In recent vintage, when thinking about the best divisions in baseball, the AL Central is usually looked upon as an inferior division with teams that benefit from feasting on their weak divisional foes 18 times a year. But in 2014 the preconception of the AL Central being a second class division started to fade. The Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals all vied for playoff spots last year. The Royals and Tigers making it and of course the Royals coming within a game of potentially winning their first title since 1985.
With all the success experienced in 2014 by the Indians, Tigers and Royals, the Chicago White Sox decided to try to and overhaul their roster and become divisional contenders for the first time since 2011. The Minnesota Twins were looked down upon as a team that was still a year or two away but had young talent that was on the cusp of major league ready.
As fall knocks on the door and baseball nearing it’s final quarter of the season, the AL Central looks nothing like most baseball experts predicted.
The Kansas City Royals all but have the division locked up with a 12-game lead over the Twins. The question now is when will manager Ned Yost start to rest players for the playoffs and when should the Royals players get their goggles ready for the champagne shower of winning their first AL Central crown.
The Twins are just a game out of the second Wild Card spot. They and the Houston Astros are by far two of the biggest surprises of 2015. Paul Molitor in his rookie campaign as manager of the Twins has gotten the most out of a squad predicted to be no better than fourth. It also doesn’t hurt that stud rookie Miguel Sano has come up and has not failed to show his highly touted power. In just 51 games Sano has put up a monster slash of .295/.406/.620 and belted 15 home runs and drove in 42 RBIs. Veterans Brian Dozier, Torii Hunter, and Trevor Plouffe have also all been major contributors to the Twins revitalization.
Looking at the rest of the division, disappointment would be a common word used to describe these three teams. With such high expectations and hype surrounding the Indians, Tigers and White Sox, which of these teams are the most disappointing?
Full House, Motley Crew, mesh shirts and gas being $0.85 cents a gallon. It’s 1987 all over again! Back in 1987 Sports Illustrated deemed the Tribe as “the best team in the American League” and predicted the Indians to win their first title since 1948. But that didn’t happen. In fact, the Indians only won 61 games and finished as the worst team in the AL. This year Sports Illustrated picked the Indians to beat the Washington Nationals in the World Series. At 64-68 they aren’t quite as bad as there 1987 brethren, but come 2016 the Indians are probably hoping Sports Illustrated picks someone else to win-it-all.
You can’t fault SI for not thinking the Indians weren’t going to be good. In 2014 the Indians were an 85 win team and were coming off a playoff appearance in 2013. With the reigning Cy Young winner Corey Kluber heading a staff that also features flame-throwing Carlos Carrasco, the highly-touted Trevor Bauer and Danny Salazar, it was easy to fall in love with that pitching staff. But Kluber started off slow and then the Indians forgot how to score runs for him. Kluber still posted great numbers in 2015, but not reminiscent of his 2014 season. Carrasco is hurt, but still was one of the Tribe’s most consistent pitchers in 2015. Bauer started off looking like this was going to be a breakout season. But his 6.15 ERA in the second half and leading the AL in walks has thrown his once promising season off course.
Offensively the Indians have posted a respectable numbers. Michael Brantley hasn’t been the guy who finished third in MVP voting last year, but has still shown last year wasn’t a fluke. Francisco Lindor has played stellar defense and shown scouts that maybe his ability with the stick isn’t as bad as some projected. And Jason Kipnis took huge strides forward from his abysmal 2o14 season.
The Achilles heel was lack of depth in the lineup and bullpen, and inconsistent starting pitching. Their pitching has been good enough to keep them almost at .500, but their bullpen has made sure they haven’t climbed too far above it.
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox made the biggest splash last offseason out of any team in the Central. The Sox signed former New Yankees closer David Robertson and lefty specialist Zach Duke. They also signed Adam Laroche, Melky Cabrera and traded for Jeff Samardzija. Looking at their signings to go along with a roster that already featured stars like Chris Sale, Jose Abreu, Avisail Garcia, Adam Eaton, and Jose Quintana, it seemed like a lock that the White Sox were going to compete for a division crown.
But that was far from the case. Adam LaRoche has been just as bad as the man he replaced in Adam Dunn. Samardzija, after having a breakout season in 2014, has an ERA of nearly five, Cabrera didn’t start hitting till nearly July and the rest of the supporting cast around these guys the White Sox traded for simply were just not that good.
The White Sox did finally bring some validity to their bullpen, but if you only have two starters that are capable of giving the ball to your pen with a lead and an offense that has had one good hitter all season, that’s not usually a recipe for success.
It’s been a hard season to watch for the fans of the Detroit Tigers. Have been spoiled with four straight division titles, a World Series birth and two ALCS appearances, seeing the Tigers at 10 games under .500 brings back all too bad memories of 2008.
Coming into the season the Tigers looked like they had a legitimate chance to add a fifth straight division title to their resume. With a star-studded lineup that has Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez, near MVP Victor Martinez, Yoenis Cespedes, and a pitching staff with two former Cy Young winners heading it, the Tigers seemed like an obvious choice to continue their divisional dominance.
It all started to unravel quickly and early for the Tigers. Spring Training wasn’t even over when the Tigers were handed their first blow. Justin Verlander would be on the DL for the first time in his career to start the season. What originally looked like an injury that would cost Verlander a start, turned into two months of the season.
The Tigers got out to a fast start going 11-2 to start the year, then fell into a free fall of mediocrity. A lot of blame could be pasted around for the Tigers atrocious season. Brad Ausmus inexperience and inability of knowing when to take pitchers out or misuse of his bullpen. Dave Dombrowski yet again not adding any quality arms to a bullpen that got them swept out of the ALDS. Lack of starting pitching depth, not having Max Scherzer and being decimated by injuries. All these factors have been major contributors to the Tigers journey from first to worst.
So who is the biggest disappointment?
The Tigers. They were a star studded team that had the roster and the talent to win their fifth straight AL Central title. They’re finishing a year with a roster that saw most of it’s major talent traded at the trade deadline and now being lead by a new GM in Al Avila. Even though they came into 2015 with a team that has an aging core and a window to win that looked like it was starting to close at the end of 2014, to be 10 games under .500 with a team that featured as much talent as the Tigers is unfathomable.