GOODYEAR, Ariz. – The 2017 MLB season will commence in a little over a month, but barring a major trade or crushing injury, not much should change when it comes to the landscape in the AL-Central Division over the next 30 days.
Each year upon my exit from spring training, I take a stab at handicapping the Cleveland Indians and the other four teams in the AL-Central. Since Feb. 14, I’ve helped provide Total Tribe Coverage for Newsradio WTAM 1100 hosting shows here at spring training, covering the team and its daily happenings, talking with manager Terry Francona and various players as they prepare for the 2017 regular season.
Obviously these predictions should be taken with no more than a grain of salt, maybe even less if that is possible. At the radio station, we have actually made a running joke as to how inaccurate these have been lately. In two of the last five years, the team I picked to win the Central Division has actually finished last.
Many times these projections are a lose-lose with certain fans. In years I’ve predicted the Indians to finish first, some folks have called me a homer and a shill. In years where I’ve predicted the Tribe lower, the name-calling is even worse.
This is simply my attempt to predict the order of finish and win totals of the American League’s Central Division teams objectively. Enjoy!
1. Cleveland Indians
Why: Seriously, where do we start? Edwin Encarnacion? Francisco Lindor? A bullpen that added Boone Logan and will enjoy the services of Andrew Miller for an entire season? And we have yet to mention perhaps the best starting rotation in the American League that returns a fully healthy Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. The Indians are stacked with talent, period. Ultimately you can’t simply play the games on paper, they have to avoid injuries and play up to their potential. If they do, a trip back to the Fall Classic is not out of the question.
2. Detroit Tigers
Why: “Father Time” is catching up to this group fast, but regardless of their age, any lineup with Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, Ian Kinsler, J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton needs to be taken seriously. The bullpen has too many question marks, but the starting staff anchored by Justin Verlander, Jordan Zimmermann and Michael Fulmer may be the second-best rotation behind Cleveland in the Central Division. This team must stay healthy in order to keep pace with the Indians and while winning the division is probably unrealistic at this point, a push for an AL wild-card spot is not out of the question. This group could have an extra edge to it, dedicating their season to late owner Mike Ilitch who died in February.
3. Kansas City Royals
Why: It’s only the first week of March and it already feels like the pressure is on this Royals club to get out to a fast start with impending free agency for several key players including Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar. The belief around MLB circles is that if this Kansas City club does not get off to a strong start, they will be parting ways with important pieces by mid-season in order to rebuild for the future. The Royals do have loads of talent, but if things start off slow and the tragic loss of star pitcher Yordano Ventura is felt on and off the field, this could quickly become a .500 club we do not recognize by season’s end.
4. Minnesota Twins
Why: In 2015 the Minnesota Twins were one of the quiet surprises in MLB going 83-79 in manager Paul Molitor’s first season on the job. Last year, when the Twins went 59-103 we learned that maybe this club is still a few years away from seriously competing in the AL-Central Division. Offensively, Minnesota has weapons in Brian Dozier, Joe Mauer and Miguel Sano, but after that the lineup lacks consistency and there are still too many questions with the starting pitching rotation and bullpen. If the Twins can’t start fast, Molitor may be out the door with a new front office in charge that elected to keep him as manager.
5. Chicago White Sox
Why: Around MLB circles, the belief is that Rick Hahn and the White Sox front office did the right thing in finally swallowing their pride and admitting that a rebuild was in order. But Chicago landed plenty of high-rated prospects through the trading of Chris Sale and Adam Eaton, while already boasting some young talent at the big league level in Jose Abreu and Tim Anderson. Veterans Melky Cabrera, Todd Frazier and closer David Robertson are still around, but similar to the Royals, if this club does not start fast in April and May (and they shouldn’t), they will be even more unrecognizable by July for new manager Rick Renteria.
- Nick Camino