We're sneaking up on the halfway point of the 2016 season and of course well aware of what's happening with the local squadron and their rivals. But what about the rest of the league?
Here's the first installment of a new feature here on Da Box, which takes a look at the other divisions and storylines currently happening around MLB. Lets start in the NL Central...
Good pitching doesn't grow on trees, though somebody forgot to tell the Clevelands that little fact. Their rotation is stacked. Corey Kluber has been his usual high strikeout/low walks self (weird fact: Kluber has only a W-L of 16-23 the past two seasons despite a WHIP around one and an ERA in the mid 3s. Somebody get this man some run support). Also, Josh Tomlin has transformed his severe allergy to base-on-balls into very effective pitching, the electric Danny Salazar has broken out in a big way (8-3, 2.23), even the perpetual prospect Trevor Bauer has taken a step forward. Above average pitching, combined with solid (unspectacular) hitting and a superstar shortstop in waiting (Lindor) has given the Clevelands in the current lead in the Central. There are some worrying issues, such as bullpen depth, outfield defense and the catcher position (gee, don't see too many folks complaining about the Yan Gomes trade much anymore) and as such I'd definitely expect this team to pull off a medium-large sized trade for a bat if they're still in this position come July.
The White Sox got off to a 24-12 start. They've since gone 12-24. What happened? Well, for starters they weren't ever that good. Well, except Chris Sale. He's that good. One big problem are the bats. Jose Abreu hasn't quite gotten going yet (.756 OPS, only 10 HRs), new addition Todd Frazier has been homers or bust (121 bombs, .201 average) and the zombie nerd version of Brett Lawrie hits about as well as the other versions. They're not horrible offensively, but there isn't a lot of extra base punch in the lineup (15th in slugging percentage for the entire AL at .387).
They're still hanging around .500 though and since nobody has run away with this thing yet (unlike that other Chicago team) they've still got a somewhat shot at the division crown. But their power bats (Abreu especially) and pitchers not named Sale will have to pick it up big time.
The 2016 version of the Kansas City Royals look nothing like the 2015 squad that won it all. (Super) utility man Ben Zobrist departed before the season began, and now both third-bagger Moustakas and left-fielder Alex Gordon (last time I pick a Royal for my damn fantasy team) are both "enjoying" extended stays on the disabled list. On top of that, Alcedes Escobar continues to be the absolute worst leadoff hitter in baseball (even the Reds finally accepted that leading off Billy Hamilton most of the time was a bad idea), Kendrys Morales has morphed back into the Minnesota/Seattle copy, and the replacements for Gordon/Moustakas have been largely ineffective.
The starting pitching has been an adventure too, with secret weapon Chris Young pitching like an oversized pumpkin and Yordano Ventura securing more brawls than victories. But they're still over .500, still within poking distance of the division lead. To answer your question, yes: the bullpen is still really good. Wade Davis is still an unhittable monster, Kelvin Herrera as well, Joakim Soria is riding along as a valuable third wheel, and they still have that knack of turning meh starters into good innings out of the bullpen, like Dillon Gee or Chien-Ming Wang (really!). They'll probably Royal their way to enough wins (barf) to be in a contending position near the deadline, where they can make a move to improve whatever their biggest shortcoming is then. Not sure I like their chances of repeating though, to be honest.
The Twin Dilemma
I feel bad for Paul Molitor.
Eye of The Tiger
Since I wrote a bit about the Tigers recently, I just want to talk about Michael Fulmer for a moment. He's been real good thus far (7-2, 2.40) and so I just want to ask how often is it that a prospect-for-star trade works out so brilliantly for both teams? And so quickly? With all their expensive (and declining) starting pitchers, a cheap controllable asset is just what Detroit needs, meanwhile the offense starved Mets might be in more lumber trouble had Cespedes not come aboard last season and stuck around for this one.
Bounce Backs Are Bigger In Texas
So the Rangers are really good so far. Like, best team in the AL good. Maybe. They're out performing their Pythagoras W-L by six to the good side, mostly thanks to a swell record of 17-4 in one run games. John Gibbons would like to know your devilish secrets, sirs. You look them over though and perhaps you groan "yeah, this is a good team."Offseason wildcard Ian Desmond has been superb in his transition to the AL and to the outfield, Everybody's Favourite 2012 Prospect Jurickson Profar is finally healthy and crushing everything in sight, and Adrian Beltre continues to do his old man superstar thing. And the bullpen is Kershaw Command-Of-The Strikezone Tight (wait, nothing is that tight...). The bullpen is damn good, led by "The Blankest Beard In The West" Sam Dyson, southpaw swindler Jake Diekman, fresh outta the joint Matt Bush and a cast of other shifty drifters. Perhaps the one thing really not going this gang's way is the plight of the Prince, the portly slugger with the OPS+ of 55 and still owed 80 million by the Rangers for the next half decade. Long free agent contracts, man. Or rather, inexplicably trading for long free agent contracts. Plus the current Rangers would probably be a bit more likable with Kinsler at second instead of Punch Ned Obrawl.
