2018 MLB Preview: AL Central

alcentralIn the American League, the fact has always been that the AL East has produced some of the best teams in the league.

They regularly took the wild card spot and then when the second wild card was added they began taking that as well.

Every American League division needed to find ways to compete with a division that had some of the most talent and the most money in the league.

It was never an easy thing but in recent years the Central has been a division that seems to have the ability to challenge the east.

This is a division on the rise with teams building towards something special and the efforts are beginning to show some fruit.

The division has become a player in the bigger league as a whole and they are beginning to show signs of a strong future ahead of them.

It all started with the rise of the Kansas City Royals as a legitimate threat to take home a World Series title.

In 2014 the Royals made the World Series, putting the Central back on the map for the first time in a long time.

The next year they took home that title keeping themselves in the conversation as one of the best teams in the league.

Then the next year they weren’t even the best team in their own division as Cleveland found their way to the World Series.

For three straight years, the AL Central produced the best teams in the American League and it only helped to grow the division and the teams in the division.

Last year Cleveland finished the league with one of the best records in baseball but they fell short of their expectations.

It hasn’t stopped the development of the rest of the division though as the Central has another contender.

The Minnesota Twins were able to push Cleveland last year taking a wild card spot and proving that the East is not the only division who can take multiple spots in the postseason.

For the Central, this is a different time as they are not another division just looking to compete with each other to try to earn their one spot.

The Central is now a division that has the firepower to take on the East and can take two spots of their own.

They are one of the strongest divisions over the last few years as the winner of the division has gone to the World Series in three of the last four years.

It is quickly becoming one of the toughest divisions in the league and with improvements made this off-season things could only be getting tougher for every team in the Central.

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As the Central Division grew the Chicago White Sox were somewhat left behind looking to find a way out of the basement. They were once the big team in the Central with a host of talent but that time has come and gone and since their World Series in 2005 it had been a struggle to get back to the top of the league. They continued to fight looking to use the experience on their team to get back to the top but it never quite worked out for chiwhitesoxthem. It wasn’t until a few years ago that they finally committed to the dreaded rebuild that no team wants to go through. The White Sox were had to change things up in a major way and to do that they had to get rid of all of their talent. That has led to some pretty lean years in the South Side of Chicago as there has been little to no hope over the last few years. Patience is the key to this strategy though and the White Sox have shown that with plenty to spare and that patience is finally starting to give them some reason to hope. The White Sox are now a team with a lot of potential thanks to the moves made years ago to stock up their farm system. It was a complete teardown and now the team is beginning to see the advantages of what that strategy can bring. This year the team still doesn’t seem to be quite there yet as there is still a lot of questions regarding some of their prospects. There is a reason to get excited though as stars are beginning to emerge each year and proving to be a solid base to build off of. The biggest piece might just be Jose Abreu who has been one of the few bright spots in Chicago for the last few years after arriving from Cuba. He was one of the few veterans left standing in Chicago this year and will take a leadership role alongside new addition Welington Castillo. The rest of the group is really young and has a lot of potential with prospects like Yoan Moncada, Nicky Delmonico and Tim Anderson all taking bigger roles. In the rotation, the youth movement continues with James Shields serving as one of the few veterans in the group and Lucas Giolito representing another exciting prospect. The farm system is one of the best and the prospects are plenty but the questions are just as many. Because of those questions, the White Sox don’t seem to be ready for any serious run although the future is bright.

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Cleveland has been the class of the division and one of the best teams in the league over the last few years with a pitching group that has been among the best in the league. In 2016 they almost took home the World Series and last year they were at the top of the league, although they couldn’t make good on that standing. Their two great seasons have led to no titles and that is not a great thing for this team as windows in the MLB are cleindiansnever all that big. Eventually, great teams will see their best players walk away to other teams and eventually they won’t be able to afford the best of their players. That window seems to be closing for the Cleveland as the offseason was marked by the loss of some of the bigger names on the team. Like every team that goes through this the toughest part is trying to find replacements and most teams can’t do it. This year, Cleveland will look to move on from the big name losses with some signings and a few prospects in hopes that it can continue their run at the top of the league. One of the big moves that they will need to recover from will be the loss of Carlos Santana who was a major part of their offence. To try to mitigate that loss Cleveland signed Yonder Alonso who should be a good replacement to keep the production around the same. They will also be focusing on Jose Ramirez who hopes to continue to develop into a legitimate power threat. Along with Jason Kipnis, Edwin Encarnacion and Francisco Lindor there is still a lot of talent on the offensive side of the ball. That was never their strength though as they have made their way to the top of the league with their ability to shut everyone down. A big part of that was their bullpen that was the best over the last two years but will be without a big contributor. Bryan Shaw leaves them without one of their top relievers but there are still talented pitchers like Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. In the rotation, the talent is still there as well with Corey Kluber continuing to lead the group. Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco return as well and they continue to be a very tough group to get through. The window is showing signs of closing but it is not closed yet and Cleveland will once again be one of the best teams this year as they head to the top of the division and into the postseason although a deep run might not be in the cards for them again.

