One of the more competitive and open divisions in Major League Baseball, the American League Central, proved to be just that in April. The Kansas City Royals were ahead of the preseason favorite Chicago White Sox by 1.5 games with a record of 15-9. While it is early in the season, it is clear that as of this moment, this division is open for the taking. Let’s take a look at how each team did in baseball’s first month of the season.
Kansas City Royals, 15-9, 1st Place
The Royals were a dark horse in a lot of people’s eyes, and they showed why. At the end of April, the Royals held baseball’s second-best record, just behind the Boston Red Sox. The good news about the Royals is that they keep winning, and they are winning close games (6-1 in one-run games). The bad news, the numbers indicate that they are an average team that is overachieving. As a team, they are 14th in ERA and 16th in runs scored.
The Royals have gotten a boost from longtime leader Salvador Perez. With a slash of .280 / .314 / .530, the gold glove catcher has been a big spark for this offense. Not only has a familiar face been a big boost for this lineup, but Carlos Santana, who came over from Cleveland in free agency, also has helped this team with his veteran leadership. Santana has a team-high .374 OBP, which is higher than his career average of .366.
This pitching staff has been led by Danny Duffy, who through five starts is 4-1 with a league-best 0.60 ERA. However, the rest of the rotation has not been as great. The second-lowest ERA on the team belongs to Brady Singer with a 3.09. The Royals are a young team that doesn’t really have an identity. They are average-below average in most categories, especially that bullpen. However, they are just simply winning games, and that cannot be ignored.
Team MVP: Carlos Santana, .258 / .374 / .506, six HRs, 21 RBIs
Team Cy Young: Danny Duffy, 4-1, 0.60 ERA, 0.967 WHIP, 34 SO
Chicago White Sox, 14-11, 2nd Place
The White Sox have been a bit of a disappointment so far this season. However, despite their inconsistency, they held the league’s second-best run differential (+31) for the month, just behind the Los Angeles Dodgers. Even with their inconsistent play, they are top-10 in ERA (3.57) and runs scored (124).
What is even more surprising is the struggles behind some of their best bats. Reigning AL MVP Jose Abreu only hit .222 in the month of April, and Yasmani Grandal had a slash of .127 / .333 / .273. Even with those numbers, the White Sox have some weapons in this lineup. Tim Anderson, Nick Madrigal, and Luis Robert are all hitting above .300. That brings us to Yermin Mercedes, who has been the most exciting player in the game. He is has a slash of .395 / .435 / .628 with an OPS of 1.063, and he just has this swag about him that makes it seem even cooler.
The pitching staff has gotten key contributions outside of a struggling Lucas Giolito (5.68 ERA). Carlos Rodon was literally a foot away from a perfect game against the Cleveland Indians. He had to settle for a no-hitter after hitting Roberto Perez on the foot after 8.1 perfect innings. Rodon also has put up a 0.72 ERA with a team-high 36 strikeouts.
MVP Team: Yermin Mercedes, .395 / .435 / .628, five HRs, 16 RBIs
Team Cy Young: Carlos Rodon, 4-0, 0.72 ERA, 36 SOs, 0.640 WHIP
Cleveland Indians, 12-12, 3rd Place
There were no real expectations around the Cleveland Indians in 2021 because no one knew what to expect. After trading away Francisco Lindor to the New York Mets in the offseason, this team became an afterthought in the AL playoff picture. They have been able to tread around .500 all season despite a pretty poor offense. As a team, the offense ranks 25th in OPS, 27th in runs scored, and 29th in hits.
Thankfully, Jose Ramirez and Franmil Reyes have been able to carry the load at the dish. While only slashing .264 / .377 / .549, Ramirez has helped the Indians in the power department, slugging seven home runs along with 15 RBIs. Reyes also has hit seven home runs and has continued to come up big in clutch situations. While this offense is far from a finished product (some farm system players will be on the way), they desperately need players like Josh Naylor, Eddie Rosario, and Andres Gimenez to pick it up.
