2015 MLB Preview: AL Central

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The American League Central is a division that has had one ruler for a long time as the Detroit Tigers have been the dominant team for the majority of the 2010s.

With four straight division titles the Tigers have taken over the division and unlike many division they have done so by a very wide margin.

There have always been strong teams in each division as the Atlanta Braves proved for the better part of a decade in the NL East.

The Tigers seemed different though as they often came into the season as the favourites to win everything.

It wasn’t the fact that the rest of the division was that weak but more that the Tigers were just that good. With a powerful offence that including the best hitter of this generation and a pitching staff that was one of the strongest in the league.

They continued to dominate the entire division and more often than not they went into the postseason as the favourites to win it all.

That has consistently been the story in the Central division as the Tigers continued to be the team that everyone talked about.

The conversation quickly turned into whether or no they could finally win a World Series before it was too late for their aging team.

There was almost no debate about whether or not the Tigers would win the division and make it to the postseason as the debate was around their postseason performance.

That talk continued throughout the 2014 season as the Tigers did not have the most dominant of years but still rose to the top of the division and left many to continue the debate of whether they could finally win the World Series.

That was not the only conversation throughout the 2014 season though as the Tigers actually took a backseat to another team for the first time in a long time.

Despite the fact that the Tigers won the division for their fourth straight title the Kansas City Royals took over the conversation.

They are the team that has given every other team hope as they surprisingly pushed the Tigers and made it into the postseason with a wild card spot.

They then moved all the way to the World Series where they dropped a classic series with the Giants.

The Tigers went through another disappointing postseason while the Royals captured the imagination of baseball fans everywhere.

Now with a new season on the horizon the division is no longer the Tigers alone as the questions about whether their time is done and whether the Royals can follow up a fantastic year.

As the rest of the league focuses on these two teams this year the rest of the Central division is looking to be the next Royals team.

In Chicago the rebuild was started and finished in the off-season while the Indians and Twins look to find their way in a division that has forgotten them.

This year will start as with most years though as the Tigers remain the main story and although the Royals are sure to take some of the headlines the biggest question will be whether or not the Tigers can continue their dominance of the division.

If they can’t their window might be closing fast and with the Royals sitting there in a position to take over and the White Sox hoping that a spending spree can make them a contender.

The Central Division is more up for grabs than ever before this year as the rule of the Tigers may be over.

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The Chicago White Sox have had their time at the top of the division but it has been some time since they have taken a division title. For the start of Detroit’s time at the top the White Sox were the team that began to push them and became the only team that actually gave the Tigers some challenge. Since that time though, the White Sox have fallen further out of the running and became a team that has been forgotten. Last year they finished the year in fourth place with only 73 wins in what was a disappointing year. As the off-season started the White Sox were a team that many thought was going to start the long road to rebuild with a few pieces that they already had in place. Jose Abreu came from Cuba as advertised and Chris Sale continued to be a true ace in the league. Then they surprised everyone as they quickly became one of the most active teams in the MLB. They made a big splash with three of the biggest signings in the of-season. Bringing in Melky Cabrera and Adam LaRoche are sure to boost an offence that includes one of the most exciting young players in Abreu. Meanwhile the signing of David Robertson provides a legitimate closer that many teams can’t find. These three signings have given the White Sox a better chance in 2014 but they weren’t finished with the free agent pool. They also launched a massive deal with the Oakland Athletics that gave away a number prospects for starting pitcher Jeff Samardzija. He will work in nicely to the pitching staff as Sale remains the ace but Samardzija provides a good addition to a solid top three starters along with Jose Quintana. The White Sox did a quick rebuild this year and they are certainly improved as they have a better offence and a better pitching staff. Still they only got 73 wins in 2014 and by many accounts they over achieved on the year. The additions should provide a boost for the team and with some weaknesses in other teams they may very well find themselves in the battle but this type of rebuild rarely works that well right away so there may be some growing pains.

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The Cleveland Indians have had some up and down seasons over that last few years as they represented the biggest turnaround in 2013. They started a massive rebuild but didn’t spend a lot of money to do so. Instead they focused on reclamation projects and it worked out for them. They were a great team in 2013 and surprised many with their turnaround but it didn’t carry over to 2014. It wasn’t that they were all that bad though as they still finished with a winning record but they were out of the postseason and seven wins below their 2013 total. It was a disappointing season for a team that seemed to be on the rise but the Indians have refused to panic. Instead they spent the off-season simply looking forward to another year where they can show their ability like they did in 2013. The off-season was fairly quiet for the Indians as they did not see a lot of people leave the team and did not add many players either. The hope for the Indians is that the players that took a step backwards in 2014 can take a step forward and return to the postseason. Last year the starting pitchers were roughed up in some rough patches but eventually Corey Kluber pushed his way through some struggles to earn the Cy Young. Kluber returns to lead the staff once again as the ace while Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, and Danny Salazar all try to recover from forgettable seasons. Meanwhile the reclamation projects on offence that worked so well in 2013 all could not regain the magic in 2014. Nick Swisher, who will miss part of the season after knee surgery, and Jason Kipnis both had good years with Cleveland when most thought they were on the downslope in their careers. 2014 was different though as they were not as consistent as they had been the year before and the offence suffered. Still the Indians are a young team with a few veterans mixed in. Swisher and Kipnis will look to lead the way while Yan Gomes, Carlos Santana, Jose Ramirez, and Michael Brantley all look to take another step in their young careers. If the young players can step up and the vets can fend off father time the Indians should be better that 2014 but making the postseason will be a tough challenge.

