Posted: Thursday July 13, 2006 4:33PM; Updated: Thursday July 13, 2006 6:22PM
Setup man Joel Zumaya has been the key cog in the Tigers' bullpen.
Otto Greule Jr./Getty Images
59-29, .788 OPS (7th), 3.46 ERA (1st)
What went right: Just about everything, including the emergence of young pitchers Justin Verlander (10-4, 3.01 ERA), Joel Zumaya (2.08 ERA, 54 strikeouts in 43 1/3 innings) and Jeremy Bonderman (8-4, 3.46 ERA). An early tear by first baseman Chris Shelton (10 homers in April) got the Tigers off to a rousing start, and they've stayed hot to earn the best record in baseball. In mid-May they won 15 of 16, and in late June they took 13 of 14. Free-agent lefty Kenny Rogers (11-3, 3.85 ERA), the AL starter in the All-Star Game, has been remarkable. And All-Star Magglio Ordoņez (16 HRs, 62 RBIs) has been very good.
What went wrong: Not much. A so-so showing against the Yankees, Red Sox and White Sox in an early-June stretch had some doubting, but the Tigers got back on track. Todd Jones has the saves (23, with three blown), but his ERA (5.82) is a little disconcerting.
What's next: A search for a left-handed bat, whether it culminates with the return of Dmitri Young or someone else. And a second-half showdown with the defending-champion White Sox.
Chicago White Sox
57-31, .829 OPS (2nd), 4.44 ERA (6th)
What went right: An April streak of 12 wins in 13 games showed that the Sox were serious about a repeat. All-Star Jim Thome (30 HRs, 77 RBIs), a comeback player of the year candidate, has a 1.065 OPS. Six Sox have at least 10 homers apiece at the break, part of the homer-happiest team in the bigs (133 in all). Jose Contreras (9-0, 3.38 ERA in 16 starts) refuses to lose, and the rest of the by-now-familiar rotation -- Mark Buehrle, Jon Garland, Freddy Garcia and newcomer Javier Vazquez (9-4, 5.07) -- is ever-steady, if not shut-down spectacular. Chunky closer Bobby Jenks has blown only one save.
What went wrong: Among regulars, only Juan Uribe (.237, .264 OBP) and struggling center fielder Brian Anderson (.192, .280) give opposing pitchers a chance to breathe. Off the field, manager Ozzie Guillen got into a headline-grabbing spat with a Windy City columnist. And A.J. Pierzynski's home plate showdown with Cubs catcher Michael Barrett couldn't have felt good.
What's next: GM Kenny Williams already has swapped relievers with the Red Sox, and if he can get a more productive center fielder, or make a bigger splash, he'll do it. Still, this team works as is. Williams is just as likely to let things ride and fight it out with the Tigers for the Central division title. To the loser, then, goes the wild card.
47-39, .757 OPS (8th), 4.36 ERA (5th)
What went right: A 21-2 surge in June and early July showed what the Twins can do. Rookie Francisco Liriano -- a last-minute addition to the All-Star Game -- was an eye-popping 10-1 with a 1.83 ERA, striking out 102 in 88 1/3 innings. Teamed with Johan Santana (9-5, 2.95, 138 strikeouts), the Twins have the most impressive one-two combo in baseball. Closer Joe Nathan (1.75 ERA) has only one blown save. Meanwhile, Joe Mauer's .378 average is the best in the bigs, and Justin Morneau has been almost as good lately. He's hitting .375 since the beginning of June (to Mauer's .405), with 13 homers, 37 RBIs and a baseball-best .750 slugging percentage.
What went wrong: The Twins were a dispiriting eight games under .500 when they began their run. Rondell White and Tony Batista have been busts, the lower end of the rotation has struggled (Kyle Lohse was demoted at one point) and trade rumors have engulfed the face of the franchise, friendly center fielder Torii Hunter.
What's next: GM Terry Ryan isn't the type to trade away a lot for an outside chance at a midseason fix. As it is, the Twins are playing about as well as anyone in the game. Ryan and the Twins will stay put, rely on Liriano and Santana to stop any slides and hope, somehow, that the division comes back to them.
40-47, .822 OPS (4th), 4.74 ERA (11th)
What went right: It wouldn't have been hard to make an argument to get DH Travis Hafner (25 HRs, 74 RBIs, a league-leading 1.112 OPS) onto the All-Star team. Ace lefty C.C. Sabathia (7-4, 3.51 ERA) has been solid enough. Even free-agent pickup Paul Byrd (6-6, 4.31) has been passable. But that's just not enough to overcome the Tribe's problems.
What went wrong: Byrd and closer Bob Wickman nearly came to blows in an early-June clubhouse dustup. Pitcher Scott Sauerbeck was arrested in May hiding in some bushes trying to avoid the police. (The Indians later released him.) Fundamentals have flown out the window, infuriating both GM Mark Shapiro and manager Eric Wedge. Shortstop Jhonny Peralta and second baseman Ronnie Belliard have regressed. And the team will have to make a decision on whether to keep Victor Martinez -- who has thrown out only 10 base stealers while allowing a whopping 61 thefts -- at catcher.
What's next: Though the core of the team that just missed making the postseason in '05 remains, this disappointing version has no shot in '06. Shapiro will try to sell off parts before the trade deadline (Aaron Boone, anyone?) and look to '07.
Kansas City Royals
31-56, .734 OPS (12th), 5.79 ERA (14th)
What went right:Mark Redman (6-4, 5.27 ERA) might not have been on everyone's All-Star list, but he is 6-0 in his last seven starts with a 4.05 ERA. David DeJesus (.310, .404 OBP) has looked capable since his return. Left fielder Emil Brown is a good player. And although all the money spent on veterans in the offseason hasn't paid off, Mark Grudzielanek and Doug Mientkiewicz have at least been reliable, and Reggie Sanders leads the team with nine home runs.
What went wrong:Mike Sweeney's troublesome back has limited him to 20 lame games; Zack Greinke's personal problems have knocked him out of the majors, for now; Runelvys Hernandez got off to a bad start, coming to camp out of shape; and the Royals endured losing streaks of 11 and 13 games. That got GM Allard Baird fired.
What's next: The future of the franchise is all on new GM Dayton Moore, who will try to rebuild the Royals through scouting and player development in the mold of the Braves. It'll take at least three years, and probably more than that, given the competitiveness of this division. But hiring Moore is a start.