Chicago White Sox
Hitters: C-. It is a minor miracle that this team has scored 193 runs. For most of this season, they’ve had two full-time starters, Brent Morel and Alexei Ramirez, who currently have sub.500 OPS. And then there is Gordon Beckham and Dayan Viciedo who play almost everyday with OBPs well under .300. Yet, they lead the division in runs scored. You can credit Paul Konerko and the rejuvenated Adam Dunn for pretty much all of that.
Pitchers: B-. Jake Peavy looks like he has found the fountain of youth and is an early contender for Comeback Player of the Year, assuming he can stay healthy. The emergence of Chris Sale in his first year as a starter, not counting his weird temporary shift to the bullpen, has given Chicago one of the best top two starting pitchers in all of baseball. After them though, things get ugly. Gavin Floyd continues his streak of having an ERA much higher than his peripherals suggest it should be. John Danks has been miserable and Philip Humber’s perfect game early in the year might be the only reason he is still in the rotation. When Robin Ventura isn’t playing musical chairs with the closer role, the White Sox have gotten quality from the bullpen.
Intangibles: F. This is all about manger Robin Ventura. He was hired despite no managing experience and it has showed. In particular, his lineup construction, bizarre flip-flopping with naming a closer and the strange way in which they have handled Chris Sale have raised a lot of eyebrows. The team is winning, but it seems like it is doing so in spite of Ventura’s machinations sometimes. However, it might actually be a good sign because it could lead to the team improving once Ventura gets comfortable in his role and gets out of his own team’s way.
Overall: C. It is hard to imagine that their offense won’t crater soon with all the out machines they have surrounding Konerko and Dunn, so South Side fans should enjoy this squad being over .500 while they can. If Jake Peavy comes back to earth too, things could get real bad in a big hurry for the Pale Hose.
Hitters: B-. If you thought Asdrubal Cabrera’s breakout 2011 season was a fluke, so far you are very wrong. Believe it or not, he has been even better this year with a .913 OPS and looking every bit like a franchise player. Lump him in with young catcher Carlos Santana and even younger second baseman Jason Kipnis and the Tribe has a great core up the middle of he diamond. What they don’t have is a lot to surround them with. Shin-Soo Choo is getting on base, but showing almost no power. But what really seems to be hurting the lineup is the total lack of balance seeing how the only true right-handed batter that gets significant playing time is Shelley Duncan, and he’s been totally unproductive.
Pitchers: C+. The rotation has been a mixed bag for Cleveland with their best performers being the most unlikely ones. Derek Lowe looked like he was pitching with a fork in his back for Atlanta last season, but he has a sparkling 2.15 ERA for Cleveland thus far. Behind him, Jeanmar Gomez has found a lot of early success as well, which is good news because the guys who were supposed to front the rotation, Ubaldo Jimenez and Justin Masterson have been bitter disappointments, both with ERAs just above 5.00. What has been a major factor in the Indians’ overachieving in the first part of the year is their strong relief work. As maligned as he is by his home fans, Chris Perez has posted strong numbers and blow just one of his 16 save chances. But what has made life really easy for Perez is that the trio of Joe Smith, Vinnie Pestano and Nick Hagadone have all been fantastic in middle relief to get Perez all those leads to protect.
Intangibles: D. Perhaps even more than the Orioles, the Indians seems like the AL division leader most poised for a fall. This is not a deep team but, with the constant exception of Grady Sizemore, they haven’t really had to deal with many injuries yet. When they do, they could be in trouble as they have already shown how desperate tehy are to add talent when they signed Johnny Damon. Even if the injury bug continues to avoid them, the unbalanced lineup seems like it will continue to hold back the offense and the rotation will start dragging the whole team down if/when Derek Lowe remembers that he is 39 years old and supposedly washed up.
Overall: B+. The Indians have been a pleasant surprise to start the year, just like last season, but look like they could be come back to the pack pretty quickly, just like last season. They may be eight games over .500 but they are also sitting on just a +1 in run differential. That is a bad omen for their continued success, but for now, it is good enough to lead the AL Central.
Hitters: C-. This team was supposed to be able to just slug teams into submission, but that hasn’t been the case so far. Big money free agent Prince Fielder hasn’t been bad, but he hasn’t put up the kind of numbers expected from him. With Alex Avila, Delmon Young, Ryan Raburn and Jhonny Peralta all off to varying degrees of underachieving starts, the Tigers lineup has been ordinary. That is through no fault of Austin Jackson though who deserves a special mention for the phenomenal season he is having. However, with Jackson now hurt, the Tigers could be in big trouble. Not only was he their best offensive player so far, he was probably their only above average defender. Even with his Gold Glove in center field, this is a miserable defensive team, especially in the infield. They’ve sacrificed a lot of defense in order to accommodate some big bats, but it just isn’t paying off so ar.
