Monday, August 15, 2022

MLB Power Rankings: The door is open for disappointing White Sox in AL Central; Red Sox surge into top five

MLB Power Rankings: The door is open for disappointing White Sox in AL Central; Red Sox surge into top five

The Yankees hung onto the No. 1 spot, though they were challenged


The American League Central race — if we can call it that — is really shaping up to be … I don’t know. Something? A crawl to the finish? 

Sorry, I shouldn’t be so rude, especially after the Guardians stormed their way to the top last week. Terry Francona’s ballclub through this past Wednesday went on a run where they won 17 of 21 games. It had vaulted Cleveland from 7 1/2 games out in late May to first place in late June. The Guardians lost the series finale in Minnesota on Thursday, but still went home tied for first. 

The Guardians then returned home and were swept in three games by the Red Sox — who are all kinds of hot right now and we’ll get to that in the rankings. 

Was that series a nice reminder about the state of the AL Central or what? In looking through that great run the Guardians had, they did win two of three over the Dodgers. They also took down teams like the Royals, Orioles, Rangers, A’s and Rockies.

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This isn’t to discount the winning ways of the Guardians through early and mid-June. They also won a series over the Twins. This is to say that this division is clearly behind the others, or at least the Centrals are behind the Easts and Wests. 

The general state of the AL Central leaves a White Sox comeback on the table. The 2021 division champs have been one of the most disappointing teams all season. Many had them winning it again. They have plenty of big-league talent in the organization, but they’ve suffered from injuries and underperformance. They’ve been a somewhat broken team to this point. 

They are also only 5 1/2 games out. A good opportunity lies immediately ahead. The Twins visit Cleveland for a five-game series to start this coming week. The White Sox head out west, but they’ll be facing the struggling Angels and Giants. If they get things together while, say, the Guardians take three of five from the Twins, all of a sudden three teams are very tightly bunched in the AL Central. 

The head-to-head aspect moving forward is pretty significant as well, and it could be argued more opportunity for the White Sox to right the ship and sneak in. They have 16 games left against the Twins and 14 against the Guardians. The Twins and Guardians also play 13 more times. 

The Twins are the leaders here just as they have been most of the season. Thanks to the Guardians’ three losses and taking two of three from the Rockies at home, the Twins now have a two-game lead. They don’t have the look of a great team, but it’s not going to take greatness to win the division. They’ve been the best and most consistent team here and we’re nearing the halfway point, so it’s not exactly a small sample. 

To latch onto the whole “it won’t take a great team” aspect, look at this. SportsLine right now projects the Guardians to take the division with 86 wins. That would be the worst division winner in 2022 and the only won below 90 wins. The AL East projects four teams better than that. The projections also show the Twins with 85 wins and the White Sox at 83. Fangraphs is even less bullish on the trio and has the Twins taking the division with 84 wins (the Guardians are at 82 and White Sox at 80). 

That would be one hell of a race, eh? Even if everyone was crawling, it would be close. 

I would say something like “fasten your seat belts,” but we probably don’t need them. Not here in the Central. 

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It felt like a pretty terrible week. They went 4-3. Of course, they were a few pitches from 2-5, but that isn’t really how it works, is it? 53-20

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Before Trayce Thompson’s “excuse-me,” game-tying hit on Sunday, I was sitting there thinking the Dodgers just haven’t looked *that* impressive for a bit. I wasn’t off base. Had they lost, they’d have been 11-11 in June after losing their last two games in May. But they won. And they are on pace to win 104 games. 1 45-26

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They won’t regret it down the road — they’ll cruise to the AL West title anyway — but it had to feel pretty deflating to basically outplay the Yankees for four full games and only get a split. They only trailed for two innings! They had the lead after 20 different innings. Remarkable. 1 45-27

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They’re just kind of treading water until the rotation is healthy — or at least closer to full health. And what do you know, Max Scherzer is on the rehab trail. 2 47-27

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Red Sox

How about that, huh? What a run. Since that dreadful 10-19 start, they’ve gone 32-12 (only the Yankees have been better at 34-12). 2 42-31

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Big opportunity coming this weekend with four games in Dodger Stadium. 1 45-30

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A few people were angry last week that I didn’t go to enough lengths to point out how weak the competition was during their 14-game winning streak. A few from a different camp were angry that the Braves fell a spot in the rankings “after going 15-2.” The latter is hilariously misguided (they rose 10 spots from the start of the winning streak, if that’s your entry point). As for the former, I’ve repeatedly pointed out that good teams generally can win 2/3 or even 3/4 against bad teams. Going 14-0 is amazing no matter who you play. On that front, the Braves this week went 4-3 against winning teams and were soooooo close to 5-2. Ignore or naysay at your peril. 2 42-32

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How about Rowdy Tellez unloading on his former team on Sunday? That was fun. The Brewers are back on track, too, having won seven of their last 10. 6 42-33

