Well, the weather is starting to warm up, and the six division races are beginning to take shape. Let’s take a spin around the division races, shall we? To read my weekly MLB power rankings, click here.
In the AL East, it’s really no surprise the Orioles are holding down the cellar. But as I predicted, the losses are closer and several have bordered on agonizing. We will see the auditions of players who have yet to play on the big-league stage the rest of the season. Debuts from pitchers will be a constant.
The Red Sox have really been the one shock in the division, and they show no signs of falling back. That’ll make for an interesting chase for the next couple of months. Of course, the Yankees will be in the thick of things, as will the Rays. But the Blue Jays, for my money, look like they have the goods to end up scaring the living daylights out of the other three.
The AL Central is starting to look like a two-team affair, with the White Sox having the best team. In fact, if their tall, right-handed ace Lucas Giolito were pitching at his highest level, they’d probably have a six- or seven-game lead over Cleveland at this point. The Indians will hang around because manager Terry Francona knows how to coax wins out of flawed teams; this year, the big flaw is their offense. That the Royals jumped out to a 16-7 record was quite a shock, and the way they folded up their tents was perhaps even more shocking. I’m curious to see if they have a combination of resolve and assistance from a couple youngsters.
The Tigers figured to be awful. They’re awful enough that GM Al Avila has to be on the thinnest ice of any big-league executive. The Twins look like they have fallen and can’t get up. The biggest culprits are No. 1 starter Kenta Maeda and one-time gigantic prospect Miguel Sano. Maeda looked to be a Cy Young candidate out of camp this spring but has floundered to the tune of a 2-2 record, 5.26 ERA and 1.57 WHIP. Sano is batting just .135/.297/.257 with three homers and eight RBIs.
It looks like the AL West will be a jockeying affair between two teams — the first-place Athletics and second-place Astros. Buckle up, because this could be quite a ride. The Mariners look to be the third-place team, and how outfielder Jarred Kelenic and right-hander Logan Gilbert develop at the big-league level will help decide the Mariners’ fate in 2021. Ty France’s hand injury has taken a solid bat out of the lineup. But what’s amazing is that after being hit in his hand, they allowed his average to drop from .323 to below .230 before they seemed to care about the cause and effect.
The Angels, despite their lofty goals, built a bullpen far leakier than Noah’s Ark. Maybe some of manager Joe Maddon’s pixie dust is starting to wear off. Shohei Ohtani’s season is a thing to stand back and admire, as is Mike Trout’s. Anthony Rendon has been hurt off and on so far during his Angels career. While not a bust, he has been disappointing. The club was correct to jettison Albert Pujols. They simply need better pitching out of their staff.
The Rangers’ season has been stop and start, and they have the look of a cellar dweller. Manager Chris Woodward looks like he could be on the hot seat once the second half of the season starts.
I think we all thought the NL East would be a dogfight between the Braves, Mets, Nationals and Phillies. And we knew that for the umpteenth time the Marlins’ rebuild would start to show some positive things. All that has been true, but picking a dog in this fight is cloudier than any of the other divisions.
Everybody is waiting for the Braves to take off, and maybe they will. The Mets have the support of ownership — as evidenced by Francisco Lindor’s mammoth contract — so they’ll continue to make moves to bolster their attack. The injuries to third baseman Jeff McNeil and right fielder Michael Conforto could really set this team back if they’re out for any length of time. They are due to get back Noah Syndergaard, but when was the last time a pitcher coming back from Tommy John surgery has made much of an impact out of the gate?
The Phillies look like they are developing a little bit of the eye of the tiger. If that takes hold, it will reflect positively on manager Joe Girardi. Remember, these Marlins made the playoffs a season ago, and by the second half of this season, this rotation could be almost as good as any in the division.
That Nationals are far from out of it at 16-20, but lots of times they appear lifeless. It’s now looking as though that Stephen Strasburg contract is not going to end well for the Nats. However, Jon Lester is pitching beyond what we thought he was capable of doing at the age of 37.
The NL Central appears to be shaping up as a one-team race with that one team being the Cardinals. They’ll get around to dispensing of Craig Counsel’s Brewers club that got off to such a hot start. The Cardinals look like they’ll be a team that can offer a real six-man rotation when they get Miles Mikolas back later this week. (However, Adam Wainwright has not looked like his usual self.) If first baseman Paul Goldschmidt still has enough left in the tank to match the greatness of third baseman Nolan Arenado, they’ll be a sight to see.
The Cubs and Reds will flirt with respectability but neither will quite make it this time around. The Pirates are just starting what figures to be a long rebuild under Ben Cherington. Manager Derek Shelton appears to have the right stuff and his team is a reflection of his fight.
While the Dodgers and the Padres have all the big-name talent and those gigantic payrolls out West, it’s the Giants that have been the biggest surprise. They hung around late last season before fading. It’ll be interesting to see if manager Gabe Kapler can keep his team in the hunt during the arduous 162-game season.
The Padres are good, but I always predicted they’d rue the day they signed Manny Machado to a 10-year contract. Oh, I am sure I’ll look up and see numbers that are solid in three or four weeks. But for what the Padres invested in him, I still think they reached with that contract. Fernando Tatis has had a troubling season with shoulder issues and now a positive COVID test.
Yu Darvish has been great. Blake Snell hasn’t been. Dinelson Lamet’s return will help the rotation a great deal. Manager Jayce Tinger has a deep and versatile bullpen, with Mark Melancon leading the way with an MLB-best 14 saves.
I think readers of my weekly power rankings know I follow things pretty closely, but I have to admit that the Dodgers have a lot of players come up who I have never heard of. It seems that 2021 will be a season in which we are introduced to more and more of them.
Look, if I had the money the Dodgers have, I’d sign Trevor Bauer all day for two seasons at nearly $40 million per. But, I’ll tell you, I sure would have bolstered the back-end options for manager Dave Roberts. Kenley Jansen can save some games, and when he is rested, he can still bring it, but this issue has been brewing for a couple seasons and they really haven’t addressed the simple fact that Jansen is a guy who needs a buddy system to be the best pitcher he can be.
The Diamondbacks are uninspiring. The Rockies will vie all season long with the Tigers and Pirates for the No. 1 pick in the 2022 amateur draft.
One more thing about the Orioles: They have graduated from that fight for the No. 1 pick. That might not seem like much, but as some of these prospects are starting to spread their wings, there is really some light at the end of the tunnel.
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