MLB AL Central Preview

Spring Training is in full swing and it will not be too long until the MLB regular season is here. We will continue our division previews as we look at the AL Central.

The AL Central is only two years removed from being one of the worst divisions in MLB history. A lot has changed in the last two seasons as three of the teams appear to be playoff hopefuls while one team has had a sneaky good offseason and could make things difficult for the other teams.

Here’s what you need to know about the AL Central ahead of the 2021 season:

Detroit Tigers

2020 season: 23-35 (5th)

PECOTA projection: 65-97 (5th)

The Detroit Tigers quietly had a nice offseason, signing aging veterans and putting together a team filled with big-league talent. Robbie Grossman, Wilson Ramos, Renato Nunez, and the resigning of Jonathan Schoop are all players that have had success in the big leagues. Taking a flyer on a former top prospect who’s still just 25 years old in the form of Nomar Mazara is also a good move for this franchise.

The Tigers still have Jeimer Candelario after his breakout season in 2020 along with Victor Reyes, Jacoby Jones, and future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera to fill out an interesting lineup. The Tigers lineup will not strike fear into opposing teams’ pitchers but it is filled with guys who can hurt you on any given day, something the Tigers have not had in a few years.

This offense is going to need to score some runs because the pitching staff is not very impressive, yet. The Tigers have some big-name prospects in Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, and Matt Manning but they are still very young with little to no experience. Matthew Boyd followed up his breakout 2019 with an abysmal 2020 and Michael Fulmer is still trying to find himself after suffering multiple injuries following his 2016 Rookie of the Year campaign.

The bullpen showed flashes at times last year, but consistency and depth appear to be an issue. The Tigers finished 28th in runs allowed in 2020 and they look to be headed towards a similar season.

The Tigers look destined to finish fifth for the third consecutive season but maybe new manager A.J. Hinch can bring this group together and get 2021 started with a “bang.”

Kansas City Royals

2020 season: 26-34 (4th)

PECOTA projection: 71-91 (4th)

The Kansas City Royals were one of the most active teams in free agency with the additions of Carlos Santana, Mike Minor, Michael Taylor, Jarrod Dyson, Wade Davis (minor league deal), and Brad Brach (minor league deal). They also traded for Andrew Benintendi from the Boston Red Sox. These moves look to be made by a team preparing for a playoff push, but they still seem to be a year or two away and have many non-Royals fans questioning their moves.

The lineup for the Royals is sneaky good. Whit Merrifield leads the MLB in hits over the last three seasons, Jorge Soler hit 48 home runs in 2019 and Salvador Perez is coming off a season where he hit .333. Along with all-world athletes, Adalberto Mondesi and Hunter Dozier, with the additions of high OBP guys like Santana and Benintendi, and you have a legit MLB lineup. The depth is not there, so injuries could derail this lineup, but the projected 1-9 could compete with some playoff teams.

The pitching is the biggest mystery for this team. Brad Keller had an exceptional 2020 and appears to be developing into a solid starter. Minor had a great 2019 before falling off last season. What does he still have in the tank? Following those two, it’s a mixture of veterans and young prospects. Danny Duffy has had his ups and downs and could potentially be moved to the bullpen. Same goes for Jakob Junis. Brady Singer and Kris Bubic made their big-league debuts last season with mixed results.

Will any of their other young pitching prospects be asked to leap the MLB roster? The bullpen was decent in 2020 but Greg Holland is a year older and the trading of Trevor Rosenthal at the deadline weakened this group. They still have Josh Staumont who is one of the filthiest relievers.

The Royals are in a weird position to where if everything goes right, they could realistically finish second in the division. If everything goes wrong, fifth is not out of the question. It appears this team is much improved from 2020 but they still seem a year or two away. Regardless, Royals fans can appreciate their front office’s desire to win and efforts to put a competitive team on the field.

Cleveland Indians

2020 season: 35-25 (3rd)

PECOTA projection: 86-76 (2nd)

The Cleveland Indians shipped superstar SS Francisco Lindor and quality pitcher Carlos Carrasco to the New York Mets in a six-player trade. While they did gain Amed Rosario and top prospect Andres Gimenez, the deal made it very clear that the Indians are not trying to win this season. And still, PECOTA has them winning 86 games this season. I do not see it.