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Blue Jays

Back-to-back clunkers from José Berríos and things are pretty worrisome. Five of his 10 starts in May and June have resulted in five runs allowed or more. He has a 5.86 ERA overall and is only one off the AL lead with 17 home runs allowed. 3 40-32

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The Cardinals and Brewers have played three four-game series on the season. Every single one has gone Brewers win, Cardinals win, Cardinals win and Brewers win, in that order. Freaky, right? 2 41-34

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Isaac Paredes, the 23-year-old utility man the Rays got back in the trade that sent Austin Meadows to Detroit, has gone 10 for 15 with two doubles, five home runs and nine RBI in his last FOUR games. Four! His OPS went from .639 to .927 in less than a week. 4 40-32

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Byron Buxton, with all that power and speed, hadn’t tripled since July 7 of 2019. That’s past tense because now he’s done it in back-to-back games. Baseball! 2 41-33

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I’m sad to say that José Ramírez has fallen behind his previous RBI-per-game pace. He has 63 in 68 Guardians’ games and has only one in his last nine games. 2 36-32

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They’ve now lost six of eight and that includes a home series loss to the Reds. 6 39-33

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Feel-good callup on Saturday with Mark Appel finally making the majors, but then the good vibes came crashing down with Bryce Harper’s broken thumb. Total bummer. Hard to move them much higher now without him and, yes, that’s absolutely a factor. 2 39-35

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Jon Gray appears to be settling in. In five starts in June, he has a 2.64 ERA and that’s with one bad outing (5 IP, 6 H, 5 ER on June 7). 2 34-37

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The Orioles lost six in a row from May 13-18. Since then, they’ve played over .500 ball and have been pretty consistent. They actually haven’t lost a series since June 5 (3-0-3 in series since). Surely this is their highest ranking since sometime in 2017 (maybe August, maybe in the first half). I don’t keep track of weekly rankings like that, nor should I. The point is that the Orioles have been a formidable bunch for a non-contender for a good stretch here and it’s been a long time since we’ve been able to say that. 4 34-40

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White Sox

They are so banged up, they’ve had to tell more than half their lineup to not run hard on grounders. For real, old-school manager Tony La Russa even said so. 2 34-37

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Look, the funniest part of that fight on Sunday, by a mile, was Raisel Iglesias throwing the bucket of sunflower seed packs on the field. It was also embarrassing. Both can be true. For example: I was actually laughing while shaking my head thinking about it while typing just now. 2 35-40

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They won five straight and took two of three from the Angels, so why are they behind the Angels? Well, they lost four of five to the Angels to conclude last week. If we’re going to use head-to-head, let’s be thorough. Also, why are teams playing each other nine times in 11 days? It’s no wonder there was a fight. They are sick of each other. We’ve all been there with someone. 3 34-40

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Workhorse ace Sandy Alcantara is on pace for over 240 innings pitched. The club record is 237 1/3 (Kevin Brown, 1997). MLB hasn’t seen a 240-inning season since 2014, when both David Price and Johnny Cueto did it. 1 33-38

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I’m really looking forward to the schedules being more balanced. Here’s the Diamondbacks schedule, by series, until the All-Star break: Padres, at Rockies, Giants, Rockies, at Giants, at Padres. That’s just dumb. For three full weeks they only see three teams. 3 33-41

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Remember when the Rockies started the season 10-5? It feels like a year ago. The season still isn’t even to the halfway point. Man, we have such a grind. 1 31-42

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There will be plenty of ups and downs, but the fun level on Oneil Cruz is absolutely off the charts. I’m grateful he finally got everything worked out in the minors (nudge, nudge, wink, wink). 2 29-43

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In an utter mess of a season, they somehow play the two NL Central contenders incredibly hard. They are .500 against both the Cardinals (4-4) and Brewers (5-5). They are, of course, 19-36 against everyone else. 1 28-45

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Javier Báez had a nine-game hitting streak snapped on Sunday. During said streak, he was 14 for 35 (.400) with three doubles, a triple, four homers, nine RBI, seven runs and two steals. I was giddy just imagining being able to say, “El Mago is back.” 1 28-44

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They had a seven-game losing streak but then went into San Francisco and took two of three. Baseball! 25-47

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Patrick Corbin signed a six-year, $140 million deal to run from 2019-24. The Nats won the World Series in 2019. He was great in the regular season and threw some very important postseason innings. Since then, he’s 14-33 with a 5.76 ERA in 57 starts. I still say in situations like this the player was worth every penny, but now it becomes interesting to see if he’ll make it to the end without being DFA’d. 1 27-48

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They had won six of eight, but then dropped two straight to the worst team in baseball. Oh, and three of those six wins were against those terrible A’s, too. 1 26-45

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The A’s are on pace to go 18-63 at home this season. No team has ever lost 60 games at home in a season. The record is 59 (2019 Tigers and 1939 Browns). The historically awful 2003 Tigers and 1962 Mets lost 58 home games each. 25-49

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