What a Difference a Tough Roadtrip Makes
So, the Twins started this month with a 4.5 game lead over the second-place Tigers that has steadily dwindled to just half a game. The Twins have dropped seven of their past ten games, while the Tigers have gone 5-5 and the White Sox 9-1 over that same stretch. Is the Al Central race much closer than it appears, or have the Tigers and White Sox simply been feasting upon weak opponents?
Run differential is not the most accurate way of determining a team’s overall performance, as just one 20-1 performance can skew the results, but it is a good place to start. Despite a difficult stretch of games in which opponents have outscored the Twins 28-16, the Twins have a +43 run differential. That isn’t great, in fact it’s behind the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, and Rangers, but bear with me. The Tigers are currently at +5, and that’s after being outscored 49-55 by opponents in their past ten games. The White Sox are -4, despite outscoring their opponents 108-82 in the month of June.
As far as offense goes, the Twins and Tigers are currently tied with a .337 weighted on-base average, while the White Sox are trailing with a .321 wOBA. Keep in mind that the Twins have played without Orlando Hudson and J. J. Hardy for a significant part of that time, forcing them to rely on the likes of Nick Punto (.306 wOBA), Matt Tolbert (.273 wOBA), Trevor Plouffe (.128 wOBA), and Danny Valencia (.313 wOBA) in that stretch. It does not take any great baseball mind to figure out that a lineup with four automatic outs probably isn’t going to score a ton of runs. The Tigers and White Sox have both displayed a bit more power than the Twins, .149 and .155 isolated power compared to just .144 for our boys. Of course, Target Field is also shaping up to be a pitchers’ park, and the Twins have hit 44 home runs on the road compared to 19 at home. The good news is that the ball should be flying out of the park at a much more normal rate once the weather heats up, which may bode well for the upcoming homestand.
The Twins’ pitching staff, despite suffering a brutal stretch of games, is still one of the best in the American League. I know, I didn’t believe it either, but it’s true. The pitching staff has a 3.86 ERA, 3.93 FIP, 4.19 xFIP, and 3.01 K/BB ratio, which makes them the second-best collection of hurlers in the league overall. The bad news? The White Sox currently own the best pitching staff in the league, with a 4.21 ERA, 3.79 FIP, 4.06 xFIP, and 2.42 K/BB ratio, and the Tigers aren’t too far behind, after demoting the struggling Rick Porcello. A lot of really smart people thought the White Sox were going to have the best starting rotation in all of baseball, including this one. It’s true that the White Sox have had a soft schedule as of late, but it’s also true that quite a few of their starters (i. e., Buehrle, Floyd, and Peavy) had been underperforming relative to their projections until recently. Of course, the Twins are still considered the front-runners in the Cliff Lee trade, and if that’s the case, bye-bye Pale Hose and Tiggers. At least until next year.