Power Poll: Yankees, Rangers, Padres on the rise

We’re changing things up a bit for this week’s power poll. This is "Buck says" week, featuring a poll infused with insights and opinions from TBS analyst Buck Martinez, a former big-league catcher and manager.

For example, Buck says: "Stephen Strasburg is the most interesting guy because everybody is clamoring for his appearance (at the All-Star Game). But, it’s difficult for me to suggest Stephen Strasburg is an All-Star selection given the fact it might keep someone else from being on there who’s played all year and is deserving."

Buck Martinez says he's surprised by the Mets and Padres, but not the Mariners.
Buck Martinez says he’s surprised by the Mets and Padres, but not the Mariners.

We’ll find out if Strasburg is an All-Star on Sunday, when the starters and reserves are announced on TBS’ All-Star selection show, which starts at noon ET.

Anyway, on to the poll.

1. Yankees (last week: 2). Buck says: "Robbie Cano’s certainly an All-Star, and he’s going to win a batting title one of these days." Cano might not have to wait long to claim that first batting title. He entered the week at .359, which was 13 points ahead of Minnesota’s Justin Morneau and Texas’ Josh Hamilton, and has been a stronger second-half player through his career. He’s hit .299 before the All-Star break and .329 after it, so don’t expect much of a letdown from that lofty .359 mark.

2. Rangers (5). Buck says: "Ron Washington is a terrific baseball guy, and he’s got those guys in Texas understanding there’s more to baseball than just hitting the ball. They’ve done a great job tightening up their defense, and Vladdy Guerrero looks like he met Ponce de Leon at the fountain of youth because he looks terrific. I saw him the first series of the season against the Blue Jays and, boy, the bat speed was there, his legs look great and to his credit, with that extra work, he looks like the Vladdy of five or six years ago. And this Josh Hamilton kid has had some month of June, hasn’t he? He’s been incredible."

3. Padres (6). Buck says: "Nobody even talked about the Padres, but here they are pitching so well, and Buddy Black’s done a great job of encouraging his guys and pushing them to take it one game at a time. They’ve got impact players. (Chase) Headley’s become a leader, and the (Nick) Hundley kid has become a leader behind the plate. And they’ve got one of the least-known impact hitters in baseball in Adrian Gonzalez. I think Buddy’s done a great job with his pitching staff, and if you get into the back end of the game with (Luke) Gregerson, (Mike) Adams and Heath Bell, the game is over."

4. Red Sox (1). The Sox dropped, in part, this week because of a couple of losses on a West Coast road trip through Colorado and San Francisco. But the larger reason was the loss of star second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who is thought to be out at least six weeks with a broken bone in his foot. And then Victor Martinez broke a bone in his left thumb and Clay Buchholz hyperextended his knee. All in all, a horrible week for the Sox.

5. Braves (3). The Braves have been in first place every day since May 31, their longest such streak since they closed out the 2005 season in first place every day after July 22.

6. Rays (4). In the two seasons since hitting .288 with a .985 OPS in the 2008 playoffs, B.J. Upton has hit just .234 with an awful .694 OPS. With two more arbitration years before he becomes a free agent—and unavoidable raises from his $3 million salary in 2010—you wonder if the cost-conscious Rays would move Upton for the right price. A price that would certainly be significantly lower than it was a few short years ago.

7. Mets (8). Buck says: "The biggest surprises to me have been the Mets and the Padres. Look at the Mets. They’re right there staying with Atlanta and ahead of Philadelphia." David Wright has regained his "superstar" status with his bounce-back season. Yes, he’s striking out a lot—88 times in 74 games—but he’s also hitting .300 with a .928 OPS and leads the NL with 61 RBIs.

8. Phillies (17). Buck says: "They’re not in first place, but, boy, are they swinging hot bats right now. Up and down the order, they’re doing a great job and now they’ve got Jimmy Rollins back—he had a four-walk day on Friday and a three-hit day on Saturday. You look at them and they’re going to get (Ryan) Madson back, (Chad) Durbin doesn’t look to be out for a long time. J.A. Happ’s going to come back. These guys, they’re the team that can win a division that’s not in first place right now."

