Detroit Tigers Exceeding Expectations; AL Central Struggles | Def Pen
Detroit Tigers
Detroit Tigers players JaCoby Jones, Leonys Martin, and Nicholas Castellanos celebrate the Tigers win. (Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)

The American League Central is struggling right now, going into 2018 very few picked the Detroit Tigers to be anywhere near the top of this division let alone two and a half games back of the first place Cleveland Indians. For the AL Central, the Indians were early favorites along with the Minnesota Twins. The Indians, who won the division in 2017 and made a world series appearance in 2016, are continuing to lead the division throughout 2018.

The Tigers have been in a rebuilding phase which is why most predicted them to be near the bottom of the division. In their last ten games, the Tigers are 7-3 and have won their last five games. However, the Tigers recently had to place star Miguel Cabrera on the disabled list because of a reaggravated bicep injury. Most would consider losing Cabrera to have a noticeable and negative effect on the Tigers lineup, however, Cabrera was actually not missed very much.

This is an opportunity to let some of the younger, less-proven players to get some more playing time for the Tigers. Since the month of June began, John Hicks has been a real asset to the  Tigers, in fact, he has outplayed Cabrera. Hicks will be spending a lot of time at first to cover for Cabrera while he is injured and hopefully continue to have a great month as he is as of now.

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John Hicks hits one out against the Kansas City Royals. (Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

Overall, the younger players like JaCoby Jones, Niko Goodrum, and Victor Reyes have gotten the chance to prove themselves. Jones and Goodrum are both batting .267 over the last week. Reyes has been batting .400 since given a chance to play this last week with the injury to Cabrera. Since Hicks has been slotted to play first base while Cabrera is out injured, Grayson Greiner has been able to split catching duties alongside James McCann.

The expectation going into 2018 was that the Tigers lacked talent and were focused on a rebuild that would not allow them to win many games, predicting a bottom of the division finish. The Tigers look to rely on their young talent to keep developing as they continue to chase the Indians for the division title, only being two and a half games back of first place. The Indians, however, look to keep first place out of the hands of any other team, they were early favorites to win the division and still are.

The Indians are in first place, with a 36-33 record and 5-5 in their last 10 games. Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, and Michael Brantley have carried the teams’ offense so far throughout 2018. Former Cy Young award winner Corey Kluber has been lights out for the Indians, so far in 2018, he is 10-3 with an ERA of 2.24 and a WHIP of 0.84. Carlos Carrasco has also provided some help posting an 8-4 record and an ERA of 3.90 for the Indians.

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Cleveland Indians players celebrate a win against the Detroit Tigers in May. (Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

Even though the Indians are in first place, they are battling some injuries to their pitching staff. Reliever Andrew Miller is currently on the 10-day disabled list with a knee injury that could turn into a long-term injury. Starter Danny Salazar has yet to make his 2018 MLB debut due to a lingering arm injury. Yonder Alonso is out of the lineup as well for a family emergency Terry Francona commented on the matter saying, “We wanted to give him (Yonder Alonso) a couple days to take care of what he needs to, so we told Greg he would stay here with us…”

In third place, the Minnesota Twins are also falling short of expectations in 2018. The Twins were supposed to be in a close race with the Indians for first place but they are a little bit behind sitting 31-36 and 5-5 in their last ten games. Going into the season the Twins made some acquisitions that made them appear to be a contender in the division signing Lance Lynn and Logan Morrison while also trading for Jake Odorizzi.

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Minnesota Twins players celebrate a home run against the Detroit Tigers in early June. (Duane Burleson/Getty Images)

The Twins went into the year expecting a big year from some of their younger talents, and this talent is not performing up to standards. Byron Buxton is hitting .156 and Miguel Sano was just recently optioned to Single-A because of his offensive struggles. Even new addition Logan Morrison is hitting .194 and has not put nearly the same numbers up as he did in 2017 for the Tampa Bay Rays. The Twins are four games behind the Indians for first place but they are still not playing as well as they need to if they want to pass the Tigers and have a shot at taking first place from the Indians.

Fourth place in the AL Central division belongs to the Chicago White Sox and going into the 2018 season the White Sox were not projected to be a first-place team because they are in the process of a rebuild. The White Sox are currently 24-45, leaving them twelve games out of first place and 4-6 in their last 10 games. The White Sox younger players are still learning and adjusting to the league and getting acclimated for years to come which is why they are having some trouble.  As time goes on, the White Sox will only flourish as the younger talent becomes good enough to play in the MLB.

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Chicago White Sox starter Lucas Giolito talks with his catcher during a mound visit. (Dylan Buell/Getty Images)

One of the biggest issues the White Sox are dealing with during this rebuild is their pitching staff.  One of the White Sox top prospect Lucas Giolito has been struggling so far, he has posted a 4-7 record with an ERA of 7.19. Another prospect Carson Fulmer is 2-4 with an ERA of 9.07 so far in 2018 and James Shields is 2-7 with an ERA of 4.63. If the White Sox want to have any shot, they need to hope that their younger arms like Giolito and Fulmer are able to start pitching more effectively.

In dead last for the AL Central division, the Kansas City Royals are falling apart. The Royals were supposed to be near the top of the division in second or third place however they have fallen into the last place due to a lack of pitching and their hitting has been a little slow for some of the hitters. Currently, the Royals are 22-48 and are fourteen and a half games back of first place. In fact, the Royals have dropped nine out of their last ten games.

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Kansas City Royals Manager Ned Yost making a pitching change. (Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

The Royals starting pitchers who have started 14 games or more this year, all have losing records and all of them have an ERA above 4.43. Offensively, the Royals have a few players who have been producing well, Whit Merrifield is hitting .295 and Jon Jay is hitting .307 through this point in the season. Even though they have a few players who have good batting averages and on-base percentages, the Royals are not manufacturing enough runs. They are dead last, in their division and in the league for runs scored versus runs allowed with a differential of 133 more runs allowed than scored.

All in all, the AL Central division is struggling except the Tigers who are playing extremely well and are making a threat to the Indians having climbed to within two and a half games back of them. The Indians are battling injuries at the moment, the Twins are struggling offensively having to send Sano to Single-A ball definitely takes a toll on them. The White Sox pitching is still developing which is understandable and the veteran pitchers are struggling as well and the Royals have major pitching issues while offensively they are struggling to manufacture runs. The division is definitely proving the projections wrong, and the Tigers are shocking the division by staying close in the chase with the Indians for the division title.

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