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First half American League Central analysis

As the race gets tighter, who will come out victorious in the end?

92nd MLB All-Star Game presented by Mastercard
Two of the best in the Central team up for the All-Star Game, division rivals Tim Anderson and Byron Buxton.
Daniel Shirey/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Before the White Sox return to action tonight, let’s take a look at each team in the division so far.

Minnesota Twins

The current division leaders (50-44) came out this year with many people thinking the team would repeat 2021 and the division would be an easy win for the White Sox. Props to Minnesota for putting up a fight and performing well in the first half.

The team went out in the offseason and got one of the best shortstops in the game, Carlos Correa, even though he has underperformed a bit. They have the continued emergence of young stars like Luis Arráez and Byron Buxton, and rookies like José Miranda in their lineup.

Although Minnesota doesn’t have the best pitching staff, they have found consistent starters, and their offense has been what has made them stand in first place. Unfortunately for the Twins, they have been lacking as of recently, and it doesn’t help that they have two other teams sneaking up behind them in the division. Not to mention, their schedule significantly intensifies in the second half. Not to say things are slipping away for them as of right now, but it’s not as pretty as it was at the beginning of the season. They lost seven of their last 10 games going into the All-Star break, including dropping three of four at their home field to the White Sox. The main problem is their bullpen, so expect relief pitching to be Minnesota’s focus at the trade deadline.

MVPs: Arráez and Buxton

Arráez has been one of the best leadoff hitters in the game, and is an absolute hit machine with 104, ranking eighth in the league. He has a .338 batting average, leading the league. He also has the second-best OBP in the league at .411. He doesn’t strike out that much, and is not someone you want up with RISP. He is the ignitor of their offense.

Buxton is one of the greatest players in the game offensively and defensively — when healthy. Although he’s on one of our rival teams, it’s hard to hate the guy. He was voted to start the All-Star Game in center field, and has been able to stay healthy for the most part this year. Because of that, he has 23 home runs (eighth in the league), a .531 SLG % (ninth in the league), and provides great speed and consistent impressive plays in the field.

Cleveland Guardians

No matter what their record is, this is a team that has given the White Sox problems for years, and that hasn’t changed this season. Overall, the Guardians have been solid, but streaky this year. Their 46-44 record has them two games out of first place in the division, and definitely makes them a threat moving forward. When you have big-name stars like José Ramírez and Emmanuel Clase mixed with emerging great players like Triston McKenzie and Josh Naylor, that’s a pretty solid floor. This is an above-average team, but not necessarily a playoff team as of right now. Sure, we’ve had our fair share of bad performances against them especially this year (I won’t bring up the game you’re all thinking about), but against other teams Cleveland does not distinguish itself. Besides their few stars, the Guardians are still lacking in.

MVPs: Ramírez and Clase

Ramírez has always given us problems, but he’s also just a great player. He was named to the All-Star roster this year after signing a big extension with the team in the offseason. Yay, we get to face him for the next seven years! In all seriousness, he continues to destroy pitchers. He has 75 RBIs, leading the American League, a .576 SLG % (sixth in the league), and a .944 OPS, (sixth in the league as well).

Clase is someone you never want to face. It’s as simple as that, really. The young star was also selected to the All-Star Game, where he struck out the side with some heat to end the game. In fact, that’s what he has been doing all year. Clase has some of the best velocity in the game, and easily reaches triple-digits with his heat. He is 19-of-21 in save opportunities, and has only allowed two home runs all season. He has 41 strikeouts in 38 ⅓ innings pitched.

Chicago White Sox

Now, we all know this hasn’t been the most enjoyable first half for the White Sox. The good news is, things are looking up.

The year started with injuries, lacking offense, wasted opportunities, some questionable managerial decisions, and overall just bad games played by the team. Luckily, Chicago ended the first half of the season on a high note. After taking the last two games in Cleveland, the season basically sat in the hands of the recent series with the Twins. The South Siders could have either been as far back as nine games from first, or as close as two. We as fans got one of the best possible outcomes, taking three of four at Target Field, with very good pitching and an offensive explosion. The energy seemed present, the clubhouse was having fun, and it finally started to look like what we had been longing for all season. The White Sox went into the break at 46-46.

This team is going to break out in the second half, and still win the Central. Yasmani Grandal is set to return, and Luis Robert and Eloy Jiménez will be back in the lineup, putting them at full strength. The potential is simply just too high, plus Chicago has one of the easiest schedules remaining. And even in a disappointing first half, we saw the White Sox take series wins against great teams like the New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, and San Francisco Giants.

MVPs: José Abreu, Dylan Cease, and Johnny Cueto

Abreu started off the season like he usually does: Cold, like the weather. Though we know this is how it goes every year, people were still in a panic, wanting to trade him. Abreu is one of the best players on the team and an amazing leader. He has stayed healthy consistently, and currently has a .304 average with 11 home runs and 46 RBIs. His OPS is at .857, and he has been on base 101 times since May 22, leading the league. Abreu’s strikeout rate is down, his plate discipline has been great — and he deserves another playoff season.

Cease has been developing at a steady rate over the last few years, but this has been his breakout year. Just like Abreu, Cease was snubbed of an All-Star appearance, but hey, this break just gives them more time to rest. Cease leads MLB with 150 strikeouts and hasn’t allowed more than one earned run in a start since May 24. He has a 2.15 ERA, ranking third in the American League, and a 9-4 record. He has also stayed healthy and should be very fun to watch in the second half of the season. Watch out for the Cy Young at the end of the year.

If you would have told me at the beginning of the year that signing Cueto would turn out to be one of the best steals we’ve had in a while, I would be very surprised. Initially, Cueto started in Triple-A as rotation insurance. Fans knew Cueto was going to be solid, but he has been a spark for this team. Since being brought up, he has the second-lowest ERA in the rotation behind Cease, at 2.80. Cueto provides quality starts, experienced veteran leadership, and is just a good guy to have around. He is consistently throwing a high amount of pitches and innings, and knows how to bounce back if he doesn’t have the best start. As long as Cueto continues what he’s doing, the pitching staff should be just fine.

Detroit Tigers

Arguably, the Tigers have been more disappointing than the White Sox. They are a rebuilding team, with great young talent, but have also dealt with injuries. Austin Meadows has missed significant time, and former No. 1 pick Casey Mize recently had Tommy John surgery, sidelining him for the year. Javier Báez was a good signing for them in the offseason, and 2020 No. 1 pick Spencer Torkelson started the season in the majors. The problem for Detroit seems to be star power. Miguel Cabrera is one of the most well-respected players in the game and is a future Hall-of-Famer, but it’s up the younger guys now to take control. Detroit’s bullpen has been surprisingly solid, and the team should be a problem in upcoming years, but for now their 38-55 record sits them deep in fourth place in the division.

MVPs: Tarik Skubal and Gregory Soto

Skubal has been great. The young lefty has been one of the most reliable starters on the team, and each outing gets better. He leads the team with 106 ⅔ innings pitched, and has a 3.88 ERA. He also leads the team in strikeouts, with 111.

Soto made the All-Star team this year, and the closer is in the Top 10 in the league in saves with 18. He is another hard-throwing lefthander, and is a big part of the reason the Detroit bullpen is as good as it is. He has 32 strikeouts in 31 ⅓ innings pitched, and a 2.59 ERA and just one home run all season. The main issue of his in the past has been control and getting himself into jams late into the game, but Soto is shaping up to be someone you really don’t want to face in the ninth inning.

Kansas City Royals

The Royals haven’t had much excitement this year, as they stand at the bottom of the American League Central, at 36-56. Aside from making embarrassing recent headlines (10 unvaccinated players were ineligible to play in Toronto), they haven’t been talked about much this year. Going into the season it was exciting that Bobby Witt Jr. was starting out on the roster and Zack Greinke was signed to return to the team for the first time since his early days. Salvador Pérez, Whit Merrifield, and Andrew Benintendi are great players, but it hasn’t been enough for the team to break out. Their pitching is horrendous, and it is likely that some of the top Royals will be traded at the deadline.

MVPs: Witt and Benintendi

Witt came into the season with high hopes, and has been great so far in his rookie year. Sure, young players go through slumps, but the former No. 2 overall pick has shown his potential so far. He has played in 88 games and leads the team in runs, triples, home runs, RBIs, stolen bases, and is tied for the lead in doubles. His production so far has been amazing, and he is projected to only get better. I’m sure all Royals fans can collectively agree that this guy is the future.

Benintendi might not be a part of that future and may be traded while his stock is high. He leads the team with 102 hits, and represented the Royals at the All-Star Game. He also has a .317 average in 87 games played.

Well, there you have it. Your 2022 American League Central Division, thus far. It may not be exactly how we planned at the beginning of the season, but now the second half begins and each game becomes more and more important. May the best team come out victorious.