Major League Baseball split into three divisions per league starting in 1994. The players went on strike Aug. 11. That wound up ending the regular season and wiped out the World Series for the first time in 90 years.
The playoffs were twice as large with three division champs and a wild-card team per league when the postseason arrived in 1995. The absurdity of a second wild-card and one-game shootouts in each league were added in 2012.
There have been 18 World Series in baseball's three-division era. Seven champions have come from the American League East (Yankees-5, Red Sox-2), four from the National League East (Florida-2, Atlanta, Philadelphia), three from the NL West (San Francisco-2, Arizona), two from the NL Central (St. Louis-2) and one apiece from the AL Central (White Sox) and the AL West (Angels).
The White Sox title came in 2005 and is the lone World Series championship for a Chicago franchise since 1917. The AL Central has sent four other teams to the World Series: Cleveland in 1995 and 1997, and Detroit in 2006 and 2012.
Two decades after the start of three-division play, the AL Central is not exactly a storied division. That said, I feel as if the Twins are currently in Detroit for a three-game series against a Tigers' team that should turn out to be the best-ever in the Central, barring injuries.
The Cleveland team of 1995 won 100 games in a 144-game scheduie, then powered its way into the World Series. Those were some frightening hitting teams the Indians put on the field in the mid-and-late '90s.
The White Sox team that rolled through October in 2005 was also tremendous. Yet, comparing those teams with the current Tigers, I like Detroit.
Here's a look at the AL Central teams that made it to the World Series, along with today's Tigers:
1995 CLEVELAND: C-Tony Pena. 1B-Paul Sorrento. 2B-Carlos Baerga. SS-Omar Vizquel. 3B-Jim Thome. LF-Albert Belle. CF-Kenny Lofton. RF-Manny Ramirez. DH-Eddie Murray.
SP-Dennis Martinez, Charles Nagy, Orel Hershiser, Mark Clark, Chad Ogea, Ken Hill (after July 27 trade). BP-Jose Mesa (closer), Julian Tavarez, Eric Plunk, Paul Assenmacher.
1997 CLEVELAND: C-Sandy Alomar. 1B-Thome. 2B-Tony Fernandez. SS-Vizquel. 3B-Matt Williams. LF-Brian Giles. CF-Marquis Grissom. RF-Ramirez. DH-David Justice.
SP-Nagy, Hershiser, Ogea, Jaret Wright, Bartolo Colon (rookie, 17 starts). BP-Mesa (closer), Mike Jackson, Plunk. Assenmacher.
2005 WHITE SOX: C-A.J. Pierzynski. 1B-Paul Konerko. 2B-Tadahito Iguchi. SS-Juan Uribe. 3B-Joe Crede. LF-Scott Podsednik. CF-Aaron Rowand. RF-Jermaine Dye. DH-Carl Everett (and Frank Thomas on limited basis).
SP-Mark Buehrle, Freddy Garcia, Jon Garland, Jose Contreras, Orlando Hernandez (for 22 starts). BP-Dustin Hermanson (closer), Luis Vizcaino, Neal Cotts, Damaso Marte, Bobby Jenks (later in season).
2006 DETROIT: C-Pudge Rodriguez. 1B-Chris Shelton, Sean Casey. 2B-Placido Polanco. SS-Carlos Guillen. 3B-Brandon Inge. LF-Craig Monroe. CF-Curtis Granderson. RF-Magglio Ordonez. DH-Marcus Thames.
SP-Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson, Kenny Rogers, Justin Verlander (rookie), Zach Miner and others. BP-Todd Jones (closer), Joel Zumaya, Fernando Rodney.
2012 DETROIT: C-Alex Avila. 1B-Prince Fielder. 2B-Omar Infante (last two months). SS-Jhonny Peralta. 3B-Miguel Cabrera. LF-Andy Dirks. CF-Austin Jackson. RF-Brennan Boesch, others. DH-Delmon Young.
SP-Verlander, Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Rick Porcello, Drew Smyly, Anibal Sanchez (12 starts). BP-Jose Valverde (closer), Jaoquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel (later in season), Phil Coke.
2013 DETROIT: C-Avila. 1B-Fielder. 2B-Infante (full season), SS-Peralta. 3B-Cabrera. LF-Dirks. CF-Jackson. RF-Torii Hunter. DH-Victor Martinez.
SP-Verlander, Scherzer, Fister, Sanchez (full season), Porcello. BP-Valverde (closer for now), Benoit, Coke, Smyly, Al Albuquerque (healthy), Bruce Rondon (rookie with potential to help), Dotel (currently injured).
I like the 2013 Tigers much better than last year's World Series team. I like this Tigers' lineup over the 2005 White Sox. I like the Tigers' starting pitching more than the 1995 Indians, and substantially more than the '97 Indians
Again, barring injuries to this Detroit team, here's the way I rate all-time AL Central clubs for potency: 2013 Tigers, 2005 White Sox, 1995 Indians, 1997 Indians, 2012 Tigers and 2006 Tigers.Take your choice of the best of the Twins' division champs in the 2000s and put that club seventh.
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