Don't look now, but the Detroit Tigers have gone on a four game winning streak, while the division leading White Sox have lost four games in a row, cutting the Tigers' margin to just five games. Better yet, the teams have 19 games against each other remaining on the schedule. Here is a look at the competition in the American League's Central division.
Chicago White Sox: 24-16
The White Sox streaked out to an early nine game lead over the Tigers on the strength of a 3.22 team ERA, and a rotation that has survived manager Robin Ventura's hook, averaging 6.15 innings per start. Chris Sale is 8-0, and bargain buy Mat Latos is off to a 5-1 start.
Chicago's lead could have gotten even bigger had their bullpen not blown seven of 18 save opportunities. While the Pythagorean formula tells us that the White Sox's record is about what it should be, their FIP indicates that their pitching staff is going to give up more runs. In fact, Latos hasn't gotten through the sixth inning in his last four starts, while allowing 18 runs and that 4.00 ERA (up from 1.84 in April) is belied by a 5.07 FIP. The team needs a third starter to go with Sale and Jose Quintana, who rank first and second in the league in ERA, but it's hard to see who that will be.
Offensively, Todd Frazier has given the South Siders a boost, mashing 12 home runs with 32 RBI, but his .228 average makes him one of seven regular starters hitting .265 or under. Where the offense is going to come from the rest of the season is unclear. Maybe fans in Chicago aren't quite buying into the team's early season success, as they rank 14th of 15 clubs in attendance thus far in 2016.
Cleveland Indians: 20-17
The Indians trail the White Sox by just 2 1/2 games, in no small part due to a 6-0 record against the Tigers. The Tribe entered the season with a trio of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar leading their rotation. Salazar has a sparkling 1.80 ERA to trail only Chicago's duo, but it's Josh Tomlin who has a 5-0 record despite a 4.81 FIP. Meanwhile, Carrasco has made just two starts due to a hamstring injury. He is due back shortly.
Francisco Lindor has gotten much attention for his flashy field work to go with a .317 batting average and speed on the base paths. Otherwise, nothing really stands out on the Cleveland season, other than the hot start by Salazar and their six pack of victories against Detroit.
Kansas City Royals: 20-20
The Royals are the defending World Series champions, two-time American League champions, and were the favorites to repeat as division champions in 2016, but they have sputtered out of the gate to start the season. This is perhaps the brightest silver lining in the clouds that have cast a shadow on Detroit's season thus far.
The Royals had scored just one more run than the abysmal Twins entering play on Wednesday. and they're hitting just .256 as a team by comparison with .269 in 2015. They rank near the bottom of the league in home runs and isolated power (ISO), and they're dead last in walks. Eric Hosmer has been red hot, with a .333 average, .400 on-base percentage, and a .951 OPS. But overall, their offense has come down to earth.
Kansas City's pitching remains their strength, while still getting the fewest innings out of their starters and the most out out of their bullpen. Edinson Volquez is the staff ace with a 3.54 ERA, but after a great start, he is 1-4 with a 6.00 ERA in his last five starts. Free agent signee Ian Kennedy has been better than expected, but his FIP also suggests regression this season. Yordano Ventura hasn't gotten in a fight yet, but he hasn't progressed like the team had hoped. Chris Young has sunk back to normal with a 6.66 ERA, and Kris Medlen hasn't been able to get batters out. The rotation remains an open question.
The bullpen is still the strength of the Royals' team, with a 2.41 ERA. Former Tiger Joakim Soria has been the weak link among half a dozen other solid pitchers in the Kansas City relief corps. And yet, the Royals' bullpen has five blown saves in just 14 opportunities this season. Pythag says the team should have a 17-21 record, but they're at .500, one game ahead of Detroit.
Minnesota Twins: 10-29
The Twins have been just awful this season. Their pitchers have a league high 5.00 ERA while their lineup has scored fewer runs than any team in the AL. Their bullpen has had just 10 save opportunities this season, and blown eight of those. The Tigers have taken full advantage, winning all six games between the teams.
Tyler Duffey has pitched well in four starts since being added to the rotation, with a 1.85 ERA while striking out 8.5 per nine innings and walking 1.85 batters per nine. Ervin Santana has been decent and Fernando Abad has been good in relief, but the rest of the pitching staff has been a dumpster fire. Closer Glen Perkins has been missing on the disabled list, and Casey Fien has been released.
Eduardo Nunez leads the offense with a .333 average and seven steals, while Byung-ho Park has nine home runs. All-Star second baseman Brian Dozier is hitting just .222 and catcher Kurt Suzuki is batting just .208. The Twins surprised a lot of people by hanging around the pennant race until September in 2015. This year, they won't.