Does Anyone Want to Win the AL Central?

Can someone please take control of the Central?

Heading into 2022, the White Sox seemed to be the favorites to take the AL Central division. The Twins made a huge splash when they signed Carlos Correa to his deal, but many were left wondering if that would put them over the top. The Tigers were also active in the off-season, trading for Austin Meadows and signing Eduardo Rodriguez and Javier Báez. Then there were the Royals and Guardians, looking as if they were looking to build for longevity past the 2022 season.

Oh, how this division has surprised us all. The White Sox have had their struggles with injuries throughout the season, Carlos Correa started the season off slow, and the Tigers just couldn’t seem to find a rhythm from the very beginning. While the Royals pre-season outlook seems to go according to plan, the Guardians have proved, yet again, that they are no pushover.

With only a few weeks left in the season, this division has the making of being a nail-biter down to the final stretch of games.

AL Central standings heading into 9/15

 

Guardians of the Central

 

Heading into September 15th, the Guardians are red hot. In their last 10 games, they are 8-2 and are not showing any signs of slowing down. They’ve gotten production throughout their roster and have continued to show the league that they can be competitive, even without a high payroll.

The off-season left us with many question marks as this ballclub continued to jettison contracts in, what looked like, an attempt to shed payroll. There were also the rumblings that they were looking to move on from their All-Star third baseman José Ramírez before ultimately deciding to lock him up to a long-term deal right before the start of the season. The health of Shane Bieber was also brought up a lot after he was out the majority of the 2021 season with a shoulder injury and just did not seem like himself when he did return.

If there is one thing you can guarantee about this team, it’s that Terry Francona will not allow them to quit. The Guardians are holding firm to a four-game lead and have no intentions of letting the other two teams catch them. The emergence of Andrés Giménez has been a revelation for them, after what had seemed to be a loss of a Francisco Lindor trade. Emmanuel Clase continues to dominate at the back end of their bullpen with his 101 mph cutters. Steven Kwan took the league by storm in the early season and, even though he had cooled off for a bit, he has been a staple at the top of their order. Recently, rookie Oscar Gonzalez has been on a tear and is solidifying himself as another power threat in this lineup, finally providing José Ramírez with the support he has needed.

As they look to lock up the central, the Guardians will need to continue getting solid production from their starting rotation. Bieber has been a steady top-end of the rotation arm. Cal Quantrill has proved that last year’s success was not a fluke and continues producing quality starts when the team needs them the most. Triston McKenzie has also flashed potential in 2022. After that, you are left wondering what you are going to get from the starting rotation. If they can continue to provide quality outings, this will be a very dangerous team down the stretch.

Can Cairo Turn them Around?

 

Like 2021, the White Sox looked primed to end 2022 with the division title. However, much like the 2021 season, there has been a myriad of injuries that have plagued this team.

Lance Lynn just recently returned to the rotation after going down before the start of the season. Even though they have had success this year, Luis Robert and Eloy Jiménez have been in and out of the lineup as they have dealt with their fair share of lingering injuries. Tim Anderson was proving to still be a consistent force in the lineup before getting injured himself, and still trying to work his way back. Lucas Giolito has not been the ace they had hoped for and continues to struggle down the stretch. Similarly, the backend of the bullpen has not been as strong as they would have liked. Liam Hendriks has had his fair share of blowups throughout the year and Kendall Graveman has not been able to recreate his success from 2021. The one bright spot the White Sox have had throughout the entirety of the year has been Dylan Cease who looks to be one of the top young starting pitchers in all of baseball.

Since his hiring, Tony LaRussa has been scrutinized for his decisions made on, and off, the field. Many are skeptical as to whether he is the right fit to manage the White Sox. With that being said, many can now support their argument by providing them with the recent results they have produced since Miguel Cairo took over as interim manager while LaRussa deals with his health issues.

Miguel Cairo is going to be this team’s x-factor down the stretch in hopes of them taking the division from the Guardians.

Were All the Moves Enough?

 

The Twins went all-in this season. Other than the Correa signing, they made trades to upgrade their rotation by going after Sonny Gray and Tyler Mahle. They traded to acquire Gary Sánchez in what ultimately ended up being a multitude of moves that sent Josh Donaldson to New York and Mitch Garver to Texas. They also moved on from Taylor Rogers with the emergence of Jhoan Duran and his “splinker”. In addition to the Mahle deal at the deadline, they brought in Jorge López from Baltimore to sure up the back-end of the ‘pen.

As the season went on, the highly-anticipated debut of Royce Lewis ended as quickly as it came after he re-tore his ACL after colliding with the center field wall at Target Field. Byron Buxton, as in years previous, has not been able to stay healthy throughout the season. Jorge Polanco has not returned to the All-Star form that he had shown to be in years previous and, recently, Luis Arraez has gone down with an injury and his status going forward is uncertain.

The pieces are in place for them to catch fire and make a run towards the top. Is it enough? Carlos Correa will have to be the one to stand up and take charge if that is going to happen. He has the pedigree, and experience, to be able to do so. Does the fact that he could become a free agent again be looming in the back of his head? Possibly. He will quickly have to get over that and focus on the “now” to help this ball club take that next step towards coming out on top of the Central.

Will Any Team Make It?

 

This division has been such a headache throughout the year. The ups-and-downs from the beginning, to the end, have led this division to be described as head-butting the “AL Mid” to some. However, one team has to come out on top.

The White Sox have recently flashed their potential with a run of victories since the Cairo takeover. Is it their time? I don’t think so. Tito Francona is just the right person for the job to lead a team like the Guardians to the postseason, even after being written off before the season even started. The Guardians are running red hot right now and it looks like they are the team to beat out for the division lead.

Photos by Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)

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