After the 2018 season saw the Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians and Houston Astros all win their respective divisions handily, all three teams enter play on Saturday looking up in the standings. While Cleveland is tied for the division lead, Boston and Houston have not fared as well.
Houston is 1.5 games back of Seattle, while Boston is four games below .500 and 5.5 games back of Tampa Bay for the division lead. While it may still be early, the weather is steadily heating up. Can Boston, Cleveland and Houston do the same?
Boston Red Sox
Boston will need a lot more of this Mookie Betts to compete this season. With Boston winning the World Series last year and the Yankees winning 100 games, many assumed these two baseball behemoths would battle it out all summer long for the division title. But as assumptions usually go, they proved to be false.
Both teams find themselves trailing the surprising Tampa Bay Rays for the division lead. But the
Yankees are the only other team in the division over .500, as Boston finds themselves at 11-15 on the season. That is largely due to their porous pitching staff.
Boston pitchers are posting a combined 5.44 ERA this season. That ranks them 27th in the majors for team ERA. Chris Sale and Rick Porcello are two of the main culprits. The Cy Young couple has posted an identical 7.43 ERA in 23 innings pitched. The “ace” of the staff has been David Price, with a 3.75 ERA. Add in Tyler Thornburg and Colten Brewers’ 7+ ERA, and they have one of the worst statistical pitching staffs in baseball.
But Boston’s woes aren’t restricted to the rubber. They have only plated 117 runs so far this season, ranking them in the bottom third of the league. After leading the league last season with 876 runs, the offense has been a major disappointment so far. Only J. D. Martinez and Mitch Moreland are slugging better than .500, and Jackie Bradley Jr. has posted a 5 OPS+. A 5 OPS+. Boston currently has six starters batting under .280 on the season. If Boston is to take advantage of the Yankees plague of injuries, they will need to drastically improve their play.
While the Indians are currently in the best shape of last years AL division champs, they definitely have some issues to address. They find themselves tied with Minnesota for the division lead entering Saturday, something that few in Cleveland would have predicted just a few months ago.
That is largely due to the Indians poor offensive production. They rank 24th in the league in runs scored and 26th in home runs. Only Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana, and Leyonis Martin have hit above league average this season. 2018 MVP candidate Jose Ramirez has posted a paltry 45 OPS +. And Francisco Lindor has only played six games so far this season.
If the Indians are planning on competing in 2019, they will need a lot less of Greg Allen and Max Moroff and a lot more from Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez. But unlike the Red Sox, the Indians have continued to impress on the mound.
Trevor Bauer has pitched like an ace this season, posting a 1.99 ERA in six starts. But with a 3.40 FIP, he could see that 1.99 ERA rise soon. Even so, a strong start from Shane Beiber (3.47 ERA) and Jefry Rodriguez (2.13 ERA) have helped center Cleveland's pitching staff. Count on Corey Kluber (5.81 ERA) and Mike Clevenger (60 day IL) to bolster the pitching staff later in the season. But if Cleveland can’t find some steady offense, they could be watching the Twins take their AL Central crown.
Houston finds the surging Seattle Mariners leading the division entering play on Saturday. And with Seattle leading the majors in runs and home runs, Houston seems to have a new formidable AL West opponent. But it shouldn’t take much for the Astros to lift off to the division lead.
That is largely due to their success both on the mound and at the plate. The Astros have seven players with an OPS+ of 126 or higher, with Josh Redick pacing the club with a 152 OPS+. Jose Altuve has found his MVP form again, with nine home runs in 26 games this season. He hit 13 in 137 games a year ago.
Alex Bregman, George Springer and Carlos Correa are all hitting well. But it’s been the one major offseason move the Astros made that could propel them back into the World Series. Michael Brantley has been putting on a clinic in an Astros uniform. The former Cleveland Indian has posted a 143 OPS+ while mashing five home runs. Cleveland’s loss has been Houston’s gain.
But it’s not just the offense that has been impressive this season. Justin Verlander has carried the starting staff with a 2.61 ERA and a perfect 4-0 record. While his 3.69 FIP could mean regression, Gerrit Cole’s 3.27 FIP makes his 4.71 ERA a little more palatable.
The Astros also boast two relievers with a perfect 0.00 ERA this season. While Ryan Pressley
and Will Harris shouldn’t be expected to continue their current performance, it doesn’t hurt in the
meantime. Combine that with Roberto Osuna’s minuscule 0.87 ERA, and you have a three-
headed monster in the bullpen
While the Mariners and the Athletics should push the Astros this season, there’s no reason to
think they won’t three-peat as AL West champions.
Feature image by Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports
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