As we near halftime of the season, the dips after four games are much less dramatic and the long-term trends are starting to unfold across the league. The ultimate success of a team is to identify strengths and weaknesses and learn to manipulate them, and the American League Central is no different.
Here are our thoughts on what’s trending – and what’s not – trending in the division so far:
Play up (or down) to the level of competition
We are more than a third of the season behind us and the Indians have created a clear trend to play at the same level as their competition. Against teams with winning records, Cleveland won 16-11. But against teams with a record below 0.500, the Indians have won 16-15 (0.516 win percentages that are behind the White Sox, Royals and Tigers in the division). Cleveland will only face one current winning team (Cubs) for the remainder of May, and the remaining matchups will be played against teams with lost records (Mariners, Orioles, Pirates, Twins, and Tigers).
– Mandy Bell
Start pitch workload
The royals bullpen is a club strength, and manager Mike Matheny is not afraid to use his relievers when there is a high leverage situation, even if it means the fifth or sixth inning. But the Bullpen’s workload has continued to increase, and that’s not always sustainable for a 162-game season, especially when the pen coped with injuries – Josh Staumont and Kyle Zimmer both missed out on time and Jesse Hahn is still with an impingement the right shoulder – and other aids that sometimes need to rise to fill their spots. The starting line-up must go deeper in the games.
On Wednesday, the Royals’ rotation pitched 286 innings, which is 25th for the majors. His 4.91 ERA ranks 26th. The helpers have served a total of 225 2/3 innings, 12th in baseball, with 3.95 ERA, 15th in baseball. Kansas City has seen lightning bolts especially early in the season, with its starters putting together six high quality innings and the bullpen doing the job for the final three innings. This is a trend that royals need to return to and maintain.
– Anne Rogers
The Tigers cut their strikeout rate from 30.6 percent of their record appearances in April to 25.9 percent in May. The odds rose a tad to 27.1 percent in the first week of the game in June, but still a long way from the swings and failures they had in the first month of the season at the height of their struggles.
At the same time, Detroit’s batting average on put balls in play rose from 0.260 in April to an MLB best 0.327 in May and 0.280 in the first week of June. Unsurprisingly, Detroit raised its batting average from April (0.199) through May (0.248) to June (0.241) and increased its OPS from 0.602 to 0.695 to 0.772. The numbers reflect the Tiger’s offensive transition from a feast-or-starvation, high-strikeout offensive at the start of the season to a team that focuses more on situational hitting and small balls, and defending through, as the season progresses tests the introduction of balls. Rule 5 Draft pick Akil Baddoo’s rapid maturation in the record discipline played a role, as did Jonathan Schoop’s escape from a break-in earlier in the season.
– Jason Beck
Inherited runners who score against the bullpen
The single-season record for inherited runners who are allowed to score after a team’s bullpen is 52.8 percent, set by the Mariners in a shortened 2020 season. The 2003 Royals hold this unenviable record for a whole season they were able to cross home plate for 48.7 percent of the inherited runners. Either way, at 63 percent, the Twins are well on their way to top these numbers in 2021.
Tyler Duffey, once Minnesota’s most important helper in chaotic situations, scored nine out of 11 inherited runners, Caleb Thielbar scored 10 out of 13 and Taylor Rogers did the same with five of his 10 inherited runners. Whichever way the Twins turn, they couldn’t find a solution to these problems – resulting in a winning probability that was added as a group ranked 26th out of 30 teams in the 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 reflected in the collective ERA of 4.56, the third worst in the American League.
– Do Hyoung Park
Start rotation effectiveness
The energetic White Sox offensive has sustained three direct injuries, with left fielder Eloy Jiménez (left chest tendon rupture) out since the end of spring training, midfielder Luis Robert (right hip flexor rupture) since May 2nd and the outfielder Adam Engel (right thigh muscles) only returned last weekend after having been absent since the start of the season. So how can a team at AL Central not only survive but also thrive? With the White Sox, it starts with rotation.
Entering the game on Wednesday, Chicago’s starting pitchers led the AL with a 3.02 ERA and tied with Boston with 26 wins. Rotation has allowed two runs or fewer (13 of the games were shutouts) in 39 of the 60 games associated with Tampa Bay for most in the AL. Lance Lynn ranks second in the majors behind the Jacob deGrom of the Mets (0.62) with an ERA of 1.23, and Carlos Rodón ranks seventh at 1.96 with a minimum of 50 innings. The 2020 White Sox had two steady hurlers in Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel, backed by talented but insecure youth, while the rotation of the 21’s five is strong; six, involved with Michael Kopech.
– Scott Merkin