Tigers, Twins, Sox Digging Deep Holes


As it stands today, Cleveland has moved to the #2 spot in MLB.com’s power rankings, with the best record in the American League.  The heavy favorites before the season started, all of them, Detroit, Minnesota and Chicago are far behind.  The Tigers trail by 7.5 games, the Twins and White Sox by 10.  That’s a lot of ground to catch up, even with 5 months left in the season, and these three teams clearly haven’t displayed the kind of ability required to make that sort of a charge yet.  Logically, with terrible starts for all three of the divisional ‘powerhouses’ at least one and maybe two will be non-factors in September and in for a very disappointing season.  Who will it be?

Lets start our candidate summaries with the Twins – who have played the worst all-around baseball on the road to that 9-18 start.  In those 27 games the Twins have scored 85 runs and allowed 149.  Their Pythagenport record is just about as bad as their real-life record – which is rare for any last-place team in any year.  There is obviously a lot of blame to apportion when a team has underperformed so tremendously, but the lion’s share should fall on the team’s four stars: Joe Nathan (0-1, 10.00 ERA, 7 BB, 7K), Francisco Liriano (1-4, 9.13 ERA, 18 BB, 18 K), Justin Morneau (.625 OPS in 87 PA) and Joe Mauer (.554 OPS in 38 PA).  In the rotation, Carl Pavano and Nick Blackburn have been unimpressive – low walk/low strikeout guys get knocked around from time to time – but Brian Duensing and Scott Baker have been good in all respects.  Current closer Matt Capps has been fine, as has Glen Perkins but the rest of the Twins rebuilt bullpen has been awful (see Hughes, Dusty).  On offense, the only Minnesota regular hitting well is Jason Kubel – though we can’t fault Denard Span for putting up the .700 OPS he was expected to.  Replacement catcher Drew Butera has a .309 OPS and one of the first negative OPS+ numbers I’ve ever seen.  With Tsuyoshi Nishioka still on the DL replacement 2B Luke Hughes is not holding his own at the plate, but his .584 OPS is still better than Delmon Young’s.  Young 3B and SS pair Danny Valencia and Alexi Casilla have been equally impotent – making the Twins moves in the infield the past couple of seasons look suspect at best.

Bottom Line:  Most of the Twins chose the same month for a slump.  Still, every question mark about the Twins before this season has become a flashing red exclamation point.   They aren’t going anywhere without production – and that probably means health – from their big four.  Even if they get it, their infield and bullpen depth look so weak at this point that this team may not be a juggernaut even when it clicks.

Next… Chicago:  The White Sox are every bit as far behind the Indians as the Twins, but the haven’t been as bad.  In 29 games the Sox have allowed 149 runs (same as Mini-Soda in 27) but scored 113.   On the pitching side, I would have to say that the majority of this looks like bad luck.  The White Sox bullpen has blown a lot of saves with an ERA of 4.74, and the 4.49 from the Sox supposedly stellar rotation doesn’t look that great either.  But they have been striking out 2.5 guys for every walk, and they haven’t been giving up all that many hits (EJax excepted), they’ve just been giving up hits at the wrong times.  And, of course, that defense hasn’t been too great.  I tend to think that the issues Chicago has had on the pitching side are going to clear up, and they’ll look like every bit the squad everyone expected them to be – particularly once Peavy gets off the DL.

On offense things look a little different:  They are scoring less than 4 runs per game because they are getting nothing (less than nothing, really) from some key positions.  Konerko hasn’t had the dropoff that we (I) expected, and Carlos Quentin has resumed his high level of performance, but that’s about where the good things stop for the Sox.  Alexei Ramirez and AJ Pierzynski aren’t doing all that well, but they are performing at close to expectations.  That fact is, in and of itself, a strongly negative statement about a team’s offensive potential (see Inge, Brandon).  Juan Pierre is not a good hitter, and he is now reminding everyone on the south side of the fact with his .308 OBP at leadoff.  Gordon Beckham is crushing the dreams of optimistic fans all over Chicago once again with his .201/.257/.317 line.  Most of that has come in the #2 slot before Guillen sensibly moved Becks down in the order.  Remind me again why this guy was picked to represent the AL Central in our all-division team?  Alexis Rios is ice-cold, and that waiver wire decision is looking a little less smart than it did last season.  Granted, he’s unlikely to play this bad – but it looks like he’s back to being the player the Jays were so desperate to unload.  Most troubling for Sox fans – Adam Dunn has had a mighty struggle adjusting to the American League and being an everyday DH, if he doesn’t turn things around soon the team is unlikely to be particularly intimidating at the plate.  Brent Morel has been terrible after winning the 3rd base job and one would have to assume Chicago will start fishing around for replacements at the position by the middle of May.

Bottom Line:  Chicago has a worse record than it’s performance to date would suggest, but they are not looking like a team that has made progress in the offseason – if anything the struggles by Rios and Pierre suggest that this team overachieved in 2010.

The 3rd contender, our own Detroit Tigers:  nothing more really needs to be said here – since just about every other post on this site covers some aspect of the Tigers’ early season woes.

Bottom Line:  The rotation has been pretty good, and the closer nearly unhittable.  Miguel Cabrera 2011 looks just like Miguel Cabrera 2010, Alex Avila is actually producing runs and Brennan Boesch has been as good a second stick as we have had for years.  Still, the Tigers are under .500 and deservedly so.  This is a team without a tremendous margin of error, and early season troubles at the plate for Austin Jackson and Magglio Ordonez are worrisome.  There is no guarantee that either of these players will get back on track any time soon and the Tigers simply do not have the depth to win the division without them.