Detroit Tigers Stadium

2015 MLB Preview: American League Central

You already know what I think about the A.L. East and N.L. East this season. But what about our friends in the heartland? Let’s start by taking a look at the A.L. Central.

Here’s what to look for this season—and how I think it’ll all play out.

American League Central

  1. Detroit Tigers
  2. Chicago White Sox
  3. Cleveland Indians
  4. Kansas City Royals
  5. Minnesota Twins

This may seem like the Tigers are far and away the better team… But make no mistake: They only have a very slight edge over the White Sox. And the White Sox will land a Wild Card berth here.

Both teams have a solid offense, significant strength in their pitching—especially in the rotation—and a pretty reliable bullpen (though the Tigers have their issues…they’re mostly reliable). The Tigers are nearing the end of their rope in terms of contending years.

Cabrera is beginning his decline. Victor Martinez is coming off of surgery. David Price is approaching free agency after this year if he isn’t re-signed. Verlander isn’t his former Cy Young winner self. And very little is left in the farm system in terms of future reinforcements.

The talent is there. The offense is still strong on paper. But they’re a team trending in the wrong direction.

Meanwhile the White Sox are coming off an aggressive offseason. They acquired Jeff Samardzija, David Robertson, Melky Cabrera, and Adam LaRoche. And they’ve suddenly built serious contender status around Chris Sale and Jose Abreu practically overnight.

The talent is there and they have the potential. They have some good prospects rising in their system. Expect them to be a top team in this division for the next three to five years.

Calling the 2014 Royals an overachieving team is an understatement—to say the least. Nobody expected this team to have a winning record last season. And though they barely made the playoffs with an 89-win season and a Wild Card berth…they found a way to play gritty, sound baseball throughout the month of October. They came up just shy of winning an unlikely championship last year, losing in seven games to the World Champion San Francisco Giants.

This is a team with no major offensive threat in the lineup on paper. They just lost their ace in James Shields to free agency. The only positive here is that they have one of the most talented bullpens in the game with Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis, and Greg Holland closing out games. Given the young talent within the organization, the potential here suggests that they could have a winning record. But it is much more likely that this team will go from winning the AL Pennant to having a losing record in 2015.

The Indians have a deeper starting rotation with breakout stars Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco leading the staff. The offensive depth on this team makes them a sneaky threat in the AL Central. Their success will hinge on the health and performance of second baseman Jason Kipnis. He needs to play at least 130 games at a high level—just as he did in 2013.

The Minnesota Twins will struggle mightily to stay relevant this season. Joe Mauer is not the player he has been in the past. A once-lauded batting title champ now struggles not only to hit singles, but also to stay on the field. Having made the switch from catching full-time to playing first base, the hope is that he can remain healthy this season. But the youngsters around him like Oswaldo Arica, Kennys Vargas, and minor league prospects Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano, suggest that this team will have a great deal of growing pains.

This year, they’ll rebuild. And keep their fingers crossed for contending seasons in 2016…but more likely 2017. Expect 90 losses here—with a very real chance at 100.

There you have it. The American League Central in a Nutshell. Stay tuned to Manliness for my rundown of the National League Central. And just like you’ve come to expect, you can bet on a few surprises… Even for you Cubs fans out there.

Well, maybe not.

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