9. Reds (15). Scott Rolen and Joey Votto enter the week with identical home run and RBI totals (16 and 50). Votto has a higher average (.305 to .300) and on-base percentage (.411 to .367), while Rolen has a better slugging percentage (.571 to .552) and more extra-base hits (34 to 30).

Move over, Albert? Colby Rasmus is flexing his muscles in St. Louis.
Move over, Albert? Colby Rasmus is flexing his muscles in St. Louis.

10. Cardinals (11). Who would have thought, at this point of the season, second-year outfielder Colby Rasmus would have the same number of homers (16) and extra-base hits (32) as superstar Albert Pujols and more runs scored (46 to 40) and a better slugging percentage (578 to .542)?

11. White Sox (18). Buck says: "It was a surprise that they had not pitched better early on. How many people were so critical of Ozzie (Guillen) for calling his team out, saying ‘You’ve got to be better than this, we’re better than this.’ Well, they were. In this age where you’ve got to be politically correct, Ozzie rubs a lot of people the wrong way, but the reality is, he’s telling the truth and his players have responded. They’re a good team. They’re a very good team."

12. Angels (12). Buck says: "I think they will (contend) because they have the front-line pitching. Those are the types of guys who can keep you in the race. My concern is, where’s the offense going to come from? Losing (Erick) Aybar was a big blow. Can (Hideki) Matsui hold up for the long haul? Can Bobby Abreu and Torii Hunter maintain the standards they’ve held for so long?"

13. Twins (7). No contender had a worse week than the Twins, who were swept in Milwaukee and lost two of three in New York against the Mets. Their only win? A gem by Carl Pavano, who has thrown back-to-back complete games and has lowered his season ERA to 3.33.

14. Tigers (10). The Tigers are 10 games over .500 in day games, and their 22 day wins are the most in baseball. Leadoff hitter Austin Jackson is hitting. 353 in day games, .270 in night contests. Of course, Brennan Boesch is hitting .365 at night, and just .301 during the day.

15. Giants (9). For the first time all season, the Giants have given up at least four runs in five consecutive games. Not surprisingly, they’re 1-4 in those contests.

16. Dodgers (13). Buck says: "The Dodgers certainly have the best offense in that division, the Rockies have the best balance, but the Padres have enough, I think, to hang on." The Dodgers lead the division with 4.68 runs per game despite ranking fifth in the division with 55 home runs. They lead the division in batting average (.267) and on-base percentage (.337).

17. Blue Jays (14). Buck (who doubles as the Jays’ TV play-by-play voice) says: "It is amazing that they’ve been able to do that when both (DH Adam) Lind and (second baseman Aaron) Hill haven’t done anything. I mean, you’re talking about the two Silver Sluggers from a year ago—both guys drove in 100 and both guys had 30 home runs and they’re not doing anything. They’re both hitting around .200 and it’s been a season-long slump. Cito Gaston’s done a great job of convincing these guys to go up and look for a fastball, then pick your fastball and hit it. Mind you, when they run into a tough pitcher who’s not going to let you hit balls out of the ballpark, they have their troubles. But I don’t think anybody expected them to be where they are as we close in on the first half."

18. Rockies (16). Buck says: "If Colorado continues to get healthy, they have (Huston) Street back and when they get (Jorge) de la Rosa back, that’s going to make for probably the best division race in baseball." How’s this for a balanced offensive attack? The Rockies have five different players with either nine or 10 home runs, and they have six different players with between 30 and 34 RBIs entering the week.

A big part of Oakland's future, Trevor Cahill is pitching like an ace.
A big part of Oakland’s future, Trevor Cahill is pitching like an ace.

19. A’s (20). Trevor Cahill, the A’s 22-year-old right-handed starter, is making a good case to be the team’s representative at the All-Star Game. Throw out his first start of the season and Cahill is 7-1 with a 2.31 ERA in 11 starts.

20. Brewers (24). Hey, Trevor Hoffman has thrown seven consecutive scoreless innings, and he’s faced the minimum three batters in five of those seven outings. And, the Brewers have won six of seven heading into a three-game series at home vs. the Astros.

