The AL Central has been baseball's most up in the air division so far in 2016. Early on it looked like the White Sox were the best team in the entire American League. They have struggled mightily since, however, and it then appeared as if the Royals were poised to repeat as division champs. Next came the Cleveland Indians. After starting the year 10-12 they are on a 22-12 run, which includes six straight wins and a recent four game sweep over the defending champions.
Cleveland's success shouldn't come as a huge surprise. Since Terry Francona took over as manager in 2013 they have been over .500 every season. They lost a one game playoff to Tampa Bay that year and narrowly missed the postseason in 2014. The 2015 Cleveland Indians scored 4.16 runs per game. This year that number has risen to 4.84 despite the loss of Michael Brantley, who finished third in the 2014 AL MVP voting.
The biggest development since Brantley's shoulder injury has been the success of 22-year-old shortstop Francisco Lindor. After finishing second in the AL Rookie of the Year voting last season Lindor is having another excellent year. So far in his career he has played 154 games, which is roughly a full season. In those games he has batted .311 with a .356 OBP, 18 home runs, 80 RBI, and 22 stolen bases. Since the start of 2015 he ranks fourth among all shortstop in defensive runs saved, despite not getting called up until June.
In addition to the success of the offense the team's pitching staff is also getting a boost from a breakout star. 26-year-old Danny Salazar has entered the Cy Young conversation by going 6-3 with a league leading 2.24 ERA. In just 68.1 innings he has struck out 81. He has carried them thus far through Corey Kluber's struggles, Carlos Carrasco's injury, and Trevor Bauer's inconsistencies. Despite the slow start Cleveland's starters have the strikeout potential to form one of the best rotations in the league.
The AL Central, just like the American League, is wide open right now. The only team out of contention is Minnesota. Recent reports suggest that Brantley may not be back anytime soon, which would mean the Indians are in the market for a bat. Cleveland's flaws aren't any worse than Chicago's or Kansas City's. Barring any more significant injuries this division could come down to who makes the biggest trade deadline splash.