(CBS Chicago) — MLB has played a quarter of its regular season. And with most of the league around the 40-game mark in their schedule, no team has really distinguished itself as a dominating force. Even the Los Angeles Dodgers, thought to be destined for another 100-win season en route to a World Series defense, have dropped to third in their division. There’s a lot of baseball left, of course. But parity is keeping things interesting now.
This week’s Baseball Report looks at the Chicago White Sox’s early-season success, the New York Yankees’ COVID outbreak and Albert Pujols’ pending deal with the Dodgers.
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The White Sox are just a few seasons removed from 100 losses. Their last full-season winning record came in 2012. (They did finish 2020’s abbreviated campaign at 35-25 before losing in the Wild Card.) This season they sit atop the American League Central at 24-15 with MLB’s best winning percentage. They have to be considered among the best teams in baseball, if not the best.
What changed, and will it continue?
The White Sox lost a key bat in their lineup before the season even started. Left fielder Eloy Jimenez suffered a torn pectoral tendon, eliminating him from the lineup for five to six months. The young team then started the season a little erratically, losing three of their first four. More recently, Luis Robert injured his hip flexor muscle, which could keep him out of action until late in the summer. Tony LaRussa is a decade removed from everyday managerial duties. So he’s struggled some to adapt.
Since that rocky start, the White Sox have won twice as many games as they’ve lost. And it’s been a team effort. Jose Abreu started off slow. On the season, he’s slashing .255/.346/.482, with 8 home runs and 33 RBI. But, like the weather, he’s been heating up in May. In the last 14 days, Abreu is slashing .395/.457/.763, with three HRs and 14 RBI. Rookie catcher Yermín Mercedes has 5 HRs and 22 RBI to go along with his .358 average.
Anchored by Carlos Rodon, Lance Lynn and Dylan Cease, the White Sox may have the best rotation in the American League. And they’re getting support from the bullpen. After blowing five saves in their first 10 games, the group hasn’t blown a save in over three weeks. Liam Hendricks has notched 8 saves in 10 chances so far this season, with a 2.76 ERA.
“The White Sox have everything needed to win consistently,” according to CBS 2 Chicago sports anchor Luke Stuckmeyer. “Starting pitching. Lockdown bullpen. Dynamic offense. Star power and leadership. Even with two of their biggest stars suffering major injuries, the Sox have been able to fill the gaps with breakout players. Yermin Mercedes has delivered. They’re the real deal.”
As of Monday, the White Sox are 2.5 games ahead of the Cleveland Indians and 10.5 games ahead of the Minnesota Twins, widely considered to be their real competition in the division. They split a four-game series with the Kansas City Royals over the weekend and start a three-game series with the Twins Monday night.
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The total number of COVID cases in the Yankees organization is up to nine. Three coaches, five staffers and a player have all tested positive. In the group are pitching coach Matt Blake, third base coach Phil Nevin and first base coach Reggie Willits, along with infielder Gleyber Torres. All have been inoculated with the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Nevin has been the only one one to show even mild symptoms.
The Yankees relaxed MLB protocols on April 30 after reaching an 85 percent vaccination rate among players and staff such as managers, coaches and athletic trainers. That meant those who were vaccinated could forgo quarantine if they came in close contact with someone who tested positive, unless they experienced symptoms.
But “breakthrough cases,” positive cases despite a vaccination, are still possible. A very small number of breakthrough cases have been reported among the 123-plus million people who have been vaccinated nationwide. CDC is exploring why so many have have occurred recently with the Yankees.
The Yankees, at 22-18, sit in third place in the American League East. It’s a vast improvement from the 5-10 start that had them sitting last in the division a month ago. They took two of three game from the Orioles over the weekend and start a four-game series with the Texas Rangers tonight.
Dodgers Sign Pujols
Albert Pujols, who was cut by the Los Angeles Angels earlier this month, won’t have to travel far for home games this season. The future Hall of Famer was signed by the Dodgers Monday and could be in uniform this evening. The Angels are still responsible for most of what’s left on Pujols’ 10-year, $240 million contract.
MLB’s fifth-leading home run hitter, who is now 41 years old, joins the Dodgers as a backup. But he could see significant action. The defending World Series champion has 13 players on the injured list. Shortstop Corey Seager, who broke his hand over the weekend, is the most recent.
Pujols’ amazing career dates back 20 years. He spent 2001-2011 with the St. Louis Cardinals, where he put up gaudy stats year in and year out. In that span, Pujols slashed an incredible .328/.420/.617. In that same span, he averaged 40 home runs and 121 RBI per season. The slugger was named MVP three times (2005, 2008, 2009).MORE NEWS: 'The Saddest Thing I've Ever Seen': Community Shaken After 3-Year-Old Dies In Arden-Arcade Fourplex Fire
Pujols never quite lived up to those stats in his years with the Angels. From 2012-2020, he slashed .257/.312/.448, averaging 24 HRs and 86 RBI per season. In his final season with the Angels, Pujols was hitting a sub-par .198, with five HRs and 12 RBI in his 86 at-bats.