The Al Central looked very competitive early on in the season but things are starting to spread out a bit. Two teams, the Twins and the Royals, have lost 9 of their last 10, and the hottest team, the White Sox, have just made it to the .500 mark. The best two teams, the Tigers and the Indians, now have a little breathing room as the initial third of the season winds down.
1) Detroit Tigers (28-20):Last week – 5-1. Summary: In one of the strangest scheduling twists you will ever see, at least until you look at the rest of the division’s schedule this week, the Tigers host the Pittsburg Pirates for two games before traveling to Pittsburg on Wednesday for two more games. Thank you, MLB, for nonsensical interleague play and scheduling. Then the Tigers go to Baltimore for 3. Detroit took back first place for the Indians with 2 head-to-head victories last week, and it is still questionable if they will relinquish it again this season. They have two aces in Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, and two offensive studs in Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder. No one can match that talent level. Cabrera is 2 home runs from leading the league in all three Triple Crown categories. Another above .500 week for the Tigers may give them the wiggle room they seek. Team Leaders – Hitting: Stolen Bases – Andy Dirks, Austin Jackson (5); Runs – Miguel Cabrera (41); Walks – Prince Fielder (33). Pitching: Innings – Max Scherzer (68.1); Strikeouts – Scherzer (81); WHIP (starters) – Scherzer (.92).
2) Cleveland Indians (27-22):Last week – 2-5. Summary: The Indians lost both ends of a 2-game series with the Tigers, and the divisional lead as well. The Indians pitching may make it hard to keep up with Detroit as time goes on. This week, like the Tigers/Pirates scheduling oddity, the Indians do the same thing with their cross state rivals. Cleveland will go to Cincinnati for two, then host the Reds for two. A series with Tampa finishes out the week. Cleveland is going to have to play above .500 ball each week to stay within striking distance of Detroit. It will come down to pitching for the Indians, each and every night. Team Leaders – Hitting: Stolen Bases – Jason Kipnis (10); Runs – Carlos Santana (29); Walks – Santana (30). Pitching: Innings – Justin Masterson(76); Strikeouts – Masterson (76); WHIP (starters) – Masterson (1.13).
3) Chicago White Sox (24-24):Last week – 5-1. Summary: The Sox had their second good week in a row to crawl back to .500 and to put themselves within 5 games of the divisional leaders. This week, in the continuing theme, the Sox host the Cubs for two at home, then play 2 in Wrigley before heading west to take on the Athletics over the weekend. The White Sox need to stay hot this week and maybe creep closer to the Tigers and Indians. They have better pitching than the Indians, and their hitting isn’t as good, but they still have a good chance of challenging for 2nd place in the Central, and maybe a wild card spot. Team Leaders – Hitting: Stolen Bases – Alex Ramirez (8); Runs – Alex Rios (29); Walks – Adam Dunn (19). Pitching: Innings – Chris Sale (64); Strikeouts – Jake Peavy (63); WHIP (starters) – Sale (.92).
4) Kansas City Royals (21-26):Last week – 1-6. Summary: Things look bleak in KC. After dropping 16 out of their last 20, and their last 5, the Royals now play their next 7 games against maybe the best two teams in baseball. They host 2 against the Cardinals, then travel down I-70 for 2 in St. Louis. Then it is 3 more in Texas against the Rangers. If the Royals continue their slide, and against these opponents, they most likely will, all hope will be gone by this time next week. Team Leaders – Hitting: Stolen Bases – Alcides Escobar (10); Runs – Alex Gordon (30); Walks – Billy Butler (28). Pitching: Innings – James Shields (73); Strikeouts – Shields (69); WHIP (starters) – Shields (.96).
5) Minnesota Twins (19-28): Last week – 1-6. Summary: After a 10-game losing streak, the Twins are in the same boat as the Royals. They are one more bad week from being done in the divisional race. This week, they do the same strange 2-game series on the road against the Brewers, 2-game series at home against the Brewers. They finish up the week hosting Seattle. Unlike some of their divisional counterparts, the Twins’ week isn’t as imposing opponent-wise. The Twins are due to get hot, so they have a chance to postpone the inevitable, at least for another week. Team Leaders – Hitting: Stolen Bases – Pedro Florimon; Runs – Joe Mauer (29); Walks – Josh Willingham (29). Pitching: Innings – Kevin Correia (57.2), Strikeouts – Glen Perkins (26???); WHIP (starters) – Correia (1.30).
As May winds down, this division is precariously close to becoming a 3-team race. The Twins and the Royals have both have awful months of May and both need to turn it around immediately if they want to hang in with the top dogs.