It’s late July and time for a few of the legion of trade rumors to come to fruition before we settle in for a good old fashioned pennant race over the season’s final months. You can read plenty on this site and elsewhere regarding the daily rumors, so I’ll just focus on one simple statistic: 86.6%.
That number, nearly 87%, is the probability that the Indians will win the Central Division. This according to Fangraphs’ playoff probability page which does a nice job of using individual player projections and depth charts to simulate the remainder of the season 10,000 times and display results not only of winning the division, but of reaching each round of the playoffs.
The player projections explain why, for example, Fangraphs has the Red Sox as strong favorites to win the East (54.1%) rather than the incumbent division leader Baltimore (23.8%). Unless they upgrade the rotation, the projections say the O’s will soon sink.
My question is this – how much do the Indians give up to push that needle north of 87%?
Fangraphs puts the second best Central team, Detroit, at 11.4%. The best teams in the Majors, the Chicago Cubs and Washington Nationals, rate a very similar 92.1% and 87.9% respectively.
In my opinion, once you’ve progressed past the Wild Card game, each round is more or less a coin flip. Yes, I do think the Indians could use some bullpen help and Jonathon Lucroy seems a great fit a catcher for this season and next, but let’s not get nuts.
The team as constructed is in place to contend for years due to the team friendly contracts of several core pieces, but is also in a good place to replenish the big league roster from within, which is something only the very best teams, regardless of payroll, can accomplish for extended periods. Think 1990’s Atlanta Braves or the last 16 years of Cardinal baseball.
Antonetti and company have proven to be very astute at assessing talent, both externally and internally, in trades and I hope this season follows suit. Of course, due to the nature of prospect development, we may not know the verdict of some of these trades for years.
That said, let’s look at the week ahead and then around the Central.
The Week Ahead
Washington Nationals (Tuesday and Wednesday)
58-40, +4.5 ahead of Miami
Much like the Indians are finally playing up to last year’s projections (thanks again, SI curse!), the Nationals are fulfilling their much-anticipated promise with a bounce back season that has them in good playoff position ahead of flawed teams in Miami and New York.
While Bryce Harper has returned to planet Earth this season (126 OPS+ vs. last year’s 197), the Nats made an astute move within the division by poaching the Mets’ Daniel Murphy to play second base. Murphy leads the NL in hits, doubles, batting average, slugging, OPS and total bases and may give the Nationals back to back MVP’s (Harper won last season).
The Nationals are fourth in the NL in runs and trail the Cardinals by one in total home runs. On the pitching side, their staff has posted a ridiculous strikeout rate of 9.45 K/9 (second only to LA’s equally astounding 9.47 – no other NL team tops 9.0) and has the NL’s lowest ERA (3.24) and FIP (3.44).
Projected Starting Pitchers
Tuesday, 7/26, 7:10 PM ET – Danny Salazar (11-3, 2.75) vs Gio Gonzalez (6-8, 4.53)
Wednesday, 7/27, 12:10 PM ET – Carlos Carrasco (7-3, 2.31) vs Stephen Strasburg (13-1, 2.83)
Oakland Athletics (Friday thru Sunday)
44-54, 12.0 GB of Texas
Oakland, meanwhile, figures into a lot of trade rumors as they have a lot of interesting pieces that have not combined for much success as a whole this season.
The team ERA of 4.64 is only better than dismal Minnesota this season. Offensively, four teams score less runs in the AL, but no team reaches base at a lower rate than Oakland’s .305. This is not your early-aughts Moneyball team. Oh, and only the Twins have made more errors in the field than the A’s.
After a rough stretch against Kansas City, Baltimore and Washington, the Indians may need to get well against the A’s over the weekend.
Projected Starting Pitchers
Friday, 7/29, 7:10 PM ET – TBD vs TBD
Saturday, 7/30, 7:10 PM ET – TBD vs TBD
Sunday, 7/31, 1:10 PM ET – TBD vs TBD
Around the AL Central
Detroit Tigers – No Big Plans, Just Chillin’
In today’s Detroit Free Press, GM Al Avila confirmed rumors that the Tigers plan to stand pat at the deadline this year. Avila is counting on the return to health of two core players, Jordan Zimmermann and J.D. Martinez, along with young lefty starter Daniel Norris, to help reinforce a playoff push.
Avila notes in the article that the asking price for back-end rotation help has been incredibly steep, making Indians’ fans appreciate once more the deep rotation in Cleveland along with the AAA depth.
Kansas City Royals – A Horror Movie in More Ways Than One
The Royals season remains in limbo, says the Kansas City Star’s Rustin Dodd. Several Royals are impending free agents (Edinson Volquez, Kendrys Morales, and Luke Hochevar). Alex Gordon says “If they end up selling some guys, we can’t complain, because we’ve put ourselves in this position”.
Sitting eight games behind the Indians in the Central and five games out of a road game in the Wild Card, and with a pair of starters giving up home runs at historic rates, this doesn’t seem like the Royals season.
Then again, considering their Freddy Krueger-like ability to return from the dead, I won’t be completely satisfied until they’re mathematically eliminated.
Chicago White Sox – Sale Cuts Into Trade Value (Sorry, too easy)
In a move that will likely inspire fantasy team names for years, the deadline’s most interesting story has already been locked up by Sox ace Chris Sale, who literally cut up a roster full of jerseys that he didn’t want to wear in Saturday night’s game.
As the Chicago Tribune’s Steve Rosenbloom sighs, Just When You Thought the White Sox Season Couldn’t Become a Bigger Joke, the White Sox are left debating a suspension on the one player who might bring a haul of young talent at the deadline this season.
The Indians play the White Sox nine more times this season including a late season matchup on the weekend of September 23rd.
Minnesota Twins – Anybody Want Ricky Nolasco? Tommy Milone? Anybody?
The Twins don’t figure to be major players at the deadline as they don’t have many veteran assets to deal away, and they certainly don’t figure to add any pieces because, well, they stink.
They do have some decent relief pitchers available, says the Minnesota Star Tribune (Fernando Abad, Brandon Kintzler, and Ryan Pressly), but they’re not the premium names that teams are coveting most.
A story to follow up on perhaps into the offseason is the odd timing of the firing of long-time GM Terry Ryan. The Pioneer Press had a nice character piece on Ryan this past Friday, but I find it very odd the Twins would let their GM go right before the trade deadline. Ryan had been the Twins’ GM for 18 years and had been with the organization since 1972.
Sunday Night Matchup at Busch Stadium
Both the Dodgers and Cardinals approach the 100 game mark at an interesting crossroads of their season.
At 55-44, the Dodgers are dealing with news that Clayton Kershaw’s injury may be more serious than originally thought and they could be without their ace for the remainder of the season. At four games behind San Francisco and one up in the Wild Card race, a Dodgers rotation without Kershaw looks entirely different.
Meanwhile, the 52-45 Cardinals remain 6.5 games behind the Cubbies and two back in the Wild Card. This is a franchise that has made the playoffs in 12 of the last 16 seasons including the last five years.
24-year-old Mike Mayers (from Grove City, OH) makes his Major League debut tonight against former Indian Scott Kazmir (8-3, 4.30). Mayers was 3-3 with a 2.94 ERA at AAA Memphis this season.