MLB: AL Central Preseason Division Predictions
The AL Central is projected to be the weakest MLB division in 2017. However, there are some teams that may stand out enough to make the division watchable.
The last two World Series victories came from a team in the midwest. This year, both Central divisions are projected to be relatively weak. Both divisions have a plethora of talent, young and experienced. However, some may argue that each division is one-sided in the sense that there is one clear-cut favorite in each of them. The other teams may produce some sort of spark, but they are just not ready enough to contend for a division title. The AL Central is a prime example of this, as preseason projections indicate that one team is a clear-cut favorite to win the division.
The AL Central made some noise this offseason, but in different ways. The Royals and Indians filled necessary holes. The Indians solved their designated hitter issue with the signing of slugger Edwin Encarnacion. The team also acquired some bullpen help in the form of lefty specialist Boone Logan. The Royals traded closer Wade Davis away, but acquired outfielder Jorge Soler in the same deal. The team also added much-needed arms to their rotation, signing Jason Hammel to a two-year deal, and acquiring Nate Karns from the Mariners.
The White Sox made noise in a different way: rebuilding. Two big names are gone, and in their place is a revamped farm system. The Twins also made some small moves, signing catcher Jason Castro and reliever Matt Belisle. The Tigers signed their former catcher Alex Avila to a deal as well, but were otherwise relatively quiet this offseason. It looks as if this is a one-team division, but there are some other options that could potentially contend for first place.
Here are the projected standings for the AL Central in 2017.
Last Place: Chicago White Sox
Projected Record: 69-93
The White Sox were smart to begin a rebuild. Over the past few years, the formula put together by the White Sox organization just didn’t work. The time was right for the White Sox to pull the trigger and rebuild. The process began by making a couple of trades, first with the face of the team, Chris Sale, and continued with the key outfielder of the team, Adam Eaton. These two trades resulted in Chicago acquiring Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez, and others. This gives the White Sox a very bright future, as Kopech, Giolito, and Lopez are three of the best pitching prospects in MLB. Moncada gives the Sox flexibility in the infield. These moves incredibly improved the White Sox farm system. However, their MLB roster is certainly far from improved.
The team still has several key players that could make an impact. Jose Abreu, Todd Frazier, Melky Cabrera, David Robertson and Jose Quintana are (for now) still under contract. However, there are several key players on the team who are just not the same players they once were. James Shields and Derek Holland are coming off down years, the outfield is in shambles, and their middle infield is a bit inconsistent. The team also has no set starting catcher. To put it in perspective: this team has many problems on their Major League roster, which is why the last place finish seems likely.
Fourth Place: Minnesota Twins
Projected Record: 75-87
In the span of two years, the Minnesota Twins were a surprisingly good team, and a surprisingly disappointing team. In 2015, no one could figure out why this Twins team was as successful as they were. Then came the 2016 season, and the Twins changed completely, going from narrowly missing the MLB playoffs in 2015 to finishing as the worst team in baseball in 2016. The Twins are going into 2017 with slightly better expectations, but those expectations still aren’t that great. They still have an obliterated pitching staff from their rotation to their bullpen. Minnesota will enter the season without a set closer and many questions about their rotation.
Despite these issues, the team still has Joe Mauer, Miguel Sano, Kennys Vargas, Byron Buxton, and Brian Dozier. Max Kepler somewhat broke out last season, and the Twins did sign Jason Castro to a three-year deal to fill the catcher hole. Offensively, the Twins are in a pretty solid position, and that may be the key for their success. If the Twins do not look to be in the playoff hunt around the trade deadline, look for Brian Dozier to find his way elsewhere. If they are in the MLB playoff hunt, look for this offense to carry this Twins team in 2017.
Third Place: Kansas City Royals
Projected Record: 84-78
It is do or die for the Kansas City Royals. The reason for that is because after the 2017 season, a large chunk of their roster will enter free agency. Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, and Lorenzo Cain are set to hit the free agent market if the Royals do not extend their contracts. Having these pieces in their lineup, along with Salvador Perez, Jorge Soler, Alex Gordon, and Brandon Moss is definitely a huge plus. A majority of this lineup is similar to their championship-winning lineup in 2015. However, other areas of the roster are not the same as they once were, and this may lead to another lost season for Kansas City.
Acquiring Jason Hammel and Nate Karns will certainly help, and if Danny Duffy can continue his 2016 success, the rotation may lead the Royals to success. The bullpen, however, is not the same as it was in 2015. That year, the bullpen was a big part of the Royals success, but now, it may be a hindrance to this Royals team. The Royals will have to contend with the Tigers as well. While making it to the Wild Card Game is a possibility, winning the division seems out of the question. If the Royals fail to make the playoffs again, some big changes might be made that will affect the future of the team.
Second Place: Detroit Tigers
Projected Record: 85-77
The Royals will likely lose some big names after the season, and the Tigers might as well. This may be do or die as well for Detroit, who missed the playoffs in 2016 after being eliminated on the season’s final day. Unfortunately, the Tigers were incredibly quiet this offseason. Their main pickup was their former catcher, Alex Avila, who is coming off another dreadful season while in Chicago. The team also traded away Cameron Maybin, but otherwise remained stagnant. In the course of a year, the AL Central went from being a stacked division to being a somewhat weak division.
The Tigers do still have their usual crop of talent. Miguel Cabrera, Justin Verlander, Victor and JD Martinez are still key pieces to this team. Francisco Rodriguez is still manning the back end of the bullpen. Michael Fulmer broke out last season, and Jordan Zimmermann is looking to rebound as well. However, many of their key players are getting older, and while some of them could still produce, a rebuild in the near future may not seem that unrealistic. As a result, the Tigers need to act now if they want to win the AL Central, and this may be the only time they could.
First Place: Cleveland Indians
Projected Record: 92-70
The AL Central is the Indians division to lose. While the Royals and Tigers may be thorns in their side, this division looks to be Cleveland’s to take. Last year, the Indians went into the season with a feeling of the unknown. While the Indians had the talent, it was all about chemistry.
Well, the chemistry certainly worked to their advantage, and the Indians finished the season with the second-best record in the American League. The Indians proceeded to blank the Red Sox in the ALDS. In a highly-anticipated matchup, the Indians proceeded to blank the Blue Jays in the ALCS. In an epic World Series, the Indians would blow a 3-1 lead, losing to the Cubs in seven games. This year, the Indians hopes to return to the World Series look incredibly promising.
Despite losing Mike Napoli in free agency, Cleveland picked up Edwin Encarnacion to fill their DH hole left behind by Napoli. The team also signed lefty reliever Boone Logan to add another setup man to Andrew Miller. The team also gets some of their key players back from injury. Michael Brantley, Danny Salazar, and Carlos Carrasco are all set to return, and these comebacks will definitely be a huge plus. Brantley is a former MVP candidate, while the starting rotation is one of the best in the American League. This seems to be the Indians division to lose. As they old saying goes, however: you never know!
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