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Central Rising: Indians and Royals Racing into Wild Card, Playoff Discussion

Kansas City Royals v Minnesota Twins

While most of the national baseball media is furiously coming up with minute-by-minute “REPORTS” according to “SOURCES” on the impending suspension of Alex Rodriguez, lo and behold there is actual baseball being played out on diamonds across America. As we hit August there’s no better place to look than the American League Central where the perennial also-ran Royals are rolling and the Indians are positioning themselves for a playoff berth for the first time since 2007.

Thursday the Indians won their eighth straight, sweeping a four-game series with the White Sox. Since the All-Star Game, Cleveland has actually lost ground in the Central to the first-place Tigers, trailing them by two games (three in the loss). However the Tribe is now 60-48, which moves them firmly into the thick of the Wild Card discussion.

First-year manager Terry Francona will get much of the credit for the Indians rapid turnaround, but the pitching of  Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister, and a offense with a knack for the timely hit in the late innings is mostly responsible. (Jason Giambi and Ryan Raburn walk-offs, really?)

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The Royals still have a ways to go to before talking postseason. Even with a nine-game winning steak heading into tonight’s game with the Mets, Kansas City was still 4.5 out of the second Wild Card. Still, they’ve rocketed from out of the race entirely to three games over the .500 mark at 54-51.

Pitching has been there all season for Kansas City, but the offense is starting to come around. Following a miserable first two months, Eric Hosmer posted an OPS of .889 in June and .847 in July.

The most important factor to consider with both these club is how they’ve manged to feast on the Twins and White Sox. Both clubs are rapidly trending toward being the worst two teams in the American League — even more woeful than the Astros. (Minnesota and Chicago finished July a combined 17-35.)

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Before the season started most baseball folks assumed one of the Wild Cards would come from the West since those teams would play the Astros 18-19 times each. The fading seasons in Chicago and Minnesota mean the Central is in play, so whichever teams lose out in the Athletics/Rangers and Red Sox/Rays races might not necessarily have the Wild Card as a fallback.

Cleveland has fattened up on Chicago going 11-2 against them, while Kansas City has knocked around Minnesota — winning 10 of its 13 games against the Twins. The Royals still have 13 games left with the White Sox and Twins.

File this away: the Tribe has 16 games left with the White Sox and Twins, on top of that they have 10 with the Mets, Marlins and Astros and an additional six with the Albert Pujols-less Angels. That’s about as favorable a remaining schedule as possible. Cleveland has enough head-to-head games with the Tigers to control their divisional fate.

Unless the proverbial wheels fall off, expect Cleveland in the playoffs in some form. The Royals will likely tease, but end up extending their playoff drought to 28 years which means another winter cursing Dayton Moore for trading Wil Myers to the Rays.

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