The 2013 MLB season is starting to take shape as the calendar moves closer to mid-May. Early season fast starts are slowing down for some and others are trying to emerge from initial funks. The Detroit Tigers currently reside in first place but with nearly five months remaining there is plenty of road left travel as clubs jockey for position. Beginning this week this space will be devoted to periodically checking up on the AL Central trying to spot trends that each club is developing. Let's begin with the week of May 2nd through May 9th.
This week, and possibly never again, we'll use the "Crafty Yooper Ball" (CYB) to ask some questions and hopefully get some answers. (Yes....this is a blatant rip off of "The Magic 8 Ball" but there is probably a legal infringement to use that....and even though BYB likely has financial reserves deeper than the Tigers' bench and an army of lawyers more feared than the Detroit bullpen it's probably best to go with Crafty Yooper Ball) Yes...your friendly author is a native of the U.P. and, yes, we are under Yooper-code obligation to work that fact in whenever possible. [Yooper editor's note: This is true]
4-2 on the week, 19-13 overall
The Week That Was: The Tigers avoided the embarrassment of losing two games in Houston (we're looking at you Mike Scioscia) by overcoming late Houston leads in the first two games of their series with the Astros. The Tigers, led by Miguel Cabrera's usual brilliance, then pummeled Lucas Harrell and a rather ashen-looking Phillip Humber to garner their first 4-game road sweep since 2006. Rain in Washington gave the Tigers extra time off before facing a Nationals team that hadn't been hitting a ton. The Tigers dropped both games in Washington as the Nats pitching staff did a number on Detroit. A winning road trip is always acceptable and you don't have to apologize for beating anybody, even Houston.
Next UP: 3 at home with the Indians, 4 on the road with the Rangers
The Question: "CYB, will the game winning homer in Houston put Alex Avila back on the path to productivity?"
The CYB Answer: "Concentrate and ask again"
I think CYB is trying to tell us that getting a good answer needs a better question as a starting point. Are we looking for, and only willing to accept, the "2011 Version of Alex Avila"? Or will a slightly enhanced version of the 2012 Model be enough? The average AL Catcher hit .247/.319/.399 in 2012 according to FanGraphs. Avila posted a line of .243/.352/.384. These numbers were down from 2011 but he wasn't the anchor he gets portrayed to have been. The guess here, despite the slow start (and it has been slow), is that he climbs out of his current levels and matches his 2012 line at least. While he regressed from 2011 he doesn't appear ready to completely fall off the "2007 Craig Monroe Cliff" into obscurity, or worse, a pregame gig.
3-3 on the week, 18-13 overall
SBN blog: Royals Review
The Week That Was: The Royals had an up and down week capped off by a 6-2 victory in Baltimore to salvage a win in the series while seeing homeruns by Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. Two players they are desperate to see produce. One of their other wins was gift wrapped in the 10th inning by a very questionable Robin Ventura-ordered intentional walk to Chris Getz (Yes CHRIS GETZ!) that brought much tougher outs in George Kottaras and Alex Gordon to face the immortal Brian Ommogrosso and eventually plated the winning the run. James Shields took a no-hitter into the 6th inning against the Sox the next day but a blown save by Greg Holland allowed the White Sox to salvage a win taking something with them from Kansas City other than good memories of eating at LC's BBQ.
The Question: "CYB, will the Royals make a move to displace Jeff Francoeur?"
THE CYB Answer: "As I see it, yes"
Many who root for Kansas City probably will think I'm nuts here. The sentiments in many quarters is that Royals GM Dayton Moore has an extreme man-crush on ex-Braves in general and Jeff Francoeur in particular. I have long held that the Royals have held on too long to the idea of what Francoeur was supposed to be over what Francoeur actually has become. "Frenchy" should inhabit the righty half of an outfield platoon. He can hit southpaws. He should also be pulled for defense late in games with the speedy Jarrod Dyson on hand. I believe the Royals, if they can hang in the race, will finally decide to sit Francoeur far more against tough righties and play Dyson. (or David Lough who is raking at AAA-Omaha) The Royals could also be players at the trade deadline for a left-hand hitting outfielder. The idea of bringing back David DeJesus for instance will likely hit the radar at MLB Trade Rumors eventually. With Hosmer and Moustakas not taking steps ahead yet, the Royals will come to the realization that they have to plug a leak in their lineup somewhere. Limiting Frenchy to facing lefties would be a start.
