With around 2 weeks left in the season, only two divisions have a deficit of three games or less separating them from a competitor, and you can honestly really guess three of the division leaders [Astros, Cardinals, Dodgers, put it in the bank]. But one of those relatively open divisions is the AL Central, the division that once again will be playing for a third seed and this year will be the only division leader without a first round bye. The division where there's a low amount of stakes, because it'll take a ton of momentum for the division winner to make it past the first round, and because only the division winner will be making the playoffs, as the nearest AL Central wild card competitor has a 7 game deficit and an Orioles team to get past.
So the three teams who are still technically in the AL Central division race are fighting for one playoff spot, even if it is a low one that will not hold the odds. As of now, the Cleveland Guardians have the division lead, the Chicago White Sox are 3 games behind, and the Minnesota Twins, who had the lead for most of the season, are 5 games behind. As much as I want to assume that the Guardians can tough it out for the rest of the season, I assumed this about the White Sox in April and the Twins in June.
The Guardians right now are in a decent place. They've won their last 4, they have almost their entire Opening Day lineup still with the team, in addition to rookies like Oscar Gonzalez, Richie Palacios and Tyler Freeman helping out. They only have one real hole in the rotation next to Shane Bieber, Triston McKenzie, Cal Quantrill and Konnor Pilkington, and so far the best person to fill it has been Cody Morris, who's starting tonight against the Angels and will be trusted to not give up a home run to Mike Trout. The people who have powered this team to this point, like Jose Ramirez, Andres Gimenez, Triston McKenzie and Emmanuel Clase, are still in great condition and are dealing great stats even late. Gimenez might even get more MVP votes than Jose Ramirez in a season which started with a lot of MVP buzz for the third baseman. Still, Ramirez is sitting on his third 100+ RBI year and his fourth 25+ home run year, so he's got plenty to be happy about.
At the same time, the White Sox have gained a ton of momentum recently. In Tim Anderson's absence, Elvis Andrus has been turning in career work that might be his most relevant season in years. The homegrown guys that could never sync up, like Robert, Jimenez and Moncada, are syncing up finally, Dylan Cease is making a run at the Cy Young, and their wins in the past week have been huge. The White Sox also have an easier schedule this week, and while they do have a Guardians matchup as a makeup in a few days, the odds are they're gonna try and capitalize on this week and try to take the division back.
Now...I am all for comeback stories, but at the same time, to me, the White Sox taking the division back after it'd been the Guardians' year to win it is kind of anticlimactic. The White Sox failed in April, the Twins and Guardians conquered the division all year...from a storytelling perspective, that's the arc right there. It's less satisfying that the thing that was gonna happen all along just happens right at the end.
I think the Guardians do have the better team right now, but the White Sox are using the momentum to make up for a ton of lost time, and they could lap the Guardians at the last second. I hope it doesn't happen for the sake of a ton of the Guardians who worked hard to make them into a postseason team, but this division isn't theirs yet. We've still got a lot of games to play.
Coming Tomorrow- Yet another homegrown Cardinals rookie who figures out how to kick ass in the majors.