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Central Intelligence: Twins are winners, but so are the Royals

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Kansas City may still be on the bottom, but they’ve proven they can still win games

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Kansas City Royals Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Another week of narrow margins in the AL Central this week. Once again the Twins have claimed the top spot, but they’re neck-and-neck with the Indians, and both the Tigers and White Sox are hot on their heels.

When only 2.5 games separate first and fourth place, you know it’s going to be a truly interesting season. Now that we’re halfway through the second month of play, we can actually start taking these standings a bit more seriously, and examining what they might mean.

Do the Twins actually have a chance to win the division? Analysts keep saying “no way” but the longer they continue to jump up to the top, the more I start to think they might be able to do it.

One thing that’s certain: this is shaping up to be a season where every win matters. It’s impossible to say “it’s early, it’s just one loss” when the race is this close. Last year the Tigers missed the postseason by two games, and this year it looks like a four-way race to the finish as things stand now. Even the Royals aren’t so far removed that we can ignore them, especially not after they won six of their last seven games.

Let’s have a look at the week that was.

AL Central Standings: May 14, 2017

Team Wins Losses Percentage Games Behind
Team Wins Losses Percentage Games Behind
Minnesota Twins 19 15 0.559 -
Cleveland Indians 19 17 0.528 1
Detroit Tigers 18 18 0.500 2
Chicago White Sox 17 18 0.486 2.5
Kansas City Royals 16 21 0.432 4.5

Minnesota Twins: 19-15

The mighty Minnesota Twins. Who would have seen this coming at the beginning of the season? The answer is no one. Not even Twins fans could probably imagine this would be the way things would shape up in the early season. Yes, it’s still early, but I think it may be high time we give the Twins their due. They’ve worked hard and stayed at or near the top this whole season so far, and it’s obvious they’ve got things working in their favor.

The Twins have so much working in their favor right now. Miguel Sano is a beast, and definitely worthy of All-Star contention. Likewise Max Kepler and Joe Mauer continue their excellent seasons, while Byron Buxton — who has shown signs of improvement lately — floundered at bat. But does it really matter when he can do stuff like this?

Their pitching has been sensational, with Ervin Santana surprisingly but deservedly being labelled their ace. Hector Santiago has also been surprisingly good this season, in spite of his Sunday loss, with a 2.76 ERA. They can now add Jose Berrios to their list of accomplished pitchers. He made his Twins debut this weekend and pitched 7.2 innings, allowing only one run and one walk over that stretch. It’s his first outing but definitely a promising start for the Twins.

Up Next: vs. Rockies, vs. Royals

Cleveland Indians: 19-17

The Indians were uncharacteristically unlucky this past week. They dropped 2-of-3 to the Toronto Blue Jays, the last-place team in the AL East, and also dropped 2-of-3 to the Twins. Granted, the Twins have been hard to beat this week, but it still doesn’t bode well for the Indians to not be able to find their footing against these teams. If they want to claim the top spot they need to do better, simple as that.

They’re up against the Rays for a 3-game stretch, and while the Rays appear to have struggled in their own division they actually have a 19-21 record. The percentage isn’t great, but they’ve won just as many games as the Indians have, meaning this matchup might not be as easy for Cleveland as it looks on the surface.

Josh Tomlin is hot for the Indians right now, and he’ll be starting Wednesday’s game. Other pieces working well for the Indians, are Jason Kipnis, who asked “What stint on the DL?” when he hammered in two home runs on Sunday (for him mom, aw).

Up Next: vs. Rays, @ Astros

Chicago White Sox: 17-18

Not the prettiest week for the Sox. They were swept in an abbreviated two-game series against the Twins, but were able to take 2-of-3 from the San Deigo Padres. It’s enough to keep them right in the middle of the pack, which is still pretty darned impressive if we consider that the Sox are mid-rebuild and have no right contending whatsoever. They continue to surprise week after week.

Jose Quintana is a less-than-sure bet for the Sox right now. It seems the key is to not trust him too late into games. For example on Sunday he was scoreless through six innings, but in the seventh gave up a three-run homer to Hunter Renfroe. He’s currently sitting at a 4.38 ERA which certainly isn’t where the Sox would like to see him.

Ultimately the Sox struggled with some very silly mistakes by guys who may or may not know better. This is a young team struggling to find its feet, and a six-game losing streak certainly didn’t help their morale. They’re heading into a west coast road trip for the week, so we’ll see if they do any better in a different time zone. They had some luck against the Padres last week, so perhaps it will hold.

Up Next: @ Angels, @ Mariners

Kansas City Royals: 16-21

Who are these Royals? Surely not the same team that has been so lackluster the last month and a half, struggling to come by any wins. Last week the team had a paltry “10” in the win column and my my how things have changed. They’re still not over .500, they’re still at the bottom of the pile, but they also won six of their last seven games, a mighty fine feat indeed. They took 3-of-4 on the Tampa Bay Rays home turf, and swept the Orioles at Kauffman.

What’s going right?

Well, in short, everything. The offense has woken up, scoring 37 runs over the last seven games. Their only loss can be pinpointed to offense as well, in which the Rays trampled them 12-1. Without the offense many of the wins could have easily been losses. Four of the seven games were won by a single run, with only a 6-0 shutout against the Rays to be considered a “safe” win. No surprise, the pitcher for that game was Jason Vargas, who the Royals should thank their lucky stars for. He has a 1.01 ERA and a 2.16 FIP. Jason Vargas is awesome.

Old friend alert: Al Alburquerque made his Royals debut this week, and now, in two games, has a 2.51 FIP and allowed two runs and a walk.

Up Next: vs Yankees, @ Twins