American League Central preview

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March 28, 2018 by squish

Written by Shane Foley

The American League Central Division has witnessed one of the busiest off seasons around the league. All five teams will have an assortment of new faces and some teams (mostly the Royals) had to say goodbye to quite a lot of talent. Each team has their fair share of storylines, but, while anything can happen in a season, 2018 is basically shaping up to be a battle between the defending Cleveland Indians and Minnesota Twins for who gets the division title, with the loser most likely earning a wild card spot.

Chicago White Sox – 67-95 (4th)

Key Additions: RHP Miguel Gonzalez (from Texas Rangers), Catcher Wellington Castillo (from Baltimore Orioles), RHP Joakim Soria (from Kansas City Royals), and LHP Luis Avilan (from Los Angeles Dodgers)

*Also, rookie Eloy Jimenez is playing for their farm team, the Birmingham Barons

Key Losses: None really

Team needs: Pitching has been the one large necessity this offseason for many teams, White Sox included. Signing Lucas Giolito last year could be a big step in clearing that void for the team. Only pitching six games in 2017, he may have gone .500 but a 2.38 ERA is never something to scoff at.

His role in the roster may be huge, as, alas, Jamie Shields is not what he once was. At age 36, Shields may be looking at the later end of his career, and an ERA of 5+ for the past three years might have fans wondering if Giolito can usurp Shields as number one in the rotation. As of now, however, Shields is their number one guy.

Other than that, one more bat could really help this team out a lot. Much of the offensive burden has fallen on to Jose Abreu, who last year batted .304 with 102 runs batted in and 33 balls hit outside the park. While some other bats on the team are promising, like 3rd baseman Matt Davidson and prospect Eloy Jimenez, another big hitter could take pressure off Abreu in that lineup.

Team MVP: Jose Abreu

If the White Sox are going to be in contention at all this year, it will be because Abreu bats above .300 and hits over 30 home runs again.

Team X-Factor: Michael Kopech

He isn’t on the starting roster, but this pitcher has been dominant in the minors as of recent. Only 21 years young, Kopech earned 172 strikeouts last year for two minor league organizations. If he gets the call, he could be a threat to look out for.

Record Prediction: 78-84 (3rd)

Cleveland Indians: – 102-60 (1st) 

Key Adittions: 1B Yonder Alonso (from Seattle Mariners)

Key Losses: 1B Carlos Santana, OF Austin Jackson

Team Needs:

There isn’t really much to say for the reigning AL Central champs in terms of needs. They did enough this offseason to compensate for what they lost. They lose Carlos Santana, they get Yonder Alonso. Francisco Lindor should be an acceptable replacement at the top of their line-up. The real need they might want is a healthy Michael Brantly, who apparently has just been placed on the DL again. Nevertheless, the Indians are still a huge offensive juggernaut and Corey Kluber is still incredible on the mound. They are a World Series Contender for sure.

Team MVP: Edwin Encarnacion 

Still a fantastic batter. He might not get the accolades a Giancarlo Stanton might earn, but he is near the top of every batting category save maybe batting average. Especially if Brantley stays on the DL for long, expect Encarnacion to carry that line-up.

Team X Factor: Francisco Lindor

Having lost Carlos Santana, Lindor now might be amongst the best lead-off batter in the league. He is incredibly fast, plays shortstop well, gets on base, and having scored 33 homeruns last year, is now a slugging threat. Dealing with him from the start of the game will be a daunting task for opposing pitchers.

Record Prediction: 110-52 (1st)

Detroit Tigers – 64-98 (5th)

Key Additions: RHP Mike Fiers and Fransisco Liriano (both from Houston)

Key Losses: 2B Ian Kinsler

Team Needs: It is sad to say, but it seems like the end of an era in Detroit. What used to be a powerhouse in the division is now showing large signs of aging. Parting ways with Ian Kinsler might be a sign that they are in somewhat of a rebuild.  The club is still, however, being led by an aging Victor Martinez and a Miguel Cabrera who only hit 16 home runs and batted .249. That being said, the most immediate need for the Tigers is youth. Even their pitching staff is showing signs of aging, as Francisco Liriano just got signed during spring training (age 34).

In terms of the younger players on their team, Michael Fulmer can be a promising pitcher for them in the future. Their line-up is very suspect if Martinez and Cabrera don’t deliver this year. They have interesting pieces, but no stand out slugger other than the two players previously mentioned. The Tigers next off seasons might see a lot movement, but it will be an uphill battle if they are to make a playoff run.

Team MVP: Miguel Cabrera

Sometimes it’s difficult to gage what type of season we will see from Cabrera. He hits 38 homers in 2016, and then only 16 in 2017. While his numbers may fluctuate, it is hard to see Cabrera being done leaving crowds in awe at 34, though he certainly is an older player. He might be extra motivated to make fans forget his lackluster numbers last year.

