By Norm Elrod
(CBS Minnesota/CBS Local) — The American League Central isn’t quite shaking out how people expected. Going into the season, the weakest division in baseball was presumed to be there for the Cleveland Indians to take. The Minnesota Twins would mount a nominal challenge, but ultimately struggle to play .500 ball. The Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals would not factor in at all.
The story seems to be playing out a little differently. The Twins, for one, are among the best teams in baseball, buoyed by strong bats and solid pitching. Meanwhile, the mediocre Indians are tied with the surprising White Sox for a distant second place in the division.
But there’s always tomorrow, or next season, or, in the case of teams with high draft picks, some time in the early 2020s. The MLB Draft started Monday night with the first two rounds of the 40-round, three-day event. Hope may be on the distant horizon for fans of baseball’s worst.
Hope should be at hand when baseball’s best clash. But this past weekend’s New York Yankees – Boston Red Sox series did little to answer lingering questions for the World Series champions.
This week’s Baseball Report looks at the Twins, the ongoing MLB Draft and the semi-pivotal Yankees-Red Sox matchup.
Minnesota Twins Bats On Fire
The Minnesota Twins are among the best teams in baseball, and have been for weeks now. At 40-18 with a .690 winning percentage as of Monday, the Twins own the best record in baseball, just a few points ahead of the Los Angeles Dodgers and Houston Astros. They lead the Indians and White Sox in the AL Central by a healthy 11.5 games, the biggest margin of any division front runner. As if all that weren’t enough, the Twins have won eight of their last 10 games. That includes three of four this past weekend over the Tampa Bay Rays, themselves among the best teams in baseball.
It’s hard to credit any particular facet of the game for their ongoing success. But Minnesota’s offensive production certainly deserves some recognition. The Twins, as a team, lead the majors in any number of offensive stats, ranging from home runs (109) and RBIs (334) to average (.275) and slugging (.511).
Ace Jake Odorizzi leads a solid Minnesota pitching staff that’s keeping runs off the board. While the team’s 3.88 ERA is among the top 10 in the majors, the right-hander is the real story. Odorizzi is 6-0 in his last seven games, with an ERA of just 0.65. In that span, he’s given up three runs in 41.2 innings, with 11 walks and 47 strikeouts. Odorizzi has not allowed a run in six of his last seven starts. That includes six scoreless innings on Sunday in the Twins’ 9-7 win over the Rays.
The Twins begin a three-game series with the Indians on Tuesday.
MLB Draft Tidbits
The MLB Draft started Monday night with the first two rounds of the 40-round, three-day event. There were 78 picks in the first two rounds, rather than 60, as the first day included additional compensatory picks and competitive balance rounds.
MLB’s Draft differs from those of other major sports leagues in some important ways. Players don’t have to declare for the draft; they’re automatically eligible if they meet certain basic age and residency requirements. Many of those picked will opt not to sign with the team, and those who do probably won’t see the majors for at least a couple years, if ever. As a result, teams don’t draft to fill immediate needs.
The lowly Baltimore Orioles held the top overall pick. As expected, the team nabbed Oregon State catcher Adley Rutschman, a switch-hitter with power and strong defensive skills. The 21-year-old hit .411 with 17 HRs and 58 RBIs in the 57 games he played during his junior season.
The Royals grabbed shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., the son of a former major league pitcher and the nation’s top-ranked high school prospect out of Colleyville Heritage High School in north Texas. The White Sox picked right-handed first baseman Andrew Vaughn out of California. It was the first time a first baseman (let alone a right-handed first baseman) had been picked that high. The Miami Marlins added Vanderbilt slugger JJ Bleday to a farm system stocked with pitchers. Rounding out the top five, the Tigers selected outfielder Riley Greene out of Florida.
Yankees-Red Sox Series
The Yankees and Red Sox were expected to contend for the AL pennant this season. But apparently only New York received the memo. The Yankees, despite extensive injuries, lead the AL East and continue to be among the MLB’s top teams. The Red Sox, third in the division and hovering around .500, still can’t seem shake their World Series hangover.
This weekend’s series did little to change perceptions. The Yankees won the first two games of the after last Thursday’s opener was rained out. Boston prevented the sweep and ended their four-game skid with a win Sunday.
Strong performances against strong teams are too often the exception for the Red Sox this season. As of Monday, they still trail the Yankees by 8.5 games and the Rays by six games, with a combined 4-6 record against the two teams.
With the All-Star break still over a month away, there’s plenty of baseball left. But the AL East’s two-team race is starting to look like it won’t include Boston.