The AL Is A Cluster

By this time in the MLB season, we should know who’s good and who’s not by now.  Hanging around the 1/3 mark, this is when teams shake off slow starts, or come back to Earth.

Not the AL.  Not anyone in the AL.  The AL this year is weird.  The three divisions are all equally confusing.  There’s not one team in the AL that makes you go “That’s a contender.”

Now, cases can be made for Kansas City, Detroit, or the Angels in Anaheim.  But the division leaders in the AL just don’t fit.

AL East:  New York Yankees

AL Central:  Kansas City Royals

AL West:  Houston Astros

Minnesota is two games behind Kansas City in the Central.

The AL East continues to be the division that no one wants to win.  Tampa Bay sits in 2nd, with a roster full of guys I barely know.  Pitching continues to carry them, as they have the best team ERA in the AL at 3.33.  Chris Archer is striking guys out like crazy, with a SO/9 rate of 11.7.  Still, guys like Logan Forsythe, Joey Butler, and Kevin Kiermaier are providing huge contributions.

Can they keep it up?  Well, this is a roster with limited experience, and full of a bunch of no-namers.  They went through a ton of transition last offseason.  Maybe, just maybe, Kevin Cash is the difference here.

Don’t bet on it though.  New York seems like a team that could keep this up.  They’re scoring a lot of runs, having the second most in the AL.  Alex Rodriguez is getting new drugs, hitting .272/.377/.508 with 11 home runs.  Stephen Drew is hitting home runs all the sudden, and the pitching has been decently good.  The powerful offense has hit 76 home runs this year, second in the AL.  This division isn’t particularly strong in the pitching department.  The Bombers could keep this up, and drag their already two game lead out.

I’ve already made it clear I’m not talking about the Orioles.  They have to be the most boring team in baseball.  

The AL Central is the best division in the Bigs right now.  No question.  We’ve got three teams over .500.  Kansas City is playing surprisingly well, with their awesome outfield carrying them.    Kansas City’s defense is so good, they’re blowing away the Blue Jays by 20 DRS points.  Lorenzo Cain, who’s racking up the All-Star votes, is the third best outfielder in the league per the DRS metric.

The Royals batting is simply average.  They aren’t getting great production out of their power guys, as Kansas City is 28th in the MLB in home runs as a team this season.  The Royals pitching is okay.  I mean, the rotation has talent; there’s a lot there still developing.  This isn’t a team that needs to make a move, as their success is pretty evident, but this is the best division in baseball.  A lot can change, and I expect it to.

I’ve had people yelling at me since the 3rd week of the season about the Twins.  The first couple games were rough, as they couldn’t score runs, and guess what?!  They still can’t!

The Twins aren’t that great of a hitting team.  They don’t produce a ton of runs.  There’s nothing here that makes you go “That’s a good team.”.

I can’t explain it.  Twins fan think they can.  But really, no one knows what’s happening with this team.  It’s a total mystery.  What was once a joke is now becoming real, but I just can’t hop on yet.  Fans, (I know plenty of them) have been talking this up for the past month.  “The Twins are good!”   “The Twins might make the playoffs!”  So why are they getting so excited when they’re better teams in their division?

Minnesota hasn’t been a great team the past couple years.  It’s been five seasons since they’ve finished over .500.  Twins fans have gone through a re-building process, and that’s still not done yet.  I don’t think the front office knew this was coming.  Seriously, no one saw this coming.  It’s totally unexplainable.  I have no answers.  The pitching has been better than expected.  Mike Pelfrey has a 2.28 ERA, but really, digging deeper in his stats, he’s not been fantastic.  He’s getting help.  Help that, well… I don’t know where it’s coming from.

That’s why this is a fluke.  I’m being outspoken, but this is a fluke.  There’s no particular reason that’s explains this Twins season.

I have no clue whether this’ll continue or not.  Again, they’re in the best division in baseball, and have an Indians team behind them, who’ll hopefully pick up their game.

I think the truth behind this breakout is coming.  Soon, we’ll truly know whether this’ll continue.  For now, it’s anyone’s guess.

The Astros, who currently lead the AL West by 2.5 games (over Texas), are another tough team to figure out.  They don’t score a ton of runs.  Houston has the 2nd worst team batting average in Majors, only in front of Milwaukee.

Houston’s pitching staff is carrying them, and in a weak pitching division, it makes sense.  Dallas Kuechel continues to have a Cy Young-like season, as he’s 7-2.  Colin McHugh is pitching well, though his 6-2 record may be caused by help coming elsewhere on the roster.

The analytics-driven team has blown away everyone in baseball, and there’s not a lot of reason for it.  Maybe Houston’s front office knew this was coming, but we never got the vibe that they were wanting to compete.  Houston has a very nice farm system, which has contributed largely.

Their weaker-than-expected division has helped.  Seattle hasn’t found themselves at all this season.  The Angels have been so-so.  Texas has been pretty good, especially since the return of Josh Hamilton.

Houston has something going, and I don’t doubt they can sustain it.  It’s truly a matter of whether their competitors step it up or not.

The next couple weeks in baseball will be turning points.  We’ll see if the Twins fall back to Earth.  If the Astros can sustain their run.  If Cleveland or Seattle can get going.  For now, the AL remains a cluster.  No one seems like a true contender, but then again, you could make the case for two teams in each division.  We’re at a halt right now, but that’s what baseball is about.  It’s a weird sport.  And that’s what makes it fun.

Quick Hits:

  • Lots of trade rumors this week.  Ben Revere, Jonathan Papelbon, and Aramis Ramirez’s names have been floated.
  • Mariners were interesting in Revere.  Phillies wanted Taijuan Walker; Seattle didn’t budge.
  • No clue why.  Doesn’t seem like Walker is gonna get better.
  • The Cubs and Blue Jays were interested in Papelbon.  Toronto is the more needy bullpen out of the two.  Both teams can contend.
  • This is Aramis Ramirez’s last season.  Yea, he’s on the Brewers, but I wouldn’t want to be traded in my last season.
  • Anyways, Mets and Brewers were close on a deal for Ramirez.  Not sure it would have made sense for New York.
  • Chris Heston’s no-hitter was unbelievable.  To have a rookie come in throw a game like that is amazing.
  • Perhaps the most mind-boggling thing about it:  He didn’t walk one guy.  He gave up no hits, and no walks.  Heston hit three batters, costing him a perfect game.
  • Heston is 6-4 this season with a 3.77 ERA.
  • With the Nationals continuing to be hurt, this is a big chance for the Mets.  Not a great division in the NL East.
  • Pittsburgh, the Mets, and the Padres are three NL teams that are just hanging around right now.  Neither seem great but neither seem bad.  Both are mediocre.
  • I think the Dodgers get Cole Hamels.  Back end of their rotation has been struggling.