It's time to hit the reset button in the American League Central.With the Indians taking three of four from the White Sox -- and beating Chris Sale and Jose Quintana on consecutive days -- the AL Central is back to being almost anybody's division to take, just as it was
It's time to hit the reset button in the American League Central.
With the Indians taking three of four from the White Sox -- and beating Chris Sale and Jose Quintana on consecutive days -- the AL Central is back to being almost anybody's division to take, just as it was expected to be in Spring Training.
We've confirmed that the Twins likely need a little more time to give their young players on-the-job training. But as for that six-game lead that Chicago had on May 9, when it was 13 games over .500, there's only one-half game left after a 4-11 stretch than includes the 3-7 homestand that ended with Wednesday's 4-3 loss to Corey Kluber.
Had the Royals and Tigers won against the Twins and Phillies, respectively, there would have been only two games between the top four teams. This is setting up as a great race, even if the computers powered by FiveThirtyEight.com currently project that 87 wins will be enough to win the division.
The White Sox have led for 35 consecutive days, but it wouldn't be a bit surprising if the lead passed back and forth on a regular basis between all four teams the rest of the season. They've all shown attributes to build around.
Despite their losses to the Indians, Sale and Quintana have carried the White Sox to a .789 winning percentage in their starts, and the bullpen and fielding are much improved. Cleveland has played around significant injuries to Michael Brantley and Carlos Carrasco, among others, in part because 22-year-old shortstop Francisco Lindor has been as terrific in April and May as he was last August and September.
Greg Holland is no longer in the Royals' bullpen, but it remains as good as any in baseball and you know a lineup that features Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain and Salvador Perez isn't going to finish the season 14th in the league in scoring, where Kansas City is now. Miguel Cabrera and his Tigers teammates still can intimidate pitchers, with Ian Kinsler as the best leadoff guy in the AL (as long as the Astros keep hitting Jose Altuve second, that is).
It's not too early to look ahead to the midseason trades that could wind up deciding this race. After all, White Sox general manager Rick Hahn said this week he'd rather make a move in early June than wind up scrambling for an influential addition or two in the days (and especially the hours) before the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
Here's a look at moves front offices could make to get an edge.
Chicago White Sox
Add a starting pitcher and a left-handed bat who can fit at first base, outfield or designated hitter.
It doesn't look like a lot of impact arms will be available this summer, with injuries to Sonny Gray and Tyson Ross contributing to a seller's market, but the White Sox should only need an innings guy to work alongside Carlos Rodon and Mat Latos, behind Sale and Quintana. Another bat would make Chicago a little less dependent on Jose Abreu, which could help him.
The White Sox have a history of dealing prospects when they believe they have a chance to win. They wouldn't trade shortstop Tim Anderson last offseason, but Anderson and right-hander Carson Fulmer could be in play with Chicago owning the 10th, 26th and 49th picks in the 2016 Draft.
Getting Brantley and Carrasco healthy and rolling is the immediate priority. But manager Terry Francona would love to have a reliable left-hander in the bullpen.
The Tribe featured an eight-man 'pen that was exclusively right-handed a few days ago, and that's a sub-prime situation for Francona, who can move relievers around in the late innings with the best of his fellow managers. Ross Detwiler was supposed to be a big piece, but he is back in Triple-A. Kyle Crockett also performed poorly in an audition, working only 3 2/3 innings over 11 games with a 14.73 ERA.
It would be a surprise if the Indians made a major acquisition before the Deadline, but they should be able to upgrade a bullpen that has been unusually mediocre.
Kansas City Royals
Ned Yost's team probably wouldn't have won the 2015 World Series last year if general manager Dayton Moore hadn't dealt for starter Johnny Cueto and utility man Ben Zobrist in the week before the Deadline. A team that's 14th in scoring and ninth in rotation ERA begs for more dramatic moves, but it's tough to be ultra-aggressive two years in a row.
Moore gave up five prospects to get Cueto and Zobrist, and he vows not to deal his top guys (Raul Mondesi and Kyle Zimmer) this season. Danny Duffy could give the rotation a lift once he's fully stretched out (he's worked 7 1/3 scoreless innings over two starts), and the Royals are very excited about Mike Minor. The rehabbing lefty is throwing harder (96 mph in a start last Friday) than he did before his shoulder surgery.
With Alex Gordon out for up to a month, the outfield corners could merit attention, but Paulo Orlando has quietly put up a .942 OPS. The Royals could look to upgrade at second base, but utility man Whit Merrifield (batting .348) offers an internal option behind Omar Infante.
In the top third of the league in on-base percentage and home runs, the Tigers have reason to feel good about their run production. Pitching and defense are other issues, however.
Detroit is 12th in the AL in rotation ERA and 25th in the Majors in defensive efficiency, as compiled by Baseball Prospectus. The Tigers believe the defense has been better since Cameron Maybin took over in center field, but they'd love to add a starting pitcher and maybe a reliever (although Mike Pelfrey could be moved to the bullpen if they added only a starter).
The Tigers were floundering at 15-21 as recently as May 14, but they have won eight of their past 10, quieting the rumors about a possible managerial change and shifting the focus to the first-year general manager Al Avila. Will he be as aggressive as Dave Dombrowski generally was? You know Detroit fans would love another David Price trade, not that Price himself is on the market.
Phil Rogers is a columnist for MLB.com.