COMMENTARY | Given the long 162-game schedule, Memorial Day affords fans a nice spot on the calendar to stop and assess the landscape of the Major League season. Every team in the league has played at least 47 games, and clubs are now beginning to show their true colors. Early favorites have emerged in each division, and a few surprise teams are looking to remain relevant. All 30 clubs are ranked in this latest installment of the MLB Power Rankings. Where do the Atlanta Braves land on the list of baseball's best?
- 1. Texas Rangers (32-18)
Every season it seems the Rangers lose another big name to free agency, and yet, they just keep right on winning. Josh Hamilton is the latest star to leave North Texas, but the Rangers' No. 1 ranked AL pitching staff (3.42 ERA) has helped make up the slack. Yu Darvish (7-2) has emerged as a true ace, and the Rangers just called up the No. 1 ranked prospect by Baseball America, Jurickson Profar, to help alleviate any offense lost by the departure of Hamilton.
- 2. St. Louis Cardinals (32-17)
The Cards could easily be on top of these rankings, but a 6-4 record over their last 10 games have brought them back to a very crowded top of the NL Central division. After losing Albert Pujols to the LA Angels, the Cardinals are getting contributions from a lot of different players. The Cards currently have the No. 3 ranked offense in the NL, but no one player is head and shoulders above the rest. St. Louis has six different players with at least 21 RBIs. Adding that kind of top-to-bottom production with the NL's No. 1 ranked pitching staff is why the Cards currently find themselves with the best record on the senior circuit.
- 3. Atlanta Braves (30-19)
The Braves were rising up the rankings on the strength of their MLB-best eight-game winning streak until the New York Mets put an end to that Sunday night. Regardless, Atlanta has still opened up the biggest divisional lead of any first-place team. The Braves have built a 4 ½ game cushion over the Washington Nationals despite a hectic early-season schedule which has seen them play the fewest home games of any team in the league.
Atlanta's formula for winning this season has been simple: home runs (NL-best 65 team homers) + consistent pitching (3.30 ERA). If the Bravos can manage to get B.J. Upton, Jason Heyward and Dan Uggla to actually hit above .200, they could have the most dangerous lineup in baseball.
- 4. Detroit Tigers (28-20)
At just 28-20, some could argue that the Detroit Tigers have actually underachieved so far this season. Despite that, they do have -- arguably -- the league's best hitter (Miguel Cabrera) and the best pitcher (Justin Verlander). Cabrera has followed up his Triple-Crown season by currently ranking first in batting average (.385), first in RBIs (57) and second in home runs (14). Justin Verlander fronts a starting staff which has four hurlers averaging more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings.
The Cleveland Indians looked to be a team poised to make life difficult for the Tigers, but the Tribe's three-game losing streak has brought them back down to earth and propelled the Tigers to first place in the division. And, if anyone thinks their record is not strong enough to be so high in the rankings, the Tigers' +66 run differential is the best in baseball.
- 5. New York Yankees (30-19)
Many assumed that the loss of Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter would be too much for the Yankees to overcome, but the power of their pinstriped jersey has seen countless castaways revitalized under the bright New York City lights. Travis Hafner and Lyle Overbay were left for dead on the scrap heap of former sluggers, but in Yankees blue, they have already combined for 16 home runs and 53 RBIs.
The Yankees are still in desperate need of a dependable fifth starter, but Mariano Rivera has been lights-out so far in his farewell season. The 43-year-old closer currently has an AL-best 18 saves. While they have overachieved to start the season, can the Yankees really keep winning without many of their star players healthy?
- 6. Boston Red Sox (31-20)
The Yankees might be leading the AL East, but the Red Sox are right on their tail. The Bo-Sox's .608 winning percentage is just fractions off of New York's .612. These historic rivals have only played three times this season (Boston 2-1), but, in a case of the schedule makers knowing exactly what they are doing, the Yankees and Red Sox will square off 12 times throughout the second half of the season. With David Ortiz finding the fountain of youth (.341 average), and Dustin Pedroia returning to his previous MVP form, Boston is likely to be near the top of the division all season long.
- 7. Cincinnati Reds (31-19)
The Cincinnati Reds fall firmly into the category of a team nobody wants to face in the playoffs. While they sit tied with the Pittsburgh Pirates 1 ½ games behind the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL Central division, Cincinnati fans have been getting treating to The Big Red Machine: 2.0. Joey Votto is leading the NL in batting average (.353) and Brandon Phillips has the NL's high-water mark in RBIs (42). With offseason acquisition Shin-Soo Choo's .441 on-base percentage setting the table for the Reds' power hitters, Cincinnati boasts one of the most complete lineups in the league.
- 8. Pittsburgh Pirates (31-19)
Could this finally be the year the Pirates finish above .500? Pittsburgh flirted with a winning record for much of the season in 2012, only to hit the wall at the end of the year -- going 9-21 over their final 30 games to finish with a record of 79-83. This season, the Pirates have the No. 2 ranked pitching staff in all of baseball (3.21 ERA) and closer Jason Grilli's 20 saves are the best in the bigs.
- 9. San Francisco Giants (28-22)
The reigning World Series champs has started the 2013 season good, but not great. Although their batters rank No. 1 in the NL in average (.271), the pitching staff has been very suspect. Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain have a combined ERA of 4.88, and only the Brewers and Mets have allowed more runs to score than the Giants.
The next three weeks of the schedule could be the most telling as to exactly what type of team the Bay Area has this season. San Fran will spend 14 of their next 18 games on the road as they have to travel to Oakland, St. Louis, Arizona, Pittsburgh and Atlanta before getting a nice seven-day vacation (also known as a back-to-back home series with the San Diego Padres and Miami Marlins). The Giants have a 9-13 record on the road this season.
- 10. LA Angles (23-27)
Despite currently having a losing record which ranks them No. 3 in the AL West, the LA Angles are the hottest team in all of baseball. The Halos are presently in the midst of an eight-game winnings streak, and their overall record could get very healthy very quickly. The Angels next 11 games are against the Dodgers, Astros and Cubs -- not exactly the cream of the MLB crop.
With Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Mark Trumbo and Josh Hamilton, the Angels still possess the most potent middle-of-the-order that the game has to offer. Hamilton and Pujols are hitting under .250, but, given the long season, offensive numbers have a way of evening out in the long run. The real question will be whether or not the Angels' No. 23 ranked pitching staff (4.38 ERA) can keep games close enough for their high-powered offense to matter.
- 11. Cleveland Indians (27-22)
- 12. Arizona Diamondbacks (28-22)
- 13. Colorado Rockies (27-23)
- 14. Oakland Athletics (28-23)
- 15. Baltimore Orioles (27-23)
- 16. Washington Nationals (26-24)
- 17. Tampa Bay Rays (25-24)
- 18. Chicago White Sox (24-24)
- 19. Philadelphia Phillies (24-26)
- 20. San Diego Padres (22-27)
- 21. Kansas City Royals (21-26)
- 22. Toronto Blue Jays (21-29)
- 23. Seattle Mariners (21-29)
- 24. LA Dodgers (20-28)
- 25. Milwaukee Brewers (19-29)
- 26. Chicago Cubs (19-30)
- 27. Minnesota Twins (19-28)
- 28. New York Mets (18-29)
- 29. Houston Astros (14-36)
- 30. Miami Marlins (13-37)
Anthony Schreiber is a freelance sportswriter based in "Braves Country." He has penned articles for a variety of online publications and magazines.
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