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Periodically, I’ll be taking a look at the 30 teams as a whole and ranking
them based on where they stand at that moment in time. These rankings will
be based primarily on the the team’s truest indicator of actual
ability–runs scored and allowed–but will also take into account other
factors.

Take these rankings with a grain of salt, and remember to take a deep
breath and stretch your legs before firing off nasty e-mails.

For this first run-through, we’ll look only at the top and bottom teams.
There’s a great teeming mass of teams in the middle of the pack that
haven’t distinguished themselves yet, and attempting to sort through them
at this point is futile.

DP’s Top Five:

1. Atlanta Braves
2. St. Louis Cardinals
3. Cleveland Indians
4. Seattle Mariners
5. Boston Red Sox

Lurking: Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago White Sox, New York Mets

The Braves are still sorting through their offensive options,
messing around with Andruw Jones in the two hole and parceling out
playing time to Rafael Furcal in bits and pieces. So their #13 rank
in the league in runs scored should rise. Their pitching has been
outstanding, led by the revitalized Tom Glavine and a typically
underrated bullpen…. The Cardinals’ offense has gotten most of the
attention, but since a nasty road trip to Houston and Colorado, their
pitching has been excellent, allowing just over three runs a game…. While
the Indians have scuffled relative to their lofty standards
offensively, their pitching has been fairly good. Considering that the
peripherals of Charles Nagy and Dave Burba are much better
than their ERAs, it’s likely that the Indians will get better at keeping
runs off the board. (Note, however, that Jaret Wright is in the
opposite situation.)

One big surprise has been the Mariners offense. With Jay
Buhner
reasonably healthy and Alex Rodriguez mixing in some
better patience, the team has parlayed a good OBP core into one of the top
offenses in the league. They’ll be tested with the losses of Jamie
Moyer
and Freddy Garcia…. The Red Sox are putting the
lie to my claims that they’re a three-man team. The core of Pedro
Martinez
, Nomar Garciaparra and Carl Everett are playing
well, but so are Brian Daubach, Trot Nixon and Derek
Lowe
. The test will be how quickly Dan Duquette gets Pete
Schourek
(13 K / 9 BB) and Jeff Fassero (7 K / 10 BB) out of
there when the bubbles burst.

The Diamondbacks are an ordinary team when anyone but Randy
Johnson
pitches, but so what? Getting Matt Williams back is
going to help them defensively, possibly as much as it will offensively,
because his replacements are simply brutal with the glove…. I’m holding
back on the White Sox until I see their roster settle down and
whether the young rotation improves…. The Mets are 6-1 in one-run
games, so I remain skeptical.

Dirty little secret? The 12-7, first-place Yankees have been
outscored, 99 to 95.

DP’s Bottom Five:

26. Milwaukee Brewers
27. Philadelphia Phillies
28. Tampa Bay Devil Rays
29. Chicago Cubs
30. Detroit Tigers

Hovering: Kansas City Royals

I attended the Tigers game Tuesday night, and was astounded by how
bad this team is offensively. The team approach at the plate appears to be
based on the perpetual getaway day, as hitters hack and flail in an
attempt to make a 4:00 p.m. flight. No one seems to have any plan other
than, "If it’s a baseball, swing." If either Juan gets hurt, this
team won’t score 600 runs…. The Cubs are respectable challengers
to the Tiger throne, held back only by their expected influx of pitching
talent. They should be commended for the Shane Andrews pickup, but
unless he picks up a slider and can work the seventh and eighth, the Cubs
are in for a brutal summer. Except at the gate, of course.

The Devil Rays are right about where anyone not employed by the team
expected them to be. The implosion that led to the firing of pitching coach
Rick Williams was unexpected, but given the defense this team is running
out there, maybe it should have been. Home runs are fun, though…. The
Phillies have had their midsummer swoon early, scoring just 63 runs
in 19 games. Only Bob Abreu and Scott Rolen have OPSs of 700
or better. They’re better than this when Curt Schilling returns, but
not enough to make a dent in any race this year…. The Brewers are
here by default, as there’s a fairly large gap between the Phillies and the
next worst team. They do have perhaps the worst regular in baseball in
third baseman Jose Hernandez (.182/.250/.227), and easily the worst
starting pitcher in Jaime Navarro (11.57 ERA, 4 IP/start, 15 BB, 6 K
in 16 1/3 IP).

By the way, there’s just one remotely "small market" team on that
list.

Joe Sheehan can be reached at jsheehan@baseballprospectus.com.