KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The addition of a second wild card this season will spell salvation for two teams come September. All-Star closer Chris Perez doesn't think the Indians can count on that.
"We're going to have to win the Central," said Perez Monday to a swarm of reporters around his podium at the American League interview session. "The second wild card is coming out of the AL East. That's the superior division in our league."
At the All-Star break, the Indians are 44-41 and in second place in the AL Central. They trail Chicago by three games with Detroit lurking in third place, a half-game out of second.
If the season ended today, the two AL wild card teams would be the Angels and Orioles. The Indians would miss the second wild card by one game.
"We've been in a dogfight all year," said Perez. "Now it's a three-team race."
Detroit was the preseason pick to win the Central. They paired newly signed Prince Fielder with Miguel Cabrera to lead the offense and had Justin Verlander, the AL's Cy Young winner in 2011, to lead the pitching staff.
The Tigers have had a hard time getting out of their own way through much of the first half. The Indians and White Sox gladly filled the void, trading first place in the division for the first 31/2 months of the season.
"For sure, we can catch them," said shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, the Indians' other All-Star. "I believe in my team. We just have to keep doing what we're doing and be more consistent."
The White Sox under General Manager Ken Williams and rookie manager Robin Ventura had a good first half. They went into the break with eight rookie pitchers on their staff. Lefty Matt Thornton was the only veteran in the bullpen.
All-Star left-hander Chris Sale is not a rookie, but he had a lot to do with the White Sox's rise in the first half. Sale, in his first year in the rotation, could have easily started for the AL tonight against San Francisco's Matt Cain after going 10-2 with a 2.19 ERA. AL manager Ron Washington went with Verlander (9-5, 2.58), though Sale had the better numbers.
"At the start of the season, some people might have said you're crazy if you said we'd be sitting where we are at the All-Star break," said Sale, "but we're not surprised at all. . . . We're going to try and do the same thing in the second half."
The White Sox, who won 11 of their past 15 games going into the break, are 8-4 against the Indians this year. The two teams do not meet again until September when they play six times in the final 10 games of the regular season.
Sale, Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko and Jake Peavy are representing the White Sox at the All-Star Game.
"I don't think we're playing over our heads at all," said Dunn. "We had a lot of guys do a lot of great things in the first half, but myself included, I think we're capable of doing way more. I can get on base more. I can drive in more runs."
Dunn has always been an all-or-nothing hitter. Last year in Chicago, he was just nothing. This year he's hitting .208 (61-for-293) with 21 homers and 61 RBI. He leads the big leagues with 68 walks and 134 strikeouts.
Asked what this year's first half meant to him, Dunn said, "To be honest with you, it means nothing. I know it sounds crazy. I'm looking forward to the second half. There are a lot of things I need to clean up. Hopefully, I can have a better second half than first."
The White Sox beat the Tribe to Kevin Youkilis. They acquired the veteran third baseman from Boston and he has driven in 14 runs in 13 games. The Indians could have used his right-handed bat to balance their left-handed dominated lineup.
GM Chris Antonetti is still looking for help from the outside. It was suggested to Perez that the Indians could use another starting pitcher.
"We did it last year and it didn't work when we traded for Ubaldo [Jimenez]," said Perez. "I like what we have in-house, we just haven't played up to our potential. Justin Masterson is starting to get better. Ubaldo is throwing the ball better. Josh Tomlin had a nice start his last time out. Zach McAllister has really impressed me.
"We need to just keep being consistent."