In 2016, the AL Central saw the emergence of an unexpected contender: the Cleveland Indians. After years of mediocrity, the Indians put on their big boy shoes and shot right up to the top of the Central Division. An impressive playoff run ended in Game 7 of the World Series, where the Tribe fell at home to the Cubs. This season promises to see a lot more winning for the team on Lake Erie, but that’s not to say that the other four clubs won’t make it interesting. Here’s how I see this division playing out in 2017:
1/ Cleveland Indians (Projected Record: 97-65)
It’s hard to see this Indians squad taking any sort of step back. The pitching staff we saw last season is still largely intact, as Corey Kluber leads the way as the ace. At the plate, the Tribe is just filthy, and this lineup only got better as the offseason went by. Edwin Encarnacion was signed for relatively little money ($60 million over three seasons) and he will be joining one of the most consistent lineups in baseball–every guy in the starting nine is capable of getting a hit at some point. I expect Lonnie Chisenhall, Jason Kipnis, and Carlos Santana to lead the way in this department.
2/ Kansas City Royals (Projected Record: 88-74)
A season with so much hope ended outside the postseason in Kansas City in 2016. It’s hard to place a finger on what it could have been, but this team just didn’t get the job done a year ago. I expect that to change a bit this season. This club is still so dangerous at the plate, as Eric Hosmer, Alcides Escobar, and Salvador Perez lead the way in offensive production. I expect this team to struggle a bit in the starting pitching department. A late-July blockbuster trade to fulfill this need is certainly not out of the question.
3/ Detroit Tigers (Projected Record: 79-83)
The Tigers are in limbo right now. They’ve still got their paws on Justin Verlander, which they have to feel good about. However, the rest of the starting rotation is largely inexperienced, and their hitting stars are aging a bit (Ian Kinsler is 34, and Miguel Cabrera is 33). Younger guys are going to need to step up if this Detroit squad is going to stay in contention this summer.
4/ Chicago White Sox (Projected Record: 68-94)
The White Sox will sorely miss Chris Sale, who cut ties with Chicago almost as quickly as he cut apart those throwback jerseys last year (sorry). The White Sox have an experienced starting rotation, even without Sale, but that’s about all this club has going for itself. The lineup is young and inexperienced, and relies on the power of Jose Abreu. The Sox are going through a rebuild, and it’s going to be a year or two–probably more–before we put this team in the playoff discussion.
5/ Minnesota Twins (Projected Record: 65-97)
The Twins are in the same boat as the White Sox, with a rebuild in progress. Minnesota is going to have to try desperately to hold on to Brian Dozier, one of the brightest young stars in the game. However, with the Twins essentially starting over, trading Dozier might end up being part of that equation. It would be unfortunate to unload a guy with so much talent and potential, but that’s the art of the rebuild, and baseball fans everywhere know this team knows how to bounce back.