Charlie Morton continued his dream season, improving to 7-0 with a 2.04 ERA as the Houston Astros beat the Cleveland Indians 8-2. But let's skip Morton, George Springer (who reached base four times) and Alex Bregman (who hit a three-run homer off Mike Clevinger), though we will show two defensive highlights from Tony Kemp and Carlos Correa:
Instead, let's talk about the American League Central. With the loss Thursday, the Indians fell to 24-24, good enough to lead the division by 1.5 games over the Twins. The Tigers are not a good club at 21-28, yet they're just 3.5 games out of first. I don't even want to tell you about the Royals and White Sox.
The division is bad. Maybe the Indians won't be this mediocre over the long term, but they're 14-19 when playing outside the division. The division representatives are collectively an embarrassing 54-98 when not playing one another. The win-loss records state the obvious: This is one of the worst divisions in history.
Somebody will still make the playoffs.
Hey, it happens. The worst division was probably the 1994 American League West. Thank god for the strike or we might have had a sub-.500 team make the playoffs. When the strike killed the season in August, these were the AL West standings:
That's pretty bad. Still, those teams had a .417 win percentage outside the division; the AL Central is currently at .355.
It all sets up the uncomfortable possibility of the Indians making the playoffs with a much worse record than a team that doesn't make it. That has always been the risk of the two-wild-card format, though it hasn't happened it yet. Imagine the Indians winning the division with a .500 record, while, say, the Mariners or Angels go home with 90-plus wins. It could happen.
Geography has always been a factor in determining the playoff participants. In the wild-card era since 1995, 11 division winners have advanced to the postseason with a worse record than another team or teams in the league. Two of those teams went on to win the World Series: the 2000 Yankees (87 wins, while the 90-win Indians were shut out) and the 2006 Cardinals (83 wins, while the 85-win Phillies went home).
In the two-wild-card era, it has happened just once. The Tigers won the 2012 AL Central with 88 wins, while the 90-win Rays and 89-win Angels missed the postseason. (Ironically, that was the year of the heated Miguel Cabrera versus Mike Trout MVP debate, and one reason voters cited for choosing Cabrera was that his team made the playoffs.)
The biggest win discrepancy between a division winner and a non-playoff team in the wild-card era came in 2005, when the Padres won the National League West with an 82-80 record and the Phillies went 88-74.
Maybe nobody really cares about this, I don't know, but the playoff system is necessarily the fairest of setups. We also could get a situation in which the Yankees and Red Sox both win 100 games, and for one of them, the reward is a one-game playoff against Shohei Ohtani or James Paxton. That sounds like fun.
On the other hand, the potential of six division races is probably more exciting than two 15-team leagues playing a balanced schedule and the top five teams making it from each. In the case of the AL Central, I'll begrudge the division this: Cleveland and Kansas City are two small markets, and the White Sox are sort of the red-headed stepchild to the Cubs. These teams aren't operating with the same incomes as the Yankees or Red Sox. (Although, if we want to make the divisions fairer based on team revenue, let's switch Detroit to the AL East and move the Rays to the Central.)
Anyway, maybe the Indians eventually will make this a moot point. FanGraphs still projects them to finish with a better record than the Mariners or Angels (89 wins to 87 to 86). What's more, I certainly wouldn't look forward to facing Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer in a short series.
Angels push back Ohtani's next start
Ohtani has been the Angels' de facto Sunday starter. And he would have pitched this Sunday at Yankee Stadium in an anticipated matchup against Masahiro Tanaka, but the Angels will push back that outing to an as yet unscheduled day.
"There's so much on his plate on what he has to do that we're going to push him back a little," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said Thursday. "He's fine. Workload management. That's it."
It certainly makes sense for the Angels to be as careful as possible, especially seeing as there is no precedent for this. Ohtani also threw 110 pitches in his previous outing. Still, against a lineup such as the Yankees, you'd love for your best guy to be out there.
In other news, the Angels beat the Blue Jays 8-1 as Ohtani went 2-for-3 with two doubles -- one a hustle double on a base hit to center field, showing off his speed -- and two walks, and he's hitting .319/.385/.606. Scioscia said Ohtani will be available to hit against Tanaka.
By fWAR, Shohei Ohtani has provided the equivalent value of Christian Yelich as a position player plus Stephen Strasburg as a pitcher in 2018.— Jeremy Frank (@MLBRandomStats) May 24, 2018
The Angels' lineup is bit strange right now. Ian Kinsler is leading off and is still struggling with a .190 average and sub-.300 OBP and slugging. Albert Pujols is hitting cleanup and just ended a 67-at-bat homerless stretch with one in the ninth inning Thursday. Meanwhile, Ohtani is hitting fifth and raking, and Andrelton Simmons is hitting sixth and raking. How long until Simmons moves into the leadoff spot and Ohtani to cleanup when he's in the lineup? Put your top four hitters 1-2-3-4.
Brandon Nimmo has to play every day
Nimmo went 4-for-4 with a walk for the Mets in a 5-0 victory over the Brewers, raising his OBP to .450.
Brandon Nimmo currently has a higher OPS than Kris Bryant, Aaron Judge, Freddie Freeman, Francisco Lindor, Nolan Arenado and Bryce Harper. #Mets— Rich MacLeod (@richmacleod) May 25, 2018
Many wanted general manager Sandy Alderson to trade Nimmo in the offseason for some pitching depth or infield help, especially after the club signed Jay Bruce as a free agent. With Bruce, Michael Conforto, Juan Lagares and Yoenis Cespedes, there was no clear path to playing time for Nimmo, plus no guarantee that his walk-heavy approach would translate from Las Vegas to Citi Field. Plus, he hit just .227 for Vegas last season, though he fared better in his time with the Mets.
Well, Lagares is out for the year, Cespedes is on the disabled list once again and Conforto hasn't really gotten it going after his return from shoulder surgery. Nimmo, meanwhile, is looking like the leadoff hitter the Mets needed. When Cespedes returns, the outfield alignment should be Cespedes, Conforto and Nimmo, leaving Bruce as the fourth outfielder, as trade bait or battling Adrian Gonzalez for playing time at first base.
Rays to continue reliever-as-starter experiment
Tampa Bay's scheduled starters for this weekend's series against the Orioles: Sergio Romo on Friday, Ryne Stanek on Saturday and Romo again on Sunday. Like the Angels, the Orioles feature a righty-heavy lineup, making it easier to try something such as this again.
"They have Chris Davis hitting fourth or fifth in there. That's the lone lefty that hits up at the top most of the time," Rays manager Kevin Cash said. "It should stack up similarly to what we did in Anaheim. And hopefully, we have some similar success."
Must-read of the day
Be sure to check Wayne Drehs' story on White Sox grounds crew member Nevest Coleman, who returned to his job with the team after being falsely imprisoned for 23 years.