June has arrived, and just as we all expected, the Twins are in first place in the Central. Just kidding — that’s the kind of loose atmosphere we here at FOX Sports enjoy; they give us the freedom to fool around — what do you mean the Twins are actually in first place? All right, baseball must be broken or something. Did you turn it off and on again (that’s called power cycling for those in the know)? Still in first? OK, let me look at it.
Minnesota Twins – 30-19
The Minnesota Twins aren’t 30-19 good. Well, they are that good; we can’t take it away from them. They’ve earned it in the win and loss columns, but they haven’t quite earned it on the field. Their run differential is +21, and while that’s good, it’s not 30-19 good. There’s also a good chance they’re not even as good as that run differential. When you look at the underlying components of this Twins team, it’s hard to figure out why they’ve won so many games. One reason mediocre teams outperform their run differential is a good bullpen that enables them to win more than their fair share of what would traditionally be coin-flip type games. Glen Perkins certainly is a strong anchor, and Blaine Boyer and Aaron Thompson have provided a solid setup team as well. Outside of the bullpen, though, reasons are scarce. Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe continue to be legitimately good, and Torii Hunter is aging gracefully as a DH/RF. Those are their three league average-or-above bats (Eddie Rosario makes four, while he’s up). Their rotation is fronted by the duo of Kyle Gibson and Mike Pelfrey, who both keep the ball on the ground while they’re busy not missing bats. Both pitchers are well over the 50 percent mark when it comes to ground balls, and while there are benefits in terms of limiting damage, if the ball is put in play as often as it is against Gibson and Pelfrey, their luck will eventually turn. It’s hard to imagine this run continuing — Oswaldo Arcia will provide a welcome boost when he’s healthy, and Rosario may yet play out the rest of the season. Still, there’s too much regression bound to occur to sustain a winning pace, much less winning at a .612 clip.
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Pittsburgh Pirates – 26-24
It’s fair to say that as goes Andrew McCutchen, so go the Pirates. After all, Pittsburgh was three games below .500 on May 6, having lost five in a row, and their superstar center fielder had a .188/.279/.292 slash line. From May 7 on, the Pirates are 14-9, powered by McCutchen’s .378/.475/.683 slash line, including five of his seven home runs on the season. It’s not just McCutchen who woke up at the plate. Following a breakout 2014 campaign, Josh Harrison had lagged badly, but starting May 7, he’s hit .366/.398/.524, pulling his season line up to .264/.297/.401. With McCutchen and Harrison hitting again, the pressure is off Starling Marte, who has produced all season long. With A.J. Burnett and Gerrit Cole forming a lethal one-two punch atop the rotation, the Pirates aren’t a team to be ignored, as their fourth-ranked MLB run differential (+34) can attest to.
Toronto Blue Jays – 23-29
The Blue Jays might be the anti-Twins. The only child, if you will. They actually have a better run differential, and what they lack in overperforming starters they make up for in dynamic hitters. Make no mistake, the Blue Jays’ run differential is what it is thanks to their lineup and not their rotation. Their record is what it is thanks to their inadequate bullpen, though. Only two pitchers (10 innings minimum) in the entire bullpen have an ERA below 3.89, and one of those is a rookie who had yet to pitch in the upper minors (Roberto Osuna). The rotation hasn’t done the Jays any favors, as demoted starter Daniel Norris still holds the best ERA of the bunch, and any team letting Todd Redmond start qualifies as desperate. Still, the AL East is wide open, and the Blue Jays are a top-five team in the league when it comes to run differential. Count them out at your own peril.