The American League Central is already shaping up to be one of baseball's strongest divisions top to bottom, with four teams playing .500 or above and three of those .615 or higher in the standings. The World champion Royals lead the way at 8-4, but the fourth place Indians are a mere two games away, as we enter the third week of the season.
So with the Tigers returning to action against the Royals on Tuesday night and set to battle the Indians beginning Friday at Comerica Park, here's what you need to know about the division:
The World Series champs have continued winning close games with quality pitching and good defense, and rank fourth in the majors with a 2.89 ERA and eighth with 5 DRS. Only twice this season has the opposition scored more than three runs against Kansas City, and the Royals seem poised for another strong campaign.
KC again boasts one of the best bullpens in the majors, adjusting the seventh-eighth-ninth gauntlet to the trio of Kelvin Herrera, Joakim Soria, and Wade Davis. Herrera and Davis have been excellent, allowing no earned runs and striking out 16 batters in a combined 12-1/3 innings pitched. Soria has struggled some, allowing runs in three of his seven outings. However, he has featured a 25 percent strikeout rate and a minuscule 10 percent hard contact percentage, and some of his misfortune is due to an unlucky with a .368 BABIP.
The Royals have been mostly average on offense, ranking 11th in batting average and 21st in runs scored. Mike Moustakas is batting just .217 with a .280 OBP, but has four homers and 127 wRC+. Both Alex Gordon and Alcides Escobar have not found much success yet, hitting .233 and .255, respectively. However, the rotation has covered for the hitting so far, as each starter outside of Chris Young has an ERA under 2.50.
Kansas City enters their series with the Tigers looking to bounce back after dropping their last two against Oakland. One thing to watch will be how the Royals hit with runners in scoring position. After going four-for-18 during these two games, the Royals lowered their RISP figures to a .213 batting average and 50 wRC+ on the year.
Chicago White Sox (8-5)
Though early-season records are not too important, the White Sox are enjoying a nice start to the year. They rank fourth in the majors with just three runs allowed per game and they own an American League leading 72 FIP-. However, as good as the pitching has been, the bats have faired the exact opposite, ranking last in the AL with just 72 wRC+.
The offense has been led by Adam Eaton, Melky Cabrera, and Brett Lawrie, with Eaton owning a .347 average, .385 OBP, and 142 wRC+. Meanwhile, the starting rotation has been strong through the first couple weeks, as Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, and Mat Latos and all have sub-3.00 ERAs and FIPs - under 90. (That is, when adjusting for park and league, the pitchers are at least 10 percent better than their peers when you take defense out of the equation.) Closer David Robertson has been lethal as well, owning a 0.00 ERA and 0.20 WHIP so far.
Many White Sox are struggling at the plate, but some of the newcomers have been noticeably poor. Todd Frazier, Austin Jackson, and Alex Avila all have batting averages under .200, on-base percentages under .250, and wRC+ under 50. Avila especially has not found any success, hitting just .136 with a 29.2 percent strikeout rate.
Cleveland Indians (5-5)
At first glance, the Indians have been about average, falling near the middle of the pack in runs scored (4.20 per game) and runs allowed (4.30 per game), while sitting with a .500 record. They have yet to either win or lose more than two games in a row, and they have already missed three games due to weather.
The Indians have been great on the base paths to start the year, sitting among the top five in steals (10) and Fangraphs’ base running statistic (1.7 BsR). Much of this is due to Rajai Davis, who has five steals and and 0.6 BsR despite his .225 batting average. The hottest batter so far has been Jason Kipnis, who is looking to match his 2015 season, hitting .297 with 148 wRC+ early on.
Danny Salazar has only made two starts but owns a stellar line with a 0.79 ERA, 0.97 WHIP, 16 strikeouts, and six walks in 11-1/3 innings. He has somehow managed a measly 4.8 percent line drive rate to go with a 38.1 percent soft contact percentage and has enjoyed an improved 16.8 percent whiff rate.
One pitcher scheduled to face the Tigers later this week is Corey Kluber, who has had a strange start to the season. Though he has struck out 22.9 percent of opposing batters, Kluber has allowed them to hit .286 against him, resulting in a 6.16 ERA and 1.42 WHIP. His 3.42 FIP and .357 BABIP indicate that he probably is not pitching as poorly as his numbers look, but it is very surprising to see such a rough start to the year from the 2014 Cy Young winner.
Minnesota Twins (4-9)
After an abysmal start to the season, the Twins have enjoyed a recent four-game win streak. At 2.69 runs per game, Minnesota has scored less often than every other American League team, and is hitting .240 as a unit. The pitching has not been too bad with a 3.49 ERA and a 100 FIP-, but will need to be much better if the offense continues to struggle.
Many eyes are on Miguel Sano, but 2016 has been rough for him so far: He has hit just .190 with a 37 percent strikeout rate. Offseason signing Byung-ho Park has also been quiet, hitting .205/.295/.487 with a 34.1 percent strikeout rate. Luckily for the Twins, Joe Mauer is off to a good start after a down 2015, and he has hit .362 with 176 wRC+ to open up the year.
The Twins’ rotation does not look too scary, but Ervin Santana has started decently. Though his 3.00 ERA and 2.84 FIP do not jump off the page, Santana owns a 25 percent strikeout rate through 15 innings this season and has suffered from a .333 BABIP. Temporary closer Kevin Jepsen has made four straight scoreless appearances while only allowing one hit, after surrendering runs in his first two outings. The Twins may not be in many save situations, but Jepsen should be a suitable replacement until Glen Perkins returns from the disabled list.