The AL Central has experienced a lot of change in the past few years and this offseason was no different. The division leader from a season ago, the Detroit Tigers, were able to make the American League Championship Series before losing to the eventual Champions in the Boston Red Sox.
1) Detroit Tigers
The Tigers were one of the busiest teams during the offseason. Over the last few seasons, the Tigers have been one of the most successful teams, but have not won the World Series. This season, the Tigers have a great chance of winning the title as they may have the best team on paper.
Like other seasons, the Tigers offense should be incredibly effective and dangerous. The leader of the offense is their star third baseman, Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera is the best all-around hitter in baseball and is rising on the all-time list. If Cabrera can remain healthy for at least 140 games, he will hit over .320 with 40 home runs, 100 runs, and 125 RBI. Although Cabrera was protected by Fielder the past two seasons, the Tigers traded Prince to the Texas Rangers in return for star second baseman Ian Kinsler. Although Kinsler does not have the same power potential, he is a proven run scorer and should get on base at a high level in front of Cabrera. Although Cabrera will not have Prince to protect him, the Tigers must rely on the skill of Victor Martinez and Torii Hunter. The Tigers should be able to continue their excellence on offense and score enough runs to win a lot of games. In terms of defense, the team will have more problems with the loss of Jose Iglesias. Although Jose is young, he showed last season that he is one of the best fielders in the league because he has great range, hands, and a fantastic throwing arm. The Tigers do not have a great defense, which could ultimately lead to their downfall.
Along with the Tigers’ great offense, the Tigers’ pitching staff is one of the best in the league. The staff will be led by two Cy Young Award winners, Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer. Along with the two stars, the Tigers have Anibal Sanchez, Drew Smyly, and Rick Porcello. Although the trio do not have the star power like Max and Justin, they have great potential and skill. The trio must continue their success from last season if they are going to compete for the best record in the AL and claim home field advantage throughout the postseason. During last postseason, the Tigers showed how dominant their starting pitching would become because of their power and ability to strike out opposing batters. The Tigers would have advanced to the WS and possibly won the championship if they had a better bullpen. During the offseason, the Tigers improved their bullpen by signing Joba Chamberlain and star closer Joe Nathan. Along with Bruce Rondon, the new and enhanced bullpen should make the Tigers an improved ball club.
The Tigers won 93 games last season and should be able to win a similar amount of games this season. The Tigers are by far the best team in the AL Central and should win the division by at least 5 games. Without Doug Fister and Fielder, the Tigers will probably lose more games during the regular season without the power bat and quality pitcher.
Predicted Tigers Record: 91-71
2) Kansas City Royals
The Royals were one of the surprise teams in baseball last season and almost made the playoffs last year. The young Royals’ offense has an incredible amount of talent and should propel the Royals to success this season in the AL Central.
The Royals will be led on offense by Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez, Omar Infante, Billy Butler, and Mike Moustakas. The leader of the Royals’ offense is certainly Eric Hosmer. Hosmer took great strides toward the end of last season and became the best player on the team. The Royals are hoping that Mike Moustakas will take the next step forward like Hosmer and become a dominant part of their offense. If Mike and Salvador Perez can become stars and Hosmer a superstar, the team will have a chance to compete in the AL Central with the Indians and the Tigers. The Royals have a lot of good complementary players, but need a superstar to strike fear into opponents and win more games. On defense, the team should be very good and the outfield should be the rock of the team. The combination of Gordon, Aoki, and Cain should produce a great defensive unit because they are quick, have good instincts, and good arms in the outfield. In the infield, the team has a few good defensive players, which will make the team stable.
