2016 American League Central Predictions
The AL Central is enjoying a nice rebirth; they’ve represented the American League in three of the past four World Series and possess some of the brightest and more exciting young stars in the game. Don’t be surprised to see the trend continue, as the East & West don’t appear to have the same balance as some of the squads in the Central do.
Kansas City Royals
Kansas City was the first non-AL East team to win the Series in ten years, and it wasn’t a fluke. Their success can be measured in three simple words; defense, speed, and bullpen. Should be much of the same this year as the entire lineup is back and intact, and the bullpen remains deep and powerful. They completely overpaid to keep leader Alex Gordon on the roster, but continuity on a team like this speaks volumes – especially with the rest of division improving behind them.
The lineup is loaded with clutch hitters, though we wouldn’t be surprised to see slight declines from Mike Moustakas and Kendrys Morales though both should still be solid. The rotation is questionable at best; it’s time for Yordano Ventura to become the ace that they sorely need. FA Ian Kennedy is in dire need of a career rebirth; he is just one of a slew of reclamation projects slated to start for KC. If they can, however, simply make it through six innings, the #1 bullpen in the league will slam the door shut more often than not, though the trade-off of injured Greg Holland for the inconsistent Joakim Soria weakens them a bit.
Take the Royals over 85 (-110)
Detroit continues to be the big spender in the division, forking out some large quantities for LF Justin Upton and SP Jordan Zimmermann, and trading for pricey closer Francisco Rodriguez. All three are upgrades and should provide a bit more stability for a team on the cusp of a decline. The good news is that Victor Martinez and Miguel Cabrera appear healthy this spring, and could be in for nice comebacks. Martinez might be 37, but he’s a career .302 hitter and should be able to get his legs underneath his swing again. Upton will help both at the plate and in the field, as he’s a very good defender.
The Tigers added some more much-needed speed and defense with Cameron Maybin, but he’s out for almost two months. Wrist injuries can be tricky, so Anthony Gose may be called upon to sub. He’s fleet of foot, but extremely inconsistent at the plate. Zimmermann has the unenviable task of replacing David Price in the rotation. He was much more hitable last season with Washington; his 3.66 ERA was his highest ever for a full season, and NL pitchers typically regress when jumping ship to the AL. Keep an eye on youngster Daniel Norris; he has the make-up to be an ace, perhaps as soon as this year. Stalwarts Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez continue to be risks and can’t be counted on for 200 innings any longer.
Take the Tigers over 82 (-120)
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox after a very busy off-season, may be the most balanced team in the division, possessing a solid rotation, decent bullpen, and capable lineup and defense. Adding 3B Todd Frazier, 2B Brett Lawrie, and CF Austin Jackson will significantly improve the defense – as will SS Jimmy Rollins if he has anything left in the tank. Lawrie and Frazier will also add some needed thump to the lineup, protecting Jose Abreu and putting he and RF Adam Eaton in line for career years. Rollins, meanwhile, will just be keeping it warm while top prospect Tim Anderson works on his own defense in AAA this year.
The rotation could border on elite, especially if sophomore Carlos Rodon can improve his pitches beyond the electric slider that he possesses. Chris Sale’s odd delivery always places him at risk for injury, but he’s our pick for the AL Cy Young Award this year as he’s finally got some defense behind him. Jose Quintana slides in behind Sale and should contribute a line close to last season, when he again exceeded 200 innings with an ERA of 3.36. The wild card in the rotation is Mat Latos, who’s coming off of two horrible, injury-plagued seasons. He signed a cheap, one-year deal late in the offseason and needs to show that he WANTS to pitch at a high level again. This is his last chance to garner a multi-year contract, as he’s worn out too many welcomes. David Robertson needs to do a better job of keeping the ball in the stadium, but he should repeat as one of the league’s top closers.
Take the White Sox over 81 (-135)
Minnesota and rookie manager Paul Molitor shocked the baseball world last season and if it weren’t for the stunning performance in Houston, more fans would’ve noticed. And they could be even better this year. The Twins are a very young bunch; at 32, Joe Mauer and Kurt Suzuki are the elder statesmen in the lineup. They’ll be led by one of the young bunch; OF Miguel Sano. While he does strike out far too frequently, the kid has a great eye (.385 OBP) and can absolutely crush (18 HRs in only 279 ABs). If 2B Brian Dozier can improve his own OBP and rookie CF Byron Buxton is ready to hit MLB pitchers, Sano could be in line for 110 or so RBIs. He’ll be protected by fellow masher, import Byung-Ho Park. Park won’t hit for the same average as Sano, but his power is almost as impressive. Some power from Mauer would be nice as well, but it looks like he’s destined to be a poor man’s Mark Grace for the remainder of his career.
The rotation was merely serviceable in 2015; ‘ace’ Phil Hughes struggled with a back injury for much of the year and regressed badly from his breakout ’14. Expect something in between from him; a dozen wins with an ERA right around 4.00 and few walks should be his ceiling. A full season from Ervin Santana will help, as he was lights out during the stretch run last year. Keep an eye on rookie Jose Berrios; he dominated AA and AAA last year and could slide into the rotation at any time before the All Star break.
Take the Twins over 79.5 (even)
Cleveland has the best rotation in the division…by far. Corey Kluber had an expected regression after his Cy Young win in 2014, but there’s no way he goes 9-16 again this year – though his ERA of 3.49 is probably more in line with what to expect. Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco could be #1’s on many other teams; the trio could easily win 50+ games and strike out over 700 batters. The enigma that is Trevor Bauer has the ability to become an ace; too bad his ego won’t let him. If he can finally put it all together, watch out. The staff will need to keep the score low, as the Indians don’t possess an abundance of offense. In fact, the inconsistent Carlos Santana is the only real threat to exceed 20 home runs on the roster. OF Michael Brantley had shoulder surgery and could miss a chunk of the first month, and the rest of the OF is neither overly fast nor possesses solid defense and on-base skills.
The infield defense was bolstered by rookie SS Francisco Lindor, but don’t expect a repeat of his .313/.353/.482 line from last year. 2B Jason Kipnis is one of those ‘every other year’ hitters, and last year was a very good one (.303/.372/.451). The rest of the lineup is filled with inconsistent bench-quality players. If they’re in it come August, don’t be surprised to see Bauer shipped off for some offense.
Take the Indians under 87 (-120)
2016 American League Central Predictions
- Kansas City 90-72
- Chicago 84-78
- Minnesota 83-79
- Detroit 80-82
- Cleveland 79-83