At the start of the year, it appeared as if the American League Central would be the most powerful division in baseball. All five teams had similar starts, and each team had some background noise coming in.
The Tigers have made three straight ALCS appearances. The Royals are on the rise and looking for their first playoff berth since their World Series win in 1985. The Indians are looking for redemption on their Wild Card playoff loss last season. The Twins completely revamped their rotation. The White Sox added the prized Cuban defect Jose Abreu.
Yet even with all of this, things have gone wrong. While the Tigers are currently the hot team, having won seven in row, the Royals had won 11 straight within the past few weeks. The gap has begun to grow between the Tigers and the Royals, separated from the other three teams.
Perhaps the most noticeable recent change in the AL Central race is the downfall of the division’s most dynamic offensive team, the Chicago White Sox. While once sitting at 33-33, the White Sox have since lost 11 of 14, and now sit in last place, at 36-44, and are also now 9.5 games back of the division leading Tigers.
The recent downward spiral for the South Siders is grounds to believe that they will become strong sellers, but without a strong crop of trade chips, the White Sox may not find an appropriate package, and may have to drift through the rest of the year with pieces they would like to trade, such as shortstop Alexei Ramirez.
The implications of the Sox’ recent downfall turn out to be more important for the other teams in the division, namely the Tigers and Royals, who are given less competition between each other. With both teams being expected to sell, it is a good guess to believe that each team will address their biggest weaknesses.
Whilst the Tigers currently have the division lead, the Royals have a strong advantage over the Tigers, this being an advantage that every buyer desperately needs.
An elite farm system.
With a large crop of prospects, the Royals have the supplies to try to add a power bat to the lineup, a tool that is vital to a team that ranks dead last in the MLB in homers.
The Tigers, on the other hand, are in desperate need of bullpen help, especially after the offseason signing of Joe Nathan has proved to be a dire mistake. Along with the bullpen issues, the fall from greatness out of Justin Verlander doesn’t help the Tigers’ rotation much either. While there have been no rumors connecting the Tigers to top deadline prizes David Price or Jeff Samardzija, it would be in Detroit’s interest to pursue one of, if not, both of the starters to solidify an otherwise great rotation.
The Tigers appear to be in the fast lane to win the AL Central, but with the Royals just 4.5 games back, the race is far from over. Factoring in an Indians team that has played very well in the 2nd half in recent years, and a Twins team that is performing well despite their rotation performing well below expectations, the AL Central remains wide open,
Experience typically wins out, but come September, there is a strong chance that the AL Central winner will be the last to be decided.