Team MVP and Cy Young for All AL Central Teams

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With the midpoint of the 2011 season nearing More Hardball has taken the opportunity to name each team’s MVP and Cy Young through the first half. Today we feature the American League Central division.

And as you know, TSB is all AL Central (and NL Central) all the time.

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White Sox Back in AL Central Division Race- OMG! Are you Serious?

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During the infamous “White Flag trade” in early August of 1997, Chicago White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf was infamously quoted “any one who thinks this team can catch the Cleveland Indians is crazy.” Given that the Sox were just 3.5 back of the division leaders from Ohio, with 7 weeks left in the season, it INFURIATED White Sox fans.

And it should; they conceded their season with more than enough baseball left to be played. The Cleveland Indians started 30-15; they’ve been just 4-14 since. And it’s very likely they’ll get another beat down from the New York Yankees again tonight.

The White Sox by contrast were 11-21, .344 pct. 11.5 games out, and the worst team in baseball on Cinco de Mayo. In the games since then, they’re 22-14, and now find themselves in the exact same position as they were on the day of the white flag trade 14 years ago, 3.5 behind first place Cleveland.

By Paul M. Banks

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Ozzie Guillen steps up to handle Pennant Race Pressure

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Ozzie Guillen is not afraid to put the worst case scenario out there. The manager of the Chicago White Sox is well aware of the high quality baseball his team was playing heading into the All Star Break, but also remains astutely aware of how quickly things can turn from good to bad (or in the case of the White Sox, bad to good to bad again).

“We’ve got 70 or so games to go and we might lose all of those games. You never know,” Guillen said prior to their first post All-Star Break game with the AL Central Division rival Minnesota Twins. “But I know we’re gonna play hard, we’re gonna play baseball, and regardless of what happens, I can win with them.”

By Peter Christian

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Kevin Slowey, Twins come up short in Opener of Rivalry Series

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A six run inning, 10 hits with two outs, six for 14 with runners in scoring position and three relievers combining for five innings, three hits and zero runs.

Most MLB teams would take every one of those stats in a heartbeat. For the Minnesota Twins last night, all of it still resulted in a loss to the Chicago White Sox—a very tough loss at that. The Twins have added a lot of digits to the “L” column over the past month. To be exact: 19 losses in the last 31 games.

As Thursday night’s game was ready to begin and the Twins starting pitcher Kevin Slowey threw his final warm-up tosses, the Target Field PA system blared the aptly titled “Slow Ride” by Foghat. The team and Slowey alike were hoping that his mound performance would be, like the song, a classic.

By Peter Christian

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White Sox take over 1st Place! Andruw Jones clubs 400th HR

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At the beginning of last month, NO ONE would have predicted this: the Chicago White Sox entering the 2010 All-Star break in FIRST PLACE in the AL Central.  They are 49-38, a half game up on the second place Detroit Tigers, and certifiably the hottest team in Major League Baseball. They beat the Royals 15-5 on Sunday, a game in which they clubbed 5 home runs, including a grand slam by Carlos Quentin, and the 400th career long ball for reserve outfielder Andruw Jones.

Like the rest of baseball they’ll have three days off now, but they enter the break on a tremendously hot stretch. After just sweeping division rival Kansas City, the Southsiders’ sizzling streak reads like this:

Eight straight wins, 21-4 in their last 25, 25-5 in their last 30, 14-1 in their last 13 at U.S. Cellular Field.

By Paul M. Banks

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The exchange: Tigers-Twins showdown

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By H. Jose Bosch and Andy Weise

The Detroit Tigers and the Minnesota Twins are the only real reason to keep track of baseball this week. For those of you lost in college football and the NFL, the Tigers are just two games ahead of the Twins and tonight is the first game of a big four-game series between the two clubs.

Twins fan Andy Weise and I exchanged e-mails about tonight’s game and the series.

HJB-My first question to Andy is why, WHY! do the Twins always come back despite being so mediocre during the regular season? I mean, off the top of my head I can remember just one season in recent memory where the Twins were clear cut better than everyone else. The rest of the time they just seem to stew in crappiness with everyone else until the last few weeks of the season. (I ask this because I respect the hell out of them for balling up late in the season, something the Tigers have had trouble doing.)

AW-Well it’s nice to see the respect. I don’t have the hatred for the Tigers like I have had for Cleveland and Chicago White Sox but I was disappointed last year in the Tigers vs. White Sox game that if Detroit one, the Twins would win the division and head to the playoffs.
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The Twins overachieved last year, in my opinion. They had an extremely young staff that did fairly well and Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer finishing in the top five for the MVP race proved that they have the star power to carry this team. It’s clear though that inconsistency in pitching has hurt them a lot this year. Guys like Glen Perkins and Francisco Liriano have been big time busts, they lost Kevin Slowey to injury and they’ve had to rely on guys like Carl Pavano down the stretch, not ideal!

What about the Tigers? Where do you see the problems on your team that have put them in a position where they could lose the division this week? They seem to have some big names in pitching and hitting but why haven’t they closed this thing out yet?

