Detroit Tigers (14-10)
Last week: 6-1 (3-1 vs. Oakland; 3-0 @Minnesota)
The biggest question about the Tigers’ ability to contend coming into the season was whether some of the Tigers’ stars, nearly all of them at an age where you could realistically expect their output to start to dip, would be able to stay both healthy and productive enough to keep the team afloat.
While things have been far from perfect in Detroit throughout the first month of the season, the last week has shown just how good the Tigers can be when everything is clicking.
Granted, the opposition wasn’t the strongest — Oakland and Minnesota could very well be the two worst teams in the American League this season — but the Tigers have boosted their offense to the top of the league, and an impressive week hasn’t necessarily been a fluke as they currently sport an AL-leading .273 TAv, are tied for the third most home runs in the league, and have a team OPS that ranks just below Baltimore and Boston.
Detroit employs a “stars and scrubs” lineup, and right now the stars are carrying the load. Miguel Cabrera is up to .266/.330/.457 after a slow start, doing as he should this week by mashing on bad pitching. Victor Martinez is still OPSing above 1.000, and the real breakout has been Nick Castellanos, whose line us up to .361/.371/.590. Despite the fact that he still never walks (three thus far on the season), and while the sample is still small, his TAv is at .322. His BABIP, however, is at .464, so it will be interesting to see how well he keeps producing as his luck on batted balls comes down.
The offensive production has overshadowed a pitching staff that has been far from impressive thus far. Jordan Zimmermann is the obvious outlier, as he’s still allowed just two earned runs through five starts, but the ERAs of Justin Verlander, Mike Pelfrey and Anibal Sanchez are 5.46, 5.68 and 6.08, respectively. Top prospect Michael Fulmer debuted this week and could provide a needed extra arm for the rest of the season. He went five innings in his first start and struck out four while allowing two earned runs on seven hits.
Around the rest of the division
Kansas City Royals (13-11)
Last week: 1-5 (0-3 @LA Angels; 1-2 @Seattle)
If not for the Tigers’ hot start, the White Sox’s early lead in the AL Central would likely be even more impressive than it already is. That’s because outside of Detroit, the rest of the division had a terrible week. The Royals went out West, where apparently their Royal Magic isn’t as strong, because if not for a 4-1 victory on Sunday, they would have been swept in six games against the Angels and Mariners. Their run differential dropped to -1 thanks to a week where they scored just 11 runs total and were shut out in back-to-back games against Seattle before Sunday’s victory.
Overall, Kansas City’s offense has scored just 81 runs this season, worst in the division and tied for second worst in the American League (ahead of just Tampa Bay).
The ebbs and flows of any season make it foolish to judge a team based on one poor week, and this was undoubtedly the Royals’ worst week of the season. What’s noteworthy, from the perspective of this site and post, is that the White Sox now have five wins in the bank over the reigning champs.
Cleveland Indians (10-12)
Last week: 1-5 (1-2 @Minnesota; 0-3 @Philadelphia)
The AL Central Projection Champs got off to a rough start post-Carlos Carrasco injury, but did get good news at the start of the week when they found out the right-hander is expected to miss just 4-6 weeks, when the initial injury looked like he could be out much longer. They also got Michael Brantley back, although the perennial All-Star is still being eased back into the lineup and went 2-for-17 this week.
There are many concerns in Cleveland, and if they had hoped to tread water during their struggles by beating up on an easy schedule, this week didn’t do them any favors as the offense failed to put up more than five runs in any of their six games against Minnesota and Philadelphia, two teams expected to be among the worst in baseball this season. Amazingly, however, all five of their losses (and their lone win) were one-run ballgames, suggesting some tough luck has been at play. PECOTA, for what its worth, still likes them, as their Third-Order Win Pct. is still .560 — second best in the division behind the White Sox.
Minnesota Twins (7-18)
Last week: 2-4 (2-1 vs. Cleveland; 0-3 vs. Detroit)
The Twins are still capital-B Bad, and did some strange things that are difficult to understand this week. They sent Byron Buxton back to Triple-A after 49 plate appearances, and while he had been terrible during his short stay, giving your 22-year-old top prospect the Opening Day starting job and then giving up on him after three weeks is maybe not the best plan of action. Along with Buxton, they also sent down Max Kepler, who also strangely, sat on the bench for most of his stint with the big club and accrued just 14 big league at-bats.
After all that, the Twins called up top pitching prospect Jose Berrios, a 21-year-old flamethrower who has a chance to become Minnesota’s best and most electric starting pitcher since Johan Santana. While I put this in the plus column because Berrios is, by all accounts, ready to contribute, he lasted just four innings in his debut and give up five earned runs on six hits with five strikeouts and two walks. Hopefully, for the Twins, he gets a longer leash than Buxton.
Top Photo Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports