As much as you think you know about the game of baseball, something is ready to surprise you.
Whether it comes down to the individual or team performances, there are surprises all over the place in this game and pre-season expectations are out the window before you know it.
With that, there a couple of AL clubs that may not be contenders to win their division, but very much in the thick of the Wild Card race in a season no one expected them to compete for a playoff spot.
Let’s have a look at these clubs and dive in to see what their chances of getting into the dance really are.
*Stats as of 6/5/19
- Record: 30-28
- Current Playoff Status: Tied for 2nd Wild Card spot with Red Sox
The Texas Rangers were not short on entertainment value last season.
Their bats were actually right on the cusp of being a top-half offense with their .315 wOBA sitting 16th and just one spot out of the top half. As expected, their offense at home in the hitter-friendly Globe Life Park in Arlington was much better and even snuck into the top five at fifth with a .337 wOBA at home.
On the flip side, their pitching was horrendous, especially from their rotation. The Rangers’ rotation ranked 29th with a 5.37 ERA on the season, essentially putting their offense in catch up mode from the get-go more often than not. Considering their home park, their bullpen wasn’t horrible with a 4.28 ERA on the season, good for 19th.
Fast forward to 2019 and things are different.
For one, the Rangers are a legitimate top-five offense at the moment and are getting big-time contributions from unexpected resources.
In what was billed as another rebuilding year, the Rangers took fliers on discarded veteran such as Hunter Pence, Logan Forsythe, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Danny Santana.
To this point, I’d say it’s been worth the investment.
|Offense From the Vets|
Keep in mind these were pieces that no one else wanted and were simply added to give them innings while the future of the team develops in the minor leagues.
Now, they could be a huge part of a playoff-bound club.
Of course, their surprising spot in the standings isn’t possible without the big boys doing their job as well, something that’s also been done in spades.
|Big Boys Getting it Done|
The resident contributors have done their part in getting this offense to where it is. Entering play Thursday night, the Rangers rank fifth with a .336 wOBA on the season while they’ve to flex their muscle for a .201 ISO, good for sixth.
Pre-season expectations were almost non-existent for this club based on the offseason additions to their rotation, which were littered with post-Tommy John surgery arms.
Texas added Drew Smyly, Edinson Volquez and Shelby Miller, all of whom underwent the operation recently and were complete wild cards in their performance for the 2019 season.
There isn’t anything positive that’s come out of these moves, however, as each of these additions has a 7.04 ERA or worse this season while Volquez was limited to just two starts with an elbow sprain, but is said to be on the mend and a possible rotation or bullpen piece later in the season.
Add it up and the Rangers, despite a 3.18 FIP and 2.3 WAR from Lance Lynn and a 2.74 ERA and 2.1 WAR from Mike Minor, still rank 23rd with a brutal 5.12 stater’s ERA on the season. They deserve a little better fate with a 4.60 FIP, good for 18th, but the rotation still needs major upgrades if they wish to continue to contend into the summer months, especially at home where 100-degree temperatures, and plenty of home runs, are on their way.
Things aren’t any better in the bullpen, either.
The ‘pen has regressed to a 4.99 ERA this season, good for 23rd while their 4.92 FIP ranks 25th. Any lead this offense gives their pitching staff is in jeopardy and it’s about to get worse if needs aren’t addressed.
Shawn Kelley, another veteran offseason addition, has been the lone reliable arm in the Texas ‘pen with his 2.18 ERA leading all members with at least 10 relief appearances. Ariel Jurado and Adrian Sampson were good too, but both have been forced into the rotation thanks to the dismal efforts of the trio mentioned above. Smyly appears to be the lone man in that group hanging onto a rotation spot, but after allowing seven earned runs for the second consecutive start, this time in 3.1 innings, on Wednesday against the Orioles, his rotation spot would appear to be on life support.
Expect Texas to be cautious buyers as we go through the next seven weeks or so leading up to the trade deadline. The pitching staff needs serious patchwork, but it would be tough to see this offensive performance go to waste.
At 10 games back of the wounded Astros, any chance at taking a run at the division seems like a hail mary, or worse. However, the Rangers could take advantage of a much weaker American League relative to their National League counterparts and take a serious run at a Wild Card spot.
It all depends if their pitching, whether internally or externally, can turn things around before they waste what’s been one of the best offenses in baseball this season.
