Cleveland’s big early lead in the AL Central is slipping away

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Cleveland shocked everyone by going 18-8 in April and kept rolling through the first three weeks of May, giving the Indians an MLB-best 30-15 record as of May 23.

That put them seven games ahead of the Tigers in the AL Central and double-digit games ahead of every other team in the division, but the Indians have gone 4-11 since then–including an extra-inning loss to the Twins this afternoon–and if the Tigers win tonight that big early lead will have disintegrated from 7.0 games to 0.5 games in just two weeks.

Even at 34-26 the Indians have dramatically out-performed expectations that included many preseason predictions pegging them for fourth or even fifth place in the AL Central, but with Detroit just a game back and Chicago still lurking within striking distance manager Manny Acta will have to get things back on track in a hurry.

I’ve certainly been wrong about the Indians so far, but at this point I’d pick them to finish in third place.

Jonny Venters is back in the majors

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The Rays announced on Wednesday that the club purchased the contract of lefty reliever Jonny Venters from Triple-A Durham. The 33-year-old hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2012 due to a continuous battle with arm injuries. The Rays note that he has undergone two and a half Tommy John surgeries, which is a number that seems to be in dispute.

Venters signed a minor league contract with the Rays in December. With Durham so far this season, he gave up two runs (one earned) on four hits and five walks with six strikeouts in 5 2/3 innings.

Before the injuries, Venters was among the best relievers in 2010-11. In those two seasons, he posted a combined 1.89 ERA with 189 strikeouts and 82 walks in 171 innings.