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"Lou is not talking about mechanics when he goes out to the mound,"
~Chicago Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild

Friday, May 19, 2006

AL Central - Quarter Mark

Today we take a look at the AL Central.

Tigers - Surprise! The Detroit Tigers are MLB's best team at this point in the season. They're currently on pace to win 109 games, so it's usually pretty tough to find a whole lot wrong with a team like that. The offense is going to hit. The only thing that can slow them down is injury to Magglio or Carlos Guillen. Based on their track records that seems almost inevitable.

What's surprised me most about the Tigers is the success the pitching staff has had. I was quite sure that the $8 million per year the club threw at Kenny Rogers was one of the worst signings of the offseason, yet so far he has proven me wrong. Verlander's success has come a bit quicker than expected, although it's not unusual for young pitchers to come out of the gate smoking and cool down after 10-15 starts. (ie Matt Cain, Felix Hernandez, Zake Duke) The Tigers have only 3 pitchers with ERAs above 4 and all of those guys are middle or long relief. You have to assume they can't keep pitching at this rate. Yet I said the same thing about the White Sox last year. So we'll see.

White Sox - Kudos to Kenny Williams for not standing pat with a championship team. Thome is the AL MVP at this point. It's apparent that as long as he's healthy, he's still one of the best hitters in the game. While the pitching carried the team last year, it's the hitting that's winning ball games this year. The White sox rank 3rd among all teams in runs scored.

Their going to need to continue to hit because the dominant pitching staff of last year that supposedly only got better didn't. Garland has been terrible. Garcia has been average. Newly acquired Vasquez has a great K/BB ratio but still sports a 4.22 ERA while pitching against Minnesota, Kansas City, Seattle, and Tampa in 6 of his 8 starts. Until he starts facing real major league lineups on a regular basis, we'll have to withhold judgement on his performance.

Indians - Cleveland is starting to look like the new A's after starting slowly each of the past 3 seasons. The Tribe's young hitter have not dissapointed in scoring a MLB leading 242 runs. Travis Hafner is another MVP candidate. If the 3 best hitters in the AL this year are Hafner, Thome, and Ortiz it will be hard for the sports writers to justify not giving the MVP to a DH. Jhonny Peralta should start hitting a little more but not enough to offset the inevitable fall of Casey Blake, Ben Broussard, and their respective .370 and .388 batting averages.

None of that will matter if the pitching staff doesn't perform to it's capabilities. Cliff Lee has been good although his 4.26 ERA doesn't show it. His peripherals suggest that he's just been a bit unlucky. The return of CC Sabathia will help but the Tribe needs better outings from the entire bullpen, Paul Byrd, and Jake Westbrook if they plan on making this division a 3 team race.

Twins - As a Twins fan it's painful to discuss how awful most of this club has been this season. So I'll focus on the good. Francisco Liriano has finally been inserted into the rotation. Unfortunately it was 8 Kyle Lohse starts too late. Joe Mauer continues to prove the Twins were'nt insane to take him number one overall. Luis Castillo has been as advertised plus some. The bullpen is still one of the best in baseball. And for all of his faults, Justin Morneau is showing the power the Twins have lacked since Kent Hrbek.

And of course, Johan Santana remains head and shoulders above every other pitcher in baseball. His 3.23 ERA is impressive by itself, but it becomes even more so when considering two things. One, he is pitching with the worst defense in the AL according to DER. Two, seven of his nine starts have come against New York, Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, and Toronto who rank 1,2,3,4, and 7 in the AL in runs scored.

Royals - This team is an absolute joke. They are on pace to win a mere 42 games which would tie them with the 1952 Pirates for 6th worst record of all time. Reggie Sanders 4 home runs lead the team. Only 2 regular players have an OBP over league average. Grudzielanek's .319 BA is the only regular's BA over .274. No Royal starter has an ERA under 4. Three have ERAs above 6. To top it off, Steve Phillips has been rumored as a candidate for the GM position. Yes, the same Steve Phillips that chose Cliff Lee as the best LHP in baseball.

The AL West is on deck.

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