In terms of pitching, the Royals have a few questions that must be answered in order to win enough games. The starting staff will be led by “Big Game” James Shields who pitches like an ace and is a good pitcher to build around. If the Royals do not stay competitive throughout the season, the Royals will look to trade Shields because it is unlikely that they will be able to sign him to a long term deal next offseason. Behind James, the team has Jason Vargas, Yordano Ventura, Danny Duffy, and Jeremy Guthrie. The biggest X-Factor of the pitching staff will be Yordano Ventura. Yordano has excelled during the spring season because he can throw heat. Yordano has averaged around 98 MPH during the innings he has pitched this spring. Along with Ventura, Duffy and Vargas will be important for the Royals. Vargas is a consistent pitcher and should be a quality pitcher for the Royals. Duffy has extreme talent and the Royals hope that he can harness his potential and succeed with the club.
If the Royals’ pitchers can meet their expectations, the team will be competing for the second wild card position and win over 85 games. Like last season, the Royals’ bullpen should be consistent and dominant throughout the regular season. Last season, Greg Holland was one of the most dominating teams because he has the ability to throw hard and strike out opposing hitters at an amazing rate. Along with Holland, they have a lot of quality arms in the bullpen that should keep leads. Although the Royals may not outlast the Tigers for a the division championship, they will be in a tight battle with the Cleveland Indians.
Predicted Royals Record: 87-75
3) Cleveland Indians
The Indians were the biggest surprise last season because manager Terry Francona was able to lead them to the second wild card position. Although they did not have great talent, they came together as a team and went on a great streak toward the end of the season. However, the Indians lost a few players that were important to their late season run and failed to sign people to replace their starters.
Although the Indians do not have any superstars in their lineup, they recorded the fifth most runs in the league. The key contributors for the Indians are Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Michael Brantley. Since the Indians do not have a player that can carry an offense for a month, each player must play at a high consistent level and exceed expectations if they are going to score enough runs to win games. In terms of defense, the Indians have quality defensive players such as Cabrera, Kipnis, Bourn, and Brantley, which will help them stop opposing teams from scoring.
The Indians’ pitching staff is extremely interesting because they do not have a legitimate ace. The Indians need to replace Ubaldo Jimenez, who had a great stretch toward the end of last season and pitched like an ace. The leader of the pitching staff this season must be Justin Masterson. Masterson pitched well last season, but needs to make the next step and pitch like an ace if the Indians are going to make a run next season. Behind Masterson, the Indian’s have Zach McAllister, Danny Salazar, Cory Kluber, and Shaun Marcum filling out the other four spots in the rotation. The quartet has not achieved much success at the major league level during their careers; however, they must stay healthy and pitch well throughout the season. It is unlikely that they will be able to meet expectations and stay healthy because Marcum was a disaster last year and the other three did not pitch many innings last season. Although the trio had ERAs in the 3s last year, they each pitched under 150 innings and it is unknown if they can achieve the same success over an entire season or the 175 innings each that the Indians are expecting from the three starters.
While the starting rotation may present questions, the relief staff should be the most consistent part of their squad. Although they lost former closer Chris Perez, they replaced him with closer John Axford. Although Axford has not experienced success in the last few seasons, he has experience and should be able to obtain success. The Indians have retained the rest of their bullpen, which includes Cody Allen, Marc Rzepczynski, Vinnie Pestano, and Josh Outman. Each reliever has experienced success in the past and should be able to succeed next season for the Indians. The Indians’ bullpen needs to pitch well because they cannot afford to lose leads. Although they won 92 games last season, it is unlikely they will achieve similar success this season. The Indians are a quality team with many solid players but do not have any stars.
Predicted Indians Record: 81-81
4) Chicago White Sox
The Chicago White Sox had a horrible season last year as many players had the worst seasons of their careers. The White Sox are in full rebuilding mode and traded a few of their elder, more expensive players last season before the trade deadline. The White Sox have a lot of young talent on their roster and will be starting these young players this season. Although these players have talent, they will go through their struggles and face a few losing streaks during the season.