The Indians have a great rotation, highlighted by 2020 Cy Young winner Shane Bieber, or do they? The rest of the rotation, including Bieber, is filled with guys 26 or younger and not a lot of time in the MLB. Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale, and Triston McKenzie all had memorable moments in 2020 but are they all ready for the grind of a 162-game season? Injuries and inconsistency should be a concern of all teams with the young pitching staff in 2021, but it is especially concerning for the Indians when their lineup is so thin.

Jose Ramirez is a stud, Franmil Reyes can smash and the signing of Eddie Rosario was great, but nobody else in the lineup really scares you. Cesar Hernandez is a good contact guy, Josh Naylor has flashed some pop, and Bradley Zimmer is entertaining when healthy, but there are a lot of question marks on this team. The bullpen is solid, above average, but there are maybe five players on this team I would trust to perform this season. It’s hard to make the playoffs that way.

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I think the Indians will finish third or worse this season. Much like the Royals, a lot has to go right for them to really be a threat. Its stars are some of the best at their positions but I think PECOTA and the rest of the MLB are overvaluing that. We’ve seen how that has worked out for the Angles.

Minnesota Twins

2020 season: 36-24 (1st)

PECOTA projections: 91-71 (1st)

The Twins lost a lot more than they gained following the 2020 season, a season where they barely held on to the division lead from the Indians and White Sox. The Twins lost Eddie Rosario, Jake Odorizzi, Rich Hill, Trevor May, Matt Wisler, Marwin Gonzalez, and others who contributed to the 2020 season. They brought in J.A Happ, Andrelton Simmons, Alex Colome, and Hansel Robles. Two bullpen guys, an aging defense-first player, and Happ are not the replacements Twins fans wanted to see. Also, while Nelson Cruz and Josh Donaldson look like they are going to be able to hit forever, father time catches everyone and those two are nearing that time by the day.

That was a lot of negativity to open up with:

The Twins are a good team. Max Kepler, Byron Buxton, Donaldson, and Cruz are all very good. Miguel Sano and Mitch Garver have a ton of pop when they are on and Jorge Polanco was an all-star in 2019. Kenta Maeda and Jose Berrios are a nice 1-2 punch in the rotation and Taylor Rogers and Tyler Duffey highlight a fairly deep bullpen. They also have some talent coming up as Alex Kirilloff and Nick Gordon look to be key contributors to this year’s team.

The Twins may have to make a few trades at the deadline if they really want to compete for their third consecutive AL Central title. They barely edged out two teams last year and while the Indians look to be worse, the White Sox continue to get better.

Chicago White Sox

2020 season: 35-25 (2nd)

PECOTA projections: 83-79 (3rd)

This may be the biggest head-scratcher for me based on PECOTA rankings in all of baseball. Only 83 projected wins? On a young team who’s a year older and made some big additions?

The White Sox might be competing for the best record in the AL by the season’s end. They added Liam Hendricks (who has been the best reliever in baseball over the last two seasons), Lance Lynn, via trade, and Adam Eaton. They lost Colome and James McCann.

The White Sox have a complete lineup with Tim Anderson, 2020 MVP Jose Abreu, Yasmani Grandal, and Eloy Jimenez. That’s not even including Yoan Moncada who had an injury-plagued 2020 and Luis Robert who showed he is a five-tool athlete. Robert, who struggled in September last season, is still a dark horse MVP candidate for how he plays when he is going right. One of the best young talents in baseball.

The rotation isn’t too bad either. Lucas Giolito has developed into an ace while Dallas Keuchel and Lynn provide veteran leadership with a lot of success in the league. Dylan Cease, Reynaldo Lopez, and Carlos Rodon look to fill out the rotation as quality back-end guys.

The bullpen doesn’t have the same name power as the rest of the team outside of Hendricks, but they were quietly the eighth-best pen in 2020. Garrett Crochet, Jimmy Cordero, Aaron Bummer, and Codi Heuer were impressive at points last season and look to continue that success into 2021.

I think the White Sox will win the AL Central easily. The other teams have too many flaws while the White Sox flaw appears to be youth. With the talent they have and the moves they made this offseason, the White Sox are in winnow mode. The only other team who acted the same way in the Central are the Royals and the Sox went 1-9 against them last season.

This division is theirs to lose.