Detroit Tigers: Best team in MLB through two weeks
DETROIT – In last week's AL Central roundup, The Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals were the only remaining undefeated teams in baseball with six wins apiece. Now, with two weeks' worth of games in the books, Detroit is alone atop the MLB standings, with Kansas City sitting just a game behind.
The Tigers have certainly hit a few major speed bumps en route to a sparkling 10-2 start. Justin Verlander's recovery keeps getting pushed back, with no immediate timetable set for this return. On offense, Victor Martinez went 3-3 on Sunday but struggles to limp around the base paths.
Detroit will gladly take its first-place standing after 12 games, but the next 150 look like they'll bring some uncertainty to the clubhouse.
Here's a look around the American League Central Division with 7.4 percent of the season in the rearview mirror.
Detroit Tigers (10-2)
Dave being Dave: Dave Dombrowski's well-known offseason acquisitions weren't nearly as flashy heading into 2015. In fact, it appeared as if the losses greatly outweighed the gains on the current roster.
But two of his prized new players were at their best Sunday, as Shane Greene threw seven one-run innings and Yoenis Cespedes chipped in with two home runs and six RBI.
Greene has been the best pitcher in MLB through three starts, boasting a 3-0 record and 0.74 WHIP in 23 innings. His only earned run came on a single that was played into an RBI triple to right field by J.D. Martinez. He's struck out only 11 batters in three starts, but allowed a mere 12 hits.
Cespedes, who came to Detroit via the Rick Porcello trade with Boston, is batting an even .300 through 12 games with four doubles, three home runs and 10 RBI. He leads the Tigers with eight extra-base hits, but has struggled with strikeouts, whiffing 12 times in 50 at-bats.
When it rains, it pours: Anibal Sanchez was one of the best pitchers in the AL over that last two years in terms of ERA and limiting home runs. In fact, Sanchez allowed only four homers in 21 starts last season.
But after allowing seven home runs in 30 spring training innings, Sanchez is off to a terrible start in 2015. He allowed three home runs to the Pirates last week and two more to the White Sox en route to a 12-3 loss Saturday.
Sanchez allowed a career-high nine earned runs Saturday and saw his ERA balloon to 7.71. He's started both of the Tigers' two losses through 12 games and already allowed more home runs through three starts than he did all of last year.
The might of a 3-man army: The most shocking development to come out of Detroit's 10-2 start is the surprising success of the battered bullpen. Though its 27 innings pitched are the fewest for any bullpen in MLB, Tigers relievers have posted a 3.00 ERA and 2-0 record so far. Opposing batters are hitting just .206 against the Tigers' bullpen, 9th best in the league.
How have the Tigers enjoyed such success in the late innings? Three reasons: Angel Nesbitt, Tom Gorzelanny and Joakim Soria. Nesbitt and Gorzelanny have taken over most of the late-inning duties for Brad Ausmus, tossing a combined 8.1 scoreless innings. Gorzelanny, the team's top left-handed option, has allowed just two hits in three games.
In the 9th inning, Soria has been unhittable since taking over closing duties. After allowing a run on two hits on April 11, he has tossed four straight perfect innings, with the exception of one batter that reached on a fielding error. He's 4/4 on save opportunities and owns a WHIP of 0.35.
Kansas City Royals (9-3)
The slide heard 'round Kauffman: When the Oakland A's made their yearly visit to Kansas City over the weekend, the headline was supposed to be Billy Butler's return to the park where he hit a career 127 home runs and batted .295.
But this series got ugly fast, as a late slide at second base in the opener by Oakland's Brett Lawrie took out Alcides Escobar during a double play and emptied the benches.
The following day, Royals starter Yordano Ventura pegged Lawrie with his fastball (which often reaches 100 mph) and brought out the benches once again. For good measure, Kelvin Herrera beaned Lawrie in the series finale to complete a weekend full of angry baseball players yelling and getting tossed from games.
In the end, Kansas City got the last laugh, taking two of three games behind a late Sunday comeback.
Lorenzo's encore: After he came out of nowhere to bat .301 with 28 stolen bases and 53 RBI in 2014, many forgot about Royals center fielder Lorenzo Cain during the offseason exodus of talent from Kansas City.
But now people are remembering, as Cain ranks among the top five hitters in the AL in batting average (.413) and RBI (12).
Kansas City lost aging outfielder Alex Rios to the DL earlier in the week, so Cain will have to fill that gap in the outfield and in the middle of the lineup.
Minnesota Twins (5-7)
Home cookin': For Tigers fans who watched the Twins during a three-game sweep at Comerica Park to start the season, Minnesota looked every bit of a last-place team primed for a 100-loss season.