21. Marlins (19). In his second season as the Marlins’ closer, Leo Nunez has lowered his ERA (4.06 to 2.27), WHIP (1.252 to 0.979) and batting average against (.230 to .202) while raising his strikeout-to walk ratio (2.22 to 3.88) and WAR (0.4 to 1.3).

22. Cubs (21). At this point, you have to wonder how much longer Lou Piniella will manage the Cubs. The losing in Tampa Bay wore on him, and that was with a team nobody expected much from. That’s not the case with the Cubs, who had high expectations but are nine games under .500.

23. Royals (23). Hey, the Royals took two of three from the in-state rival Cardinals and are 20-21 since Ned Yost took over from Trey Hillman (they were 12-23 under Hillman).

24. Nationals (22). Roger Bernadina has been the Nationals’ best hitter this month, posting a .333 average to go with three homers and 11 RBIs.

25. Diamondbacks (25). As a team, the Diamondbacks are third in the NL in slugging percentage (.426) despite the fact that their individual leader, Kelly Johnson, is only 19th in the league with a .491 slugging percentage.

26. Mariners (26). Buck says: "I did not expect Seattle to play well. Everybody was on their bandwagon, everybody expected them to be the team to beat, but I did not see the offense. I didn’t see them having enough offense to compete. Lately, they’ve been winning games because they’ve been shutting out everybody with their great pitching."

27. Astros (27). The Astros are two games over .500 against the NL Central and 20 games under .500 against everybody else.

28. Indians (29). We’re going to keep giving Carlos Santana updates until the dynamic rookie stops treating major-league pitchers like low-level scrubs. Through 15 games, he’s at .333 with a 1.179 OPS, four home runs, 11 total extra-base hits and 14 RBIs.

29. Pirates (28). The Pirates are 7-2 against the Cubs, 18-48 against everybody else. Wow.

30. Orioles (30). The Orioles are 5-4 against the Red Sox, 18-48 against everybody else. Wow, again.

Ryan Fagan is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at rfagan@sportingnews.com, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ryan_fagan.

We’re changing things up a bit for this week’s power poll. This is "Buck says" week, featuring a poll infused with insights and opinions from TBS analyst Buck Martinez, a former big-league catcher and manager.

For example, Buck says: "Stephen Strasburg is the most interesting guy because everybody is clamoring for his appearance (at the All-Star Game). But, it’s difficult for me to suggest Stephen Strasburg is an All-Star selection given the fact it might keep someone else from being on there who’s played all year and is deserving."

Buck Martinez says he's surprised by the Mets and Padres, but not the Mariners.
Buck Martinez says he’s surprised by the Mets and Padres, but not the Mariners.

We’ll find out if Strasburg is an All-Star on Sunday, when the starters and reserves are announced on TBS’ All-Star selection show, which starts at noon ET.

Anyway, on to the poll.

1. Yankees (last week: 2). Buck says: "Robbie Cano’s certainly an All-Star, and he’s going to win a batting title one of these days." Cano might not have to wait long to claim that first batting title. He entered the week at .359, which was 13 points ahead of Minnesota’s Justin Morneau and Texas’ Josh Hamilton, and has been a stronger second-half player through his career. He’s hit .299 before the All-Star break and .329 after it, so don’t expect much of a letdown from that lofty .359 mark.

2. Rangers (5). Buck says: "Ron Washington is a terrific baseball guy, and he’s got those guys in Texas understanding there’s more to baseball than just hitting the ball. They’ve done a great job tightening up their defense, and Vladdy Guerrero looks like he met Ponce de Leon at the fountain of youth because he looks terrific. I saw him the first series of the season against the Blue Jays and, boy, the bat speed was there, his legs look great and to his credit, with that extra work, he looks like the Vladdy of five or six years ago. And this Josh Hamilton kid has had some month of June, hasn’t he? He’s been incredible."

