We all knew coming into the season that the AL Central was going to be one tough division. Last year the Tigers roared to an incredible start and were able to hold on to first place up until the very last day of the season when the Twinkies, surging as they always do, took over the AL Central crown.
Meanwhile, though they won 90 games, the White Sox saw themselves as not quite up to task with their division rivals, finishing third.
Well, the difference this year is that after one month of play, the contending teams in the toughest division in baseball have put out a collective press release announcing that they’ll be here all year long, thank you very much, and it’s up to the rest (read, White Sox) of the division to keep up.
As of April 30, the ChiSox were fourth but only 2.5 games behind division-leading Cleveland, and 1.5 games behind Detroit and Minnesota.
After last night’s 5-2 loss to the Mariners, the ChiSox are 3.5 games behind first.
“It’s Appprrillll,” my brother would say.
It’s actually May, and this is the AL Central. If we’re going to learn anything from last year’s experience, the ChiSox, the last team from said division to win the World Series, matched the Tiger’s hand up until the All-Star break.
If they can’t keep up with two other excellent clubs, in April, then forget it.
It’s actually surprising the Sox have a .500 record. Their offense ranks second to last in runs scored in the AL, third to last in RBI, fourth to last in OBP, second to last in Extra Base Hits, and dead last in Team BA with runners in scoring position.
Of the only three players who’re hitting above .250, two, Thome (.340) and Podsednik (.303) are on the DL. The other, Darin Erstad, is hitting eight grams over .250.
In fact, the only reason los Medias Blancas are where they are is the long ball. They’re tied for second with four other clubs and only two dingers behind Tampa Bay (?).
The bats will get hotter, you say?
Center fielder Darin Erstad has a glass-half-full view of the White Sox’ April hitting struggles.
”Survival,” he said of the team’s 12-11 record in April despite having the lowest team batting average (.229) in baseball. ”We could have done better, but we didn’t dig ourselves too big a hole. It’ll turn around.
”There’s no question the hitting will come around. Every team goes through it. It happens to be the first month for us. It’s just the way the game works. One thing about being down early, there are good things to come.”
”It’s good because it will make us stingier,” Cooper said. ”Everyone knows the reality of it. But this is not unlike 2005 [when the Sox ranked 11th in the 14-team American League in batting and first in team ERA]. All we can control as pitchers is the ball in our hands.”
”Unfortunately, it’s happened this month that we’re not hitting the ball well as a group, but we’ve been winning games because of clutch hitting and doing the little things,” Guillen said. ”When you’re not hitting well, it’s the pitchers’ jobs to pick it up a notch and try to keep us in the game.
”The pitching staff has to remember we’ve come back in a lot of games. We’ve been down 4-0 in the first inning and come back to win the game. It’s a team game. One hand helps the other. Same way when we’re not pitching — we have to pick up the hitting.”
”I looked at the schedule for the first month and thought, ‘This is going to be a tough one,”’ Guillen said. ”We haven’t been hitting. When we start hitting, we should be better.
“I definitely think it’s the best division in baseball from what I’ve seen,” Mike Redmond said.
It hasn’t been an easy road for the Twins in the AL Central so far as the team is 5-7 against their division opponents while 9-4 when facing other AL teams. That isn’t a surprise though, as the belief all along has been that this will be a division that’s going to be a dogfight until the end.
After the first month of the season, the logjam at the top of the AL Central division has the top four teams separated by a total of just 2 1/2 games. Yes, it’s still early but knowing the type of talent that each club brings to the table makes it seem like the fun is just starting.
“Every team is loaded,” Johan Santana said of the division. “They can pitch, they can hit and do the little things. It’s going to be very interesting to see what happens and at the end of the season where each team is going to be. Whoever takes advantage early in the season and does everything they are supposed to do is going to have a good chance to be in the playoffs.”
Is that Travis Hafner and the Indians pulling away at the top?