Pitching has been the identity of this team for a long time. It starts with reigning Cy Young winner Shane Bieber. In his six starts, he is 3-2 with a 2.76 ERA and 68 strikeouts. He officially set the major league record of 18 consecutive games with at least eight strikeouts early this season. Behind him has been a bit of a disappointment. Zach Plesac was given the responsibility as the team’s second starter after the Mike Clevinger trade and has struggled. With a 5.81 ERA and a WHIP of 1.177, the Indians will need Plesac to pick it up if they have any hopes of making a playoff run.
Team MVP: Franmil Reyes, .279 / .308 / .616, seven HRs, 18 RBIs
Team Cy Young: Shane Bieber, 3-2, 2.76 ERA, 68 SOs, 0.992 WHIP
Minnesota Twins, 9-15, 4th Place
You want to talk about a massive disappointment; the Twins have struggled in the first month of the season. While they have dealt with some injuries and COVID-19 problems, the high-powered offense we have all loved has been absent most of the year.
The “Bomba squad” has largely been led by Byron Buxton with an impressive .408 / .447 / .859 slash. He has also added eight home runs and 14 RBIs. The Twins have also gotten great production from ageless wonder Nelson Cruz, who just continues to hit moon balls at age 40. They are far from a finished product at this point in the season. Josh Donaldson, Max Kepler, and Miguel Sano will all start making their returns in May. Hopefully, for the Twins sake, this will help resurrect one of the more exciting offenses in baseball.
The pitching staff is the biggest concern for this team. Kenta Maeda has struggled all year. With a 6.56 ERA and a 1.757 WHIP, last year’s Cy Young runner-up has been a real disappointment for the Twins. They have, however, received some really good starts from Michael Pineda and JA Happ. The question is, can the Twins continue to survive off of that? At some point, you have to think that Happ and Pineda will come back to earth.
Team MVP: Byron Buxton, .408 / .447 / .859, eight HRs, 14 RBIs
Team Cy Young: JA Happ, 2-0, 1.96, ERA, 13 SOs, 0.826 WHIP
Detriot Tigers, 8-19, 5th Place
The Tigers started off the season winning 2-out-of-3 against Cleveland. That has pretty much been the highlight of the Tigers season so far. As expected, they are just not a good team as constructed. They do have a very bright future, which is something to keep your head up for.
As a team, the Tigers’ offense is, how they say, horrible. They have a collective slash of .202 / .260 / .353, which is good for last in all three categories. They only have one player above a .230 batting average ( Jeimer Candelario, .279). While the start of Akil Baddoo‘s career was almost as exciting as Yasiel Puig‘s debut, he has crashed down to earth hard. In Detroit’s last 11 games, he is 5-37 with 22 strikeouts. Simply put, nothing is going right with the Tigers offensively.
The Tiger’s pitching has also been bad. However, Matthew Boyd is once again showing signs of life with a 2.27 ERA and a WHIP of 0.925. Rookie Casey Mize has gotten roughed up this season. With a 5.06 ERA and a 1.388 WHIP, the Tigers have to be a little disappointed with his progression. Again, the Tigers had no expectation of winning this season. But when they start off looking pretty decent, then fall off as they have, it’s pretty deflating.
Team MVP: Wilson Ramos , .224 / .258 / .482, six HRs, nine RBI
Team Cy Young: Matthew Boyd, 2-3, 2.27 ERA, 24 SOs, 0.925 WHIP
A Look Ahead
This division is wide open. Everyone, except for the Tigers, has made somewhat of an impression that they can take the division. In May, we can expect to separate the real contenders and the pretenders. The biggest story heading into May is if the Royals can continue to stay atop the division while being an average team. Can the White Sox finally put together some wins? Will the Indians get the offense going? How long until the Twins start winning again? Expect to see those answers start to come about in May.