3. Padres (6). Buck says: "Nobody even talked about the Padres, but here they are pitching so well, and Buddy Black’s done a great job of encouraging his guys and pushing them to take it one game at a time. They’ve got impact players. (Chase) Headley’s become a leader, and the (Nick) Hundley kid has become a leader behind the plate. And they’ve got one of the least-known impact hitters in baseball in Adrian Gonzalez. I think Buddy’s done a great job with his pitching staff, and if you get into the back end of the game with (Luke) Gregerson, (Mike) Adams and Heath Bell, the game is over."

4. Red Sox (1). The Sox dropped, in part, this week because of a couple of losses on a West Coast road trip through Colorado and San Francisco. But the larger reason was the loss of star second baseman Dustin Pedroia, who is thought to be out at least six weeks with a broken bone in his foot. And then Victor Martinez broke a bone in his left thumb and Clay Buchholz hyperextended his knee. All in all, a horrible week for the Sox.

5. Braves (3). The Braves have been in first place every day since May 31, their longest such streak since they closed out the 2005 season in first place every day after July 22.

6. Rays (4). In the two seasons since hitting .288 with a .985 OPS in the 2008 playoffs, B.J. Upton has hit just .234 with an awful .694 OPS. With two more arbitration years before he becomes a free agent—and unavoidable raises from his $3 million salary in 2010—you wonder if the cost-conscious Rays would move Upton for the right price. A price that would certainly be significantly lower than it was a few short years ago.

7. Mets (8). Buck says: "The biggest surprises to me have been the Mets and the Padres. Look at the Mets. They’re right there staying with Atlanta and ahead of Philadelphia." David Wright has regained his "superstar" status with his bounce-back season. Yes, he’s striking out a lot—88 times in 74 games—but he’s also hitting .300 with a .928 OPS and leads the NL with 61 RBIs.

8. Phillies (17). Buck says: "They’re not in first place, but, boy, are they swinging hot bats right now. Up and down the order, they’re doing a great job and now they’ve got Jimmy Rollins back—he had a four-walk day on Friday and a three-hit day on Saturday. You look at them and they’re going to get (Ryan) Madson back, (Chad) Durbin doesn’t look to be out for a long time. J.A. Happ’s going to come back. These guys, they’re the team that can win a division that’s not in first place right now."

9. Reds (15). Scott Rolen and Joey Votto enter the week with identical home run and RBI totals (16 and 50). Votto has a higher average (.305 to .300) and on-base percentage (.411 to .367), while Rolen has a better slugging percentage (.571 to .552) and more extra-base hits (34 to 30).

Move over, Albert? Colby Rasmus is flexing his muscles in St. Louis.
Move over, Albert? Colby Rasmus is flexing his muscles in St. Louis.

10. Cardinals (11). Who would have thought, at this point of the season, second-year outfielder Colby Rasmus would have the same number of homers (16) and extra-base hits (32) as superstar Albert Pujols and more runs scored (46 to 40) and a better slugging percentage (578 to .542)?

11. White Sox (18). Buck says: "It was a surprise that they had not pitched better early on. How many people were so critical of Ozzie (Guillen) for calling his team out, saying ‘You’ve got to be better than this, we’re better than this.’ Well, they were. In this age where you’ve got to be politically correct, Ozzie rubs a lot of people the wrong way, but the reality is, he’s telling the truth and his players have responded. They’re a good team. They’re a very good team."

12. Angels (12). Buck says: "I think they will (contend) because they have the front-line pitching. Those are the types of guys who can keep you in the race. My concern is, where’s the offense going to come from? Losing (Erick) Aybar was a big blow. Can (Hideki) Matsui hold up for the long haul? Can Bobby Abreu and Torii Hunter maintain the standards they’ve held for so long?"

13. Twins (7). No contender had a worse week than the Twins, who were swept in Milwaukee and lost two of three in New York against the Mets. Their only win? A gem by Carl Pavano, who has thrown back-to-back complete games and has lowered his season ERA to 3.33.

14. Tigers (10). The Tigers are 10 games over .500 in day games, and their 22 day wins are the most in baseball. Leadoff hitter Austin Jackson is hitting. 353 in day games, .270 in night contests. Of course, Brennan Boesch is hitting .365 at night, and just .301 during the day.

15. Giants (9). For the first time all season, the Giants have given up at least four runs in five consecutive games. Not surprisingly, they’re 1-4 in those contests.

