5 July Power Rankings (NL)
- 1. Oakland Bears (Preseason: 3, +2)
Record: 32-10 Expected Win %: .750
This was the season a lack of depth and age was supposed to start catching up to the Bears. There’s still time, of course, but that has obviously not been the case thus far. Oakland has scored more runs than any other NL team, while the pitching staff has allowed fully 10% fewer than anyone else. As good as Al Sisqueiros is, this might be his best season and he is an early Cy Young candidate. They’ve been scary good and should only improve as defending NL MVP Vic Castillo (currently hitting .248 with a .787 OPS) returns to form.
- 2. Florida Falcons (Preseason: 1, -1)
Record: 25-17 Expected Win %: .681
The Falcons demotion to #2 in the power rankings has nothing to do with them, and everything to do with the Bears. Having scored the 2nd most runs and let up the 3rd least, this is still a team without holes. The weak link thus far has been the bullpen where 5 blown saves in 42 games (and only 17 save opportunities) has hurt them. It’s impossible to rank them above the Bears right now, but there’s a reason this team won the World Series.
- 3. Richmond Firehouse (Preseason: 2, -1)
Record: 25-17 Expected Win %: .592
Richmond doesn’t have the sterling expected win % of the Bears or Falcons, but the overall record is right there, as is the performance peripherals. With a higher batting average than Florida, and a lower ERA, Richmond also has the advantage of playing in a weaker division. The hitting thus far has been solid if unspectacular; the pitching impressive, especially that of breakout star Arthur Leonard. He’s had good seasons before but is currently sporting a 0.93 WHIP, 1.73 ERA, and a K/BB better than 10-3. While Leonard may or may not keep up his torrid pace, the Firehouse strike out less than any NL team, indicating they should continue to contend.
- 4. Philadelphia Flyers (Preseason: 7, +3)
Record: 24-18 Expected Win %: .500
This entire tier is widely interchangeable, and in earlier versions of these power rankings Philly was down at 6. Outperforming their expected win percentage by .071 is simply not sustainable. At 4-6 in their last 10, the slide toward mediocrity may have already begun. Despite that, there are positive signs. 2B Sting Branyan shouldn’t continue to hit this poorly (.230 with a .657 OPS), though he has shown a steady decline since his rookie season. More importantly, the Flyers have been winning, regardless of the methods. As closely matched as the Flyers and Suds Buckets are talent-wise, a few fluke victories early in the season may be enough to make all the difference.
- 5. Oklahoma City Rough Neckers (Preseason: 4, -1)
Record: 21-21 Expected Win %: .548
The Rough Neckers have been a mild disappointment thus far. They appeared poised to enter the conversation as one of the elite teams. Major offseason acquisitions LF Julio Bonilla (1.072 OPS), SP Donnie Robertson (2.57 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 2 CG) and even C Yamil Estalella (0.860 OPS, 7 HR) have had great success, and yet the Rough Neckers are only .500. A lack of power (less than 1 HR per game), and a huge K rate (7.9/game) have hamstrung the OKC offense, while a weak bullpen has negated the dominant work of the pitching rotation.
- 6. St Louis Suds Buckets (Preseason: 6, No Change)
Record: 21-21 Expected Win %: .565
The Suds Buckets barely drop out of the playoff picture. The Suds Buckets have had difficulty scoring runs thus far. The 176 runs they’ve scored put them in company with the Dover Punishment, Boise Blues and Tampa Bay Twink Bois, 3 of the last 4 teams in this rating. However, they’ve been able to at least hit for average, so it’s possible they’ll fix that issue. The pitching has been superb, comparable only to the Bears, Falcons, Firehouse, and oddly, the Norfolk Waves, though the Suds Buckets do lead the league with 9 blown saves. Fixing the back end of the bullpen should be enough to keep the Suds in the playoff picture.
