With two weeks remaining in the regular season, teams can be broken up into three categories: those headed to October, those with a really good chance to play in October, and those that are already thinking about next year.
Regardless of where they are in the standings, all teams have goals and questions that need to be answered -- some in the shorter term, and some from a bigger-picture standpoint.
In this week’s American League Central notebook, our reporters identified one main goal/issue for each team. Let’s dive in:
Indians: Can the offense find a consistent rhythm?
The Indians could score 10 runs one night and be shut out the next two. There have been times when they’ve plated three or more runs in a few consecutive games before the momentum was halted. With time winding down in the regular season and the Tribe sitting in a good spot to at least earn one of the two AL Wild Card spots, the team needs to find a way to get into a more consistent offensive groove before the postseason begins. The Indians have plenty of pitching talent to be a fierce competitor in the playoffs; the team just needs to be able to get enough run support to be able to clinch a postseason berth and advance through the first round. -- Mandy Bell
Royals: The future is here
The rest of the 2020 season for the Royals will be all about finding what pieces fit into their nucleus going forward -- and most of that process revolves around the rotation. Kansas City now has three rookies in its rotation – right-handers Brady Singer (No. 3 Royals prospect per MLB Pipeline) and Carlos Hernández (No. 12), and left-hander Kris Bubic (No. 7). Singer already showed what he is capable of, throwing 7 2/3 innings of no-hit ball against the Indians Thursday night. The Royals also want to take a long look at rookie center fielder Edward Olivares (No. 22), who was obtained from the Padres in the Trevor Rosenthal deal. Olivares had hits in his first seven games with the Royals, including two home runs. Two other rookies, right-handers Tyler Zuber and Josh Staumont, have excelled in the bullpen. -- Jeffrey Flanagan
Tigers: See who fits in next year’s lineup
Tarik Skubal and Casey Mize have already shown that they deserve to be in next year’s rotation. Now, Detroit needs to figure out its potential 2021 lineup. Victor Reyes’ ascension to a leadoff role and Jeimer Candelario’s tear in the cleanup spot have already filled two key cogs. Is Willi Castro a keeper at short despite his occasional defensive lapses? Has Isaac Paredes shown enough promise to hold down third base, or has his recent slump at the plate created questions? Can Daz Cameron round out what would be a defensively stellar outfield with Reyes and JaCoby Jones? What are the Tigers’ options at second base if Jonathan Schoop uses his bounceback season to find a big free-agent contract elsewhere? The Tigers brought up many of their young players to answer these questions ahead of difficult offseason decisions. -- Jason Beck
Twins: Get healthy; stay healthy
This is why Rocco Baldelli has been careful with his usage of Josh Donaldson and Byron Buxton following their returns from injury. The Twins know they haven't reached their offensive potential due to a rash of injuries, but with luck, they'll finally have their group together with the anticipated returns of Mitch Garver and Luis Arraez before the end of the season. With or without them in the lineup, the Twins have a clear road to the playoffs, barring calamity, meaning their priority will be in making sure nobody re-injures himself before postseason play.
Another aspect will be in figuring out what exactly they can expect from Jake Odorizzi and Homer Bailey when those pitchers return from injury. The Twins have no shortage of options for their playoff rotation, but they could get creative if they have more options than will fit. -- Do-Hyoung Park
White Sox: Sort out the postseason rotation
Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel present a one-two combination at the top of the rotation that is able to stack up against the best in the game. But Keuchel currently is on the 10-day injured list with back spasms, and while he’s projected to start Thursday afternoon’s series finale against the Twins, the White Sox need to prioritize getting the veteran southpaw healthy over any particular regular-season success.
Dylan Cease and Dane Dunning figure to be slotted behind Giolito and Keuchel. Both have outstanding raw stuff, but Cease was set to make just his 24th career start overall Monday against the Twins, and Dunning has only made four trips to the mound in his young career. Reynaldo López provides more experience, and he pitched well Saturday against the Tigers, but his inconsistency over the past two years might make him more of a bullpen option. The White Sox currently have the AL’s best record, and they need to line up their rotation over the final 14 games to maximize this in-season success during the postseason. -- Scott Merkin