After capturing the past two American League Central titles, including winning an AL-best 102 games last year, the Indians came into this season as the prohibitive favorites to win their third straight division crown.But after the first week of the season, the Indians have scuffled a bit, losing both games
After capturing the past two American League Central titles, including winning an AL-best 102 games last year, the Indians came into this season as the prohibitive favorites to win their third straight division crown.
But after the first week of the season, the Indians have scuffled a bit, losing both games started by last year's AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber, and they find themselves behind the Twins and White Sox in the standings.
Minnesota (4-2) and Chicago (3-3) have both had solid starts to the season despite opening on the road and have taken an early lead on the Tribe (2-4). The rebuilding Royals (1-3) and Tigers (2-4) have both gotten off to tough starts.
The Twins remain the most likely team to contend for the division title with the Indians. After making a surprise run to the AL Wild Card Game last year, Minnesota added starters Jake Odorizzi and Lance Lynn, relievers Fernando Rodney, Zach Duke and Addison Reed and designated hitter Logan Morrison to its roster.
But the White Sox believe they could be ahead of schedule and boast some of the game's best young talent, with more on the way. All they must to do is look to last year's Twins to find a team that defied expectations on the way to a postseason berth.
It's still incredibly early in the year, but here's a look at all five AL Central clubs after the first week of the season.
What we know: Not only is this team going to score runs, but its pitching staff is much improved, especially with its added bullpen depth. James Dozier is generally a slow starter, but he's already tied for the Major League lead with four homers, and he could be in for a huge season in his contract year. Young starter Jose Berrios looked unhittable in his first outing of the year against the Orioles, throwing his first career shutout on just 102 pitches.
What we still don't know:Ervin Santana has been the club's best pitcher over the past two seasons, but he has suffered some complications since undergoing surgery on his right middle finger in early February. Santana has yet to begin throwing off a mound, and he could get another X-ray to see what's slowing his progress. Minnesota hoped he'd return by late April, but now it appears more likely he'll return in late May or possibly even June. In the meantime, the Twins must find a fifth starter. Phil Hughes is the top candidate, but he's coming off a second surgery to alleviate thoracic outlet syndrome.
The bottom line: The Twins believe they have the roster to win the division, even after losing shortstop Jorge Polanco to an 80-game suspension for the use of a performance-enhancing drug. They have more depth than in recent years and still have a strong farm system, so they believe they're well-suited to weather Santana's injury and Polanco's suspension.
Chicago White Sox
What we know: The lineup will produce. The White Sox hit 14 home runs during a five-game road trip to start the season, and they have shown they have the offense to not only come back at any time, but come back quickly.
What we still don't know: How deep will this bullpen be? Nate Jones has been very solid through his early outings, but the rest of the relievers have been a bit inconsistent. The increased relief depth could prove to be a difference maker in any sort of continued success for this group.
The bottom line: This team believes it can win, regardless of whether others outside the organization feel the same. The top young players have gained from last year's on-field experience, which could help make for an interesting campaign, whether it ends in the playoffs or simply results in competitive and exciting baseball.
What we know: The Indians' pitching staff remains good. Kluber does not have a win to show for it, but he was strong in his first two starts. A clunker from Josh Tomlin aside, Cleveland's staff still looks versatile and deep from top to bottom.
What we still don't know: How the offense will look over a full season without Carlos Santana and Jay Bruce, who left via free agency. The Indians hope to have Michael Brantley back Friday, and Yonder Alonso has shown promising power, but the lineup as a whole has limped out of the gate.
The bottom line: With stars like Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez in the lineup, the results of the first road trip (.559 OPS) should turn around soon enough.
What we know:Jose Cabrera is back, healthy and swinging, and he should be able to at least approach his old numbers. Victor Martinez and Michael Fulmer are healthy, too, which the Tigers will need to stay afloat in the division this year. Meanwhile, Nicholas Castellanos' start has made it clear last season's lofty numbers weren't a fluke.
What we still don't know: While the Tigers have pitched well so far, it's hard to tell how much of that is related to the hitter-averse weather conditions in which they've pitched, such as two 1-0 losses on cold afternoons. The bullpen roles beyond closer Shane Greene remain undefined, as manager Ron Gardenhire tries out different pitchers in various roles to see who responds to the challenge.
The bottom line: Weather postponements have given the Tigers a smaller sample size of games from which to judge how they're looking. What little we've seen so far suggests a team in a learning process, both players and coaches.
Kansas City Royals
What we know: The bullpen is still questionable beyond closer Kelvin Herrera, who had lost his closer job last September. Veterans Blaine Boyer and Brandon Maurer have scuffled so far, and the bullpen could be a weakness this season.
What we still don't know: How will the rebuild look? The Royals have the seventh-oldest team in the AL, but they're waiting on top prospects such as Hunter Dozier, Raul Mondesi, Nicky Lopez and Foster Griffin to contribute.
The bottom line: The Royals miss catcher Salvador Perez, who is out 4-6 weeks after suffering a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee while carrying a suitcase up a staircase in his home. Perez is a clubhouse leader and is instrumental in helping Kansas City's pitching staff. He's been a fixture over the past five seasons, averaging 140 games per year.
Rhett Bollinger has covered the Twins for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @RhettBollinger and Facebook.