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  1. You didn’t really think it was going to be that easy, did you? Early on in the season, the Twins sat comfortably atop the division, and it looked like they were primed to run away with the lead. In late May, the Twins led the AL Central by as many as 5.5 games over the Chicago White Sox and 7.0 games over the Cleveland Guardians. But that was many Dollar Dog Nights ago, and there was almost a whole season’s worth of baseball left. Though the Twins have mostly continued to sit atop the AL Central standings, after some injuries and a few tough series, culminating with an ugly “blowup series” vs the White Sox right before the All-Star Break, the Twins now have a 1.5-game lead over the Guardians and a 3.5-game lead over the White Sox. For the first time in years, the AL Central has a bona fide three-team division race on its hands at the All-Star Break. Even further, currently, the AL Central features the closest division race in baseball by far; there are no other divisions that, as of now, feature a viable three-team race. In three other divisions, the second place team trails by double digits. To get an idea of just how competitive this year's division is, I dug into the AL Central division's standings, working backwards until I found another season that featured a similarly-competitive race at the halfway point. At the 2021 All-Star Break, the White Sox were atop the division, followed by Cleveland at 8.0 games back, and the Tigers and Twins were tied for 3rd in the division at 15 games back, (but no need to speak any more of the 2021 Twins). 2020 was the 60-game season with no All Star Break, and over the course of such a short season, it was difficult for teams across the league to get far apart in the division standings, even at the year's end. At the 2019 All Star Break, the Twins led the division, followed by Cleveland 5.5 games back, then the White Sox at 12.5 games back. In 2018, Cleveland led, followed by the Twins and Tigers at 7.5 and 12.5 games respectively. Finally, a close AL Central race can be found in 2017, where Cleveland was on top, followed by the Twins 1.5 games back, the Royals at 3.0, and the Tigers at 6.0. A four-horse race! This season, could the Twins (God forbid), White Sox or Guardians fade and finish the season 12 games back? Certainly; year-end standings often feature two division teams within a few games of each other but very rarely are there three teams that finish within a few games (last year in 2021, there no were such instances of this). But for now, in the AL Central, all three of these top teams remain very much alive. Perhaps the most entertaining AL Central storyline to follow so far has been the saga of the White Sox. White Sox fans have gone from proclaiming that the “season’s over” in June and chanting “Fire Tony” at games to experiencing a rebirth of sorts. They are now nipping at the Twins and Guardians' heels, much to the relief of their fans, who entered this season with high expectations following a 2021 season in which the White Sox won the division with their most wins as a franchise since 2005. For now, the on-field errors have become less numerous and the Tony La Russa criticism has quieted. You know the old adage of "winning solves everything?" Tigers and Royals, well, we know how being in your position feels; both teams have steadily been about 12 games back of the division lead almost the whole season. If nothing else, they are consistent. We’ll see you next year. But for the rest of the teams, it should be a fun second half of the season. As much as I, a Twins fan, would love to see the Twins run away with the division, until then it is fun to watch a competitive race and to "scoreboard watch" what the Guardians and White Sox are doing every night. Buckle up, here we go! View full article
  2. Though the Twins have mostly continued to sit atop the AL Central standings, after some injuries and a few tough series, culminating with an ugly “blowup series” vs the White Sox right before the All-Star Break, the Twins now have a 1.5-game lead over the Guardians and a 3.5-game lead over the White Sox. For the first time in years, the AL Central has a bona fide three-team division race on its hands at the All-Star Break. Even further, currently, the AL Central features the closest division race in baseball by far; there are no other divisions that, as of now, feature a viable three-team race. In three other divisions, the second place team trails by double digits. To get an idea of just how competitive this year's division is, I dug into the AL Central division's standings, working backwards until I found another season that featured a similarly-competitive race at the halfway point. At the 2021 All-Star Break, the White Sox were atop the division, followed by Cleveland at 8.0 games back, and the Tigers and Twins were tied for 3rd in the division at 15 games back, (but no need to speak any more of the 2021 Twins). 