After a week away from the column, I’m back in business. Over the past week, even though I’ve been on vacation, I’ve still got to soak in quite a bit of baseball (including a look at the Daytona Cubs ballpark). With that said, let’s get to it!

AL Central Race Tightens

Going into the season, the Detroit Tigers were seen by many as World Series favorites and many also thought that they’d easily plow through to yet another AL Central title. Much like last year, though, the division hasn’t been the cakewalk they expected.

Just about three-quarters of the way through the season, the Tigers hold the lead in the Central by just a half of a game, and that lead is withering away with every day that passes as the red-hot Kansas City Royals have rattled off 7 games in a row.

Many of the problems that Detroit has faced have been blamed on their bullpen (I’m looking at you, Joe Nathan), but their supposedly daunting lineup has come up flat over the past week. Miguel Cabrera has found himself in a rare slump and it appears as if JD Martinez is finally coming back to earth.

With one of the highest payrolls in the league, it would be a colossal failure if the Tigers somehow managed to lose their lead on the division. With the upstart Royals coming for their heads, they’re going to need to figure things out quickly. With all of this being said, however, I still see them taking home the division crown. How do you think the AL Central will shake out? Will the Royals grab a Wild Card spot if they don’t win the division?

Jeter Moves Up Hit List 

No, not that kind of hit list.

In what has been a farewell tour of a season for New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, he has reached yet another historic milestone in his illustrious career. Though a Hall of Fame spot is already locked up, this only adds to his resume.

In the sixth inning of Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Indians, Jeter came up to the plate against Corey Kluber (who was 9 years old when Jeter made his MLB debut). He hit a slow-rolling grounder to the third baseman, but beat it out and in turn moved up to 6th on the all-time hits list.

Realistically, this is probably where he’ll stay given that he’s 84 hits behind the player in 5th place (Tris Speaker). Also with his hit, he moved past Honus Wagner and became the leading hitter amongst shortstops in the history of the game.

With all of this being said and all of his accomplishments being taken into account, what do you think are the chances that Jeter becomes the first player to get into the Hall of Fame unanimously? Along with that, where do you place him amongst the best shortstops of all-time?

Brad Penny Starts, Wins Game For Marlins

Don’t worry; you didn’t hit your head. This is actually 2014, not 2004 like you may think from the headline. That’s right, Brad Penny (now 36) started and won a game for the Miami Marlins (he probably had to get directions to the new stadium) this week.

After spending the last decade bouncing around both the MLB and Japan, Penny has found himself back in the place he called home for the first four and a half years of his career. He spent last year overseas, but the Marlins signed him to a minor-league deal back in June.

His homecoming of sorts (the game was in Cincinnati) was a successful one, as he tossed 5 innings of one-run ball and put the Marlins in a position to win. His 4 walks were a tad bit concerning, but overall it was an impressive effort for someone who’s been a bit down on their luck the past few years.

With all of the injuries that have occurred to the Marlins staff, there’s a decent change that Penny could stick around as an innings-eater if he’s able to pitch well enough. All that’s needed for the Marlins is to trade for A.J. Burnett and sign Dontrelle Willis and they’d be right back in business. With a nostalgic story like Penny, who’s one non-star player you’d like to see back in a Cubs uniform?

This Week’s MVP: J.J. Hardy (.423/.444/.769, 2 HR, 7 RBI)

This Week’s Cy Young: James Shields (2-0, 1.06 ERA, 7 K)

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Brian Rzeppa is an avid follower of the Cubs, and of Major League Baseball in general. You can find his various other sports-related work at Tru School Sports, and you can follow him on Twitter @brianrzeppa.