Team X Factor: Michael Fulmer

One could make a case for having Fulmer be on top of the rotation, as Jordan Zimmermann, the guy on top of the line-up now, gave up six earned runs per game last year. Fulmer only went 10-12 last year, but he didn’t have the greatest run support so that is most likely not on him. At only 21, he might have a great career ahead of him.

Record Prediction: 62-100 (5th)

Kansas City Royals – 80-82 (3rd)

Key Additions:  CF Jon Jay (from Chicago Cubs)

Key Losses: CF Lorenzo Cain, RHP Joakim Soria, LHP Mike Minor, 1B Eric Hosmer

Team Needs:  The needs for this team would have certainly been much fewer a couple of months ago, in particular before they lost two all-stars. The absences of Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer will be a tough void to fill for the Kansas City Royals, even though they did resign Mike Moustakas. Kansas City now has a team that lost a lot of offensive firepower, coupled with a pitching rotation that isn’t poor, but isn’t spectacular either. Royals fans were certainly disappointed that the typically strong pitcher Ian Kennedy could only go 5-13 last year while giving up 5.38 earned runs a game. His performance this season could mean a lot to the future of this team.

The obvious need in Kansas City is more bats, with another need possibly be adding another strong arm to that rotation. A strong pitcher to compliment Duffy and Kennedy would actually make the Royals quite the pitching threat. The biggest thing that could help the team right now, however, is a consistent bat. The Royals have some sluggers, but of their starting nine as of now, none of their players hit .300 or above last year. If they can get on base, Moustakas can drive them home.

Team MVP: Mike Moustakas

With the loss of Hosmer, there is no question as to who is their big slugger now. Moustakas should be looking to repeat his 38 home run season in 2018.

Team X Factor: Lucas Duda

A player who exemplifies the phrase “power hitter.” Only batted .217 last year, but he also hit 30 home runs. If he gets the pitches he wants, he can be a powerful threat,a nd Kansas City needs another hitter to take pressure off of Moustakas.

Record Prediction: 72-90 (4th)

Minnesotta Twins – 85-77 (1st)

Key Additions: DH Logan Morrison (from Tampa Bay Rays) RHP Fernando Rodney (from Arizona Diamondbacks), RHP Addison Reed (from Boston Red Sox), RHP Michael Pineda (from New York Yankees), LHP Zach Duke (from St. Louis Cardinals), RHP Jake Odorizzi (from Tampa Bay Rays), RHP Lance Lynn (from St. Louis Cardinals)

Key Losses: Not really.

Team Needs:

Perhaps the biggest need the team has is a healthy Ervin Santana. With that piece in play, the Twins would have a threatening pitching rotation, as well as a couple bats that can do some damage. They just added Logam Morrison to a line-up that already has names like Brain Dozier, Eddie Rosario and Miguel Sano. Also, at age 34, Joe Mauer is still finding utility on the team, batting over .300 last season though not with the slugging we might expect from the former all-star.

The big question for the Minnesota Twins is this; will they have the pitching to compensate for Santana’s injury? If they do so, they would have all the trappings of a serious playoff contender.  A big part of the answer to that question is Jose Berrios, who is coming off a 14-win season.

Only 23, this pitcher has serious potential, boasting one of the best curveballs in the league. The front office gave him a bit of help as well, signing Odorizzi and Lynn to strengthen the latter half of their rotation. These guys really only need to hold teams to about three runs a game, because their tenacious batting order should be able to do the rest.

Team MVP: Brian Dozier

Since he is most likely the lead off batter, Brian Dozier has a bit of pressure on him. With a high batting percentage and hitting 30+ homers the last two season, Dozier could put a lot of pressure on opposing pitchers, who are going to have fun dealing with the litany of sluggers that come after Dozier in the line-up. Getting on base and giving Minnesota early leads are two valuable services Dozier can provide.

Team X Factor: Logan Morrison

This was a great signing from Minnesota. Last year, Morrison hit .246 with 38 homers and 85 RBI’s; statistically his best season by far. This year, we should find out if 2017 was an anomaly, or we can expect numbers like this from Morrison on a regular basis. If so, then one could argue Minnesota has three clean up batters, which is a scary thing to say.

Record prediction: 105-57 (2nd)

According to these predictions, it sounds like the AL Central may get a repeat of last year; Indians win the division and Twins make a run at the Wild Card. What might be more interesting to see, however, is how these will change during the season. The rebuilding Tigers, White Sox and Royals will probably be looking to make moves before the in-season trade deadlines if their seasons do not go as planned. This could eventually be a very contentious division, but as of now, Cleveland has a pretty substantial lead.

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