X-Detroit Tigers 89-73
The Detroit Tigers have won four consecutive American League Central Division Championships, but they have always fell short of the holy grail which is winning their first World Series Championship since 1984. The Tigers were swept last season in the American League Divisional Series by the Baltimore Orioles and they are hopeful that the title window has not closed for them as of yet. Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski has attempted to build a title contender, but the one thing that has held Detroit back in the past few seasons has been their bullpen. The Tigers bullpen blew 16 games last season and they always appeared to become unglued in the big games.
The Tigers will still have a talented team in 2015, but they are a bit older and they won’t be as deep.
Since last year the Tigers were attempting to lock up starting pitcher Max Scherzer to a long-term deal. But after winning 39 games over the last two seasons and the American League’s Cy Young Award in 2013, Scherzer was looking for a mega deal which he received this off-season from the Washington Nationals. In 2011, Tigers starting pitcher Justin Verlander was unstoppable as he won the AL’s MVP and Cy Young Award. But last season Verlander was 15-12 with a 4.54 earned run average. Verlander has lost some zip on his fastball, but he has rededicated himself to his craft as he is now 32-years old. Tigers starting pitcher David Price is set to enter free agency next winter and like Scherzer he’ll be looking for a huge payday. It’s not etched in stone that Price will be a member of the Tigers in 2016, but they should get his best effort and then some this season.
The Tigers still have one of the best lineups in Major League Baseball: it’s just a matter of them staying healthy. Designated hitter Victor Martinez and first baseman Miguel Cabrera are in the process of recovering from injuries. Martinez is 36-years of age while Cabrera will be 32 next month. Cabrera still has one the best swings in baseball, but lower body injuries are beginning to take their toll on him. The Tigers did acquire outfielder Yoenis Cespedes who will be an upgrade offensively and defensively. Cespedes along with his violent and powerful swings will fit right into the middle of the Tigers lineup while he will dare runners to try his strong arm in left field. And if the Tigers are going to make another postseason run you can expect second baseman Ian Kinsler and outfielder J.D. Martinez to have big impacts. Kinsler is the Tigers table setter and with a career .344 on-base percentage he’ll need to get on base in front of Detroit’s big boppers.
In his first season as Tigers manager, Brad Ausmus got his team to the postseason. Ausmus is a former MLB catcher and aside from that he knows that he has a veteran team as he simply stayed out of their way. Ausmus will once again stick to this formula and he is hopeful that this philosophy will lead the Tigers to their fifth consecutive American League Central Title; but more importantly the World Series Championship.
Y-Cleveland Indians 86-76
The Cleveland Indians have the potential to be a playoff team in 2015, but they would need some breaks while having some things go wrong for other teams in the American League Central. Under manager Terry Francona, the Indians enjoyed a storybook season in 2013 as they were able to make the Major League Baseball Playoffs. The Indians took a step back last season as they finished in third place in the AL Central and they are hopeful to not get lost in the shuffle this season behind the Detroit Tigers and the Kansas City Royals.
Francona and the Indians can hang their heads on the fact that they’ll have the reigning American League Cy Young Award winning taking the mound every fifth start for them this season in starting pitcher Corey Kluber. Kluber went 18-9 last season with a 2.44 earned run average and for the Tribe to contend this season he will more than likely need to improve off of those numbers. The main reason that Kluber has to put the Indians pitching staff on his back is due to the fact that there isn’t that much depth behind him which will hinder their chances of contending for the postseason.
Offensively the Indians do have talent in their lineup. Outfielder Michael Brantley would be a household name if he played in a bigger market. Brantley hit a career-high 20 home runs last season along with finishing third in the American League in batting average (.321) and second in hits (200). Brantley is in the prime of his career and he should once again put up numbers this season that resemble his production from 2014. Last season was an injury filled one for Indians outfielder Michael Bourn who needs to have a bounce back year for Cleveland. Bourn is expected to be the Indians everyday center fielder while his presence on the base paths is of equal importance as he is always a threat to steal bases. Like Bourn, Indians designated hitter Nick Swisher was limited last year due to injuries. And even at the age of 34, Swisher can still be vital to the Indians due to his overall experience. Indians first baseman Carlos Santana has the potential to be one of the better power hitters in the AL, provided that he comes to the plate with men on base in order for him to be afforded the chance to drive them home.
The Indians have have soft schedule to begin the season and a quick start for them could be just what the doctor ordered as far as them hanging around in the American League Central.
Kansas City Royals 86-76
Last season the Kansas City Royals won 89 games in the regular season and they earned a postseason trip for the first time since 1985. But the real fun began for the Royals in October when they captivated all of Major League Baseball and were one victory away from winning the World Series. The Royals got hot down the stretch in 2014, but what will they be able to do for an encore in 2015 when the other 14 teams in the American League will be gunning for them?
The Royals weren’t an offensive juggernaut in 2014 as they were near the bottom of most offensive categories in the American League. For Royals manager Ned Yost, the name of the game for his club is speed as they were tops in the AL last season in stolen bases with 153. And that speed will once again be vital in 2015 if Kansas City is going to make it back to the playoffs. Led by second baseman Alcides Escobar, along with outfielders Lorenzo Cain and Jarrod Dyson, the Royals have speed up and down their lineup. But they will once again have to manufacture runs as they lack power bats.
