AL Central Review: Royals, Indians, and Tigers hot to the touch

Jason Miller

Which winning streak did you like the best? The top of the AL Central took the week off...from losing.

Win. Win. Win. Win. Repeat.

That describes the week for the Kansas City Royals. It also describes the week for the Cleveland Indians. Not to be outdone, the Detroit Tigers decided to "get their victory on" as well. "Streaking" seemed to be a long dead fad...but it has been revived from a winning perspective at the top of the AL Central and still continues in all three places entering Friday's action.

If the Royals really decided not to sell in the better interests of their future because they went on a winning streak the results of said streak didn't bite into their deficit in the standings very much.

The Tribe used plenty of late heroics, many from ex-Tiger Ryan Raburn, to slay the White Sox for a 4-game sweep to cap off a perfect week which also included a sweep of the Texas Rangers. The Tribe's offense woke up for the most part after a quiet week immediately after the All-Star Break.

Meanwhile the Tigers overcame some challenges on the injury front and from an overzealous official to maintain their lead despite the hot streaks from their pursuers.

Let's take a look at the week of July 26th through August 1st.

Detroit Tigers: 61-45, 5-0 on the week

The Tigers enjoyed a perfect win column week of interleague play taking on two club from the NL East. The fast fading Philadelphia Phillies put up a fight on Friday night but the suddenly hot Alex Avila came through to knock in two key runs in a close win. The 0-2 pitch Avila received from Cole Hamels was shockingly hittable and to Avila's credit he crunched it into the left-center gap to plate the runs needed for the 2-1 win.

That game took the scrap out of the Phiten-Phils however for the remainder of the weekend. Two blowouts followed which included one of the ugliest innings in recent memory where the Tigers were able to plate eight runs on merely two hits as the Phillies floundered aimlessly all over the diamond enabling the Tigers to take control.

That inning came about after the Tigers were truly on the receiving end of some umpire malfeasance as umpire Chad Fairchild showed absolutely zero proportional judgment and tossed Miguel Cabrera from the game in the 3rd inning. Cabrera was batting with the bases loaded and nobody out. He was muttering in no particularly notable fashion to show up the umpire. No head shaking, no stepping out of the box with a dirty look, no histrionics of any sort. It seemed the kind of thing which is fairly routine. But Mr. Fairchild decided that Cabrera should not dare to have the temerity to question his judgement. Cabrera and Jim Leyland were tossed, the Tigers rally died, and the Phillies appeared in control. The Tigers rallying for a victory seemed to let the utter folly of Fairchild's short fuse fade away in the afterglow of winning.

The Tigers then dispatched the shockingly bland Washington Nationals in a two game set. The talent on the Nationals looks great on paper and last year they were formidable. But they've had a vanilla-season and put up little resistance for the Tigers once Avila mashed a 96-mph heater from Stephen Strasburg into the right-center field stands for a Grand Slam dinger in the 5-1 victory.

Cleveland Indians: 60-48, 7-0 on the week

The Tribe had a week where it all came together. When they gave up 8 runs, they scored 11. When the could only muster a lone marker, they tossed a shutout. If they trailed late, they rallied in heroic fashion.

The Cleveland pitching staff is truly holding together. In this space over the weeks leading up to the trade deadline we discussed the need for the Tribe to acquire starting pitching if they were truly going to go the distance. Whether that's to challenge the Tigers to the finish or to secure one of the wildcard berths.

To be honest, the opinion here is they still could probably use one more arm...but more and more it's appearing as though Justin Masterson is having a season where he can legitimately lead a rotation into contention. Ubaldo Jimenez is channeling the guy who once made himself a hot property during that streak as a Rockie. Cory Kluber and Scott Kazmir (yeah, I know Scott Kazmir!) are giving the Tribe competitive starts consistently. Do this group match up well with their more ballyhooed rivals in Detroit's rotation? Probably not. But it's quite a bit better than any guess that would have been taken here back in April and May.

The next question is how the Tribe will hold up once they aren't getting so many late game comebacks to pull games from the fire. This is probably no way to consistently go. Remember this club suffered a 4-18 stretch this year and while that didn't knock them out obviously, it does show that they have a floor that's pretty low. Counting on Ryan Raburn late in games for the long haul is not something any Tigers fan would recommend. The Tribe could use a hot streak from the somewhat quiet Nick Swisher and return of the mashing-version of Mark Reynolds they had in April. These players are needed to augment the steady production Cleveland receives from Michael Brantly, Jason Kipnis, and Carlos Santana.

