After going 76-86 and finishing 16 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers, the San Francisco Giants have the best record in baseball during the first week of June. No team in second place or lower is more than four games over .500 and only two third-place teams have records above .500. In the American League, 13 of the 15 teams are either above .500 or no more than three games under .500. In the National League, there are four teams well below .500 and the rest are within three games of .500 or better.
That means that anything can still happen. The Tigers, Athletics, and Braves should all win their respective divisions, but it seems that most of the other races will go down to the wire. Consider that the teams seeded sixth through 13th in the American League are all within 2.5 games of the second wild card spot and four are within three games in the National League.
Over the last 20 games, only three American League teams have won 12 or more games – the Blue Jays (16-4), the Athletics (13-7), and the Astros (12-8). In the National League, only one team, the Giants (13-7), fits that criterion.
On the injury front, things haven’t slowed down a whole lot. Carlos Santana remains on the seven-day concussion disabled list for the Indians. First baseman Nick Swisher joined him on the shelf with a right knee injury. Rockies third baseman Nolen Arenado remains out with a fractured finger suffered a couple weeks ago. Marlins catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia also got his bell rung and is on the concussion disabled list. Struggling A’s outfielder Josh Reddick is on the disabled list with a knee injury. Andrew Cashner and Robbie Erlin are still out of the Padres starting rotation with elbow discomfort. Old news, but Prince Fielder is done for the 2014 season with neck surgery. The Cardinals sent Matt Adams to the DL and called up top prospect Oscar Tavaras. The hits keep on coming for the Rays who will be without Wil Myers for at least two months with a stress fracture in his wrist. Gio Gonzalez should return for the Nationals next week following some shoulder inflammation.
One of the things to keep in mind throughout this month, especially late in the month, is the Super Two cutoff. This is something that small-market teams have to keep in mind when discussing when to call up a prospect. The term Super Two pertains to when a player is eligible for arbitration. Players with less than three years of service time but more than two years of service time that are in the top 22 percent of all two-year players in service time are arbitration-eligible a year earlier than their other prospect counterparts. Service time means time spent on the 25-man roster, 15-day DL, or 60-day DL. Players must have accumulated at least 86 days of service during the previous year to be eligible.
While a team like the Indians are unlikely to bring up Francisco Lindor prior to the Super Two deadline to save future money, the Astros have already ignored the Super Two cutoff with George Springer, and he has injected some much-needed life into the ballclub and the fan base.
Some teams will pay closer attention to it than others. In calling up Oscar Taveras to replace Matt Adams, the Cardinals ignored the Super Two ramifications. As the standings continue to sort out, teams that feel like they have a chance to make a strong playoff charge may aim for short-term gains over long-term financial savings and bring up impact players to make a difference. Keep an eye out for these teams because not only will these players represent an upgrade, but they will also send a strong message about contention to the team.
As injuries keep popping up and teams look at the league-wide parity, players like Gregory Polanco (PIT), Andrew Heaney (MIA), Alex Meyer (MIN), Kris Bryant and Javier Baez (CHC), Noah Syndegaard (NYM), and the aforementioned Francisco Lindor (CLE) could see some playing time.
As usual, there are some teams that are overachieving and others that are really underachieving. Here are a couple of them to keep a close eye on over the next couple of weeks.
1. Toronto Blue Jays
A 16-3 run is going to change the perception of a team in a hurry. That has happened for the Toronto Blue Jays. On May 14, the Indians destroyed the Jays 14-5. They have lost three times since and only two of the 16 wins have been by one run. Edwin Encarnacion’s month of May was historic, as he hit 16 home runs in 30 games and drove in 33 runs.
It was a great month for the Blue Jays. However, the regression is going to be ugly. The Blue Jays ranked 19th in FIP among starting pitchers in the month of May and 26th in xFIP. Only six starting rotations struck out a lower percentage of batters. The Blue Jays rank 16th in defensive runs saved at one defensive run saved. In fact, if you look at the Blue Jays from a range standpoint, they are -12 defensive runs saved, which ranks 22nd.
It would seem unlikely that the Blue Jays can keep outslugging teams to win games. On a per player basis, league average for HR/FB%, or the number of home runs per fly ball, is 9.5 percent. The Jays are at 13.7 percent for the season and were at 14.7 percent for May. The league high in 2013 was 12.9 percent. It was 16.8 percent in 2012, which belonged to the Yankees. The Yankees also led in 2011 at 14.3 percent. In other words, there will be some regression coming to that number for the Jays.
The oddsmakers don’t seem to be falling for it this week as the Blue Jays are taking on the Tigers. The Blue Jays have won 16 of 19 while the Tigers have lost nine of 13, yet the Tigers were a -130 favorite at open for Tuesday night’s series opener. The Jays have played 39 of their 58 games against teams below .500, which isn’t particularly surprising given the parity of the American League. But, regression is coming and it could be very sharp, especially when Mark Buehrle turns back into the same pitcher he’s been his entire career.
2. Chicago Cubs
The Chicago Cubs are already 14 games out in the NL Central and will probably trade Jeff Samardzija at some point before July 31. However, the Cubs are actually a team that you might be able to get some great value on as an underdog in the near future. Once Hector Rondon returns the paternity list, which should happen Tuesday night, the Cubs bullpen can continue to improve on its disastrous start.
The Cubs are 1-6 in extra inning games and 3-10 in one-run decisions. Rondon and the Cubs bullpen have combined for a 3-12 record, even though they rank a respectable 14th in FIP and right around average in K/BB. Guess who is tied for first in starting pitcher WAR. If you said the Tigers, you would be right, and it would come as no surprise. The team that the Tigers are tied with? The Chicago Cubs. In fact, the Cubs lead all teams in FIP at 3.21.
The Cubs offense ranks 28th in BABIP at .283, even though they are 14th in line drive percentage. The Cubs have been one of the worst offenses with runners in scoring position, a trend that should normalize as the season wears on because it takes prolonged failure to be 38 percent below league average in something.
The Cubs are just 20-34, but their Pythagorean Win-Loss is 25-29. The Cubs went 11-16 in May even though their run differential was exactly zero. This current six-game homestand could be a spot to make some money on the Cubs and they could be an attractive underdog on their 10-game road trip against mediocre teams like the Pirates, Phillies, and Marlins.