X-Cleveland Indians 92-70
The past five years have been good to the Cleveland Indians as they have reemerged as a power on the Major League Baseball scene. In each of those years the Indians have never had a losing campaign, while they won 102 games last season for the first time since 1954. But a World Series Championship continues to elude the Tribe as they’ve been unable to win it all since 1948 which is the longest active streak in MLB. The Indians were one win away from claiming the World Series in 2016 before they blew a 3-1 series lead to the Chicago Cubs. And after the Indians entered the playoffs as the hottest team in baseball last October, they would blow a 2-0 lead in the American League Divisional Series to the New York Yankees. Now the Indians will enter 2018 a year older and still frustrated, while also knowing that the quest to get back to the playoffs will be more difficult.
When organizations are successful, other teams try to pluck away at their infrastructure which is happening to the Indians. Mickey Callaway served as the Indians pitching coach for the last five years. And under Callaway, Cleveland finished no lower than second in team earned run average in the American League in each of the last three years. But the time for Callaway to spread his wings was here as the New York Mets had an opening for their managerial position which led to Callaway catching a flight to La Guardia.
In seven years with the Indians, first baseman/designated hitter Carlos Santana provided Cleveland with a power bat in the middle of their lineup as he averaged 25 homers per season with the club. But when free agency came, Santana could not resist the urge to be courted by a big market team as it took $60 million over three years for him to leave Northern Ohio to join the Philadelphia Phillies.
The past five years have seen relief pitcher Bryan Shaw become one of the better setup men in baseball. But with many teams around Major League Baseball counting their pennies during this off-season, Shaw was able to find a club that was willing to pay him as he joined the Colorado Rockies on a three-year deal that is worth $27 million.
And now for Indians manager Terry Francona, he must pick up the pieces in order to keep his team relevant, as far as being a contender in the American League.
The Indians are attempting to roll with the punches to their pitching staff, but they still have a very formidable group of hurlers. Starting pitchers Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Trevor Bauer combined to win 53 games last season. 2017 saw Kluber earn his second American League Cy Young Award in the last four years. Kluber led the AL in earned run average (2.25), as well as complete games (5), and shutouts (3). Kluber has been dialed in on the mound for the Indians, while he has also been durable. Kluber has thrown at least 200 innings in each of the last four years. Kluber will be 32-years of age in April, and will that along with the fact that Callaway is no longer with the team affect his play in 2018?
Carrasco enjoyed a career year in 2018 as he tied Kluber for the team lead in wins with 18 which also led the American League. But as Carrasco reached the 200-inning mark in a season for the first time in his career, how will his body respond in 2018?
Bauer won a career-high 17 games for Cleveland last year, but he must find a way to improve on his career earned run average of 4.36. Bauer is a power pitcher but he must cut down on his walks and strikeouts in order to be more effective. For Bauer’s six-year Major League Baseball career he has averaged surrendering 185 hits and 79 walks per season. Bauer is 27-years of age, and if he can learn to be more effective, while minimizing his mistakes, 2018 could be very good for him and the Indians.
The Indians may have lost Shaw in free agency, but they still have one of the better bullpens in baseball. Relief pitcher Cody Allen was sixth in the American League last season in saves with 30. And with 92 strikeouts in just 67.1 innings of work in 2017, Allen should continue to be one of the most effective closers in baseball. Aside from Allen, Francona can rely on a slew of good arms coming out of the bullpen which includes Nick Goody, Zach McAllister, and Dan Otero. But the reliever to keep an eye on in 2018 will be Andrew Miller.
Over the last five years Miller’s earned run average for a season has never been higher the 2.64, while he posted a mark of 1.44 in 2017. Miller is a lefty, and his sloping throwing motion coming off of his 6’7″ frame makes life at the plate extremely difficult for left-handed and right-handed hitters alike. Miller has been a solid setup man for Allen, and with Miller set to become a free agent after the upcoming season, you can expect him to be dialed in on the mound.
