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  • Houston, Does the Central Have a Problem?


    Ted Schwerzler

    Each of the past two seasons, the AL Central Division winner has faced the Houston Astros. For the second straight season, Dusty Baker’s club has had the upper hand. Is there more to it than circumstance?

    Image courtesy of Troy Taormina, USA TODAY Sports

    Last season the Minnesota Twins played Houston in a three-game series and was swept, scoring just two runs in 18 innings of work. The 2020 club wasn’t the 2019 Bomba Squad, but they still won the division over Chicago and Cleveland while playing at a 97-win clip. The Twins looked well-positioned, with Kenta Maeda pitching like a Cy Young and Jose Berrios being a formidable starter in his own right. The lineup was still plenty scary, and distancing themselves from an insufferable Postseason losing streak was no doubt the goal.

    That didn’t happen. Unfortunately, they needed to break in rookie Alex Kirilloff out of necessity, and star third basemen Josh Donaldson couldn’t go. Jorge Polanco made a critical throwing error, and the Twins were done in mainly by their ineffectiveness. This season, they were expected to compete for a third straight division title, but after fumbling out of the gate, the Chicago White Sox represented the Central against the same foe.

    This time around, a Chicago team looked plenty capable of knocking off Houston but yet has thus far suffered the same fate. Lance Lynn and Lucas Giolito should both get Cy Young votes this season. Along with Carlos Rodon, the South Siders have a trio of talented arms. Defense isn’t Tony La Russa’s club’s calling card, but the lineup is plenty potent. With Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert back, Jose Abreu and Yasmani Grandal get help with the heavy lifting.

    It shouldn’t have been expected to go this way, but now down 2-0, Chicago is backed up against the wall. They won’t have a pitching advantage in game three but will get the game back at home. Barring a miraculous three-in-a-row run, the Central division winner will bow out quickly for the second year in a row.

    I’ve seen it suggested that the White Sox, and probably Minnesota last season, are just division-winning good. The AL Central was expected to be down this year, and given the Twins performance, it wasn’t as top-heavy as expected, but it’s hardly the doldrums of baseball. No team in the Central lost 90 games, the Royals got off to a strong start, and the Tigers finished playing good baseball. While the group as a whole didn’t have a herculean frontrunner, there’s no denying it played competitive baseball on a nightly basis.

    Suggesting that the White Sox weren’t in the same tier as Houston falls on deaf ears for this writer. The lineup, rotation, and pieces of the pen can compete with anyone. I think the Astros are being slept on some as they look to fly under the radar following the fallout of their cheating scandal. What takes place in a five-game series doesn’t define the body of work necessary to reach this point. Chicago dealt with some of the most crippling injuries this season and still ripped off 93 wins. Minnesota battled through a weird year a season ago and lost two in a row at the wrong time.

    Houston is good, the Central is OK, and the only problem may be Chicago returning this core next season. The Twins, and everyone else, are on notice.

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    You made me laugh.  Of course we have a problem.  Winning 90 in a division in which teams 2 - 5 are all below 500 is not a monumental feat.  When the Rays win 90 in the American East that is a feat.  

    There is something that impacts the central teams when they get into the post season and maybe it is the fact that they are not hardened by the competition during the season.   

    We were 13 - 20 versus the East, 37 - 39 in our own division, and 13 - 20 versus the West.  And 10 - 10 interleague.  

    We often fool ourselves and think we are better than our record - even this year that might be true.

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    1 hour ago, mikelink45 said:

    maybe it is the fact that they are not hardened by the competition during the season.

    That could be, but in this particular case, the Astros seem to have a pretty well-oiled organizational machine for prepping for playoff matchups. The White Sox are hitting the Astros pitching (18 hits in two games ain't bad), but ALL have been singles. That, and the Astros solid situational hitting seems like the result of some careful scouting.

    Of course, the Astros have been known to look for other kinds of angles for winning, too. :)

    But overall, I think you're right. It pains me to say it, but I would prefer to see the Twins play the Yankees  and Rays more often in the regular season, just to see how it might elevate their play over time.