Kansas City Royals: 54-51, 6-0 on the week

The Royals have actually won 9 straight games. During an interview recently GM Dayton Moore said he thought there was no reason his club couldn't rip off a 15-5 stretch to get back into contention. Darn if his club hasn't set out to do just that or better...but I would assume that the thinking behind getting on such a roll would be to not only gain on the division leading Tigers but also pass the Tribe like they were standing still. Neither has happened. The AL Central has morphed, for the time being, into the "Fast and Furious" division with jet fueled win streaks to make all envious.

Did the Royals miss a window to improve their organization for a more realistic run next season? Or did they prudently keep their ammo in house (plus added Justin Maxwell in a curious move for a decent pitching prospect, Kyle Smith) and trying to stay alive in this year's race?

I'm sure many of their fans, after so many years in the wilderness of ineptitude, welcome the idea of the Royals making a push. They probably feel this win streak is strong vindication for the idea of holding on to Ervin Santana, Greg Holland, Luke Hochevar, and others. You know what? I don't blame them. It's hard to write off a season in July. All the more when the James Shields Trade from last winter was done to make THIS year the year.

But streaks are fragile. Ask the Toronto Blue Jays. Their long winning streak supposedly rescued them from the doldrums of also-ran status back in June. The stories of them righting the ship and making a run at the AL East were all over the place. Now? Mired deep in the 5th place. This doesn't mean the Royals will die on the vine here in the dog days of August. The question is, what's next? What do they have in the tank when some adversity strikes? Is the talent on hand to fend off a 4-10 stretch? Let's note that the second two-thirds of this streak came against the so-so Twins and the wretched White Sox.

The opinion here? Well...let's forget the negative tone of the previous paragraph. I believe the Royals have the starting pitching that is a better bet to outlast Cleveland's. I think that Eric Hosmer is starting to evolve into the force that's long been expected. There should be a very good chance that Alex Gordon and Billy Butler each have hot streak in them to propel the offense. Finally...Mike Moustakas. He has been unbelievably and historically bad in RISP at-bats this year (.096/.200/.151 in 85 plate appearances entering Thursday's game...I'm not making that up!) but he is showing an overall pulse of late that was missing in first half of the season. For the month of July the Moose hit a very solid .267/.337/.493. That isn't all-world but it's suddenly a lot more playable.

I predicted the Royals to finish second this year. I'm sticking with it. Could they have gotten there but still cash in nicely by trading by Santana. The bet here is "yes" to be honest. They have the depth to patch that hole and the return might have been as good or better than what the Cubs received for Matt Garza. But the Royals didn't do it. They are hoping for good things. Now they just need the Tribe and the Tigers to consider losing a few.

Minnesota Twins: 45-60, 2-4 on the week

The Twins didn't really sell off any parts of interest. They may be able move Justin Morneau and Josh Willingham during the August trade period as both may clear waivers. The Twins also curiously sent Aaron Hicks and Scott Diamond the minors today. They had committed to Hicks' struggles all year...why are they shipping him off now?

After Thursday's loss manager Ron Gardenhire lamented after a sloppy effort against the Royals that, "Our fans shouldn't have to watch that crap."

I agree Ron. I don't want to write about it either. Moving on.

Chicago White Sox: 40-66, 0-7 on the week

Ugly. With the exception of playing "spoiler" just for kicks, absolutely nothing that happens on the field for the rest of this season matters for the White Sox. While it may have been fairly easy to predict them taking a step back this year in the standing after contending last season, they have crashed and burned in stupendous fashion.

With that said...despite losing every game this week, they had a decent week. They shipped off Jake Peavy (and shed is contractual commitments) to bring back several prospects including outfielder Avisail Garcia from the Detroit Tigers. This is exactly the kind of move the White Sox needed to make and will likely continue to make. Garcia will be a fixture in their outfield for the next several years and that probably starts very soon. He's athletic and has some power potential that was in short supply in the woeful Sox system. The trio of prospects from received from the Red Sox are lower in the minors but that's okay too...they have time to improve. The Sox can wait. Their immediate prospects in the AL Central look dim.

The Sox also moved Jesse Crain to the Rays for something. We don't know what yet. Whatever it is...if it has a pulse, it's what they needed. They have no shortage of "needs".

The August trade deadline should see more moves of a similar fashion if GM Rick Hahn can find a willing takers for Alexei Ramirez, Alex Rios, Addison Reed, Adam Dunn, and anyone who is unlikely to be a contributor in 2016. The White Sox need bulk. Quality if preferable...but they need lots of bodies to infuse into their system and see what bubbles up over the next few years.

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