In the final of our MLB divisional preview series, we are focusing on the AL Central, home to the Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox, Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians.
The Central hasn’t claimed a World Series title since the Royals defeated the New York Mets in 2015. However, from 2012-2016 the Central did manage to produce the AL pennant winner four of those five years, with the Tigers winning in 2012, the Indians in 2016 and the Royals in 2014 and 2015.
Heading into the 2020 season, it is the Twins, who last won the AL pennant and the World Series in 1991, that represent the division’s favorite this year, with championship odds in the top six for the Commissioner’s Trophy and top three to claim the AL pennant. Minnesota shouldn’t seem that much of a dark horse as they did win the AL Central last season for the first time since 2010. They have made some serious improvements and it is not out of the question to see them making a run in the incredibly-loaded American League.
World Series odds +1700; AL odds +900; AL Central –160
Perhaps the biggest reason for the Twins winning 101 games last year, which was third among the entire MLB (which is insane), was their power-swinging, home run hitting machine of a team. Across the league, home run records were shattered in 2019 with the Twins right at the front of that conversation.
Minnesota hit 307 home runs last year, with 11 players in double figures and five players garnering over 30 home runs apiece. To put that into perspective, it’s crazy. Pitching to the Twins was no easy task as up-and-down the lineup, everyone could mash the ball. Minnesota is essentially returning all their bombers, plus they added one more in Josh Donaldson. Home run numbers in the 300s wouldn’t be out of the question. The Twins will need all that power given the long ball is this team’s marquee strength.
From the mound, Minnesota’s rotation is serviceable, and will certainly benefit from the offseason acquisition of Kenta Maeda. In 2019, Maeda posted a 4.04 ERA with 10 wins and 169 strikeouts. His career ERA is 3.87. Those numbers would slot Maeda in as the third best starter on the team, behind Jake Odorizzi and Jose Berrios. Maeda wasn’t the only veteran arm the Twins pulled the trigger on in the offseason as they brought in Homer Bailey as well. Michael Pineda and Rich Hill are question marks, but at the very least, if the Twins continue to hit home runs like no one’s business, this is a rotation that should be good enough. Really, they don’t have to be much better than that as if the Twins are winning, it is going to be because their bats are doing most of the work.
World Series odds +2300; AL +1000; AL Central +275
It is hard to believe but the Indians are only three+ seasons removed from reaching the World Series where they played the role of villain. It wasn’t anything Cleveland did, but across the country, no one outside of the city likely were rooting for them. That is because the Indians faced the Chicago Cubs, who were looking for their first championship in over 100 years. In the end, Cleveland is just a footnote in that fairytale ending, meaning people have likely forgotten just how good the Indians were in 2016 and how good they have been ever since. For each of the past four seasons, the Indians have won at least 90 games, a feat that not many other teams can claim. In 2017, they won 102. Cleveland missed the playoffs last year, but they did so with 93 wins, the same number that the Washington Nationals had to earn them a wildcard spot. That is how good the American League is that 93 wins wasn’t enough to get a spot in the postseason. The Tampa Bay Rays took that final spot, winning a wildcard with 96 victories.
The American League hasn’t gotten any easier but in 2020, the Indians will be looking to get back to the playoffs and they will do so with a good-looking team. All eyes will be on Francisco Lindor, who is Cleveland’s shining star but may also be their top trade target if things start to go south. Lindor’s talent is remarkable and he would fetch a pretty penny in the trade market. However, he is also the guy who can lead this team to the promised land.
Lindor is under team control through 2021 so there isn’t a huge rush for the Indians to part ways with him. Beyond Lindor, the Indians will look to Jose Ramirez and the unreal second half of the season he had in 2019. Injury aside, Ramirez was untouchable from the summer onward. If he can replicate that over 162 games, the Indians will be in a strong position to make noise in the American League given they have a reliable rotation that should hold up over the course of the season.
Chicago White Sox
World Series odds +2400; AL +1200; AL Central +300
While not the best-looking team in the AL Central in 2019 (Chicago won just 72 games), the White Sox went out and probably made the biggest splash of any MLB club this offseason. The team went in big on the Manny Machado sweepstakes the year prior but came up short and didn’t really have a backup plan.
Well, entering 2020, they had a plan B and that included going and getting talent to fill some significant holes. The White Sox were big offseason winners, securing the pitching services of Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez, and signing Edwin Encarnacion, Nomar Mazara and Yasmani Grandal. That’s three solid bats, adding to what was already an impressive-looking young core of players.
The White Sox have no doubt acknowledged this is a good window for them and they have got a good reason to believe that. No. 3 overall prospect in MLB Luis Robert has a ceiling to be a 40-home run, 40 doubles kind of player. Lucas Giolito went from being a subpar arm to this team’s ace and one of the best pitchers in baseball. Dylan Cease has had some of the same issues but if he can blossom as Giolito has, that is one heck of a one-two punch for Chicago. The White Sox are going to emerge as the top of this division soon enough. Should everything work out with their offseason moves, that time could be as soon as 2020.
Kansas City Royals
World Series odds +25000; AL: +19000; AL Central +6600
There is a huge drop off from the top three teams in the division and the Royals and Tigers. In the same way, it is hard to remember how good the Indians have been since losing the World Series, it feels equally as unreal to see just how far the Royals have fallen since winning it all just five years ago.
In 2015, the Royals won the AL Central with 95 wins but the year later, they shaved 14 wins off that total, going an even 81-81. The World Series’ hangover has continued ever since with the team winning 80 games in 2017, a dreadful 58 games in 2018 and 59 in 2019. This wasn’t just a fall from the top, this was a straight plummet as the Royals haven’t been above a .500 team since winning the World Series.
It’s hard to imagine how it all went so wrong so fast but perhaps like some of the other teams in the AL Central, the Royals were built with a win-now mentality leading to their window closing as soon as it opened. They were champions, but now they will just be happy not to lose 100 games for a third year in a row, and they certainly can do so.
Jorge Soler hit 48 home runs last year. He has insane power and is an incredible player. So is White Merrifield, who has utility value and led the AL last year in hits and triples. Now of course, that means both guys are equally as valuable as trade bait and for a team that is quite far from contending, it would be more surprising to see both guys still with the team come the trade deadline.
World Series odds +50000; AL +28000; AL Central +15000
The Royals are in a bad shape but almost no team, save for maybe the Miami Marlins, is in as terrible a spot as the Tigers, who lost 114 games last year and have lost 100 games per season in three of the last four years. To think, much like the Royals, Detroit was winning the AL Central just six seasons ago.
In fact, from 2011 – 2014, the Tigers won the AL Central every year. They had an incredible team anchored by the triple crown winning Miguel Cabrera. Now the 37-year-old Cabrera is well past his prime and far removed from his career-hitting clip of .315, a number which was even higher prior to Cabrera posting three straight sub-.300 seasons starting in 2017. Not to mention the drastic drop-off in power.
Age is also a factor in the starting rotation as while this group is perfectly respectable, only Daniel Norris is under 27 years old. Look for a fire sale at the trade deadline as contending teams are always looking for extra arms to help in the postseason run. This won’t be a season to look forward to for Tigers fans that’s for sure, though on the bright side, there is talent in the minors that we may catch a glimpse of in 2020. The Tigers’ rebuild could be on its way and all Detroit has to do is be a little better than the year before and the fans may very well see that as a successful step up on the ladder toward contendership again.