MLB - 3 Up 3 Down (07/01/15)

By John Ewing Director of Research and Analytics @johnewing
Three Up, Three Down – reviewing baseball from the month of June.

A look at the notable and disappointing teams from the month of June with updated rest of season projections and playoff probabilities for each team.

Three Up

Kansas City Royals

Season: 44 wins – 30 losses, 1st in the AL Central
Month of June: 15 wins – 11 losses

Kansas City has the biggest division lead in the American League. The Royals' 4.5 game cushion over the second place Twins trails only in-state rival St. Louis for the largest in all of baseball. KC, a playoff darling a year ago, has turned into a consistent winner.

Ned Yost's club started the season 15-7 in April, had another winning month in May and went 15-11 in June. One of KC's greatest strengths is its bullpen. Kansas City has allowed just 54 runs, the fewest in the majors, in innings seven and beyond. The Royals relievers have the second lowest ERA in all of baseball contributing to a 14-9-3 (61%) record on the under in June games. The success in the City of Fountains hasn't gone unnoticed.

Last week, seven Kansas City Royals were in position to start for the American League in the All-Star game. This week it is down to five starters after Toronto's Josh Donaldson passed Mike Moustakas at third base and Seattle's Nelson Cruz eclipsed Kendrys Morales at DH.

Regardless of how many Royals start the All-Star Game in Cincinnati; Kansas City is well positioned to make another deep postseason run. Kansas City is 86 percent likely to make the playoffs and 16 percent likely to return to the World Series.

Washington Nationals

Season: 43 wins – 34 losses, 1st in the NL East
Month of June: 15 wins – 12 losses

The Nationals have used strong pitching performances to win nine of their last ten games. Washington's starting pitchers tossed a franchise-record 47 1/3 consecutive shutout innings last week. That is the second longest streak in the major leagues since 1961, trailing the Orioles rotation in 1974 that threw 54 consecutive scoreless innings.

Max Scherzer has been the ace Washington imagined when they gave him the massive contract in the offseason. Scherzer has a 1.79 ERA and has a 130 strikeouts, the second most in the National League. Stephen Strasburg and Doug Fister have each returned from DL-stints with plus pitching performances in their last starts.

Washington is one of three teams that are top ten in both hitting and pitching efficiency. The Nats are 97 percent likely to return to the playoffs for a third time in four years. Washington has the third best odds to win the World Series (14 percent) with its unique mixture of elite pitching and efficient hitting.

Los Angeles Angels

Season: 41 wins – 37 losses, 2nd in the AL West
Month of June: 14 wins – 13 losses

The Angels are a good but not great team (right now). If the playoffs started today the Halos would be on the outside looking in (0.5 game back in the Wild Card) but Los Angeles has a 39 percent chance to reach the postseason.

One reason the Angels could make the playoffs, the team has a once great hitter finding his stroke and the best young player in the game.

Fear The Machine. Albert Pujols is back. Over a 25 game stretch starting on May 26th Pujols hit 15 home runs and had 30 RBI all while striking out a mere four times. Sir Albert (13 dingers in June) matched the power production of Pittsburgh on his own.

Pujols isn't the MVP he used to be but that is ok with the Angels, they already have an all-world player batting in front of the Machine.

Mike Trout is on pace to become the best player of all-time. At the very least he is having one of the best starts to a career ever. Trout plus Pujols and the best pitching staff (4th in overall efficiency) in the American League should be enough for a second consecutive postseason appearance for the Halos.

Three Down

Baltimore Orioles

Season: 41 wins – 36 losses, 1st in the AL East
Month of June: 18 wins – 10 losses

The Orioles ended May with a losing record (23-26) and Houston beat Baltimore in the first three games of June to push the club six games under .500 but the O's bounced back and in a big way. The Birds went 18-7 the rest of the month, including a 9-3 record against division foes, to propel themselves into first place tie in the AL East.

After destroying the month of June and being atop their division, why are the Orioles in the Three Down section?

The O's are projected to finish fourth in the AL East just ahead of the dreadful Boston Red Sox.

The Birds' offense is legit, rankings second in overall hitting efficiency. For June, Baltimore is second in the majors in runs scored (148), third in home runs (38) and the team's slash line of .273/.324/.461 ranks 5th/12th/1st respectively.

It will not be the bats but the arms that will fail the team. Yes, the starting pitchers posted shutouts in a double-header a few days ago, just the second team to accomplish the feat in 25 years, a few days ago but the pitching staff has been faulty all season.

Last year, Chris Tillman, the team's “ace” went 13-6 with a 3.34 ERA and struck out 150 batters. This year, Tillman has a losing record and his ERA is 5.67 even after tossing seven scoreless innings in that double-header. The rest of the starters haven't been much better with the exception of Wei Yin Chen who is the only starter with an ERA under 3.00.

Baltimore's pitching ranks last in efficiency among all major league teams.

Sure, the O's are projected to finish fourth in the AL East and only have an 18 percent chance of winning the division but that doesn't mean you can't ride the hot streak.

In June, Baltimore went 19-8 on the run-line. If you had backed the O's on the run-line, for a normal $50 player, you would have returned a profit of +$869.

Minnesota Twins

Season: 41 wins – 36 losses, 2nd in the AL Central
Month of June: 11 wins – 17 losses

After going 20-7 in May and leading the AL Central, a position they had not held since 2010, this is what we had to say about Minnesota:

“It is not all rainbows and sunshine up north and it's unlikely that Minnesota can keep this winning streak going. For one, the team has been incredibly lucky when it comes to scoring runs. As a club, Minnesota ranks 28th in offensive hitting efficiency yet has scored the ninth most runs in baseball. How do you explain this? Cluster Luck. Teams have little control over how many hits they string together. Minnesota has been the luckiest team in baseball scoring 28.7 runs more than expected.

Even though the club is in first place, we project the Twins to finish fourth in the division. “

The Twins are still 28th in offensive hitting efficiency but the team's run production (13th in the majors) is starting to match its hitting prowess. Remember that bit about hitting luck? Back in May, Minnesota had benefited from 28.7 more runs than expected. The team has still been one of the flukiest when it comes to run production but its total is now down to 23.1 unexpected runs.

Without fate on their side, Minnesota has not only failed to win games but also to cover. Through May, the Twins were 33-16 (67%) on the run-line. In June, if you backed the team on the run-line you would have gone 14-14, which for a normal $50 player would have resulted in a loss of -$788. Ouch.

Unfortunately for Twins fans and bettors, the ride had to end sometime. As projected a month ago, Minnesota is still likely to finish fourth in the AL Central even though they are currently 5.5 games out of that position.

Milwaukee Brewers

Season: 31 wins – 48 losses, Last in the NL Central
Month of June: 14 wins – 14 losses

The Brew Crew wants/needs to rebuild. Though June has technically been the clubs best month of the season, the club only played .500 ball. Milwaukee is 21.5 games out of first in the division, the worst mark of any team in baseball.

The Brewers have put a “For Sale” sign on the front yard but are not receiving any offers. Kyle Lohse, Matt Garza and Aramis Ramirez are available on the trading block but the trio has been terrible.

Lohse has the highest ERA (6.28) among qualified pitchers, Garza has the seventh highest ERA (5.52) and both starters are in the top ten in home runs allowed. Ramirez is a shell of his former offensive self. Unwilling, at least right now, to trade better assets for future prospects, the rebuild in Milwaukee could be slow and painful.

Milwaukee is projected to finish with the second most losses (93) in all of baseball.