Let's not even broach the subject of whether or not either team can keep things going in the right direction this season. There's no reason to rain on the respective parades of the Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Nationals in this week's MLB Power Rankings.
The Nationals are only 6-6, but have been cursed with a rough early schedule, having to play the two-time defending NL champions six times. In their other six games, the Nats are 4-2 -- and they weren't swept in either series against the Phillies, either. There are lots of signs this young nucleus has promise for the future, especially when you factor what is waiting in the minors.
The Pirates are in a similar position, but have found a way to go 7-5 through 12. After having just swept the Reds, the Pirates are riding a three-game winning streak and have taken four of their last five. Andrew McCutchen is the star of the present and future, but the Pirates have lots of other parts going well at present.
As for the top, the Yankees managed to stay put. The only other team I considered was the Tampa Bay Rays. I ultimately decided the clincher was the fact that the Yankees took two of three when they visited St. Petersburg earlier this season. Still, things could change pretty soon. The Rays are really, really good.
[Note: Rankings and records reflect each team's performance through Sunday, with the exception of the Rays and Red Sox -- for those two teams, we included Monday's Patriot's Day contest.
- 1. Yankees | Record: 9-3 | Previous Week: 1
The drive for a repeat has gotten off to a smashing start. The Yankees have won their first four series for the first time since 1926 and have yet to be held to fewer than three runs in any game. Pretty good, considering they got their first home runs from A-Rod and Mark Teixeira this weekend. - Josh Alper
- 2. Rays | Record: 10-3 | Previous Week: 7
After finishing 17 games under .500 on the road last season, the Rays have won their first seven games away from the Trop this season, including a four-game sweep at Fenway. Matt Garza and David Price may be turning into the fiercest 1-2 punch in the American League after five wins in their first five tries this season. - Josh Alper
- 3. Twins | Record: 9-4 | Previous Week: 4
New stadium, same team. It's still early in the season, but it already looks as though the AL Central is Minnesota's to lose. Its plus-22 run differential -- the only positive one in the division -- makes it look like they won't have much trouble keeping that from happening. - Tom Fornelli
- 4. Cardinals | Record: 8-4 | Previous Week: 6
Despite their 20-inning loss on Saturday afternoon/evening, the Cards are off to an 8-4 start and are currently three games clear of everyone in the NL Central other than the Pirates. With two starts under their belts, Jaime Garcia and Brad Penny have both been excellent. If they can keep it up, the Cardinals' rotation will be tough to beat. - Pat Lackey
- 5. Marlins | Record: 8-5 | Previous Week: 15
The Marlins haven't lost a series yet and are trailing the Phillies by just a 1/2 game. If Ricky Nolasco can pitch consistently the way he did Saturday night, the Marlins are blessed with two aces. The Nate Robertson outing Sunday? Well, that's just gravy.
- 6. Phillies | Record: 8-4 | Previous Week: 2
Do I think the Phillies are better than the Marlins? When healthy, yes, but there are definite health questions -- Jimmy Rollins and Joe Blanton are extremely important -- and the fact that the Marlins came into Philly and won two of three from the home team. Consider this a temporary demotion in the ranks.
- 7. Giants | Record: 8-4 | Previous Week: 3
Their 8-4 start is their best since they won 11 of their first 12 games in 2003. So far they are 3-3 against the Braves and Dodgers and 6-1 against the Astros and Pirates. They get a series this week against the Padres, and then it's a tough stretch in which they'll see the Cardinals, Phillies and Rockies, all in one homestand. We ought to have a better idea of where they stand after that. - Jeff Fletcher
- 8. Braves | Record: 7-5 | Previous Week: 12
Atlanta has won four of five after a dreadfully embarrassing 17-2 loss in San Diego. A big series for the Braves begins Tuesday, when they host the division-controlling Phillies for a three-game set in Turner Field. One issue? The Braves have to get some kind of offense from either Melky Cabrera or Nate McLouth. I'm sure they'd like both to start hitting, but just one would be nice.
