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Central Intelligence: Cleveland Indians surpass the Minnesota Twins at last

The former division winners have finally made it to the top, for now.

Cleveland Indians v Minnesota Twins Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

This was a moment everyone had anticipated arriving much earlier in the season, and a milestone with a tenuous grip, but the Cleveland Indians have finally taken over the top spot in the AL Central. They’ve struggled all season to gain momentum on the uncharacteristically surging Minnesota Twins, and after almost three months chasing Minnesota’s tail, the Indians are now number one in the division.

However, with a mere two game lead, and another three game series against the Twins looming this week, it’s safe to say the Indians aren’t breathing easy just yet. Nor should they be. The AL Central remains a tight and uncertain race, with even the downtrodden Chicago White Sox a mere 5.5 games back.

As for the Tigers, two losses against the Rays this weekend were enough to send them down to fourth place, and boost the suddenly offense-minded Kansas City Royals into third. KC has come a long way from languishing in last place to start the season.

AL Central Standings - June 19, 2017

Team Wins Losses Percentage Games Back
Team Wins Losses Percentage Games Back
Cleveland Indians 36 31 .537 -
Minnesota Twins 34 33 .507 2
Kansas City Royals 33 35 .485 3.5
Detroit Tigers 32 36 .471 4.5
Chicago White Sox 31 37 .456 5.5

Cleveland Indians: 36-31

Last week was exactly what the Indians have been hoping to accomplish all season. After losing two games against the Dodgers, they went on an epic run of wins, taking the last Dodgers game in style with a 12-5 victory and then going on to sweep the Twins over four games. This, of course, was how they managed to knock Minnesota out of first place.

While not the runaway lead the Indians were expecting all season, they have now wrestled their way into first place, and they’ve done it in spite of struggling pitchers and a slumping defense that isn’t doing nearly what people expected it to at the start of the season, especially with the acquisition of slugger Edwin Encarnacion in the offseason. Encarnacion is currently hitting .261/.377/.496 on the season with 16 home runs, showing he’s still capable of creating the kinds of numbers that sent him to the All-Star Game last year.

Home runs aplenty for the Indians, especially in their series against the Twins. Jose Ramirez, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Edwin Encarnacion all had multi-home run games in Minnesota. Also worthy of note is the fact Trevor Bauer seems to almost be good right now — if one ignores a three-inning outing — something the Indians sorely need him to keep up.

Up Next: @ Orioles, vs Twins

Minnesota Twins: 34-33

It wasn’t a great week for the Twins. In a packaged schedule that saw them take on two four-game series back-to-back, the Twins split the series with the Seattle Mariners — included a blowout 20-7 game — before having the Indians swoop in and crush them over four consecutive games. The Twins have now lost every home game they’ve played against the Indians this season, a 5-0 record.

The Twins aren’t likely to take this fall to second place lightly. They’ve been on top for most of the season, with a few weeks of exception, and they seem to like the view. Look for them to try and take advantage of the White Sox this week, before facing the Indians for a three game rematch series on the weekend.

Poor Adam Wilk, up to make a spot start for the Twins this weekend, would not join their roster of strong pitching performances this season, being forced from the game in the fourth inning after giving up six runs. Not likely to be seeing a lot of Wilk going forward with the club.

In a bit of exciting news for the team, they did snag the number one draft pick last week, and Royce Lewis has officially signed with the team. With such a young, impressive roster already, the Twins are looking ahead to a bright future.

First, though, they want to see if they can get through this season staying on top.

Up Next: vs. White Sox, @ Indians

Kansas City Royals: 33-35

Some teams flounder during west coast road trips, but apparently a visit to sunny California was exactly what the Royals needed. The swept a short two-game series against their former World Series rivals the San Francisco Giants, then went on to take three-of-four games against the Los Angeles Angels.

This coming week they return home where they are currently 17-16 for the season, and take on the Boston Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays, two teams that represent the opposite ends of the AL East spectrum. If the Royals continue their winning ways and the Twins continue to lose, there’s a very real chance the Royals may inch closer to second place this week.

Noteworthy performances of the week came from Ian Kennedy, who went six innings deep in a perfect game before giving up a two-run blast to Angels’ batter — and former Diamondback teammate — Cliff Pennington. Kennedy went on to collect his first win of the season.

Up Next: vs. Red Sox, vs. Blue Jays

Chicago White Sox: 31-37

The White Sox had a surprisingly decent week given their recent declining numbers the won three-of-four against the Baltimore Orioles, and two-of-three against the Blue Jays. After losing both their series the week before to the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cleveland Indians, walking away with two series wins this week had to bolster White Sox spirits.

It would also have the added benefit of making their players look more appealing on the market as the trade deadline approaches and teams begin to consider their approach. It seems clear at this point the White Sox will be sellers, but what remains to be seen is just how much of their team will be moved in July. For Detroit fans, the White Sox will also be ones to watch if they continue to play well, because currently the Tigers are a mere one game ahead of the White Sox in the standings.

Standout performance nod to Matt Davidson:

Pitcher James Shields has returned on Sunday from the disabled list after two months away. He was serviceable, but obviously still a bit rusty, giving up three runs on seven hits over 5.1 innings. Nothing the Sox need to worry about for now. Jose Quintana also had a solid outing on Friday, effectively upping his trade value over seven innings.

Up Next: @ Twins, vs. A’s