Wednesday, May 18, 2016

MLB First Quarter: American League

Most MLB teams are playing their 40th game this week, which makes this the one-quarter point of the 162-game regular season. Today, a quick overview of the American League thus far.
The AL East wasn't expected to be especially strong this year, so of course it has two of the top three teams thus far. The Baltimore Orioles are performing well above expectations, both on the mound and at the plate. The real story thus far, though, is the Boston Red Sox, who have scored a ridiculous number of runs and are batting just under .300 as a team. I suspect both clubs are going to regress to the mean at some point, possibly even before the All-Star Break.

The rest of the East is under the .500 mark. That's disappointing for the Toronto Blue Jays, who won the division last year and certainly looked primed to do the same again. They should improve, especially at the plate - too many good hitters to be below average. Both the Tampa Bay Rays and New York Yankees are sitting near the bottom of the league in hitting, and unless that improves they'll be fighting for the AL East basement spot all year.

In the AL Central, the Chicago White Sox appear to be the team that they were supposed to be last year. Great pitching, led by Chris Sale's excellent start, has them well ahead of the pack. Their offense hasn't been great; if that picks up, the Pale Hose may never look back. The Cleveland Indians are very close to Chicago in offensive production, and they have solid pitching...just not as good as the division leaders thus far. Last year's World Series champion Kansas City Royals are hovering around the .500 mark thus far, but I wouldn't be surprised to see a big winning streak from them at some point.

At the bottom of the central are the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins. I follow the Tigers pretty closely, which has been a painful process thus far this season. They've found ways to lose games in every phase, from shaky starting pitching to blown saves to poor hitting. The roster is better than the record indicates, if they can just get everyone into gear. Detroit has been saved thus far from the basement spot by an even worse Minnesota team, who lost their first nine in a row and just recently got their win count into double digits. The Twins have some young players who need some development time and are likely to get it in the majors this year.

Out in the AL West, the Texas Rangers are looking strong. Largely this is due to an offense second only to those amazing Red Sox in run scoring. If their pitching improves, and with Yu Darvish coming back it should, then Texas will be tough to beat. The Seattle Mariners are giving it a shot, though. The Northwesterners will also need to pick it up on the pitching front if they want to keep up with the Rangers.

Down in California, things don't look great for either the Los Angeles Angels or Oakland Athletics. The Angels have Mike Trout, but the most of the rest of the team is aging and/or performing poorly. Oakland's offense isn't terrible, but they can't score enough to keep up with all the runs being given up by the pitching staff and the worst defense in the league. Finally, there's the Houston Astros, also having trouble with run prevention. Whatever was working for their pitching last year hasn't carried over to this season, leading to a cellar spot in the AL West thus far.

If I had to guess, I'd say that Texas is the most likely to end up staying on top of their division. The White Sox have a pretty good chance as well, and I expect that Toronto is going to find their way to the top of the East. But it's only been 40(ish) games, and there's a long summer ahead. Just about everyone (ok, maybe not the Twins) has time to turn things around.

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