AL Central Update
The 2008 season, still in its infancy, has seen numerous surprises in the American League Central alone. Detroit, instead of walloping opponents as predicted during the hot stove league, has sputtered to a 1-8 start while dropping its first 7 games. This incited manager Jim Leyland (always a colorful quote) to quell everybody in Motown's fears of duplicating their 2003 season which started in similar fashion by saying, "I haven't got the answer as to why we're not hitting," he said, "If I did, I would have told the guys. If it's puzzling to me that we're not hitting, it must be really puzzling to you (the media). You guys have been calling them (the Tigers) 'murderers' row' since spring. I don't give a (expletive) about the start." Conversely, Kansas City has gotten off to an equally surprising start, which began with a sweep of the Tigers at Comerica. In as much as the Tigers starting pitching has been failing to provide quality starts, the Kansas City Royals staff has thrown copious amount of high quality innings (a baffling revelation is comparison to previous Royals teams). Through the first 8 games of the season, Detroit's rotation has averaged a Game Score of 43 while the Royals have averaged Game Score of 55. More importantly, while the Tigers offense has only offer a mere 2.68 runs of support, the Royals have been bolstering the solid pitching with 4.00 runs of support per game. Meanwhile the rest of the division - the Twins, Sox, and Indians - have jockeyed for middle ground.
Kansas City Royals
- Joe Posnanski continue's his man-crush on Brian Bannister, analyzing his first start of the season against Detroit, which resulted in a Game Score of 77. His second game came against the Yankees at the home opener at Kauffman where he made 5 innings and gave up 5 hits while striking out 6 and walking 4 but also recieved his second victory of the year. In three match-ups against Alex Rodriguez, Bannister struck him out looking all three times. "He made some great pitches -- there's not much you can do," Rodriguez said. "I can't really look back and say those were pitches I could have hit or crushed; perhaps maybe just fouled off. Today, he was much better than I was -- give him a lot of credit."
- Maybe it is the rube in me, but I like the fact that the Royals have added Garth Brooks's "Friends in Low Places" as a sing-a-long similar to Boston's "Sweet Caroline".
- Nomo returned. Not graciously I might add.
Chicago White Sox
- I find it interesting when people call something "the Twins model". Chicago GM Kenny Williams has been comparing his building of his 2008 club to that of the 2003-2004 Twins which had AJ, Torii, Denny and Dougie, or as Williams describes them as "grinders": “You know, this job is one in which you never stop learning,’’ Williams explained on Monday, hours before the Sox rallied to beat Minnesota 7-4. “Early on, I thought throwing talent at the wall would bring a championship, and for three or four years, on paper we had the best team in the division. There were at least two of those years where Minnesota won the division, and then came out and even said, ‘That team there [the Sox] has more talent than us.’ That really made me rethink some of the things we were doing, the approach we were taking.’’
- Like Detroit's Brandon Inge, Joe Crede went into spring training considered an expendable third baseman but has completely hit the cover off of the ball. ''Joe always seems that when the game is on the line, he's 'Mr. Clutch,''' Guillen said following Crede's broken bat grand-slam off of Pat Neshek. ''He's a cold-blooded player and always seems to come through.'' Crede already has 3 home runs in just 32 at-bats this season compared to 2007 when he had 4 total home runs in 167 at-bats while hitting .406/.429/.781 in that duration.
- Through the first eight games, the White Sox have been carried by their offensive, averaging 6.34 runs of support per game while the pitching start struggles. The starters have been averaging a Game Score of 40 in those starts - twice failing to throw in the 20s.
- AJ Pierzynski, like Joe Crede, is having a resurgence at the beginning of this season culminating in winning the American League Player of the Week for the first week of 2008. Through the first 8 games the former Twins catcher is hitting .429/.484/.786 with six extra base hits among his 12 total hits.
- The Indians recently bought out Fausto Carmona's arbitration years by signing him to a 4-year, $15 million dollar deal similar to the one the Cardinals signed Adam Wainwright to. In his first two starts, Carmona is maintaining his groundball trend which he established last season at a 66% rate, this year 88% of balls in play have been on the grass. He has shown erratic tendencies including walking 9 in just 11 innings.
