And we’re off: Cincy Unscripted’s breakdown of the MLB… part 5

Join us all week as Jim Bianchine sounds off on MLB at the break.  Here is a look at the AL CENTRAL

CHICAGO WHITE SOX (47-38)

Chicago White SoxRookie manager Robin Ventura has to be like a breath of fresh air in the Windy City and the team from the South side is on top as a result in what should prove to be a three-team division dogfight.

The White Sox use no smoke, no mirrors. They rank sixth in the AL with a team ERA of 3.91 and seventh in hitting (.260) and that balance has paid dividends as has slugging 103 homers (T-4th).

The pitching begins with a fresh-faced phenom in All-Star Chris Sale (10-2, 2.19) who has been nothing short of amazing and the resurrection of former Cy Young winner Jake Peavy (7-5, 2.85), a fellow All-Star in 2012. But despite a pair of All-Star hurlers, a lot depends on a second-half return to form from Gavin Floyd (7-8, 4.54), maybe the wild card for the ChiSox considering how Philip Humber has bombed out after his no-hitter.

Where the Sox fall flat is when the starters leave the game as they have no real closer to speak of.

In a division without a great team, the White Sox may just have enough good players to hold on, although Adam Dunn (25-61) ranks among the homer and RBI leaders despite hitting a paltry .208 and Paul Konerko (.329-14-42) are All-Stars as well. Konerko is third in the league in hitting.

Add a return to former glory from newly acquired Kevin Youkillis from Boston and continued the success of AJ Pierzynski (.285-16-49) and solid Alex Rios (.318-7th AL) with 12 homers and 49 RBIs and Chicago could be the team to beat if a shabby bullpen does not eventually let them down over the long haul.

CLEVELAND INDIANS (44-41 – 3)

Last season the Tribe’s success, all things relative finishing second,  took many by surprise. This year their modest success is a surprise to no one as they hang close with modest talent.

This gritty lot is anything but star-studded, save for phenomenal All-Star shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera (.286-11-42). When healthy Shin-Soo Choo (.299-10-34) adds punch to the lineup and if ever healthy, one-time feared slugger Travis Haffner gives them a huge lift. Haffner has been limited to 147 at bats.

While the Indians hit a modest .258 (8th AL) they rank next to last in pitching in the league (4.50) and that does not bode well for a team hoping to be there in the end. But they do put a lot of stock in All-Star closer Chris Perez ( 24 SV) if in fact they are leading in the end.

The inconsistency of Tribe starters, a trio in particular, has to be maddening. You just never know what you are going to get from Justin Masterson (5-8, 4.40), Ubaldo Jimenez (8-7, 4.40) or Josh Tomlin (5-5, 5.45), who have all had their moments, but both good and bad however.

DETROIT TIGERS (44-42 – 3 ½)

Detroit Tigers LogoThe Tigers got off to a sub-.500 April last season and then took off. This year April and May were both hugely disappointing for a team that many figured would ease to the finish line in the division.

The team to beat on paper finally showed some signs of  why their expectations were lofty, winners of five in a row before the break. Last year’s success and the signing of slugger, All-Star Prince Fielder caused such high hopes and why not?

Suddenly the Tigers had the slugging Fielder (.299-15 63 T-4th) on one corner of the infield and one of the game’s best hitters, Miguel Cabrera (.324 6th-18-71 T-2nd) and fellow 2012 All-Star on the other. Add the ever emerging Austin Jackson who is second in hitting in the AL at .332  and a supporting cast of Jhonny Peralta, Brennan Boesch and Delmon Young and they earned all the preseason rave reviews, although they did not expect to be without injured slugger Victor Martinez.

While the Tigers have not disappointed in hitting .269, second in the league, the pitching, despite one of the games premier hurlers is 8th surrendering 3.97 runs a game.

Arguably the best pitcher in the game now, Justin Verlander, reigning AL Cy Young and MVP (9-5, 2.58)  leads the staff and is looking for second half help.

Neither Smyly, Rick Porcello or Max Scherzer have an ERA below 4.42, but have a combined 18-13 record because the Tigers can hit.

In the early part of the season the bullpen was nothing special, but slowly Jose Valverde (16 SV) has started to find his groove and he is a must with the drop off after Verlander.

Now within striking distance and seemingly headed in the right direction, this team may well be the team to beat after all, but may not win it by the margin many expected.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS (37-47) -9 ½)

Following a horrid start the Royals regained a measure of respectability but maybe it was a hole too deep at the very outset.

Still in some ways it appears to be a team on the upswing and some of the pieces appear in place for the future. Unfortunately for the Royals, few if any are pitchers.

KC ranks 11th in pitching (4.35) and when your top two starters Bruce Chen (7-8) and Luke Hochevar (6-8) both sport an ERA in excess of 5.00 you are in big trouble.

If the pitching has a bright spot, it is former Dodger bullpen ace Jonathan Broxton who sports a 1.99 ERA with 21 saves.

While the Royals suffer from a power outage, their 68 homers ranking last in the league, they do rank fifth in hitting (.264) and some eyes are cast to the future and are trained on Mike Moustakas (.268-15-47) and standout DH Billy Butler (.290-16-52), a 2012 All-Star.

Disappointment comes in the way of Eric Hosmer (.231-9-39), although it is his second season and he is brimming with promise after a solid rookie season.  Likewise the Royals were expecting much more from former Atlanta Brave Jeff Francouer (.251-7-18) as they continue to be a work in progress.

MINNESOTA TWINS (36-49 -11)

Times have turned tough in Minnesota and two reasons that quickly come to mind are the decline of former AL MVP Justin Morneau (.246-11-38) desperately trying to bounce back from a series of injuries and horrid pitching.

While Morneau struggles to regain his stellar form, the Twins still have some guys who can swing the bat beginning with All-Star Joe Mauer (.326-5-41) who is fourth in the league in hitting but his power has been missing.

Josh Willingham (.261-19) whose 60 RBIs is sixth in the AL has been a nice addition and young slugger Trevor  Plouffe (19 homers) is only going to get better. But they certainly feel the loss of  Michael Cudyer and Jason Kubel in the lineup, the two taking their talents elsewhere.

On the bright side, if there is one for a team with the worst ERA in baseball (4.86) is Matt Capps, a dependable closer with 14 saves and young Scott.Diamond (7-3 2.62). However the Twins have surrendered a ML high 441 runs. By comparison, the Nationals have yielded just 290.