons that Carlos Beltran (.309, 19HR), Yadier Molina (.351, 45RBI) and Allen Craig (.325, 10HR, 66RBI) are having. This club features the best top-to-bottom rotation too, led by Adam Wainwright (11-5, 2.36ERA).

4. Texas Rangers (49-36) – Texas may be slightly behind Oakland in the AL West, but based on talent alone, we have to put the Rangers here. Yu Darvish continues to be a strikeout machine (151SO in 111.1 IP) while Joe Nathan has been an excellent closer (28SV, 1.43ERA). Both Nelson Cruz (.269, 20HR) and Adrian Beltre (.304, 16HR) have provided the Rangers’ lineup with plenty of power.

5. Oakland Athletics (50-36) – The A’s performed well against the NL Central, racking up a 6-2 record against the Reds, Cubs and Cardinals. Now the trick will be finding a way to consistently repeat these kinds of stretches. For that to happen, Bartolo Colon (11-3, 2.78ERA) and Jerry Blevins (5-0, 3.00ERA) need more help in the starting rotation. Third baseman Josh Donaldson (.314, 14HR, 55RBI) continues to lead the battery.

julio-teheran6. Atlanta Braves (49-36) – The Braves have been comeback kids so far, rallying from behind 23 times to win. This kind of heart shows that Atlanta should do well with nerves come playoff time. Maybe they won’t have to come from behind quite as much now that Julio Teheran (6-4, 3.23ERA) has been playing so well. Teheran held a 1.95 ERA while striking out 37 and walking just four batters in 32.3 innings of work. Atlanta has the best bullpen in baseball, with Luis Avilan (2-0, 1.59 ERA) leading the way.

7. Baltimore Orioles (48-38) – Chris Davis continues to have an amazing season with a .331 BA, 32 HR’s and 83 RBI’s. The Orioles fielding has also been excellent, having only been outdone by the Royals (statistically). That just leaves the pitching, which is the only thing holding Baltimore back from being a true contender. Darren O’Day (4-0, 2.19ERA) and Chris Tillman (10-2, 3.89ERA) have been bright spots, but the bullpen has largely struggled for this club.

8. Cincinnati Reds (49-36) – After going 12-15 in June, the Reds have fallen 5-1/2 games behind Pittsburgh in the NL Central. Seeing as how they also have St. Louis to contend with, Cincinnati needs a strong July or they could be left out of the postseason. Joey Votto (.323, 14HR) and Jay Bruce (.275, 18HR) are doing their best to get the Reds back on track. Unfortunately, noted starters Bronson Arroyo (7-6, 3.50ERA) and Homer Bailey (5-6, 3.57ERA) have struggled to produce wins from the mound.

max-scherzer9. Detroit Tigers (46-38) – The big story for Detroit right now is Max Scherzer, who ran his record to 13-0 with a victory over Toronto. Unfortunately, he’s been the only story from a pitching perspective because the bullpen has been inconsistent at best. The Tigers have also hit terribly on the road, since the team batting average drops by 50 points away from Comerica Park. And this despite Miguel Cabreara (.364, 26HR, 85RBI) being in the lineup.

10. Cleveland Indians (45-40) – Cleveland remains in the AL Central picture just behind Detroit. And they can give a large thanks to Justin Masterson (10-6, 3.48ERA), who just pitched his league-leading third shutout. The Indians could use a couple more strong starters throughout the rotation though. The bullpen has definitely been a strength for the Indians, with Joe Smith (4-0, 2.01ERA) leading the charge.

David Ortiz accused of Steroids

david-ortizUp until this week, David Ortiz was off to a red-hot start as he was hitting well over .400 and averaging an RBI a game. The Boston Red Sox slugger has since fallen off this pace (.338 BA), but that hasn’t stopped one columnist from accusing him of steroids.

Dan Shaughnessy, who writes for the Boston Globe, actually approached Ortiz in the Red Sox clubhouse to level steroid accusations. The 6’4″, 230-pound DH wasn’t having it though as he said, “They test me all the time. They make you pee and they test your blood, too. This year I would say I’ve probably been tested five times, peeing. Blood, just once. That was in spring training. They don’t warn you. They just show up.’’

Ortiz continued by saying, “In 2009, I was coming back from a hand injury (left wrist). I injured my hand, badly. I tried to come back, but I wasn’t the same. It carried over until my hand started feeling better. I got bad habits from that.” He added, “Once I started feeling better, I went back to be who I was. It wasn’t any different. I went back to hitting homers like I was doing before that. It wasn’t like I started hitting homers after I figured it out in ’09.”

Tampa Bay Rays v Boston Red Sox, Game 3The reasons for Shaughnessy’s bold steroid witch hunt are many, but none are overwhelmingly telling. First off, he brings up a bad season from 2009, when Ortiz hit .238. But since that time, he has never batted below .270, with two full seasons where he hit .309 and .318.

Another point that the Boston Globe columnist brings up is the fact that Ortiz is 37. Now this might seem like a valid argument for pulling out the steroid torches and chasing after the 16-year MLB veteran. But then again, Ortiz explained that he had a wrist injury several years ago, which hampered his play in 2009. Furthermore, he hit well at age 34, 35 and 36, so is he really expected to experience that big of a decline by age 37?

david-ortiz-2By far the most far-out allegation that Shaughnessy leveled is the idea that Ortiz is juicing simply because he’s Dominican. The writer’s basis is that a number of other Dominicans have been busted for roids, so this must automatically mean that Big Papi is also juicing then, huh?

Not surprisingly, this set Ortiz off the most as he vented when talking to Grandes en los Deportes. “You mean that in Dominican Republic there are no players who try to do things right,” said Ortiz. “We are all in the same boat. And the people here who have been caught, does that put everyone here in the same boat?”

Perhaps Shaughnessy will be happy now because ever since he grilled Ortiz about steroids, the Red Sox star has hit 1-for-16 with four strikeouts. Does this mean he suddenly put his vials and syringes up for the season once confronted by Shaughnessy?

In reality, David Ortiz’s hitting streaks are just representative of baseball. Now if he were suddenly on pace to hit 70 home runs – when he hasn’t hit more than 35 in the past seven years – that would be a different story.

But a proven hitter who starts out with an above .400 batting average in his first 15 games…well, this by no means indicates a guy who’s in the midst of a steroid cycle. And it especially doesn’t give Shaughnessy the green light to accuse somebody of using steroids just because they’re Dominican and played badly four years ago.