At long last, the end is in sight. The long slog of the baseball offseason is almost over, as are these previews. Only one division left. I’ve saved the
best worst for last. Listen, I’ve spent the majority of these opening paragraphs trashing the AL Central, but that’s because it stinks. Only one team is worth watching. The rest are pure baseball Ambien, capable of putting even the most hardcore baseball nerd to sleep instantly. Well, without further ado, here’s my favorite division, the American League Central. As always, win totals taken from Atlantis Casino Resort.
Last year’s World Series runner-up lost in excruciating fashion after blowing a 3-1 lead, fighting back to improbably tie game 7, then losing the championship in extra innings. Just the same old hard-luck Indians, right? Well, not exactly. Almost overnight, the Tribe has transformed into a big spending juggernaut clearly looking to exorcise last year’s demons. They signed Wily Mo Pena, for crying out loud! If that doesn’t scream win-now, I don’t know what does.
This is clearly the best team in this division. Adding Edwin Encarnacion to the team that scored the fifth most runs in the league last season seems like a recipe for success. They’re gonna score a lot of runs pretty much no matter who they’re playing.
Of course, what makes them a great team is that they prevent runs just as well as the score them. Their pitching was dominant last year, even with talented starters Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar missing time. They finished fifth in the league in ERA+ and fourth in strikeout percentage. They also sport a top five defense. Combining those two things is usually a good thing. It’s not exactly rocket surgery why this team is good. When you excel at every facet of the game, good things usually happen. Look for the
Indians (sorry, didn’t mean to offend) team from Cleveland to be there at the end this, year, too.
Over/Under 92.5 Wins: Over
Key Offseason Move: Signing Edwin Encarnacion
Burning Question: How long until LeBron takes credit for the Indians success?
Bold Prediction: They’ll blow a 3-1 lead in the ALCS as continued punishment for the city of Cleveland for their infinite “Warriors blew a 3-1 lead” jokes online.
I don’t know, man. There’s just something about this team that absolutely bores the hell out of me. They’re just so…boring. And it’s not like they’re a bad team. They’re actually pretty decent. If you treat weighted runs created + as a catch-all stat for offensive productivity adjusted for stadiums, the Tigers actually placed 4th in the league. They even have some exciting individual players- J.D. Martinez, Justin Upton, Victor Martinez, and the great Miguel Cabrera are all theoretically appointment television. Jose Iglesias even makes the nuanced art of middle infield defense exhilarating. But still, I can never get pumped up about the Tigers. I think it’s the jerseys. They’re just so plain. No character, no panache. Just white and navy. Teams like the Tigers are cursed by having classic jerseys because it means they’re never allowed to change. The Tigers could do with a modernization, but if they ever altered anything people would absolutely lose their minds. Like every 20 years a Penn State football player wears white cleats or something and he’s practically put on trial for murder. But when you hold out for so long, it’s impossible to get out of the rut. Take the Red Sox and Celtics. They’ve had the same designs forever, but they experimented with alternates (with varying degrees of success) early in the Alternate Jersey Era, so no one really cares. But when you’re like the Tigers or Cardinals or Alabama don’t even think about switching anything up. Oregon’s been around too long at this point to jump in the fun jersey game. So don’t expect me to experience any joy watching the Tigers because they are just so visually bland. They might be okay, but they’ll look boring doing it. And they won’t be good, since their pitching and defense suck.
Over/Under 85.5 Wins: Under
Key Offseason Move: Trading for Mikie Mahtook I guess?
Burning Question: Will Kate Upton travel to every game, or just cities with hot girls?
Bold Prediction: This team is so uninteresting I can’t even think of anything even remotely related to them.
Kansas City Royals–
How the hell did this team win a championship two years ago? Seriously, it’s getting more mysterious by the minute. I shouldn’t pile on the Royals, though, since, even though I didn’t like him as much as Jose Fernandez, they’re dealing with the same tragic situation as the Marlins with the death of presumed number one starter Yordano Ventura. So surreal to lose two young, talented guys so close together like this. The loss was met with less public grieving mostly because it was during the offseason (and he spent his whole career throwing at people and was pretty much the least popular player in the league. Not to disrespect the dead, though) but it’s still going to have a huge impact on this team. It’s pretty much like the Marlins: they could fall apart or they could rally together and become more than the sum of their parts (again). They’ve certainly done it before.
I do have concern over some of the people they’ve lost, though. Wade Davis was pretty much the lynchpin of their championship run, and he was traded to the Cubs for Jorge Soler, who’s very talented offensively but is a massive downgrade defensively from the also departed Jarrod Dyson. Set-up ace Kelvim Herrera has a new role as closer, and those kind of moves can always go either way if the player gets in his own head. Even a minor slip in their perfect pitching and defense formula could spell doom for this team, since their sub-par offense certainly won’t be able to carry them.
Over/Under 80.5 Wins: Under
Key Offseason Move: Trading away Wade Davis for Jorge Soler
Burning Question: I just want to let everyone know I thought of a really tasteless joke regarding Royals fans’ love of stuffing the all star ballot box and I decided not to include it here, so you’re welcome for that.
Bold Prediction: Despite all the obstacles, both personnel-wise and emotionally, they still somehow find a way to make the playoffs.
Chicago White Sox–
Listen, the White Sox are going to be bad this year. Very bad, in fact. But it’s hard to say this offseason was nothing but a rousing success for them. Sure they had to give up their two best players, but they weren’t going anywhere with them and now they have three of the top sixteen prospects in the league. It was a very Sixers-esque offseason. It’s good to see teams in other leagues embrace the philosophy that if you aren’t one of the best five or so teams in the league there’s no point in trying to be good anymore. Encouraging stuff from the South Siders.
Over/Under 73.5 Wins: Over
Key Offseason Move: Trading every good player for
Joel Embiid some top-end prospects
Burning Question: Will they fully commit to The Process and create a pyramid scheme of prospects with the end goal of one day owning the rights to every single minor league player in America?
Bold Prediction: We will, at some point, be reminded that Todd Frazier was once in the Little League World Series.
I may have been a little harsh on this division, because the Twins are actually kind of awesome. Their lineup is full of talented players, led by Brian Dozier, one of the most random 40 home run hitters of all time. Byron Buxton, long heralded as the future of baseball, could finally be ready to start living up to expectations. Miguel Sano is just as like to hit 50 homers as he is to strike out 300 times. Joe Mauer is still a wizard with the stick. The only problem is they have the worst pitching and defense in the league, and maybe some of the worst ever. Not ideal for trying to win games.
Over/Under 70.5 Wins: Under
Key Offseason Move: Minnesota losing Adrian Peterson
Burning Question: I don’t think they have one yet, so will I get a cut of the revenue if/when they make a purple Prince tribute alternate jersey?
Bold Prediction: They’ll finish top five in runs scored and top one in runs allowed.
SUPER BONUS PREDICTIONS:
World Series: Red Sox over Cubs (really going out on a limb)
MVPs: Mookie Betts, Corey Seager
Cy Youngs: Corey Kluber, Clayton Kershaw