The second half of the season is set to begin.
For Minnesota Twins' fans, the hope is for a three-team race for the division title.
The Twins and White Sox open a crucial four game series at Target Field. For the White Sox, a sweep gives them a huge cushion over the third place Twins and could go a long way to making this a two-team race.
For the Twins, this is a chance to quickly get back in the race, letting the White Sox and Tigers know they are not going away.
The race for the American League Central Division is going to come down to starting pitching, and as the trade deadline approaches, all three teams are rumored to be in the hunt for starting pitching.
The loss of Jake Peavy leaves a big hole in a White Sox rotation that has only used six pitchers to start a game so far this season. Freddy Garcia leads the team with a 9-3 record. John Danks and Mark Buerhle, both 8-7, have proven to be effective pitchers in the past and look to improve upon their records.
The Tigers may have the greatest need in starting pitching. They have used already eight different starters this season. Only Justin Verlander has won more than six games for Detroit, with an 11-5 record. The only other starter with a winning record is Armando Galarraga (3-2), who currently is pitching at Toledo, the Tigers' AAA affiliate.
Even though Minnesota starters have only missed one start this season, they are a team without a true ace. Carl Pavano has emerged as the leader with a 10-6 record. But inconsistent starts by the rest of the staff have them searching for a solid starter to add to their rotation. The collapse of Nick Blackburn, who started the season 6-1, only to falter in June and July, going 1-6, to even his record at 7-7, correlates with the team's fall from first to third in the division. Francisco Liriano, the AL Pitcher of the month in April, who started 4-0, currently sits at 6-7, a record that does not reflect his effectiveness.
The following table ranks the pitchers who have started a game for the White Sox, Tigers, and Twins by their individual WAR rating.
|AL Central - Starting Pitching|
Based on this ranking, the Chicago White Sox have the edge. The loss of Peavy will put a dent in their rotation, but based on WAR, he was their fifth best starter.
Chicago also has the best innings pitched per start at 6.22, followed closely by Minnesota at 6.13. For Detroit starters, they average less than six innings at 5.80, and as a staff are below the definition of a quality start (at least six innings and less than three earned runs).
The big question will be if Detroit can continue to win without starting pitching. The loss of Joel Zumaya will put more pressure on a bullpen that is already relied upon to pitch approximately 36 percent of the innings.
If championships are won with pitching and defense, the Tigers take another one on the chin. The Tigers have the worst defense of any teams in the Central Division, currently ranked 13th.
The Twins and White Sox have done a much better job of catching the ball with the second and fourth best defenses in the American League.
By many accounts, the battle should come down to the Twins and White Sox.
After two consecutive seasons with the AL Central ending in a tie, could there be yet another Game 163 on the horizon?
The deciding factor will come down to who wins the battle to add starting pitching.
As of now, I give the edge to the Chicago White Sox.