There’s nothing more a team would want than to set the tone immediately in 2021 by establishing an early lead in its divisional race. But after last year’s 60-game sprint, everyone must be ready to take on a 162-game marathon.
Sure, there’s a long season ahead, and there will be many peaks and valleys for all 30 clubs, but getting off to a strong start could be crucial to the teams in the American League Central. Since 1996, the team leading the AL Central on May 1 went on to win the division 63% of the time (excluding 2020, of course). The White Sox and Twins are expected to be in a close battle for the division title, but the two clubs won’t meet until May 11. Could those first six-plus weeks of the season prove to be a difference-maker?
As Minnesota and Chicago look to pull away as the favorites in the AL Central, Cleveland will do its best to prove right out of the gate that it can hang with the top dogs and keep some separation from Kansas City. The Tribe will have an easier first two weeks of the season, but it will still play 19 games against teams that reached the postseason last year during the first month. If there’s any club with a more difficult start to the year, it could be Detroit, which is slated to play 22 of its first 29 games against teams that made the postseason in ’20.
Let’s take a deeper look at how each team in the AL Central’s first-month schedules match up (through Sunday, May 2):
Home/road split: 14 at home, 13 on the road
Games in division: 3 v. Royals, 6 v. Tigers, 3 v. Twins, 9 v. White Sox
Games vs. above-.500 teams from 2020: 19
Games vs. 2020 postseason teams: 19
Cleveland knows it’s become the underdogs of this tight AL Central race. But the team has a chance to prove right away that it’ll still be able to hang with the powerhouse Twins and White Sox by creating some separation from the Royals and Tigers in the first eight games of the season. The Tribe has only those eight games to get its footing, as the next 19 will be against 2020 postseason teams, including the White Sox, Reds, Yankees and Twins.
— Mandy Bell
Home/road split: 13 at home, 14 on road
Games in division: 2 v. Indians, 4 v. Tigers, 3 v. Twins, 3 v. White Sox
Games vs. above-.500 teams from 2020: 15
Games vs. 2020 postseason teams: 15
After their three-game homestand against the Rangers to open the season, the Royals will quickly get a test against their division, hitting the road to face the Indians and White Sox, two teams they want to play better against this year. The non-postseason teams from 2020 that the Royals will face in the opening month are the Rangers, Angels, Tigers and Pirates.
— Anne Rogers
Home/road split: 12 at home, 16 on road
Games in division: 6 v. Indians, 4 v. Royals, 3 v. Twins, 3 v. White Sox
Games vs. above-.500 teams from 2020: 19
Games vs. 2020 postseason teams: 22
The Tigers had a history of fast starts under Ron Gardenhire, but new manager A.J. Hinch doesn’t get a break. After their season-opening homestand against the Indians and Twins, the Tigers get a major road test with a 10-game, 10-day trip to Cleveland, Houston and Oakland, all of which were postseason teams in 2020. The only games the Tigers play against non-postseason teams in the opening month come during a seven-game homestand in late April against the Pirates and Royals.
— Jason Beck
Home/road split: 13 at home, 15 on road
Games in division: 3 v. Indians, 3 v. Royals, 3 v. Tigers
Games vs. above-.500 teams from 2020: 6
Games vs. 2020 postseason teams: 9
The Twins have an unusual start to their 2021 schedule. It will mark their first time opening a season with an Interleague series (at Milwaukee), and only two of their series in the first month will come against teams that had winning records last year (Oakland and Cleveland). Most of the club’s games will come out of division, and fans will have to wait until mid-May for the first of the Twins’ highly anticipated matchups against the White Sox.
— Do-Hyoung Park
Home/road split: 16 at home, 13 on road
Games in division: 9 v. Indians, 3 v. Royals, 3 v. Tigers
Games vs. above-.500 teams from 2020: 9 (all against Cleveland)
Games vs. 2020 postseason teams: 9 (all against Cleveland)
The White Sox-Twins rivalry in the AL Central has become one of the best in baseball, but these two talented teams won’t meet until May 11. Chicago will get a good feel for Cleveland’s talent, playing the Tribe nine times among its first 29 games. It could make for a solid start to what the White Sox hope is a big season, as they have homestands of seven and nine games in the first month.
— Scott Merkin