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Central Intelligence: The Cleveland Indians keep their eye on the ball

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The more things change, the more the AL Central stays the same.

Chicago White Sox v Cleveland Indians Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Five teams walk into a season, all with starry-eyed hopes of walking away with the division title. Of those five, one stood highest in the esteem of everyone who was attempting to predict how 2017 would play out. “Obviously, the Cleveland Indians will be our division champs,” they said. It was an easy thing to think, too, coming off a triumphant 2016 year where they almost won it all.

“What of the Minnesota Twins?” some people asked.

Everyone laughed merrily and no one spoke of the Minneapolis-based team again. That is, until now. Now, in our third month of play, with more than 60 games behind us, and a much clearer picture of how the postseason might be shaping up, the Twins still remain high in their ivory tower above the AL Central, and no one seems to be able to figure out how to catch up to them.

For weeks, this has been the story, and now, as we approach the mid-season break in July, it has come time for the bottom three teams in the division to start asking themselves: are we here to compete, or do we throw in the towel and look ahead to next season?

As for the Twins, I don’t think anyone is laughing anymore.

AL Central Standings - June 12, 2017

Team Wins Losses Percentage Games Back
Team Wins Losses Percentage Games Back
Minnesota Twins 32 27 .542 -
Cleveland Indians 31 29 .517 1.5
Detroit Tigers 30 32 .484 3.5
Kansas City Royals 28 34 .452 5.5
Chicago White Sox 26 35 .426 7

Minnesota Twins: 32-27

Two different series went two different ways for the Twins last week. First, they lost two-of-three to the Seattle Mariners. Then, they went to San Francisco to conclude their west coast road trip by winning two-of three against the floundering Giants.

Part of the Twins’ trouble is something Tigers fans can relate to: their bullpen. On Sunday’s game against the Giants, Matt Belisle gave up four runs, and not to be outdone, he was relieved by Craig Breslow, who gave up five more. This is hardly a one-off occurrence, either:

This coming weekend’s four-game series against the Indians may prove to be the thing that either pushes them well ahead of the pack, or sees them tumble out of first place. And a four-game rematch against the Mariners, who they couldn’t quite figure out last week, could test their mettle before they even see Cleveland arrive in town.

Up Next: vs. Mariners, vs. Indians

Cleveland Indians: 31-29

The Indians had a bit of a tricky week, dropping both games in a two-game series to the Colorado Rockies. This shouldn’t, perhaps, come as a surprise, considering just how well the Rockies are playing right now, with a 41-24 record, they have the highest win percentage in the National League at .631. Cleveland then went on to face the White Sox at home, and took two-of-three games from the struggling Chicago team.

Where the bullpen is a problem for the Twins, it’s the starters who are giving the Indians all their headaches (something else Tigers fans can relate to). Right now they only have four really set starters, and of those only one has an ERA under four. Trevor Bauer’s ERA is 6.10, Josh Tomlin’s is 5.73, Corey Kluber’s is 4.38, and Carlos Carrasco’s is 3.36. Danny Salazar, who was recently demoted to a bullpen role, and then subsequently sent on a trip to the 10-day DL, is sitting at 5.40.

Seems like there’s no secret formula for pitching success for the Indians, unless they can clone a bunch of Andrew Millers.

Up Next: vs. Dodgers, @ Twins

Kansas City Royals: 28-34

The Royals had a somewhat surprising week, one that helped them hold tight to their number four position and also gain some ground on third-place Detroit. They faced the Astros, the best team in the American League, and managed to split the series, winning two and losing two. They then went on to square off against the San Diego Padres, and won two-of-three games in that series.

We already know the pitching story with the Royals, wherein it is simply Jason Vargas and a rotating cast of Four Guys Who Pitch Okay Sometimes. The real story here, and why the Royals have been seeing more success of late, is that the offense has finally dusted off their bats and started hitting runs. Lots of runs.

So far in June the Royals already have 56 RBIs, compared to 59 knocked in for the entire month of April. They’re well on their way to besting the 107 RBIs they got in May, as well. They’ve topped their April numbers for doubles as well, collecting 21 already in June, compared to April’s 20. And they have 16 home runs this month, 14 of them coming in the last 7 days. They’re currently hitting .273/.311/.477 for the month, compared to May’s .248/.307/.405. Simply put, they’re finally starting to produce.

Up Next: @ Giants, @ Angels

Chicago White Sox: 26-35

Last week the White Sox couldn’t win a series to save their lives. They lost two-of-three to both the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cleveland Indians, and found themselves firmly settling into the bottom rung, as they distanced themselves further from the Royals. For a team that started the season with surprising luck, they’ve certainly seen that luck dwindle in recent weeks.

Talk for the White Sox is now turning to who they can trade, as opposed to how they can win. The Red Sox may be potential trade partners once again if Pablo Sandoval can’t start finding a good rhythm. The Red Sox may turn to Chicago to seek a deal for third baseman Todd Frazier in that case, as the Red Sox are still very much in the postseason hunt.

Likewise pitcher Jose Quintana will be a sought after piece, in spite of his uneven season thusfar. At the moment, Quintana’s ERA has bloated to 5.30 and his WHIP is a career-high 1.406. Yet he’s still likely to be a highly coveted piece to move at the trade deadline for teams who need to add another arm to their rotation. The folks at South Side Sox took a deeper look at Quintana’s real value on the trade market.

Up Next: vs. Royals, @ Blue Jays