Pitchers: C-. Justin Verlander is amazing, blah, blah, blah. Let’s talk about the rest of the rotation. Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello have been greasefires and major reasons for the Tigers’ disappointing start. Both players seem like candidates for demotion to the bullpen or minors, if only the Tigers actually had the depth to absorb such moves. They’ve lucked out so far with Drew Smyly pitching out of his mind at the back of the rotation and they only recently got back Doug Fister. They have precious few options after that, so they might be stuck hoping Porcello and Scherzer figure it out and/or Fister and Smyly keep overachieving. A big question mark entering the season was the bullpen, especially middle relief. However, Octavio Dotel and Duane Below have helped stabilize the bullpen. Ironically, the weakest relief link is Jose Valverde. After not blowing a save in all of 2011, he already has two blown saves and a 5.51 ERA this year.
Intangibles: C. This one could go either way. Last year, the Tigers made their hay by beating up on their weak division, going 50-22. But this year, they are off to an 8-10 start in the division. If the Tigers can get back to dominating the lesser competition in the AL Central, they should be fine. If they don’t, then they could be a lot of trouble.
Overall: C-. Given their expectations coming into the year, Detroit has been highly disappointing. But perhaps they are just the victim of being overestimated. This team probably was never as talented as many assumed, so it should be no surprise that they have gotten off to a sluggish start.
Kansas City Royals
Hitters: D. This was supposed to be a breakout year for the Royals, in large part because of their lineup. Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon were supposed to be key to this offense taking off and making KC decent for the first time in years, but both players, especially Hosmer, have been disappointing. Say what you will about Hosmer’s BABIP, but the fact of the matter is that he just isn’t getting results. What has worked for Kansas City is that Mike Moustakas has come on strong in his first full season and that Ned Yost was saved from himself when Yuniesky Betancourt landed on the disabled list.
Pitchers: D-. As always, the Royals are struggling to just put a rotation together. Danny Duffy got off to a very promising start, but was lost for the season due to Tommy John surgery and off-season trade acquisition Jonathan Sanchez was awful for the Royals before landing on the disabled list. It really says a lot about your pitching depth that Luke Hochevar remains in the rotation with an ERA of 6.61. The only thing they really having going for themselves is that Felipe Paulino, fresh off the DL himself, has been electric in his four starts. What saves the Royals from a big fat F here is their dominant bullpen. Even though they lost Joakim Soria before the season began and then Greg Holland almost a long stretch, the Royals still boast one of the best relief corps in the game thanks in no small part to Jonathan Broxton’s big comeback season.
Intangibles: C-. With no financial resources and little reason for hope, all the Royals can really hang their hat on when it comes to salvaging this season is that they still have a number of quality prospects that they can call up to try and bolster the big league roster. Plus, one has to believe that Eric Hosmer will start hitting.
Overall: D-. They’re the Royals, even when they are a dark horse in the division, everyone kind of knows better.
Hitters: D. The Twins did well to add Ryan Doumit and Josh Willingham this off-season. They also have to be pleased to see Joe Mauer bounce back after his injury-riddled 2011. That is pretty much the end of nice things that can be said about the Twins. With Justin Morneau looking like he will never be productive and/or healthy ever again, the Twin lineup is in deep trouble. Having a wasted so many at-bats on Alexi Casilla, Jamey Carroll, Danny Valencia and Chris Parmalee hasn’t helped. What’s scary is that the Twins have had little luck replacing any of them.
Pitchers: F——–. Good gravy is this rotation awful. They have three players with ERAs currently over 8.00 that have made at least six starts for the Twinkies in 2012. Those three (Francisco Liriano, Jason Marquis, Nick Blackburn) are all in the bullpen, released or on the DL now leaving Minnesota with a rotation of Carl Pavano and four players nobody has ever heard of. There’s a reason that the Twins have allowed 25 more runs than any other American League team. A few more minuses could’ve been added to this grade had Matt Capps not found a way to be relatively decent as the closer in an otherwise mediocre bullpen.
Intangibles: F. This team is a trading deadline fire sale waiting to happen and there is a good chance that long-time manager Ron Gardenhire won’t survive the year.
Overall: F. There is no sugar-coating it. This team stinks and the only thing they are playing for is to not finish with the worst record in baseball.