AL Central: Best Division?

For the majority of the life of the AL Central it has been a bit of a punching bag for the AL West and AL East. The Red Sox and Yankees were dominant for years, leveraging their massive resources and cagey front offices into 90+ win seasons like clockwork. The Angels, too, gradually morphed into a perennial contender shaped by massive payrolls. Then all it took was particularly savvy front offices for teams like Texas, Oakland, and Tampa Bay and all of a sudden you had 40-50% of the AL as strong teams, none of which were in the Central. As many observed coming into this season, however, the landscape of the American League looks very different - in the preseason, there weren't any readily identifiable "dominant" teams. Uncertainty about which .500-ish looking teams would hit their upsides or disappoint made it unclear as to whether any division would stand out as good or bad. So far, though, the AL Central has been the best division in the league.

Coming into the year, most projections had the Tigers-Royals-White Sox-Indians in some arrangement at the top, with the Twins as the clear laggard of the group. It may still turn out that way, but Minnesota's - what looks like cluster-luck driven - good start saw Cleveland and Chicago fall behind at the outset while Detroit and Kansas City leapt out to hot starts. A lot of this was a zero sum game. The White Sox' first 17 games of the season, for example, wound up being against divisional opponents - and with the effect of the Baltimore civil unrest, they wound up playing 24 of their first 25 against divisional rivals. Cleveland had 17 of their first 20 intradivisionally, the Twins 22 of their first 25, etc. etc. (This is all rather intuitive as they are, by definition, playing each other). 

But, in the past couple of weeks, the Central is branching out, and after going 9-1 in the past couple of days, the division has a record of 33-18 against the AL East, AL West, and NL. Indeed, the Central is now 16-6 against the AL West in particular.

This is by no means dispositive - there are a multitude of variables when assessing Divisional strength, particularly depending on how much of an emphasis you place on depth v. top-end quality, or perhaps just the weakness of a truly terrible team. Besides, baseball fans at this point should be very familiar with the notion that fluctuations of luck can yield wonky outcomes in terms of wins and losses. Plus, it's still very early. But perhaps we could have seen things trending in this direction last year. Outside of Minnesota, the four other Central teams were above .500 against extradivisional opponents last year as well.

It is increasingly likely that there has been a move toward parity, and a top-to-bottom improvement in the quality of the division. On the one hand, the White Sox can't make the weakness of the AL Central the core of their strategy for making the playoffs. On the other hand, if the Central is really good, that means wins will be pulled into the division instead of leaking out of it - making the wild card more attainable.  And, although the White Sox played some of the worst baseball I've ever seen to start the year, it may be that they were being helped along by playing a more difficult schedule than we realized.

Follow The Catbird Seat on Twitter @TheCatbird_Seat and Nick @Nick_TCS.