What Is Up With How Down The AL Central Is?
It was determined early on that the American League was a have and have-nots conference, but the American League Central division is pushing that statement to the extremes. It’s hard to see a Wild Card contender in the bunch and a case can be made that the entire division should fold up, take the summer off and spare us the ugliness.
It is looking early on that the division has at least two 100 loss teams and if not for the unbalanced schedule, a mid-summer swoon could plummet two of the other four - Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers - into the vicinity of losing triple-digits as well. How the Twins and Tigers have been able to keep their heads above water, in spite of how bad they have looked at times, is the only thing saving this division from having at least three if not four 100-loss teams.
Inside The Numbers
The Cleveland Indians lead the American League Central with a 38-33 record, five games above .500 and a .535 winning percentage. The rest of the division all have losing records. The Twins are third at a respectably underwhelming 31-37 while the the Detroit Tigers are second in the division standings with a losing record of 36-37. Then there are the 24 and 47 Chicago White Sox and the 22 and 50 Kansas City Royals. That’s actually the good news.
The Detroit Tigers rank 17th in runs scored, 18th in OPS, 28th in home runs, 21st in team ERA, and 16th in team WHIP. They are 8-1 against their division rival Chicago White Sox while they are a combined 7-9 versus the Royals and Twins.
It’s hard to understand how a team who ranks that poorly in so many important categories can continue to linger around .500. It’s also surprising to see how mediocre they have been against the Twins and Royals. Combine the Tigers somewhat puzzling start and poor overall production in key statistical categories with the Royals, White Sox and the Twins, who all rank 23rd or lower in runs scored, 21st or lower in home runs, 19th or worse in team ERA and 18th or worse in team WHIP and you have 4/5ths of a division that can’t hit for power or score runs and who don’t prevent runs.
To make matters worse, Miguel Cabrera is out for the season and a sell off is expected to be coming. The Tigers are a team that has outperformed early and who is in position to regress the rest of the way and it isn’t like they were doing all that well to begin with.
A Summer To Look Forward To?
The Chicago White Sox are loaded with young talent at the major league level or on the way, and especially for readers of this site, that makes them intriguing. The Twins have some intriguing young talent as well, even though their two big guns, Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton, have been disasters.
But the Royals and Tigers lack any semblance of what could be called a blue-chip prospect and they don’t have a lot of major league potential either. The Royals, Tigers and to a lesser degree the Twins are all going to be sellers at the deadline and neither are expected to be able to land a difference maker type talent in return. Brian Dozier of the Twins and Mike Moustakas of the Royals are short-term rentals and Nicholas Castellanos, while he has shown to be a hitting machine in recent years, lacks the impact power to demand an elite prospect in return.
Depreciation Of Our Attention
One of the bigger stories of the early going is an understandable consequence of what everybody predicted in the offseason - poor attendance and uneven pennant races.
The American League was lopsided and the playoff races were primarily decided before the first pitch was ever thrown. The Seattle Mariners have been a nice story and major league baseball desperately needs Mike Trout to play games in the postseason and with the AL Central being so terrible, both of those stories should have legs into September. The Red Sox and Yankees rivalry has rekindled its fire and they have what could be a “Super Bowl excitement” kind of series to end the season, which bodes well for ratings and interest at the end, but is it a surprise that attendance is down?
Very few teams spent money in the offseason to improve their teams in a free agent market where discounts were readily available. If not for the bargains or to be competitive, then they at least should have spent some money to provide fans with players they want to see. Why would fans spend good money to see bad teams that aren’t playing in competitive games and who fans justifiably feel aren’t investing in the team? Quality of play can be masked by the intensity of meaningful games, but how do you convince fans to rush out to see a 90 win team beat up for a three game set against a 90 loss one? The American League is so lopsided that that is going to be a common story line throughout the final month of the season.
Keep Hope Alive
As mediocre as the American League Central has been through the first 70+ games, there are potential developments that could make it an interesting division for fans to follow in 2018.
The Cleveland Indians aren’t running away with the division like they have in the past and that leaves some hope that the Tigers could maintain their surprisingly competitive season or that the Twins could play up to their potential.
If Byron Buxton, Brian Dozier and Miguel Sano were playing like All Stars rather than having the worst seasons of their careers then they could challenge the Indians for this division. Eduardo Escobar, Eddie Rosario, Kyle Gibson, and Jose Berrios are a core of players performing well enough to make Minnesota a competitive team, but they need their stars to lead them.
The Indians are likely to be buyers at the deadline while the other four teams have talent to trade and the motivation to move them, making this a division that will fuel media speculation and fill the rumor mills through the deadline.
You can follow Chris Mitchell on Twitter @CJMitch73, in his Facebook group “A Podcast To Be Named Later” or read his Fantasy Sports content as a Staff Writer for RotoExperts.com and Freelance contributor to BaseballAmerica.com.