The chances are good that the wild card won't be an option for the second place team in the Central this season, with the unbalanced schedule forcing these four talented teams to beat up on each other up regularly. This parody occurred last season, as the Tigers, White Sox and Twins all won 90 or more games, but with the Indians finally healthy the Central now has four teams that all have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs.
So after a month into the season, what does the summer have in store for the Tigers and their AL Central rivals? Let's take a look at each of the four contenders.
Cleveland Indians: The Indians boast bona-fide stars in Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner, and another power bat in Victor Martinez. They also feature a top of the rotation ace in C.C. Sabathia and current Major League saves leader Joe Borowski. The Indians don't have a lot of power at the corner outfield positions and their middle infield has started off slow, but they have enough star power to keep them in serious contention throughout the summer.
Chicago White Sox: The Sox have a veteran pitching staff, which have already had their ups and downs, and a potent middle of the lineup of Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko. Thanks to closer Bobby Jenks, the White Sox know if they have the lead going into the ninth inning, there's a good chance they'll get the victory. But, they need Scott Podsednik back quickly, as his replacements have struggled mightily at the plate, and other than the big three of Thome, Dye, Konerko and maybe Joe Crede there isn't a whole lot of fire power in the lineup. Chicago will be a good team, and win quite a few games outside of the division, but in the end they simply aren't dominant enough to keep up with the other teams in the Central.
Minnesota Twins: Best pitcher? Check. Best young catcher? Check. Reigning American League MVP? Check. Playoff berth? Nope. They have a nice lineup around Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau and Tori Hunter, but other than Johan Santana, their pitching rotation is skeptical (though loaded with potential) to say the least. The bats will keep them hanging around longer than they probably should, but in the end their lack of experienced pitching could be their downfall.
Detroit Tigers: It's hard not pick this team to make it back to the World Series. They have a potent middle of the lineup, young power pitching and some of the best defensive players at their positions in Ivan Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Brandon Inge. Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya have had their rocky outings, and Todd Jones is still "The Rollercoaster," but the bullpen as a unit has been solid as well.
The main concern coming into the season was their young arms holding up, and with the injury to Kenny Rogers it'll be interesting to see how Durbin follows up his gem in Wednesday's win over Chicago. As long as he gives them a chance to win every fifth day the Tigers will be fine until Rogers returns with a fresh arm.
It may be a bit premature, and could be deemed as a homer pick, but I think the Tigers will come out of the Central at the end of the season, with Cleveland being their main competition. The Twins have the second best lineup in the division behind the Tigers, but with only one proven starter in the rotation their pitching cannot match up with the lineups in the American League. Chicago's pitching is rocky as well, and other than their big three, their everyday lineup doesn't compare with that of the Tigers or Indians.
The last 16 days of the season will sum up the season in a nutshell as the Tigers take on all four division opponents, including six games against the Twins. By then it should be down to the Tigers and Indians, and Detroit's pitching depth, as well as their new found big-game experience should be enough to for them to pop the champagne in celebration of an AL Central championship.