Thursday, February 2, 2017

2017 AL Central Division Preview

A season ago, I had the Kansas City Royals taking the AL Central division with 86 wins. I contended that not team would win 90 games, while no team would lose 90 either. Unfortunately, the Minnesota Twins blew by the 90 loss mark en route to a franchise worst 103 losses. After a World Series run for the Cleveland Indians, there should be little doubt they enter the 2017 as the league favorite.

When looking at the state of the Central, it's a division with a handful of teams in transition. While the Indians built this offseason, the Royals and Tigers mainly stood still. The Twins look to be relying mostly on their internal development and the Chicago White Sox have gone into an all out rebuild. The group should remain competitive this season, if for no other reason than the separation among organizations at the present time is relatively small.

With the groundwork laid, here's how I see the AL Central shaking out in 2017:

1. Cleveland Indians (91-71)

After going to the World Series a season ago, the Indians shouldn't be expected to fall off significantly. Sure, they lost Mike Napoli, but the addition of Edwin Encarnacion is a big one. If they can keep pitching healthy all year, Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco are about as strong of a 1-2 punch as it gets. A full season from Andrew Miller will pay dividends, and Terry Francona's club should be a shoe-in to again take the Central division crown.

2. Detroit Tigers (82-80)

The Tigers present an interesting case for 2017. The roster is aging, but the talent that comes with those players is significant. Justin Verlander very well could have won a Cy Young a season ago, and Miguel Cabrera doesn't appear to be falling off any time soon. If the club slumps through the first half though, a selloff could ensue as the farm system isn't one chock full of talent. At the highest level, Detroit has talent. They need it to age appropriately though for another year, or disaster could force the organizations hand.

3. Minnesota Twins (80-82)

If there's two teams that I can't peg for mirroring reasons in the Central it's the Twins, and the 4th entrant in the division. For Minnesota, everything went wrong a season ago, and the club ended with 103 losses. The talent is much less indicative of that number, and the emergence of young stars such as Miguel Sano, Byron Buxton, Max Kepler, and hopefully Jose Berrios, should make an impact. If Paul Molitor can get anything close to mediocrity from his pitchers, the offense is capable of carrying this club. I could see them winning something like 75 games, just as likely as winning 85.

4. Kansas City Royals (79-83)

Unlike the Twins, the Royals are going to be relying on a few key veterans to hold serve in the division. It appears that their upswing might have come to an end however, and the offseason didn't provide them with many answers. Despite the tough season a year ago, replacing Yordano Ventura in an already mediocre rotation won't be easy. Brandon Moss is a solid enough pickup, but the loss of Jarrod Dyson likely will be felt. This club could be sellers at the deadline, or they could be right in the thick of things if everything breaks right.

5. Chicago White Sox (71-91)

Once again, the bottom team in the division may give the Central a chance to have no one win or lose 90 games. The White Sox already shipped out Chris Sale, and it seems to be just a matter of time before Jose Quintana goes. Todd Frazier is a piece the club could move, and David Robertson also should have value. The reality is that Chicago has committed to a full on rebuild, and they've restocked the farm with some incredible talent. It's going to pay off long term, but they should hold up the tail end of the division.

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