The Tigers just lost another game to the lowly Twins, and have now dropped two games under .500. That can’t be spun as a good thing, or even a cloud with a little silver lining. The Tigers simply have not played up to expectations thus far in the season.
The one big reason for optimism remains: the AL Central is a terrible division full of terrible teams. That means that the Tigers road to the playoffs remains easier than any other team in baseball. And, of course, once you make the playoffs anything goes. It doesn’t seem particularly rare to see the worst of the 8 teams that make it come away with the crown.
Allow me to cite some striking stats to illustrate how bad the Central really is:
1. Every team in the AL Central has allowed more runs than it has scored. Cleveland is the ‘best’ so far with a -3, then comes Chicago with a -6, Detroit with a -11, Kansas City with a -20 and Minnesota with a -67.
2. The AL Central (as a whole) is 20 games under .500
3. 37 total intra-division games have been played so far, in which the division’s record has to be .500 and it can’t possibly allow more runs than it has scored. That leaves 114 games played between the the AL Central and the ALs East and West. In these games, it stands the reason, the AL Central is 47-67 and has been outscored by 107 runs. Ugh.
Lets contrast that with the ALs powerhouse division – the AL East. In the East each and every team has scored more runs than it has allowed: Toronto +22, Tampa Bay +17, Baltimore +16, Boston +11, New York +10. In games against the West and Central, the East is 59-39 and has outscored it’s opponents by 76 runs.
Around MLB as a whole, there are two divisions with only one team that has scored more runs than it has allowed – but none (besides the Central) that have none. Those are the AL West (home of the 24-14 Rangers) and the NL West (home of the 24-13 Dodgers). Neither division looks easy to rise to the top of – unless you happen to be the Rangers or Dodgers. The NL West in particular seems to have a handful of talented but underachieving teams that could also make a run.
The AL Central doesn’t have any of that. The Indians are at the top half through luck and half by default. They are 9-1 in 1-run games despite a bullpen that doesn’t look quite so good as last year’s iteration. They’re still getting nothing from Shin Soo Choo or Ubaldo Jimenez, have seen Justin Masterson lose velocity and command and have been led by a starter (Derek Lowe) who is striking out fewer batters than he walks (which isn’t all that many). Chicago still has some talent, but has suffered through some of the same issues as Detroit. Kansas City has been hobbled by injury already and hasn’t yet seen the breakout season they needed from key young players. Minnesota – though you might not have gotten that impression watching the past two games – hasn’t been able to hit it’s way out of a paper bag and doesn’t have a single regular starter with an ERA under 5.00.
The Tigers still need to get their own house in order, that’s a given, but this division is clearly ripe for the taking: exactly as it was last year. Last year the Tigers did, finally, get their house in order over the season’s final two months (coinciding, not at all strangely, with the awakening of Raburn’s bat) and ran away with the Central in the end. Do bear that in mind when it seems the sky is falling.