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MLB End-of-April Check-in: AL Central

Stagnant offenses and disappointing young talent has been the main April narrative for the Central, but the Twins are a cut above.

MLB: New York Yankees at Minnesota Twins Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

Every day, Pinstripe Alley offers updates on what the Yankees’ top American League opponents are up to through the Rivalry Roundup. The AL East is well-trodden ground there, but with the month of April coming to a close, we’re going to take a peak around MLB as a whole and check in with each of the other five divisions. Who’s surprising? Who’s underwhelming? Who’s simply mediocre at the moment? Read on and find out.

First Place: Minnesota Twins (16-11)

Top Position Player: Joey Gallo (0.7 fWAR)
Top Pitcher: Sonny Gray (1.2 fWAR)

The new-look Twins made perhaps the splashiest and boldest trade of the offseason. Luis Arráez blossomed into a batting champion last year, but there was an ace-sized hole in their rotation that burned them time after time in 2021 and 2022. So far, it’s worked out. The Twins are riding starting pitching to a solid start, with no other team in the AL Central cracking .500 through each team’s first 25 games. Pablo López hasn’t disappointed and Sonny Gray is absolutely locked in. The return for Arráez other than López wasn’t half bad either, including infielder José Salas (Marlins’ No. 5 prospect).

Like Giancarlo Stanton, Twins center fielder Byron Buxton is both a key cog of the lineup and very prone to injury. Healthy so far in 2023, Buxton has played triple digit games in a season just once. If he’s healthy, he balls out. This is an entirely different offense with him anchoring the lineup and that’s all there is to it.

Joey Gallo has remembered how to hit again away from the bright lights and big city. He sports a 207 wRC+ and seven bombs in 53 plate appearances. The Twins have a higher floor this year than last — acquiring quality starting pitchers and a potent power bat will do that. It also helps shortening the game to eight innings with the nasty Jhoan Duran lurking for the ninth.

Be warned, though. The Twins cruised to a 50-44 record and division lead last year at the All-Star break before a hapless second half, finishing 78-84 despite aggressive midseason acquisitions like Tyler Mahle and Jorge López, both of whom stuck around for this season. We’ll see if this Twins squad can play a full 162 games or fades down the stretch.

Second Place: Cleveland Guardians (13-13)

Top Position Player: Jose Ramírez (0.8 fWAR)
Top Pitcher: Shane Bieber (0.6 fWAR)

No surprise here: the Guardians are up to their usual shenanigans. Terry Francona’s ballclub has a keen self-awareness of their play style, and they excel at maximizing the advantages of their unorthodox offensive attack. The new rules make their approach even more lethal, and they’ve ridden it to a second-place month of April.

Stealing bases, small ball, fundamentally sound defense and more make their infuriatingly effective style of play match up to anyone in the American League. We all remember that the Guardians’ brand of slashing and dashing pushed the Yankees within an inch of their playoff lives in 2022. They return all of their key pieces this year with an influx of homegrown top-prospect pitchers on the way. Shane Bieber is also back to looking like an ace.

The organization expects great things from recent call-ups Logan Allen and Tanner Bibee shoring up the rotation as Triston McKenzie and Aaron Civale build back up. Once those two return, the Guardians will have the enviable problem of too much big-league caliber starting pitching. Novel concept, huh? The Guardians’ pitching staff has hung in shorthanded to post a 3.96 ERA, but right now as an offense, they’re averaging a home run every 64.62 at bats, by far the least frequently in MLB.

Savvy managerial decisions and fundamentally sound play can cover up a lot of flaws, but it remains to be seen if the Guardians will sustain success. The three-run bomb ain’t coming, so they have to string hits together, which isn’t easy, especially late in the game against fireballers.

José Ramírez is, as always, a force to be reckoned with — in a lineup lacking power, Ramirez is the key run producer. He’s humming along with a 121 wRC+, 12.5 percent walk rate, and 10.7 percent strikeout rate. It remains to be seen whether a team with a combined wRC+ of 85 can win a division.

