With Baseball officially kicking off on Sunday, it’s time to take a stab at predicting the success and downfalls of each division in the majors. We look at the AL Central, where the Kansas CityRoyals have back to back targets on its back and pitching begins to rise in the division.
1. Kansas City Royals – How do you pick against the two-time defending champions? The Royals lost James Shields last season and responded by winning the World Series. If you look at the rotation, you would think Kansas City could finish in last place. After Edinson Volquez, the team employs Ian Kennedy, Chris Young and Kris Medlan alongside Yordano Ventura. But at the end of the day the Royals have the same cohesive offense and the same dominant bullpen with Joakim Soria replacing Greg Holland. Considering the Royals won the division by 12 games in 2015, we’re not picking against them.
2. Cleveland Indians – So 2015 might have been jumping the gun with this Cleveland team, but the Indians’ rotation is very real and should make them competitive. The Tribe will showcase: Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco at the top of the rotation, all three of whom are capable of pitching into Cy Young conversations and all three are in their primes. Add a potentially deep bullpen, especially with Trevor Bauer, Tommy Hunter and Ross Detwiler, all former starters, to it and the Indians may have the best pitching staff in the AL. A full season of Francisco Lindor, a bounce back from Jason Kipnis and the additions of: Rajai Davis, Marlon Byrd and Juan Uribe along with a healthy Michael Brantley should make the offense dynamic enough.
3. Detroit Tigers – Easily the most improved team using outside sources, the Tigers are revamped and should improve upon a 2015 campaign where it finished 13 games under .500. With the additions of Cameron Maybin for a full season, along with Justin Upton and JD Martinez in his prime, the Tigers may have the best outfield in the league. Francisco Rodriguez will attempt to solve what seems to be a never effective bullpen along with the trade acquired, Justin Wilson, and the Tigers hope they get the end of the season, effective Justin Verlander, a healthy Anibel Sanchez and a big year from Jordan Zimmerman, who was added to the middle of the rotation in free agency. All in all, a lot of flashy upgrades and potential, but question marks as to the ceiling of the pitching staff and whether guys like Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Jose Iglesias can stay healthy.
4. Minnesota Twins – It’s hard to gauge Minnesota in a division with a wide range between ceiling and floor. The Twins did a lot of great things in its first year under manager, Paul Molitor and it will welcome a full season of Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton, both of whom could emerge as a league elite at any moment. Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe are still positives on offense and Glen Perkins should still get it done most of the time closing out games. The rotation is nothing to write home about in a pitcher’s park and the rest of the bullpen could be shaky. The Twins are headed in the right direction but may be victims of three teams ahead of them in development. Expect some regression despite potential bright spots for a team who finished above .500 despite being outscored by four runs last season and then a total fold once some assets are traded off at the deadline.
5. Chicago White Sox – A team where the biggest story was whether or not the clubhouse and ownership and the players among themselves were on the same page, the White Sox have unmitigated disaster written all over them if things get rough to start the year. Todd Frazier was a nice trade and Jimmy Rollins has some potential if he has anything left, and the team will welcome Austin Jackson to center field. Outside of Frazier, it feels like Chicago went to “Plan B” over the winter, failing to sign potentially helpful names in the rotation or with someone like Ian Desmond for shortstop. Dave Robertson should still be solid closing games and Chris Sale should still be elite opening them. The team could see at least some upside in the rotation of Mat Latos reclaims some of his former success or Carlos Rodon takes a step forward and has better control over his front-of-the-rotation arsenal, but there’s too many question marks and too many character concerns to see this team put anything together, let alone stay assembled by August.