This week’s rankings; previous ranking in parentheses. Stats through Thursday’s games:
1. Philadelphia (1): Ryan Howard didn’t strike out on Tuesday, but only because he didn’t play. He’s fanned in 14 straight games and 19 of 20 — the streak broken only by a game in which he batted once and walked. In all he’s fanned 31 times in last 76 at-bats.
2. Boston (2): Red Sox manager Terry Francona visits with Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who in show of sympathy, blames Monday’s Red Sox loss on NBA commissioner David Stern.
3. N.Y. Yankees (3): New York talk radio made much of a New York Post picture supposedly showing pitcher A.J. Burnett making a certain gesture as he gave the ball to manager Joe Girardi after being pulled from game. Picture was obviously old: after Saturday’s 1.2 inning, 7-run fiasco at Minnesota, Girardi would have been making the obscene gestures at Burnett.
4. Atlanta (4): Dan Uggla on catch by opposing second baseman Darwin Barney which ended Uggla’s hit streak at 33: “That’s one . . . I wish I was playing second on, because I ain’t making that play.” Braves pitchers must be glad to hear that.
5. Milwaukee (5): Freelance writer creates Twitter account in the name of Tony Plush, Nyjer Morgan’s alter-ego; he gets more followers pretending to be someone who doesn’t exist than being who he is.
6. Texas (6): Rangers’ president Nolan Ryan blames poor pitching — 40 runs allowed in last five games despite one being a shutout — on fatigue. Not sure what Rangers expected: 3 starting pitchers have surpassed career highs in innings and other 2 are on their way.
7. Arizona (7): D’backs cancel batting practice three times, win three games. Who said you needed to study?
8. L.A. Angels (10): Chuck Finley in attendance at press conference announcing Jered Weaver’s new contract. Not sure that’s a good omen.
9. Tampa Bay (11): Sports Illustrated poll of players says Joe Maddon is the No. 1 manager they want to play for. So explain again why Carl Crawford is in Boston and Carlos Pena in Chicago?
10. Detroit (12): Pitcher Brad Penny says he yelled at Rays’ Sean Rodriguez because Rodriguez was “screaming (curse words)” after Penny got him out Thursday. “I guess he should’ve hit the ball out of the park like he does every at bat.” Not-so-subtle dig at Rodriguez’s .212, 5-homer season, from the pitcher who obviously hasn’t checked his own 4.82 ERA and .295 batting average against recently.
11. San Francisco (9): Giants enter play Friday as only team in baseball with a winning record that’s been outscored by opponents (465-447). Looking more and more likely defense of last year’s World Series title will be done from a couch, watching D’backs in playoffs.
12. St. Louis (8): Lance Berkman says staying with Cardinals is his first choice. Why not? They just might need someone to play first base.
13. Toronto (14): Elias Sports Bureau reports that J.P. Arencibia is the sixth catcher to hit at least 20 homers in his rookie season. Of course, Arencibia is hitting .213 — none of the other five (Matt Nokes, Rudy York, Mike Piazza, Geovany Soto and Carlton Fisk) hit less than .285. And for the record, Johnny Bench hit just 15 homers and 40 doubles in his rookie year, which was 1968; in that Year of the Pitcher, his 15 HRs tied him for 16th-most in the NL.
14. Cleveland (13): Jim Thome returns to Cleveland nearly a decade after he said they’d have to “rip this jersey off me.” That’s more than enough time to sew his jersey back together; we suspect it’s more than enough time for Indians’ fans to repair their wounded feelings as well.
15. Colorado (20): Rockies are 9 games back with 31 games to play; they came from 8 back with two months left, and 7 back with three weeks left to make playoffs in 2009 and 2007, respectively.
16. Cincinnati (15): Ryan Hanigan says the Reds want to finish the season “making a statement to the league.” At 63-65, they’ve already made one. We’re mediocre.