The Indians will definitely miss not having Santana in their lineup, but they still have some pop. Designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion is showing no signs of slowing down as he still has the potential to launch 35 homers, while shortstop Francisco Lindor is coming into his own. Lindor was the eighth overall pick of the 2011 Major League Baseball Draft and he is showing that he was worth being selected so high. Lindor’s batting average dipped last season to .273, but he belted 33 homers. Lindor is a solid contact hitter as teams can no longer overlook his slender stature. And after Lindor finished fifth in the American League MVP voting last season, he could push the likes of Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout and New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge to win the award in 2018.
Lindor is not the only young star that Cleveland has in their lineup as infielder Jose Ramirez is a force to be reckoned with as well. Ramirez came into his own last season as he batted .318 with 29 home runs and 83 runs batted in. Ramirez finished third in the American League MVP voting, while he also led the A.L. in doubles with 56. And it is not just about the pop for Ramirez as he had an on-base percentage of .374 last season. Neither Ramirez or Lindor strike out that much which allows them both to get on base and work the count against opposing pitchers which will allow Cleveland to once again have one of the top offenses in the A.L.
The Indians should take a slight step back this season, but they will still be the team to beat in the American League as Francona has a veteran club. And with Cleveland’s pitching depth, another postseason run could be in the cards as well.
Minnesota Twins 84-78
In 2016, the Minnesota Twins finished with the worst record in Major League Baseball as they lost 103 games. The Twins appeared to be in the midst of a long rebuild that would see them put things together slowly. However the Twins were able to shock the baseball world in 2017 as they won 85 games en route to securing a playoff berth in the American League. The Twins were able to get off to a hot start as they won their first four games of the season which gave them confidence, and when people were paying attention to other teams during the late summer, it was Minnesota who was able to sneak in through the back door to the playoffs. But for Twins manager Paul Molitor, he knows that his team won’t be able to use the element of surprise this season, while he is also hopeful that his young team will avoid a huge setback after proving to be playoff contenders in 2017.
Heading into 2017, it would have made perfect sense for the Twins to entertain trade offers for second baseman Brian Dozier. At 5’11”, 200 lbs., Dozier might be a little slight in stature, but he is one of the best power hitters at the position in the American League. Dozier has hit 104 homers over the last three years as he has become the poor man’s Dustin Pedroia. Dozier is the heart and soul of the Twins, and with free agency right around the corner for him, I expect him to have a big campaign here in 2018.
Twins third baseman Miguel Sano is another in a long line of talented players who has come San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic. At the age of 24, Sano is beginning to come into his own as he has the potential to be the poor man’s David Ortiz due to his slugging ability. Sano made his first All-Star team last year, and he should become more of a household name this season; especially if he is able to hit more than 30 home runs.
Another player that is breaking through for the Twins is outfielder Eddie Rosario. In 2015, Rosario finished sixth in the American League Rookie of the Year voting after he led the Junior Circuit in triples with 15, but now he is making a name for himself due to his ability to go yard. Rosario hit 27 home runs for the Twins last season while he batted .290. But Rosario still needs to work on his ability to get on base as he only had an on-base percentage of .328 which is low for a player who hit so close to .300. Rosario is another power threat, but if he is able to consistently get on base, it will add another element on offense for Minnesota.
Veteran first baseman Joe Mauer will be 35-years of age next month, and although that he is no longer the power threat that he once was, the former American League MVP is a proven leader for this club. Late last month the Twins signed first baseman/designated hitter Logan Morrison to a one-year deal. Morrison hit a career-high 38 homers last season for the Tampa Bay Rays as he benefited from playing his home games indoor at Tropicana Field. As a left-handed batter, Morrison is a pull hitter who should benefit from playing at Target Field in Minnesota as it is 328 feet down the right field line.
Last year the Twins pitching staff was up and down, and that will once again be the case this season. Starting pitcher Ervin Santana is coming off of one of the best seasons of his career as he won 16 games, but at the age of 35, can he be counted on to do it again? Starting pitcher Jose Berrios won 14 games for the Twins last season and he did it with an earned run average of 3.89. Berrios is only 23-years of age, and as he still working on his command, he is the future of Minnesota’s starting rotation.
