If you look hard enough, you can probably still find some wine and gold confetti in the alleys and sidewalk cracks downtown. It’s mid-summer in Cleveland and the time is right to be a sports optimist as the Indians hit the All-Star break with a 6.5 game lead in the Central and the second best record in the American League.
The break feels like it couldn’t come at a better time. The Indians wrapped up a tremendous first half by dropping three of four to the uninspiring New York Yankees. They nearly overtook the Yankees vaunted bullpen in two of the three losses, however, putting a dent in their goofy nickname “No-Runs DMC“, per Yankee radio announcer John Sterling.
The four days rest will be a chance for the Tribe bullpen to get a well-deserved breather while Bryan Shaw hits the reset button on the first half and Mike Chernoff shops around for some reinforcements. Who’s joining the Indians for the stretch run? Who knows, but internal reinforcements like Michael Brantley, Yandy Diaz and Shawn Armstrong may be enough.
After a two-week hiatus of the Sunday Baseball Notes (see the ESPN Sunday night preview at the end for an excuse), we’re back and ready to get into the weeds of the AL Central. Enjoy!
The Week Ahead
All-Star Game (Tuesday Night)
Pitching Matchup: TBD vs. TBD.
Every team represented, half the players out with “injuries”, and it all counts for home field advantage in the World Series. And they’re wearing the old-school Padres brown & mustard color scheme. Don’t even get me started. Stephanie will recap the game on Tuesday. Let’s move on to the Minnesota Twins.
Minnesota Twins (Friday thru Sunday)
32-56, 20 GB of Cleveland
MLB.com posted an article detailing Francona’s rotation coming out of the break and I like that he’s set the schedule regardless of whether Corey Kluber and Danny Salazar pitch in the All-Star game. In fact, it now appears that Salazar most definitely will not pitch in the game as he has a sore arm and has been replaced on the roster. Hopefully this is nothing more serious than a prescription for a long rest between starts.
Anyway, regarding the Twins….
Today’s Minnesota Star Tribune has an article about manager Paul Molitor’s stoic handling of a tough rebuilding season at Target Field. Molitor, who’s not the type to throw tantrums, has endured a season that will very likely lead to 100 losses but hopefully will result in progress among some of the Twins’ promising young players.
The article notes that the Twins have used 42 players this season, topping last year’s total by six. They’re also one pitcher short of the franchise record in a season of 24. That made me think of the 2000 Indians team that set a Major League record (since topped) of 32 pitchers used in a season. That squad won 90 games, though, and posted a middle-of-the-pack (f0r that era) 4.84 ERA.
Projected Starting Pitchers
Friday, 7/15, 8:10PM ET – Carlos Carrasco (5-3, 2.47) vs Ervin Santana (2-7, 4.75)
Saturday, 7/16, 7:10PM ET – Trevor Bauer (7-3, 3.30) vs TBD
Sunday, 7/17, 2:10PM ET – Josh Tomlin (9-2, 3.51) vs TBD
Around the AL Central
Detroit Tigers – Here’s Looking at You, Ian
The Detroit Free Press always has a wonderful deep dive in their Sunday paper and today’s article focuses on Tiger second baseman Ian Kinsler. A star with the Rangers before being traded in the 2013 offseason for Prince Fielder, Kinsler has continued to be a an excellent all around player into his mid-30’s.
I did not know that in his only season at Arizona State, Kinsler lost his starting shortstop role to Dustin Pedroia and then transferred to the University of Missouri to become their starting shortstop in 2003.
After being drafted by the Rangers in 2003, Kinsler then made the transition to second base in 2005 before debuting in Texas in 2006 as a shortstop. Since his debut, Kinsler has played all but two of his 12,491 innings at the keystone.
At 34, he’s at an age when second baseman sometimes mysteriously disappear from the face of the Earth. Roberto Alomar cratered after his age-33 season, going from 7.3 WAR in his last year in Cleveland in 2001 to never again topping 0.6. Carlos Baerga‘s best years were done at age 26 and he had already returned from a detour through Korea by his age-34 season. Edgardo Alfonzo may not be familiar to many Indians fans, but he was an excellent late-90’s second baseman with the Mets until his age-29 season when he mysteriously sailed off the face of the Earth.
Kansas City Royals – Riddled with Holes
The Kansas City Star is optimistic on the Royals’ 2nd half chances this season, noting today that the Royals fell to 48-50 after the All-Star break two years ago before reaching Game 7 of the World Series. As a Clevelander, however, I prefer to be “glass-half-empty” in terms of KC’s hopes of repeating:
+ They are without one of their emotional leaders, third baseman Mike Moustakas, for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL. The Moose’s primary replacement, the wonderfully-named Cheslor Cuthbert, has posted a mediocre 0.2 WAR this season, with a .750 OPS and a 9/46 BB/K ratio.
+ Three regulars in the Royals line-up have an OPS+ right around 60, meaning they’re about 40% worse than league average. The Royals will need replacements or big improvements from 2B Omar Infante (.600 OPS), SS Alcides Escobar (.612 OPS), and LF Alex Gordon (.628 OPS).
