By Norm Elrod
(CBS Chicago/CBS Local) — Pennant races are still too far off to predict. The long-distance horse race that is the MLB season plays out over months, not weeks.
But with baseball well into May, teams are starting to show their true colors. The early-season jitters are long gone. The injury picture is sorting itself out. And stats dominated by hot or cold streaks are beginning to level off.
The Chicago Cubs are one of those teams. After a rough start (and despite Monday’s collapse), they seem to be on track. A sweep of the National League Central-leading St. Louis Cardinals put the Cubs in first place, if only for a day. And a glance at their schedule suggests they’ll be hanging around.
So will the Minnesota Twins, who lead the American League Central by three games. The Cleveland Indians aren’t going to bow out of this two-team race, but they’re far from an ideal contender. The Indians just can’t hit, whereas the Twins are showing they can.
Mike Trout has lit up the stat sheet his entire career with the Los Angeles Angels. And he’s certainly earned the monster contract extension that will probably keep this Angel in the outfield well into the next decade. But will he ever get some help?
This week’s Baseball Report looks at the surging Cubs, the swinging Twins and Mike Trout’s floundering Angels.
Cubs Challenging Cardinals
The Cubs had won seven games in a row before Monday’s late bullpen collapse, a season high for them. That streak was capped off by a three-game series sweep of the NL Central-leading Cardinals over the weekend. St. Louis was also hot going into the series, having won eight of their last 10 games. That ended.
The series sweep opened with a 4-0 shutout and ended with a 13-5 blowout. Sunday’s win featured a Kris Bryant grand slam, the team’s second in two days. And the final win put them in first place, if only for a day. They’ve since dropped to half a game back again.
The Cubs are 7-3 in their last 10 games and have not lost a series since early April. And they’re getting it done at the plate and on the mound. As a team, they are hitting .260, with 188 runs scored, both top five in MLB. Their team leaders include shortstop Javier Baez, who’s hitting .314, with 11 home runs and 26 RBIs, and catcher Willson Contraras, who’s hitting .312 with nine home runs and 22 RBIs.
Cubs pitchers not named Yu Darvish have been solid. Ace Jon Lester has compiled a 1.73 ERA over 26 innings. Cole Hamels, Kyle Hendriks and Jose Quintana have also been productive.
The Cubs continue their four-game series with Miami Marlins on Tuesday, looking for a bounce back after Monday’s collapse.
Twins Controlling AL Central
Cleveland was predicted to win the AL Central. But the Indians aren’t a great team, and the AL Central isn’t a particularly good division. The Chicago White Sox have their moments, and will continue to, but won’t do much this season. The Detroit Tigers have played over their heads so far. And the Kansas City Royals are just plain bad.
That leaves the Minnesota Twins, who at 21-12, lead the favored Indians by three games in the AL Central. The Twins took three of four games from the Houston Astros, the class of the American League West.
They’re hitting a reasonable .256 as a team, but they’re also hitting for power. Their 59 home runs so far puts them fourth in the majors, and that power is spread out across the the lineup. Six players have hit at least six home runs.
The Twins’ pitching, particularly their starters, is also coming on. Right-handers Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi each have ERAs under three. Martin Perez has improved his speed and arsenal.
Their series against the Toronto Blue Jays, Tigers and Los Angeles Angels will last the Twins through the middle of next week. So look for Minnesota to hold and possibly build their lead in the AL Central.
Mike Trout’s Angels Flounder
MLB’s best player signed a giant contract extension this past off-season. The 12-year $430 million deal was the largest in the history of MLB, or any American sport. Mike Trout, the two-time AL MVP and seven-time All-Star, is having another solid season, hitting .290 with seven home runs and 20 RBIs so far. His WAR of 2.5 is third in the majors.
Trout might be a once-in-a-generation player. And yet he plays for one of baseball’s more mundane teams. The 2019 Angels have tallied a 15-19 record coming out of the weekend, and are looking up at the Texas Rangers, Seattle Mariners and Astros in the American League West.
The Angels’ hitting ranks in the bottom half of teams for a variety of stats, Trout’s contributions notwithstanding. Their pitching isn’t any better. And they’ve piled up losses against teams with realistic playoff hopes. The Angels have made the playoffs once in Trout’s career and have only had three winnings seasons going back to 2012.
To be fair, the team has a few injuries, including Shohei Ohtani and Justin Upton. But every team does. And even a healthy lineup doesn’t have the personnel to make a legitimate run. There’s little hope of seeing the postseason anytime soon, which begs the question: Will the Angels ever be able to build a real contender around Trout?