Things are really heating up in the American League Central as the month of July winds down. The Detroit Tigers have burst out of the gates following the All-Star break winning 7 of their first 10 games. The Cleveland Indians are 5-4, and surprisingly, the Kansas City Royals are 8-2. Each of these three teams just swept a weekend series, giving no ground to the other teams. The Minnesota Twins have also played well since the break at 6-4, but they are buried at this point.
1) Detroit Tigers (59-45): Since the All-Star break – 7-3. Summary: Most have believed since the end of last season that the Tigers were going to be the best in the Central this season. It has been a struggle but the Tigers are now playing more and more as expected. By acquiring Houston Astros’ closer Jose Veras Monday morning, Detroit has strengthened their most glaring weakness, and they are going to be very tough to overcome in August and September. Miguel Cabrera has missed several games due to a hip injury, then got thrown out early Sunday. It hasn’t mattered. They just keep winning. The Tigers play one of the most underachieving teams of the season in the Washington Nationals, then they get the White Sox. The Tigers can’t seem to shake the Indians or the Royals completely but their talent should win out over the long haul.
2) Cleveland Indians (56-48, 3 GB): Since the All-Star break – 5-4. Summary: The Indians faltered right after the break but quickly righted the ship. They just swept the Texas Rangers in a big 3-game tilt this weekend, shutting them out twice. The Indians only trail the Tigers by three games and they are right in the thick of things in the wild card race. Their hitting has been solid all season and there are signs the pitching is coming around – like holding the Rangers scoreless for 2 straight games. This week, the Indians are in one of the easier stretches of the season. They host the struggling White Sox for 4 games and travel to Miami to face one of the worst teams in baseball for three over the weekend. A good week could put pressure on the Tigers and set Cleveland up in the wild card race.
3) Kansas City Royals (51-51, 7 GB): Since the All-Star break – 8-2. Summary: The Royals are playing some of their best ball of the season, winning their last 6 games. Unfortunately, they have made little progress cutting into Detroit’s lead. Kansas City is sitting on the fence on whether to buy or sell before the deadline but neither option is likely to help them in 2013. The schedule is set up for the Royals to make a run as they play the Twins 6 out of the next 9, with 3 games with the New York Mets squeezed in between. From now through the end of August, the Royals have only 8 games against teams with winning records. The opportunity is there for the Royals to make some noise but it is doubtful they have enough offense to overcome the Tigers and the Indians.
4) Minnesota Twins (45-57, 13 GB): Since the All-Star break: 6-4. Summary: The Twins haven’t been playing that poorly but at 13 games back, they have zero chance of making it to the top. Just like several of the other teams in the division, they are in a rather easy stretch of games. Even though the Royals are 6 games ahead of the Twins, they are not a powerhouse. Minnesota play their next 9 games against Kansas City and Houston, so they do have some games they could win. The Twins would like to be sellers this week but have few commodities. Justin Morneau is a shell of his former self as far as MVP-like production goes. Joe Mauer, who has immense value, would be nearly impossible to trade due to his contract and local icon status. Josh Willingham is injured. The Twins will most likely stand pat and try to play spoiler for a couple of hopefuls.
5) Chicago White Sox (40-62, 18 GB): Since the All-Star break – 3-7. Summary: Unlike the Twins, the White Sox have several players who could be traded over the next few days. Jake Peavy, Jesse Crain, Alex Rios,and Alex Ramirez all have some value and could help restock the Sox minors league system. Their offense just hasn’t produced in 2013 (case-in-point – they only scored 3 total runs in the weekend series against the Royals) and they need to rebuild as some of their hitters are beginning to age. Their schedule is of no help to turning things around as they get the division leaders this week and are now the easy team on schedules.
It is just bad luck for the Royals that the Indians and Tigers are also in the midst of an easier stretch of games and just one more reason why Kansas City will have a hard time denting that deficit.