This division was pretty sleepy last season…and looks about the same this year. While other divisions saw previously mediocre teams like the Padres and Reds spend money, the Royals, Tigers, and rumored active but in the process not White Sox sit mostly tight. The Twins did, however, make some moves and look to get back to the playoffs after disappointing many in 2018 following a surprise 2017 Wild Card run.
1. Cleveland Indians
While I like the moves that the Twins have made to put themselves in a position to compete, the Cleveland Indians have just too much talent on this roster and the Central is theirs to lose for at least another year. Cleveland boasts possibly the best pitching staff in the American League lead by Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Baur, and Mike Clevinger. The bullpen will be shakey after the loss of Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, but Brad Hand is still a stud and will take over as Cleveland’s ninth-inning man. The Tribe’s lineup is stacked with superstars Jose Ramirez and Francisco Lindor and solid players such as Carlos Santana and Jason Kipnis.
2. Minnesota Twins
The Twins made moves to bring in sluggers C.J. Cron, Nelson Cruz, and Lucas Duda, along with star utilityman Marwin Gonzalez, pitchers Blake Parker, Martin Pérez, and Jonathan Schoop. Add those players to a team headed by Eddie Rosario, Miguel Sano, and Byron Buxton, you get a great mix of speed and power throughout the lineup. The pitching staff is led by Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson and when they are on, they are as good of a duo as anyone in baseball. I can’t quite see the Twins winning the division but they will be in the race all year long.
3. Chicago White Sox
The White Sox are heading slowly towards the conclusion of a long and tedious rebuild and while they won’t be contenders in 2019, their case is very similar to San Diego’s with the future being infinitely brighter than the present. This team will be led by a young core in 2019 comprised of Yoan Moncada, Tim Anderson, Kelvin Herrera, and Michael Kopech. The White Sox are going to own this division in the years to come, just not for a little while longer.
4. Kansas City Royals
Easily the fastest team in baseball comprised of speedsters Billy Hamilton, Adalberto Mondesi, and superstar-in-the-making Whit Merrifield who quietly led baseball in stolen bases (45) and hits (192). Salvador Perez will remain the captain of this young team and Danny Duffy will lead the pitching staff. This team is not going to hit a lot of home runs, but they will steal like there is no tomorrow. Unfortunately, they need a little more than speed to get back to 2015 form.
5. Detroit Tigers
The Tigers are smack dab in the middle of a rebuild where their only recognizable names are Miguel Cabrera, Nick Castellanos, Jordan Zimmerman, and Michael Fulmer. Joe Jimenez looks like a future star relief pitcher and the young talent being amassed is nothing to scoff at, but the Tigers are not going to compete again for a long time. Don’t expect anything higher than a fourth place finish from Detroit this year and that is being optomistic.
1. Minnesota Twins: For some reason, I see the Indians falling off a bit this year. Maybe it’s their turn for some injuries to derail the starting rotation and the Twins turn to get some full seasons out of their staff. It just feels like the Indians are complacent and the Twins are hungry. Also because baseball is never as predictable as people think it will be, so something different has to happen somewhere. The Twins signing Marwin Gonzalez to a 2-year deal was a coup, and the ability to augment him across any infield surprises is huge. He’ll likely start the season at 3rd base, but it is imperative for the Twins to get bounce-back performances from Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano to stay competitive. Michael Pineda is an intriguing rotation piece after being hurt nearly all of last season, but between him, Jake Odorizzi, budding ace Jose Berrios and Kyle Gibson who was solid last season the rotation could actually be very stable for this young team as they try and steal their first division title since 2010.
2. Cleveland Indians: This team has several big stars in Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, and Corey Kluber. Carlos Santana quietly returned after a bad year in Philadelphia but the outfield is a patchwork like no other for a division-contending team. The Indians were supposedly trying to shop some of their pitching this off-season, and a slow start could accelerate that process the division being very winnable.
3. Chicago White Sox: I supposed we have to pick an order for the final three teams, so why not put the White Sox here. The Sox were devastated when top pitching prospect Michael Kopech went down with TJ Surgery and will miss seeing his potential again in 2019. I was disappointed in Lucas Giolito’s performance in 2018, and hope he come bounce back and show the prospect potential he had with the Nationals. Shortstop Tim Anderson hit several career highs but needs to improve his batting average to really live up to his hype and contract. Supposedly Manny Machado was really down to the White Sox and Padres, and both teams presented their plans for the future. While the White Sox hoped by bringing in brother in law Yonder Alonso and best friend Jon Jay (cobjingleheimerschmidt) – Machado bought into the Padres future over the White Sox – which might tell us more than any other metric.
4. Detroit Tigers: It was just 2016 that Miguel Cabrera was still Miguel Cabrera, and his long term contract might not be a bad idea after all. 2016 was a long time ago…except for Matthew Boyd and Michael Fullmer, their rotation is an island of former top pitchers gone bad filled out by Tyson Ross, Jordan Zimmerman, and Matt Moore. Zimmerman did get his ERA back under 6.00 after 2017, but this team will fail to pitch consistently and unless Cabrera can resurrect himself again the offense will struggle as well.
5. Kansas City Royals: The Royals won the World Series in 2015. It was their first World Championship since 1985. They did it with a combination of homegrown talent and shrewd pickups by GM Dayton Moore. That’s about the best we can say about the Royals heading into 2019, showing how fickle and quick that competitive window can be. They picked up speedster Billy Hamilton, and Alex Gordon is still around from the championship team for autographs. Sadly in camp, Salvador Perez tore his ACL so it out for the season. I still think this moment from 2017 was pretty special.
Make sure to tune in tomorrow for Doubleday Double Talk’s American League West Preview.