The Warning Track: A Year of Resurgence

The Warning Track is a blog that covers all things Major League Baseball on a weekly basis, from discussing why some teams are getting hot, who’s in line for awards at season’s end and who is getting ready to make the leap to contender status, as well as off-the-field issues like first-time Commissioner Rob Manfred, which players could be headed to new homes, and A-Rod’s latest conundrum. 

If you have anything MLB-related that you would like to see discussed in the upcoming edition of The Warning Track, or have any comments at all, you may suggest/comment/rant/agree/disagree/tell me I know nothing about baseball at any time on Twitter @RealDavidLynch. 

 

The 2015 major league baseball campaign has been, thus far, dominated by surprising individual performances. Bryce Harper is finally doing what everyone in Washington expected him to do. Shelby Miller has pitched his way into the Cy Young discussion. A-Rod is etching his name into more pages of the records books. And Kershaw hasn’t been Kershaw thus far.

With all the fanfare surrounding individual players, whether for better or for worse, it’s easy to overlook the status of whole ballclubs, some of which are giving their fans new faith after years of holding the position as cellar-dwellar, lending a whole new dimension to a sport that prides itself on parity in the process.

 

Houston Astros

The Astros – who have averaged a 69-93 regular season record since they got swept in the 2005 World Series – have the best record in the American League at 30-18, second-best in the bigs only to St. Louis.

Read that sentence again. Take a deep breath, maybe two. It’s okay, everyone else it just as shocked as you are. Led by AL Cy Young contender Dallas Keuchel (6-1, 1.98 ERA) and hit machine Jose Altuve (.299 batting average, AL-leading 15 swiped bags), the Astros are coming into their own as a team that is completely defying all expectations – which, admittedly, were minimal – and becoming legitimate threats for the AL West crown.

It’s one thing to have brushed the 2015 Astros off as a team that is simply hot for the time being, but it’s nearing the end of May, and they have yet to lose more than three games in a row.

They embarked on a ten-game winning streak from late April to early May to make a statement, and so far they have justified it, as they are one of only five ballclubs in the major leagues (and only one of two in the American League) to have a winning record both on the road (15-8) and at home (15-10).

That being said, it’s time to take the Astros seriously, something I thought was still a couple years away from happening. They’re proving me and many others wrong, and the sport is all the better for it.

And when you take into account the youth that is energizing the team – Altuve is 25, George Springer 25, Luis Valbuena 29, Keuchel 27 – as well as the fact that Carlos Correa and Mark Appel (the 2nd- and 28th-ranked MLB prospects, according to minor league baseball’s Prospect Watch) have yet to arrive, maybe it’s time we settle in and enjoy this team, because their time might just be right now, and it might just last for the better part of the next decade.

 

 

Minnesota Twins

The Twins haven’t won more than 70 games in a season since 2010, when they were swept in the division series for the second consecutive year. They have’t advanced passed that round since 2002, where they lost in the ALCS 4 games to 1.

They’ve set a benchmark for futility and irrelevance for baseball, but lately they’ve been looking like a team ready to forget all of that history, to the tune of an 8-2 record in their last ten games and a 28-18 mark overall.

That’s good enough to tie them for first in an ultra-competitive AL Central division, where the Royals, Twins and Tigers are all separated by just 1.5 games.

But the Twins are the hottest of those three, as well as one of the hottest clubs in all of baseball, having not lost a series in over two weeks and outscoring opponents 27-11 on a current five-game winning streak.

These are the Twins, mind you. It’s been a long long time since they’ve been this intimidating. But they are, and the return of Torii Hunter, who spent his first ten big league season in Minnesota, is a big reason why. He’s 29 RBI and 7 dingers to go along with a .280/.333/.457 line. In addition, their pitching has improved by leaps and bounds this season. An AL-worst 4.57 team ERA from 2014 has undergone a seemingly impossible evolution in 2015, where they now sport a 3.94 team ERA.

They’ve also already won half as many extra-inning games this seasons as they did in all of 2014 (3-1 versus 6-7), showing that they have a newfound resilience to churning out victories.

Time will tell if the Twins can live up to the new expectations they’ve set for themselves, expectations they know they’re capable of. It isn’t the most common thing in baseball for a team to go from worst to first as the Twins are gunning to do this season, but at the very least, for the time being, it makes for a good story, and one that might be worth revisiting in the coming weeks and months.

 

Chicago Cubs

Unlike the Astros and Twins, the Cubs entered 2015 with expectations as high as a ball hit off the bat of Nelson Cruz, looking to end over a century of disappointment.

Although they’ve been inconsistent at time, they will have a record over .500 once the calendar flips to June – they are 25-21 entering play today – which for the Cubs is reason enough to get excited, especially seeing as they would be only one game back of a wild card spot if the season ended today.

Much of what the Cubs are expected to do this season and in the coming years is dependent on the performances of their stars – experienced ace Jon Lester, inexperienced phenom Kris Bryant, and budding MVP candidate Anthony Rizzo. So far the potential has not only been warranted, but fulfilled.

After struggling in April to begin his National League career, Lester (has pitched his way back into his starring role as rotation leader, giving up two earned runs or less in 5 of his last 6 starts. He hasn’t quite performed at the plate, but Rizzo, the undisputed face of the franchise at just 25 years old, has more than made up for it, batting his way to a .315 average to go along with 9 homers and 29 RBI.

But the star of the show, and the storyline of the season on the North Side, has been the arrival of basher Kris Bryant. After taking a couple weeks to adjust to the big leagues upon his advent, the third baseman began to hit like we all knew he would. He leads the team in RBI (31) and also has hit 7 longballs and crossed home plate 26 times, all top three for the Cubs.

Although a struggling bullpen (4.07 ERA) has caused them to drop some games in the late innings, the Cubs so far have been making their fans happy.

There’s excitement in the air on the North Side of the Windy City, and if the Cardinals ever cool off on their historic start, the NL Central race should be a fun one to watch down the stretch, especially with the Pirates winning their last seven and making a move toward the front of the pack.

 

 

David Lynch likes to talk about and write about movies, sports, and important happenings around the world. He can be reached at alex.695@hotmail.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

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