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White Sox, Royals distance themselves in AL Central

Cleveland, Detroit, and Minnesota have major issues they need to overcome, or they will continue to lose ground.

Carlos Carrasco suffers a hamstring injury that will keep him on the DL til June.
Carlos Carrasco suffers a hamstring injury that will keep him on the DL til June.
Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

April has been a very exciting month for the Chicago White Sox. The fast start looks even better when noticing how their AL Central counterparts are struggling, with big-ticket free agents slumping, core players underperforming, prospects overmatched, and a manager is already sitting on the hot seat. If the 15-6 record wasn’t enough to get Sox fans pumped, the outlook gets better when scouting the rest of the division.

Kansas City Royals

The defending world champions are not struggling by any means. Kansas City has the second-best record in the AL. Mike Moustakas leads the team with six home runs, Eric Hosmer is hitting .315/.367/.479, and Salvador Perez leads the team with 14 RBIs. The only issue offensively is that Lorenzo Cain is off to a very slow start. Batting .200/.291/.286 with 21 strikeouts to just nine walks, Cain is having one of his worst months as a pro.

Starting pitching has been strong when the trio of Edinson Volquez/Yordano Ventura/Ian Kennedy are on the mound. All boast a sub-3.00 ERA and a combined record of 7-2. However, the back end of Kris Medlen and Chris Young is a mess. In 15 innings, Medlen has a 6.00 ERA with 13 strikeouts to 11 walks. Young,  who was very dependable for the Royals in 2015, has been hurt by the long ball. He leads the team with four homers allowed in just 24 innings. His ERA is 6.41.

Offseason acquisition Joakim Soria was brought in as the eighth-inning guy. He's pitched in 10 games, but he's yet to get settled, with a 7.00 ERA over nine innings, with 11 hits and two home runs allowed. If there is finally a weak link in the Royals bullpen, it’s Soria.

Cleveland Indians

Good news for the Indians: Michael Brantley is back.

Bad news for the Indians: Carlos Carrasco is out four to six weeks with a hamstring injury.

Even though the projection models still have Cleveland favorite to win the division, the odds are stacking against them. Corey Kluber has started slow with a 1-3 record and a 4.67 ERA. Josh Tomlin has pitched well in limited action (2-0, 1.54 ERA in 11⅔ IP) and Danny Salazar is second on the team in strikeouts with 26 (although he also has the commanding lead in walks with 13). Then there is Cody Anderson, who has 7.64 ERA in four starts. The Indians were supposed to have a better pitching staff than Chicago's, and they are nowhere near that mark. Trevor Bauer will get the first opportunity to fill in for Carrasco’s void.

Offensively, the Indians are faring much better than anticipated without Brantley. Francisco Lindor is hitting .294/.372/.382 and his double play partner, Jason Kipnis, is batting at a clip of .282/.329/.423. They are averaging 4.38 runs per game, which is best in the division. Four and a half games behind Chicago, it’ll have to be the offense that carries the team until Kluber regains form and Carrasco returns.

Detroit Tigers

If the White Sox had the start that the Tigers are going through, Robin Ventura's seat would be quite warm. For Brad Ausmus, it’s scorching. Fox Sports Ken Rosenthal wrote on Tuesday that the problems for Detroit are much deeper than Ausmus. While that is true, with a team payroll of more than $200 million dollars and an impatient owner who wants to win now, Ausmus does not have the luxury of a slow start.

While losing 7 of their last 10, a very noticeable issue is the starting staff. Outside of Jordan Zimmermann, who very well could be AL Pitcher of the Month (4-0, 0.35 ERA), the Tigers' starting staff ERA is 5.84. Justin Verlander has already given up 5 homers. Anibal Sanchez is giving up a touchdown plus the extra point per outing (7.00 ERA), and Mike Pelfrey has K/BB ratio of 0.75. That’s combined with a very shaky bullpen. Detroit should consider themselves lucky to be 9-10 because if the pitching doesn’t turn around, they are destined for another 85+ loss season.

Then Tyler Collins happened. After flipping off the fans, Major League Baseball decided not to suspend Collins for the act, but it’s a sure-fire way for a bench player to burn bridges with fans.

Minnesota Twins

After the worst start in franchise history at 0-9, the Twins showed life by winning seven of their past 12. The injury bug has bit them as pitchers Ervin Santana and Kyle Gibson were sent to the 15-day DL, whici opens an opportunity for their top pitching prospect, Jose Berrios. According to MLB Pipeline, Berrios' mid-90’s fastball grades out at 60 with the same grade for his curveball that's considered to be his out pitch. Many in baseball believe that Berrios is the best pitching prospect the Twins have had since Johan Santana, and he could make his debut as early as Wednesday.

Earlier this week, uber prospects Byron Buxton and Max Kepler were sent down to Triple-A. Buxton was hitting .156/.208/.289 with 24 strikeouts just two walks. Kepler appeared in nine games but only recorded 12 at-bats, so he needs the plate appearances to develop and meet his lofty expectations.