It's just about the midway point in baseball's marathon season and it's time to reflect on the first 80 or so games of 2014 and cast some predictions for how the rest will shape up.
I'll publish two articles on each of the last four days of June that will round out every division in baseball as well as the MVP and Cy Young races in either league. Today, one of the divisions I'll look at is the American League Central.
Here's how they will finish..
1) Detroit Tigers
The Tigers have owned the AL Central since 2011 and, although it's slowing, I don't think their reign comes to an end this year.
There are some questions, though. Will Justin Verlander become the Cy Young we have come to know over the last several seasons? And will Max Scherzer return to his 2013 form? Anibal Sanchez very well may be the ace of the staff at this very moment, which isn't a bad thing. But without Doug Fister, the Tigers need their two projected aces at the top to be better. What I like about both is that they're big and durable. And that bodes well down the stretch.
Offensively, I'm a big believer in JD Martinez. Not that I was there calling this type of season from the start, but I'm a believer in his sustainability. He's always had the raw tools and now he has the mentality and technique to match. And it's a good thing he's been there for a Tigers team that has needed all the production it can get from him.
There's too much firepower in Detroit to not think the 3.5 game lead entering Saturday holds up in a relatively weak division.
2) Kansas City Royals
This is clearly the best team to challenge Detroit at this point. I really like how Cleveland is playing after the horrendous start following a season where it overachieved nearly all year. Kansas City has the pitching to compete with Detroit - especially in the bullpen, where it completely overmatches the Tigers.
But Ned Yost needs another bat to play around with in their lineup. And preferably an infielder. It doesn't have to be (nor will it likely to be) a big splash, but a formidable position player would do wonders for a thin KC lineup.
3) Cleveland Indians
Ultimately, the race between Kansas City and Cleveland could turn out to be the best in the American League down the stretch. I expect both to compete for that second wildcard spot, but I think Kansas City wins out (at least against Cleveland). But if Danny Salazar and/or Justin Masterson figure things out for the Indians, they could quickly gain steam in the AL playoff picture.
4) Chicago White Sox
The Sox and Twins will fade into relative irrelevance. I think Minnesota is in the better spot, overall. But Chicago is a little more ready to win now over the second half grind. Jose Abreu is a star (obviously).
5) Minnesota Twins
From Danny Santana to Oswaldo Arcia, the Twins have young talent up at the Major League level now, with even better prospects coming. I expect the young ones to hit a bit of a wall in August, but the future is bright in the Twin Cities.