|AL CENTRAL STANDINGS AS OF JUNE 21ST, 2011. COURTESY OF MLB.COM|
It is June 21st and the All-Star break is nearing. The second half of the season always proves to hold much more weight then the first and as history has shown, it is also a time when teams make dramatic playoff pushes. The Central American League Division is very unique, unlike the Eastern division, it is seldom predictable. Just look at this year for example. In the East, Boston and New York are battling for first with Tampa Bay close behind. Deja-vu anyone? Many analysts probably predicted those standings exact.
During the beginning of the 2011 season sports writers were calling the Central division flip-flopped, which accurately describes what it looked like a month or so ago. Kansas and Cleveland were on top and Minnesota and the Sox were on the bottom end, with Detroit in the cozy middle spot. That was the opposite of what many people anticipated and if you told someone that prediction before the start of the season they would have looked at you as though you had never seen a baseball. When the White Sox played Cleveland on Opening Day someone inquired about Cleveland, asking me if they were legitimate contenders, as I looked at the half-empty stadium and the score, which was a blow-out in favor of the Sox, I responded no. After losing their second game to the Sox, I was even more convinced that Cleveland wasn't a threat.
Early assumptions are never a good idea. After the series against the Sox Cleveland became hot, winning games in large clumps and cozily settling into the first place spot, dominating Major League Baseball. Kansas City, a team that chose to go young this last off-season, was also making a name for themselves. When I watched them play the White Sox I saw a great deal of potential. Minnesota I think was the largest surprise. The core of their team was dampened with injuries, including Joe Mauer who is a White Sox killer and the heart of the club. Unlike Cleveland they held one of the worst records in baseball. The White Sox were mediocre. They had a great chance during the early games to solidify a contending spot in the standings but as I mentioned in an earlier post some bumps in the bullpen became serious problems for a team who's offense began to struggle. Bad pitching isn't as devastating if it is countered by stellar hitting. But poor pitching, fielding, and hitting in combination sends teams into downward spirals that are hard to recover from. It looked like Cleveland was in and even more so Minnesota was out, but it is still somewhat early and recently the standings are starting to swing back into reality.
Minnesota caught fire in the recent weeks and currently have won seven straight and are sitting 7 1/2 games back, dangerously close to the White Sox, Detroit and even Cleveland. Detroit came out of nowhere, and at one point surpassed Cleveland on June 14th, when Minnesota was still in last place. So really just in the last week things have considerably shifted and Cleveland's record doesn't look as intimidating as it previously had. History has shown other pattens with-in the division.
From 2002-2004 it was always between Minnesota and the Sox, with Minnesota consistently being victorious. In 2005, Cleveland was the only a threat against the White Sox world champions. Since 2005 it has mainly been between the big three- The White Sox, Minnesota, and Detroit, with Minnesota shining the last two years but never performing in the play-offs. It was always close between those three teams, and Cleveland and Kansas were simply obsolete but this year that is not the case.
Overall, if these first months of the season are any indication as to what the second half will bring then fans of teams in the AL Central should be holding onto September tickets as if they are gold because at this point no one can be counted out.