Deadline Primer: The State Of The Central
Complacency in Cleveland
After a somewhat slow start, it seemed as though the Indians – prohibitive preseason favorites in the AL Central – were turning the corner in mid-June when they came to Target Field and swept a four-game series from the upstart Twins, ending a five-week run for Minnesota in first-place.
The Indians seemingly should have taken off at that point, but they didn't. When the Twins came into their house the next weekend and swept, with Cleveland managing only two runs in three games against an abysmal pitching staff, it felt like a big missed opportunity to put the pedal to the metal.
Since then, the Indians have gone just 8-8, losing a series at home to the lowly Padres and more recently dropping all three in Oakland against the last-place A's. In Sunday's series finale, Trevor Bauer failed to make it out of the first inning of an eventual 7-3 loss.
Cleveland has plenty of talent but also plenty of problems. Their rotation situation isn't too dissimilar from Minnesota's – strong at the top (Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco), but beleaguered with injuries and poor performance elsewhere. The enigmatic Bauer joins Josh Tomlin and Danny Salazar as starters who've been unable to contribute as the Indians hoped.
Meanwhile, the offense hasn't really clicked, and manager Terry Francona has hinted at concerns about bullpen star Andrew Miller experiencing fatigue. The Indians are almost certain to strike as buyers at the deadline, and could easily hit a groove at any time, but it hasn't happened, and we're heading into late July now.
Royals Remaining In The Mix
The Royals looked to be making a charge early this month, winning six of seven and temporarily overtaking second place. But they followed up by losing five of six to the Dodgers and Rangers. These are the kinds of swings you'll see from such a thoroughly mediocre team. KC's lineup has ranked among the league's most ineffective and the arms haven't been good enough to make up for it.
It'll be interesting to see how the Royals operate over the next couple of weeks. They have a number of key players knocking on the door of free agency – most notably Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain – so they really can't straddle the line as buyers or sellers. Many have speculated that GM Dayton Moore will go all-in, efforting to make a final run with this group, but where does that leave them if they come up short? Kansas City's farm system was ranked 25th out of 30 by John Sickels of Minor League Ball before the season. I question the wisdom of flipping long-term assets at this point.
Things are not going so great in Detroit. The Tigers are eight games below .500 and more or less out of it in the Central. Miguel Cabrera is looking more human than ever at age 34, and the pitching staff is a mess behind Michael Fulmer. Detroit would love to dump Justin Verlander but unsurprisingly he isn't drawing much interest with a 4.66 ERA and $28 million salary.
The Tigers do have three players performing quite well – outfielders J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton, and closer Justin Wilson – but Martinez is on an expiring contract and Upton can opt-out after this season, so both figure to be dangled to contenders at the deadline. Wilson too might be shopped, though he's the team's best controllable reliever so it'd take a bounty (Twins, take note).
The bottom line is that the Tigers look be non-factors the rest of the way.
Winter Comes for the White Sox
With Game of Thrones kicking off its seventh season on Sunday night, we can fittingly call Chicago the White Walkers. An all-out rebuilding effort from the front office has systematically removed the lifeblood of this roster, with Chris Sale and Adam Eaton being shipped out before the season and Jose Quintana making his exit last week. In all likelihood, closer David Robertson is next up.
What's left is a ghostly group of mostly scrubs, dragging their way to the end of a campaign destined for doom from the start.
And Then, There Are The Twins
Minnesota remains in second place, barely, after dropping two of three against Houston. The Twins are 7-11 since sweeping the Indians in Cleveland, but remain within two games of first place. Now they will come home, with a chance to do some damage against slumping teams (Detroit and New York) before heading to a LA for a daunting date with the dominating Dodgers.
Seeing their flaws, which were clearly on display in Texas over the past few days, it might feel easy to pass the Twins off as also-rans, still living from the fruits of a fast start that's quickly fading into the rearview mirror.
But this is much harder to do in light of the circumstances they find themselves in. No team in the AL Central is presently on pace to win even 85 games. That might change, and it might not.
If the Indians truly aren't going to get it together and run away with this thing, is Minnesota really going to let them off the hook? The Twins are better positioned to take it from them than any of the three other teams.
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