AL Central Roundup – How Much Distance can the Twins Build?

Twins lead the division, while the other teams seek to improve.

The standings have shuffled up a bit since the last roundup, but the Minnesota Twins remain in sole possession of first place. Now, however, the remaining AL Central teams all trail with under .500 records. So let’s take a look into what is going wrong, and right for the AL Central teams.

AL Central Standings — 6/1

 

Twins

The Twins have had their fair share of injury scares. Between Byron Buxton’s hip strain, to Carlos Correa’s hand, the Twins have not been able to stay healthy to further their lead over the White Sox. yet, it hasn’t seemed to have affected them that much. The Twins are getting on base, a lot. They are currently third in the majors with an OBP of .329, and third in the league with walks, at 177 walks through the first 50 games of the season. Perhaps their first baseman, Luis Arraez has something to do with their ability to get on base.

Biggest Surprise: Arraez is currently chasing a batting title. He is hitting .360 on the young season, only behind the Red Sox’ J.D. MartinezArraez isn’t supplying much power, but what does it matter? With an OBP of .454 and only 14 strikeouts to 23 walks, he is seeing the ball better than nearly everyone else in the league. Arraez has played in nearly all of the games the Twins have played, playing in 41 of their 49 games thus far. That durability and consistency will prove to be key for Minnesota as they hope to lengthen their division lead over the White Sox.
Other standouts of the Twins’ young season continue to be pitcher Joe Ryan. Ryan has not slowed down much since the last AL Central Roundup, continuing to post an impressive 2.28 ERA, while holding opposing hitters to a measly .186 batting average. His team-leading accolades may be in jeopardy, however, as fellow teammate Sonny Gray, has proven to be a great addition to the rotation.
Gray currently possesses 10.43 strikeouts per 9 innings rate. Because of his delayed start and injuries, he does not qualify for stat leaderboards, but would otherwise be sitting in the top 5 of strikeouts per 9 in the American League.


Biggest Disappointment: Perhaps it is rude to say a player’s injury is a disappointment, but newly acquired Chris Paddack has been a disappointment for the Twins. The Twins shocked baseball when they made a trade to acquire the young Padre pitcher. Further, even more shocking was that they traded away their All-Star relief pitcher, Taylor Rogers, to get him. The move was a bit of a head-scratcher at the time but became even more frustrating when Paddack began pitching.

Paddack pitched 22 innings for the Twins, and gave up 10 runs in that span, pitching to a 4.03 ERA. A decent start for a middle-of-the-rotation pitcher, but the Twins and fans were likely crushed when news broke that he needed the dreaded Tommy John surgery, ending his 2022 season. The Twins do retain control over Paddack during his recovery, however, as he is a free agent in 2025.

Injuries: Despite the Twins’ recent run of success, the injuries have caught up to them, beginning with Joe Ryan. Ryan was placed on the COVID IL on May 25. Quickly following him to the injured list was top prospect Royce Lewis. Lewis’ injury came after crashing into the center-field wall, where he suffered a bone bruise on his right knee. He will be further evaluated once the swelling goes down. Sonny Gray felt “minor pec tightness” during his start on Sunday, and was removed in the 7th inning. Some think he may require an IL stint, and manager Rocco Baldelli said the team will be monitoring Gray in the coming days.

Lastly, new acquisition Chris Paddack’s year came to an end on May 18, when the team announced he would be undergoing his second Tommy John surgery.

 

White Sox

 

The White Sox have continued to tread water in the 2022 season. When one player gets off of the injured list, another one replaces him. Most recently, offensive juggernaut, Tim Anderson joined the injured list with a groin injury. But, as always, the White Sox seem determined to remain in the hunt to compete in the AL Central. This is likely because of their stellar pitching.

 

Biggest Surprise: Dylan CeaseCease put the world on notice about his strikeout abilities last year when he struck out 31.9% of batters he faced. This was nearly twice as good as his 2020 season, where he had a strikeout rate of 17.3%. But now, Cease seems to have taken the step towards the elite. Currently, Cease is striking out hitters 33% of the time and is in the top 7% of the league. He leads all of baseball in strikeouts per 9 innings, with a 12.75 K/9 ratio. Keeping runners off the base paths could be the winning formula to keep the White Sox in contention, as their defense is notoriously dreadful. Cease can provide that, and keep them in contention behind the Twins.

 

Biggest Disappointment: José Abreu continues to disappoint, as he is hardly even getting on base. Currently, he has only 5 home runs on the year. For reference, the contact hitting, and now injured, Tim Anderson, has the same amount. Abreu is supposed to be the provider of the power, not the batting title champ Tim Anderson. Further, now without Anderson, Abreu will bear the weight of the offensive burdens. He has yet to prove he can handle this, as he is slashing .236/.328/.394 on the season. I mentioned last time that he started slowly last year, but the White Sox can ill afford to have another slow starting Abreu while the rest of their team continues to do rehab stints in the minors.

Injuries: Luis Robert continues to recover from COVID, and is expected to return next weekend. Eloy Jiménez hurt his hamstring during a rehab game and will require more time off to recover. Lance Lynn continues to near a return to the majors, tossing 3 scoreless innings in Triple-A.

