The fight in the AL Central: And the winner will be …
Although there are still more than 60 games left in the 2011 season, there seems to be a consensus in the American League: The Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees will play each other for a chance to go to the World Series in October. Despite what Texas has done in recent days (winning 12 in a row and 14 of 16), the two best teams in the AL East happen to be the two best teams in the AL. Whoever doesn’t win the division will surely be the wild card, and any other team in any other division might as well prepare to bow out in the first rounds of the postseason. But who will those two teams be? While Texas is pulling away in the AL West, there seems to be another fight forming between almost four teams in the AL Central. A fight, although possibly fruitless, that could prove exciting down the stretch as the division could come down to the final weekend.
The Tigers are on top of the division.
No wait. The Indians are back in first.
Hold on. There are the Tigers again, and don’t look now, but the Chicago White Sox are in the backseat itching to get up front. And look, that team from Minnesota — yeah, that team that was 16.5 games back in May — is suddenly in the rear-view mirror and charging quickly.
With the second half of the season underway, this division is still waiting for someone to take over and run away. The Tigers and Indians have had every opportunity, at one point or another throughout the season, but have failed to make a serious move. The White Sox have had multiple opportunities to capitalize on the failures of the the top two teams, but their inability to consistently win big games has kept them four or five games back for a couple of months now. And that team that was charging? The Minnesota Twins? Well, perhaps the 16.5 games they had to make up will prove to be too much, as every time they get within five or six games they run into a wall and fall back to seven or eight back.
So, who is going to make the move that will help them pull away and win the division?
With 62 games left, I say the Tigers will win the division, although there will be plenty of chances for the Indians, Twins and White Sox to stop them.
Sitting at 54-47 and one game up on the Indians for first place, the Tigers have the opportunity to control the outcome of the division with 39 games left against AL Central teams. The other 22 games? 11 of those games are against opponents with a record under .500, and they lead season series against the Tampa Bay Rays and Texas Rangers, who they will see again before the end of the season.
So why does this favor the Tigers over any of the other contenders in the Central? Because no other team has played as well within the division, and they have the most favorable out of league schedule of any team within the central.
At this point of the season, the Tigers sit at 22-11 within the division. The Indians are just 15-16 and the White Sox are 13-19 against division foes. The Twins sit at 22-17 in the division, but have played seven more games than the Tigers, and eight of those wins have come against the Kansas City Royals who are last in the Central. As for the head-to-head match-up between the Twins and Tigers, Minnesota just ended an 11-game skid against Detroit, dating back to last season, and are now 1-8 versus the first-place team after dropping three of four to them over the weekend. I’d say to this point, the Tigers have the advantage.
But the Tigers have also been the first in the division to make moves before the trade deadline. With the acquisition of Wilson Betemit from the Royals and with Carlos Guillen coming off the DL, the Tigers are set up to potentially have the best offense in the Central as they hit the home stretch. It’s an offense that already sits at fourth in all the majors with a .265 BA. The next closest team from the division is the Kansas City Royals (who aren’t even in contention to join the race) at .264. You have to get all the way down to the 17th best BA in the majors to find another AL Central team, and that’s the White Sox. The ability to score runs will be vital in crowning the division champ, especially because there is not one strong starting rotation on any team in contention to win a title.
That brings us to pitching. The Tigers may not have the best pitching staff in the AL, or the division for that matter, but the starting rotations for the Indians, White Sox and Twins don’t jump out at you either. The White Sox have the best team ERA in the Central at 3.70 with Cleveland at 3.99, the Twins at 4.19 and the Tigers at 4.21, but if you break it down to ERA against teams within the division, the edge once again goes to Detroit. Against teams in contention to win a division crown Detroit has a 3.36 ERA giving up just 83 earned runs. The White Sox have a 3.96 ERA with 92 earned runs allowed, the Twins have a 3.74 ERA with 96 earned runs allowed and the Indians have a 4.29 ERA with 93 earned runs allowed. Detroit is looking to add another starter to their rotation before the trading deadline and with Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello beginning to come around, the Tigers could be a very scary team to face for any other Central division opponent.
Again, I say that this may not matter at all when the postseason comes around because the Red Sox and Yankees are the early favorites, but someone has to represent the Central division in the playoffs, and for now, the Tigers are my favorite to do just that. And let’s not completely count the Central division winner out just yet, because, aside from the Minnesota Twins, the division has represented well in the postseason in years past. In 2005, The White Sox swept the Red Sox and beat the Angels en route to winning a World Series. In 2006, The Tigers defeated the heavily favored Yankees in a division series and then swept the Oakland A’s before eventually losing to the Cardinals in the World Series. And in 2007, the Indians beat the Yankees in a division series, and were one win away from beating the Red Sox and clinching another World Series berth before losing the series in seven games.
The Central needs a new face in the playoffs because watching the Minnesota Twins barely put up a fight against the Yankees in division series the past two seasons is beginning to get old. Can anyone else from the division step up and perhaps find some of that magic that helped the division to almost three straight World Series appearances a few years ago? My pick is the Tigers. What’s yours?