- 9. A's | Record: 9-5 | Previous Week: 10
If you're surprised by the way the A's have started, you shouldn't be. Last year their pitching was pretty good and now they've added Ben Sheets and Justin Duchscherer, who have both started off by approaching their pre-injury form. The A's 2.90 ERA is the best in the AL. The offense has been mediocre, which can be overcome in the short term and against bad teams (like the Orioles). They play the Yankees this week. - Jeff Fletcher
- 10. Rockies | Record: 6-6 | Previous Week: 14
Huston Street can't return soon enough. Franklin Morales has blown two of his four save chances and sports a 5.79 ERA. Still, this team started slow last year and their best hitter, Troy Tulowitzki, hasn't gotten on track yet. That last part isn't too surprising, as Tulowitzki is a career .203 hitter in April. He'll pick it up by June, as his career OPS for the months June through September are as follows: .892, .929, .881 and .890, respectively.
- 11. Tigers | Record: 7-5 | Previous Week: 5
After a hot start to the season, the Tigers have lost four of their last six, but their offense still leads the American League in runs scored and batting average. Magglio Ordonez also seems to have found his power stroke again, as he already has four home runs after hitting only 14 last year. - Tom Fornelli
- 12. Pirates | Record: 7-5 | Previous Week: 23
On one hand, the Bucs are 7-5 and that's cause for minor celebration under any circumstances. On the other, they've been outscored by 22 runs, Akinori Iwamura's .785 OPS is the best among the team's regular starters, and the starting pitchers have pitched out of the sixth inning just three times (twice by Zach Duke). The record is nice, but the performance is going to have to pick up. - Pat Lackey
- 13. Dodgers | Record: 6-6 | Previous Week: 24
When the Dodgers and Giants play each other, it seems like a bigger deal in San Francisco, where the NoCals have a bit of an inferiority complex against the SoCals. However, last weekend, it's fair to say the Dodgers needed the series more than the Giants did, and they got it. The Dodgers scuffled in the first two weeks, so Manny Ramirez's eighth-inning homer to beat the Giants, and win the series, on Sunday, could be just the push they needed to get going in the right direction. - Jeff Fletcher
- 14. Angels | Record: 6-7 | Previous Week: 21
The Halos have taken four of five after an abysmal start, and they've done it on the shoulders of strong starting pitching. It would be huge for them to get the same Ervin Santana they got in 2008, and he certainly looked the part Sunday.
- 15. Mariners | Record: 6-7 | Previous Week: 20
Two straight series wins and now a three-game visit from the Baltimore Orioles will likely prove to be enough to erase the memories from that poor 2-6 start. Power is still a serious concern, though, as the Mariners are slugging just .333 as a team.
- 16. Blue Jays | Record: 7-6 | Previous Week: 9
A 2-5 record for the week is more in line with what we expected from the Jays, but all optimism didn't die. Vernon Wells is still swinging a hot bat and Ricky Romero nearly threw a no-hitter Tuesday before pitching darn well in a loss on Sunday. - Josh Alper
- 17. Nationals | Record: 6-6 | Previous Week: 22
This week will be a good test as to the staying power of the 2010 Nats. They have seven home games, and they come against tough, yet beatable, foes in the Rockies and Dodgers. If Washington is ready to take a step forward this year, they'll win at least four.
- 18. Rangers | Record: 5-7 | Previous Week: 17
The four straight losses put a damper on what appeared to be a strong start, but getting swept in the Bronx isn't reason to throw in the towel by any stretch. The real shame when they lose is that we don't get to watch Neftali Feliz. The young stud is 2-for-2 in save chances and has a 1.93 ERA this year. He's struck out seven in 4 2/3 innings.