Guardians

The Guardians have switched places with the White Sox since the last check-in and now sit in third place. That was semi-expected, as players like Steven Kwan’s success was unsustainable. However, they still have some great things to enjoy.

Biggest Surprise: Jose Ramirez continues to be an MVP candidate in the young season. Currently, he is slashing .292/.393/.632. He leads his team in home runs with 13 and is third in the American League in home runs. He recently came off of a monstrous week in which he hit .364 with 3 home runs and 10 RBI. Lastly, he continues to drive in runners, leading the league with 51 RBI.

Biggest Disappointment: Zach Plesac has been regressing. After a promising 2020 season, where he pitched to a 2.28 ERA, and 9.3 strikeouts per 9 innings. Plesac seems to have taken a step back in his development.

Last season, he finished with a 4.67 ERA, and a 4.73 FIP. This year, hitters are seeing the ball even better against Plesac as he has a hard-hit percentage of 43.6%, and an XBA of .310. Further, for the balls that aren’t hit hard, they are still being hit, as he has one of the lowest whiff rates in all of baseball, falling to the 10th percentile in that category. Last year, his strikeout percentage was nearly the lowest in the league at 16.7%. This year, it is even lower, as he is striking out hitters only 15% of the time.

Plesac may be the answer for Terry Francona’s old boss, Theo Epstein, who now spends his days finding ways to make the game have more action. But, for Guardians fans, these are not numbers that make one excited to watch a Plesac start.

Injuries: Aaron Civale was placed on the 15-day IL on Tuesday after an MRI revealed a blood pocket in his left glute. Manager Terry Francona said it will need to be drained before he can begin throwing again. Franmil Reyes remains on the injured list with a hamstring injury.

Tigers

 

For a team with so much promise and excitement to begin the 2022 season, the Tigers have not lived up to their hype. Perhaps that is because their new signing Javier Báez and new big leaguer Spencer Torkelson have not performed as many had hoped.

Biggest Surprise: Miguel Cabrera. It’s a bit of a stretch to say the future first ballot hall of famer is a surprise to a team, but Cabrera has been the one bright spot in their otherwise abysmal lineup. Cabrera leads his team in RBI and is slashing .293/.338/.395. Cabrera was supposed to be passing the torch over to the young phenom Spencer Torkelson, yet Cabrera shows no signs of losing his grip.

Biggest Disappointment: Spencer Torkelson. Perhaps it is a bit aggressive to say a top prospect is a disappointment after just 136 at-bats, but when other top prospects like Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis Jr. burst onto the scene as MVP candidates their rookie season, the bar is high. Currently, Torkelson is slashing .206/.314/.338. Currently, nearly a third of his at-bats end in a strikeout. But, of late, he has improved his approach at the plate.

Over his last 15 games, he is slashing .319/.389/.489. He has only struck out 7 times in that stretch while walking 6 times. Perhaps this is the bat control we were promised all spring training.

Injuries: Matt Manning was shut down from throwing after a right biceps injury. Akil Baddoo remains out with an oblique injury. Austin Meadows will begin a rehab assignment on Wednesday.

 

Royals

The Royals continue to rebuild to championship form and currently sit in last place in the AL Central. This position allows them to build up their prospects, and give players like Bobby Witt Jr. more at-bats. Surrounded by veterans like Salvador Perez and Zack Greinke, the young Royals will have a lot of experience in the clubhouse for when they do become ready to compete.

Biggest Surprise: Brady Singer seems to have taken the leap the Royals expected him to when they drafted him in the first round of the 2018 draft. Singer currently has a .9 bWar, striking out 26 in 25 innings pitched. Though he has only started 6 games to begin the season, his early returns suggest he has made improvements to his 2021 campaign. He has a much better command of the strike zone, lowering his WHIP by nearly half, with a .99 WHIP compared to his 1.55 WHIP in 2021. He is walking hitters only 4% of the time and striking out hitters nearly 30% of the time.

Though it is a small sample size, there is plenty of reasons to believe this is the Singer that dominated the mound in Florida, and he is ready to do so in Kansas City.

Biggest Disappointment: Though Salvador Perez‘ year continues to be disappointing, Whit Merrifield’s contributions haven’t been much better. His season last year showed signs of regression, but still finished the year hitting .277. This season, however, he is slashing .216/.255/.317. A .255 OBP is essentially the equivalent of bringing back the pitcher hitting. Okay, a bit of hyperbole, but that is a pretty dreadful on-base percentage for a player whose main contribution is stolen bases, essentially eliminatingan entire weapon the Royals had.

Injuries: Zach Greinke suffered a right flexor strain in his start on Sunday, and is now on the 15-day IL. Relievers Gabe Speier and Matt Peacock were both placed on the COVID IL on Monday.

Artwork by Michael Packard (@CollectingPack on Twitter)

 

Christa Lamia

Christa Lamia is a diehard baseball fan that loves the Mets. She is enjoying the new energy and hope that Steve Cohen has given her for the once doomed franchise.

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