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AL Central roundup: Top four teams clash this weekend

White Sox seek their second straight series win against a divisional opponent in Cleveland while Tigers and Royals lock horns

Ed Zurga/Getty Images

The White Sox needed to win a series in general, but they doubled their pleasure by finally breaking through against a divisional opponent. By taking two of three against the Tigers, the Sox are now 12-15 against the Central, which only seems not-terrible until you realize it's 6-15 against divisional opponents who aren't the Twins.

Improvement has to start somewhere, and at least the Sox tightened up the standings in the process. They're still in fourth place, but they're only 2½ games out from first, with a chance -- not a good one, but still -- of erasing their deficit with the first-place Indians by the end of the weekend.

That doesn't mean they'd be in first place themselves, though, because Chicago-Cleveland isn't the only fight in this bar. The Tigers and Royals are also going at it, starting Thursday with Detroit cooling off Kansas City with a 10-4 clobbering. The Royals had won five straight -- two winners against the Sox followed by a sweep of the Indians.

But while the Tigers won the game, they lost the services of one of their best hitters for several weeks. Let's start with them.

Detroit Tigers

*Victor Martinez was relegated to pinch-hitting duties against the White Sox due to a sore right knee, leaving the Royals to face his wrath. All he did was hit three homers on Thursday night, which was part of a six-homer assault against Danny Duffy and Luke Hochevar.

*While that Martinez is now healthy, J.D. Martinez is going to be on the DL for a while. He broke a bone in his right elbow chasing a ball in right field, and he's expected to be out four to six weeks.

Cleveland Indians

*The Indians return home after a painful sweep at Kauffman Stadium, and were idle on Thursday like the Sox. They needed the day off, what with a stretch of 20 straight games that included a West Coast swing.

*I knew Yan Gomes was bad this year, but I didn't realize how bad. He's hitting .167/.204/.339, and the Indians' best internal option (Roberto Perez) has been on the 60-day DL, so they're one of the teams that could swing a trade for Jonathan Lucroy based on need and prospect stock.

*Be on the lookout for Bryan Shaw this weekend. He's been rough all year -- the White Sox gave him a 27.00 ERA at the start of the season -- but he's had three consecutive miserable outings in setup-man situations. Terry Francona has been slow to react, as Shaw is still second on the team in leverage index.

Kansas City Royals

*The Royals joined the White Sox in jettisoning their dead weight, cutting Omar Infante and the $13 million or so remaining on his deal. He hit just .238/.269/.328 while often injured for the Royals over his 2½ seasons, but he did hit a World Series homer for them.

*With Infante out, ESPN's Alex Cora tweeted that the Royals were looking at Jose Reyes as a possible replacement, but it's unknown how serious that idea is. The Royals are rolling with a Christian Colon/Whit Merrifield combo right now. The Rockies just DFA'd Reyes after his 51-game suspension for a domestic violence charge ended, and his skills are declining in a way Aroldis Chapman's aren't, so he's going to be an unpopular addition wherever he goes (that's one side benefit of Tim Anderson's hot start).

Minnesota Twins

*The hits keep coming for the Twins, as Glen Perkins is out for the year with a torn labrum, which is one of those career-jeopardizing injuries. They lost their closer in the same week a line drive broke Phil Hughes' femur.

*The nature of Perkins' injury brings to end speculation that he had an injury he could've gutted through. The Minnesota media is rather toxic in this regard, and has been for quite some time. This one about Perkins and Hughes is the latest example:

You didn’t have to work hard to hear complaints about both of them in the Twins clubhouse and throughout the organization. There were times a player would talk about teammates willingly playing hurt while glaring across the clubhouse at Perkins. [...]

Criticizing injured players is risky. We could find out in the near future that either Perkins or Hughes are damaged more than we or even they realized.

The facts, though, have created bad optics. Both signed long-term deals for truckloads of guaranteed dollars. Both were out of shape last spring. Both have suffered injuries and career downturns after signing their long-term deals, without requiring surgery.

("Optics" and "bad look" are terms I've eliminated from my vernacular.)

The trivialization of injuries is a remnant from the Ron Gardenhire era, as his teams had an awful track record with curiously long DL stints and hidden sniping through the media. This might be the biggest reason -- among many -- why Gardenhire hasn't found another managerial job. His teams lost 90+ games in each of his last four seasons, and mismanaged injuries contributed to the absence of talent on the field.

This aspect of managing is why Robin Ventura is not history's greatest monster. Replacing him with Gardenhire would be a major step backward, although you'd think that Ventura being the only Sox manager with a winning record against Gardenhire would be enough to cool the enthusiasm.