Third Place: Detroit Tigers (9-15)

Top Position Player: Jake Rogers (0.5 fWAR)
Top Pitcher: Eduardo Rodríguez (0.7 fWAR)

The Tigers, like every other AL Central team except the Twins, have struggled offensively, with a 72 wRC+ so far. It might be time to panic about top prospect Spencer Torkelson, as he’s off to an inauspicious start after a disappointing season in 2022.

It’s great to see Eduardo Rodríguez slinging it from the left side again after a lengthy absence. He’s dealing and has a 2.32 ERA. Returning Tigers starter Matthew Boyd, though, hasn’t been so good. Jason Foley and Alex Lange have anchored an effective Tigers bullpen to a 1.44 ERA in their last 12 games.

This team over the past two years has gone as far as their raw young talent has taken them, which isn’t far. Javier Báez has his head on straight after a slow start, and this team is desperately in need of a leader other than Miguel Cabrera taking his well-deserved victory lap — albeit one that isn’t producing any offense at all (33 wRC+ in 14 games).

They’re on the upswing, though, after a brutal start. If they can find some effective starting pitching, the offense has definite upside, especially if Báez ever returns to El Mago status. (Though he did leave a game the other day after being hit on the hand.)

Fourth Place: Chicago White Sox (7-20)

Top Position Player: Jake Burger (0.7 fWAR)
Top Pitcher: Dylan Cease (0.5 fWAR)

As Malachi detailed the other day, things are not going well for the White Sox. Expectations going into 2022 were high, with the Sox being a trendy pick to win the AL Central. After an 81-81 season rife with public relations issues followed by an offseason of inexplicable paralysis, the outlook is grim for 2023. Andrew Benintendi was a solid addition, but they didn’t do much else.

Luis Robert is struggling, Tim Anderson has been limited to 11 games and is currently on the IL, Mike Clevinger has been horrible and is another off-the-field liability, you name it. Robert provides ample value with his glove in CF, but Jake Burger and Yasmani Grandal have been the only above-average hitters to play in the majority of games for Chicago.

Grandal is holding it down with a 120 wRC+, but this lineup feels quite incomplete without the RBI machine José Abreu (now in Houston). Benintendi was supposed to fill that role to some degree but has started slow. Dylan Cease is a bright spot, however. He’s continued to be excellent and is making his case to graduate to bona fide ace status if he wasn’t already (Thursday notwithstanding).

The White Sox land in a purgatory not unlike the Tigers after two disappointing seasons in a row. The bullpen has not lived up to their cumulative $46.4 million salary, tops among bullpens in MLB. However, the ‘pen has been subject to tough batted ball luck, and their .346 BABIP against won’t hold up forever.

Last Place: Kansas City Royals (6-21)

Top Position Player: Vinnie Pasquantino (0.7 fWAR)
Top Pitcher: Aroldis Chapman / Kris Bubic: (0.5 fWAR)

The Royals were pegged to finish in the cellar by most projections, and it looks as though they will. Both they and the Tigers are rudderless, floating in the dead sea of mediocrity.

The Royals’ team wRC+ is 66, the lowest in MLB. Zack Greinke is cooked. Salvador Pérez is getting there. It’s not all bad, though. Bobby Witt Jr. is slowly coming along, posting a 97 OPS+ so far this year. Sudden fan favorite and Italian stallion Vinnie Pasquantino is off to a blazing 148 OPS+ in 106 plate appearances, and Matt Duffy is turning back the clock with a 145 wRC+ in 41 plate appearances.

Aroldis Chapman is throwing 102 mph again and has kept his tattoos sanitary so far. Kris Bubic is rewarding the organization for their patience so far in 2023. Brady Singer is not.

There’s not a ton to say here other than they haven’t hit and haven’t pitched well. This team has a shot at the worst record in MLB this year, and will continue indefinitely with the rebuild that started after winning the 2015 World Series.

All cited statistics outside of team won/loss record were active as of the beginning of play on Friday, April 28th.

AL Central playoff odds as of 4/28: