The AL Central will enter the second half of the 2013 with a virtual dead heat for first place between the Cleveland Indians and the Detroit Tigers. After the Tigers’ Monday night loss, the Indians lead by a slim 1/2 game margin. Two other squads – the Kansas City Royals and the Minnesota Twins, are within at least 6.5 games of first. The Central has been a bit strange of late. The Indians have the worst records for any divisional leader in the majors, and the White Sox have the best record for any last place divisional team in baseball.
Although the White Sox are only 10.5 games out, it will be nearly impossible for them to leap frog 4 teams, so, at this time, they are probably the only team not think they have a chance to come back in the second half.
1) Cleveland Indians (44-38): Last week – 6-2. Summary: It cannot be often that a team allows 39 runs in a week, yet goes 6-2. Of course, thanks to scoring 28 runs in a doubleheader, the Indians tallied 51 runs in their 8 games. This is a huge week coming up for the Indians as they host the two teams closest to them in the AL Central standings. They will try to keep the Royals at bay for three games, then they take on the Tigers head-to-head over the weekend. Seldom is July baseball as important as it will be for a couple of teams this week, including the Indians. This past week was a perfect example of the Indians season – they can score a lot of runs but their staff can surrender their fair share. Will the Indians get enough quality pitching to stay in contention? Team Leaders: Hitting – Mark Reynolds (15); Stolen Bases – Jason Kipnis (19); OBP – Kipnis (.384). Pitching: Home Runs Allowed – Scott Kazmir (13); Walks – Justin Masterson (45); Strikeouts – Masterson (125).
1) Detroit Tigers (43-38): Last week – 1-5. Summary: It was a trap week for the Tigers. Although they were playing two teams down in their divisions in the Angels and Rays, both were dangerous teams. The Tigers found that out. Things will not get easier this week as Detroit faces a couple of rough road tests. First, they travel north to face the resurging Toronto Blue Jays, who have a talented roster that has under performed most of the season, but have come storming back. Then, the Tigers have a big weekend tilt with the AL Central leaders, the Indians. The Tigers, on paper have the best team in the division, but they have not played well enough to break away from the pack. Another sub par week may find them trailing the Indians by more than just a half game. Team Leaders – Hitting: Home Runs – Miguel Cabrera (25); Stolen Bases – Andy Dirks, Austin Jackson (6); OBP – Cabrera (.461). Pitching: Home Runs Allowed – Max Scherzer (11); Walks - Justin Verlander (39); Strikeouts – Scherzer (131). (UPDATE: The Tigers played Monday and dropped a half game behind the Indians with a 8-3 to Toronto.)
3) Kansas City Royals (38-41): Last week – 3-3. Summary: The key to last week for the Royals was splitting their games. They could ill afford to lose the week, especially with 4 games against the Twins. They have a brutal stretch of games coming up, including this week, when they host Cleveland, then Oakland. At this point, the Royals cannot afford to play far below .500 if they want to stay in touch with the Indians and Tigers. Kansas City replaced Jeff Francoeur and Chris Getz this past week, so addition by subtraction should improve the team immediately. At this point, the Royals are counting on their offense not being as bad in the second half as it was in the first but that is a dangerous strategy. Team Leaders – Hitting: Home Runs – Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer (7); Stolen Bases – Alcides Escobar, Elliot Johnson (11); OBP – Billy Butler (.387). Pitching – Home Runs Allowed – Jeremy Guthrie (19); Walks – Wade Davis (37); Strikeouts – James Shields(104).
4) Minnesota Twins (36-43): Last week – 2-4. Summary: The Twins allowed the Royals to split a 4-game series at Target Field, when a series victory could have sent Kansas City spiraling. Instead, they Royals are slightly ahead of the Twins right now and closer to the Indians at the top. The Twins have 7 games this week with some of the beasts from the East, with the Yankees (already lost on Monday) and the Blue Jays. Minnesota has to find a way to play above .500 this week if they want to remain in contact with the other three teams. It is a dangerous part of the season right now with a tough upcoming schedule, poor pitching performances, and some nagging injuries starting to creep up (Doumit and Willingham are not 100%). Team Leaders – Hitting: Home Runs – Josh Willingham (10); Stolen Bases – Pedro Florimon (7); OBP – Joe Mauer (.402). Pitching: Home Runs Allowed – Kevin Correia (15); Walks – Mike Pelfrey (21); Strikeouts – Correia (53). (UPDATE – The Twins played Monday and got beat late when the Yankees scored 7 runs in the 7th and 8th.)
5) Chicago White Sox (32-47): Last week – 1-5. Summary: Not only was last week bad, but they are 3-10 in the last two weeks. Things just haven’t been going their way in 2013. They have been struggling all season to score runs, then in a Friday night doubleheader against Cleveland, the Sox rolled for 18 runs…but surrendered 28 on the same day. They were also shut out in two of the other 4 games last week. They host the Orioles this week, then head to Tampa for a weekend series. There are rumblings that everyone on their team is available except Chris Sale and Paul Konerko, so the Sox brass may not believe their is much hope in 2013. Team Leaders – Hitting: Home Runs – Adam Dunn (21); Stolen Bases – Alex Ramirez (18); OBP – Gordon Beckham (.342). Pitching: Home Runs Allowed – Dylan Axelrod (15); Walks – Hector Santiago (34); Strikeouts – Chris Sale (114).
No team has shown interest in just running away with this division. The longer teams like the Royals and Twins can hang around, the more confidence they will gain down the stretch.