I only just today realized I didn’t fill in my predictions for the standings in the AL East, and as I’m doing this each morning (but may catch up by next week), I’ll just put everyone together in a final article where I tell you my choice for overall champion.
As for now, let’s take a look at the five teams that battle it out in our mid-western section of the country:
Chicago White Sox
It’s surprising to realize that the White Sox weren’t the worst team in the Central division last year – that honor fell to the flailing Tigers. So the Southsiders should slide their way into contention, correct? I wouldn’t count on them making it right away, but I label them as the most likely spoiler this season. The Minnesota Twins are doing everything in their power to return to the postseason, but I’m going to go out on a limb and say this team does better than their rivals. They’ve got the underrated Joan Moncada, Jose Abreu, and a bevy of no-name players waiting to break through to stardom. The pitching side still has James Shields, hoping for a resurgent season, alongside a trio of rookie pitchers that could be this year’s Rockies – Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Carson Fulmer. Add journeyman Miguel Gonzalez to the mix and you have the case for a lowball team that can rise above the occasion.
Given that they have played deep into the postseason the last two seasons, the Indians are likely to be tired. Their bullpen has been basically Cody Allen and Andrew Miller in that time period, so there’s the chance it could always break down midway through, especially given their replacement for Bryan Shaw (Colorado), Craig Breslow (Toronto), Joe Smith (Houston) and Boone Logan (Milwaukee) is….Matt Belisle. The majority of the team is still intact beyond the bullpen, however, and they even added a decent replacement for Carlos Santana (Philadelphia): Yonder Alonso, who will at least be a fine holdover between last year and whatever the future holds. The pitching staff is all returning as well, and hopefully Danny Salazar and Cody Anderson find their way back to the mound, because they could improve one of the most complete teams in baseball.
As I’m continuing through my research for this section of the league, it dawn on me that I may have been wrong about the first team. On paper, the Tigers look much better positioned for a return to the postseason than the White Sox. They’ve gotten name players behind the plate: Miguel Cabrera, Nicholas Castellanos and Jose Iglesias are still intact, while Leonys Martin slips into the leadoff spot after a bit of playoff help for the Cubs in October proved his worth. They also actively upgrade their rotation, bringing over Francisco Liriano and Mike Fiers over from the championship Astros. They’re not the number one or two arms in your arsenal, and Fiers will start the season the DL, but they have a more likely chance at improving the Tigers’ record. Maybe I was too eager to crown the White Sox as the Cinderella team, as this team has some glass slippers they’d like to try on.
Kansas City Royals
The window for Kansas City may have shut much quicker than anticipated. For all the goodwill the Royals built over the past several years as they climbed their way out of ignominity to the top of the baseball world, they’re about to come crashing They managed to stave off the departure of Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar, but at what price? The heavily browed face of their team is gone, and they’ll be struggling to replace him. Lucas Duda has a heavy load to bear, but I think he’ll handle it just fine to start, and veteran Royals Salvador Perez and Alex Gordon should help. The problem with the team truly lies with their pitching staff: Danny Duffy and Ian Kennedy aren’t getting any younger, and Duffy and Kelvin Herrera are the only pitchers remaining from their World Series run. Jason Hammel had his best year while helping the Cubs win in 2016, but that’s still a patching pitching prognosis.
Man, did the Twins acquire every available free agent this offseason? It seems that way, though Logan Morrison is the only bat filling in the lineup. The pitching side sees Jake Odorizzi (Tampa Bay) and Lance Lynn (St. Louis) joining in, and they’re a definitive upgrade from both their respective teams and over Bartolo Colon and Hector Santiago. Odorizzi brings veteran leadership on a team lacking it the past few seasons on the mound, while the oldest player in pitching joins them in Fernando Rodney. After having a career year at 40 in Arizona, he’ll join additions such as Addison Reed, Zach Duke and Tyler Kinley to bolster the newly revamped bullpen. There’s a lot to hope for in Minneapolis, and the hope is to give Miguel Sano, Brian Dozier and Joe Mauer another chance at playoff glory.
That’s it, folks. There’s a lot to be excited about once again here in the AL Central, but we’ll move on the west coast tomorrow to find out who’s going to be the best there. All in all, there will be some tough matchups here over the course of 2018. I can’t wait to be proven wrong about my White Sox > Twins prediction, though.