Before the season started, it was a given that the Detroit Tigers were going to be in the midst of the American League Central division race. What wasn’t a given, is who their main competition would be. Last season, the upstart Cleveland Indians gave the Tigers a little bit of a run, before fading drastically down the stretch. Many people thought the young Kansas City Royals would be that team in 2012, given their plethora of young hitting. Some even thought that 2011 was an aberration for the Minnesota Twins franchise, that looks to be in a bit of trouble right now. One team that wasn’t discussed much was the Chicago White Sox.
Well, the Chicago White Sox sent all sorts of mixed signals before the season began in which way their franchise was heading. They didn’t seem to work too hard to re-sign long time veteran pitcher Mark Buehrle, who ended up with the Florida Marlins. They had pitchers John Danks and Gavin Floyd on the trading block at one time. They did trade corner outfielder Carlos Quentin and young closer Sergio Santos to gather some prospects. This was on top of trading Edwin Jackson at the deadline last season. With all of that going on, there was some definite questions regarding the White Sox roster.
A lot of those questions have been answered. Dunn and Rios have bounced back in a big way. Alejandro De Aza has taken his opportunity created by Quentin leaving and ran with it. Rookie Dayan Viciedo has improved over the course of the season. The White Sox have had guys like Chris Sale and Jose Quintana step up beyond their wildest expectations. Rookie Addison Reed has solidified the bullpen. Basically, the White Sox have had a lot of good things happen that help you contend, despite their injuries to John Danks.
A bounce back season from Jake Peavy certainly helps too.
With the White Sox coming to town this weekend, and the trade deadline nearing, it seems fitting to discuss where the Central division is at right now. With apologies to Cleveland fans, this race looks like a two horse race, and maybe not for much more than a month at that.
I don’t want to put too much emphasis on this weekend’s series. The Tigers could very well be going into this weekend with an opportunity to overtake the White Sox, who have been leading the division for quite some time, but whoever is in 1st at the end of this weekend will have a small lead at best. There is still a lot of season left to play, making what happens at the deadline important.
Back to Cleveland for a second. Barring a couple of major moves, I just don’t see Cleveland being able to keep up with the Tigers and the White Sox. Cleveland doesn’t have one shut down starter on it’s roster and frankly will have a little bit of trouble adding one at the deadline. The reality is, they probably need two. This division is going to be won on the backs of the team that pitches the best. Cleveland, while they are only a game behind the Tigers right now, is heading in the opposite direction while the Tigers are starting to turn things on like they did in 2011.
The White Sox are in need of pitching as well, however, with Chris Sale and Jake Peavy, they have two guys that give them a better than average chance to win every time out. Plus, I would give them the benefit of the doubt when it comes to acquiring pitchers. Kenny Williams often finds a way, and rumor is they seem to be interested in Zach Greinke. Already, getting 3B Kevin Youklis has paid off big time, and even with a shallow minor league system, Williams has shown a knack to get deals done.
That leaves the Tigers. We all know that Dave Dombrowski and company are going to do whatever they can to win. The owner is going to dictate that. Plus, after winning 3 out of 4 against a quality Angels team, and their play right before the All Star break, it appears the Tigers are now putting the pedal to the metal. It looks like Doug Fister is back on track which is key, and now some of the bottom of their order seems to be coming around with Delmon Young and Brennan Boesch heating up.
I still think the Tigers are the clear team to beat in the Central. While the White Sox are currently in first, they are just keeping it warm for a bit until the Tigers pass them. That’s not being a homer. That is just looking at the rosters and how the teams are playing right now.
Now that Cleveland is in the rear view mirror, this is a two horse race, and the Tigers horse is bigger and stronger.