The Dark Horses
- 7. Anaheim Empire (Preseason: 10, +3)
Record: 23-19 Expected Win %: .447
The Empire and owner klown61455 may take offense at this ranking and almost certainly will disagree with the decision to consider Anaheim mediocre, rather than a dark horse. After all, they are currently 23-19, 2nd in the division, ahead of OKC, who they beat last season and who they swept early this season. Here the expected win %, accomplished by a shocking 8-1 in 1 run games and 4-0 in extra innings, drags the Empire stock down. This team remains an enigma, having gone 11-8 against the 6 teams currently ranked above them, but only 7-10 against the Boise Blues, Dover Punishment, Pawtucket Anchors, Tampa Bay Twink Bois and San Juan Marauders. The defense has also been a concern as Anaheim has allowed 23 unearned runs (3rd most in NL) and leads the NL in errors.
- 8. Cleveland Rockers (Preseason: 5, -3)
Record: 20-22 Expected Win %: .486
Cleveland is another early-season disappointment. Projected as a playoff team, they’ve allowed more runs than they’ve scored, and started the season absolutely terribly. Thanks to the division they play in and a recent hot streak, the Rockers still look like the favorites to win the division. For a measure of the weakness of the NL North, consider that no team has a winning record (either in reality or expected) and that all 4 teams have already allowed 200+ runs, something only 3 of the other 12 NL teams have done. LF Charles Ramirez has been exceptional in his first full-time opportunity (.915 OPS, 8 HR), but may struggle to maintain.
- 9. Milwaukee Monsters (Preseason: 9, No Change)
Record: 20-22 Expected Win %: .485
Milwaukee would possibly be ahead of the Rockers if not for the recent trade of Bert Hiatt, the 29 year old All-Star shortstop who had led them toward the division lead. Surprising numbers from rookie RF Ollie Yashian (.314, .991 OPS, 12 HR) straight from AA have also helped, but pitching remains an issue. The Monsters have allowed 236 runs (an average of 5.62/game), more than anyone except the Dover Punishment, who are reputed by their own owner to stink. Similarly, Milwaukee has allowed the most HR and has the highest WHIP in the NL. Without Hiatt, the Monsters stand little to no chance of continuing to win by outscoring their opponents, and the fielding won’t help as the Monsters have committed the most errors in the NL and have the worst fielding percentage. A 5 game losing streak at press time looks to be the start of their descent and this ranking will likely continue to drop as their hot start fades more and more into the past.
- 10. San Juan Marauders (Preseason 11, +1)
Record: 19-23 Expected Win %: .449
The Marauders are a team in flux, some good and some bad. At this point of the rankings though, a possible change in potential is enough to rate them just ahead of 3 similarly talented teams. San Juan has had the #5 offense in the NL, but the preseason concerns regarding pitching have come true, as they are tied for the 3rd most runs allowed. The possible upside is found in major offseason acquisition SP Benny Castro having 4 consecutive quality starts after a rough opening to the season and the Marauder’s 14-9 record since overhauling their bullpen on June 27th, with 6 consecutive victories. That time also coincides with a relatively weak schedule though and the loss of star SS Enrique Bennett should prevent San Juan from being considered a dark horse.
- 11. Atlanta TomTerrifics (Preseason: 8, -3)
Record: 20-22 Expected Win %: .462
The concern going into the season was the young pitching staff of the TomTerrific’s. The pitching has been very very average for Atlanta though SPs Quentin Jefferies, Ralph Richardson, Stephen Jensen are all pitching as well as at any time in their career. SP Terrell Campbell is doing the same, but his performance may be more sustainable as he comes into his own. The real concern is at the plate, where Atlanta is averaging 3.76 runs/game, making them the only NL squad besides the woeful Waves to average less than 4 runs per game. 3rd year 2B Tony Juarez has been pitiful thus (.187, .506 OPS), but other producers such as LF Bosco Foxx, 1B Pedro Lee, and C Everth Zorilla have been playing at or above expected production, so offense may continue to be a problem.