Chicago White Sox
- Record: 29-32
- Current Playoff Status: 2.5 games back of the second Wild Card
It would indeed be a shock, but the White Sox could perhaps make a run with some elite performances coming from their long-awaited prospects this season.
It seems like the White Sox rebuild has been going on forever. The south side hasn’t seen a winning ball club since way back in the 2012 season, but even that team couldn’t crack the postseason after going 85-77 and finishing second to the Tigers in the AL Central.
The last time the White Sox were in the dance was back in 2008 when they won the division but ultimately lost in the ALDS to the Rays in four games. Of course, the prior trip to the postseason was much more fruitful as the White Sox won the World Series in the 2005 season.
Nonetheless, it’s been a long wait for the White Sox faithful, but the rebuild is starting to bear fruit despite a set back before the season evan began.
The White Sox rotation took a hit when Michael Kopech went under the knife with the dreaded Tommy John surgery after making four big league starts last season.
Interestingly, despite being one of the final suitors for Manny Machado in what was clearly a potential win-now move, the White Sox didn’t address a weak rotation in the offseason aside from signing veteran Ivan Nova and eventually Ervin Santana, both of which have not worked out in the least.
The White Sox rotation has simply struggled, as you can see.
|White Sox Rotation By the Numbers|
In a nutshell, one member of the White Sox rotation has been good this season, and he happens to be a Cy Young contender after producing the worst numbers in baseball among qualified pitchers last season: Lucas Giolito
Giolito has pitched to a stout 2.54 ERA, 2.63 FIP, 10.40 K/9 and 0.53 HR/o9 through 11 starts and 67.1 innings on the season. He has a complete game shutout of the high-octane Astros under his belt and is among the AL leaders in just about every pitching statistic possible.
He needs help.
The good news is the White Sox bullpen has performed well despite some regression likely on the way. They’ve posted a 3.90 ERA on the season, good for seventh in the league. Their 4.59 FIP punts them back to 20th while their 4.89 xFIP ranks them 24th, however, in terms of pure results, the bullpen has been an asset, not a liability to this point.
It was an area they addressed in the offseason with the additions of closer Alex Colome and high-leverage arm Kelvin Herrera, but only the Colome addition has proved successful with his stout 1.52 ERA while Herrera is still looking to find it with a 7.36 mark across his 24 appearances.
Still, the White Sox ‘pen has four arms that have combined at least 10 appearances and a sub-2.00 ERA on the season. The season-ending torn flexor strain issue suffered by the hard-throwing Nate Jones continues to sting, however.
That said, while you aren’t going to see the offense ranking at the top of the league, they may only be a couple of productive pieces away.
The White Sox were looking for strides for a youngster such as Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson while a bounce back from Jose Abreu was near the top of the wish list as well.
They’ve received all three.
|White Sox Offensive Pillars|
In Moncada’s case, he’s managed to reduce the strikeouts, albeit with a 28.6% K-rate at the moment, but he’s the highest WAR player on this White Sox offense with a 1.9 mark.
Anderson’s offensive contributions don’t just come down to his power numbers but also his ability to use his legs on the basepaths with 15 steals already this season, good for the second-best mark in baseball but still well behind the ridiculous 22 posted by the Royals’ Adalberto Mondesi.
Abreu’s home run power has returned after hitting just 22 homers all of last season and his current .258 ISO would go down as the second-best mark of his six-year MLB career if the season ended today.
The Sox probably want more from Eloy Jimenez and his .661 OPS to this point in the season, but this goes down as a perfect example of how difficult this league is on young players. Jimenez has been below replacement at -0.5 WAR after raking for a .996 OPS at the Triple-A level in 2018.
I really wonder if GM Rick Hahn is looking around the rest of the American League right now and wondering if his club, faults and all, has a legitimate chance at making the playoffs.
In order to do so, they’ll have to fend off the Red Sox, as would the Rangers, but here we are in June and they’re close.
Maybe it’s Dallas Keuchel. Maybe the Sox get involved in the Madison Bumgarner sweepstakes. There’s going to be some names available in the next several weeks that come into play, and without sacrificing his top-end, youthful big league talent, I wouldn’t doubt it if Hahn made a move that helped his team now and into the future, whoever that may be.
No matter how you slice it, the White Sox weren’t supposed to be this close, but the general weakness in the AL has allowed the south side to play for keeps as we get into the meat of the MLB regular season.