The A.L. Central, like its Western-division brethren and the entire National League, is full of bad teams. The division’s first-place Detroit Tigers enter Tuesday’s games with a run differential that would rank fifth in the A.L. East.
The Minnesota Twins, meanwhile, have ridden Joe Mauer’s Ted Williams impression and a pitching staff that has decided against issuing walks this season into second place, a mere three games out, and are the only other team in the division to have outscored its opponents thus far.
The other three teams in the division, the Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals, and Cleveland Indians all sit mired within two games of one another, 4.5-6.5 games back of the Tigers.
Despite their similar records, however, the Indians are easily the best of the three and regardless of the team’s poor play and bad luck to this point, should not be counted out of the race for the 2009 postseason.
The Indians have already separated themselves from the Sox and Royals in everything but record, entering Tuesday with a -10 run differential, compared with Chicago’s -27 and KC’s -26.
The Tribe has also played the most difficult schedule of any team in the division, having played 21 of their 66 games against the Beasts of the A.L. East, the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays.
Conversely, the White Sox have played just four games against the Rays and have yet to face the Yankees or Red Sox; the Tigers have not seen the Rays yet and have a record of 1-5 against New York and Boston.
The Indians have also suffered from that combination of early-season injuries and ineffectiveness that so often leads to premature dismissal in the non-stop prattling of sports media.
The team’s unequivocal best player, Grady Sizemore, has been on the DL since May 30 and played like an injured dude in the weeks leading up to that point.
DH Travis Hafner has also spent time on the DL after opening the season with a pre-2007-Hafneresque .910 OPS through the end of April.
Sizemore is due back within the next week and a half, while Hafner continued to not suck upon his return, rocking a line of .308/.379/.615 over seven games.
The combined performance of these two playing around their career norms, along with that of Victor Martinez and our favorite Korean on Korner, Shin-Soo Choo, will give the Indians more than enough offense to compensate for their decidedly unheroic pitching staff.
If it turns out that Asdrubal Cabrera’s rise to offensive competency is real and he’s more than just your run of the mill Asdrubal, Matt LaPorta can adjust to big league pitching and one of Ben Francisco, Mark DeRosa, or Jhonny Peralta gets their shit together, the Indians could have the best offense in the division, if not the non-Eastern two-thirds of the league.
With a schedule through the All-Star Break that includes series against the woeful Pirates, Reds, Athletics, and White Sox and a three-game set against the Tigers to end the first-half there is really no reason to count out Lou Brown’s boys just yet.
PS: Last night’s Rick Vaughn bobblehead giveaway clearly ranks among the best promotions in the history of organized sport. E-Bay will be scoured.