MLB Baseball Mid-Season Discussion #2: The A.L. Central

Well, we’re on to our second division. Er, no, that came out wrong.

Here are your AL Central standings as of 11:12 EST June 7:

CHICAGO WHITE SOX 38-19 (.667) –
MINNESOTA TWINS 33-22 (.600) 4
CLEVELAND INDIANS 26-29 (.473) 11
DETROIT TIGERS 26-29 (.473) 11
KANSAS CITY ROYALS 17-39 (.304) 20.5

Let’s examine each team:

Chicago - huh, best record in baseball. For years the statheads have been predicting the Sox would eclipse the Twins, and maybe this is finally the year. Surprisingly, it’s not the young hitters - the Sox are only league average in runs scored. It’s the pitchers, who sport a 3.52 ERA. The entire rotation has been solid, not a weak link among them, and Dustin Hermanson has been lights out as the closer. Surely the pitching cannot remain this good, but the hitting seems like it could improve to make up for it. Still much young talent here.

Chicago has scored 261 runs and allowed 216 runs, which would normally yeild a record of 34-23, so they have been moderately lucky in that regard.

Minnesota may give up the division crown, but if the season ended today they’d still be in the playoffs. The pitching has been just awesome; not only the best in the AL, but better than any team in the NATIONAL league, the one with an automatic out in the lineup. Wow. When was the last time THAT happened? Every pitcher has been good; the Twins have no weak links on the staff, and most of these guys are legitimate pitchers, so it’s not a big fluke. They need it though, as the offense has been a little on the weak side; that said, the team on base percentage of .336 is fourth in the league so the offense will likely score more runs. I actually think the Twins are a favourite to win the World Series.

Minnesota has scored 253 runs and allowed 206 runs, which would normally yield a record of 33-22, so they have been neither lucky nor unlucky.

Cleveland last year had a huge cast of awesome young hitters. This year they apparently surreptitiously replaced them with the Jimmy Fallon Fan Club; with 220 runs they are the worst offense in the league, easily. They simply can’t get anyone on base, and some of the regulars have been catastrophically bad; Casey Blake is bad, Victor Martinez has been a huge letdown, and someone needs to stick a fork in Aaron Boone. The pitching has been very good, and it’s a testament to their skill that the team’s still near .500. Man, look at these hard luck stories; Kevin Millwood’s 3.20 ERA has gotten him one win. Even though Jake Westbrook has been pounded like a pinata at an anger management camp, the Indians have the fourth best ERA in the league.

Cleveland has scored 220 runs and allowed 226 runs, which would normally result in a record of 27-28, so they’ve been unlucky by one win. Actually it comes out to 26.7 wins or something like that so who cares.

Detroit fans probably would have been thrilled with 26-29 LAST year when it would have come on the heels of 43-119, but now it’s just boring. The offense is mediocre, lacking baserunners, though the tough park makes it look worse than it really is, and the pitching’s about average; fifth best ERA in the league but again the park makes it look BETTER than it really is. So they’re kind of boring. Ivan Rodriguez suddenly can’t hit for crap, and at 1808 games played, for a catcher, this is a bad sign. Carlos Pena really needs to be replaced. IS Jeremy Bonderman the next big ace?

Detroit has scored 244 runs and allowed 250 runs, so they should be 27-28 like the Indians.

Kansas City - dear, dear Jesus. What can I say in analysis? They can’t hit and they need two kinds of pitching; right handed and left handed. They’re actually writing Terrence Long’s name in to the lineup on purpose. For the love of God, they have let Jose Lima start TWELVE GAMES!!! Here’s his line so far:

0-5, 8.39 ERA, 28 strikeouts, 27 walks.

The odds of Lima turning it around are, let’s be honest, absolutely zero. If the Royals were to keep him in the rotation for the rest of the year, which would be amazingly dumb but you never know, he has a good shot at being the worst starting pitcher in the history of baseball. Don’t the Royals have someone in AAA to give these starts to? Just to see if some kid can win a few games? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

Kansas City has scored 230 runs and allowed 320 runs, which would normally result in a record of 19-37, so they’ve been slightly unlucky, but that’s like arguing over the number of deck chairs on the Titanic.

This division may be the worst in professional baseball, with only the NL Central as a rival (at least the bottom half, anyway.) Chicago and Minnesota can basically decide this one themselves, because Detroit, Cleveland and Kansas City are not frightening anyone.

