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AL Central Division Outlook

   by Ben Burns - 07/03/2008

The AL East is a wide open race with the top two teams in American League. That’s the stuff that pennant race history is made of. The AL Central is even more of a logjam, but the teams aren’t so much sprinting to the finish line as much as they are bumping into each other. It’s a division which is home to two huge underachievers (Indians and Tigers) which has allowed the "other" teams a legitimate shot at the title.

White Sox: So what are we to make of Ozzie Guillen’s Sox? Are they for real? The Pale Hose are certainly not the prettiest team to watch, with a losing road record and suffering through losing skids of 6 in a row and losing 7 of 11.

But they have balance and pitching depth, two key ingredients for a pennant winning team. Chicago ranks third in the AL in runs scored and tops in pitching. John Danks has really stepped up, with a 2.50 ERA, along with Gavin Floyd (9-4, 3.45). They also appear to have that "mid-summer magic." Down this week with two outs against Cleveland Indians closer Joe Borowski, they got a dramatic two-out home run followed by a single, stolen base and game-winning hit proved him right in the Sox' 3-2 victory in 10 innings. Then they did it again: With the score tied in the 10th inning, catcher A.J. Pierzynski took a Masa Kobayashi offering just over the wall in left-center for a walk-off home run and a 6-5 victory over the fading Indians. It’s nice to be good, but it’s also better to be lucky. The scrappy White Sox appear ready for the long second half haul.

Twins: Here’s a young team few are really paying attention to. After trading away ace Johan Santana and having Francisco Liriano come up lame again, Minnesota’s season appeared dead in April. Yet, they have been a huge surprise, despite a pitching staff ranked 8th in the AL.

What they have is some decent young starters, a strong bullpen and a terrific offense, ranked 4th in runs scored. While Francisco Rodriguez is getting all the attention as he makes a run at the all-time save record for a season, how about what remarkable Joe Nathan is doing: 23 saves and a 1.30 ERA. Talk about a lights out stopper! Dennys Reyes, Jesse Crain and Matt Guerrier have been sensational in long relief. If you can’t get an early lead on these Twins, forget it. Oddly, the Twins score the same number of runs at home as on the road, but they are far better at home, starting 29-18.

Tigers: The team no one wants to play, the Tigers seem to be their own worst enemies at times. They just won 18 of 22 games to get back in the race, but that still got them to only .500. The offense is 6th overall, which is good, though they were expected to be a monster offensive team.

It’s the pitching and defense that have failed, both ranked second to last in the AL. Injuries have hurt them, with Miguel Cabrera hurting now, and they’ve battled injuries all over the pitching staff. The key will likely be Justin Verlander, who started slow but has been in a groove of late. Detroit is 3-1 his last four starts allowing 2 earned runs or less in all of them. Having an ace anchor the rotation has a domino effect, easing the workload on the pen and taking the pressure off everyone else to end losing skids.

Indians: Cleveland has been the biggest disappointment of the AL, going from the ALCS to last place. They are hard to figure, 7th in ERA with excellent starting pitching, and tops in team defense. The offense has been poor along with the bullpen.

July has already been a disaster, losing 5 in a row, including back to back one-run crushers to the White Sox. 'Frustrated,' said Grady Sizemore this week, when asked to describe the state of the Indians. 'This can change day to day, week to week. But we have a long way to go.'

'We're going to be meeting, we're going to be talking,' Indians' manager Eric Wedge said this week. 'We have a lot of things we have to work through right now.' The losing skid could prompt a fire sale, with C.C. Sabathia on the market. His presence could change the AL race, depending on where (if) he goes.

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