Each and every MLB team sees this season being something different. The American League Central is one of the toughest divisions in the league. The division received some underachieving performances in 2016, including the Kansas City Royals, who finished at 81-81 after winning the World Series in 2015.
Last season, the division saw one of their teams reach the World Series again in the Cleveland Indians. The team came as close as to a series you can get without actually winning it. Now, the team has improved by adding a superstar in Edwin Encarnacion. The Tigers had a decent ’16 season, but have the talent to achieve more and could realize their potential in 2017.
The White Sox and Twins will continue to improve for the future. Both teams are working to improve their futures. The Sox are committed to their plan enough to have the willingness to trade away their premier ace Chris Sale for a package of prospects, including the highly touted Yoan Moncada. The Twins are in a bit of a hole for the time being and may need to spend the next several years rebuilding before they can be viewed as contenders.
Regardless of what perceptions these teams give us, the game isn’t played on paper and anything could happen. What if the season started today, January 12th, 2017? I’m going break down each AL Central teams chance of winning the division. Let’s get started, shall we?
5. Minnesota Twins
As just mentioned, the Minnesota Twins are in quite a bit of a hole. The team has seen their once MVP, Joe Mauer, fall off drastically from where he once was. Mauer is a holder of three records; the highest batting average of any catcher in a single season, highest OBP, and has more batting titles than any catcher in MLB history. However, he has fallen far from that.
The hard reality for the Twins is that Mauer may very well still be their best offensive player. That isn’t great when you consider the fact that Mauer for a multitude of reasons, hasn’t been able to get past a .277 batting average and has never been a homerun guy. Mauer is only rivaled by Miguel Sano and Brian Dozier. According to a few reports, Dozier will likely enter the 2017 season in a different uniform.
The pitching rotation isn’t much either. So, the Twins have quite a mountain to climb before they could contend for a division crowd, so their energy should be completely focused on building towards a better future.
Final Prediction: Unless the Twins benefit from a completely revitalized Joe Mauer and pitching rotation and benefit from a couple of breakout stars, they’ll likely be fighting for 4th place with the White Sox again.
Even with the White Sox being sellers, they still have a significant talent advantage over the Twins. So, it’s very likely that the Twins’ will finish the season at 5th place, barring any overachievers.
4. Chicago White Sox
Given the reports and trade of Chris Sale, the White Sox have made their plan for the team obvious. The Sox are looking to rebuild towards the future and rumors have been going on for most of the offseason about the team possibly trading away Jose Quintana, Jose Abreau and David Robertson for prospects.
Even if the team does indeed trade away all of the players mentioned, they’ll still have an average team at best. The pitching rotation without Quintana includes James Shields, Carlos Rondon, Derek Holland and Miguel Gonzales, which is a group of average pitchers, with some potential.
Shields once held the nickname, “Big Game Shields”, though it has been awhile since he’s given that name any validation. Holland and Gonzales are mediocre at best, while Rondon could still have a level of potential to reach at age 24.
The lineup would be led by Todd Frazier, Melky Cabrera, and Brett Lawrie. That isn’t an incredible supporting cast for Abreau, even if the team decided to not trade him. The White Sox have the right plan and should stick to it, as the team needs more than a miracle to win anything significant next season.
Final Prediction: The White Sox have a team that is more talented than the Twins, but not many others. There is some level of potential for success if they hang onto their players rumored to be on the trading block. However, most of that success would count on most of their pitchers and hitters to either reach their potential and/or over-achieve.
I’d expect the White Sox to be good enough to be up on the Twins for the second year in a row and I’d expect them to remain at 4th place.
3. Detroit Tigers
I’d love to have the 4th and 5th spots play out as I predicted so I could claim to be a fortune teller. However, it doesn’t take a genius to predict the 2017 seasons for the Sox or Twins.
As for the rest of the division, it’s going to take a bit of luck to be on the money with these predictions. The Tigers, Indians, and Royals are all talented teams and 1-3 could play out multiple ways.
However, I’d expect the Tigers to be a competitive third place. There are obvious bright spots on the team such as Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, and Michael Fulmer to name a few. They also have Francisco Rodriguez to seal the deal for them, who has come back to life over the past three seasons.
The team has the tool to give any opponent the “business” for sure!
Final Prediction: I do think Verlander’s performance in 2016 was the biggest key to their near playoff bound season. After struggling for years prior to that, I’d expect Verlander to continue his career resurgence. However, I don’t expect him to repeat his 16-9 record and 3.04 ERA season, which I think will be enough for the team to narrowly fall to third, behind the next team on this list.
2. Kansas City Royals
The Kansas City Royals had a cinderella-like season in 2015. The team compiled a 95-67 record that year and would go on to win the World Series for the first time since 1985.
When you consider the success they had in 2015, they absolutely underachieved in 2016. The team would only compile an 81-81 record and were nowhere near playoff contention. Some could argue that the 2016 season was an expose-party for the Royals. However, I think it was more of a World Series hangover than it was an exposal.
The team still has a superb talented offensive lineup, being led by Eric Hosmer, Salvador Perez and others, who are all capable of being team leaders after their gained experience from 2015.
The pitching rotation is the teams downfall, as it’s full of inconsistency behind Danny Duffy. However, the team still has one of the better bullpens in the league, even after trading away their premier closer Wade Davis.
Final Prediction: The Royals have a team that knows how to play together. As I mentioned, the team is loaded with young players who have the ability to lead their team to success.
I also think the Jorge Soler trade could be one of those under-the-radar moves that will play out extremely well for the team. Soler fits in perfect with the youth that the team possesses and was around a similar environment with the Chicago Cubs, so adjusting to his new home shouldn’t be a project.
I think that the chemistry and talented lineup will be enough for the team to edge the Tigers by a slim margin, but it likely won’t be enough for them to take the division from the Indians.
1. Cleveland Indians
Last year, the Indians were the Kansas City Royals of 2015. They had a huge breakout season but fell just short of a World Series win. I think it’s exceedingly possible that the teams 2017 season will be a splitting image of the Royals 2015 season.
The team just added Edwin Encarnacion to the team with a lineup that was already talented but lacked a stand out leader on the offense. So now, we’re talking about a World Series contending team of 2016 that now has a true leader in their lineup.
The pitching rotation isn’t the best in the league by any stretch. However, Corey Kluber proved to be one of the best aces in the league, after finishing third in the CY Young voting last season, and he’s complimented by Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer. All four of Kluber’s supporting cast members will benefit from more run support, after already turning in successful seasons of their own.
Final Prediction: The Indians are a threat to win the World Series next season if they can get past the Red Sox. The rotation and lineup and both in the top 10 and their bullpen is one of the best, being led by Andrew Miller and Cody Allen.
I think the Indians will easily steal the division for a second straight season. There’s no better time for success than now for the team that hasn’t won a World Series since 1946, which is the now the longest active World Series drought after the Cubs’ won the title in 2016.
How do you think the 2017 season’ will play out for the AL Central?
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