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June American League Central Divison roundup

The Indians forgot how to lose, the Tigers and White Sox are treading water, and the Twins are trying their doggone best.

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

One month ago, the Royals were beginning to open up a small lead on their AL Central rivals after a couple of big series wins over the White Sox and Twins.

Things have changed.

The Royals were just under .500 for the month of June, and after coming into the month with a slight lead, that sort of performance would usually keep a team within at least striking distance of first. Usually.

Detroit and Chicago are still behind Kansas City in the division. They're doing the right thing — falling in line behind the leaders, conforming to the standards set for them, refusing to rock the boat. Good for them!

Cleveland didn't get the memo.

The Royals still have plenty of time to catch up with the rebellious Indians. We haven't even reached the halfway point of the season. But they'll need to get some help from literally any other team in the majors. Here is the list of games the Indians have lost to anyone other than Kansas City since June 9:

  • June 11 at Los Angeles

That's the list. And the Angels needed a walk-off hit in the ninth just to pull that off.

AL Central Standings, July 1
Cleveland Indians 48 30 -- .615 381 287 +94
Kansas City Royals 42 36 6.0 .538 318 330 -12
Detroit Tigers 41 38 7.5 .519 384 384 0
Chicago White Sox 40 39 8.5 .506 331 340 -9
Minnesota Twins 25 53 23.0 .321 317 429 -112

Cleveland Indians (48-30)

The Cleveland Indians have not lost a baseball game since the Cleveland Cavaliers won their first NBA championship. It's almost as if the other teams in Cleveland saw the Cavaliers win their championship and said to themselves, "Hey, that looked fun. Why don't we try that?" Place your bets now — Robert Griffin III is going to lead the Browns to the Super Bowl this year.

The Indians went 22-6 in June. They have won 13 games in a row. They have a six-game lead in the AL Central, but at times it can feel like sixty.

What's impressive about Cleveland isn't just that they've won 13 in a row. It's how they've done it:

Cleveland Indians' 13-game winning streak
June 17 CHW 3-2 June 24 @DET 7-5
June 18 CHW 13-2 June 25 @DET 6-0
June 19 CHW 3-2 June 26 @DET 9-3
June 20 TB 7-4 June 27 @ATL 8-3
June 21 TB 6-0 June 28 @ATL 5-3
June 22 TB 6-1 June 29 @ATL 3-0
June 23 OFF June 30 @TOR 4-1
  • Nine of the 13 wins have been by three runs or more
  • Prior to Tuesday's win against Atlanta, the Indians had scored six or more runs in seven straight games. (They only managed five in the Tuesday game.)
  • The Indians have given up more than three runs just twice on this streak.
  • No Indians starter has been charged with more than three earned runs at any point on this streak
  • Over the streak, their run differential has been +54, or +4.15 per game

The opponents faced over the streak haven't necessarily been playoff-caliber teams, but a 13-game win streak speaks for itself. This is a team that is firing on all cylinders.

The strongest part of the team is its starting rotation. Five of the team's six best players (by bWAR) are its five starters. The worst, Josh Tomlin (1.7 bWAR), has still been worth more than the Royals' best (Danny Duffy, 1.4).

Here's Carlos Carrasco, by some measures only the fourth-best starter in the Cleveland rotation, just last night:

That sort of rotation alone can get you close to a playoff spot. But the Indians also happen to have one of the better offenses in baseball. They're 7th in MLB in runs per game (4.88), led by Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis. Lonnie Chisenhall has heated up for Cleveland in June, and rookie Tyler Naquin has been a revelation at the plate since earning regular playing time. He's hitting .328/.390/.602 and will be a thorn in the Royals' paw for some time to come.

Possible All-Stars: Lindor is a lock. Any starting pitcher could reasonably make it, but Corey Kluber is probably the best bet, based on name recognition, with Danny Salazar close behind. IF/OF Jose Ramirez has cooled off some, but could still be a sleeper, because Ned Yost loves his utility players (see: Holt, Brock).

Injury report: LF Michael Brantley remains out indefinitely with a shoulder injury. C Roberto Perez isn't expected back from thumb surgery any time soon. OF Marlon Byrd is dealing with a nagging 162-game suspension, handed down at the beginning of June. OF Abraham Almonte will return from a suspension of his own on July 3.

Upcoming series against Kansas City: July 18-20 in Kansas City.

Read more at Let’s Go Tribe: Francisco Lindor is the truth

Detroit Tigers (41-38, 7.5 GB)

The Tigers would be doing great if they didn't have to play in the AL Central. In the past three weeks, the Tigers have gone 2-7 in games against their Central rivals and 8-1 against everyone else. They're 6-16 on the season against Central opponents not from Minnesota, and that's not a great recipe for winning the division.

