X-Minnesota Twins 94-68
In 2019, the Minnesota Twins took advantage of playing in Major League Baseball’s weakest division. Both the Detroit Tigers and Kansas City Royals each lost at least 100 games, and the Twins were able to take advantage of that as 50 of their 101 wins came within the American League Central. But even though that the Twins enjoyed their finest season since 1965, they still were unable to escape their issues in the month of October. The New York Yankees have been a longtime nemesis of the Twins, and they once again showed them the door in the postseason as they swept them in the American League Divisional Series. In all the Twins have now lost their last 15 playoffs games, while the Yankees have eliminated them from the playoffs five times since 2003. But make no mistake about it that even with all of Minnesota’s recent misfortunes in the month of October, they will still be a very formidable team this year as they look to win the A.L. Central for the second consecutive year.
Last year was Rocco Baldelli’s first go round as Twins manager and he pushed all of the right buttons as his offense was lights out. The Twins would set a Major League Baseball record as they bashed 307 home runs last season, and things should only get better in 2020 following the signing of third baseman Josh Donaldson.
Last year Donaldson was healthy for the first time in several years as he showcased his skills by helping the Atlanta Braves win the National League East. And as Donaldson was seeking a healthy pay check on the free agent this off-season, the Twins came calling as both parties agreed on a four-year deal for $92 million. Donaldson is a former American League MVP is another big bat in the middle of their lineup, while also being an anchor at third base, as well as being a leader in their clubhouse.
Like a fine wine, veteran designated hitter Nelson Cruz continues to get better with age. Last year at the age of 38, Cruz hit 41 home runs, while also batting .311. The veteran slugger has tremendous command over the plate as his wider batting stance gives him additional time to view the pitch as it is being delivered, while he still maintains solid bat speed. And the combination of Cruz and Donaldson will make the Twins lineup even more fiercer in 2020.
Led by starting pitcher Jose Berrios, the Twins pitching staff is solid, but what they are lacking is that dominant ace. Berrios tied a career best by winning 14 games last season, but like the rest of the Twins pitching staff, he was torched in the playoffs by the Yankees.
Make no mistake about it that the Twins will be the team to beat in the American League Central as everyone else within the division will be looking up to them all season long.
Y-Cleveland Indians 89-73
The 2010’s produced an immense amount of success for the Cleveland Indians which included a trip to the World Series in 2016, along with three consecutive American League Central Division Titles. Overall the Indians made the playoffs four times during the decade, while they also finished with a winning record in each of the last seven years. But in spite of winning 93 games last year, the Tribe fell short of making the postseason as the A.L. was stacked, and the fans in Northern Ohio will have to accept the fact that their club will look very different in 2020 as they brace for another rebuild.
Over the past six years starting pitcher Corey Kluber was a mainstay at the top of the Indians starting rotation. Kluber won a pair of American League Cy Young Awards, while helping the Tribe be one of the tops teams in baseball. But as Kluber is entering the last year on his deal, the Indians decided to trade him to the Texas Rangers. And aside from the Cy Youngs, what the Indians are losing in parting with Kluber in bona fide front line starter who has won 18 games at least four times since 2014.
Without Kluber, the Indians will not have the same depth in their rotation that they did over the past several years, but they are hopeful that starting pitcher Shane Bieber will become their ace. Last season Bieber led the Indians in wins with 15, while he also finished fourth in the American League Cy Young voting. Bieber also has a power arm as he struck out 259 batters last season, and he should once again give opposing batters in the A.L. Central problems this year.
For Indians manager Terry Francona, he also has the luxury of being able to call on one of the best bullpens in Major League Baseball. In 2019, relief pitcher Brad Hand recorded 34 saves, while relief pitchers Oliver Perez and Hunter Wood are solid in middle relief. And after relief pitcher Adam Cimber recorded 19 holds last year, you can expect Francona to lean on him heavily again in 2020.
And just as the Indians have already traded Kluber this off-season, there is speculation as to how long that shortstop Francisco Lindor will be in Cleveland. The Indians would love to keep Lindor in Cleveland long-term, but the four-time American League All-Star could bring back plenty in a trade. And unlike Kluber who’s contract is set to expire at the end of this season, Lindor is not scheduled to become a free agent until 2022. But if Lindor is to remain with the Indians this season, they will have one of the most dynamic players in baseball.
