We all know who has owned sole possession of first place in the American League Central division since May 7: the Chicago White Sox.
Although that is the case, it is important to stay updated on our competition in the division, and just how each team is doing as we head into the month of June. The White Sox will face every AL Central team this month except for the Kansas City Royals, so looking in-depth at each of these teams should help get an idea of what the White Sox will be up against.
In order of first to last place as of June 1, here is a little bit about each ALC team, how they’re doing, and who or what to look out for.
The Chicago White Sox currently sit in first place, 3 1⁄2 games ahead of Cleveland. The team currently holds the second-best run differential in baseball (one behind San Diego), +80. At 33-21, the White Sox seem to be doing just fine, even after the injuries they have suffered this year. In May, the team went 19-10, despite the injury to Luis Robert, Adam Engel having a setback in his rehab stint, and Eloy Jiménez sidelined for his second full month after his spring training injury. The team has excelled in their starting pitching, as Carlos Rodón continues to dominate, Lucas Giolito is getting back on track, and Lance Lynn continues his Cy Young-like season.
Some players to watch out for in June are José Abreu and Liam Hendriks. It is a known fact that when the weather heats up, so does Abreu. The former AL MVP is leading all of baseball in RBIs with 46, and he also has 11 home runs. He was also named Player of the Week for the last week of May, for the sixth time in his career. Hendriks, who got off to a little bit of a shaky start, has proven his value as a pitcher in this organization. He currently leads the American League in saves at 13, while he has 36 strikeouts in just 22 innings. He has been nearly unhittable in the month of May, and will only continue to excel the rest of the season as he sees more and more time on the mound.
Cleveland has possession of second place in the division. The team was expected to be above average, but they have definitely excelled more than expected, with a record of 29-24. If there’s any team that the White Sox have struggled against in the division, it’s Cleveland, against whom they’ve split 10 games this season. Cleveland went 17-12 in May despite injuries to key players like Jordan Luplow, Zach Plesac, Franmil Reyes, and Roberto Pérez.
Some players that are currently excelling and to watch out for coming up are Shane Bieber and José Ramírez. Bieber leads the league in strikeouts with 110, and the former AL Cy Young winner has been an ace this year. With Plesac being out and the rest Cleveland’s starting rotation as question marks, Bieber provides consistency and quality every start. Ramírez is a name that White Sox fans seem to hear a lot, considering he continues to dominate offensively against the White Sox in what seems like every at-bat. He currently has 13 home runs and 30 RBIs, with an OPS of .870. He also provides a solid defense at third base that often gets overlooked by his offensive talents. The White Sox and Cleveland will go head-to-head to start the month of June, finishing off the final two games of their four-game set.
Don’t rule out the current third place team, the Kansas City Royals, who are six games back of the White Sox. The Royals got off to a hot, first-place start in April, but were slowed down in the month of May to drop them to third place. After going 15-9 in April, the team went on a terrible losing streak in May, losing 11 straight, and ended the month with a 11-17 record. Now at 26-26 overall, the .500 team is looking to stay in the division race.
One thing that the Royals need to focus on is having a consistent starting pitcher. Although there are some exciting rookies to watch for when it comes to pitching, like Brady Singer and Daniel Lynch, the team still lacks a true ace. The offensive talents of the Royals have helped the team out tremendously, as there are many guys that have been able to produce in a big way, like Carlos Santana and Salvador Peréz. Santana and Peréz both have 10 home runs, while Santana leads the team with 34 RBIs and Peréz follows right behind him with 33.
Some players to look out for coming up are Whit Merrifield and Andrew Benintendi. Merrifield currently leads the league in stolen bases at 15, and has filled his role as the leadoff man in the order. He also has 13 doubles this season, which is a team high. Benintendi, who was an important offseason acquisition for the Royals, is second on the team in hits with 51, and provides solid depth for the outfield. Kansas City has the third-best record in the American League since May 14, at 9-6, so who knows what they have in store for June.
The fourth place team in the American League Central is the Minnesota Twins, at 22-31. If you would have told me at the beginning of the season that the White Sox main competition in the division would be nine games below .500, I would have been shocked, as are many Twins fans themselves. The team sits 10 1⁄2 games back of the White Sox, which is a very hard hill to climb as we approach June.
What got the team to where they are? In April, Minnesota went 9-15, followed by 13-16 in May. Worse, injuries began to approach, adding to season-long struggles. Former White Sox closer Alex Colomé signed with the Twins in the offseason and was expecting to the closer; unfortunately for Minnesota, Colomé struggled highly in the beginning of the season and was temporarily relieved from the closer spot, but is trying to work his way back up to being a solid relief pitcher for the team. The Twins ace going into the season, Kenta Maeda, has underperformed so far, with a 2-2 record and 5.27 ERA. He is also currently suffering from a groin injury, and was recently placed on the 10-day IL. Byron Buxton, who started the year like a possible MVP candidate, has missed most of the month of May due to a hip injury. Other key players like Jake Cave, Max Kepler, and Trevor Larnach are currently suffering from injuries as well.
Two players to watch out for who display a large amount of offensive power and talent are Nelson Cruz and Miguel Sanó. Cruz leads the team with 10 home runs and 25 RBIs, as he continues to provide a solid spot at DH for the team. Sanó has been clutch in the month of May, and is right behind Cruz with nine home runs and 22 RBIs. He has provided a spark offensively that the Twins have needed, and is also a solid first baseman.
Lastly, at 22-32 and 11 games back, the young Detroit Tigers sit in last place. During the month of May, the Twins and Tigers have been back-and-forth when it comes to the last-place spot. The Tigers had a horrific month of April at 8-19, but have slightly redeemed themselves in May, going 14-13 and collecting just their third winning month in the last five seasons. They even recently swept the New York Yankees in New York for the first time since 2000, which got the league talking a bit. It’s no secret that Detroit has struggled the last few seasons, but the young talent is there for the Tigers.
Some players to watch are rookies Casey Mize and Akil Baddoo. On a team that does not have a very solid pitching rotation, Mize is a future star, and continues to improve day-by-day. He was selected as the No. 1 player overall in the 2018 draft by the Tigers, and currently holds a 3-3 record with a 3.28 ERA. He also has 47 strikeouts in 57 2⁄3 innings pitched, with a 1.11 WHIP. Baddoo made his MLB debut with the Tigers on April 4, and started off the season with a bang. He hit a home run on the first-ever pitch he saw in the major leagues, and the next day he hit a grand slam as well. Two days later, he recorded his first career walk-off hit. He currently has five home runs and is second on the team in RBIs with 20. It will be interesting to see the development of both of these young players as the season goes on and to see where the team finishes in the standings.
Now knowing a little bit more about where each team is at and what competition the White Sox have in the division, it’s time to enjoy another full month of baseball and see what June will bring for everybody!