As the second month of baseball comes to a close, the American League Central may be the most calming division in baseball. Unlike its NL Central counterpart, the AL Central has not been plagued by injuries or underperformance in May. Instead, it looks almost normal. The Detroit Tigers hold a commanding 5.5 game lead over the second place Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins. They are also the only team above .500 in the division, which again is not that much of a surprise.
What is a little more shocking is what is going on underneath the Tigers in the division standing. The Twins are not the worst team in the division. Instead, they sit in second place with a record of 23-24 and one game below .500. In fact, if there is a team who is underperforming in the division, it should be the Cleveland Indians. With a 24-27 record, they hold the worst record in the division and have been plagued by injuries all season long. The Indians were not expected to take the division away from the Tigers, but many expected them to at least be in the wild card race.
Here’s where the teams stand at the end of this week:
Detroit Tigers (28-18, 1st in AL Central)
This may sound crazy, especially with the Tigers recent losing streak, but they are not simply the best team in the AL Central. No, the Detroit Tigers may be the best and certainly the most well-rounded team in baseball. Now, it may not seem like that as of now. The Tigers went on a bit of a skid this week. After sweeping the Boston Red Sox two weekends ago, the Tigers have gone 1-6. They were swept by the lowly Indians (not out for the count yet) and were crushed by the Texas Rangers (who coincidently have gotten better without Prince Fielder… just like the Tigers). However, it’s not time for Detroit fans to panic yet. Their line up is stacked with not only power but speed, something the team lacked last year. Fans should start getting worried if Miguel Cabrera’s cramp turns out to be more than a cramp and if the pitching does not get back to form.
Until then, remain calm citizens. The Tigers will be back to form in no time.
Kansas City Royals (24-25, tied 2nd in AL Central)
Underperforming? Perhaps, but the Kansas City Royals are second in a division that is the Tigers to lose. This past week, they went 2-4, and still settled for a record below .500. It’s not exactly where the Royals want to be, especially with the competitiveness of the other American League Divisions. If they want to make a run at the wild card, the Royals have to be better in all facets of the game. They have sent their struggling third baseman Mike Moustakas to the minors, hoping it will spark some sort of improvement. “Moose”, as Royals fans affectionately call him, has looked lost at the plate while leading the team with four home runs and 17 RBIs. This means Danny Valencia will take over full time at third. Valencia, once a young up and coming third baseman with the Minnesota Twins, has struggled since his rookie season. The Royals need Valencia and/or Moustakas to perform well in that position and generate runs for the team if they have any hope of making a run at the wild card.
Minnesota Twins (23-24, tied 2nd in AL Central)
The biggest surprise is not that the Tigers have such a commanding in lead in the central. It has to be that the Minnesota Twins are not last in the division. The Twins practically wiped the board clean after a dismal 2012 and 2013 season, saving only their prized possession in catcher/first baseman Joe Mauer, from the trading block. However, that has not necessarily been a bad thing for the team. They temporarily lost Mauer to back spasms a few weeks ago and lost Josh Willingham and Oswaldo Arcia to injuries early in the year. However, Willingham and Arcia are expected to return this week to help the teams offense, which struggled in the series against the San Francisco Giants. Despite being swept by the Giants, the Twins did manage to salvage two road wins in a two-game series against the San Diego Padres. While the Twins may not be making any runs to the playoffs, this is a good sign for the young team and a step in the right direction.
Chicago White Sox (25-27, 4th in AL Central)
The White Sox may be 4th in the AL Central, but they are still the better team in Chicago (poor Cubs). They also posted the second best record in the AL Central this past week. The White Sox went 4-3 this weekend, taking the series from the Royals and splitting with the New York Yankees. Even more impressive, rookie sensation Jose Abreu has been out during this stretch. Before his injury, Abreu was being compared to one of the biggest stars in baseball: Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera. That being said, the White Sox are still looking for a dominant closer and the injury bug seems to have bitten them in both the major and minor league levels. The White Sox top prospect, who they were hoping to bring up later this season, recently suffered from a hamstring injury which has slowed his progression. They need to focus on finding a closer and keeping the rest of their team healthy on the Major league level.
Cleveland Indians (24-27, 5th in AL Central)
Bright spot for Cleveland: They swept the Tigers, split with the Orioles, and went 5-2 on the week. The bad news: Jason Kipnis is still hurt, Trevor Bauer can’t control his fastball, and the bats simply are not producing. When the Indians are good, they look great, but when they are bad… well, it’s why they sit in the bottom of the division. The Indians have the talent and the personnel to make a run for the playoffs. The question is, why are they struggling? Some experts say it is because the team is playing without attitude, but the mechanics are also never consistent. When they Indians are good, fans can see the playoff team of 2013, but when they are bad, they are awful. If they want to get out of the cellar of the division, the Indians need to be consistently good. The return of Kipnis for their upcoming series against the White Sox may help give the team a much needed boost, but only time will tell if the Indians can get out of this slump.