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BSBL: The AL Central Becomes A 3-Team Race

One of the most exciting divisions in MLB is turning out to be a three-team sprint to cross the finish line for first place.

Target Field by Andy Witchger is licensed under CC 2.0

BSBL: The AL Central Becomes A 3-Team Race

Estimated Reading Time: 7 Minutes

How quickly time flies! Less than a month ago we were taking a look at how teams were handling the craziness associated with this 2020 season. Now, as we head deeper into September, it’s time to check back in. Most teams have gotten through roughly two-thirds of their regular season schedule. We’ve also seen the trade deadline come and go. So – with all of that as a backdrop – let’s have a look at where teams stand, and where they hope to go over the final stretch of the season.

Today: The American League Central.

Cleveland’s Baseball Team

The tribe got out to a fairly decent start, racing to a 12-9 record out of the gate this year. It was good enough for second place in the division – thanks in large part to their pitching staff. Their offense wasn’t doing them ANY favors early on.

Over the last few weeks, that trend has continued. Shane Bieber is 6-0 and sporting a 1.20 ERA – earning him AL Pitcher of the Month for August.

While not quite as dominant as Bieber, the rest of the staff has kept up their end of the bargain. They’re ranked in the top 2 in virtually every pitching category. The 2.82 ERA, 1.059 WHIP, and 10.2 K/9 helped move them past the Twins and into first place in the division.

As they turn their focus toward the home stretch, both Clevinger and Plesac will have had an impact. Clevinger was the headliner in a blockbuster deal with the San Diego Padres. He, Greg Allen and a player to be named later were shipped off to California. In return, Cleveland received RHP Cal Quantrill, OF Josh Naylor, C Austin Hedges, and three minor league prospects. Zach Plesac was recently activated – to fill Clevinger’s spot in the rotation. If the pitching trend can carry through September, and the bats can start picking up a bit, they may just manage to bring home a division crown.

The Chicago White Sox

For me – it’s a two-horse race for “most exciting team in baseball” in 2020. Regardless of who your hometown favorites are, you HAVE to enjoy watching these guys play. When the season started, things weren’t looking too great. A rough start found them with a 10-11 record and sitting 4th in the division. It was beginning to look like the only appeal for this club would be a sneak peek of what 2021 and beyond would have in store for the south-siders.

Since then, the team has gone 14-4 and jumped into first place in the division, half a game ahead of Cleveland. The offense has gone on a tear in recent weeks – so much so that José Abreu was named AL Player of the Month for August. He was joined by Luis Robert, who took home AL Rookie of the Month honors. They’re in the top 5 in pretty much every offensive category, and their brand of ball reminds you of those days in little league – when you were just a kid on a diamond having fun with your friends.

Compared to the offense, the pitching was remarkably “decent” from the get-go. Not one of their starters has a losing record, and as a staff they’ve been reliable and consistent all season long. The highlight of their season so far is Lucas Giolito‘s no-hitter against the lowly Pirates on August 26th – the first of the 2020 season. They didn’t do anything of note at the trade deadline, so they’ll look to continue their upward trend through the remainder of the regular season.

The Minnesota Twins

Early in 2020, it looked like the Twins were well on their way to a repeat performance and a second consecutive division title. They jumped out to a 13-8 record to top the division in mid-August. Since then, they’ve slowed down a bit. Currently, they’ve gone 11-8 for an overall record of 24-16, dropping them to 3rd in the Central.

The squad has been wrestling with the injury bug lately. Rich Hill, Josh Donaldson, Jake Odorizzi, and Homer Bailey have all visited the IL. Despite those headaches, the team has managed to hang on. Guys like Randy Dobnak and Tyler Clippard have stepped up when called upon to pick up the slack. Even the offense – littered with guys that aren’t exactly household names (Arraez, Buxton, Garver, Sano, Gonzalez, Kepler) have pitched in to remain competitive. It’s a testament to the depth on this roster that they’re still only one game behind Cleveland for the division lead.

Then there’s Nelson Cruz and his AL leading 13 home runs. He is also in the top 5 in runs, hits, RBI, and batting average – all at age 40!

The run-in to the postseason promises to be an exciting challenge for Cruz and his teammates. They have a daunting schedule for the final few weeks. If they can handle their business against their divisional opponents, they have a great chance at repeating as division winners.

The Detroit Tigers

I think this year’s Detroit Tigers are very much where we expected the Chicago White Sox to be – a 2020 team showing us the future that lay ahead. All season long, they’ve been very “middle of the road”. They opened with a 9-9 record, solidly in 3rd place in the division. They’ve followed that up with an 8-10 stretch which has dropped them to 4th. This is a team that is seizing the opportunity of a bizarre season to showcase their young talent – particularly on the pitching staff. Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, and Michael Fulmer – all 27 or younger – have contributed to the excitement building around this team. Another stud, Matt Manning, is waiting in the wings to join in on the fun.

While the pitching staff is imbued with youth, the bats in the lineup are more “elder statesmen”, skewing toward the older end of the spectrum. Their offensive output hasn’t been great, but it hasn’t been terrible either. But, like the Twins and Nelson Cruz, the Tigers have their own “feel good” story in Miguel Cabrera. He’s been using the 2020 season as his own personal “milestone making” season. Most recently, he recorded his 2,000th hit with the club – becoming the 8th Tiger to reach that landmark.

Given how well the rest of the division is playing, it could prove to be too much for the Tigers to reach the postseason in 2020, but the ongoing rebuild looks like it’s very close to coming to fruition, and this will be a team to watch in the coming years for sure.

The Kansas City Royals

They opened the season by going 9-12. Since then, it hasn’t gotten any better. Currently, they sit in the division basement with a record of 14-25. Ouch. The pitching has continued to be erratic. Nobody who’s started more than 3 games has an ERA below 4.00 (with the exception of Brad Keller). Matt Harvey was brought up from the alternate training site and has NOT fared well. As we pointed out a few weeks ago, this team is “consistently inconsistent”.

The offense hasn’t been anything to write home about either. Of their regular starters, only a handful (Perez, Merrifield, and Dozier) are sporting batting averages above .250. They are in the bottom third in the AL in runs scored, HR, BA, OBP, and OPS. All of this led up to the trade deadline, when the team raised the white flag, officially.

While Whit Merrifield is still a member of the team (shockingly – to me, at least), they club did ship closer Trevor Rosenthal off to…. you guessed it – San Diego. They received outfield prospect Edward Olivares and a player to be named later in return. The move helps add to what is already a top ten farm system. So, while the remainder of 2020 will see more anguish for Royals fans, there is reason for hope that they may soon return to the glory of their 2015 World Series Championship team.

Heading into the final stretch of the season, this division should provide plenty of excitement in a three horse race to the finish line.

Joe is an actor who grew up eating, living and breathing sports. He spent many an afternoon on the soccer or baseball field in his youth (and even gave several other sports a shot) before a series of events put him on the path to pursuing a performing career. Subsequently, he's worked almost every other type of job you could imagine while trying to support that endeavor. Whenever he's not working any of those jobs, he can often be found watching, playing or discussing sports in some way. Most of that banter revolves around the Mets, Giants, Rangers or Manchester United. His short term goal is to fully convert his fiance into a rabid sports fan, not someone who leaves the room whenever he turns a game on.

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