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Central Intelligence: The Indians claim the top spot, but it’s a tight race

The Twins are quietly having a heck of a season, and four teams are over .500

Cleveland Indians v Kansas City Royals Photo by Brian Davidson/Getty Images

The Central was in a state of flux all week, with several different teams jockeying for the top spot... stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

It’s a little more of the same-old, same-old we’ve come to expect from the Central, only instead of a sure thing in the number one position, it’s been another week of uncertainty and close calls. The AL Central might be one of the most exciting divisions to watch the season, unless the team you’re cheering for happens to play in it.

With four out of five teams currently over the .500 mark, and only a two game difference between fourth place and first, there is clearly no runaway winner with this division just yet, or even a team one could point to and say “yeah, those guys will probably be in the playoffs.”

If the season were to end today it would just be a cage match fight to the death between the Indians, Twins, Tigers, and White Sox, and whoever still had functional arms at the end would move on to the ALDS.

AL Central Standings: May 7, 2017

Team Wins Losses Percentage Games Back
Team Wins Losses Percentage Games Back
Cleveland Indians 17 13 0.567 -
Minnesota Twins 15 14 0.517 1.5
Detroit Tigers 15 15 0.500 2
Chicago White Sox 15 15 0.500 2
Kansas City Royals 10 20 0.333 7

Cleveland Indians: 17-13

The Indians are back at number one again, but their hold is tenuous. It’s certainly not the runaway season they were hoping to have, but they do seem to be on course to meet most predicted expectations. That is if the three teams nipping at their heels don’t get in the way.

There were no easy series for the Indians this week. The Tigers took two out of three, proving 2016 history would not repeat itself, and even the last place Royals denied Cleveland a series sweep over the weekend.

Corey Kluber is injured and Michael Brantley may be heading to the DL thanks to an ankle sprain. In place of Kluber the Indians had a lights-out spot start from Mike Clevinger. Cleveland fans may (or may not) remember Clevinger from 10 games he started last season. He helped lead the team to a one-hit victory (with the aid of the bullpen) on Sunday. Don’t expect him to stick around once Kluber is well, however.

Jason Kipnis has now had three two-hit games since returning from the DL. He’s still searching for his first home run of the season, but with the way his bat is heating up, it likely won’t be long now.

Also working in the Indians favor: Francisco Lindor and Andrew Miller continue to be Francisco Lindor and Andrew Miller.

Up Next: @ Blue Jays, vs. Twins

Minnesota Twins: 15-14

At one point during Friday’s Tigers’ broadcast, Rod Allen referenced the “first-place Minnesota Twins” with a little chuckle. That jubilant disbelief is sort of the perfect summary of the Twins season so far. Instead of tumbling to the bottom of the division after a sharp start, they’ve remained a strong team and continue to vie for first place, even holding it for a brief time this week.

It’s a big week of divisional play ahead of the Twins, giving them more opportunities to either climb ahead in the ranks and regain first place, or to drop further down. Facing both Chicago and Cleveland means it’s hard to tell which outcome is more likely.

The Twins lost and lost hard in the final two games of their series against the Boston Red Sox this weekend (11-1 and 17-6 respectively), but did manage to take two out of three from the A’s. The Twins de facto ace Ervin Santana had an unusually rocky outing against the Red Sox, which Twins fans are hoping is just a blip and not a sign of his decline.

So what is working? The offense, for the most part. In spite of being smacked around by the Sox, the Twins have been pretty consistent with their hits. Notable contributors this week are Joe Mauer (yup, Old Man Twin, who hit his first ever walk-off home run this week), Jorge Polanco, Kennys Vargas, Jason Castro, and Robbie Grossman (I got sick of mentioning Max Kepler, Miguel Sano, and Brian Dozier, honestly).

Phil Hughes gets the big thumbs up for his pitching this week. His one-run game on the 5th helped drop his ERA from 5.06 to 4.32.

Up Next: @ White Sox, @ Indians

Chicago White Sox: 15-15

I’ve been waiting all April to make an “It’s going to be May” joke about Jacob May, but sadly the punchline is in his stats. With only two hits in the season, May’s average dropped to .056/.150/.056, and alas, he was optioned to the White Sox Triple-A team on the second.

That it took the team a full month to make that roster move is indicative of the kind of experimental gameplay they’re running. The White Sox seem willing to try just about anything, and it either pays dividends or fails hard. What’s intriguing about this approach is it seems to be successful almost as often as it isn’t, as seen by their .500 win percentage.

After splitting a four-game series with Kansas City, the White Sox were then swept by the Baltimore Orioles over the weekend. This isn’t terribly surprising since the White Sox haven’t won a series against Baltimore in nine years.

Rule 5 call-up Dylan Covey, who sits next to Mike Pelfrey in the White Sox “Select a Fifth Starter” wheel of fortune, continues struggling. With opponent batting average over .500 against him now, it’s clear something is going to need to change, and fast. The White Sox need guys who can get them to the sixth inning and beyond, and neither Covey nor Pelfrey seem capable of helping them. To be fair to Pelfrey he had a decent start against the Royals mid-week, where he held the game scoreless through five, only to have it all collapse around him very quickly.

Jose Quintana, on the other hand, was a tale of two pitchers. Quintana has struggled this season, seeing his ERA bloat early. On May 2, he pitched through eight innings, gave up no runs and two walks in 102 pitches. Five days later, on the 7th, he lasted only five innings, gave up 4 runs and three walks, and burned through 96 pitches. It’s clear Quintana has the ability, but whether or not he can find it consistently remains to be seen.

Up Next: vs. Twins, vs. Padres

Kansas City Royals: 10-20

The current royals season, as reviewed by Mother Nature:

Cleveland Indians v Kansas City Royals Photo by Brian Davidson/Getty Images

Seriously though... Jason Vargas deserves better than this.

Up Next: @ Rays, vs. Orioles