As we approach the middle of the season, the four-game crashes are far less dramatic and long-term trends begin to unfold across the league. The ultimate success of a team lies in being able to identify strengths and weaknesses and learning to manipulate them, and American League Central is no different.
Here are our views on what’s hot – and what’s not – so far in the split:
Raising (or falling) to the level of competition
We are over a third of the end of the season and the Indians have created a clear tendency to play at the same level as their competition. Against teams with record wins, Cleveland went 16-11. But against teams with a record under 0.500, the Indians went 16-15 (0.516 win rate, which follows White Sox, Royals and Tigers in the division). Cleveland is expected to face only one current winning team (Cubs) for the remainder of May, and the remaining matches will be against record-breaking teams (Mariners, Orioles, Pirates, Twins and Tigers).
– Mandy Bell
The Royals bullpen is a strong point of the club and manager Mike Matheny is not afraid to use his relievers whenever there is a high-leverage situation, even if that means the fifth or sixth inning. But the bullpen workload continued to increase, and that’s not always sustainable for a 162-game season, especially when the “pen has dealt with injuries: Josh Staumont and Kyle Zimmer both wasted time and Jesse.” Hahn is still out with a right shoulder bump – and other relievers who need to step up to fill their points sometimes. The initial pitch will have to go deeper into the games.
Coming in on Wednesday, the Royals rotation pitched 286 innings, ranking 25th in the majors. His 4.91 ERA is in 26th place. The relievers collectively pitched 225 2/3 innings, 12th in baseball, with an ERA of 3.95, ranked 15th in baseball. Kansas City saw flashes, especially early in the season, of its starters putting together six quality innings and the bullpen got the job done in the last three innings. This is a trend that royalty must pick up and support.
– Anne Rogers
The Tigers reduced their strikeout rate from 30.6% of their pot appearances in April, to 25.9% in May. The rate rose a tick during the first match week in June to 27.1 percent, but still a far cry from the swings and mistakes they were piling up at the height of their struggles in the first month of the season.
At the same time, Detroit’s batting average on the balls put into play increased from 0.260 in April to 0.327, the best in the MLB, in May and 0.280 through the first week of June. Unsurprisingly, Detroit increased its batting average by 49 points from April (.199) to May (.248) to June (.241) and raised its OPS from .602 to .695 to .772. The numbers reflect the transition of the Tigers’ attack from a party or famine attack at the start of the season to a team more focused on situational shots and the small ball as the season goes on, testing defenses by putting balls in play. Law 5 Draft Choice Akil Baddoo’s rapid maturation in pot discipline played a role, as did Jonathan Schoop’s escape from an early season crisis.
– Jason Beck
Inherited runners scoring against the bullpen
The single-season record for inherited runners allowed to score from a team’s bullpen is 52.8 percent, set by the Mariners in a shortened 2020 season. For an entire season, the 2003 Royals hold that unenviable record, having allowed 48.7% of inherited runners to cross home plate. Either way, at 63%, the 2021 twins are on track to surpass those numbers.
Tyler Duffey, once Minnesota’s relief in messy situations, allowed nine of his 11 inherited runners to score, Caleb Thielbar allowed 10 of 13 to score, and Taylor Rogers did the same with five of his 10 inherited runners. Wherever the twins turn, they have not been able to find a solution to these problems, resulting in added odds for a group that ranks 26th out of 30 teams in MLB this season. It’s been a tough season for the bullpen as a whole due to the fights of Alex Colomé and Cody Stashak in particular, and their fights aren’t even fully mirrored by the collective 4.56 ERA, the third worst in the American League.
– Do-Hyoung Park
Powerful White Sox attack suffered three direct injuries, leaving left fielder Eloy Jiménez (broken left pectoral tendon) out from the end of Spring Training, center fielder Luis Robert (right hip flexor ruptured) out 2 May and winger Adam Engel (right hamstring tear) just returned last weekend after being absent since the start of the season. So how does a team not only survive, but thrive on top of AL Central? For the White Sox we start with the rotation.
Coming into play on Wednesday, the Chicago starting pitchers led the AL with a 3.02 ERA and were tied with Boston with 26 wins. The rotation allowed two runs or fewer in 39 of the 60 games (13 of the games were closed), drawing with Tampa Bay for the most part in the AL. Lance Lynn is in second place in the Majors behind Jacob deGrom of the Mets (0.62) with an ERA of 1.23, and Carlos Rodón is in seventh place at 1.96 with a minimum of 50 innings pitched. The White Sox 2020 had two fixed pitchers in Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel, with talented but uncertain youngsters behind them, while the ’21 rotation goes to five; six, with Michael Kopech involved.
– Scott Merkin