The White Sox made a big signing this offseason when they signed Jose Abreu, a young Cuban, to a long term deal. The White Sox hope they can build a strong lineup with Abreu, Adam Eaton, Avisail Garcia, Matt Davidson, Tyler Flowers, and Gordon Beckham. The White Sox feel that they have a strong core so they can eventually become a playoff team in a few years. Unless the White Sox are a major surprise, they will probably trade away Paul Konerko, Adam Dunn, or Alexei Ramirez at the trade deadline because it is unlikely that they are part of the White Sox’s future.
On the pitching staff, the White Sox have Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, John Danks, Felipe Paulino, and Erik Johnson. The White Sox are led by Chris Sale, a legitimate ace and one of the ten best pitchers in the league. Sale is a young pitcher with great skill and has the ability to strike out over 200 batters in a single season. Outside of Sale, the rest of the staff pose many questions. Danks and Quintana are solid pitchers, but they can be inconsistent and occasionally perform very poorly. The back of the rotation Paulino and Johnson are young starters with little experience. Although they will go through their struggles, the White Sox hope Paulino and Johnson will improve with more experience and exposure and eventually become reliable starters in the rotation.
Like the other parts of their team, the bullpen has a few questions. First, the Sox must find a new closer because they traded Addison Reed to the Diamondbacks this offseason. The White Sox hope Matt Lindstrom can become a consistent closer and achieve success again. Before Robin Ventura will give the ball to Lindstrom, the ball will likely go through Ronald Belisario, Nate Jones, Donnie Veal, Scott Downs, and Dylan Axelrod. Many of these pitchers are unknowns for the White Sox. If the relievers are able to exceed expectations, the White Sox may be able to win a few more games than expected. The White Sox may not win many games, but they will be fun and exciting to watch because they have a lot of young talented players that will be relied on to play a lot this season.
Predicted White Sox Record: 70-92
5) Minnesota Twins
At the start of the offseason, the Twins were one of the most active teams and signed a few starting pitchers. The Twins, like the White Sox, are in full rebuilding mode and do not have much talent on their roster, especially on offense. Besides Joe Mauer, the Twins do not have many players that the average fan has heard of in the past.
Some of these players include Josmil Pinto at catcher (Mauer has moved to first base), Pedro Florimon at third base, Alex Presley in center field, and Oswaldo Arcia in right field. Although these players have talent, especially Oswaldo Arcia, none of the players are expected to be All-Stars in the future. The Twins’ two best prospects Michael Sano and Bryan Buxton, the best prospect in baseball, are not expected to play with the Twins this season, but should be stars for the next 2 decades. Like the White Sox, the Twins will probably be auctioning some of their elder players during the trade deadline such as Josh Willingham, Jason Kubel, and possibly Brian Dozier or Trevor Plouffe.
In terms of the Twins’ pitching, their pitching staff should be dramatically improved because they signed a few starters to long term deals, Ricky Nolasco and Phil Hughes. The Twins have an improved staff, but they do not have an ace or a very deep rotation. Nolasco pitched well last season, but he is not a true number one pitcher. Hughes had trouble in New York, but he should be able to improve because he will not allow as many home runs in the spacious Target Field. Kevin Correia and Mike Pelfrey are quality, experienced pitchers and should pitch a lot of quality innings. At the fifth spot, the Twins have Vance Worley. Worley is a young pitcher with potential and the Twins hope that he will be part of the rotation for another decade. Worley has been injured since being traded from the Phillies, but he will not be asked to pitch an exorbitant amount of innings. The Twins have some nice pieces in the rotation, but will need to pitch well because the offense will not score many runs.
In the bullpen, the Twins have a few good options like Glen Perkins, Brian Duensing, and Anthony Swarzak. Although these pieces may not be on the team the entire season because other teams will trade for them at the deadline, they should pitch well and allow the Twins to hold the leads they are able to gain. The Twins’ fans need to have patience because in a few years the team should be good once their prospect gain experience and mature their bodies and game.
Predicted Twins Record: 69-93
All pics and stats from ESPN