A Look at the AL Central

A Look at the AL Central

At the beginning of the season, many experts predicted that AL Central would be the worst division in baseball. Many thought that only one team would finish over .500, and others thought no team would. Experts predicted winning the division would only take around 85 wins (upper 90s for most other divisions). Instead, over a month into the season, the AL Central is the best division in baseball. Four teams are over .500, and the AL-leading Cleveland Guardians are atop the American League.

The Chicago White Sox are the only team underperforming expectations. Experts did not project the White Sox to be good, but no one thought they would be as bad as they are. They sit in the basement of the AL Central at just 6-25. They have struggled massively out of the gate. In their first 31 games, they have only scored 89 runs. That is less than 2.9 per game. The MLB average in 2023 was over 4.7. Only one team in the MLB has scored less than 100 runs, and no other team averages below three runs per game. In addition, they have given up the third most runs in baseball. The White Sox have given up 173 runs in 31 games only behind the Miami Marlins and Colorado Rockies. That is good for a 5.6 average runs per game allowed. To start the year, they are averaging being outscored by three runs. This has contributed to, by far, the worst run differential in baseball. There is hope for the White Sox. Superstar outfielder Luis Robert Jr. missed the beginning of the season but is set to return soon. Other key players are also recovering from injuries, but even just a little over a month into the year, it may be too little too late.

The Minnesota Twins are red-hot. They have won 10 in a row and improved their record to 17-13, 4th in the AL Central. They currently sit half a game back in the AL wild-card picture. At the beginning of the season, many experts expected the Twins to run away with the division title. However, after starting 7-13 in their first 20 games while other teams shot up the standings, it appeared they would fall out of the chase. After winning 10 in a row, they have closed the gap to just 2.5 games back on the division-leading Cleveland Guardians. A big reason for the streak has been the offense. Over the past ten games, the Twins have averaged 7.6 runs per game. They have also only given up an average of 3.1 runs per game. This dominant pitching and a high-powered offense have propelled the Twins into the playoff chase.

The Detroit Tigers currently sit in the third wild-card spot in the AL. They are 7-3 in their last ten games and 18-13 on the year. They are half a game up on the Twins in both the division and the wild card but two games back on the Cleveland Guardians. Offensively, they have struggled to score just 4.1 runs per game. This is 19th in the MLB; however, their pitching has been phenomenal. They have allowed just 3.16 earned runs per game. That is 5th best in baseball. Offseason acquisition Jack Flaherty has begun to heat up. Most recently, striking out 14 over 6.2 innings. If he gets hot, this pitching staff could see its ERA drop even more. However, the Tigers offense is hitting just .227 this year. In today’s game, scoring five or more runs is critical in winning games. Last season, American League teams that scored five or more runs were 250-62 (80.1%). American League teams that scored four or fewer were 104-291 (26.4%). Their offense needs to improve so the Tigers can sustain their success throughout the season. 

The Kansas City Royals are second in the AL Central at 19-13, 1.5 games back. Everything has been clicking for the Royals this season. They have given up the least runs in baseball up to this point. They are the only team with under 100 runs allowed. In addition, the offense has averaged 4.63 runs per game. They currently have the best run differential in baseball at positive 50 runs. Their pitching staff has been one of the biggest shocks of the season so far. They have exploded to start the year, averaging 3.06 runs per game allowed. That is best in baseball. However, they are just 5-10 against teams over .500 and 14-3 against teams at or below .500. They have much to prove against good teams and will face the Rangers and Brewers in back-to-back series. This could be a great test to confirm the Royals’ place near the top of the American League standings.

The Cleveland Guardians have arguably been the biggest shock of the 2024 season. An offense that was horrendous last season has exploded into a top-five offense. Their bullpen has been the best in baseball by many metrics to start the year, and that is without key arms like Sam Hentges and Trevor Stephan. The offense is currently averaging over five runs a game. With five runs being the magic number to win games in the MLB, this is a monumental accomplishment for a young Cleveland offense. This offensive outburst is mostly without superstar third baseman Jose Ramirez, who has struggled to start the year. If he gets back to his MVP form, the Cleveland Guardians could see an increase in run production. This is the best start to a season for Cleveland since 1999. They currently sit atop the AL standings and briefly were the best team in baseball; however, they have struggled as of late, losing 3 out of their last 5. They have many injuries that could have long-term effects on the outcome of this season. They lost former Cy Young award winner Shane Bieber after just two starts to Tommy John surgery. Unfortunately for Cleveland fans, Shane Bieber may never pitch in a Cleveland uniform again. Many people think the Guardians are not good and have not beaten anybody. This is not true. They are currently 11-7 against teams above .500. If they can continue their roll, they could find themselves back atop the MLB standings. But for now, Cleveland fans are happy with a division lead.

The AL Central was supposed to be anything but dominant. There is still a lot of time for things to change with 130 games left in the season, but if the first 30 games of the year indicate what is to come. This could be a wild ride in the AL playoff push come September.

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Jon Yencho
Jon Yencho, Sports Reporter

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