The most exciting division race in baseball might just be the least talked-about of them all.
The AL Central hasn’t gotten much attention this season, and justifiably so. For most of the year, it hasn’t felt like anyone really wanted to win the Central. But one team has to win, and unlike every other division, there are still three clubs left in the mix: the Guardians, the Twins, and the White Sox.
The AL West, NL West, and NL Central are all but wrapped up. The Yankees should have the AL East wrapped up too, barring further collapse. The NL East is up for grabs, but only two teams are left in contention. Either way, both of the Mets and the Braves will make the postseason.
Thus, as the regular season draws to a close, the AL Central will have the most competition and the highest stakes. Three teams are vying for the crown, and only one can win. The losers will be playing golf come October.
Let’s take a closer look at the thrilling race set to play out over the final weeks of the 2022 season.
Chicago White Sox
Heading into the year, the Chicago White Sox were the favorites to win the AL Central. In fact, several sources had them as the most likely division winners in all of baseball. After all, they did win the division by a whopping 13 games in 2021.
Unfortunately, the White Sox have been plagued by injuries and ineffectiveness all season. All-Star shortstop Tim Anderson has played only 79 games. Catcher Yasmani Grandal has turned into a shell of his former self. Offseason acquisition A.J. Pollock has not been the kind of hitter Chicago was looking for. Lance Lynn and Lucas Giolito, two key members of the starting rotation, have both regressed.
As a result, the White Sox have looked more like a .500 ball club than the 93-win team they were in 2021. Indeed, Chicago has hovered close to .500 all year. They are currently one game above .500, and they are 15-15 over their past 30 games. They are 34-36 on the road, and 35-32 at home. They are 31-29 against division opponents, and 38-39 against all other opponents. You can’t get more .500 than that.
In most years, a team like that wouldn’t be vying for a division crown. In 2022, however, it might just be enough.
The Minnesota Twins
After back-to-back AL Central titles in 2019 and 2020, the Twins flopped in 2021, finishing dead last in the division.
Things have gone better for the Twins so far in 2022. Byron Buxton stayed healthy for longer than usual. Carlos Correa has proved to be a smart signing. Luis Arraez has continued to grow as a hitter. The starting rotation looks completely different than last year, but the new group has done much a better job keeping runs off the board.
Unlike the White Sox and the Guardians, the Twins also made some significant upgrades at the trade deadline, acquiring Tyler Mahle, Jorge López, and Michael Fulmer. It seemed like Minnesota might finally pull ahead of the competition.
Unfortunately, despite their new additions, the Twins haven’t played great baseball since the deadline. They have gone just 14-18 in that time and lost their division lead.
With a 68-67 record and a +18 run differential, Minnesota doesn’t look like much more than a .500 team right now (especially with Buxton on the IL). That doesn’t sound too impressive – because it’s not – but as with the White Sox, the Twins won’t have to be much better than .500 to capture the division crown.
The Cleveland Guardians
The Guardians finished just below .500 in 2021, and it looked like it was going to be more of the same for them in 2021. Stars Shane Bieber, José Ramírez, and Emmanuel Clase were still around, but the front office didn’t do much to help them out during the offseason.
Thanks to the breakouts of young players Andrés Giménez and Steven Kwan, however, the Guardians have slightly outperformed preseason expectations. They are currently 70-65 and hold a two-game lead in the division. With only twenty-something games left to play, that two-game lead is looking like a rather sizeable cushion. Currently, it makes Cleveland the favorites for the AL Central crown.
The Guardians have been the best team in the division thus far. They have the best record, the best run differential, and the best roster on paper. As long as they can hold on, the division is theirs to lose. And yet…
Cleveland hasn’t been playing their best baseball as of late. They are 3-7 in their last ten games, and 8-12 in their last twenty. They also have a slightly harder schedule over the final weeks than either the White Sox or the Twins. In other words, they may be the favorites now, but the race is far from over.
The AL Central Race
While the Guardians currently have the advantage, this division could still go any way. All three teams will play one another several times over the final weeks of the season, and those head-to-head games will play a big role in determining the AL Central winner.
The Twins and Guardians will play one another eight more times. The Twins will play the White Sox six more times (including a three-game set to end the season), and the White Sox have four games remaining against the Guardians.
If Cleveland takes a commanding lead, the division picture could look much clearer by the time they play their final game against Chicago on September 22. If Minnesota and Chicago stay in it however, the division race could go right down to the final game of the season on October 5.
For most of the season, the AL Central has been a bit of an afterthought. It’s not hard to see why – middle-of-the-pack teams don’t generate as much excitement as the Astros, or the Dodgers, or the Mets. But now, as the season winds down, it is finally the AL Central’s time to shine.
It may not be the most exciting division in baseball, but over the final weeks of the season, the AL Central is going to have the most exciting division race.