The All-Star break is a perfect time to step back and take stock of your team and given that I thought it appropriate to do just that here on The Pond in a series of articles. First up I’m going to take a look at the divisional standings and how things have shaped in terms of wins and losses with respect to expectations prior to the season. From there we will dig more deeply into and focus on the Minnesota Twins roster and first half performances. This “at the break” examination may spill over into the second half since my son Justin’s baseball team (that I coach) is playing in a tournament all week, but I’m hopeful I will be on to other articles by the time the Twins take the field Friday night.
Detroit is the leader in the division with a 52-42 record which puts them on a pace to win around 90 games. In the American League they are easily the worst divisional frontrunner. The Boston Red Sox are winning 59.8% of their games over in the loaded AL East and the Oakland Athletics are winning 58.9% of their games in a solid AL West. In winning 55.3% of the games thus far the Tigers are fifth out of the fifteen teams in the league. The Orioles (53-43), who are currently third in the East, are just a smidgen behind Detroit winning 55.2% of their games. Throwing the NL teams into the mix, the Tigers are the ninth best team in terms of winning percentage and tenth in wins. They’re hardly a juggernaut and while the Twins aren’t going to run them down this season it is important to keep in mind as we look ahead to the trade deadline and the 2014 season. None of this is a slight to Detroit as they are a good team that is simply taking advantage of their divisional peers just as the Twins, White Sox and Indians have done so many times in recent seasons. In Fielder and Cabrera the Tigers have two of the best players in the division as well as the two best pitchers and given that it’s no wonder they are in first place. It’s also not a surprise that they are the one team in the AL Central that has avoided significant and long stretches of losing, a symptom that has torpedoed the seasons of three of the five teams.
Detroit was supposed to win the AL Central and they were supposed to be the “lesser” of the division leaders but the team currently in second place is a mild surprise. The Cleveland Indians sit at 51-44 and are winning 53.7% of their games. Much of their success can be traced back to May when they went 18-12 after a 11-13 April, but before you write off their first month keep in mind that they outscored their opponents by 11 runs in those 24 games. While it is still possible that they will fall off their current pace, they have matched their overall season winning percentage exactly since June 1st (22-19). I tend to always sell the Indians short both in my preseason expectations and my in-season impressions (and I’m not sure why that is) but I don’t recall many that projected the Tribe would win 87 games this season. Of the team’s in the division I think they are the most likely to fall off their current pace but that has as much to do with the way their peers have played than anything.
In the third slot, at 43-49, we have the Kansas City Royals who are winning 46.7% of the games. In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a Kansas City resident and the Royals are my second favorite team but rest assured I keep my opinions of the team grounded. On pace to win 76 games they are playing right in the range that I expected. My preseason thought was that their floor would be 75 wins coupled with a ceiling of 81-82 wins. I was, and remain, critical that the team traded Wil Myersin the offseason because at the end of the day I didn’t feel they were ready to compete for either a division title or a wildcard this season. After 92 games there is nothing to suggest that I was wrong about that. KC would be dead last in the AL East and fourth in the AL West with a Mariners team right behind them. They are capable of playing at a level that can match the Tigers and Indians over short bursts but inconsistency from their offense also causes them to fall into extended funks like we saw in May when they won just 8 of 28 games. They limped into the break on a five game losing streak which taints their first half a bit and an Indians collapse could help the Royals to finish second if things break right. The Royals do boast the best defense in all of baseball but any sort of regression from Shields and Santana in the second half will be hard to overcome, even if the offense improves.
The Minnesota Twins are hanging on to fourth place at 39-53 and are winning 42.4% of their games. That puts them on a pace to win 69 games this season which is in the ballpark of where I expected them to be. Prior to the season I had the Twins tabbed for around 72 victories and often told my friends and family (most of them Royals fans) that “Minnesota is going to be better than you think.” On June 20th they team was 33-36 and had me looking like a genius. Of course they have gone 6-17 in their last 23 games and it feels like it has been even worse because the team heightened expectations by playing within shouting distance of 0.500 for a good portion of the first half. Their recent play has been tough to swallow, but in the big picture they are just about what I thought they’d be. In terms of their record anyway.
Cleveland playing 7 games above 0.500 has been one of the first half surprises of the 2013 season but the biggest surprise in the division, and I’d argue in the American League as a whole, has been the play of the Chicago White Sox who have won just 40.2% of their games. Their 37-55 record gives them the second worst record in the league – ahead of a Houston Astros team that blew their roster up and have been in a full fledged rebuilding mode for a while now. Entering the season, I expected the White Sox would push Detroit for the division title but ultimately fall short and settle in second place. On May 26th they improved to 24-24 on the season with a win but then the wheels fell off. June was a disaster as they won just 8 of their 27 games (29.6%) and at 14.0 games back they already entered into sell mode as the deadline approaches. Matt Thornton was dealt to the Red Sox for OF prospect Brandon Jacobslast week and many more moves are surely in the works.