While the Nation’s eyes watch March Madness for upsets like 16 UMBC v 1 Virginia, baseball had it’s own upset last season when the Cleveland Indians lost to the Yankees in the American League Division Series. The Indians went up 2 games to none after winning 102 games in the regular season – before the Yankees came all the way back to win.
Now the AL Central has changed some, with the 2017 Wild Card game entrant Minnesota Twins made some big moves in the off-season to bolster their team and seriously challenge the Indians for the American League Central crown. Meanwhile, the Tigers still have Miguel Cabrera but are falling fast while the Royals held onto Moustakas and Alex Gordon but their grand window of competitiveness is clearly over. How long will it be until they rise again? The White Sox have embraced their rebuild and now boast a core of young stars on the rise. So how will the season shake out? Onto the predictions.
1. Minnesota Twins
The Twins not only surprised everyone making the wild card with their team of spare parts, but many of those spare parts started realizing the potential the team had for them. Byron Buxton took his .216 Pre-All-Star Batting Average and made that .300 in the second half. Miguel Sano hit nearly 30 home runs, and Joe Mauer is still playing for this team. Ervin Santana (now 35) led the staff with 16 wins, and to that, they added durable Lance Lynn and strikeout specialist Jake Odorizzi. This gives some cushion to young ace-in-training Jose Berrios who struggled some in the second half but I expect to have a great 2018. Logan Morrison was signed to be DH after hitting 38 home runs last year – can he do it again? I like the energy of this team and think they made some great moves to make the team better and take over the Indians in 2018.
2. Cleveland Indians
There is nothing to say that the Indians actually got any worse this season. They still have one of the best all-around players in baseball in Francisco Lindor, the 2017 AL Cy Young Corey Kluber, and that great bullpen anchored by Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. They also have possibly the most underrated third baseman in all of baseball in Jose Ramirez, who bopped 29 home runs last season while hitting .318 with a .374 OBP. Not bad. I just think the Twins have what it takes to overtake them in a race that should come down to the bitter end.
3. Chicago White Sox
The White Sox should have a lot of optimism for the future. The present? James Shields missed 30 starts last season for the first time since his rookie year in 2006, and when he did pitch he wasn’t good. The team is essentially making him the “ace” punching bag while they develop Lucas Giolito, the former Nationals top prospect he did well in his 7 starts last season, pitching to a 2.38 ERA and hoping for a strong full season. They also have Yoan Moncada trying to live up to his immense hype starting at second base every day, and potential franchise cornerstone shortstop Tim Anderson forming a dynamic duo up the middle. Matt Davidson hit 26 home runs his first full season at 3rd base, but has to get that average up from .220 to stay in the major leagues. I think the kids play good enough to get third place in this top-heavy division.
4. Kansas City Royals
The Royals made back to back World Series in 2014 and 2015, winning it all in 2015 and showing the baseball world how sticking with a prospect plan and making key free agent pickups can help you to win a World Series. Unfortunately, the Cubs and Astros followed the same model, did it better with Kris Bryant and Jose Altuve/Carlos Correa/George Springer respectively, and the Royals window has essentially closed on this championship winning team. In an attempt to stay somewhat competitive, they do still have core players mentioned in the introduction as well as Danny Duffy. Duffy went 12-3 in 2016 but regressed some in 2018, seeing his ERA rise up to 3.81 and with a less competitive team around him his record fell to 9-10.
5. Detroit Tigers
The Tigers don’t have a lot to offer the baseball world in 2018. The pitching is anchored by Michael Fullmer, but after that, you have Francisco Liriano and Jordan Zimmerman trying to show they still have the ability to get Major League hitters out. This team has some pieces that will likely be traded at the deadline for younger minor league talent, but all eyes will be on Miggy as we hope that one of the greatest hitters of our generation can enjoy a late-career renaissance as he sits at 462 home runs and marches towards 500 and beyond. He is just 34 so bigger numbers are in sight if he can stay productive for even 3-4 more seasons.
