Milwaukee Brewers v St. Louis Cardinals

By run differential, the Centrals reign supreme

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As of Monday afternoon, the Rangers and Cardinals have baseball’s best records. Not entirely coincidentally  they also have the best run differentials of any team in baseball. The Rangers have scored 212 runs and let in 158, putting them at +54. The Cardinals have scored 201 runs and allowed a major league-low 150, which works out to a +51.

It also won’t come as a surprise to anyone which two teams fall at the bottom when it comes to run differential. The Astros and Marlins have identical 12-32 records at the moment, and no other teams are within even 100 points of them when it comes to winning percentage. In run differential, the Astros rate at the bottom, a cool -88. The Marlins aren’t far behind at -73. They’ve gotten respectable pitching (190 runs allowed), but they’ve scored 25 fewer runs than any other team in baseball. The Astros have let in 39 more runs than any other team.

The Astros, in fact, are so bad that they’ve reshaped how we have to look at two divisions since making the switch from the NL Central to the AL West. Last year, the NL Central was the second worst division in baseball by run differential. This year, it’s the best.

NL Central: +86
AL Central: +70
AL East: +49
NL West: +2
AL West: -89
NL East: -118

That’s a huge turnaround from 2012:

AL West: +236
AL East: +123
NL East: +67
NL West: -36
NL Central: -139
AL Central: -251

The Astros alone were a -211 last year. The rest of the NL Central was positive overall, but that’s largely because it got to beat up on the Astros. This time, the division is in the positives without any assistance from the Astros. Well, actually, the Pirates got to play them three times, but that turned out to be a null series; the Pirates won twice by one run and lost once by two runs.

The AL Central has taken an even bigger step forward than the NL Central. The Indians (-178) and Twins (-131) were far and away the AL’s worst teams by run differential last year. This year, the Indians are a +35 and the Twins are merely -11.

The AL East is the only division this year to boast four teams with positive run differentials. However, Toronto’s -45 has wiped out a good portion of that. The Blue Jays have the third worst run differential in baseball.

The NL East has just one team, the Braves, with a positive run diffential at +34. The Nationals are a -17, even though they are 23-21 for the season.

Besides the Nationals, the Giants are the only other team with a positive record (24-20) and a negative run differential (-5). They have the same record as the Rockies, even though the Rockies sit at +32.

There aren’t any teams with positive run differentials and sub-.500 records, though the A’s have been straddling that line. Winning three straight one-run games over the Royals last weekend gave them a 23-22 record and a +3 run differential.

As for the leagues themselves, the AL is currently a +30 over the NL, with a 29-26 interleague record.

Reid Brignac is trying to become a switch hitter

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FL - FEBRUARY 26:  Reid Brignac #4 of the Atlanta Braves poses on photo day at Champion Stadium on February 26, 2016 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Rob Carr/Getty Images
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Veteran utilityman Reid Brignac is in camp with the Astros on a minor league deal. The 31-year-old is close to being done as a major leaguer as he owns a career .219/.264/.309 triple-slash line across parts of nine seasons. In an effort to prolong his big league career, Brignac is now attempting to become a switch-hitter, MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart reports.

I’m going to try it out this year. It was something that I just thought long and hard about and I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to try and see how it goes.’ I used to switch-hit when I was younger off and on, nothing consistent. I could always handle the bat right-handed. I play golf right-handed, so I do a lot of things that way that feel natural.

I just want to get to the point where I’m trying to stay in games, not get pinch-hit for, not starting games because a lefty is starting. … That could help me stay in the games longer. I’m trying to add a new element. I play multiple positions and now if I can switch hit and be consistent at it, then that can only help me.

As Brignac mentions, he’s also verstile. He’s a shortstop by trade, but has also logged plenty of innings at second base and third base, and has occasionally played corner outfield.

There aren’t any examples — at least that I can think of — where players began switch-hitting late in their careers and actually succeeding in the major leagues. As the saying goes, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. But here’s hoping Brignac bucks the trend.

Video: Andrelton Simmons makes a heads-up play to catch Carlos Asuaje off first base

ANAHEIM, CA - AUGUST 03:  Andrelton Simmons #2 of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim returns to the dugout after scoring in the second inning against the Oakland Athletics at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on August 3, 2016 in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images
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Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons fell off the map a bit last year due to a combination of the Angels’ mediocrity, Simmons’ lack of offense, and a month-plus of missed action due to a torn ligament in his left thumb.

Simmons is still as good and as smart as ever on defense. That was on full display Monday when the Angels hosted the Padres for an afternoon spring exhibition.

With a runner on first base and nobody out in the top of the second inning, Carlos Asuaje grounded a 2-0 J.C. Ramirez fastball to right field. The runner, Hunter Renfroe, advanced to third base. Meanwhile, Asuaje wandered a little too far off the first base bag. Simmons cut off the throw to first base, spun around and fired to Luis Valbuena at first base. Valbuena swiped the tag on Asuaje for the first out of the inning.