While only three victories separate first and second place in the American League Central a little over one month into the 2019 season, the team that is leading is not the Cleveland Indians – welcome to the 2019 version of the Minnesota Twins, who are here to stay.
This is one of the more toss-up divisions in baseball this season, as even though the Indians have been the overwhelming favorites the past few seasons and came into 2019 looking like they were going to win their fourth consecutive and sixth divisional title since 2000.
On the other hand, the Twins last sniffed the playoffs two years ago, as they lost to the New York Yankees in the Wild Card round, 8-4, and have not won the Central since 2010, when they went back to back (2009 & ‘10) with divisional crowns. Both times they won the division, they lost to the Yankees in the ALDS, so their penchant with facing the Bronx Bombers in the postseason is not strong.
The Twins are truly an interesting team, boasting some star-caliber players but no players who are sure-fire All-Stars, which is very unique for a division-leading squad. Not having steadfast veteran Joe Mauer on their team means that this team is lacking in some veteran leadership and know-how too, which will be a large hump to overcome as the season progresses.
Offensively, the Twins are being led by shortstop Jorge Polanco, who also leads the AL in batting average with a .344 clip through 34 games and 131 at-bats. Also sporting one of the five 1.000+ OPS figures in the AL at 1.061, and the 25-year old is slugging his way to the top of offensive charts so far this season.
Other bats that are helping Polanco at the plate include catcher Mitch Garver (.354 AVG), catcher Willians Astudillo (.327), second baseman Jonathan Schoop (.284) and designated hitter Nelson Cruz (.277). While Garver’s average technically leads the team, he does not have enough at-bats to qualify to lead the league, hence why Polanco’s average is tops in the AL instead.
Left fielder Eddie Rosario leads the team in long balls, having knocked 13 out of the park, which also is the highest number in the AL in that category. The team’s DH, Cruz, is tied for second on the team with seven dingers along with four other Twins. For steals, the team has eight total, seven of which belong to speedster center fielder Byron Buxton (the eighth one is for Marwin Gonzalez).
Team-wise, the Twins boast the AL’s second-best average behind the Houston Astros at .261, have the third-most home runs with 64, have driven in the fourth-most runners with 177 RBIs and have struck out the second-fewest times with only 261 punchouts through 35 games.
For their pitching staff, the team has the fourth-best ERA at 3.80 through 308 innings, fourth-best in hits allowed at 277, third-best in earned runs allowed at 130 and have only walked 107 batters, which is also third-best in the AL.
Jose Berrios leads the team in wins as their starting rotation ace with six, closer Blake Parker has gone six for six in save opportunities while sporting a 1.54 ERA through 13 games, and the two Trevor’s out of the bullpen, Hildenberger and May, lead the team in appearances with 16 each.
While dealing with some important injuries, as Addison Reed, Astudillo, Miguel Sano, and Adalberto Mejia are on the Injured List, they have filled in the gaps very nicely with good depth pieces, and having Gonzalez be able to start over at the hot corner makes up for Sano being on the shelf for the time being.
The Indians have had to face countless injuries, especially decimating their starting rotation, and they have not been starting out very strongly so far. Their offseason consisted of moves that cut salary but also preserved their standing of division favorites, which is a hard balance to find for a front office.
Cleveland has the pieces to be successful yet again this season, but so does Minnesota, and they are better built to not fall apart halfway through the season yet again, which is what plagued them in 2018. This divisional race may come down to the additions made at the trade deadline by both teams, but Minnesota has more than a fighter’s chance to make an impact on the divisional race.
Look out Cleveland, the objects in your rearview mirror seem to have gotten a lot closer.