- Through 9 games, Cleveland was tied with the Twins but had a much different picture of how they reached that record. Averaging 4.22 runs of support per start, the Indians dropped 3 out of 4 games when they surrendered 6 runs or more. The Indians starting rotation has been producing nearly a quality start each outing (an average Game Score of 49) but it is the bullpen that has been failing, specifically closer Joe Borowski. In 2.3 innings Borowski has allowed 5 earned runs, including 2 home runs and already blowing one save. Cleveland might have to admit early that the lucked out in 2007 using Borowski as a closer: Despite leading the American League in saves, Borowski was only able to covert 84% of his opportunities and was nearly a full earned run higher (5.07) than every other closer with double-digit saves not named Al Reyes (4.90). Rafeal Betancourt and his 31 holds in 2008 is a great candidate to replace Borowski.
- Contrary to what preseason wags believed, the Twins starting rotation has been one of the most consistent in the division, next to the Royals, averaging a Game Score of 51 through 9 games. I'll admit Livan Hernandez's back-to-back starts have been good, he has been the recipient of 1 run of support more per start (5.01) then the staff's average (4.04). Even though as I am writing this Hernandez just finished 7 innings of scoreless ball against the Royals, I am not yet ready to proclaim him the ace. Call me bitter, but I am still reminded of the 2007 start of Ramon Ortiz: through his first five starts, Ortiz was 3-1, averaging a Game Score of 59 per start. In his last five starts as a Minnesota Twin, Ortiz averaged a paltry Game Score of 28 finishing 3-5 prior to being sent to the bullpen and then ultimately Colorado. Obviously injuries to Kevin Slowey and Francisco Liriano's inability to be ready come season open has validated the necessity to sign Hernandez, however, the ascension of Nick Blackburn has also proved that if the Twins have faith in their developed talent that they too can provide quality innings.
- Even though people are hoping all over the Jason Kubel bandwagon - complemented nicely with a Free Jason Kubel campaign - I just want to go on record as saying that as early as January I believed that Kubel would be a vital piece to this Twins line-up and that the naysayers were in for a surprise (I appreciate Seth's support at the time, might have be the only other person to read that). I believe the debate between play Kubel and not-play Kubel was divided between the "results based" fans and the "process based" fans. Those who look strictly at the surface numbers (i.e. rbis, home runs, etc) would have been disappointed in his performance. The hype that followed Kubel up from the minors was large and his knee injury certainly detered his play. Last year, his line drive rate was back to where it had been prior to his injury and his second-half numbers not only had better results, but indicated that he had more patience and was rediscovering his strike zone by walking more and striking out less. I will go on record as stating he looks like the least happiest professional athlete ever to hit a major league home run.
- Finally winning their first game of the season has provided a sense of relief to the Tiger clubhouse. Back in December, I dissected the lineup and wrote four reasons why they could be grossly overrated. Regression was one reason, specifically for players like Renteria and Sheffield, but injuries to key players (such as the one currently to Curtis Granderson) could easily upset the balance. Of course nobody would expects the Tigers to finish in the cellar, especially with the talent laden lineup they have, but there is plenty of reason to believe that they are not as good as everybody once believed.
- Outside of Carlos Guillen, the one player they wanted to ship out during the winter, Brandon Inge, has been their most consistant hitter in the first 8 games. He is batting .269/.387/.577 with 2 home runs and leading the team with 6 rbis. Meanwhile the offseason acquisition Miguel Cabrera has been hitting a measely .125/.300/.250 with a home run (his only rbi coming on that as well). Because of the injury to Granderson, Leyland has ignorantly opted to use Inge in center over Jacque Jones. For his career, Inge has played center just 25 times having a range factor of 2.12 (with the average being 2.34) while Jones has played 243 games in center in his career having a range factor of 2.43 above the average of 2.36.
- Dontrelle Willis walked 7 in his 5 inning debut for the Tigers. This apparently was a record, said the Detroit Free Press: According to research done through Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheet.org, Willis became the first big-league pitcher since at least 1956 to do all of the following in the same outing: throw at least five innings, allow no more than one hit, give up at least seven walks and not strike out anyone.
- While time might be on the Tigers side, history isn't. The Rocky Mountain News' Tracy Ringolsby shows that only a handful of teams in history (eight to be exact) have started the season 2-8 and made the playoffs. One of them may be familiar: the 1991 Minnesota Twins.