- 19. Cubs | Record: 5-7 | Previous Week: 19
That's four blown leads in the eighth inning or later by the bullpen, meaning the team could very, very easily be 9-3 right now. That's the good news for the Cubs and their fans. The bad news is that the bullpen will likely be a problem all season, even when Aramis Ramirez starts hitting and Ted Lilly rejoins the rotation (both of which will happen before the end of the month).
- 20. Brewers | Record: 5-7 | Previous Week: 13
5-7 is by no means a bad start, especially when Prince Fielder is slugging just .311, but the concern is always the pitching for Milwaukee and their 75 runs allowed places them 14th in the National League, which is not where they want to be after opening up the checkbook for Randy Wolf, Doug Davis, and LaTroy Hawkins over the winter. - Pat Lackey
- 21. Indians | Record: 6-6 | Previous Week: 26
After starting 0-5 last season, the Indians were never able to reach the .500 mark in 2009. Just two weeks into the 2010 season, they find themselves at 6-6 and just swept the White Sox this weekend. - Tom Fornelli
- 22. Padres | Record: 6-6 | Previous Week: 27
The next Mark Reynolds? Kyle Blanks does have prodigious power, as we've seen with 12 home runs in 187 major league at-bats. He's also a human windmill, having been punched out 13 times in just 39 at-bats this season.
- 23. Red Sox | Record: 4-9 | Previous Week: 8
A lost week for the Red Sox will surely have some people questioning the wisdom of Theo Epstein's offseason wheeling and dealing. It's too soon for that, but, as Terry Francona admitted by benching him twice in four games, it might not be too soon to write eulogies for David Ortiz's career. - Josh Alper
- 24. Diamondbacks | Record: 5-7 | Previous Week: 11
After a very promising start, the Snakes have dropped four in a row and five of six. Things don't get any easier, either, as they host the Cardinals and Phillies this week for a six-game homestand before an 11-game road trip. If they don't shape up, they could be in a very deep hole one week into May.
- 25. Reds | Record: 5-8 | Previous Week: 16
After a 5-5 start, the Reds dropped three in a row in Pittsburgh over the weekend. One positive during that slide might be that Jay Bruce is starting to break out of his early-season slump; he homered twice on Sunday after two hitless games to open the series. Those two homers were his first extra-base hits since a double on April 12. - Pat Lackey
- 26. White Sox | Record: 4-9 | Previous Week: 18
The White Sox have lost four in a row, and already find themselves with a 2-7 record against their own division, including 1-5 against Cleveland. If there's any good news, it's that they've only been outscored 55-53. - Tom Fornelli
- 27. Royals | Record: 5-7 | Previous Week: 28
The Royals offense has been somewhat surprising early, currently holding the second highest average in the AL at .290. A bigger surprise is Scott Podsednik's .528 OBP. The problem is their 5.55 team ERA. - Tom Fornelli
- 28. Mets | Record: 4-8 | Previous Week: 25
Give the Mets credit for being consistent. They have won one out of three games in every single series this year. They now have a 10-game homestand against three teams with a good amount of talent (Cubs, Braves, Dodgers). It's time for the Mets to either right the ship or start sinking already.
- 29. Astros | Record: 3-9 | Previous Week: 30
After their 0-8 start, the Astros are now 3-1 and are officially on a two-game winning streak after taking their weekend series in Wrigley Field. Lance Berkman is due back in the near future, as well, so it's not nearly as doom and gloom as it was for the 'Stros at this time last week. It's not all good news, either; Jeff Keppinger and Michael Bourn are the only two players hitting remotely well right now and Bud Norris' 3.52 ERA certainly won't stand if he keeps walking nearly a batter an inning. - Pat Lackey
- 30. Orioles | Record: 2-11 | Previous Week: 29
Good news: Brian Matusz looks like the real deal with two wins and almost 11 strikeouts per nine innings. Bad news: Those are the only two wins the Orioles have mustered in the first two weeks. Sum total: Dave Trembley's not going to have to worry about this team much longer. - Josh Alper