17. Chicago White Sox (16): Juan Pierre says not to blame manager Ozzie Guillen for Sox’s 7-game deficit. “You can’t release 25 guys or whatever.” He’s right, of course. Three or four would do, and after Adam Dunn and Alex Rios, Pierre is next for his .335 on-base percentage and 13 caught stealings in 34 attempts. All that for just $9.8 million.
18. Washington (21): Cracks in the Washington Monument, cracks in the Nats lineup: neither Ian Desmond and Rick Ankiel, top two hitters in order, has even a .300 on-base percentage.
19. N.Y. Mets (17): Manager Terry Collins on 21-year-old infielder Ruben Tejada: “There’s such an upside to this guy as far as his offensive abilities.” There is — it’s called limited. Give Tejada credit for getting on base — he’s at .366 in 221 at-bats, which is a big plus — but it’s usually first. His career OPS is .693 — in the minors — and he has a career .302 slugging percentage in the majors. Just because Jose Reyes will be taking the No. 7 train out of Queens this fall, don’t pretend Tejada is something he isn’t.
20. Pittsburgh (18): Pirates have 5.35 ERA over last month. Pitching coach Ray Searage says it’s because their pitchers have “gone to pitching away from contact . . . We have to pitch to contact in order to get weak contact.” Huh? Or is that an exaggerated way of saying your pitchers can’t throw the ball past anyone.
21. L.A. Dodgers (22): Matt Kemp won’t receive much MVP support, but he should: his .322/.392/.570 line places him fourth in the NL in OPS — in a pitcher’s park — and others in the top five are first baseman or left fielders. Add 33 steals in 40 attempts and you have a runaway leader in WAR — his 7.5 far eclipses Ryan Braun’s 6.3.
21. San Diego (26): Formerly impotent Padres averaging more than 5 runs a game in August, have scored NL-high 200 runs since All-Star break.
23. Florida (19): Marlins go 1-8 while Logan Morrison is in New Orleans. They sure taught him a lesson.
24. Oakland (23): A’s lose 22-9 to Yankees after leading 7-1. “It only counts as one,” said manager Bob Melvin. Unfortunately, added to all the other ones, that brings A’s total to 71 with a month to play.
25. Minnesota (24): Again from Elias Sports Bureau: Twins have scored a run or less in five straight games. What Elias didn’t say is that four were vs. the Orioles, who are last in baseball with a 4.83 ERA.
26. Seattle (25): Mariners manager Eric Wedge says Ichiro “is a unique style. It’s not something you can break down . . . We’re going to continue to give him an opportunity at the top of the lineup as we play this out.” Yo Eric. Check the calendar. Ichiro has taken the opportunity and produced a .637 OPS — that’s 143rd out of the 155 players with enough plate appearances to qualify. At age 37, Ichiro has had a broken-down season, and reminiscing about his excellent career won’t make him a better player next month, or next year, perhaps.
27. Chicago Cubs (27): Cubs not done with ex-GM Jim Hendry. He dealt five minor-leaguers for Matt Garza, who’s returned a 6-10 record and 3.68 ERA for $5-plus million. Next year the price goes up. Now what?
28. Kansas City (28): Billy Butler might still be slow, but he’s cut double plays grounded into from 32 in 2010 to 12 in 2011. That has to count for something.
29. Baltimore (29): RIP Mike Flanagan, who won 167 games, the 1979 AL Cy Young and the 1983 World Series with the Orioles. Peter Gammons (link below) wrote: “There have been few greater baseball humorists in the last 50 years,” and told the story of Flanagan playing basketball with Julius Erving at the University of Massachusetts. Flanagan pulled up on a 3-on-1 and had a shot rejected by Erving, wrote Gammons. ” ‘As I watched the ball sail towards midcourt,’ Flanagan recounted, ‘I thought, ‘This would be a good time to work on my slider.’ ”
30. Houston (30): Astros only 16-21 in one-run games, not bad, when you consider overall record of 43-88. Most of their losses, obviously, aren’t that close.