Over the last few months, the AL Central has gone from a four-horse race to a one-horse race to, now, a two-horse race. It was the Royals' division to lose, and then they lost it, so it became the Indians' division to lose. It's still the Indians' division to lose, but the Tigers are trying their best to wrestle it away from them.
Curiously, the two teams have had opposite fates since the trade deadline. It's only been a week, but the Indians — one of the most active teams at the deadline — have gone 2-5. The Tigers, who were relatively silent at the deadline, have gone 4-2. That's in addition to a six-game winning streak immediately prior to the deadline. It wasn't enough to convince GM Al Avila to go all-in, but it's entirely possible that a team that was quiet at the deadline could still go on to win the division.
Unfortunately, it probably won't be the Royals.
|AL Central Standings, August 8|
|Kansas City Royals||53||58||10.0||.477||426||487||-61|
|Chicago White Sox||53||58||10.0||.477||442||486||-44|
Cleveland Indians (62-47)
The Indians were blazing-hot in June, recording a win percentage of .786. They've been below .500 since then but have maintained control of the division. The difference thus far has been their 11-1 record over the Tigers. Detroit will get two more shots at Cleveland, with series in mid and late September. If the pattern holds, Tigers fans could point to that record as the thing that cost them their season.
Corey Kluber has remained Corey Kluber, and the rest of the rotation is still good, but it hasn't been nearly as dominant as it was in the first half of the season. Danny Salazar, the Tribe's best starter behind Kluber, is on the DL with elbow inflammation.
Rookie center fielder Tyler Naquin has shown no signs of slowing down and should be in the conversation for rookie of the year. He's hitting .324/.391/.614 with 13 home runs. But he'll have some stiff competition within the division — more on that later.
Trade deadline moves:
- Received RP Andrew Miller from the Yankees in exchange for four prospects: RHP J.P. Feyereisen, OF Clint Frazier, RHP Ben Heller, LHP Justus Sheffield.
- Received OF Brandon Guyer from the Rays in exchange for two prospects: OF Nathan Lukes and RHP Jhonleider Salinas.
Received C Jonathan Lucroy .Or they would've, but Lucroy rejected the trade.
As expected, the Indians were buyers at the trade deadline. They spent two first round picks (Frazier and Sheffield) to get Miller, but Miller is one of the best relievers in the game and should be a tremendous asset for them in October. Guyer adds depth to the lineup and gave Cleveland an excuse to part ways with the struggling third baseman Juan Uribe. Swiss Army knife Jose Ramirez has covered third base while Guyer plays left field. Jonathan Lucroy would've been a huge addition for the Indians, as Yan Gomes, now mercifully on the DL, had put up anemic offensive stats.
Injury report: Salazar could resume throwing soon and may be back in about two weeks. Gomes separated his shoulder in mid-July and was expected to miss one to two months. Relievers Jeff Manship, Tommy Hunter, and Joseph Colon should return soon from various maladies. It sure would be nice if OF Michael Brantley could return this season, wouldn't it, Indians fans? He hopes to return by the end of the year from a shoulder injury.
Upcoming series against Kansas City: None until late September.
Read more: The Cleveland Indians have an opportunity to kill the closer role
Detroit Tigers (61-50, 2.0 GB)
The Tigers hovered about 6.5 games back for most of July. Turns out they were just waiting to make their move. A well-timed winning streak — against some very good teams at Boston and vs. Houston — has moved them to just two games behind the Indians and positioned the two teams for a pair of pivotal series at the end of September.
Rookie starter Michael Fulmer is now firmly entrenched in the rotation and in the rookie of the year race. The Tigers haven't lost one of his starts since a June 17 outing against, you guessed it, the Kansas City Royals. He has a 9-2 record with a 2.42 ERA in 17 starts, with 88 Ks and 31 walks. He'll pitch tonight in Seattle against Hisashi Iwakuma, if you'd rather watch baseball than the Olympics on the Royals' off day.
In the lineup, Cameron Maybin continues to have the best season of his career, but he's currently dealing with a thumb injury. The Tigers are a good hitting team, as usual, but their options drop off a bit when they have to go to their bench. The first test comes now, with third baseman Nick Castellanos heading to the DL with a broken hand. They may regret not trading for a depth bat at the deadline.
Trade deadline moves:
But they signed pitcher Cesar Ramos, he of the 6.04 ERA and 6.60 FIP, last week, and that's almost as exciting as making a big, flashy trade, right, Tigers fans? Hovering six or seven games back for most of July, it makes sense that the Tigers didn't make any moves at the deadline. They weren't convinced they were good enough to mortgage their future and become buyers. But selling would've prevented the kind of run like this one that has brought them back into contention. They'll have to forge ahead with what they have, unless Avila can make a shrewd trade via waivers.