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    3 hours ago, mikelink45 said:

    You made me laugh.  Of course we have a problem.  Winning 90 in a division in which teams 2 - 5 are all below 500 is not a monumental feat.  When the Rays win 90 in the American East that is a feat.  

    There is something that impacts the central teams when they get into the post season and maybe it is the fact that they are not hardened by the competition during the season.   

    We were 13 - 20 versus the East, 37 - 39 in our own division, and 13 - 20 versus the West.  And 10 - 10 interleague.  

    We often fool ourselves and think we are better than our record - even this year that might be true.

    The AL Central may not have a juggernaut, but it's also a division where no one lost 90 games. 

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    You can argue that the Sox are a good team without needing to prop up the AL Central. It was the ONLY division in baseball to have every team other than the winner finish under .500. The Central is hands down the least competitive division in the AL, and very likely in all of baseball. The Twins lost 89 games, KC 88, and Detroit 85; drawing the line at 90 seems a little too arbitrary.  

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    52 minutes ago, Ted Schwerzler said:

    The AL Central may not have a juggernaut, but it's also a division where no one lost 90 games. 

    and the difference between 89 losses and 90 losses  means????  Bad is bad, if they played against better teams they could have achieved the magical 90.  😆

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    I don’t think it’s an AL Central problem. If the Twins has pulled their weight and won 90+ games, the Central would have looked like several other divisions this season. So that’s why I say it’s a Twins problem, not a Central problem.

    As far as the possibility of the White Sox being swept and having this be the fourth consecutive season where the AL Central winner has been swept out of the first round? First, other teams are allowed to be good. But secondly, yeah, that’s a bad look. The Twins have played a big part in that streak. 

    Three different AL Central teams represented the American League in the World Series for 4 out of 5 years recently, from 2012 to 2016. So that tells me that a good team or mid-market team from the Central division can compete just fine. 

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    The White Sox are being exposed in this series.  Breaking it down to how they did vs playoff teams (13-19):

    HOU 2-5

    BOS 4-3

    Mil 1-2

    NYY 1-5

    STL 2-1

    TB 3-3

    They beat up on just 5 teams (20-8):

    BAL 7-0

    MIN 13-6

    CHI (N) 5-1

    TEX 5-1

    DET 12-7

     

    They were on 39-34 in the 2nd half. 18-24 in one run games. Jusr 16-13 in SEP/OCT. 

     

    They were an average team that beat up on a few bad teams. They coasted down the stretch. Had there been another team challenging them in the division they may not have been able to hlpd them off.

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    I am not a White Sox fan (that's putting it mildly), but they are not a bad team. I think they are just inexperienced in playoff baseball. Unfortunately that's probably why the Twins will have to be a lot better than they are to reclaim the Division Title.

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    I think it's two different questions but generally, no, the Central doesn't have a problem. The Sox did ok, as most good teams do, against other good teams and beat up really bad teams. That's pretty usual. I think the Sox don't stack up well against Houston in particular but that has more to do with those rosters. I do think that playing a generally soft schedule (like Chicago got this year b/c of how bad the central was) isn't good for a team over the course of the year but it probably doesn't impact the final records that much.

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    On 10/9/2021 at 9:07 AM, mikelink45 said:

    There is something that impacts the central teams when they get into the post season and maybe it is the fact that they are not hardened by the competition during the season.   

    I agree 100 percent. The White Sox aren’t any different from the Twins when it comes to results the last few seasons. They play really well vs the bad teams and are mediocre against teams that are actually good. 
     

    I was shocked when they actually won one last night. I’m not sure it happens again. There really needs to be a more balanced schedule so the Twins and other ALC teams can see if they are truly for real each year or just pretending. 

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    I would estimate that if the AL was just one big division, the White Sox would have finished 8th. They would have a hard time finishing above .500. 

    Maybe they surprise and finish in 6th place. I really can't place them higher than that. 

    They will be better the next couple years though. Every young team needs these seasons as they climb the ladder.

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