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There is not much left to say about the Tigers that hasn’t already been said as they have been one of the best teams in the MLB over the last few years. They have done that by creating a lethal pitching rotation to go along with a powerful batting order. The only issue in the last couple of years has been that they haven’t been able to keep those top players in Detroit. As with any dominant team there is a window of competitiveness that seems to be closing fast for the Tigers. After 2013, possibly their best chance for a World Series, they lost Prince Fielder and Doug Fister. Then last year after another disappointing season that ended without a World Series the Tigers lost another member of their pitching staff. During the off-season the Tigers were not able to keep Max Scherzer or Rick Porcello on board as their once unstoppable pitching staff continues to take hits. This year the Tigers are without one of their best pitchers but that doesn’t mean they are without a great pitching staff. With the addition of David Price last season the Tigers still have a good rotation. With Justin Verlander leading the way and hoping to recover from a less than great 204 season, Price, and Anibal Sanchez there are some very tough at bats coming for their opponents. What has changed is that they are no longer as deep as they once were and after the top three there is some drop-off with the additions of Shane Green and Alfredo Simon to round out the rotation. Both are good but not near the level of the top three and neither can match Scherzer. On offence the Tigers still have the best batter in baseball as Miguel Cabrera continues to have great years at the plate while they also added some reinforcements. The signing of Yoenis Cespedes brings a powerful bat back to the lineup while Anthony Gose is a good young player with speed. The Tigers have shown that they know that they cannot sit by while the rest of the division upgrades and so they retooled. It’s not a rebuild though and because of that they still remain one of the best teams in the league.

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The Kansas City Royals were the feel-good story of the 2014 season as they went from being a relative afterthought with a long postseason drought to the AL Champions. The Royals were the team with the best turnaround in 2014 and they did it with a team full of role players and a few stars. There weren’t the big names leading the way for the Royals and yet they took a wild card spot to an undefeated postseason in the American League. Their run ended in the World Series where they ran into the San Francisco Giants but did not bow to the new dynasty putting on a great seven game series. They were never supposed to be in the World Series and so heading into a new season without improvements they were not likely to see the same success. That plan seemed to be the mistake that so many teams like them have made before. They remained confident in the team that over-performed last year while seeing their best pitcher in James Shields walk away. The Royals did little to replace him signing Edinson Volquez and Kris Medlen who have battled it out in spring training for the final spot. Both have the ability to be an ace and could take two spots in the rotation but neither are at the level of Shields. They will hope to join Yordano Ventura, Jason Vargas, and Jeremy Guthrie as solid starters. The offence was never that great in for the Royals and with little to no reinforcements, aside from the addition of Alex Rios, to help them there is little hope that they will be all that much better. With Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer as the only two potential power hitters they continue to lack any pop in the lineup. Another year relying on small ball could work out like it did in 2014 but there is far from any guarantee. The Royals had a great year in 2014 but their off-season doesn’t seem to provide hope for another run as 2015 seems to be a season that will prove whether or not they are a legitimate contender or if 2014 was just a fluke.

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The Minnesota Twins have not been the top team in this division for some time as they have struggled to find their winning ways again. Once they had a great lineup that included two very good batters that marked one of the best one-two punches in the game. Injuries hampered Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau and since then the Twins have not been able to climb back into the hunt. With Morneau long gone and Mauer now switched to first base the Twins are a shell of their former selves. With a 70 win season in 2014 they had continued their struggles although there were some signs of improvement. 70 wins was still more than the season before but it wasn’t enough for the Twins to remain neutral. They didn’t do too much in the off-season but taking the step to fire Ron Gardenhire was a message to the rest of the team. He had been there a total of 13 years, and was the longest tenured manager in the MLB, and when the season ended the Twins ended that time in Minnesota. In his place will be Hall of Famer Paul Molitor who takes over a team for the first time after spending his retirement as a coach throughout the MLB, including last year as an assistant with the Twins. Now he takes over and if nothing improves there is sure to be some serious changes to the roster. They did make some improvements this year though as they immediately upgraded their pitching staff with the addition of Ervin Santana to go along with an extension to Phil Hughes. Both pitchers make a pretty good one and two but Kyle Gibson and Ricky Nolasco are a drop-off. On offence the addition of Torii Hunter brings back a former fan favourite and an outfielder who had a good year with Detroit in 2014. They still look to Mauer for leadership but he is not the same hitter he was when he had Morneau beside him. Still they are able to pull off some good batting and ranked #7 in runs last year. Their pitching ranks among the worst though and despite the addition of Santana there is some serious issues that they have not addressed and for that they will remain out of the postseason.

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Prediction:
The Detroit Tigers are still the best team in the division but that dominance they have enjoyed won’t be there this year. They will need to fight to get the division crown but in the end that rotation remains one of the best and it will once again lead them to the division crown. The White Sox will be a much improved team but they will take some time to gel and that will hurt their chances to win the division. The Indians are also a better team but they will see some trouble with an aging team and for that won’t be in the fight for the division. Meanwhile last year’s Cinderella story won’t be improved as the Royals made little to no improvements on a team that over-performed last year. They will join the Twins at the bottom of the division with both teams unable to keep up with other improving teams as neither will be in the hunt this year.

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