But after a 1-5 start on the road, the Twins took four of six games during a mini home stand and shot into 3rd place in the AL Central.
Minnesota is the only team in the Central to have faced each of its four division rivals through 12 games. The Twins took two of three in both of their series wins against Kansas City and Cleveland behind surprisingly capable pitching.
Power outage: The Twins have struggled to score runs after posting excellent offensive numbers during the 2014 season. Their eight home runs lands them just one above Cleveland for last in the AL, while a total of 16 doubles ranks 12th.
Minnesota's 3.25 runs per game puts even more pressure on a starting rotation already decimated by suspensions and injuries. Breakout 2014 players Brian Dozier and Danny Santana are batting a combined .198 with only five extra-base hits. Joe Mauer is the only Twins regular hitting higher than .225.
Third time's not the charm: Though the Twins came into the 2015 season with perhaps the worst starting rotation in recent baseball history, Phil Hughes was expected to be a solid No. 1 after a strong 2014 season.
But Hughes has been the opposite of solid. He's lost each of his first three starts and owns a 5.30 ERA. Home runs have haunted Hughes so far this season, as four fly balls have cleared the fence in 18.2 innings against a pitcher who allowed 16 in over 200 innings last season.
Minnesota's rotation will likely be awful throughout the entire first half, at least until Ervin Santana returns. But if Hughes continues to struggle, the numbers will turn ugly for first-time manager Paul Molitor.
Cleveland Indians (4-7)
Putting up zeroes: The Indians' offense has been simply atrocious through 11 games. Cleveland ranks 14th in the AL with 35 runs scored and bats only .221 as a team. With the exception of Carlos Santana, the Indians can't draw a walk, either, and own a .278 on-base percentage as a result.
On an individual level, only part-time outfielder Jerry Sands is batting over .270 in 18 at-bats to start his Indians career. Santana and Roberto Perez are the only players with two home runs on the year.
Michael Brantley has been in and out of the lineup with a strained lower back, which has really crippled an already-thin middle of the order. He's batting just .200 in five games and has just one extra-base hit (a double).
#BauerOutage: Trevor Bauer is finally looking like the dominant power pitcher scouts expected him to be as a prospect. Bauer is 2-0 after two starts with 19 strikeouts in 12 innings, allowing just four hits.
As with most power pitchers, Bauer battles his own command. He's walked nine batters thus far, which cut both of his outings short at just six innings. In his season debut, the 24-year-old was pulled despite twirling a no-hitter because he'd thrown 111 pitches and walked five batters.
Bauer is tough to hit, and seems to be finding his go-to strikeout pitch. But he'll have to cut down on the walks and be more economical to really boost the Cleveland rotation.
Chicago White Sox (4-7)
Dynamic duo: Chicago's offense is off to a slow start as a whole this season, scoring one run or less in five of their 11 games.
But Jose Abreu and Adam LaRoche have been a two-man wrecking crew in the middle of the lineup, driving in a combined 15 runs and crushing six homers.
Abreu and LaRoche rank Nos. 1 and 2 in the White Sox lineup in terms of total bases and RBI, but have struck out a total of 24 times. LaRoche, who accounts for 16 of the strike outs, makes up for it with an on-base percentage of .364, thanks to six walks.
Singles parade: Melky Cabrera finally broke out of an eight-game slump this weekend in a series with the Tigers. Cabrera, who owned a .182 average heading into Detroit, picked up six hits in the final nine at-bats and brought his average up to .261.
The only problem? Cabrera's power seems to have vanished in the early goings, as 11 of his 12 hits are singles, with the other coming on a double Saturday.
The former Blue Jay hit 35 doubles and 16 home runs last year, but has yet to leave the yard in 11 games. He's also sporting a terrible .261 on-base percentage, as he hasn't walked yet this season.
Starting from the bottom: The main reason for Chicago's slow start is a pitching staff that owns the worst ERA in the AL at 4.82. After acquiring Jeff Samardzija in the offseason and revamping their awful bullpen, the White Sox expected to be much improved on the mound.
So far, John Danks and Jose Quintana have been nightmares in the starting rotation and Samardzija has been surprisingly average. Chris Sale and David Robertson are as advertised through 11 games, but the rest of the roster is yet to catch up.
The X-factor is Quintana, Chicago's second starter last season, who needs to bounce back and be a high-end No. 3 starter to put the White Sox in contention for the division title.
This week's games:
Detroit: 4 vs. Yankees, 3 vs. Indians
Kansas City: 3 vs. Twins, 4 @ White Sox
Minnesota: 3 @ Royals, 3 @ Mariners
Cleveland: 3 @ White Sox, 3 @ Tigers
Chicago: 3 vs. Indians, 4 vs. Royals
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