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Central Intelligence: The Minnesota Twins are still in first place, somehow

Spoiler alert: hot bats and good pitching is apparently a winning combination.

Cleveland Indians v Houston Astros Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The season is officially one-quarter complete, and for the first time in many weeks, the AL Central rankings remain unchanged. The Minnesota Twins are still on top, but the Cleveland Indians — with more wins — are breathing down their necks. The Detroit Tigers, after dropping two of three to the Texas Rangers, are still sitting at exactly .500, and the White Sox and Royals are still rounding out the bottom of the ranks, though the distance from first to last is only 5.5 games.

The central has always been a competitive division, whether it was just two teams duking it out for the top spot, or like this season a four-way race to the end (have I been reading too much Preakness coverage? Maybe.)

At the quarter mark one thing is certain: this is anyone’s year. The Twins, who most thought would certainly have dropped in the ranks, just keep clinging to that number one spot, and baseball fans might just have to start considering that they deserve to be there.

AL Central Standings: May 22, 2017

Team Wins Losses Percentage Games Back
Team Wins Losses Percentage Games Back
Minnesota Twins 22 18 0.550 -
Cleveland Indians 23 19 0.548 -
Detroit Tigers 21 21 0.500 2
Chicago White Sox 20 22 0.476 3
Kansas City 18 25 0.419 5.5

Minnesota Twins: 22-18

A common refrain we’ll be seeing from this week, and going into next, is “double-header.” The Twins played two this week, making up for games that had been rained out due to, you know, it being May in Minneapolis. In each case they split the difference, winning one and losing one to both the Colorado Rockies and the Kansas City Royals. The double-header action on Thursday and Sunday can’t have been easy for the Twins, who will hope to build momentum going into the coming week.

The Twins will have to manage this week without pitcher Phil Hughes, who has been placed on the disabled list. He’s suffering from ye olde dead arm, a nefarious condition creeping its way around rotations. Hughes won’t be gone long, but his absence might be a godsend, since is 5.74 ERA isn’t exactly helping the team. The Twins are hoping a demotion to Triple-A has course-corrected Kyle Gibson, whose bloated 8.20 ERA was no help to anyone. He’s expected to be recalled to start Monday’s game. Since pitching may well be what makes or breaks the Twins’ hopes this year, they’re hoping Gibson has his mojo back.

Our friends at Twinkie Town have also written a really thorough piece looking at how the young (mostly young, we see you Joe Mauer) lineup is absolutely destroying the ball on two-strike counts right now.

Up Next: @ Orioles, vs. Rays

Cleveland Indians: 23-19

What happens when you sweep the team with the best record in the AL? If you’re the Indians, it means crushing the Houston Astros over a three-game series, collecting the most wins in the AL Central, but still not quite making it to that number one spot. With their win percentage trailing the Twins by a hair, the Indians found themselves in the precarious position of having the most wins, but not being the winners.

Yan Gomes went yard to long in Houston it actually hit the train tracks. He also hit a fly ball off the roof, so I mean, no one is perfect.

Francisco Lindor, in addition to being one of the best players on the team, seems to have more fun out there than anyone. Lindor, who has nine home runs and is sitting at a .274/.333/.518 still made time this week to enjoy some shenanigans.

Case one:

Case two:

Mike Clevinger was sensational for the Indians last week, taking a no-hitter into the seventh inning. For the rest, Trevor Bauer wasn’t a disaster, and it looks like Corey Kluber might start rehab games this week. Not a moment too soon, because the Indians will need his arm back if they hope to drag the Twins permanently out of the top spot.

Up Next: vs. Reds, vs. Royals

Chicago White Sox: 20-22

The coming week will be an interesting one for the White Sox. They’ll conclude a lengthy west coast road trip, facing the Diamondbacks, before coming home to square off against the Tigers in a four-game series that will include a double-header to make up for the April 5 rain out.

They were swept by the Los Angeles Angels -- a sensation the Tigers can relate to in Anaheim — but took three out of four from the Seattle Mariners.

The big news — aside from the fact Mike Pelfrey got a win off a one-hit game he pitched into the sixth inning — is that the White Sox have landed hot Cuban prospect Luis Robert. The outfielder will cost the Sox a hefty sum, much more than the $25 million plus his contract is rumored to be for, thanks to international draft rules. But ultimately a 19-year-old player who hit .401/.426/.897 in the Cuban system is precisely the kind of guy who the Sox want as part of their rebuild narrative.

Up Next: @ Diamondbacks, vs. Tigers

Kansas City Royals: 18-25

The Royals managed to keep hope alive this week by avoiding any series sweeps. They lost two of three to both the Yankees and the Twins, but managed to eke out a win in Sunday’s double-header in Minneapolis to keep themselves in the conversation still. That’s the thing about this division right now, everyone is so close together, all it takes is a run of wins or a bad stretch of losses and anyone can find themselves on the top or bottom. There are no sure things in the Central right now.

Our old friend alert from last week can be silenced, as the Royals designated former Tigers’ reliever Al Alburquerque for assignment. Jake Junis was a new addition to the Royals starting rotation this weekend. He didn’t do particularly well, giving up five hits, three walks, and two earned runs. But he also didn’t set the stadium on fire so the Royals will probably bring him back.

The folks at Royals Review, taking all things into consideration, are asking the hard question: is Alex Gordon done?

The truth is, the Royals are already early contenders to sell ahead of the trade deadline, and guys like Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer, and the red-hot Jason Vargas will be strong options for the Royals to move if they hope to add new, young arms to their system. Needless to say, unless something changes soon, the Royals will not look like the same team come August. As for Hosmer, any hopes he had of that 10-year contract have all but dwindled with this tough season being a terrible showcase for his once-great skills.

The Royals go into the coming four-game stretch against the Yankees with an uncertain starting rotation, and then they’ll face the Indians who are desperate to get back to the number one spot. It’s going to be a tough week.

Up Next: @ Yankees, @ Indians