As Major League Baseball goes on hiatus for 4 days to celebrate the All-Star Game and all of the festivities that go along with the game, it is time to take stock in the AL Central divisional race.
Unfortunately, that race seems to have already evolved into a 2-team battle between the Detroit Tigers and the Cleveland Indian. The Chicago White Sox dropped out a few weeks ago, and the other two teams, the Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twin, suffered through recent disastrous stretches that have pretty much eliminated them.
This week in the AL Central Update, we will take a brief look at the past week, make note of each teams’ All-Stars, and discuss what each team needs to do in the second half.
1) Detroit Tigers (52-42): Last week – 4-3. Summary: The Tigers held serve over the past week although they dropped a couple to the White Sox they probably wish they could play over. The Indians are barking at their heels but the Tigers have the most horses for the long haul.
All-Stars: Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Max Scherzer, Jhonny Peralta, Torii Hunter, and Justin Verlander. There is little argument that any of these players didn’t deserve their selections, especially when you consider positions. There were a handful of pitchers more deserving to go instead of Verlander, especially if you discount wins, but he was a legitimate choice, and Jim Leyland probably knew he wasn’t going to be able to pitch in the exhibition.
Second Half Needs: The Tigers need to find a way to settle their bullpen. Adding a true, proven closer would probably do the trick, if they want to pay the price that kind of pitcher will command over the next 2 weeks. They could also use an upgrade in left field. Detroit can probably survive with Andy Dirks or Matt Tuiasosopo but it could be chancy. If Omar Infanteis going to be out for an extended period of time, Detroit may want to take a look at a possible temporary replacement. The Tigers are a strong team with a lot of weapons. They will be hard to overtake.
2) Cleveland Indians (51-44, 1.5 GB): Last week – 5-2. Summary: Thanks to a 3-game series sweep of the Royals over the weekend, the Indians crushed their nearest challenger for the second place spot in the division, and put the Tigers within easy striking distance. Cleveland has a great schedule the rest of July in which to make their move. In their next 12 games, they play 9 against teams well under .500.
All-Stars: Jason Kipnis and Justin Masterson. No complaints here. Kipnis has been red hot and was the AL Player of the Month in June. Masterson has 3 shutouts, and has two other games in which he started and went 7 innings, and the Indians didn’t allow a run. If it wasn’t for Houston needing a representative (Jason Castro), Carlos Santana may very well have made the team as well.
Second Half Needs: Pitching. More specifically, they need a good, strong starting pitcher. They also need to be slightly more consistent at the plate. They have been held to 1 run or less 14 times (15%). This issue seems to be working itself out, though, as it has only happened once in their last 25 contests. Their offense is as potent as any team’s. Another top of the rotation starter could catapult them past the Tigers.
3) Kansas City Royals (43-49, 8 GB): Last week – 2-5. Summary: The week started off great with 2 wins against the Yankees in New York, pulling the Royals to 1 game under .500. Suddenly, the proverbial wheels came off as they dropped their last 5 games going into the break, 3 costly ones to Cleveland. Kansas City will have to sweep the Tigers even to have a whiff of a chance.
All-Stars: Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez, and Greg Holland. Despite the Royals falling off the pace a bit, these three players all deserved to get a chance to play as All-Stars. Alex Gordon has been the best defensive left fielder in the American League for 3 years, and his bat has remained productive. Perez is one of the most exciting young catchers in the game, and Holland has been just dominate this season.
Second Half Needs:If the Royals can get back in the race in the next few games, they will need to settle the back end of their rotation. A staff that pitched well the first 3 months has faltered badly in July. The players on offense need to stop underachieving, under performing, and being unproductive. The promise of talent is there but it has been absent for most of the season. If the Royals stumble after the break, they need to become sellers very quickly, as they have a couple of valuable arms they could market.
4) Minnesota Twins (39-53, 12 GB): Last week – 2-5. Summary: The Twins finished off a disastrous week by winning the final two games before the break. They had lost 10 of their previous 11 contests, and are now buried. They flat out don’t have the talent to make a comeback in the division.
All-Stars: Joe Mauer and Glen Perkins. Again, two very deserving players received recognition. Mauer is the best all around catcher in baseball, and Glen Perkins has developed into a fine, reliable closer. Mauer is the unchallenged leader on offense and Perkins is the anchor in the bullpen. The Twins record might not be great but they have some really good players on that team.
Second Half Needs: The Twins have to consider selling off some of their assets. Justin Morneau could have value. Even Perkins might bring a good prospect or two. If Josh Willingham were healthy, he would be a great trade candidate. The Twins have a well stocked farm system and the second half would be a great time to get them some MLB experience heading into the 2014 campaign.
5) Chicago White Sox (37-55, 14 GB): Last week – 3-3. Summary: Weeks of .500 ball are not going to help the Sox one bit. They are out of the race and shopping some of their better players. Age and injuries seem to have caught up with Chicago quickly but they may be able to acquire some younger talent.
All-Stars: Chris Sale and Jesse Crain. Sale is their unquestioned ace and has enjoyed very little run support as Chicago is 14th in the league in runs. Jesse Crain was basically untouchable for most of the first half and earned his spot on the All-Star team. Crain will not play due to injury but Sale should get into the game.
Second Half Needs: Plain and simple – the White Sox need a makeover. They need to get younger and they need to restock their minors. Jake Peavy, Alex Rios, Alex Ramirez, and maybe even young closer Addison Reed could be trading chips for the Sox to improve the future. It would not be surprising if Chicago is very active in trade rumors over the next 2 weeks. Already, they have traded long time reliever Matt Thornton to the Red Sox. Look for more to come soon.
The AL Central is in all reality, a 2-team race with a false contender in the Royals, and two teams who should become sellers very quickly. The division produced 15 very deserving All-Stars. As for the bottom three teams, they just don’t have enough productive talent throughout their roster to complete for a playoff spot for six full months. The Tigers were the team to beat in March, and they still are.