HJB-Those big name pitchers and hitters haven’t gotten the job done consistently. Edwin Jackson, who was a pleasant surprise of a Cy Young candidate, has gone 6-5 with a 4.80 ERA in the last two months of the season. Magglio Ordonez, who can reach base, just doesn’t have pop in his bat. Curtis Granderson is an electric player, but this season he’s been an awful lead off hitter. And the bullpen has chosen the final weeks of the season to pitch like we all thought they were: mediocre.

Don’t even get me started on the Jarrod Washburn deal. I would make that trade again but I want to just take a golf club to that freaking knee and put it out of commission for good.

And don’t be down on Pavano. He’s been a Tiger killer of late. Speaking of pitchers, look at the probable match ups:

Nick Blackburn (11-11, 4.18) v. Rick Porcello (14-9, 4.14)
Brian Duensing (5-1, 3.33) v. Justin Verlander (17-9, 3.41)
Carl Pavano (13-11, 4.86) v. Eddie Bonine (0-1, 4.60)
Scott Baker (14-9, 4.48) v. Nate Robertson (2-2, 5.56)

There are only two pitchers on this list I’d trust (Verlander and Pavano since he’s been a Tiger killer of late). Everyone else would make me nervous. Who do you like in this series?

I’m going to be optimistic and say Porcello, Verlander and Robertson can pull off wins. What’s your perspective?rick-porcello-kevin-youkilis

AW-I thought the Tigers getting Edwin Jackson was going to be a huge move. He looked good with Tampa Bay last year and I always see the Tigers making moves I wish the Twins would make. And you’re right on Pavano; he’s given the Twins a boost that they really needed with more than half of their rotation not helping this year.

As I look at the match ups for this series, tonight’s game features two guys who really need to step it up and show their team’s they can pitch in a big game setting. I do think Porcello is the better pitcher of the two right now but Blackburn has a little more experience. Tuesday’s match up with Duensing and Verlander will probably feature the best match up of them all. If the Twins can keep it close and get to the bullpen once Verlander goes out, I think Minnesota can come away with that one. Do you like Bonine against Pavano? I don’t know much about your guy but that might be a slugfest of a game. And finally, Baker versus Robertson is a good one given that the Twins haven’t hit good against lefties. Baker needs to rebound after his loss to the Tigers a couple Sunday’s ago and I think he can do that.

Offensively, Michael Cuddyer has to keep playing the way he has been playing. The Twins need production from some the lower part of the order too. Nick Punto looks like he’s finally getting some good at-bats and Jose Morales has proved that his bat can help too.

I think the Twins have to win 3/4, they can afford to lose one but not two. I think game two and four will be the ones where the Tigers are favored to win.

HJB-I’m conceding the Bonine game right now. I have zero confidence in him. I agree with your assessments of the other games, which worries and excites me at the same time. As a Tigers fan I’m going to be a nervous wreck but as a baseball fan I know these are going to be some epic games and a nice appetizer for the postseason, especially for the guy whose team makes the playoff (*cough*me*cough*).

verlanderThe only thing that worries me about the Verlander game is he has a tendency to give up a big inning late in his start and as you alluded to earlier, the Twins bullpen is pretty solid Detroit’s has shown flashes of brilliance but I’d rather spot them a 2-3 run lead rather than go into the bullpen with a tied game or (eeek) trailing.

Everyone in the lineup is a tough out; they just haven’t done it on a consistent basis (except for Miguel Cabrera). If there was ever a time for the line up to be clicking on all cylinders, it’s during this series. Some of the changes the Tigers made, like getting Adam Everett and Gerald Laird, were done because we didn’t need more sluggers and we needed a better defense in tight games. Now we’ll see how the moves pay off. These are going to be tight games and I don’t think Detroit can expect to slug its way into the postseason during this series.

Last question Andy. If you asked me the one thing I NEED to see in this series to make me feel good it’s a solid bullpen. As I said, I think these games are going to be close and Detroit will need the ‘pen more than ever (especially when Bonine and Robertson start). What’s the ONE aspect of the Twins’ game you want to see at its best during this series?

AW-One? Haha, I don’t know if there is just one. Off the top of my head I have two right now — starting pitchers cannot afford to let the game get out of reach early. If the starting pitchers for the Twins struggle early and let the game get out of hand, I’m going to worry. I’ve seen plenty of comebacks lately and some big innings from the Twins but I just don’t think they have the firepower to do that too much more. The pitchers have to keep the games close or protect leads if we have them.

The other thing like I pointed out earlier — Twins need to get offensive production from the infielders outside of Cuddyer. Punto, Matt Tolbert, Brendan Harris, Brian Buscher and Alexi Casilla, whoever they send out from all these guys, they have to produce some offense. It hurts the Twins big time if they can’t get some guys on base for the top of the order to hit home.

It’s nice that the race is only two games right now and the teams have four games head-to-head. You can’t ask for anything more exciting at this point. Overall both teams have been extremely inconsistent and probably do not deserve to make the playoffs but rules are rules, the division winner will make the playoffs and head to New York to face the Yankees when all is said and done.

There will be a live blog of tonight’s game at Michigan and Trumbull. Check it out!