DIVISION ANALYSIS: AL CENTRAL
Entering the season, the expectations were that the Cleveland Indians would rather easily win the division for the fourth straight year. The Kansas City Royals, the Chicago White Sox, and the Detroit Tigers were rebuilding teams not expected to be competitive, and the Minnesota Twins were expected to at best be Wild Card contenders and at worst a .500 team.
Minnesota however did a little bit better than that, they currently have the best record in the Majors. They’re not even just leading the division, they’re dominating it with a 10.5 game lead. Their team ERA (3.92) is seventh in the Majors and fourth in the AL. Their team FIP (4.11) is ninth in the Majors and fourth in the AL. Their team FIP (4.11) is ninth in the Majors and fourth in the AL. Their runs per game is actually first in the Majors (5.92). Surprisingly, they’re also first in the league in the Triple Crown stats this late into the season (while also having the third fewest strikeouts), but what may be even more surprising is that they didn’t even become the favorites in the division until early May.
Minnesota is also enjoying breakout seasons from RF Max Kepler, SP Jake Odorizzi, CF Byron Buxton, and SS Jorge Polanco. They’re also getting rebound campaigns from 2B Jonathan Schoop and 3B Miguel Sano.
What about the other teams?
Kansas City is…..not particularly good this season to say the least. Of course they weren’t expected to be competitive, but they still have been worse than I think most people expected. There have been a few bright spots however: 3B Hunter Dozier and SS Adalberto Mondesi. Mondesi appears to be a legitimate building block going forward (albeit with a need to improve his contact and plate discipline). Dozier broke out out of nowhere and might be a solid part of the lineup going forward. Still, with the state of their farm and a lack of true stars, this season seems to only be the start of a long rebuilding effort.
Detroit has one major positive and that is their breakout ace Matthew Boyd. Other than him, there are serious issues such as DH Miguel Cabrera’s decline and RF Nicholas Castellanos’s down season in a contract year. At this point, it appears to be another lengthy rebuild in the process.
Cleveland is having a nightmare season. After entering the season as the division favorites, they find themselves 10.5 games back in the division with a weak offense and an injury-filled rotation. Corey Kluber, Mike Clevinger and Carlos Carrasco have been hit with serious injuries (and in Kluber’s case a potential decline: 3.99 FIP and 4.73 xFIP). Of course the worst has been 3B Jose Ramirez’s surprising decline. He currently has a .227 BABIP, but the fact is that he went from slashing .270/.387/.552 to slashing .203/.299/.301 this season. It’s not even fair to blame it on a short sample size, as we’re almost halfway into the season. The team looks like a mess and a sell-off may not be that far away at this point:
Chicago saw SP Lucas Giolito and 3B Yoan Moncada have breakout seasons, but not much else to brighten their own rebuilding efforts. Still, they’re on the outskirts of the Wild Card hunt, and a miracle can at least be somewhat imaginable in a top-heavy league.
The AL Central was supposed to be dominated by Cleveland this season with Minnesota as Wild Card contenders, but it’s Cleveland who are hoping for the Wild Card and Minnesota who has have the division locked up and may actually be in contention to win the whole thing.