Four teams in this division have done a complete flip on the expectations placed upon them in spring training (We knew Kansas City wouldn’t be that good). The Indians were supposed to build upon last season’s ALCS appearance. After all the money Detroit spent, how could they not compete for the division crown?
On the other side of the coin, Chicago and Minnesota weren’t thought of as contenders. Chicago watched their win total slide in each of the two seasons, including winning only 72 games last year. Minnesota cut ties with two of its best players this past off-season. They lost Torii Hunter to free agency and traded Johan Santana.
These two teams are currently atop the AL Central.
Chicago White Sox
Just as it did in 2005 when they won the World Series, pitching leads the way for Chicago. They are second in the AL in ERA and walks allowed. Gavin Floyd leads the team in wins with eight, John Danks leads the starters with a 2.80 ERA and Bobby Jenks anchors the bullpen with 16 saves.
Chicago’s hitting isn’t too shabby, either. They are fourth in the AL in runs scored and lead the way with 102 home runs. A.J. Peirzynski leads the team with a .297 batting average and 18 doubles. Jermaine Dye and Carlos Quentin each have 17 home runs, which is good for second in the AL.
It is impossible to close an examination of the White Sox without talking about the manager, Ozzie Guillen. Always known for fiery managerial style and profanity-laced sound bites, Ozzie ripped into his offense at the beginning of June. The White Sox proceeded to reel off seven straight wins.
Say what you want about Ozzie Guillen. The man knows how to push the right buttons.
Midterm grade: B
Comment: Chicago needs to show more consistency. They tend to follow decent winning streaks with demoralizing losing skids.
This team has been a real disappointment. Despite out-scoring their opponents by 11 so far, the Indians are eight games back in the AL Central.
Let’s talk about the pitching. Outside of Cliff Lee, the starters have been a real letdown. C.C. Sabathia is 5-8 with an ERA over 4.00, Paul Byrd is 3-8 and an ERA over 5.00 and Fausto Carmona hasn’t pitched in over a month.
As for the bullpen, there is no closer to count on. No one in the bullpen has an ERA under 3.00 or more than five saves.
The lineup hasn’t been any better. The Indians are 10th in runs scored and have one of the lowest batting averages in the AL. Casey Blake and Grady Sizemore are two bright spots on this Cleveland roster. Collectively, they lead the team in doubles, runs, RBIs and home runs.
Unless Cleveland puts things together in the next month, look for the Indians to be sellers at the trade deadline.
Midterm Grade: D
Comment: Cleveland has been below .500 for over a month and have show no signs of rebounding.
With their start at the beginning of the season, it looked as if Detroit would have another 100-loss season. The Tigers, though, may have finally turned the corner. Despite sitting two games under .500, they have won 14 of their past 18 games. But with all the spending they did in free agency, they should have a better record than they currently possess.
The Tigers’ strength is their lineup. Marcus Thames, Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera supply the power, while Carlos Guillen leads the team with 20 doubles and has a .305 batting average.
Pitching has been a real detriment to the team’s success. Detroit is one of three AL teams with more than 300 walks and has the fewest strikeouts in the league – not a good combination. This has helped contribute to a 4.56 ERA. This is a far cry from when they led the AL during their 2006 World Series run with an ERA under 4.00.
If they plan on making the playoffs, they are going to have to win the division. They are seventh in the wild card standings and sit nine games back. They are five back in the AL Central. With half the season, it is possible for them to make up that deficit.
Midterm grade: C-
Comment: Two weeks ago, I would have given Detroit an F. They are showing signs of life now but have a long way to go.
Kansas City Royals
No team is more inconsistent than the Royals. They started 9-6. After a few weeks, they remembered they are the Royals and dropped 12 in a row. They got as low as 16 games under .500 and are now riding a wave in which they have won 10 out of 11. Probably not coincidentally, all of those wins came against the National League.
Kansas City is lucky to be where they are right now. They have the fourth-worst AL ERA (4.40) and have scored the second-fewest runs.
Zack Greinke is their ace. He leads the team in ERA, strikeouts, innings and wins. Joakim Soria handles the closer role well. He has converted all but one of his 22 save opportunities and has an ERA of 1.29.
Jose Guillen is the leader of this team. He is first in home runs, doubles and RBIs. His 60 RBIs are good for third in the AL. David DeJesus leads the team in batting average, on-base percentage and OPS.
Unfortunately, the next three games against the Cardinals are the Royals’ last three games against the NL. Given that note, look for the Royals to finish last in the AL Central again.
Midterm grade: D+
Comment: Unless they are playing the NL, the Royals can’t hit or pitch. Last time I checked, those are fairly important skills in baseball.
The Twins have been around .500 the entire season. Until a week ago, they were never more the three games above or below .500. Currently, they are riding a nine-game winning streak and have a season-high seven more wins than losses. Like the Royals, they have feasted on the National League. Every single one of their wins during the streak has come against the weaker league. I don’t care that it’s against Washington, San Diego and slumping Arizona. The Twins have not had this kind of success against the bottom of the AL.
Despite letting Torii Hunter go to LA and being the worst home run team in the AL, the Twins are third in the American League in scoring. Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer are the leaders of this Twins lineup. They combine to lead Minnesota in batting average, runs, home runs and RBIs.
The pitching staff has suffered some without Johan Santana. Francisco Liriano made three starts in April and hasn’t thrown a pitch since. Livan Hernandez has eight wins but an ERA of 7.00 in June. Nick Blackburn leads the starters in ERA, and Joe Nathan has 20 saves.
Midterm grade: B-
Comment: They have been better than predicted but need more pitching to compete for the playoffs.