The Twins beefed up their bullpen this off-season as they a pair of quality relief pitchers in Addison Reed and Fernando Rodney. Together Reed and Rodney have combined to save more than 400 games in Major League Baseball as Molitor has a pair of viable options to close games for the Twins in the ninth inning. However I expect the closer job to be Rodney’s to lose, while Reed will set up for him the eighth inning. But as we’ve seen throughout the years in baseball, there is no such thing as having too many quality arms in the bullpen.
As previously mentioned, the Twins won’t sneak up on opponents in 2018, but this team is ready to contend for another postseason berth.
Kansas City Royals 73-89
The magic that led the Kansas City Royals to the World Series Championship in 2015 has quickly faded away. The majority of the key players from that championship team have moved on due to them receiving bigger contracts from bigger teams as outfielder Lorenzo Cain in now a member of the Milwaukee Brewers, while first baseman Eric Hosmer received a big pay day from the San Diego Padres. For Royals general manager Dayton Moore and manager Ned Yost, they know that this is part of being a small-market team as you really have to strike while the iron is hot if you intend to win as this franchise is not equipped to sign players to lucrative deals. And as the rebuilding has begun in Kansas City, how will the new look Royals fare in 2018?
In losing Hosmer, the Royals lost a ton as aside from what he was able to do at the plate, he was a solid defender which is evident by his four Gold Glove Awards, while he was also a clubhouse leader. Hosmer has been replaced in Kansas City at first base by Lucas Duda. Duda spent the majority of his eight-year Major League Baseball career with the New York Mets before he was traded to the Tampa Bay Rays last year. Duda has the ability to hit 25 home runs for the season, but he is not a high runs batted in producer, while at times he can struggle to get on base. Duda is a very streaky hitter, while his defense cannot compare to what the Royals lost when Hosmer left.
The Royals were able to re-sign third baseman Mike Moustakas and light hitting shortstop Alcides Escobar to one-year deals. Moustakas was seeking for a big payday as a free agent, but when he was unable to get it, he returned to Kansas City. Moustakas returns to Kansas City fresh off of a career season as he batted .272 with 38 home runs and 85 runs batted in. However Moustakas only had an on-base percentage of .314 which brought down his value as a free agent. But being that Moustakas only signed a one-year deal, he will have another opportunity this season to showcase himself in order to secure a long-term deal. With Hosmer gone, the new face of the Royals is catcher Salvador Perez. Perez has become one of the better defensive catchers in baseball, while he also has a knack for getting the big hit. But with Hosmer and Cain gone, along with the fact that Perez has plenty of wear and tear on his body from catching behind the plate, will the Royals be able to rely on the former World Series MVP like they have in the past?
Pitching was an issue for the Royals in 2017 and it’ll once again hamper this club’s chances. Last season the Royals were tenth in the American League in earned run average (4.61), and quality starts (64). Soft tossing starting pitcher Jason Vargas was able to win 18 games for the Royals last season, but he took part in the mass exodus in free agency from Kansas City this off-season as he signed with the Mets. Vargas was the only Royals starting pitcher that was able to win at least 10 games last season for the Royals, and without him there will be a huge void in the team’s pitching staff.
It’s a good thing that the Royals were able to strike while the iron was hot, because they have been decimated in free agency as this franchise has once again pushed the reset button.
Detroit Tigers 68-94
After making the playoffs in four consecutive years, the Detroit Tigers have taken a step back over the last three. Age and losing players in free agency has gotten the best of the Tigers as their 98 losses last season was tied with the San Francisco Giants for the worst record in Major League Baseball, and it was also Detroit’s worst season since 2003. Heading into a new season, the Tigers will have a different look and feel to them, while more changes could be coming to the Motor City.
After four years as the helm Tigers manager, Brad Ausmus has been replaced by former Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire. In 13 years as the manager of the Twins, Gardenhire’s record was 1068-1039 as he led Minnesota to six American League Central Titles. But unlike Gardenhire’s tenure with the Twins that saw him lead them to the playoffs in his firs year, he will be fighting an uphill battle with the Tigers in 2018.
