On Sept. 4, the Minnesota Twins held a share of the AL Central lead. It’s amazing how much can change in just a couple of weeks.
Since that date, the Twins have completely fallen apart, losing 10 of 15 games, including four of five over the weekend against the Cleveland Guardians. Minnesota can start making offseason vacation plans.
Cleveland, however, now holds a comfortable four-game lead over the Chicago White Sox entering Tuesday, Sept. 20. But that advantage is at risk beginning tonight as the Guardians and White Sox open a three-game set in Chicago. So, who will ultimately prevail in this division? Here’s a look at each team.
As winners in 12 of their previous 15 games, the Guardians have the best record in baseball since Sept. 4. They have been led by their pitchers, who have recorded an impressive 2.86 ERA during that span. With a starting trio of Shane Bieber, Triston McKenzie and Cal Quantrill, the Guardians can cause problems for any offense and are tough to beat in close games with Emmanuel Clase, the best closer in the AL, lurking in the back of their bullpen.
The question for Cleveland on a daily basis is: Can they score enough? However, Jose Ramirez is having another MVP-quality season; Steven Kwan has been one of the top rookies in the sport; Andres Gimenez has had a huge breakout year at the plate; Amed Rosario is red-hot right now; and Josh Naylor has shown some signs that he’s about ready to break out of his extended slump. If that quintet is clicking, the Guardians are going to win this division because their pitching staff is too good to falter for an extended period.
The AL Central favorites on Opening Day, the White Sox season has been defined by injuries and inconsistent play. But ever since Miguel Cairo took over as interim manager in place of Tony La Russa on Aug. 30, the White Sox have started to perform up to those preseason expectations, going 13-6 while scoring an MLB-best 5.7 runs per game. Jose Abreu, Eloy Jimenez, Andrew Vaughn and Elvis Andrus are a few hitters who have been producing well at the plate of late. And this lineup has room to improve as Luis Robert and Tim Anderson get healthy.
The White Sox will certainly have an advantage on the mound in Tuesday’s series opener as Dylan Cease will match up against Cleveland’s Aaron Civale. Cease, who has a 2.16 ERA and 214 strikeouts in 167 innings, will get plenty of AL Cy Young votes at the end of the year.
It feels like the White Sox started their charge just a little too late. Even with Lance Lynn and Johnny Cueto providing much-needed stability to the rotation, the White Sox are not going to sweep the Guardians in this series with McKenzie and Bieber on the mound for the final two games. And a sweep is really what Chicago needs here; even one loss would give the Guardians the season series and the all-important tiebreaker. So, while winning two of three games would put Chicago just three back in the standings with 12 games to play, it would really be more like they are trailing by four games because of that tiebreaker. And again, Cleveland’s pitching is just too solid in order for the White Sox to get what they need.
The Guardians are currently listed by DraftKings Sportsbook as -1200 favorites to win the AL Central. That seems right. Cleveland will win its first division title since 2018.