Not long ago, the White Sox were dominating, the Royals were sinking, the Tigers were flailing and the Indians were a team that really wasn't getting any attention.
The American League Central might not have the most talent, but as June gets going in earnest, it carries plenty of intrigue. The Tribe is in first place, and every team but the Twins has a record above .500. Only 3 1/2 games separate the fourth-place Tigers from the top spot, yet given recent trends, it's reasonable to wonder if the White Sox will soon be looking up at everyone but Minnesota.
Entering the season, the AL Central was considered to be little more than mediocre, but prognosticators also said it had a chance to be the most evenly spread. Two months in, that theory is proving to be accurate.
This week's MLB Power Rankings show the Indians in the top 10, and climbing.
Biggest jump: The Astros. We don't know exactly how many they went from being unranked to 16th, but for argument's sake, we'll assume that's the biggest improvement. Houston had a dreadful April but has come back to go 21-13 since May 1, and the Astros have won 11 of their past 13 games. They took advantage of a softer part of their schedule to move within two games of .500 after sinking to 11 under after being swept by the Rangers two weeks ago.
Biggest drop: The Mariners (No. 4 to No. 9) and the White Sox (No. 12 to No. 17) each dropped five spots, and it's hard to argue against it given the recent results. Early-June series are not dire situations, but it's notable that the Mariners are now three games back in the AL West after they were swept over the weekend by the Rangers. And the White Sox, after soaring through April, have dropped to third in the AL Central and are barely above .500 at 29-28. That's what a 5-14 stretch will do to a once-surging team.
Our top five
1. Cubs: The best team in baseball two months ago is still the best team in baseball today. The Cubs, off to their best start in 109 years, are thriving at the Friendly Confines. Prior to Sunday's 3-2 loss to the D-backs, Cubs starting pitchers had a 1.28 ERA over 13 home games. The rotation this season is pitching to a 2.38 ERA, the lowest in the National League by a wide margin -- the next lowest is the Mets at 3.17. The Cubs' run differential through Sunday is an off-the-charts plus-141, light years ahead of the second-most productive team in this category -- the Red Sox, who are plus-69.
2. Giants: The Giants tore through May to build a nice lead in the NL West, but if they are to continue this pace, they'll have to do it without Hunter Pence, out two months with a torn hamstring. San Francisco did an admirable job building a cushion to where it can regress a little and probably still keep pace at the top of the division. The Giants are typically not very good without Pence -- from 2015 to present, they have a .633 winning percentage when he plays and a .467 when he doesn't. The good news: pitching is mostly responsible for San Francisco's current 18-6 stretch.
3. Rangers: The Rangers have won seven of nine, including a convincing weekend home sweep over the Mariners, the only other team in the AL West over .500. Since its road sweep in Oakland, Texas has won five consecutive series, and it is 21-9 at home this year. In a 9-2 stretch that pushed the Rangers to the division lead, their rotation is 9-1 with a 3.64 ERA. Their dominance in two categories -- home and against the Astros -- will be tested on Monday when the teams begin a four-game set in Arlington. Texas has won all six meetings with Houston this year, plus 10 in a row dating back to last year, and 14 of 15.
4. Nationals: Losing two of three to the Reds probably wasn't what the first-place Nationals had in mind when they visited the Queen City over the weekend. In fact, they narrowly missed being swept thanks to just enough offensive power in Sunday's finale. Still, a mediocre couple of weeks did not do enough damage to knock the Nats from the top spot in the NL East, nor does it make them a non-elite team. Washington's pitching (and Daniel Murphy) is making this team hum. In this space, let's send the bullpen some love, with its 2.97 ERA -- lowest in the NL -- and 1.09 WHIP, the second lowest in the league.
5. Red Sox: Where the Giants are dominating with their pitching and are a bit suspect offensively, the Red Sox are winning games the opposite way. As we've stated here in the past, time will tell how long Boston can sustain itself with a spotty pitching staff (the rotation's 4.75 ERA is the fifth highest in the AL) and an unstoppable offense. In short spurts, it can be fruitful, but over the long haul, that formula doesn't work. This could be an interesting week for the Sox, who will travel to San Francisco for a two-game set against the pitching-rich Giants. Then it's on to Minnesota for, perhaps, a breather.