1. Cleveland Indians
The Cleveland Indians were supposed to win the World Series in 2017 (or at least my Postseason Predictions article said so…) before going up 2 games to none on the “rebuilding” New York Yankees and eventually losing the next 3 games to end a legendary season. The Indians were knocked right off of their high horse and in dramatic fashion. Unlike Daryll, I do not think that the Indians will fade off into the night after not one, but two Postseason collapses, and with a chip on their shoulder in 2018 I believe that the Indians will once again dominate its division.
With a fantastic infield consisting arguably the best shortstop in baseball (Francisco Lindor), the most underrated third baseman in baseball (Jose Ramirez), Jason Kipnis (who is having a monster Spring Training), and Yonder Alonso at first, along with a top pitching staff led by Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Baur, and a fantastic bullpen headed by Andrew Miller, the Indians will march into October better than ever. A good deal of their power will come from designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion and Ramirez, and we must not forget Michael Brantley, Bradley Zimmer, and Lonnie Chisenhall in the outfield.
The Indians will be bigger and better than ever in 2018, and you can take that to the bank!
2. Minnesota Twins
After becoming the first team in Major League history to go from a 100-loss season to a Postseason appearance the very next year, I am predicting another second place finish in the American League Central for Minnesota in 2018.
Minnesota made some nice acquisitions in the 2017-18 offseason, including Lance Lynn, Jake Odorizzi, and Logan Morrison. Lynn and Odorizzi will make up for the loss of Ervin Santana (who underwent surgery this offseason and will miss most if not all of the 2018 season), and Logan Morrison will give them another solid power bat to accompany Miguel Sano and Joe Mauer, while Byron Buxton comes into his own. Jose Berrios will likely be at the forefront of the pitching rotation and is expected to have a breakout year.
The Twins will be a good team in 2018, but won’t be close to the Cleveland Indians in the division race.
3. Chicago White Sox
The Chicago White Sox are officially in phase 2 of rebuilding, and contention seems to be right around the corner. While they will not be competing for the Postseason in 2018, the White Sox are a team of the future and will be really good when their young talent develops.
Chicago has a solid infield with rising stars such as third baseman Matt Davidson (Fun Fact: I have been to Davidson’s house and was able to talk with him about baseball. Great Guy!) at third, Tim Anderson at shortstop, Yoan Moncada at second, and former Rookie of the Year Award winner (2014) at first base in Jose Abreu. Tyler Saladino and Matt Davidson will likely be platooning at third base and designated hitter, and the newly acquired Wellington Castillo will put on the tools of ignorance and play catcher. The Sox have a decent pitching rotation headed by James Sheilds and Lucas Giolito and highly anticipated prospect Michael Kopech will likely find his way to the starting pitching rotation as the season rolls on.
Chicago will be a below average team in 2018 but watch out for this team in the years to come.
4. Detroit Tigers
The Detroit Tigers were the owners of the worst record in baseball in 2017, and it doesn’t seem like they will be much better in 2018.
The only notable change that the Tigers made this offseason was getting rid of Brad Ausmus and bringing in Ron Gardenhire as their new manager. While I personally do like this move, it is not going to change their horrible fate.
The Tigers have an aging core group of players, and the 34-year-old Miguel Cabrera had the worst season of his career in 2018. The pitching staff is meager at best, and that is if Michael Fulmer and Francisco Liriano have semi-decent years in 2018. The Tigers will be absolutely atrocious in 2018, but not as atrocious as the Kansas City Royals.
5. Kansas City Royals
Despite being able to keep Mike Moustakas after the slow offseason prevented him from finding a suiter, the Royals will be a travesty to watch in 2018.
Salvador Perez and Moustakas stand alone on a team that has little to no pitching depth, just suffered the loss of Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain, and is not getting any younger. The team, with the exception of Kelvin Herrera, has a weak bullpen, and Danny Duffy will anchor a weak starting rotation after the loss of Jason Vargas. The Royals went out and signed Lucas Duda and Jon Jay to keep the team together through the hard times, and oh boy, they will be tough.
Make sure to tune in tomorrow for Daryll and Giuseppe’s preview of the American League West.