The Tigers began their fire sale last year when they traded outfielder J.D. Martinez to the Arizona Diamondbacks, starting pitcher Justin Verlander to the Houston Astros, and outfielder Justin Upton to the Los Angeles Angels. Detroit’s dumping of talent has continued over the winter as second baseman Ian Kinsler was dealt to the Angels as the youth movement now is now in full effect in Motown. And with that you have to expect first baseman/designated hitter Miguel Cabrera to be the next player that’ll be dealt.
In 10 years with the Tigers, Cabrera has become one of the most prolific hitters in franchise history as only Al Kaline and Norm Cash have hit more home runs than him while with the organization. But trading Cabrera won’t be that easy since he’ll turn 35-years of age next month and injuries have begun to catch up to him. Cabrera is also under contract with the Tigers through 2023 and is owed $184 million which means that any potential trade partner would have to be willing to take on a good portion of his salary. However the Tigers should have a motivated Cabrera who will look to bounce back from a down 2017 as he had career lows in batting average (.249), and runs batted in (60). Cabrera still has one of the better bats in the game of baseball, and if he is able to be in good shape this season, it will help the Tigers as well as his trade value.
The departure of Verlander means that Michael Fulmer will now be the guy in the Tigers starting rotation. After being named as the American League Rookie of the Year in 2016, Fulmer had his struggles last season as he went 10-12 with an earned run average of 3.83. Fulmer ‘s season abruptly ended after he underwent surgery on his elbow this past September. The Tigers are hopeful that Fulmer will be ready to go when the season begins, but I expect them to proceed with the kids gloves in regards to him.
Behind Fulmer, there isn’t any depth in the Tigers rotation, while their always suspect bullpen is shaky once again.
For the first time in a long time, the expectations around the Tigers are low which is something that both Gardenhire and team general manager Al Avila have ackowledged which means that it will be a very long summer in the Motor City.
Chicago White Sox 60-102
It’s no secret that the Chicago White Sox have fallen on hard times. The White Sox have endured five consecutive losing seasons and you have to go back to 2008 to find the last time that they made the playoffs. The Sox find themselves in the midst of a rebuild that is taken too long as they have not finished any higher than fourth in the A.L. Central since 2013 and they are the only team within the division that has not made the postseason since 2009. It also doesn’t help the White Sox situation that their crosstown rival in the Chicago Cubs have become contenders which has led to them becoming an afterthought in the Windy City. And by the looks of things, it won’t be getting any better in 2018 for the Sox.
Rick Renteria is set to begin his second season as the manager of the Sox and he does not have a lot to build off of with this team. The White Sox team earned run average of 4.78 was 13th in the American League, while their 63 quality starts was 11th. No White Sox pitcher won more than 7 games last season and they are on the verge of having the worst rotation in baseball for 2018.
Things won’t that much better for the White Sox on offense as they had one of the worst offenses in the American League last season as they were near the bottom of most statistical categories. Two players to keep an eye on this season for the White Sox will be first baseman Jose Abreu and outfielder Avisail Garcia due to the fact that they both could be trade bait. In four seasons with Chicago, Abreu has averaged hitting 33 homers per season, while driving in 108 runs. Abreu is also a career .301 hitter, but his exploits on the baseball diamond have been overlooked due to the fact that he has not played on a good team. Abreu is set to become a free agent in 2020, and with the Sox not expected to contend this year, it would be prudent for team general manager Rick Hahn to get something in return on the trade market for his best player.
Garcia is coming off of his best season as he batted .330 in 2017 to go along with 18 homers and 80 runs batted in. Garcia just went through his second round of arbitration and just like it’ll be in the case of Abreu, it makes sense for the Sox to trade him in order to get some value in return.
The South Siders are entering 2018 fresh off of a 95-loss campaign, and it would not surprise me if this team were to lose 100 games for the first time since 1970.