On the other hand, sometimes signing guys to long free agent contracts doesn't become a hideous burden. At least, not immediately. As a reminder of how quickly perception of these things can swing, Robinson Cano had an OPS of .660 through the first half of 2015, inviting many reactionary conclusions that he was washed up. Here in the middle of 2016, he's back among the best and most valuable players in the game, and convincingly enough so that you look at his career numbers and see the Hall not too far off in the distance.
So things can change! Shouts the great Greek philosopher Obviousdyus from the hilltop. And indeed things have greatly changed for the Mariners it seems. Not for the better, but for the strange. Sure, Nelson Cruz, Cano and Kyle Seager are still great, but so is Leonys Martin all of a sudden. The guy with the career OPS+ of 82 coming into 2016. Playing in Texas. Moving to Seattle! That's like uprooting your struggling orchid and planting it beside a Nevada highway. Franklin Gutierrez is also alive and productive, which is almost as kind a surprise as Korean bopper Dae-ho Lee terrorizing unsuspecting pitchers. To make things stranger, the commonly perceived strength of the Mariners (their rotation) has in fact been their biggest weakness. Felix Hernandez has been mortal/injured, Offseason Save Hisashi Iwakuma has slightly disappointed with a performance below his usual standards (though I'm sure the Dodgers would still gladly take him) while new addition Wade Miley continues to remind us that beards can be uncool. I sort of assume/expect the starting pitching to get better (and young Taijuan Walker has been excitingly good thus far) and the hitting to regress a bit so how far the pendulum swings in either direction will determine their status as contenders.
Swing For The Stars
In 2015 the Houston Astros were the second most prolific team in hitting home runs in all of baseball (behind your Toronto Blue Jays) and also the second most frequent at striking out (behind the now Bless-ed Chicago Cubs). In 2016, the Astros have claimed the crown in one category but fallen behind badly in the other. Unfortunately for them, their crown is the less useful of the two. The Astros batters now strike out more than ever, yet the ball isn't sailing over the fence as much when they do connect. They're currently 10th in the majors in hitting home runs, and their offensive production relative to the rest of the league has fallen off as a result (2015: 4.50 runs per game - AL average 4.33. 2016: 4.25 runs per game, AL average 4.47)
Reigning Cy Young beard Dallas Keuchel has been very disappointing thus far also, frustrating the many thousands of fantasy baseball players who nabbed him in the first round. He has a 3-9 record, an ERA comfortably over 5 (5.32), yet not his walk rate (2.0 to 2.8), strikeout rate (8.4 to 8.3), homers allowed (0.7 to 1.0) has taken a truly catastrophic turn. The problem hasn't been command, stuff or meatballs, it's simply been coughing up more hits (7.2 in 2015 to 9.7 in 2016). Opposition batters are hitting .275/.330/.434 off Keuchel so far this season, compared to a .217/.262/.314 line in his Cy Young year. That's a difference in OPS of almost 200 points, which is huge. Or you know, the difference between Darwin Barney and Josh Donaldson.
Angel In The Outfield
A bunch of random facts about the Angels:
-- Mike Trout is still a walking god amongst other players.
-- Albert Pujols continues his slow crawl into the Hall of Fame. I mean, he probably clinched his plaque about five years ago, but this late (Angels) stage of his career isn't exactly one to tell your grandkids about. His OPS by season, starting in 2012, has gone -- .859, .767, .790, .787, .708 (this year). Remember this is a guy who hit .328/.420/.617 in 11 seasons as a Cardinal. The Angels still owe him over 100 million beyond this season until 2022. Long free agent contracts!
-- Yunel Escobar is an Angel now? Geez, this guy is like the Carmen Sandiego of MLB. You have to pick through a bunch of clues to figure out where he is now.
-- Jered Weaver might not throw that much harder than I do these days, and that declining velocity is finally catching up with him. He's allowing more hits (10.5) and homers (1.9 per 9) than ever before.
-- If you're not rooting for Tim Lincecum you might be a crazy person, or a barber. Big Time Timmy Jim!
-- Andrelton Simmons continues his plunge into the realm of "is the glove good enough for that bat?" You know, the Ryan Goins Question. I mean, check this out:
.176/.217/.314 (162 PA)
.204/.231/.263 (143 PA)
One is Goins, one is Simmons. Sure, Simmons is the better glove (probably) but he's also the guy owed fifty million bucks the next few seasons. Goins is still making the minimum.
-- Remember Carlos Perez? The catcher prospect once in the Blue Jays system? Well he's been an Angel for a couple seasons now, is still young (25) and has definitely been better than Josh Thole. Which means... absolutely nothing, frankly.
-- This team is bad. And it's the pitching that's failed them. Weaver, Hector Santiago, Matt Shoemaker are all giving up bunches of runs. Even the bullpen stinks.
Not Even An 'A' For Effort
Yeah, when Danny Valencia is your best hitter, there's really not much else to say. I do find myself wondering if Billy Beane could beat Billy Butler in a foot race to first base. I'm sure Brad Pitt could.
That's all for now. I'll take a look at the National League next. Hopefully eventually.