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

Nobody seems to really want the worst division in baseball.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Atlanta Braves Brett Davis-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 June 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.

The AL Central is, with some difference, the worst division in baseball. The top two teams, the Minnesota Twins and Cleveland Guardians, are both two games below .500, and two of the remaining three squads are mediocre at best. The Kansas City Royals are flat-out bad at baseball.

We look at each organization’s landscape as June comes to an end.

First Place (Tied): Minnesota Twins (40-42)

Top Position Player: Willi Castro (1.1 fWAR)

Top Pitcher: Sonny Gray (2.5 fWAR)

When your top position player through the first three months is Willi Castro, you know things haven’t exactly been as smooth as the Twins planned. Carlos Correa has a modest 91 wRC+, and Byron Buxton has been limited by lingering knee and back issues, capping their upside and that of the Twins in the process.

Still, with how well the Twins’ rotation has performed, it has been enough for them to finish the month tied at first place with the Cleveland Guardians. The AL Central, however, is easily the worst division in baseball, as all teams have a negative record.

If it weren’t for Sonny Gray, the Twins probably wouldn’t be first. The former Yankee has been amazing, with a 2.67 ERA in 87.2 innings. Minnesota has two additional pitchers with an fWAR over 2.0: Joe Ryan and Pablo López, both at 2.2; and the solid Bailey Ober with a 1.4 fWAR and a 2.97 ERA.

The Twins were 28-26 in this exercise at the end of May, so they have had a rough month. Still, in the mediocre AL Central, it has been enough to lead the pack.

First Place (Tied): Cleveland Guardians (39-41)

Top Position Player: José Ramírez (3.2 fWAR)

Top Pitcher: Shane Bieber (1.3 fWAR)

After losing a heart-breaking extra-innings affair against the Kansas City Royals on Thursday afternoon, the Guardians lost a golden chance to take sole possession of first place in the division. Instead, they are 39-41 now, but with the same winning percentage (.488) as the Twins.

The Guards haven’t been spectacular in June, but it’s fair to say that they have gained some ground because they finished the May edition of this exercise at 24-29, 3.5 games behind the top spot and third in the division.

Cleveland’s offense will never be truly great with its current personnel, but it was better in June and that stems from three key players: Jose Ramirez, Josh Naylor, and Andrés Giménez. Ramírez (3.2 fWAR, 138 wRC+) has been as good as advertised, but Naylor and Giménez were mired in horrible slumps to start the 2023 campaign. After a 59 wRC+ in May, the recently-extended Giménez posted a 108 wRC+ in June with a .436 slugging percentage. It could be the start of something. Naylor, on the other hand, is up to 10 home runs and a 118 wRC+ for the season as a whole, and nobody knows where the Guards would be without his 58 RBI.

While Shane Bieber lost his strikeout powers, he still has been a valued member of the rotation, and Cleveland’s pitching development system has successfully graduated Logan Allen, Tanner Bibee and Gavin Williams. If they ever get Triston McKenzie fully healthy, look out.

Third Place: Detroit Tigers (35-45)

Top Position Player: Riley Greene (1.6 fWAR)

Top Pitcher: Eduardo Rodríguez (1.7 fWAR)

This fact will likely tell you everything you need to know about the Tigers and their position player core: Riley Greene has missed the month of June with a stress fracture in his left fibula, yet still leads the organization in fWAR with 1.6.

It’s hard to go places when Javier Báez is sporting a 62 wRC+, Miguel Cabrera has just one home run all year and Spencer Torkelson was in the negative fWAR before his two-homer outburst on Thursday. The Tigers were 25-27 at this point last month, but have had a very bad June and while they are third and just four games behind the leaders, they don’t look like a contender. At all.

Eduardo Rodriguez (2.13 ERA, 1.7 fWAR) has done a fine job at the front of the rotation, but the pitching outlook is not particularly promising. Tarik Skubal is due back soon, at least, but the Tigers are probably not going to contend for at least a couple more years.

Fourth Place: Chicago White Sox (36-47)

Top Position Player: Luis Robert Jr. (3.3 fWAR)

Top Pitcher: Dylan Cease (1.7 fWAR)

The White Sox, at this point last month, were 22-34 and seven games behind the division’s top spot. They have played slightly better than .500 in June and by virtue of the mediocre level of the group, first place is well within reach at 4.5 games.

It does seem, at this point, that the White Sox’s true contention window was between 2019 and 2021. They are 11 games below .500 and with little hope of stringing together several wins in a row. Still, they are not completely hopeless. Luis Robert Jr. is finally having his much-awaited breakout season with 23 home runs and 3.3 fWAR, and they have found a couple of extra sources of power here and there.

The starting pitching has been very solid this month. Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease, Mike Clevinger and Michael Kopech all have ERAs under three in June, although the latter has an evident issue with walks. Closer Liam Hendricks is also back, and that has lifted the team’s spirits. The White Sox are a long shot to make the postseason, but they aren’t as bad as their April version.

Fifth Place: Kansas City Royals (23-58)

Top Position Player: Bobby Witt Jr. (1.7 fWAR)

Top Pitcher: Aroldis Chapman (1.1 fWAR)

The Royals are just a very bad baseball team. Over the past few years, we had hoped pitching prospects such as Brady Singer, Jackson Kowar, Daniel Lynch and Kris Bubic would become MLB contributors. Yet here we are, with Aroldis Chapman leading the team in pitching WAR.

Even Bobby Witt Jr., with 12 home runs and 23 stolen bases, has a disappointing 89 wRC+. There is something seriously wrong with the Royals’ player development staff, and until they take a step forward there like the Baltimore Orioles and the Texas Rangers did, they are doomed to fail.