2020 was the 60-game season with no All Star Break, and over the course of such a short season, it was difficult for teams across the league to get far apart in the division standings, even at the year's end. At the 2019 All Star Break, the Twins led the division, followed by Cleveland 5.5 games back, then the White Sox at 12.5 games back. In 2018, Cleveland led, followed by the Twins and Tigers at 7.5 and 12.5 games respectively. Finally, a close AL Central race can be found in 2017, where Cleveland was on top, followed by the Twins 1.5 games back, the Royals at 3.0, and the Tigers at 6.0. A four-horse race! This season, could the Twins (God forbid), White Sox or Guardians fade and finish the season 12 games back? Certainly; year-end standings often feature two division teams within a few games of each other but very rarely are there three teams that finish within a few games (last year in 2021, there no were such instances of this). But for now, in the AL Central, all three of these top teams remain very much alive. Perhaps the most entertaining AL Central storyline to follow so far has been the saga of the White Sox. White Sox fans have gone from proclaiming that the “season’s over” in June and chanting “Fire Tony” at games to experiencing a rebirth of sorts. They are now nipping at the Twins and Guardians' heels, much to the relief of their fans, who entered this season with high expectations following a 2021 season in which the White Sox won the division with their most wins as a franchise since 2005. For now, the on-field errors have become less numerous and the Tony La Russa criticism has quieted. You know the old adage of "winning solves everything?" Tigers and Royals, well, we know how being in your position feels; both teams have steadily been about 12 games back of the division lead almost the whole season. If nothing else, they are consistent. We’ll see you next year. But for the rest of the teams, it should be a fun second half of the season. As much as I, a Twins fan, would love to see the Twins run away with the division, until then it is fun to watch a competitive race and to "scoreboard watch" what the Guardians and White Sox are doing every night. Buckle up, here we go!
  3. Minnesota has made it through the AL East swing that was arguably their toughest stretch of the year. Despite winning two straight series, the Twins are now hotly contested by the Guardians who are clearly the Central’s second-best team. Chicago has had another week of turmoil and the bottom remains unchanged. The Standings: Minnesota 37-28 Cleveland 32-27 Chicago 30-31 Detroit 24-39 Kansas City 21-41 Although the Twins are still holding down first place in the AL Central, the lead has dwindled to just two games. Cleveland is among the best teams in baseball right now, and they’re making a hard charge towards the top. Minnesota and Cleveland get together for three games this week and a total of eight times before the end of the month. Some movement is coming when those two match up. The Stories: Health has begun to return for Minnesota. Welcoming back Joe Ryan and Sonny Gray while in Seattle was a massive boost to the starting rotation. Jorge Polanco is dealing with a nagging back issue, but both Josh Winder and Kyle Garlick could return to the active roster this week as well. It remains worth watching as to when the Twins will deem young slugger Alex Kirilloff fit for what they hope is a final promotion to the big leagues. Lance Lynn made his 2022 debut for the White Sox, and it wasn’t good. Being hit around some, the veteran wasn’t sharp but did enough to get Chicago the win. Not long after the White Sox did lose reliever Kyle Crick to right elbow inflammation. He’s been good out of the pen and that would be a disappointing loss should it become long term. Crick’s placement on the injured list came just a day after star closer Liam Hendriks suffered the same fate due to a forearm strain. It’s estimated that Hendriks will be down for three weeks. Tony La Russa’s club did reinforcements with Vince Velasquez rejoining the rotation and Joe Kelly being re-inserted into the bullpen. When things are going your way, they really go your way. Cleveland was in a tough spot against the Rockies this week and Steven Kwan made nothing short of a miraculous catch to preserve the lead. Rolling over their past ten, it’s been big spots like that where the Guardians have risen to the occasion. Slugger Franmil Reyes appears to be nearing a big league return. He’s currently rehabbing with Triple-A Columbus, but could be activated as early as Monday. A.J. Hinch isn’t used to losing, but the Detroit Tigers have done a ton of that this season. Expected to take a step forward, the club held a closed door meeting on Wednesday. Javier Baez was brought in as a flashy free agent signing, and a handful of young contributors were expected to step up. So far that hasn’t happened. This meeting followed a 13-0 drubbing by the Chicago White Sox, but at least Roger Clemens’ son Kody Clemens made an appearance on the bump for Detroit. The Royals have seen Rookie of the Year candidate Bobby Witt Jr. start to turn it on. He’s now got a 108 OPS+ on the season after starting incredibly slow. Andrew Benintendi has cooled some at the plate but his average remains a strong .301. Right now, and most of the season, not much is going right for Kansas City but there are small glimmers of hope for the future. The Week Ahead: Before heading home to welcome the Guardians and Rockies, Minnesota takes a quick trip out west to face the Diamondbacks for three games. That series is sandwiched in between off days. Before getting the bottom-feeding Orioles at home a week from now, Chicago will travel to Houston and then return home for a three-game set against the Toronto Blue Jays. Cleveland can’t afford to look ahead as they’ll face the Dodgers in Los Angeles before coming to Minnesota. The goal would be to keep the deficit close in the Central so the series at Target Field has heightened intrigue. Needing to turn things around, Detroit gets a series against the Rangers at home. They’ll then travel to Boston on Monday, and picking up wins against Texas should be a much more likely opportunity. The Red Sox are currently one of the hottest teams in baseball. The Royals continue their west coast trip as they spend the weekend across the bay in Oakland before heading to Los Angeles for a series against the Angels. What are you looking forward to this week? Can the Twins grab some distance ahead of Cleveland? View full article
  4. The Standings: Minnesota 37-28 Cleveland 32-27 Chicago 30-31 Detroit 24-39 Kansas City 21-41 Although the Twins are still holding down first place in the AL Central, the lead has dwindled to just two games. Cleveland is among the best teams in baseball right now, and they’re making a hard charge towards the top. Minnesota and Cleveland get together for three games this week and a total of eight times before the end of the month. Some movement is coming when those two match up. The Stories: Health has begun to return for Minnesota. Welcoming back Joe Ryan and Sonny Gray while in Seattle was a massive boost to the starting rotation. Jorge Polanco is dealing with a nagging back issue, but both Josh Winder and Kyle Garlick could return to the active roster this week as well. It remains worth watching as to when the Twins will deem young slugger Alex Kirilloff fit for what they hope is a final promotion to the big leagues. Lance Lynn made his 2022 debut for the White Sox, and it wasn’t good. Being hit around some, the veteran wasn’t sharp but did enough to get Chicago the win. Not long after the White Sox did lose reliever Kyle Crick to right elbow inflammation. He’s been good out of the pen and that would be a disappointing loss should it become long term. Crick’s placement on the injured list came just a day after star closer Liam Hendriks suffered the same fate due to a forearm strain. It’s estimated that Hendriks will be down for three weeks. Tony La Russa’s club did reinforcements with Vince Velasquez rejoining the rotation and Joe Kelly being re-inserted into the bullpen. When things are going your way, they really go your way. Cleveland was in a tough spot against the Rockies this week and Steven Kwan made nothing short of a miraculous catch to preserve the lead. Rolling over their past ten, it’s been big spots like that where the Guardians have risen to the occasion. Slugger Franmil Reyes appears to be nearing a big league return. He’s currently rehabbing with Triple-A Columbus, but could be activated as early as Monday. A.J. Hinch isn’t used to losing, but the Detroit Tigers have done a ton of that this season. Expected to take a step forward, the club held a closed door meeting on Wednesday. Javier Baez was brought in as a flashy free agent signing, and a handful of young contributors were expected to step up. So far that hasn’t happened. This meeting followed a 13-0 drubbing by the Chicago White Sox, but at least Roger Clemens’ son Kody Clemens made an appearance on the bump for Detroit. The Royals have seen Rookie of the Year candidate Bobby Witt Jr. start to turn it on. He’s now got a 108 OPS+ on the season after starting incredibly slow. Andrew Benintendi has cooled some at the plate but his average remains a strong .301. Right now, and most of the season, not much is going right for Kansas City but there are small glimmers of hope for the future. The Week Ahead: Before heading home to welcome the Guardians and Rockies, Minnesota takes a quick trip out west to face the Diamondbacks for three games. That series is sandwiched in between off days. Before getting the bottom-feeding Orioles at home a week from now, Chicago will travel to Houston and then return home for a three-game set against the Toronto Blue Jays. Cleveland can’t afford to look ahead as they’ll face the Dodgers in Los Angeles before coming to Minnesota. The goal would be to keep the deficit close in the Central so the series at Target Field has heightened intrigue. Needing to turn things around, Detroit gets a series against the Rangers at home. They’ll then travel to Boston on Monday, and picking up wins against Texas should be a much more likely opportunity. The Red Sox are currently one of the hottest teams in baseball. The Royals continue their west coast trip as they spend the weekend across the bay in Oakland before heading to Los Angeles for a series against the Angels. What are you looking forward to this week? Can the Twins grab some distance ahead of Cleveland?
  5. We are less than two weeks away from the 2022 Major League Baseball regular season. The free agent frenzy was every bit the excitement we had hoped for following the lockout and teams are largely complete at this point. The American League Central Division had just one Postseason participant, but the hope would be for two with the field expanding to 12 teams. The Chicago White Sox return as the division winners and will look to carry that crown for a second season. While there’s no juggernaut here, it should be expected that there’s no cellar dweller either. Here’s how I see the division shaking out with PECOTA projections in parentheses. Chicago White Sox 89-73 (91-71) Chicago really didn’t do a whole lot this winter, but they also really didn’t need to. Having Luis Robert and Eloy Jimenez for a full season will represent the greatest benefit they could gain from the offseason. Kendall Graveman makes an already good bullpen better, and Joe Kelly only enhances that. They should still have a very strong lineup, and the hope would be continued dominance from the rotation. There’s no doubt that they are the favorites here. Minnesota Twins 85-77 (86-76) If there’s a team that could go up or down more than almost any other in baseball it could be Minnesota. Byron Buxton is a superstar, and now he has a partner in Carlos Correa. How much resurgence could Gary Sanchez or Gio Ursehla find in their new home? Sonny Gray is a dependable arm, but from there it’s questionable veterans and untested rookies. If things go bad, it will likely be because the arms simply weren’t enough. This could be a very good team, a mediocre team, or a relatively bad team virtually all tied to what happens on the mound. Detroit Tigers 77-85 (67-95) Javier Baez’s deal with Detroit surprised many because of the assumed tie between Carlos Correa and A.J. Hinch. Baez has plenty of flaws but some of them are a bit overstated. He gives a winning presence to a team on the cusp. Riley Greene and Spencer Torkelson should be in the lineup soon, and Akil Baddoo turned out to be a bad man last year. I don’t know how well they’ll pitch, but acquiring Eduardo Rodriguez was a smart move. Kansas City Royals 75-87 (70-92) Prospects are the name of the game for the Royals. Bobby Witt Jr. looks like a superstar as does both M.J. Melendez and Nick Pratto. Salvador Perez put up insane numbers a season ago and will look to replicate that performance. Pitching is questionable here too, and I’m not sure Zack Greinke has much left in the tank. The bullpen is uninspiring, and there’s plenty of lineup holes. They’re getting better, but not there yet. Cleveland Guardians 73-89 (77-85) You don’t have to look much further than the newly named Guardians to find the Central’s most rudderless team. The farm system isn’t elite, but the Major League roster is also barren. Jose Ramirez is amazing, and a healthy Shane Bieber is lights out, but beyond that there’s very little to like here. A lot of post-hype prospects and guys that have ceilings they never got close to touching reside on this roster. Alongside their lack of spending this offseason, deciding not to blow it up was a weird path forward. For more from Off The Baggy, click here. Follow @tlschwerz
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