Twins Lead AL Central while Tigers Ride the Pine

Dustin RaynerCorrespondent IMay 5, 2008

Here we are, just over a fifth of the way through the 2008 MLB season and the AL Central is the tightest division in baseball. 

In years past, it has bred extraordinary competition among teams seeking a divisional playoff spot. This year should be no different.

As of May 4, only three games separated the five teams in the division, the least amount of separation for any division in baseball. 

The Minnesota Twins lead the division, with the White Sox, Royals, Indians, and Tigers close behind.

Most analysts predicted that the Tigers would win the division convincingly. With the third highest payroll in baseball and perhaps the best lineup ever assembled, they were a lock. 

Other predictions included a Wild Card contender in the Cleveland Indians, who tasted playoff experience last fall.

However, the division appears to be upside down thus far. 

The Twins and White Sox, predicted to be two of the worst teams in the division, now sit atop the standings in the AL Central. 

While the season is still young and the spread is insignificant, the message is not: this will be a division to watch come August and September.

All five teams should remain in the hunt late, even the Royals who typically remove themselves from playoff contention by mid-July.

The story thus far has been simple: payroll does not equal playoffs. 

The Twins currently have the 25th ranked payroll in MLB, with the Royals ranked 24th.  Conversely, the White Sox are ranked fifth and the Tigers third.  Regardless of income, these players appear to be fighting for the same spot in the postseason.

The will to win is often more important than the pay earned to play the game, as evident this past week in the Tigers-Twins series. 

The Twins, on a five-game winning streak, swept the Tigers for the first time in several years.

Sunday afternoon was an illustration of the Tigers glaring weakness: pitching.

The Tigers got off to a 6-0 lead in the first after lighting Bonser up like a Christmas tree.  However, they were unable to defend that lead and lost the game 7-6.

The Twins have shown poise early, making things happen when it counts. 

They've played well despite disappointing performances from Francisco Liriano, who is currently with Triple-A Rochester, as well as some early injuries to pitchers Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey. 

Slugger Mike Cuddyer and infielder Adam Everett have also had stints on the 15-day DL.

Come August only one thing can be predicted for the AL Central—expect it to be a close race that keeps fans on the edge of their seats. 

Every game counts, and it's the team on the winning side of the 7-6 games that will play for fame this fall.