American League Weekly Wrap-Up: Over-Performing Underdogs
The American League West has been dominated by the Astros, but the other two divisions have been surprising. Cleveland got off to a slow start, creating a tight early-season race in the AL Central. The AL East has arguably been the most competitive division with some surprise contenders rising to the top.
Today’s wrap-up looks at those teams who have exceeded preseason expectations and how they got there.
The New York Yankees
We knew the Yankees were going to be better than the last few seasons, but not this good. The Yankees have done a masterful job bolstering their young core during prior seasons. Players like breakout rookie Aaron Judge and Ronald Torreyes were advertised as great, but they weren’t supposed to be ready this soon.
While the younger talent has certainly performed, the rest of the team has more then pulled their weight. Starlin Castro, Didi Gregorius and Aaron Hicks are all 27 years old and batting above .300. Adding to this strong mix are veterans Jacoby Ellsbury and Matt Holliday, who have also been key contributors so far this season.
New York’s lineup has been a wonderfully-balanced attack on offense and has them sitting in the top five in batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage and RBIs.
The only thing that could have held this offensive juggernaut back was a questionable pitching staff. That rotation currently holds the third best ERA in the AL. Things are firing on all cylinders for the Bronx Bombers as they continue to battle for top position in the East.
The Baltimore Orioles
The other club battling for the top position in the East has been the surprising Baltimore Orioles. Most analysts, including this one, thought the Red Sox were a shoo-in for a repeat of their 2016 performance. However, it’s been the Yankees and Orioles dominating the top of the division.
While the Yankees have the stat lines you’d expect to see at the top of the division, the Orioles are a bit more of an enigma. A look at their statistical standings places them mid-tier in most major pitching and hitting categories. Their pitching staff suffered early season injuries, and their MVP-caliber third baseman, Manny Machado, has struggled early.
Those issues haven’t deterred the back-half of the Orioles rotation from silencing critics. Dylan Bundy and Wade Miley have been the picture of consistency, posting a combined 2.36 ERA through 15 starts. These impressive performances combined with the recent return of team ace Chris Tillman may signal continued success for this staff. Combine solid pitching with the ever-present power threat of the Orioles lineup and you have a combination that can steal a lot of games.
The Minnesota Twins
The 2017 AL Central discussion has been about nearly every team other than the Indians. Cleveland continues to press the top of the standings, but it’s been Chicago, Detroit and Minnesota who have kept it close.
The Twins in particular have been a surprise given their last place finish in 2016. The reemergence of Ervin Santana as a top league ace has certainly helped their cause. The remainder of the Twins pitching staff has posted respectable performances and should get better with the recent call up of José Berríos. Highly-touted young gun Miguel Sano has emerged this season, slashing .297 / .439 / .667 with 10 home runs.
Interestingly enough, Sano is the only member of the Twins lineup hitting anywhere near .300. In fact, the Twins average, slugging percentage and RBIs rank in the bottom half of the league. That said, their on-base percentage is in the AL’s top five, and they’re clearly doing enough to win games. Minnesota is definitely on a hot streak, capturing six of their last ten.
This recent success is promising for the Minnesota fan base. However, unless some of the offensive statistics pick up, it’s hard to foresee a sustained push by the Twins.
Featured Image by Tony Gutierrez / AP