Jun 22, 2022; Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Twins designated hitter Gary Sanchez (24) safely slides into third base under the tag of Cleveland Guardians infielder Jose Ramirez (11) during the seventh inning at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Nick Wosika-USA TODAY Sports

With about four weeks left in the regular season, the contending teams in the American League Central — the Cleveland Guardians, Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox — need to ask themselves a question:

Is it possible for an entire division to collapse on itself?

Following a brutal walk-off loss to the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday, the Guardians' first-place lead dwindled to two games on Minnesota. Cleveland is 6-10 since Aug. 20.

The Twins, who probably could field an equally competitive team using the players they have on the injured list, finished another nightmarish series in the Bronx against the New York Yankees. Since 2002, Minnesota is 40-116 against the Yankees. More recently, the Twins are 7-13 since Aug. 20 after eking out a victory against New York on Thursday.

No matter the troubling recent history, the Guardians and Twins will see what happens when the irresistible force meets the immovable object. On Friday, they open a three-game series at Target Field and face each other eight times over the next 12 days. If Cleveland and Minnesota continue grinding themselves into oblivion, it could open the door for the White Sox, who finally showed some backbone in recent days by winning three straight series.

Chicago, which, like the Twins, has had its own injury problems, is just two games above .500 and hasn't been higher than five games over .500 all season. The White Sox have a combined 10 games to play against the Twins and Guardians, plus three against the Padres in San Diego before the regular season’s final week. Chicago's other 12 games come against sub-.500 teams — the Oakland Athletics (50-88), Detroit Tigers (52-85) and Colorado Rockies (59-79). The A's series began Thursday night with the White Sox rolling to a 14-2 win in Oakland.

It would seem that all three AL Central contenders have a strong amount of agency in deciding their own destinies. Is that good news or bad?

Let's take a quick look at the abbreviated contender standings:

American League East
Team W L GB
1. Yankees 83 55 +4.5
2. Rays 77 58 -4.5
3. Blue Jays 76 60 -6.0
American League Central
Team W L GB
1. Guardians 70 65 +1.5
2. Twins 69 67 -1.5
3. White Sox 70 68 -1.5
American League West
Team W L GB
1. Astros 88 49 +11.0
2. Mariners 77 60 -11.0
American League Wild Card
Team W L GB
1. Rays 77 58 +6.0
2. Mariners 77 60 +5.0
3. Blue Jays 76 50 +4.5
4. Orioles 72 65 -4.5
5. Twins 69 67 -7.0
6. White Sox 70 68 -7.0
National League East
Team W L GB
1. Mets 87 51 +0.5
2. Braves 86 51 -0.5
National League Central
Team W L GB
1. Cardinals 81 57 +8.0
2. Brewers 73 65 -8.0
National League West
Team W L GB
1. Dodgers 94 42 +19.0
2. Padres 76 62 -19.0
National League Wild Card
Team W L GB
1. Braves 86 51 +13.5
2. Padres 76 62 +3.0
3. Phillies 75 62 +2.5
4. Brewers 73 65 -2.5

More series to watch

All Friday through Sunday (Sept. 9-11)

Atlanta Braves (86-51) at Seattle Mariners (77-60)

It's an interleague series worth watching, though it's potentially more meaningful for the Braves, who seek a division lead and a possible playoff bye. While still not playing to its potential, Atlanta is 30-13 in the second half and has been putting a lot of pressure on the Mets in the NL East. (New York visits the Marlins for three games concurrently.) Despite dropping two of three against the White Sox, the Mariners have one of the best AL records in the second half and have a solid grip on a wild-card spot, which would be their first playoff berth since 2001. Atlanta's Charlie Morton opposes Seattle's Robbie Ray in Friday's opener. Max Fried faces George Kirby on Saturday. The Braves haven't announced a pitcher for Sunday against lefty Marco Gonzales.

Boston Red Sox (67-71) at Baltimore Orioles (72-65)

Baltimore's playoff hopes took a big hit this week by dropping three of four to the Blue Jays. The O's can't afford to get too much further behind. Boston's Brayan Bello faces Austin Both in the opener. Michael Wacha is set for the Red Sox against someone to be announced on Saturday. Rich Hill goes against rookie Kyle Bradish on Sunday.

Tampa Bay Rays (77-58) at New York Yankees (83-55)

Didn't we just see these teams square off? The Rays took two of three at Tropicana Field a week ago, and now it's New York's turn. The Yankees are still sorting out their starting pitching for the series after lefty Nestor Cortes in the opener, but Drew Rasmussen and Corey Kluber, respectively, are probable for the Rays in the first two games. After visiting Yankee Stadium, the Rays head to Toronto on Monday for a five-game series at Rogers Centre.

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