MLB Contenders and Pretenders: Cardinals soaring, Twins waning
One month of this baseball season has come and gone, and while the drama and hustle of the NHL and NBA playoffs have dominated the headlines, the Majors were producing many teams, individual performances and moments that have beguiled the mind and dazzled the eye. However, some of these teams could merely be hot at the right time, or they could be ready to make noise in September and October. Players seemingly blessed with the Midas touch may turn out to be fool’s gold by autumn. Because of this, there is a need to sort this wonderful collage that is the 2019 MLB season and classify who are the contenders, and who are the pretenders.
Contenders: St. Louis Cardinals
At the start of the season, if one were to say that the team with the reigning National League MVP in Christian Yelich, who is currently batting .353 with 14 home runs and 34 runs batted in, as well as one of the most heralded bullpens in the Senior Circuit, were to be in third place in their own division one month in, they would probably be laughed out of the room. However, what is more shocking is the team currently on top of the NL Central, the Cardinals. The Cardinals are talented and they got better in the offseason, acquiring six-time All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. They have outfielder Marcell Ozuna and second baseman Kolton Wong providing the power and the speed, respectively, for the Cards. However, they had good pitching, particularly ace Miles Mikolas, who finished the previous year with 18 wins. This year, the Redbirds are relying mainly on their hitting, receiving production from unsung heroes.
The Cardinals are hitting the ball, as evidenced by their .269 team batting average, tied for third-best in the Major Leagues. More importantly, the Birds are getting on base. Their on-base percentage is also tied for third-best in the Majors, led by Wong and budding star shortstop Paul DeJong. In fact, Wong has the same number of walks as strikeouts and DeJong is clipping at a massive pace, batting .342. After Wong and DeJong get on base, the power bats come out to play. Goldschmidt is contributing with nine home runs and 19 runs batted in, while Ozuna is leading the team with 10 home runs and 26 runs batted in. Meanwhile, their pitching has gone MIA. Mikolas has an earned run average over five, and Adam Wainwright is clocking in with a 3.96 ERA. As much as the stats assume that the Redbirds will stop hitting, the Cardinals are masters at getting the most out of their players. Because of this, look for the Cards to make some noise late in the season.
Pretenders: San Diego Padres
San Diego is a baseball city like Los Angeles is a football city. While the shades of Tony Gwynn will always hang over Petco Park, the Padres have been perennial underachievers since his retirement. However, the winds of change are starting to blow over San Diego, and so far, the Friars are sitting in second place in the NL West. They are led by two fantastic infielders, one brought in on a long-term deal; the other homegrown, groomed to be the star the Padres so desperately need.
Of course, these infielders are the Padres’ 300-million-dollar man Manny Machado and the rookie Fernando Tatís Jr. While Machado is proving to be a key acquisition thus far, getting on base and hitting for power when needed, it is Tatís who is leading the charge. Leading the team with a .300 batting average, a .360 on-base percentage, six home runs and six stolen bases, Tatís is the youthful jolt this tired team and fanbase needs. In addition, they are getting hits from former All-Star Eric Hosmer at first base, former prospect phenom Wil Myers in the outfield and growing star Franmil Reyes.
The pitching for the Padres is also stepping up, starter Chris Paddack is slowly becoming reliable, his 1.67 earned run average a testament to his efficiency. In addition, with closer Kirby Yates leading the Majors in saves with 13, the Padres’ collective earned run average of 3.56 is fifth-best in the league. The one knock on this team is that they have not necessarily faced any tough opposition, facing division bottom-feeders, the San Francisco Giants and Cincinnati Reds a combined 11 times so far. One thing is for certain: the journey for postseason baseball in the West goes through Dodger Stadium. Until the Padres prove they have the ability to beat the two-time defending National League champions, the Friars are still on the fence.
Pretenders: Minnesota Twins and the AL Central
The AL Central is the worst division in baseball. It has been Cleveland’s stomping ground for about three years now and it should continue to be that way. However, the team at the top of the division is a team who made the postseason two years ago — the Minnesota Twins. The caveat of that feat being they barely squeaked in as the second wild card and proceeded to lay an egg against their American League powerhouse, New York Yankees. This year, the Twins are led by the dynamic duo of Jorge Polanco and Eddie Rosario. Polanco is leading the team with a .337 batting average, also contributing some power to the lineup with five home runs. To look for power in the Twin Cities, Rosario and his mashing buddy Nelson Cruz have provided it. Rosario is leading the Twins with 11 home runs and 24 runs batted in, both in the top five in the MLB. Cruz is a savvy veteran with pop in his bat, hitting five home runs and 15 RBIs while also generating the most walks on the team so far with 10. Add to that the speedy Byron Buxton, and the Twins have the recipe for good, streaky hitting.
However, the Twins are led by one pitcher. For an example of what happens when a team is led by one pitcher, look at the New York Mets last year.
The Twins’ version of Jacob deGrom is Puerto Rican hurler José Berríos. Berríos has four wins and possesses a 2.97 earned run average, along with 41 strikeouts, easily the best on the Twins. The problem with the Twins is the same problem that plagues the Padres — they have not played any legitimate teams. Taking away games against division rivals and the Baltimore Orioles, the Twins only have four wins in 12 games against non-division and somewhat decent teams. In addition, they are only one game in front of the Indians who were missing their franchise player Francisco Lindor for the beginning of the season. Unfortunately, Minnesota will likely be singing the second-place blues again.