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Heading into the 2024 MLB season, many believed the American League Central division to be the worst in all of baseball. The Twins were the favorite with the Tigers expected to push them and maybe, just maybe, the Guardians and/or Royals could join the party if everything broke right. 

Instead, the Guardians have held first place for over 100 days, the Tigers have been a big disappointment, the Royals were great for a while before hitting a wall and the Twins have been hot and cold. The Guardians head to Friday with a six-game lead over the Twins with the Royals eight back. The Tigers are safely out of this thing, 16 games back and ready to sell. We could mention the White Sox, I guess, since they exist. 

This looks to be a three-team race, if that. Can the Guardians hold off the Twins and Royals, or will one of the challengers take down the favorite? Let's take a look. 

Cleveland Guardians, 54-31(-235)

Since a seven-game winning streak ran the Guardians to a season-best 25 games over .500, they've stumbled a bit, having lost five of seven. It happens over the course of 162, even to the best teams, but it is worth a mention. Some people have been waiting all year on the proverbial other shoe to fall with this bunch

The rotation certainly leaves a lot to be desired, but the bullpen is the best in baseball by a decent margin. The offense is led by a well-rounded three-headed monster in José Ramírez, Josh Naylor and Steven Kwan. They also find ways to get everything out of surprising supporting cast stars like David Fry and Daniel Schneemann

We're deep enough into the season that I'm done questioning this group. I fully expect they continue to play well and with a cushion like this in the division, they are a great bet to win it. 

Minnesota Twins, 49-38 (+280)

The Twins were bad to start the year and twice went into mini-tailspins that coincided with playing their long-time nemesis, the Yankees. Other than those three terrible stretches, they've won at an exceedingly high clip. As things stand, the Twins have won 15 of 22 and seven of 10. Of course, we can't discount their ability to fall into terrible stretches, either, right? 

Of course, they also just lost Royce Lewis to injury, again, and who knows how long he can stay on the field when he comes back. Byron Buxton has been hot lately, but he also feels like an injury waiting to happen. Can we count on Carlos Correa to stay healthy and consistent? 

Man, there's a good amount of talent here, but we also have plenty of reasons to doubt they can remain consistent through the end of the season. 

A big stretch for the Twins is Aug. 9-14. They play the Guardians four times and Royals three times. In all, the Twins have eight games left against the Guardians and six against the Royals. 

Any believer in the Twins needs to believe that the ballclub will be moderately healthy and playing well during these head-to-heads. That's the path to the division title. 

Kansas City Royals, 48-41 (+600)

Through June 8, the Royals were 39-26. From June 9 through June 23, the Royals went 3-11 and that could end up crushing them late in the season. They've since won five of seven, suggesting they are in the race to stay, but that rough stretch looms large in this race. 

Offensively, the Royals have an MVP-caliber star in Bobby Witt Jr. along with decent power bats in Salvador Perez and Vinnie Pasquantino. The lineup is thin, though, which leads to inconsistency. 

In the rotation, Seth Lugo has been amazing overall, but it's difficult to see him pitching like a Cy Young winner for an entire season at this point in his career when we've seen the rest of said career. Cole Ragans might get better and look like an ace, but the rest of the pitching staff looks like it's more capable of being adequate than great. 

I guess what I'm saying here is the Royals feel like the third-place team to me. If you wanted to pick against the Guardians, the Twins are most likely your only hope. 

The Royals do have seven games remaining against the Guardians and are 4-2 against Cleveland this year. If you do like the Royals here, that's an avenue of optimism. 

Detroit Tigers, 39-48 (+25000)

Pass. They are cooked in 2024. 

The Play: Guardians -235

I think this is their year in this division and I feel strongly enough to grab it with this amount of juice. The Twins might hang around with them for a while -- the Royals won't -- but the Guardians are taking this thing. Plus, I expect a savvy move or two in front of the deadline to improve.