Last year, the AL Central gave us MLB’s most compelling divisional race, with its top three teams all finishing within just one game of first place. The AL Central, home to the Minnesota Twins, Cleveland Indians, Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals, and Detroit Tigers, is certainly top-heavy, but among those top three, are three of baseball’s top 15 teams.
This may be the toughest division to call. If it’s anything like last year, expect a wire-to-wire race and an incredible finish.
Minnesota Twins (projected to win 91.9 games; +145 to win the AL Central)
As just referenced at the start of this preview, there were three teams in the Central that fell within one win of each other. The Twins were one of them. In fact, they were the team fortunate enough to have that one win over second and third place. Minnesota enjoyed a strong year, but an early playoff exit that extended the team’s playoff winless streak, definitely showed the Twins needed a boost.
So, in the offseason, Minnesota set out to fill some holes in areas that showed significant need of help. The Twins added Andrelton Simmons and his glove to man shortstop and reliever Alex Colomé to assist in the bullpen. As important as those two and guys like Josh Donaldson, Kenta Maeda are, this team will go as far as Byron Buxton goes.
The Twins’ phenom, Buxton has been absolutely tearing it up in his first few seasons, including being one of baseball’s best last year. Buxton is no doubt a future MVP and that could come as soon as 2021. As long as he stays healthy, which, seems to be a key for a lot of guys this year. Buxton’s talent is undeniable, and he is one of those difference makers who could give Minnesota the boost to stay one game better than their competitors.
Cleveland Indians (projected to win 85.8 games; +950 to win the AL Central)
An 8-2 push in their final 10 games kept the Cleveland Indians in the hunt for the division crown up until the very last pitch. Cleveland certainly had talent but it was the resilience of the team down the stretch that made all the difference. In a 162-game season, the Indians are going to have to show they can hang with the Twins and White Sox, an effort made tougher by the team’s huge offseason trade.
It wasn’t that the Indians were trying to enter a rebuild but, to some, it felt like one when the team sent shortstop extraordinaire Francisco Lindor and top arm Carlos Carrasco to the New York Mets. It was one of the offseason’s biggest blockbusters and it didn’t really seem to benefit the Indians’ playoff hopes. The team needed to shed some money to allow them more flexibility, and that they did. The Indians picked up some nice pieces in that trade, notably Andres Gimenez, who will take over Lindor’s old spot.
From the mound, the Indians continue to bleed talent. Having lost now, Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger, in the last two years, the Indians added Corey Kluber to that list this year. The rotation is young and somewhat of a question mark behind Cy Young winner, Shane Bieber. If the Indians hope to contend, they’ll need some depth from the mound.
Chicago White Sox (projected to win 80.2 games; -115 to win the AL Central)
The Indians went 8-2 almost to win the Central but it was the White Sox who opened the door to both Cleveland and the Twins. Chicago, eyes on a playoff chance, collapsed down the stretch. The team lost eight of their last ten to limp to the finish line, still making the wildcard. The White Sox undoubtedly don’t want to make that same disaster again and they are hoping that Tony LaRussa can help.
LaRussa hasn’t managed in a decade, but his pedigree with the St. Louis Cardinals is well-regarded. LaRussa is a veteran manager and he could have the leadership that puts the White Sox over the top. Beyond LaRussa, this is a young White Sox team that continues to impress. Their track record with top prospects is incredible lately, especially with guys like 2020 AL MVP Jose Abreu. The minor to major pipeline has certainly been something that has led to this turnaround for Chicago. The White Sox didn’t add much this offseason player-wise as they made their major additions last year. That said, the LaRussa hire looms large. If the White Sox can play the kind of ball they did before last year’s collapse, the AL Central will definitely be in play.
Kansas City Royals (projected to win 72 games; +2000 to win the AL Central)
When we think about the Kansas City Royals, it is hard to believe the team was winning the World Series just a few years ago. How the mighty have fallen. The Royals won that title in 2015 but haven’t made the playoffs since. In fact, Kansas City hasn’t even looked particularly good at times since. Windows in baseball are so short but many thought the Royals would have contended for at least a few more years. It wasn’t the case as Kansas City stayed still, the White Sox, Indians and Twins moved forward.
Now, in the middle of the pack really, the Royals are looking back to their roots to return to the playoffs. Adalberto Mondesi is going to be one to watch. It’s hard to believe he’s already been playing for five years because the kid is still just 25. He has shown flashes of incredible talent. 2021 could be the year he puts it all together. On the mound, Kansas City is looking at a pair of youngsters, Brady Singer and Daniel Lynch, to add some strength there. Overall, the Royals are rebuilding in the right direction, but their time isn’t quite there yet.
Detroit Tigers (projected to win 66.2 games; +7000 to win the AL Central)
This is another team where it is hard to believe they were once an AL king. That has been a long time now and the Tigers seem to be in a bit of a perennial rebuild. There really isn’t a lot of expectations for Detroit though there are some worthwhile storylines to follow.
Miguel Cabrera is chasing some records and while MLB’s best pure hitter has slowed down in his career, he is still capable of providing some offensive pop for the Tigers. There will be a lot of young names and prospects to watch beyond that with guys like Casey Mize, Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene are all expected to lead the way. A.J. Hinch has a task on his hand and this year, that will hopefully see the young prospects have the breakouts everyone is expecting.
Our AL Central Predictions & Picks Verdict for this Preview
This is a tough one. The Twins and White Sox are expected to have a close race to the finish but the Indians and possibly even the Royals aren’t that far off the mark.
Our betting pick is going to be the Minnesota Twins to repeat and back them with Bovada USA sports betting company.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.