A.L. Central Week in Review
Philip Humber‘s perfect game was the story of the week, not just for the White Sox, but in all of sports. There have been just 21 perfect games in baseball history, so yeah, it’s a pretty big deal. Yet it turns out there were also some other things happening in the A.L. Central. April is far too early for serious scoreboard watching, teams just need to worry about taking care of their own business for now, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth paying attention to what else is going on around the division. So, let’s take a brief look at what happened with each team over the last seven days.
Chicago: The week started off poorly, with Hector Santiago giving up two home runs in the 9th inning, turning a 4-2 Sox lead into a tie game. The Orioles blew it open in the 10th, scoring six runs off Zach Stewart. Tuesday brought a fairly uneventful 3-2 loss, but the Sox bounced back on Wednesday, winning 8-1 behind a great start from Jake Peavy. A.J. Pierzynski hit his 4th home run of the season; he’s already halfway to his 2011 total of 8. Thursday was another defeat. Losing 3 of 4 to the Orioles was not ideal with a west coast trip looming.
Chris Sale put in 6+ good innings Friday night, and Adam Dunn took care of the rest, hitting two home runs, plus a double, driving in five runs altogether. Then came Saturday, which you may have heard something about already. Humber’s historic performance was ruthlessly efficient, he needed only 96 pitches to finish it off, a mark he’d surpassed during the 5th inning in his previous start. Danks was far from sharp on Sunday, but kept things from getting out of hand. Alex Rios led a strong offensive performance for the Sox, and a 7-4 win gave the team a series sweep.
Record for the week: 4-3
Player of the week: Philip Humber – His perfect game makes this an easy call, but he also pitched well on Monday.
Cleveland: The Indians were on the same road trip as the Sox, only they started it a few days earlier. Tuesday saw them fall way behind the Mariners, but a big 5th inning helped them to a 9-8 comeback victory. Wednesday the Indians’ bats finally went cold and they lost 2-1. Thursday was more of the same, as Felix Hernandez was dominant, shutting the Tribe out for 8 innings, while striking out 12. It seemed a great start by Cleveland’s Josh Tomlin would be wasted, until Seattle closer Brandon League fell apart in the 9th inning, allowing the Indians to escape with a 2-1 win and the series.
The next stop was Oakland. In the opener, Ubaldo Jimenez did not pitch well, but he avoided giving up many runs and Cleveland won. Saturday Jason Kipnis (potentially a future star at 2B for the Indians) had 4 hits and the Tribe defeated former White Sox Brandon McCarthy (who has turned into a very solid pitcher in Oakland). Chris Perez also picked up his 6th save of the season; he’s gotten the job done since a disastrous appearance on opening day. Sunday Justin Masterson had his second bad outing of the week, as the Indians lost. Still, they completed a nine-game road trip with a 7-2 record, something any team would be happy with.
Record for the week: 4-2
Player of the week: Travis Hafner – A slash line of .444/.630/.556, that OBP was the best in all of baseball.
Detroit: The Tigers started their week with Justin Verlander on the mound against the Royals. Verlander went the distance in a 3-2 win, throwing 131 pitches along the way (the most in MLB so far this season). That left the bullpen fresh for Tuesday, when they helped secure a 3-1 win. They won again on Wednesday, for a sweep. But for an offense as highly touted as Detroit’s, scoring just 10 runs against Kansas City isn’t much of a showing, especially on the heels of a series in which Cleveland scored approximately 4-billion runs on the Royals (okay, it was only 32, but I bet it felt like 4-billion to KC fans).
Things were about to get much tougher for Detroit, with the Rangers coming to town for a four game series. Thursday’s contest brought just five hits for Detroit, compared to 19 for Texas, and a 10-3 loss for the Tigers. Friday’s game was postponed by rain, leading to a day/night doubleheader on Saturday. The first game was another bad loss. Starter Rick Porcello recorded just three outs for Detroit, giving up 10 hits and 9 runs (8 earned). That’s the worst start of the season by any pitcher. Verlander put a stop to the bleeding in the Saturday nightcap, he’s good like that. Rookie Drew Smyly made his third straight strong start on Sunday, but the bats were cold and the Tigers lost again.
Record for the week: 4-3
Player of the week: Justin Verlander – 15 innings, including a complete game, an ERA of 1.20, a WHIP of 1.07, and 17 Ks.
Kansas City: The Royals were on the wrong end of the aforementioned sweep by Detroit. Their pitching recovered from the Cleveland series in which they were shelled eight ways from Sunday, but Kansas City scored just 6 runs in this entire series against the Tigers. Alex Gordon, who was so good in 2011 after struggling for years (a turnaround that gives Sox fans hope that Gordon Beckham will do the same thing someday), ended this series batting just .149, with a slugging percentage of only .234. Oof.
The weekend brought Toronto to town. Friday was a 4-3 loss, low-lighted by Kansas City 1B Eric Hosmer lining into a triple play, the first by the Royals since 1979. Saturday didn’t bring anything as dramatic as that, only a 9-5 drubbing by the Blue Jays. Sunday was another loss, the 10th in a row for Kansas City. They have started their home slate with 9 losses. Going back to a loss in the 2011 home finale, it’s a 10 game home losing streak, which ranks as the worst in Royals history and the worst by any American League team since the Orioles dropped 11 in a row in 2007.
Record for the week: 0-6
Player of the week: NO ONE
Minnesota: The Twins started their week in the Bronx. Monday, former Yankee Carl Pavano pitched well as the Twins took the opener. Tuesday Francisco Liriano had another very poor start and the Twins lost 8-3. Wednesday was a win; Justin Morneau hit two home runs (to go with one on Monday). It’s great to see him playing well, after struggling so much in his efforts to return from the serious concussion he suffered in 2010. With a chance to win the series Thursday, an early lead slipped away and the Twins settled for a split.
The Twins then headed to Tampa. Minnesota got 3.1 shutout innings from their bullpen on Friday, allowing the team to come back from an early deficit when Josh Willingham hit a 3-run double late. Tampa starter James Shields wasn’t having any of it on Saturday though, giving up just 1 run over 8 innings. Pavano was solid again, but it didn’t matter. Willingham did extend his hitting streak to 15 games, tying the Minnesota record for the longest streak to start a season (Kirby Puckett also went for 15, in 1994). Sunday brought an end to the hitting streak and the Twins lost 6-2. Liriano wasn’t good. His ERA sits at 11.02, his WHIP at 2.33, and he’s got more walks than strikeouts. He may need a break from the rotation.
Record for the week: 3-4
Player of the week: Justin Morneau – A slash line of .333/.455/.889, along with 3 HR. His Slugging and OPS were both 3rd in the A.L.
A.L. Central Standings (through Sunday, April 22nd):
W – L GB RS RA DIFF
Detroit 10 – 6 – 70 65 +5
Chicago 9 – 6 .5 67 53 +14
Cleveland 8 – 6 1 74 72 +2
Minnesota 5 – 11 5 58 85 -27
Kansas City 3 – 12 6.5 56 77 -21
The Week Ahead
Chicago: 3 @ Oakland, 4 vs Boston
Cleveland: off Monday, 3 vs Kansas City, 3 vs Los Angeles
Detroit: off Monday, 3 vs Seattle, 3 @ New York
Kansas City: 1 vs Toronto, 3 @ Cleveland, 3 @ Minnesota
Minnesota: 3 vs Boston, off Thursday, 3 vs Kansas City