As stagnant as the Royals offense was last season, their pitching more than picked up the slack. The Royals team earned run average of 3.51 was fourth in the AL and it kept them in ballgames. Starting pitcher James Shields led the Royals pitching staff last season in strikeouts with 180 while also tying for the team lead in wins with 14. But Shields became a free agent over the winter and he signed on with the highest bidder for his services as he is now a member of the San Diego Padres. Shields departure means that more responsibility will be thrust upon the youngster Yordano Ventura in the Royals starting rotation. Ventura is only 23-years of age, but he tied Shields last season in Kansas City for the team lead in victories while finishing sixth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting. Last season Ventura flirted with the 200-inning threshold so Yost can trust the youngster and his electric fastball to be there every fifth day.
Led by relief pitchers Greg Holland and Brandon Finnegan, the Royals have a solid bullpen as the folks in Kansas City have their own version of the “Nasty Boys”. Yost knows that he has a strong bullpen as they can and will consistently be able to get the Royals out of jams.
The Royals will spend the majority of the month of April away from Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. And even if the Royals get off to a slow start, nobody is expected to run away with the AL Central which means that they’ll have a puncher’s chance to get back to the postseason.
Chicago White Sox 82-80
The Chicago White Sox have been a team in transition over the past few years and they are hopeful for an upswing this season. The White Sox lost 99 games last season for the first time since 1970 and thus there have been some changes made. The White Sox bid farewell to longtime first baseman Paul Konerko who retired and thus the South Siders are a team that is in the process of getting younger while also trying to compete in the American League Central.
Before being traded to the Oakland Athletics last summer, starting pitcher Jeff Samardzjia spent the first six-plus years of his Major League Baseball career with the Chicago Cubs. Samardzija didn’t dazzle with the A’s as he went 5-6 with a 3.14 earned run average in 16 starts. Now Samardzija is back in Chicago, but this time with the White Sox whom acquired him from the Athletics this off-season. In seven MLB seasons, Samardzija has a career record of 36-48 with a 3.85 earned run average, but Ventura and White Sox president of baseball operations Kenny Williams are hopeful that he can provide some depth in Chicago’s starting rotation behind Chris Sale. At 6’6″, Sale is one of the best pitchers in baseball and he’ll be going for his third straight season in which he has struck out at least 200 batters. If Sale is able to get enough run support behind him he’ll definitely garner some interest in winning the AL Cy Young Award this year.
After trading relief pitcher Addison Reed to the Arizona Diamondbacks, the White Sox were tied for 11th in the American League last season in saves with just 36. By himself relief pitcher David Robertson saved 39 games last season for the New York Yankees. And when the Yankees failed to make Robertson an offer this winter, the White Sox signed him to a four-year deal worth $46 million to solidify their ninth inning situation.
The White Sox will definitely have some pop in their lineup. First baseman Jose Abreu burst onto the scene last year by hitting 36 home runs, 107 runs batted in and a .317 batting average to be named as the American League’s Rookie of the Year and I don’t expect the native of Cuba to have a sophomore slump in 2015. The Sox signed first baseman Adam LaRoche who will spend the majority of his time in the Windy City being a designated hitter. In 11 MLB seasons, LaRoche has averaged hitting 27 home runs per year, but he has done all of his damage in the National League. Williams also signed outfielder Melky Cabrera who is expected to give the White Sox more offense near the top of their batting order as he has a career .339 on-base percentage.
With the exception of a four-game series against the Baltimore Orioles, the White Sox schedule for the month of April will be exclusively against their brethren in the American League Central. April won’t be a make or break month the White Sox as barring any significant setbacks they’ll hang around the hunt in the AL Central race until the very end.
Minnesota Twins 68-94
The last four Major League Baseball seasons have seen the Minnesota Twins endure losing seasons and in three of those years they finished in the basement of the American League Central. The Twins futility cost longtime manager Ron Gardenhire his job and he has been replaced by one of Minnesota’s favorite sons. Before embarking on a Hall of Fame playing career, Paul Molitor was born and raised in St. Paul, Minnesota. Molitor attended the University of Minnesota before being drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in 1977. Molitor spent the majority of his MLB playing career with the Brewers, but he played his final three seasons with the Twins where he collected his 3,000 hit. Molitor was a coach with the Twins last season, but his duties have now shifted as he will be the team’s skipper for 2015.
The first order of business for both Molitor and Twins pitching coach Neil Allen will be to improve a Twins pitching staff that had a 4.57 earned run average which was last in the American League in 2014. Twins starting pitcher Phil Hughes did win 16 games last season and he’ll be asked to once be the ace of the pitching staff in Minnesota, but behind him there are a ton of question marks. The Twins will mark the fourth different team in as many years for starting pitcher Ervin Santana who has lost at least 10 games in each of those campaigns. Starting pitcher Kyle Gibson won 12 games for the Twins last season while this could be the last opportunity for starting pitchers Mike Pelfrey and Ricky Nolasco to show what they can do in Major League Baseball. If the Twins starting pitching and middle relievers are able to take care of business through the first eight innings, then Molitor will be able to give the baseball to relief pitcher Glen Perkins in the ninth inning who was one of the top relievers in baseball last season with 34 saves.
Led by third baseman Trevor Plouffe and second baseman Brian Dozier, the Twins did have one of the top offenses in the AL last season. But for the Twins to really have a chance of contending in 2015, they’ll need first baseman Joe Mauer to regain the form that made him the AL MVP back in 2009. At 39-years of age, outfielder Torii Hunter is returning to the Twins where he began his career and he’ll look to be an additional coach on the field.
If nothing else the Twins will play hard for Molitor in 2015, but the lack of talent there will have them on the outside looking in when the postseason rolls around.