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Grand Central
2003-08-21 08:58
by Mike Carminati

With the Red Sox doing their annual Fosbury Flop, it appears that the only two division races that mean anything now are in the central division of each league. In both centrals:

- There are three clubs with a game (or less) separating them.
- The club with the most wins has 66 on the year.
- Chicago is in second place.
- And two of the three teams play each other today.

In the AL Central the Royals were swept by the Yankees and are suddenly just percentage points ahead of the White Sox and one-half game ahead of the Twins. The Twins and Royals face off for a three-game series in the Metrodome starting today, while the Sox host Texas for four games after having swept the Angels in a three-game series.

The NL Central, The Cubs' Mark Prior shut out the 'Stros at Houston and had a no-hitter through five. The close out their series today. The Cardinals were shut out by Pittsburgh, 14-0, as Jerome Bettis scored twice. The Cardinals had three hits, two by Tino Martinez. Some how Jeff D'Amico pitched a complete game shutout and only struck out one; he also homered. The Cardinals pitchers allowed seven home runs to a team that has lost three starters in trades with the Cubs. The Cardinals are now 1-4 in their last their last five games, including a sweep at the hands of the Phils. Actually, none of these teams is all that hot with the Cubs losing three of their last four and the Astros, six of their last eight.

So who's going to win? In the AL Central, I would bet on the White Sox. For one thing they are clearly superior when you look at their expected won-lost record (from Bill James' Pythagorean formula):

Actual     W  L  PCT GB
Royals 65 60 .520 -
White Sox 66 61 .520 -
Twins 65 61 .516 0.5
Expected W L PCT GB
White Sox 65 62 .515 -
Twins 62 64 .495 2.5
Royals 61 64 .485 3

Besides, the Sox can benefit greatly from the Royals and Twins beating up on each other.

In the NL Central, the expected standings are quite different from the actual:

Actual     W  L  PCT GB
Astros 66 60 .524 -
Cubs 65 60 .520 0.5
Cards 65 61 .516 1
Expected W L PCT GB
Astros 71 55 .561 -
Cards 68 58 .541 3
Cubs 65 60 .517 5.5

One would expect the Astros to still have their substantial lead of a couple weeks ago.

Since these teams are not performing as expected, let's take a look at how they have been doing since the break statistics-wise. First, here are their pitching stats. The rank refers to their position by ERA throughout the majors:

21White Sox21124.762.346.501.339

Wow, the Royals' staff, which held together surprisingly well earlier in the year, is coming apart at the seams. As expected the stellar Cubs staff is head and shoulders above the rest. Minnesota's staff has been a real surprise in the second-half and they are doing much better than the other two AL teams.

Now, here are the offensive stats for the second half with teams ranked by their runs scored:

3White Sox.296.356.506.86358199

Again we have one team outclassing the other two: the Sox and the Cards.

Note that the Royals are last offensively and defensively. And look at those on-base percentages in Chicago and Houston. The Cubs just keep picking up low on-base guys, adding Tony Womack the other day.

So what do I think it all means? The Royals are the weakest of the three teams right now in the AL central, and I would not be surprised if they fell out of the race soon, perhaps starting with the series tonight with the Twins. I think the Sox will win but the Twins could be tough if they continue to get quality pitching.

The NL Central is a muddled mess. It seems that the Cardinals' superiority offensively is not compensating enough for the horrible pitching they have been getting. Chicago is slightly ahead of the Astros as far as batting and pitching stats, but then again the 'Stros play in a hitter's park. It seems to add up to the Cubs, but I just don't think they are as good as the other two teams. The Astros have to worry about Oswalt and Miller's health; then again, the Cubs' Kerry Wood has had some health concerns of late. The Cards are missing Albert Pujols for a few days and may get a big boost from Matt Morris returning later in the week.

Whatever happens it seems likely that these two races will go to the end of the season. Remember the Whie Sox end the year in Kansas City while the Twins play the lowly Tigers. The Cubs have a pretty easy schedule the rest of the way, ending with Pittsburgh at home. The Cards end in Arizona. The Astros host Milwaukee but have a tougher schedule than the other two teams the rest of the way.

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