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Amazing Race: American League Central

The American League Central has already experienced ebbs and flows, and watching this playoff race play out should make for a wild ride all season. 

Less than a week ago, the the Kansas City Royals found it nearly impossible to score more than one run a game and had lost eight of ten games. Today, they lead the American League Central by a game and, at 33-23, have the best record in the league.

The Minnesota Twins were miserable in April and are 3-6 in June, yet could move into first with a win tonight and are 2.5 games up on everyone in the Wild Card race.

The Detroit Tigers have looked alternately dominant and pitiful at different times this year, but are in Wild Card position with Justin Verlander set to return to the rotation. The Indians and White Sox stay within sight of .500 and are not out of it yet.

Take into account what the Cardinals are doing to the National League, and it is safe to say baseball is best in the Midwest. The past few weeks have shown that with five teams in the AL Central ranging from solid to really good, it’s going to be tough for anyone to pull away and it’s shaping up to be an incredibly entertaining race.

SEP 19, 2014: Minnesota Twins right fielder Oswaldo Arcia (31) congratulates third baseman Trevor Plouffe (24) after his walk off single in the tenth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Target Field, Minneapolis, MN. The Minnesota Twins beat the Cleveland Indians 5-4 in ten innings.

Not a single team in the division is better than 5-5 in their last ten. All five teams have been through some fairly serious ups and downs already, yet have shown resilience; just as nobody is running away with it, none are going by the wayside either.

So who’s division is it to lose at this point? We are approaching mid-June, a point that hardly qualifies as early season. By now, there’s usually more indication that a team or two will take control. Other divisions are still competitive, but teams such as the Cardinals and Yankees have established themselves as favorites.

But if forced to predict the winner in the AL Central, it’s harder to guess. Kansas City is leading, but has hardly solved its offensive problems. Even with a current three-game winning streak, the Royals have scored two runs or fewer three times in their last five, including a shutout at the hands of the Rangers.

Kansas City beat the Twins 2-0 Wednesday to take back first place, but the starting pitching has hardly been consistent enough to count on getting combined one-hitters like the one Chris Young and the bullpen delivered too often. Yet speed and defense, two things the Royals have a lot of, can cover up a lot of those other problems.

April 6, 2014: Kansas City Royals celebrate as Kansas City Royals right fielder Alex Rios (15) crosses home plate after a home run during the MLB American League opening day game between the Chicago White Sox and the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Kansas.  The Royals defeated the White Sox 10-1

And what to think of Minnesota? At this point the Twins have really just had one extremely excellent month combined with mostly so-so baseball. As much as Ned Yost’s quick hook of Young and playoff-esque situational bullpen used showed how bad the Royals wanted to win last night, the Twins might be of a similar mindset tonight.

A sweep at the hands of Kansas City could reinforce the idea that Minnesota’s tremendous May was a fluke. The Twins played too well for too long and have more than enough talent for it to simply be luck.

But it’s hard to neglect the importance of division games against the other contenders, and Minnesota has been less than spectacular against Kansas City and Detroit, just 5-12 against them so far.

And doesn’t it seem as though those Tigers are just lurking in third-place, ready to pounce at any time? At 31-28, Detroit is 3.5 games back of Kansas City, which on the surface doesn’t look much different than most other teams in third.

12 April 2015:  Detroit Tigers First base Miguel Cabrera (24) [3277] is congratulated by Detroit Tigers Right field J.D. Martinez (28) [7876] after Cabrera hit his second home run of the game during the game between the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field in Cleveland, OH.

But this franchise has owned the Central for years and is about to bring back a Cy Young winning pitcher. David Price is still a dynamite starter and Miguel Cabrera is maybe the best player in the game. Would anybody really be surprised if Detroit surged back into first by the All-Star break or anytime after?

It seems quite likely the AL Central once again sends two teams to the playoffs and it might not be too early to start wondering if it could actually put three in the postseason.

Then the question becomes which two or three? It should be fun finding out.

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