16. Dodgers (13). Buck says: "The Dodgers certainly have the best offense in that division, the Rockies have the best balance, but the Padres have enough, I think, to hang on." The Dodgers lead the division with 4.68 runs per game despite ranking fifth in the division with 55 home runs. They lead the division in batting average (.267) and on-base percentage (.337).

17. Blue Jays (14). Buck (who doubles as the Jays’ TV play-by-play voice) says: "It is amazing that they’ve been able to do that when both (DH Adam) Lind and (second baseman Aaron) Hill haven’t done anything. I mean, you’re talking about the two Silver Sluggers from a year ago—both guys drove in 100 and both guys had 30 home runs and they’re not doing anything. They’re both hitting around .200 and it’s been a season-long slump. Cito Gaston’s done a great job of convincing these guys to go up and look for a fastball, then pick your fastball and hit it. Mind you, when they run into a tough pitcher who’s not going to let you hit balls out of the ballpark, they have their troubles. But I don’t think anybody expected them to be where they are as we close in on the first half."

18. Rockies (16). Buck says: "If Colorado continues to get healthy, they have (Huston) Street back and when they get (Jorge) de la Rosa back, that’s going to make for probably the best division race in baseball." How’s this for a balanced offensive attack? The Rockies have five different players with either nine or 10 home runs, and they have six different players with between 30 and 34 RBIs entering the week.

A big part of Oakland's future, Trevor Cahill is pitching like an ace.
A big part of Oakland’s future, Trevor Cahill is pitching like an ace.

19. A’s (20). Trevor Cahill, the A’s 22-year-old right-handed starter, is making a good case to be the team’s representative at the All-Star Game. Throw out his first start of the season and Cahill is 7-1 with a 2.31 ERA in 11 starts.

20. Brewers (24). Hey, Trevor Hoffman has thrown seven consecutive scoreless innings, and he’s faced the minimum three batters in five of those seven outings. And, the Brewers have won six of seven heading into a three-game series at home vs. the Astros.

21. Marlins (19). In his second season as the Marlins’ closer, Leo Nunez has lowered his ERA (4.06 to 2.27), WHIP (1.252 to 0.979) and batting average against (.230 to .202) while raising his strikeout-to walk ratio (2.22 to 3.88) and WAR (0.4 to 1.3).

22. Cubs (21). At this point, you have to wonder how much longer Lou Piniella will manage the Cubs. The losing in Tampa Bay wore on him, and that was with a team nobody expected much from. That’s not the case with the Cubs, who had high expectations but are nine games under .500.

23. Royals (23). Hey, the Royals took two of three from the in-state rival Cardinals and are 20-21 since Ned Yost took over from Trey Hillman (they were 12-23 under Hillman).

24. Nationals (22). Roger Bernadina has been the Nationals’ best hitter this month, posting a .333 average to go with three homers and 11 RBIs.

25. Diamondbacks (25). As a team, the Diamondbacks are third in the NL in slugging percentage (.426) despite the fact that their individual leader, Kelly Johnson, is only 19th in the league with a .491 slugging percentage.

26. Mariners (26). Buck says: "I did not expect Seattle to play well. Everybody was on their bandwagon, everybody expected them to be the team to beat, but I did not see the offense. I didn’t see them having enough offense to compete. Lately, they’ve been winning games because they’ve been shutting out everybody with their great pitching."

27. Astros (27). The Astros are two games over .500 against the NL Central and 20 games under .500 against everybody else.

28. Indians (29). We’re going to keep giving Carlos Santana updates until the dynamic rookie stops treating major-league pitchers like low-level scrubs. Through 15 games, he’s at .333 with a 1.179 OPS, four home runs, 11 total extra-base hits and 14 RBIs.

29. Pirates (28). The Pirates are 7-2 against the Cubs, 18-48 against everybody else. Wow.

30. Orioles (30). The Orioles are 5-4 against the Red Sox, 18-48 against everybody else. Wow, again.

Ryan Fagan is a writer for Sporting News. E-mail him at rfagan@sportingnews.com, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/ryan_fagan.

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