6-1 on the week, 18-14 overall
SBN blog: Let's Go Tribe
The Week That Was: The Tribe has the engine firing on all cylinders. A 6-1 week is part of a bigger 10-1 run. Many thought the Cleveland offense was capable of potent stretches and, indeed, they have scored 76 runs over the 11-game stretch. The pitching however is probably the bigger eyebrow-raiser as the Tribe staff has allowed a mere 26 runs in that span.
Next UP: 3 on the road at Tigers, 2 at home with the Yankees, and 2 on the road at the Phillies.
The Question: "CYB, how long will Ryan Raburn's amazing run last?"
The CYB Answer: "Blink and you will miss it"
What? You really didn't think we would touch on Raburn's AL Player of the Week nod? Of course we are. Ten days ago I was biking and listening to the Royals/Indians broadcast (yeah, I know ... I have issues) and listened to Raburn come to the plate with legendary Royals' radio man Denny Matthews mentioning that Raburn was 7-for-34 on the campaign. Raburn would get a hit in that at-bat. Little did I know that was the beginning of the floodgates opening. Raburn would go 13-for-22 with four homers and nine RBI to get the AL award. Good for him! Has Raburn turned some kind of corner in his career? Please. We know Ryan Raburn. Tigers fans know what lies ahead. Just enjoy the moment Tribe fans. We don't need to break it down with stats...we just know.
4-3 on the week, 16-15 overall
SBN blog: Twinkie Town
The Week That Was: The Twins left Detroit by salvaging a game and then proceeded to go 4-3 on the week including raising red flags all over New England by putting a 3 out of 4 beat down on the surprising Sawx at Fenway Park.
Next UP: 3 at home w/BAL and 3 at home w/CHW
The Question: "CYB, will Yu Darvish keep pace with the Twins entire rotation in strike outs?"
The CYB Answer: "Only time will tell ... but don't count it out"
Darvish has struck out 72 batters in 45-2/3 innings pitched. The Twins main five starters (Scott Diamond, Kevin Correia, Vance Worley, Pedro Hernandez, and Mike Pelfrey) have combined for 80 in 161 innings. The Twins are taking steps in their minor league system to develop some pitchers who can break a pane of glass but as of this time their rotation is still an amalgam of strike throwing command and control types. The inability to miss bats will inevitably put a ton of strain on their defense and create a lot of balls in play that will find grass instead of Twins leather. The Twins are above .500 at this moment. They will be looking up at that in due course.
3-3 on the week, 14-18 overall
SBN blog: South Side Sox
The Week That Was: Despite cobbling together three wins the story is told by marginal offensive production, poor defense, baserunning miscues, and managerial mayhem. At least according to their TV announcer. "The Summer of Hawk's Discontent" is upon us. I listened to a lot White Sox baseball this week, especially during their series in Kansas City where they dropped two out of three. Ken Harrelson had a rough time. I'll just put this out there. I like the Hawk. I do ... you can put that on the board. Do I detest his home-run call? Yes. Is he a whiner? Yes. Did I roll my eyes when he put forth the "TWTW" silliness? Absolutely. But the Hawk is still a good listen. He was a player. He was a GM. He's been around the block. He will call out the White Sox when they're playing like crap. The Hawk will lavish praise on the opposition when it's warranted. He'll tell a good story. So you take the good with the bad. Listening the Hawkeroo is an event whether you love him or hate him.
This week the Hawk was pretty morose at times. When Alex Rios was getting hosed (Pale Hosed?) by a replay call in KC, the Hawk was incredulous and bordering on despondent. Then the White Sox rallied and "Happy Hawk" sprung to life. Everybody loves a good rollercoaster! Given what we've seen thus far we'll be seeing and hearing a lot of "Sad Hawk" this summer. Sad Hawk getting a good pout going is entertaining.
Next UP: 3 at home with the Angels, 3 on the road at the Twins
The Question: "CYB, will the White Sox be no-hitter victims by June 1?"
The CYB Answer: "Signs point to YES"
Hey...a no-hitter entered the discussion twice this week alone. When does Verlander get his first crack at them? James Shields took no-no into the 7th inning against the Sox and Matt Harvey dominated them allowing merely one infield single in his nine innings the next day. The White Sox sported a .279 Team OBP entering play on Thursday. That is nothing short of astonishing. No other team was below .300 in the American League. We all know that no-hitters can occur anytime, anywhere even to good teams. Maybe the Astros are better bets to suffer one. But given the team wide problems getting on base, my money is on the White Sox right now.