We’ve reached the midpoint of the baseball season, and it’s time for mid-season awards and a State of the AL Central Report. It’s also a good time to revisit my predictions from the beginning of the season. Without going into too much detail, let’s just say that if I had laid down any money on my preseason prognostications, I wouldn’t be shopping for ways to spend all of that extra cash. Lots to do, so let’s get started with the awards:
2008 AL Central First Half MVP: Carlos Quentin, OF, Chicago White Sox. Runner-up: Joe Mauer, C, Minnesota Twins. I’ve written a lot about Quentin in this space, and after a slump earlier in the month, he’s right back on the same track he started on this year. Quentin’s hitting .284 with 19 homers and 61 RBI, along with a .390 on-base percentage. He’s still solidly in second in the AL MVP race behind Texas’ Josh Hamilton. Mauer has stayed healthy and been the key cog in Minnesota’s surprisingly productive offense, hitting .323 with a .410 OBP.
2008 AL Central First Half Cy Young: Cliff Lee, Cleveland Indians. Runner-up: John Danks, White Sox. Lee is the runaway winner in this category, posting an 11-1 record with a 2.23 ERA so far. Danks is a distant second at 5-4 with a 2.50 ERA.
2008 AL Central Rookie of the Half-Year: Alexei Ramirez, 2B, White Sox. Runner-up: Nick Blackburn, RHP, Twins. After a slow start, Ramirez has stepped into the sparkplug role in the Sox’ lineup. He’s hitting .355 in June and .295 overall and playing fantastic defense at second base. Blackburn has been the only consistently reliable starter for the Twins so far, going 6-4 with a 4.05 ERA.
State of the AL Central
1. Chicago White Sox (48-35), predicted finish: 70-92, 5th place. If you would have looked at my predictions from the bottom up, they would have been more accurate. The Sox have succeeded with their 2005 model of good starting pitching, a solid bullpen, and lots and lots of homers. Their sweep of the Cubbies this past weekend gave them momentum going forward after a slide let the Twins back into striking distance.
2. Minnesota Twins (46-38), predicted finish: 75-87, 4th place. The conventional wisdom is that the Twins are doing it with smoke and mirrors up to this point, and they will slide back to mediocrity soon enough. Since they don’t hit for power, they’ve been relying on otherworldly clutch hitting to score runs. They’re only four runs behind the Sox on the year, despite the fact that Chicago has out-homered them 113 to 57. The Twins lead the league in batting with runners in scoring position, and they’re going to have to continue to do so, because the power just isn’t there. Their pitching, despite a woeful stretch in early June, has come on of late as they’ve won 12 of their last 14.
3. Detroit Tigers (42-41), predicted finish: 99-63, 1st place. Detroit has finally righted their ship after a miserable April. The Tigers are looming larger and larger in the rearview mirrors of the Twins and Sox, and they will definitely factor into the final outcome of the division. Their lineup is just loaded, no matter how lost they looked earlier in the year. Unfortunately, the hitters will have a hard time propping up their pitching staff, which continues to disappoint. I don’t feel good at all about Detroit reaching their predicted win total, but they could certainly reach 90 wins.
4. Kansas City Royals (38-46), predicted finish: 82-80, 3rd place. The Royals used a blistering 11-4 interleague run to undo much of the damage from their 12-game losing streak in the second half of May. I still feel good about them finishing with a winning record. They have intriguing young pitching, led by Zack Greinke. Their bats will need to continue to develop in order to close strong in the second half.
5. Cleveland Indians (37-47), predicted finish: 98-64, 2nd place. Cleveland is the most confusing team in the division to me. Somehow, their lineup went from fearsome last year to woeful this year. Ben Francisco was actually hitting third for them at one point this season. Ben Francisco! Travis Hafner appears to be washed up, and Victor Martinez wasn’t hitting for power in between injured stints. C.C. Sabathia has been on a tear since stinking out the joint in April, and Lee has been masterful as mentioned. If Fausto Carmona is effective when he returns from injury, they could make one of their patented second-half runs, but they might have too far to go.