When the predictions came out before the season last year regarding who would win the AL Central, there was a flurry of different answers. Some of the experts said the Indians, others said the White Sox, many said the Tigers, and almost none of them predicted the Royals would win their division, let alone get back to the World Series. A year later, the Royals are the champs, and we’re all left to wonder how they didn’t pick reigning AL Champs, a young and budding team filled with stars. Yet, I don’t see that as a testament to how good the Royals are, but rather how competitive this division is. Teams are either finishing off the rebuilding process or are settled in for the present. In my opinion, this division is the best in baseball.
First, the reigning champs. The Royals went in full on zombie mode last postseason, winning six games when going into the sixth inning tied or trailing. This team still has a lethal bullpen, and the starting rotation is good as well, although it’s probably the weak spot on the team. They overpaid Ian Kennedy to replace Johnny Cueto and re-signed outfielder Alex Gordon. The team looks very similar to the one that dogpiled the mound last fall in Queens. They have as good of a chance as any to repeat, and this time around, I guarantee they will not be overlooked by the experts.
The Chicago White Sox are an up and coming team. They are led by an ace who is a favorite to win the Cy Young in Chris Sale, along with a great prospect in Carlos Rodon. The team traded for Todd Frazier this offseason and got Alex Avila from Detroit. The team’s lineup and starting rotation are above average, so they could do some serious damage this year in the Central. The team hasn’t won the division since 2008, but much like the the North Side of Chicago, the South Side is buzzing too. The future is bright for this team.
The Minnesota Twins were one of the surprise teams of 2015. They were in both the divisional and wildcard races for much of the season before coming up short. The lineup is incredibly young, with power hitter Miguel Sano and No. 1 prospect Byron Buxton. Brian Dozier came into his own at shortstop, and the team acquired John Ryan Murphy from the Yankees. The pitching is still a bit weak and needs to be addressed, along with waiting out Joe Mauer’s contract. However, Paul Molitor and GM Terry Ryan have done a remarkable job with setting this team up for success in the future, and the Twin cities are looking for a winner to come soon.
The Indians are another intriguing team in this division. Cleveland’s starting rotation is not only the backbone of this team, but it makes the Indians a serious threat to win this division. The young rotation of Corey Kluber, Danny Salazar, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and Cody Anderson are top five in the league. The team has a first rate prospect in Francisco Lindor, and Jason Kipnis is a top tier second baseman. The bullpen is decent, with Cody Allen as their closer. While they didn’t make any shocking signings or trades this offseason, a Terry Francona managed team can always find a way, as seen in 2013, and I wouldn’t be shocked to see this team winning the division either.
While many of the teams in this division are on the rise or hitting their peak, the Detroit Tigers are hard to read. They finished in last place in 2015, mostly due to injuries to Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander. The team signed Jordan Zimmermann, Mike Pelfrey and Justin Upton and traded for Francisco Rodriguez and Cameron Maybin. The time to win for this team is now, but whether those wins will come is a different story. Along with Pelfrey and Zimmermann, the team has Anibal Sanchez, Daniel Norris and Justin Verlander in the rotation. The lineup is above average, as well as the pen, and with the fourth highest payroll in baseball, it isn’t exactly the kind of team that’s waiting for the future. The stars are paid, but everyone else may not be that good. It’s hard to tell right now if this team is going forward.
The AL Central strongly resembles what may be the future of Major League Baseball. Almost every team in this division has a shot at winning it. The Royals are the team I have winning the division, with their experience and their stars. The White Sox could pose as one of those teams that can surprise the AL, much like the Astros or the Cubs did last year. While the Tigers added some stars, the pen concerns me. The Indians or the Twins could win it too. This division is an exciting toss up right now, and will most likely come down to the final day.
White Sox: 79-83