On the heels of a 10-game losing streak the Chicago White Sox made 11 roster transactions Tuesday afternoon and, in the words of Ron Burgundy “That escalated quickly.” The chief moves among the reconfiguration of the team was activating Tim Anderson from the injured list, and sending right fielder Oscar Colas to Triple-A for a little more Chicago steak seasoning. The Chisox slide allowed an overachieving Detroit Tigers club to slide a few games ahead them, all while the Minnesota Twins keep an eye on the Cleveland Guardians and the rest of the AL Central hijinks in their rearview mirror.
It was truly a tough run for the Pale Hose. Losing Anderson and Yoan Moncada in the same week, dropping two out of three to the Phillies, then heading to Tampa, and Toronto for three-game road sets, before returning home to face Tampa again, this time for four games. Losing the left side of your infield before playing that 10-game stretch would be tough for any team, but it really deflated Chicago’s balloon. Outscored 70-25 during that run, the White Sox finally broke into the win column last Sunday, hanging toe to toe with the Tampa Bay Rays, before beating up on Jalen Beeks in the bottom of the ninth, and walking it off on an Andrew Vaughn three-run homer off Garret Cleavinger, to avoid a third straight sweep. That win, along with the return of Anderson from the IL, must have lit a small spark in the locker room, because Chicago went on to win their next two against the Twins. However, Chicago is 4-6 in their last 10 games and still looking for any kind of continuous momentum.
The starting pitching staff in Chicago is 29th in walks per nine and home runs allowed, but first in strikeouts. So, they are getting batters to chase, but when they miss it’s either a free pass, or balls flying over the wall. The bullpen has been much of the same, only a little bit worse. Twenty ninth in WHIP, ERA, and walks per nine, the White Sox relievers are also last in the league in hits and home runs allowed. Pair that with a batting order that has a hard time getting on base and scoring runs, and it is the exact recipe for how to lose 10 games in a row. Dylan Cease, Lucas Giolito, and Lance Lynn are all former Cy Young contenders, so there is still optimism that they can get back to that level, but losing Liam Hendriks has turned this bullpen into a bum-fuzzled mess. Jake Diekman has been designated for assignment after allowing 14 runs and 13 walks in 11 innings, and Chicago has also decided they’ve seen enough of Reynaldo Lopez trying to close games for now, and it looks like Kenyan Middleton is going to get the call there. Gregory Santos has been just delightful, but a couple of these other guys are going to have to step up. Kendall Graveman has a history of being an effective setup man, and while it may be difficult to trust a guy who’s last name is Bummer, Aaron Bummer was actually a really good pitcher before this April.
The Minnesota Twins have taken advantage of the sliding White Sox and Guardians to edge to the top of the division, carving out a nice little three-game lead on the back of some really good starting pitching. Sonny Gray has allowed just six earned runs in 40.0 innings this year, while striking out 10.6 batters per nine. Joe Ryan has posted a MLB-leading 0.763 WHIP across 38 frames with 10.2 strikeouts per nine, and Pablo Lopez has struck out 54 batters himself. Collectively, they are 11-2 and leading the charge to the pennant. The Twins were served a crumbling cookie recently, however, losing Kenta Maeda and Tyler Mahle to different injuries on consecutive days, but Bailey Ober and Louie Varlard are expected to pick up the slack, and both have shown to be effective starters. Ober has posted a 3.51 ERA and 1.116 WHIP across 166.2 major league innings, while Varland really impressed in the minors last summer, throwing to a 3.06 ERA and 10.4 strikeouts per nine across two levels before joining the Twins for a five-game cup of coffee to close out the year. Both should be serviceable starters, but Minnesota also has the luxury of a solid bullpen to lean on should they experience any hiccups.
The Detroit Tigers are 15-17, 6-4 in their last 10, sitting in second place in the AL Central (heading into Sunday’s action), and has to be one of the biggest surprises of the young season. But, how did we get here? The Tigers own one of the worst collections of batters in major league baseball, 25th in team average, 30th in OBP, 29th in OPS and runs, and 26th in home runs. The starting pitching is league average, at best, 21st in staff ERA, and 15th in walks per nine, while allowing the 24th most homers, and striking out virtually no one. The bullpen has actually been pretty good, and Detroit is 8-4 in one run games, including a stretch of four walk off wins in row back in mid-April, but that was really just part of a perfect storm of scenarios that led to this, and it probably shouldn’t continue for much longer. Eduardo Rodriguez is fully healthy and having his best season in years, but following him with Joey Wentz, Matt Boyd, and Spencer Turnbull is not going to lead to sustained success, even if you call two games under .500 “success.” The White Sox are not going to stay bad all seaon. There is way too much talent on that roster to finish behind this Tigers team, and the hope in Cleveland is that those bats wake up, sooner than later.
The Cleveland Guardians are 15-18, and are battling with the Tigers in the standings, but an offense that still features Jose Ramirez, Steven Kwan, Amed Rosario, and Andres Gimenez to name a few, just has not gotten going yet. Cleveland is 29th in team average, and tied for 24th in OBP, which leads to the 28th-most runs scored in baseball, and it’s just not typical of what this team has done in the past. Cleveland is not going to hit a ton of home runs (29th last year, 30th so far this year) and that is definitely going to prevent them from scoring, but even last season it was like a carousel on the base paths that we just haven’t see yet year. The Guardians are not afraid to run, and have stealing threats scattered throughout the lineup. With 37 swiped bags this year they trail only Pittsburgh (45) in that department. Once the bats get going, this is a team that can give Minnesota a run for its money.
Triston McKenzie and Aaron Civale should be able to join the rotation in a few weeks, but rookie Logan Allen has been great in their absence, surrendering just five earned runs while striking out 19 in three starts. Another rookie, Tanner Bibee, has shown similar potential in his two starts, and along with Shane Bieber and a lights out bullpen, should be able to hold down the fort.
The Kansas City Royals are 8-26, but Vinnie Pasquantino is hitting .282 with 6 homers and an .891 OPS. The team also called up Maikel Garcia to play third, and Bobby Witt is still out there, too. It ain’t much, but maybe it’ll get you to Chiefs season.