Who Has the Edge in MLB's Closest Division Race?

For much of the season’s first half, it seemed almost certain the Twins were going to win the AL Central. They led the division by as many as 11 1/2 games and were launching home runs at a better rate than any team in baseball history. Meanwhile, injuries and underperformance marred the Indians over the first half, their chance at a fourth straight division title hanging in the balance.

Now, after Cleveland took three of four games from Minnesota this weekend, both teams are tied atop the Central, setting the stage for an ultra-competitive division race. With 44 games to play in the regular season, let’s look at what it’ll take for each team to win the division.

All stats are updated through Sunday’s games.

Team Cleveland Indians Minnesota Twins
Record 71-44 71-44
Record vs. Teams > .500 27-31 21-25
Make Playoffs Odds 92.6% 96.6%
Win Division Odds 40.3% 59.7%
Win Wild-Card Berth 52.3% 36.9%

Postseason odds per Fangraphs

Cleveland Indians

Why They'll Win the AL Central

The Indians addressed their greatest need at the trade deadline when they acquired outfielders Yasiel Puig and Franmil Reyes to bolster their lineup in a three-team trade that sent righthanded starter Trevor Bauer to the Reds. In doing so, they didn’t hurt their rotation all that much, thanks to the emergence of All-Star righty Shane Bieber and dynamic rookie Zach Plesac. Reliable starter Mike Clevinger returned from the injured list in late June and is 6-1 with a 3.13 ERA in his eight starts since then. Two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber is due back sometime before the end of the month.

- Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Meanwhile, third baseman Jose Ramirez—who finished third in the AL MVP race in both 2017 and ‘18—is once again a force in their lineup after a dreadful first-half slump. Over his last 30 games, he’s slashing .328/.354/.681. If he continues hitting, a lineup of Ramirez, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Santana, rookie Oscar Mercado and the two new additions Puig and Reyes can rival the best in baseball. Add in a bullpen starring Brad Hand and Nick Goody,  and Cleveland is as well-rounded a team as any. If these players perform the way they are capable, the Indians are the most talented team in the Central.

Why They Won't Win the AL Central

Sure, everything seems to be going right for Cleveland after all was lost earlier in the year. The Indians have the third-best record since the All-Star break and are performing like they should. However, there’s no guarantee this inconsistent team won’t falter again down the stretch.

- Mark Brown/Getty Images
Mark Brown/Getty Images

If Kluber doesn’t return to his usual ace-like form when he comes off the IL and the young arms in the rotation (Bieber, Plesac) fatigue down the stretch, pitching could be the downfall for Cleveland. On the other hand, if the streaky Puig slumps and/or Ramirez goes cold again, the Indians’ strong pitching might not be enough. Inconsistency makes it difficult to truly gauge how well this team will finish, and if it pops up again, the Twins will be the ones taking the division title.

Minnesota Twins

Why They'll Win the AL Central

One word: dingers. The Twins lead the majors with 228 homers and are on pace to hit 318 of them, 51 more than the all-time record set by the 2018 Yankees. Nelson Cruz is an ageless wonder (even though he’s currently on the IL with a left wrist injury), while Max Kepler, Jorge Polanco and Luis Arraez are in the middle of breakout seasons. If the Twins are going to outlast the Indians, they’ll do so with an offense so explosive that no amount of pitching can contain them.

- Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Of course, their pitching staff will have to do its part, as well. Jose Berrios, Jake Odorizzi and Kyle Gibson make for a formidable trio atop the rotation. The question for Minnesota is the bullpen. Lefthanded closer Taylor Rogers has done as well as the Twins could’ve hoped, and the addition of veteran Sergio Romo helps. If the rest of their relievers can protect the leads their offense provides, the Twins will be in good shape.

Why They Won't Win the AL Central

The Twins have relied on mostly inexperienced pitchers and low-cost veterans in their bullpen this year. Aside from the backend guys, the younger pitchers have outperformed the older relievers. But younger arms tend to fatigue over a long season. If the workload piles up and Minnesota’s bullpen cannot maintain the homer-fueled leads, the Twins will likely have to settle for a wild-card berth.

And the Winner Is...

The Indians. This is a tough one because I picked the Twins to win the division before the year began. I loved the offseason additions of Cruz, C.J. Cron and Marwin Gonzalez, and I thought their young core would come into its own. However, Cleveland mastered the trade deadline by dealing a strength (Bauer) to address a weakness (outfield offense) and having enough depth to replace that strength. It’s encouraging to see Ramirez return to form, and Lindor remains one of the elite talents in baseball today. Simply, the Indians are the better team, and now that both clubs are even in the standings, it’s Cleveland’s division to win.

Outbrain

More from MLB

Tags