Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Royals Still Contenders, Thanks to Mediocre American League Central

If you have a calendar near you, you’ll notice that today is June 13th. The date itself doesn’t hold that much significance (unless it’s your birthday, in which case, happy birthday!) but it’s not the specific date I’d like to draw your attention to. If you click on this link, you’ll notice the Royals are currently 2.5 games out of first place in the American League Central. Now, when you consider the fact that the Royals are 2.5 games out of first place on June 13th, this date seems that much more important.

The Royals don’t spend very much time this close to the top of the division, this late in the season. Really, they may not spend any more time this close to the top of the division. With the deficiencies in the offense, there’s no telling if the Royals will be able to avoid a lengthy losing streak that could tank the rest of their season. Regardless of  their recent stretch, the Royals are still a flawed team, and it’s tougher for a flawed team to make the playoffs.

Luckily for the Royals, the American League Central is filled with flawed teams.

Before I go any further here, I do want to point out that I’m standing by my preseason prediction of 87 wins and a second place finish for the Royals, because I do think the Tigers will pull away at some point. However, the play of the other teams in the division has created a bit of a mess in the standings, and the longer everyone stays bunched up, the longer the possibility for chaos exists.

Let’s start with the favored Tigers, who Jeff Sullivan wrote about on FanGraphs yesterday. Most everyone expected them to win the division this season, and for good reason. They appeared to have the best roster, and for the first month and a half, they played like it. Through their first 39 games, the Tigers were 27-12, and comfortably ahead of everyone in the division. Since then, though, they’ve gone 7-16, and only have the aforementioned 2.5 game lead.

The Tigers’ offense is still very good, but their defense and bullpen have struggled, and their rotation has been decidedly average. Justin Verlander has a lower strikeout rate than Jason Vargas, and while he should improve some, I’m not sure the rest of the starters will be able to bring the overall unit back to the level of dominance everyone expected. I don’t think the Royals will catch them, but the Tigers certainly look more vulnerable right now.

Quickly moving through the rest of the Central:

In Cleveland, the Indians’ defense just committed three more errors in the time it took you to read this sentence. The Twins’ pitching staff is a mess with the lone exception of Phil Hughes, and Joe Mauer looks nothing like Joe Mauer. And the White Sox have gotten some great performances from several players offensively, but they’re doing a terrible job of preventing runs from scoring.

In other words, every team in the division has some issues. Granted, some issues are more glaring than others (insert Royals-related home run comment here) but each team is far from perfect. These imperfect teams have played imperfect baseball, and that has led to the jumbled standings you saw earlier.

While it’s unlikely all five teams remain this close for that much longer, the fact that they’re this close on June 13th is pretty neat, and it could mean we’re in store for some fun baseball in the next few weeks and months. The Royals play their next 7 games against divisional opponents, so now could be a time for them to put some distance between themselves and the bottom of the division. Or, if things go like they have for much of this season, the next week will simply maintain the status quo, prolonging the parity that exists in a seemingly mediocre division.

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