Last season the Minnesota Twins played Houston in a three-game series and was swept, scoring just two runs in 18 innings of work. The 2020 club wasn’t the 2019 Bomba Squad, but they still won the division over Chicago and Cleveland while playing at a 97-win clip. The Twins looked well-positioned, with Kenta Maeda pitching like a Cy Young and Jose Berrios being a formidable starter in his own right. The lineup was still plenty scary, and distancing themselves from an insufferable Postseason losing streak was no doubt the goal.
That didn’t happen. Unfortunately, they needed to break in rookie Alex Kirilloff out of necessity, and star third basemen Josh Donaldson couldn’t go. Jorge Polanco made a critical throwing error, and the Twins were done in mainly by their ineffectiveness. This season, they were expected to compete for a third straight division title, but after fumbling out of the gate, the Chicago White Sox represented the Central against the same foe.
This time around, a Chicago team looked plenty capable of knocking off Houston but yet has thus far suffered the same fate. Lance Lynn and Lucas Giolito should both get Cy Young votes this season. Along with Carlos Rodon, the South Siders have a trio of talented arms. Defense isn’t Tony La Russa’s club’s calling card, but the lineup is plenty potent. With Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert back, Jose Abreu and Yasmani Grandal get help with the heavy lifting.
It shouldn’t have been expected to go this way, but now down 2-0, Chicago is backed up against the wall. They won’t have a pitching advantage in game three but will get the game back at home. Barring a miraculous three-in-a-row run, the Central division winner will bow out quickly for the second year in a row.
I’ve seen it suggested that the White Sox, and probably Minnesota last season, are just division-winning good. The AL Central was expected to be down this year, and given the Twins performance, it wasn’t as top-heavy as expected, but it’s hardly the doldrums of baseball. No team in the Central lost 90 games, the Royals got off to a strong start, and the Tigers finished playing good baseball. While the group as a whole didn’t have a herculean frontrunner, there’s no denying it played competitive baseball on a nightly basis.
Suggesting that the White Sox weren’t in the same tier as Houston falls on deaf ears for this writer. The lineup, rotation, and pieces of the pen can compete with anyone. I think the Astros are being slept on some as they look to fly under the radar following the fallout of their cheating scandal. What takes place in a five-game series doesn’t define the body of work necessary to reach this point. Chicago dealt with some of the most crippling injuries this season and still ripped off 93 wins. Minnesota battled through a weird year a season ago and lost two in a row at the wrong time.
Houston is good, the Central is OK, and the only problem may be Chicago returning this core next season. The Twins, and everyone else, are on notice.