Injury report: Castellanos broke his hand Saturday and will miss one to two months. SP Jordan Zimmermann also went on the DL Saturday with a strained lat, but the Tigers hope he'll only miss the minimum 15 days. SP Mike Pelfrey has a bad back, but Tigers fans probably aren't too upset over his absence.
Upcoming series against Kansas City: August 15-17 in Detroit.
Read more on Bless You Boys: With Indians' rotation struggling, the Tigers picked the right time to get hot
Chicago White Sox (53-58, 10.0 GB)
The White Sox had a frustrating July, going 11-15 on the month and sliding to ten games back in the division. They still had a better month than the Royals, with whom they are now tied in the division.
You could talk about the White Sox's uninspiring lineup, adventurous defense, or its lack of starting pitching behind Chris Sale and Jose Quintana, but let's be honest: All anyone will remember from their July is those jerseys.
Not a joke: Source says Sale blowup was because he didn't want to wear throwbacks, so he cut the jerseys up so no one could wear them.— Tommy Stokke (@StokkeTommy) July 23, 2016
Sources say: Sale cut up throwbacks during batting practice. Upset that, in his view, PR and jersey sales were more important than winning.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) July 24, 2016
Finally, told Sale used a knife to do whatever cutting he did of uniforms. Which really shouldn't add to the story but somehow does.— Julie DiCaro (@JulieDiCaro) July 24, 2016
Yes, Chris Sale, the ace of the White Sox staff and a perennial Cy Young candidate, earned himself a five-day suspension because he didn't like the team's throwback uniforms. (They can't have been worse than the time the Sox wore shorts.) Add this to the awkward Adam LaRoche fiasco at the beginning of the year, and whether Chicago fans like it or not, this season will be remembered more for what happened off the field than what happened on it.
Trade deadline moves:
- Traded RP Zach Duke to the Cardinals for OF Charlie Tilson, who made his major league debut on August 2 with the Sox.
In 2016 with the Sox, Duke had appeared in more games (53) than any other reliever in baseball. He was excellent in those appearances, and allowed the White Sox to flip a 33-year-old reliever for a young fourth-outfielder prospect. They could've done worse.
Injury report: ... and Tilson's already broken. He tore his hamstring in his debut and he's out for the year. Unlike the Marlins and Colin Rea, the White Sox are keeping Tilson. OF Austin Jackson still has a few weeks left before he'll return from a knee injury. 2B and Royals fan favorite Brett Lawrie has both problems — hamstring and knee issues. He's on the 15-day DL. C Alex Avila will miss most or all of August with a hamstring injury.
Upcoming series against Kansas City: August 9-11 in Kansas City.
Read more on South Side Sox: Standing pat at the trade deadline was OK
Minnesota Twins (45-66, 18.0 GB)
The Royals are now closer to last place (8 games) than first (10 games), and the Twins are doing everything they can to scrabble their way out of the hole they've dug in the cellar. They enjoyed their first winning month in July, taking 15 of 26 games. They've stayed hot over the first few games of August as well.
Leading the charge has been rookie right fielder Max Kepler. Since the All-Star break, Kepler has hit .286/.382/.636 with seven home runs. But he had his coming-out party on August 1 against Cleveland, when he hit three dingers and drove in six in a 12-5 romp over the division leaders. Minnesota remains the only AL Central team with a winning record over Cleveland this year.
Between Kepler and Sano, the Twins have some young players with some pop. Add Brian Dozier into the mix, and get Byron Buxton and Byung-ho Park on track, and the Twins have the start of a formidable lineup. They'll also need to shore up their pitching behind Ervin Santana before they can begin to contend. But the core of the team is beginning to fall into place, and you don't even really need to squint all that much to see it anymore.
Trade deadline moves:
- Traded IF Eduardo Nunez to the Giants for LHP prospect Adalberto Mejia
- Traded reliever Fernando Abad to the Red Sox for rookie RHP Pat Light
- Traded rookie RHP Alex Meyer and starter Ricky Nolasco to the Angels for LHP prospect Alan Busenitz and starter Hector Santiago
Unsurprisingly, the Twins were sellers at the deadline. They flipped Nunez's all-star season for Mejia, who was one of the Giants' top pitching prospects and should be close to starting in the majors. Pat Light was a former first-round pick, but struggled in two appearances with the Red Sox this year. The Nolasco-Santiago trade flips two starters who have struggled this year, and allows the Twins to get out of a bad contract.
Injury report: Mercifully, the Twins are healthy. Only SP Phil Hughes and RP Glen Perkins are injured, and both are done for the year. But Hughes had struggled before his injury, and Perkins never would've pitched much anyway, because the Twins haven't had a need for a closer all year.
Upcoming series against Kansas City: August 12-14 in Minnesota, August 18-21 in Kansas City.
Read more on Twinkie Town: Grading the Twins' deadline moves