The Royals, who flirted with legitimacy a couple years ago, are now back to being worse than the Devil Dogs. The Tigers need two bats, at least, and the Indians need for the bats they have to actually hit. Millwood has to be kicking himself for going to Cleveland (although I get the feeling he may be available next month.)

I think the Sox will win the division, and Minnesota is probably the AL Wild Card, since two of the East’s Big Three (Baltimore, Boston and the Yankees) will be dueling each other for it while the Twins get to feast on the aforementioned cellar-dwellers.

I don’t know this division up and down like I do the East, but a number of random comments:

Chicago - is the pitching smoke and mirrors, or is it the simultaneous realization of potential for everyone at once? Contreras is outperforming his career averages, but he has always had the potential, and there are a number of reasons why he might well be for real. Garcia is pretty much the same story. I’ve always thought of Buehrle as sort of a one-and-a-half starter, someone you’re thrilled to have as your two but not comfortable with as your ace, but he’s unarguably a horse who will eat up innings and keep you competitive. El Duque is actually pitching slightly worse than his career averages, and should probably be fine if the injuries get worked out. Garland is obviously the one having a “Huh? What?” year so far, and is probably due for a fall, but will still be pretty average even with it comes. The only thing I’d be scared about here is that all of them but Buehrle have K/9 ratios a good bit lower than their career averages. This would indicate that they’re doing something a little different, likely getting deeper into games by pitching to contact… but it doesn’t bode well for long term unhittable-ness.

Even when Hermanson becomes mortal again, that bullpen is full of live arms, and isn’t something I’d be worried about. The real thing that’s likely to bring the Sox down is their rather uninspiring offense. I don’t really think “small ball” can work over an entire season in the American League, and I think even less of it when you have the personnel that the White Sox have. Half the lineup simply isn’t getting it done. As long as Podsednik keeps getting on base and running like he is now, it will keep them ticking… but if he has a cold streak at the plate OR on the basepaths (since the only reason he even has the value he does is that he turns so many of his walks/singles into doubles-by-steal - goodness knows his SLG% isn’t scaring anyone), the order completely falls apart. Konerko is the only regular at this point in the year with an OPS above .800 - that’s absolutely abysmal for a contending team.

I’m with you on the commendations of Minnesota. I think this could finally be the year that they break through - the entirety of the A.L. looks vulnerable in one way or another, and this team has the pitching and then some. The key will be the health of Morneau and Mauer - those two kids carry that lineup when they’re healthy, and when they’re out, you’re looking at Chicago without the speed. If the Twins can find their way to adding a sizable bat before the deadline, I think they’re the prohibitive favorite to represent the A.L. in the series, especially with Schilling’s health perpetually in question, and possibly even if he’s well.

The rest of this division rates D for Disappointment. A couple years ago, KC was the success story of the first half and stayed seriously in contention through much of the second half. Cleveland and Detroit showed great improvement last year and seemed poised to break through. Now, we have a lot of standing still and regression. Still, Cleveland and Detroit have good things to look forward to: the Indians still have a very solid roster if even a majority of it performs to potential, the Tigers have a number of key parts and a new ownership willing to spend (though they’ll have to do a little better with either their signings or their luck in that department in the future - but getting to a situation where players want to come to Detroit is the first step). KC, on the other hand, is in serious trouble. A lot of things need to change here, and it’s going to take a while - there might even be less hope here than in Tampa, which is a shame in a town that has historically had more of a baseball base.

In summary: Chicago, Minnesota, and a bunch of bums, with Minnesota looking by far the strongest going forward.

The most interest I can muster for this division are related to “what if’s” and hopes.

As a Cubs fan, should I be surprised that Jon Garland is on pace to win 25 games? What’s Matt Karchner doing now? He really helped out the team in '98 or whenever it was that the bum was brought to the North Side. With Prior and Wood out, it’s great the Cubs don’t have anyone like Dontrelle Willis or Garland in the rotation.

As someone that pulls for the Royals, all I can say is that in about a year and a half it will be nice to see Greinke pitching his two final years in KC before he splits for the big money, as well as seeing Alex Gordon develop before the Walmart management team gives him the usual star treatment. Low costs, no matter how crummy the product, or caring if anyone likes it, as long as the bottom line looks good to the higher ups. (Glass is a bum.)

One of the hardships of living in Japan is that I don’t get any news coverage of my beloved Twins, unless they’re playing a team that has a Japanese player in it. (Last weekend was wonderful – but I digress.) I sometimes chat with my best friend back in Minnesota about baseball, and since we share the same favorite team, I depend on him for baseball news.