But there's still too much talent on the Tigers' roster to rule them out of the division race. At the plate, Miguel Cabrera has been his usual excellent self, but he's gotten some help from some unexpected sources. Ian Kinsler has put together a better-than-average season, Nick Castellanos is having a career year at the plate, and Cameron Maybin has been on fire since his injury-delayed start to the season — as evidenced by this hit, which capped off an 8-run 9th-inning comeback for the Tigers last night.

The rotation is also a plus. Justin Verlander has been his usually solid self, and Jordan Zimmermann has been stellar in his first season with the Tigers. Rookie Michael Fulmer may be outperforming both of them. The rest of the rotation is patchwork, with Anibal Sanchez, Mike Pelfrey, Matt Boyd, Shane Greene and Daniel Norris filling in to varying degrees of mediocrity.

Expect the Tigers to lurk in the Central race until mid-to-late September, assuming the Indians come back to earth and the top of the division stays tight. If everything breaks their way, Detroit could still come out on top. But it seems like too much to ask for overperformers like Maybin to keep their hot pace, for Fulmer to pitch like an ace the rest of the year, and for the bullpen to pitch with any degree of competence.

Potential All-Stars: Cabrera has the best chance. Kinsler has an outside shot. On the mound, Fulmer is deserving, but Zimmermann may be more likely to make the team.

Injury report: OF J.D. Martinez is on the 15-day DL with an elbow injury. He could return by late July. Relievers Warwick Saupold and Drew VerHagen are also dealing with injuries that were presumably sustained time-traveling from the 1930s to shore up the Tigers' bullpen.

Upcoming series against Kansas City: July 15-17 in Detroit.

Read more at Bless You Boys: Tigers' Nick Castellanos has been good for a year now

Chicago White Sox (40-39, 8.5 GB)

June, like May, was a month to forget for the White Sox. A losing streak to start the month sent the struggling South Siders south of .500. They haven't been able to poke their heads above that mark since June 11.

When they have won, it hasn't been pretty. Their first June win by more than two runs came on the 26th. They promptly followed that up by getting shut out by the Twins.

What's gone wrong in Chicago? We know what the White Sox are capable of after their blistering-hot April. Like Cleveland, they have the talent to put together a huge run of wins. Unlike Cleveland, Chicago's cylinders are all out of sync. They have the look of a Jekyll-and-Hyde ball club.

Chris Sale and Jose Quintana are having dominant seasons! Don't look at the rest of the rotation. Adam Eaton is having an MVP-caliber year! Too bad offseason acquisitions Brett Lawrie and Austin Jackson haven't quite panned out. Todd Frazier has 23 home runs! He is a human Mendoza line.

The list goes on. I would be remiss if I didn't mention Chicago's acquisition of old friend James Shields, who... oh. Oh, no, James, no:

Recently, Shields has settled down after a few rough starts to start his White Sox tenure. The rest of the team needs to follow suit. If the White Sox can manage to piece things back together again, they still have a shot at the AL Central crown. But the team needs a spark, and fast.

Potential All-Stars: Eaton and Sale. Quintana was deserving, but a couple of rough starts and his now-5-8 record probably keep him out, despite some strong stats. Frazier still thinks he's in the home run derby, and it would be a lot of fun to watch him try to defend his title, but he doesn't have much of a case beyond that.

Injury report: Jackson will likely miss all of July with a meniscus tear in his right knee. Relievers Jake Petricka and Daniel Webb both will miss the rest of the year and it's possible that Zach Putnam will join them. Putnam is trying to return from an elbow injury while avoiding surgery.

Upcoming series against Kansas City: None until mid-August.

Read more at South Side Sox: Everything keeps coming back to Avisail Garcia

Minnesota Twins (25-53, 23.0 GB)

The Twins' 10-17 record in June is good for a .370 win percentage. It's also substantially better than their April and May win totals. Look out, world, the Twins are heating up!

At 23 games back, the Twins are already well out of the playoff race. There are numerous problems on this team spanning all aspects of the game — a severe dropoff from the overperforming Twins of 2015 and a massive disappointment for Twins fans looking for more progress from their young team.

We've all been where Twins fans are now, so let's try to cheer them up by looking for some bright spots in their season:

  • Brian Dozier has rebounded from his early-season struggles, hitting .364/.432/.707 in June.
  • Kurt Suzuki has also been red-hot this month
  • Eduardo Nunez has been a pleasant surprise and is only 29
  • They are the only AL Central team with a winning record against the Indians this season (!)
  • The second-best player on the team by bWAR is no longer Fernando Abad

This season is over for the Twins, but the future still looks bright. It'll get better, Minnesota. Probably. Just look at Cleveland!

Potential All-Stars: The token Twin will be Dozier or 1B Joe Mauer, depending on which position Yost needs to fill. Nunez could also be the Brock Holt pick.

Injury report: OF Miguel Sano is nearing a return from a hamstring injury. RP Trevor May could also return soon. SP Phil Hughes and RP Glen Perkins are both done for the year.

Upcoming series against Kansas City: None until mid-August.

Read more at Twinkie Town: Another possible source for Kurt Suzuki's resurgence