American League: Who Are the Contenders and Pretenders?
The first week of baseball is in the books! As usual, some of the top teams have struggled, while the bad teams have made it to the top of the standings.
Take a breath. If you’re like me, you might be going too fast after the first full week of Major League Baseball. Before you take to the television or the stadium to catch the next game, let’s take a moment to look back at the results from baseball’s first week.
Of course, there is a lot to digest. But, perhaps the most interesting part of the season thus far resides in the standings. As it happens every year, there have been some surprises.
While it is certainly still early in the year, there are some key takeaways that can be observed. Some stars haven’t lived up to expectations and the “bad” teams are doing well!
It is common for certain teams to go on hot streaks early on in the season and later tumble in the standings. So far in 2017, this trend is once again present. However, we can’t be fooled into thinking that a few of these teams are legitimate title contenders.
And, as always, teams that are typically geared for October have disappointed. These teams, though, will most likely rebound to the tune of postseason success.
A 103-loss team is currently in first place, and a 94-loss team is in second place. With that said, let’s break down the contenders and pretenders in the American League.
As of April 10, 2017, the Minnesota Twins are in first place in the American League Central with a 5-1 record. How have they done it? Pitching, pitching, and more pitching.
The Twins currently lead the majors with a 2.04 team ERA. In his two starts this season, staff “ace” Ervin Santana has let up just two hits and one earned run. As for the bullpen, the Twins rank third in MLB with a 1.61 ERA.
The bats have done their part as well, as the team sits eighth in the majors with 30 runs scored through six games. Third baseman Miguel Sano looks like the superstar he was billed to become with a shiny .350 average and two home runs already. Newcomer Jason Castro has also performed well, with a .308 average and five RBI.
But, this team lost 103 games last season. Just a season ago, the Twins finished with the league’s 10th worst average and the second worst team ERA. Phil Hughes and Kyle Gibson own a combined 4.81 ERA the last two years. There’s little reason to think they will rebound to the tune of maintaining a sub-3.00 ERAs.
Once prized prospect Byron Buxton is still just 23, but he has looked lost at the major league level, and the bust label might start to float around sooner than later. Will a makeshift rotation and suspect lineup amount to anything come October? In short, no.
The reigning AL West champions haven’t gotten off to the start that they had hoped, as the team sits at 2-4 through its first six games.
With a starting staff that currently ranks in the bottom half of the league, a lot of the Rangers’ struggles can be attributed to the arms on the hill. They’ve given up the most walks in the league with 18, and the bullpen has an ERA of 6.43. Yikes.
However, these are the Rangers we’re talking about, a 95-win team just a year ago. We shouldn’t write off a team that still owns one of the best 1-2 duos in Cole Hamels and Yu Darvish. Lucroy is still one of the games best catchers, and a rebound is likely.
The best part for the Rangers, though? They are in possession of a young, talented core. Nomar Mazara looks like a budding star in right field. Joey Gallo is finally getting steady playing time after a few years of fine-tuning in the minors. As for Rougned Odor, the 23-year-old is just getting started with his .313 average, steady defense and hard-nosed mentality.
In an AL West where the Houston Astros are the only other significant threat, the Rangers are well-positioned for another postseason run.
Los Angeles Angels
Ah, the Angels. It’s a shame that the front office hasn’t been able to field a competitive roster around the game’s best player, Mike Trout. The two-time AL MVP hasn’t had much support around him in years past, unless you still consider Albert Pujols a game-changer.
Despite the team’s mediocre roster, the Angels find themselves atop the AL West with a 5-2 record. This is due in large part to the offensive production that has occurred early on.
The team is tied for the third most runs scored in MLB with 35 and is hitting .291 as a team. Mike Trout looks like his normal otherworldly self. Right fielder Kole Calhoun has also impressed, with nine hits in six games thus far.
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Shortstop Andrelton Simmons has also done well early on, with 10 hits, two RBI, and a home run through six games.
While the offense has gotten off to a hot start, the rotation cannot be counted on for the duration of the season. Having Ricky Nolasco as your No. 1 option probably means the rest of the staff isn’t too promising. Matt Shoemaker is nowhere near the same pitcher he was when went 16-4 in 2014.
With a barren farm system that lacks any real elite talent, help doesn’t look to be on the way. Aside from Trout, what other assets does this team have? Surely, they wouldn’t trade Trout, right? A trade for Trout would set the franchise back a few years, but the return would be, well, downright astronomical.
As is the case with the Angels far too often, 2017 will likely offer a glimpse of hope only to be smashed when the team comes crashing down. Hopefully for Mike Trout this season can offer a different outcome, but for now I’m betting on a familiar fate for this Angels team: underwhelming and disappointing.
Many experts and fans alike had the Mariners as a sleeper pick to win the NL West or make it to the playoffs as a Wild Card team. That vision is dim right now, though, as the team is the owner of a 2-6 record.
The biggest problem for the Mariners has been the lack of offense. The team sits dead last in MLB with a .178 team average. Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager, two of the main pieces in the lineup, have combined for a .105 average, zero home runs and five RBI.
In addition to the slumping offense, the bullpen has its fair share of problems, too. The bunch is currently the fourth worst in the league with a 7.33 ERA and a .315 average against.
However, not all hope is lost. The starting rotation has actually performed quite nicely thus far. The staff has the seventh best ERA in the league with sparkling 3.00 mark. Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma make up a stellar duo at the top, while Yovani Gallardo and James Paxton round out the rotation.
There’s enough reason to think that Cruz, Seager, and Robinson Cano can round into form to create a potent middle of the lineup.
The Mariners are a team that came into the season with high expectations. Expect them to fight for a Wild Card spot.