I sent him a link to this thread, and he fired off this response to me:

Chicago has played over their head thus far in my book. They have been winning on performances from a lot of unproven guys that are tough to project if they can hold up over the course of an entire season. And lets face it, this team has a history of choke jobs. Personally, I want to see how this clubhouse reacts with the everyday insertion of Frank Thomas back into the mix. An implosion waiting to happen. However, let us look at the facts for a second. Chicago’s record prior to May 8 (first 4 weeks) was a gaudy 23-7 (.767). Since that time (last 4 weeks)? An uninspiring 16-12. Which is the real team?

Minnesota may have the best pitching staff in baseball. At least top two or three. They have won despite the fact that two of their key players, Mauer and Morneau, have missed a combined 29 games thus far. And on top of that they have an entirely different starting infield then a year ago. This team historically gets better as the season progresses, and I am certain GM Terry Ryan will make a savvy move to make this team better at the trading deadline. Oh, and Minnesota was 18-11 prior to May 8 and 16-11 since. Consistent and steady winning ways.

Both Chicago and Minnesota will make the playoffs, but at the end of the season Minnesota will win the division by at least five games and Chicago will have the wild card.

Cleveland has underachieved a little bit in my book. I haven’t followed them a lot so far, but I really expected that they, not Chicago, would be the ones giving the Twins a run for their money. I think they are only a year away.

Detroit, while restoring themselves to franchise legitimacy, to me still has an identity crisis. Are they a good hitting team? Pitching team? Defensive team? I can’t tell you. Maybe expectations for them were too high after their marked improvement.

Kansas City hardly deserves to be mentioned. This organization has way more problems then their won-loss record. I am not even going to waste my time…

As a National League guy, I really have trouble getting “into” the American League (in general), so when it comes to the AL Central, all I can say is “yawn”. The East and West seem to have some kind of excitement that the Central totally lacks. I mean, Cleveland and Detroit?

Kansas City? All I can say is that several years ago the KC Royals used to have an exhibition game once a year vs. their triple A team here in Omaha. When they couldn’t even win those games the whole idea was scrapped!

Granted, the Twins aren’t respected enough for how well they play… er, how well they CONSISTENTLY play. Something must be going on in the Metrodome (maybe it’s that awful surface they play on?).

With the record they have, one has to consider the CWS for real, but I just don’t see them holding up in the long-haul. Minnesota will win the division and someone from the east or west will eeek out a wild-card birth…

Can’t wait until September to read my shoddy predictions!

Someone ALWAYS flirts with first before the Twins do their Tortoise-vs-Hare imitation in August and September. Two years ago it was the Royals.

The White Sox will likely fade down the stretch and Minnesota will take the division as usual.

As for my beloved Royals…what can be said about them? I find myself surprised that their “predicted” record based on runs so well matches their current record, as they lost a hell of a lot of one-run games. That said, it’s absurd that Lima is still in the rotation. Even if they can’t find a replacement for him, they’d be better off going with a four-man. While they won’t likely sniff fourth place, Buddy Bell does seem to be making fewer dumb mistakes than Tony Pena did…clearly 2003 was a total fluke for Tony…and even if they Royals won’t be playing .714 baseball the rest of the season, they’ll probably improve significantly for that reason alone. Prediction: they will NOT end up with the worst record in the majors this year.

As opposed to the exciting brand of NL play put forth by the Pirates, Reds, Phils and Brewers, I suppose.

I’m an Indians’ fan but my team just sucks big red rocks. They couldn’t hit a burning building with a heat-seeking missile.

Buddy Bell was a good hire for them. He’s not gonna win a World Series with any team, but he’s a good baseball guy who is gonna help the young kids develop. Hopefully, he realizes that Lima Time ended when the Astros got one decent half-season from him.

So, who’s going to get Sweeney at the deadline? Obviously, despite what the team is saying, he’s gonna be out of town before August.

This is what happens when I moan in a pre-season thread about the Indians and lots of people tell me that my doom-saying is an overreaction.

Silly people obviously didn’t grow up Indians fans.

On the plus side…

Well, how about on the neutral side? Boone has actually had a couple of hits lately.

Yeah, that’s all I’ve got.

I have to say that I expect the White Sox to fade. They haven’t been doing that great in the last month and I don’t think all those pitchers having ‘career’ few months can keep it going. The offense hasn’t been pulling its weight and that’ll kill 'em.

The Twins are lying in wait, and they are only a few games off the pace. With their pitching, any slip up by the White Sox would be fatal.