Sunday, June 25, 2006

Central Blasting

The St. Louis Cardinals remain in first place in the National League Central with a 42-32 record. However, they cannot thank the American League Central for their lofty position, as the Cards have dropped six consecutive games to the Chicago White Sox and Detroit Tigers. The AL Central has had a field day with its NL counterpart, going 41-19 in head-to-head matchups this season.

Each of the top three teams in the AL Central is 10-2 against the NL Central in 2006. The Detroit Tigers lead the division with a 51-25 record – best in the major leagues. The Tigers have been as abusive to their inter-league opponents as ace Kenny Rogers is to cameramen. They are off to their best start since 1984, when the franchise captured its last World Series title. Seeking to recapture the magic of that time, team personnel have plastered “Re-elect Reagan” stickers all over the clubhouse.

Just behind Detroit are the defending champion Chicago White Sox. Before dropping a 13-inning marathon Sunday night, the Sox had tormented the Houston Astros. In addition to last fall’s World Series sweep, Chicago took the first two games this weekend. Those victories were on the heels of three-game sweeps of the Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds. The White Sox had 20-run and 13-run outputs in the first two contests versus the Cardinals, preparing St. Louis fans for the scoring outbursts they’ll see from Rams opponents this fall. Chicago’s treatment of the NL Central has inspired critics to denounce manager Ozzie Guillen for his blatant insensitivity toward the division.

The Minnesota Twins have used inter-league play to improve to 39-35 overall. Catcher Joe Mauer has been exceptional, leading the major leagues with a .368 batting average. Mauer was the #1 overall selection in the 2001 major league draft – one spot ahead of the Cubs’ Mark Prior. The two high draft picks crossed paths Saturday, with the Twins defeating Prior 3-0. After the game, Mauer shook hands with Prior, sending him back to the disabled list.

Even the Kansas City Royals have been successful against the NL Central, going 7-5 against their inter-league foes. Included in that record was a three-game sweep of the Pirates. However, the sweep was not overly impressive, as it was accomplished against actual pirates. Their wooden legs took away their speed on the basepaths, and their eyepatches severely limited their vision at the plate.

Only the Cleveland Indians have failed to uphold the honor of the AL Central, with a 4-8 record against their NL counterparts. Despite DH Travis Hafner’s big numbers, Cleveland is a huge disappointment with a 33-41 mark – 17 games out of first. Their three-game sweep by Milwaukee could be excused, since the Brewers used to be a division rival and may not have been viewed as an inter-league opponent. However, they get no such pass for dropping a series to the Cubs.

The AL Central has one more week to enjoy inter-league play. After next Sunday, the division members must come to the same difficult realization that schoolchildren do each September. Vacation time will be over.