- 12. Tampa Bay Twink Bois (Preseason: 13, +1)
Record: 20-22 Expected Win %: .452
Falling to the 12th spot is awful low for a team currently in 2nd in their division, particularly when that division isn’t the NL North. With that in mind, it’s worth noting that teams within a category are fairly close and both the Marauders and TomTerrifics share a category with Tampa Bay. Like the TomTerrific’s, Tampa Bay has struggled offensively, but managed to remain near .500 due to a stellar effort from the pitching staff. 1B Don Smith continues to hit for power in his 2nd season, and 3B Dioner Domingo has come out of nowhere to be a solid bat for the Twink Bois. Beyond those two, the offense has been non-existent with 2nd year SS Oswaldo Javier appearing particularly out of sorts, after a rookie season in which he hit for a poor average but with surprising power. This season he has been unable to hit for average or power. In the rotation, SP Timothy Vogelsang is carrying the Twink Bois by having far and away his best season in 3 ML seasons, and pitching more innings than ever before. Given his skill set, this seems unlikely to sustain and no other pitcher has an ERA below 3.
- 13. Pawtucket Anchors (Preseason: 15, +2)
Record: 21-21 Expected Win %: .453
It may not count for much, but Pawtucket Anchors are the biggest (positive) surprise of the season in the NL. Coming into the season, it was hard to fathom them ever reaching beyond the dregs of the league. Now sitting pretty at .500, with a less appealing but still respectable .453 expected percentage the Anchors look to be less embarrassing than expected. Rookies Terry Turner and Darin Tyler are both hitting .290+, while 2nd year 3B Brian Case sits at .316. Overall the hitting is subpar, the pitching is subpar, and the fielding is horrendous (most errors, 2nd lowest fielding %), but for this team to be even considered in the same mention as average is a revelation after the off-season sell off.
- 14. Norfolk Waves (Preseason: 14, No Change)
Record: 17-25 Expected Win %: .398
The big story in Norfolk is the Waves’ excellent defense (best fielding %, fewest errors in the NL) allowing them to field a mildly above average pitching staff despite middling peripherals. Or that would be the story if not for their historically putrid offense. Norfolk is averaging only 3 runs per game, where only one other team in all of the majors is even below 4 runs/game. They had a terrible offense last season and in the preview, we wrote “The offense may not be worse than last season, but it should be close.” At this point Norfolk would be happy to have close to as bad an offense as last season, as 3B Albert Castillo (.160, .478 OPS) and free agent acquisitions CF Don Gang (.211, .537 OPS) and SS Dixie Marson (.217, .645 OPS) are dragging down 36 year old 1B Oscar Christenson (.321, .893 OPS), a former MVP and only player on this roster with at least 100 AB and an OPS over .660 or average over .246.
- 15. Boise Blues (Preseason: 12, -3)
Record: 13-29 Expected Win %: .399
Boise was supposed to be bad, and last in the division, but not this bad. With the worst record in the NL, Boise has been submarined by poor performances from their pitchers and position players, particularly in the early going. The bright side is that Boise’s recent performance has been much more respectable. Since being swept by the Marauders, the Blues have gone 8-8, which isn’t anything to brag about, but still much better than the 5-21 record they had prior to this recent hot (lukewarm?) streak. Additionally, the Blues will match up against the Anchors (twice), the Waves, and the 18-24 Moonshiners (from the AL), in 13 of their next 19 games. Of all the teams in this category, the Blues are the biggest surprise, but also have the best chance to escape.
- 16. Dover Punishment (Preseason 16, No Change)
Record: 15-27 Expected Win %: .326
Dover can thank a surprising sweep of the Rockers (along with early season series victories over the Monsters and Empire) that they are currently spared the ignominy of the worst record in the NL. However, in their last 25, the Punishment sport a 6-19 record, which may be a better indicator of their future prospects than the surprising 9-8 start to the season. Rule V draftee Edinson Duran has been a pleasant surprise coming straight from HiA to hit .291 with 3 HR and 2 triples for an OPS of .732; over the last 10 games he has shown signs of regression, with an OPS of .667. Likewise, the pitching has been poor as Ramiro Martinez leads Dover in every meaningful pitching category with truly mediocre numbers (55.2 IP, .257 OAV, .308 OBP, .408 SLG, 1.24 WHIP, 3.56 ERA).