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The AL Central Report #6

It’s a topsy-turvy AL Central after one week of play. Here are the standings as of this morning:

Chicago White Sox 5–2

Kansas City Royals 5–2

Cleveland Indians 4–4

Minnesota Twins 3–5

Detroit Tigers 0–7

The biggest surprise in the standings above is, of course, the Tigers. Detroit went into the season as the prohibitive favorite in the division, after upgrading at third base (Miguel Cabrera > Brandon Inge), shortstop (Edgar Renteria > Carlos Guillen), first base (Carlos Guillen > Sean Casey), and fourth starter (Dontrelle Willis > cracked bat > Mike Maroth). It’s much too early to give up on the Tigers, but frustration is clearly mounting in Detroit.

In Sunday night’s game at Comerica Park against the White Sox, a 13-2 loss, the crowd booed early and often. ESPN’s Jon Miller and Joe Morgan must have pointed out a dozen times that it will be good for the Tigers to begin their road trip soon. It’s clearly too early to draw any conclusions about the Tigers at this point in the season, but it’s also inconclusive fun to look at small sample sizes, so let’s investigate how they got to this point.

The Tigers have used an unstoppable combination of poor pitching and miserable hitting to drop their first seven games. Detroit outscored opponents 887-797 last season (an average of 5.5 to 4.9). They’ve been outscored 44–15 so far, and 26-13 even before the bludgeoning at the hands of the White Sox on Sunday night. The 15 runs scored is worst in the American league, as is the 44 runs allowed. Their 5.30 team ERA is last, and it’s even helped by the six unearned runs they’ve given up.

Some of Detroit’s trouble with scoring runs has been their performance with runners in scoring position. They’re hitting .149 in that situation (7 for 47). Some of this overall offensive futility comes as a result of the hand injury suffered by leadoff man Curtis Granderson, who resumed “baseball activities” Monday and hopes to be back in the lineup sometime next week. The Tigers clearly miss Granderson’s spark at the top of the order, but they have other problems as well. We’ll see how they bounce back this week.

In other news:

  • In the pleasant surprise department, there are the White Sox and Royals, who owe much of their success to beating up on the Tigers. For the Sox, A.J. Pierzynski is off to a scorching start, leading the league in batting average after the first week, and his slugging percentage is 1.000. Their bullpen has been solid up to this point, with the exception of Octavio Dotel.
  • The Royals have benefited from spectacular pitching in their first week, as they only have two hurlers on their staff with more than one run allowed. Kansas City has been able to scrape together just enough offense to win up to this point, as they are scoring less than four runs per game. Mark Grudzielanek and Billy Butler are both hitting .400 in the early going for the Royals.
  • And then there are the middling muddlers, Cleveland and Minnesota. The Indians were in good shape to get over .500 on Monday night, coming back against the Angels to take a 3-2 lead into the bottom of the ninth. However, Tori Hunter hit a walk-off grand slam off of Joe Borowski, and Cleveland plunged back into the ranks of teams with losing records. Fausto Carmona has been strong thus far, but C.C. Sabathia is off to a rough start.
  • The Twins are up to the same old tricks as last year up to this point: decent pitching and miserable hitting resulting in a few blowouts, but not a great number of wins. New center fielder Carlos Gomez has been a sparkplug for the offense, and Joe Mauer has been the usual solid citizen that he is when healthy. Livan Hernandez has been as advertised so far, eating innings as well as many pastries.

Maybe by next week the standings will have been turned on their head again, and we can jump to a fresh set of conclusions.

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