26 June 2012
The Cleveland Indians completed a series sweep of the Detroit Tigers on May 24 lifting their season record to 26-18, the fifth best mark in all of baseball. Their lead in the division was up to three and a half games over the Chicago White Sox, and six games over the heavily favored Tigers. Cleveland’s sports writers had already been talking playoffs for a few days, but something wasn’t quite right. Although they sat eight games above the .500 mark, they had only scored one more run than they had allowed.
Run differential isn’t altogether definitive or completely predictive, but it does usually give a different (usually more accurate) view of the team’s actual performance than win-loss percentage does. Could the Indians continue to win at a .591 clip while only marginally out-scoring their opponents?
The answer is: we don’t know. Because in the mean time, the Indians have neither maintained their winning ways nor outscored their opponents.
Since May 24, the Indians are 11-17 with a -49 run differential. They’re still above .500 on the year with a 37-35 record, and they’re still a game and a half in front of the Tigers in second place in the Central division, but their -48 run differential is good for second worst in the American League (only the Twins are worse).
I won’t say that the Indians will continue to play at a pace of -0.67 runs per game, but they can’t hope to stay in the division race while hemorrhaging runs (their 4.58 team ERA is third worst in all of baseball) and hitting at a below average rate (Cleveland’s team wOBA is .312 compared to the AL average of .318).
If the Tigers are to reclaim the division lead this summer, they’ll have to pass the Indians, but as of now, it doesn’t look like they’ll have to over-exert themselves in continuing to fend them off. The real rival this season will be the Chicago White Sox whose +32 run differential has them looking every bit the part of legitimate threat.
Matt Snyder is the editor of The Tigers Den. He can be reached on Twitter @snyder_matthew.