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In Detroit, the challenge was what a lot of teams go through especially teams that have been so dominant and considered some of the best in the league. The Tigers were that team with a lineup that put fear into everyone that they played with a great offence and a powerful rotation. They were simply one of the best teams in the league but like any team that has been together for a while, they eventually lost their grip on the division. dettigersThey were getting older and the dominance that they showed for years was starting to fade but like so many dominant teams they refused to believe that they were a sinking ship. Instead, they just followed a pattern of trying to sign other veterans believing they were only a piece or two away from competing again. That went on for years but it never really worked as the Tigers hung on to their past in the hopes that they could still compete with their veterans. Last year things finally seemed to click in though as the Tigers began unloading and committing to the rebuild which means things are looking pretty for the future of this team. After trading away most of the biggest names on the roster last year the team is now full of veterans that could be gone before the season ends or that couldn’t be moved because of poor seasons. The group is led, as always, by Miguel Cabrera who had a historically bad season last year and is trying to get back to his MVP ways, although at 35 he doesn’t have a lot of time left to be as good as he was. Along with Victor Martinez, Cabrera makes up the holdovers from the time when the Tigers were great. The rest of the team is a strange mix of younger players but nobody that has proven a lot like Mickie Mahtook and Nick Castellanos. The offence has some question marks as nobody really knows what they have in store and if the veterans can return to being some of the best hitters in the league. In the rotation, the old guard is gone with Justin Verlander traded last year and Anibal Sanchez leaving in free agency. It has left Jordan Zimmerman as the leader while Francisco Liriano has joined the team to provide some depth. The rest of the group is young and like the offence, there is not a lot known about what they can do. That is the story of the team this year as the rebuild is just beginning and it will mean a team with some bright spots but not enough to make a run up the standings.

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Where the Detroit Tigers were only a few short years ago is exactly where the Royals find themselves right now as a former dominant team trying to stay relevant. Like so many of teams that were great at one point, the Royals ran into a funding issue more than anything. Great players that rose through the system in Kansas City were finally beginning to get to the point where they were looking to sign their big contracts. The kcroyalsRoyals could not afford everyone and so they were bound to lose a number of big names and in losing those big players they lost talent. They went out late in the offseason to sign veterans in the hopes that they could reduce the losses. This can work but it is rarely a sustainable strategy although they could very well find their way back to being competitive with the signings they have completed. It might not last long but they can stay in the fight for a number of years and hope to see that happen this time around. The big news in the offseason was always going to centre around the big three in Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas. All were free agents and the Royals were not going to be able to afford all of them so that core was going to change. They were able to keep one as Moustakas re-signed but they lost Cain and Hosmer to free agency. To try to replace those losses the Royals signed the power hitting, albeit inconsistent, Lucas Duda and Jon Jay. Both are good replacements if they can meet their expectations and alongside Moustakas, Salvador Perez and Alex Gordon the offence remains pretty solid even with the losses. Where they need to see more from is their pitching staff that will need to step up if they want to compete. Danny Duffy is the leader of the group and with a new contract, there is a lot of pressure on him to be the ace of the group. Behind him, Ian Kennedy and James Hammel are trying to reach back to when they were great and if they can it could be a good group. The bullpen will need to improve as well after being one of the strengths of the team a few years ago. Kelvin Herrera will need to be better if he hopes to keep the closer role this entire year after losing the job last season. The Royals are caught and they refuse to be a bad team so they signed some names in hopes of keeping up but with other improvements throughout the division, they might not get any further.

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They were one of the best stories of the 2017 season as the Twins seemingly came out of nowhere to compete for the top of the division. It led to some very big expectations for the 2018 season as the Twins are on their way up through the rankings. The expectation is to compete right away as they looked great a year ago and now they are thought of as a true contender in the division and possibly in the league. The more difficult part for the mintwinsTwins is that their window to compete is closing really fast after only one year where they actually showed promise. Heading into 2018 the Twins are staring at a load of free agents and like the Royals, they are not going to be able to keep all of them. That has forced the hand of the Twins who know that they are ready to compete now and so they went out to find the pieces they needed to compete. That only increased the expectations for this team as there is no way that the Twins can have a successful season without making the postseason. The biggest additions came with their pitching staff as they looked to immediately find support for the rotation and the bullpen. The addition of Addison Reed and Zach Duke give the Twins more power in the late innings. They will look to Fernando Rodney to close out games and he can be a great closer but has seen some inconsistency as the seasons move on. They didn’t stop at the bullpen though as the rotation got its own boost with the signings of Lance Lynn and Jake Odorizzi provide much more depth. They will lean on a youngster in Jose Berrios to lead the group as they wait for Ervin Santana to return from surgery on his finger. With Santana healthy, this group is deep and can be great but it could take a few months for that to happen. On the offensive side, the changes were not many as the biggest addition was Logan Morrison who will fit in perfectly as their designated hitter. Joe Mauer and Brian Dozier are the veterans of the group and they are supported by young stars like Byron Buxton, Max Kepler and Miguel Sano. The group is deep and with Morrison, they have plenty of great hitters that can put up runs multiple ways. The Twins are built to win this division and make a run even if they are only built for one season. They have the talent there and they can certainly make the postseason but a deep run is not going to be easy in the American League.

Prediction:
The battle last year was a little surprising as the Twins pushed Cleveland for that top spot but they couldn’t get the title in the end. The same battle might be in the cards for this season as the Twins are better and used to the fight while Cleveland remains strong. The Royals will have a small say in the fight for the division as well with their slight and quick rebuild. All three will be in the hunt for the postseason this year and they will continue to make the Central one of the best divisions in the league. Meanwhile, Detroit and Chicago will sit at the bottom of the division and the league with both just starting the rebuild. It seems pretty likely that the Central will take two postseason spots this year and possibly fight for three continuing their rise as one of the most competitive divisions in the league.

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