+ One of their starting pitchers (Chris Young) has a 2-8 record with a 6.90 ERA. Two other starters (Edinson Volquez and Yordano Ventura) have hovered around 5.00 all season, and the team has gotten a 4.99 ERA composite ERA from all starters. Only three AL teams have a worse ERA from their starting rotation – the Twins, A’s and Orioles. Yuck.
+ A big part of the rotation’s failure has centered on breaking two cardinal sins – walking lots of batters and giving up lots of homers. The Royals are third-worst in walk rate (3.44 BB/9) and dead last in home run rate (1.67 HR/9).
+ Oh, and superhuman closer Wade Davis just hit the DL with the dreaded “forearm strain”. More to come on that development.
Chicago White Sox – Out with the Old
After going 17-8 in April, the White Sox have since been 28-35, or just about as good as everyone thought they would be this season.
One bright spot has been rookie SS Tim Anderson, who has hit .298/.303/.488 with nine doubles and four home runs in his first month in the big leagues. The Sox released veteran Jimmy Rollins in favor of the 23-year-old former first round pick (number 17 overall in 2013), and he’s been fun to watch so far.
Meanwhile, James Shields has emerged from his nightmare four-start stretch (0-3, 24.62 ERA, 10.35 BB/9) to make four much-less-disastrous starts (2-1, 2.88 ERA, 3.24 BB/9), including today’s 2-0 loss to Atlanta. Perhaps he’s turned the corner for a decent second half.
Minnesota Twins – In with the New
Since this is clearly nothing but a rebuilding year for the Twins, let’s check in on a few of those prospects that have cracked the Major League roster this season:
Miguel Sano – The right field experiment is officially over, which is disappointing as Sano played perhaps the most unique and awkward RF that I’ve ever seen. Sano hasn’t played the outfield since May 31 and has played exclusively at third base since, which was his original position. The 23-year-old continues to exhibit precocious power with 14 home runs and a .469 slugging percentage.
Byron Buxton – The Twins’ uber-prospect continues to struggle at the Major League level, posting a 63 OPS+ this season. He also has an abysmal walk-to-strikeout rate this season (8/61). The good news is that he’s still just 22 years old and far too young to write off.
Kennys Vargas – This kid has done nothing but mash since his call-up a week ago. Although at 25-years-old and 6’5″, 290 pounds I would never call him a kid to his face. All eight of his hits have gone for extra bases, including three home runs, and he has a silly 1.903 OPS. Small sample size and all, Vargas did show some pop in his previous two seasons in Minnesota and will be interesting to watch him progress in the 2nd half.
Max Kepler – Another large human being at 6’4″, 205 pounds, the 23-year-old Kepler has posted a .471 slugging percentage and 109 OPS+ in 45 games this season along with a respectable 17/37 BB/K ratio.
There aren’t as many promising young pitchers up for the Twins right now as 22-year-old prospect Jose Berrios was sent down after four starts and a 10.20 ERA. He’ll be back this season, however.
Around the Majors
Randomly saw this little three-player combo on the transactions section of baseball-reference a few days ago:
Tough week for former Indians. In fact, I didn’t even know that Vinnie Pestano was with the Yankees this season, which I guess is understandable as he’d only pitched in eight games with AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre. Roberto Hernandez also never appeared with the Blue Jays this season, posting a 4.42 ERA in AAA Buffalo in thirteen starts. Nick Swisher, meanwhile, put up a .674 OPS in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre with 54 strike-outs in 55 games.
Will any of these players make a mark again in the Major Leagues? Stranger things have happened.
Welcome to the Big Leagues, Mr. Hobbs
Every time I go to a baseball game, I try to find at least one thing I haven’t seen before. This Giants game probably had a half dozen. My favorite may be Buster Posey bouncing a throw off of Jake Peavy’s chest right into his glove while Peavy wasn’t looking.
Sunday Night Matchup at AT&T Park
The Giants host the Arizona Diamondbacks tonight at beautiful AT&T Park. The Giants currently have the best record in the Majors at 56-33 and are 17.5 games ahead of Arizona in the NL West. Four-time All-Star MadBum (9-4, 2.09) goes for the Giants against the 23-year-old Archie Bradley (3-4, 4.81), who was the 7th pick in the 2011 draft.
In another life as a baseball traveloguer, I’d have some recommendations for an entire league’s worth of travel experiences. Instead, allow me to pass on a few trips of my own after a trip to the Bay Area last week for a wedding.
Using the latest version of Josh Pahigian’s “Ultimate Baseball Road-Trip“, which I couldn’t recommend highly enough, we first dined at Lefty O’Doul’s, a true shrine to baseball covered floor to ceiling primarily in San Francisco Seals memorabilia. On our way to the game we grabbed a burger and Lagunitas IPA at Red’s Java House which is in the shadow of the Bay Bridge along the Embarcadero. Plump, tasty burgers covered in pickles and mustard and served on a brioche roll.
Then we settled into the seats most recommended by Pahigian’s book – a spot up in 302 with panoramic views of the Bay Bridge, Treasure Island, Oakland and McCovey Cove. All we needed was another 20 degrees on the thermostat and it would have been absolute perfection.