The AL Central looked like it was going to be competitive, especially in the middle of the division, before the season started. Everyone wondered if any team could prevent the Detroit Tigers from running away with the division title. Three teams looked as if things worked out correctly, they could challenge, if not for the divisional title, then for a wild card spot. Before the season started, on paper, only the Minnesota Twins didn’t look to have a chance.
Now, the AL Central is the closest division in baseball with 2 teams tied for first, four teams within 2.5 games of the lead, and all five teams within 5 games of first. The Chicago White Sox sport the best winning percentage of any of the last place teams in baseball at .439.
Here is a closer look at the AL Central:
1) Detroit Tigers (20-15) – Last week: 1-4. Summary: The Tigers have a big week in front of them as they host maybe the worst team in the majors in the Houston Astros for three games, then play maybe the best team in the majors in the Texas Rangers four games on the road. The Tigers need to get back on the winning track and take care of business against the Astros, and hope to at least split against the Rangers. Team Stats – Hitting: The Tigers are second in the AL in runs scored with 190, although they are only 13th in home runs with 37. They lead the league in batting average (.284) and OBP (.350). Pitching: The Tigers have given up the fewest home runs in the AL with only 17. They are 3rd in ERA (3.45), 3rd in WHIP (1.21), and 2nd in strikeouts (359). It is obvious that the Tigers are one of the elite teams in, not only the Central, but also the AL in general.
1) Cleveland Indians (20-15) – Last week: 6-1. Summary: It was a great week for the Indians as they scored 36 runs in their 7 games. This upcoming week will be a bit strange. They must return home from Detroit on Monday for one day as they play a double header against the Yankees as a rain make up. They return to the road on Tuesday for a short 2-game series in Philadelphia, then return back to Cleveland for a 4-game wrap around series with Seattle. A bad day against the red hot Yankees could lose the Indians’ the ground they just gained by winning the last two contests in Detroit. Team Stats – Hitting: The Indians are 5th in the AL in runs (178), 2nd in home runs (49), second in average (.269), 3rd in OBP (.335), and first in SLG% (.465). Pitching: Cleveland has surrendered the 6th most home runs (43) in the league, and they are 9th in ERA (3.96), 8th in WHIP (1.29), 5th in strikeouts (295). So far, the Indians have to be pleasantly surprised how well their pitching has performed. They offense was built to score runs but they are preventing them better than could have been hoped.
3) Kansas City Royals (18-16) -Last week: 1-6. Summary: The Royals had not had any 3-game losing streaks this season until last week when they had two. This week, they start a long swing through the AL West, including 6 games on the West Coast. Starting tonight, the Royals play 3 against the Angels, then 3 in Oakland starting on Friday. If Kansas City doesn’t want to start slipping away from the top, they must find a way to win some games on this long trip. Team Stats – Hitting: The Royals are dead last in the AL in home runs with only 25 on the season. They rank 13th in runs (144), 6th in average (.261), 1oth in OBP (.314), and 12th in SLG% (.390). Pitching: Their staff has given up the 5th fewest home runs in the AL at 37. They are 4th in ERA (3.47), 5th in WHIP (1.23), and 12th in strikeouts (266). They have also issued the 2nd fewest walks in the league at 87. The Royals have to find ways to score more consistently. They seem to rely too heavily on their improved starting rotation. This road trip is not timed very well as it coincides with Kansas City’s worse play of the season so far.
4) Minnesota Twins (17-17) – Last week: 4-2, Summary: The Twins are on a long home stand and they face division rivals the Chicago White Sox early in the week before hosting the Boston Red Sox over the weekend. If Minnesota wants to stay within striking distance of the leaders, they need to win against the last place Pale Hose. Team Stats – Hitting: The Twins have only hit 1 more home run than the punchless Royals to this point. They rank 9th in runs (156), 10th in average (.248), 8th in OBP (.323), and 13th in SLG%(.381). Pitching: While the Twins have only hit 26 home runs, they have only allowed 30, the 2nd best mark in the league. They are 11th in the AL in ERA (4.25), 12th in WHIP (1.40), and last in strikeouts (191) by a long way. The Twins are in the middle of the pack offensively but toward the bottom in most pitching categories. They need to get better performances from the mound if they are going to continue their surprise early successes.
5) Chicago White Sox (15-20) - Last week: 3-3. Summary: The White Sox capped off a mediocre week with a spectacular 1-hit performance by Chris Sale Sunday against the Angels. This week, they play three on the road against the team directly in front of them in the AL Central standings. The must win at least two against the Twins if they hope to start making headway in the division. They will travel to Los Angeles for 4 games to finish off the week. Team Stats – Hitting: The SOx are 10th in the league in home runs with 39, despite getting power production from Alejandro De Aza and Alex Rios. They are 15th in runs (120), average (.227), OBP (.280), and SLG% (.370). Pitching: Their staff has given up the 3rd fewest home runs at 32. They rank 2nd in ERA (3.40), 4th in WHIP (1.22), and 9th in strikeouts (279). Even more so than their Kansas City Royal rivals, their pitching is carrying a terrible offense thus far. The Sox rank dead last in a number of hitting categories and they are just not going to turn things around if their hitters do not start getting on base.
This week, there isn’t but one series involving AL Central teams. These teams are going to have to maintain their positions playing teams outside the division. A couple of them have brutal road trips this week and have to tread water over the next several days. No team has an easy slate this week. It wouldn’t be surprising if the standings look similar a week from now.