Surprise! A Look At The AL Central at The Halfway Point

Dan WadeSenior Analyst IJuly 5, 2008

The AL central is as topsy-turvey as it could be right now. There is a heated race at the top; almost everyone predicted the division would be close, but the Indians are 12 games out and the Tigers are struggling to stay at .500.

Wait, what?

The White Sox and Twins are locked in a battle for the top spot, which exactly no one saw coming, and both teams are playing nearly .600 baseball. Just two teams have a positive run differential and the Tiger's vaunted offense is third in the division in runs scored.

Every team has a reason for their current status, the White Sox and Twins have gotten unexpected contributions from young players, the Tigers and Indians have been hurt by injuries, and the Royals are still finding themselves as a team.

Here are the biggest surprises for each AL Central team:

Chicago White Sox: Gavin Floyd and John Danks

I said it time and again before this season started, the Sox were only as good as their young pitchers, and I was right. Unfortunately, that was usually followed by "so this clearly isn't going to be their year", which proved to be about as wrong as wrong can be.

Floyd is 9-4 with an ERA of 3.45 and a WHIP under 1.5. He won four straight decisions from the end of May well into June, and has been almost unbeatable at US Cell.

As good as Floyd has been, Danks may be even better. He is sporting an ERA under three and a WHIP of just 1.18; He has given up two earned runs in his last four outings. If both Danks and Floyd can extend their success into the second half of the year, the Sox will remain very tough to beat, especially at home.

Honorable Mention: Alexei Ramirez

Minnesota Twins: Alexi Casilla

Casilla was pretty disappointing in his call-up last year, and wasn't doing anything special in AAA to open the season, but a rash of infield injuries necessitated his reemergence in the Twin Cities. It was a stroke of pure luck for the Twins

Casilla has been a huge asset to the team and a big part of the reason they are playing as well as they are. He is getting on base at a .370 clip and that is important with Carlos Gomez still learning the ropes as a leadoff hitter. He has shown a little power and has vastly improved his defense, both of which were nonexistent last season.

Casilla has locked down the second base job for the rest of the season, and has provided the Twins a solution to the second base quandary that looked like it could plague the Twins all season long.

Honorable Mention: Kevin Slowey

Detroit Tigers: Armando Galarraga

Galarraga was added by the Tigers after they sent away Andrew Miller, Jair Jurrjens, and much of the rest of their pitching depth. It may well have been the best move they made all offseason, since Galarraga has pitched extremely well in a very unsettled rotation.

He has not lost to anyone besides the Twins and the Tigers have won all but three of the games he started. His WHIP and ERA are the best of the team's starters, and he has held right handed hitters to just a .145 average. Most importantly, he has emerged as a real number two pitcher behind Justin Verlander and has provided stability in the Tigers' shaky rotation.

Honorable Mention: Marcus Thames

Kansas City Royals: Zack Greinke

In his first year as a full-time starter since 2005, Greinke has emerged as the Ace of the Royals staff. He leads the team in Wins, ERA, and strikeouts, has done a great job limiting his walks and has the best WHIP of any of the Royals starters.

Greinke is just 24, so he has plenty of time to continue to improve and anchor the Royals' staff for years to come. As the Royals continue to bring up young players from the minor leagues to fill positions of need, a strong ace will be extremely important and Greinke looks like he will be able to fill that need.

Honorable Mention: David DeJesus

Cleveland Indians: Cliff Lee

In a rotation that was supposed to be Sabathia, Carmona, and Pray For Rain, Cliff Lee has emerged as the Indians stopper. Sabathia struggled out of the gate and Carmona has been plagued with injuries, but Lee has been consistently solid since his first start.

Lee is 11-1, has a WHIP of just 1.03, an ERA of 2.26, and has given up four or more runs just three times all season, none of which have happened since his June 4 start against the Rangers. He has not lost to an AL team yet this season.

Honorable Mention: Casey Blake

Each team has had players emerge to help them weather the storms of a very difficult division. While many of these surprises have come on the mound, strong players have emerged in most of the lineups as well. The largest problem across the board in the Central has been injuries, and that will likely continue to be the story for the rest of the season. The teams that can find quick replacements for injured players are certainly the teams that will still be in the hunt in September and October.


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