The American League Central Division is likely going to be one of the most competitive divisions in all of baseball. Five out of the last 11 years a team from this division has represented the American League in the World Series, which is the most by any division. The 2016 season looks like it will be another great season for the AL Central, and could include another team from the division taking a trip to the World Series. Here are where the teams will finish in the division:
- Kansas City Royals
The reigning World Series champions will be the front-runners in this division. Kansas City has appeared in the last two World Series and can easily make it a third straight appearance this season. The Royals return almost all of their starters from their World Series Championship team. The lone starter from last season that isn’t returning is Alex Rios, who is still a free agent. They also lose Ben Zobrist, who was acquired from Oakland to help with their playoff push last year. Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain in the middle of the Royals’ lineup Their offense will likely have very similar numbers to last year, when they were tied for the second best batting average in the league and the seventh most runs scored. The Royals will need their offense to carry their team once again as the pitching staff won’t be great. Edinson Volquez, Chris Young, Yordano Ventura, Ian Kennedy and Kris Medlen will be the starting rotation. They are all decent starting pitchers, but this team lacks an ace at the top of their pitching staff. Johnny Cueto, who was acquired from the Reds last July, left for the San Francisco Giants in free agency. Cueto struggled while pitching for the Royals, so they got by without a true ace, but may not be able to do so this year. Another deadline trade for a good starter may be in store again this season for the Royals. The bullpen should be one of the best in the league for Kansas City. The key reliever for the Royals is Wade Davis, who proved last season he is one of the best closers in baseball.
Impact Player: Yordano Ventura SP
Without a true ace on the Royals, Ventura could really help by returning to the form he had in the 2014 season. He is only 24 years old so the sky is the limit for his progression.
2. Detroit Tigers
Detroit should be back in contention again this season after having a down year last season. The Tigers still have one of the best hitters in all of baseball in Miguel Cabrera. He has had some injury problems, but says his goal is to play 160 games this season. With Ian Kinsler hitting in front of him and J.D. and Victor Martinez hitting behind him, the middle of the lineup will be tough. Detroit hit .270 last season, which led the league. The key for this team is going to be the pitching. Last season the Tigers only had one pitcher who started more than 25 games, and that was Alfredo Simon, who has since rejoined the Reds. Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez will have to stay healthy in order for this team to succeed. The Tigers added Jordan Zimmerman to their pitching staff this off-season, who is a good pitcher, who is less likely to get injured than Verlander and Zimmerman. The bullpen could be an issue again this season, but Detroit signed Francisco Rodriguez, which will help them a lot in end of game situations.
Impact Player: Jordan Zimmerman SP
Zimmerman was acquired to pitch well, but also make all of his starts. If he does so Detroit will have a much improved pitching staff this season.
3. Chicago White Sox
The White Sox had some excitement and buzz around them going into this season. Then Adam LaRoche’s son wasn’t allowed in the clubhouse anymore and it showed the divide that exists in this team. Chicago still has a team that should be able to compete in this division. Their offense was sub-par last year, but have added some players who should help that this season. Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie will most likely hit in the middle of the lineup and provide a spark for this offense. Frazier will likely hit behind Jose Abreu a lot, which will protect him and give him pitches to hit. Abreu will have a career year if Frazier does a good job behind him in the lineup. The bottom of the lineup might not be the best, but if the middle of the lineup can produce like they can, it won’t be an issue. Chicago has one of the best pitchers in Chris Sale. He is a leader in the locker room, which may be a huge need this season. His location of his fastball makes him really hard to hit. Carlos Rodon has the potential to be a starand should take a step forward this season. The bullpen could also be a weak point for the White Sox. Closer Dave Robertson blew seven saves last season and has a tendency to give up home runs. The rest of the bullpen may have trouble holding leads and keeping the White Sox in games.
Impact Player: Todd Frazier 3B
Frazier will have to protect Jose Abreu, which means hitting for power and driving in runs are what is needed of him.
4. Cleveland Indians
The Indians’ offense should be average once Michael Brantley returns from his shoulder surgery that he had this off-season. The problem is they may not be able to generate much offense with him out of the lineup. If they can weather the storm without Brantley, who is looking like he might be in the lineup sooner than originally expected, they might be able to compete. Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana will have to pick up the slack on the offensive end with Brantley out. The pitching staff has two top of the line starters in Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco. Kluber will be competing for the Cy Young award this season. The rest of the starters had good years last season and will need to continue their success. Cody Allen has been a good closer for the Indians and can even improve in the next few seasons. The rest of the relievers make up a bullpen that is above average this season.
Impact Player: Francisco Lindor SS
Lindor looks like he can be the Indians’ shortstop for years to come and will have to shoulder some of the offensive load without Brantley in the lineup to start.
Minnesota is a team that has a lot of young players that need to develop. While this shouldn’t be an awful season for the Twins, they won’t be contending for the playoffs this season. Joe Mauer will lead the offense as he has for the past decade for the Twins. Brian Dozier should produce runs at the top of the lineup as well. Minnesota will need Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano to improve upon their numbers last season to have a good offense. New-comer Byung Ho Park from South Korea can also be a difference maker as he hit 105 home runs over the past two seasons in the Korean League. The starting pitchers finished right on the American League average era of 4.14 and should end the season around their again, which is impressive considering they don’t have a true ace. Phil Hughes, Ervin Santana and Kyle Gibson should be solid, but not elite. The bullpen was below average last season and shouldn’t be much better this year. Glen Perkins was great in the first half of last season, converting all 28 saves, but was injured in the second half of the season and didn’t do so well. Kevin Jespen should be a great set up guy for Perkins, but the rest of the relievers will have to perform better this season.
Impact Player: Byron Buxton OF
Buxton is a great prospect, but needs to improve at the plate this season to help the Twins’ chances.