There isn’t much that Lindor cannot do on the baseball diamond as he can hit for average and power, while he also possesses solid speed. In each of the last two years, Lindor has stolen more than 20 bases, while he also has the potential to hit at least 30 homers for the third consecutive season.
In 2019, Cleveland was tied for eighth in the American League in homers, and they have the potential to improve off of that position. Veteran infielders Carlos Santana and Jose Ramirez are no strangers to swinging for the fences, while designated hitter Franmil Reyes has thunder in his bat. Reyes began 2019 with the San Diego Padres before he traded to the Indians. In all Reyes hit 37 homers last season, and even though that he does not hit for average, he has the potential to flirt with hitting at least 40 home runs in 2020.
The Tribe has a very favorable schedule to begin the season, and if they are able to take advantage of it, Cleveland will be in position to win their fourth American League Central Title in the last five years.
Chicago White Sox 80-82
The 2010’s were a tough decade for the Chicago White Sox as they were the only team that calls the American League Central home who were unable to win the division at least once. Aside from that, you have to go back to 2008 to find the last time that the White Sox were able to make the playoffs, while they have finished with a losing record in each of the last seven seasons which is tied for the longest streak of futility in franchise history. But White Sox general manager Rick Hahn has been hard at work this off-season in the attempt to turn things around for the South Siders as they look to once again be a force in the A.L. Central.
The White Sox were not afraid to spend money this off-season as Hahn signed veteran designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion to a one-year deal for $12 million. And even at the age of 37, Encarnacion can still get it done in a big way as he combined to hit 37 home runs last season for the Seattle Mariners and New York Yankees. Encarnacion will be a welcome addition to Chicago’s lineup as they were 13th in the American League in home runs last season with just 182 as they need another big bat in order to contend.
Encarnacion wasn’t the only source of power that the White Sox added this off-season as the team also picked up veteran catcher Yasmani Grandal. The White Sox will be the third different Major League Baseball club in as many years for Grandal, and although that he has had his fair share of catching issues behind the plate, the White Sox are hopeful that his veteran experience, as well as his bat will give this squad a boost.
In six years with the White Sox, first baseman Jose Abreu has become the face of the franchise. Abreu has been as good as advertised after he defected from Cuba to join the White Sox in 2014. Abreu is one of the most feared sluggers in the American League as he has averaged 32 long balls per season with the Sox, while he also led the Junior Circuit in runs batted in last year with 133. And after Abreu and the White Sox agreed to a three-year contract extension earlier this off-season, I don’t foresee his productivity slowing down in 2020.
Last season as a rookie, outfielder Eloy Jimenez was as good as advertised as his 31 homers resulted in him finishing fourth in the American League Rookie of the Year race, while infielder Yoan Moncada has continued to progress in each of his three years with the White Sox as these two are a big part of the future on the South Side.
The off-season also saw Hahn spend plenty of time and resources into improving Chicago’s pitching staff as this unit was ninth in the American League in team earned run average last season (4.90) and 11th in opponent’s batting average (.263). The White Sox went to work this off-season as they signed a pair of quality starting pitchers in Dallas Keuchel and Gio Gonzalez.
Keuchel spent seven years in the American League with Houston Astros as he helped them win the World Series in 2017. Aside from that Keuchel also has an A.L. Cy Young Award to his credit, but he can get into some trouble if he leaves the ball over the plate. In 2018, Keuchel led the A.L. in hits allowed with 211, while he failed to become the ace that the Atlanta Braves envisioned him to be when they signed him last season. And although that Keuchel will be joining a team that has not posted a winning record in each of the last seven seasons, the spotlight will be on him to deliver.
Gonzalez labored through an injury plagued 2019 when he was with the Milwaukee Brewers, but he is hopeful for a fresh start in Chicago. Gonzalez will never be considered to an ace, but what he’ll be able to give the White Sox is innings as this team needs it after they were eighth in the American League in quality starts last season with 53.
The expectation level has increased for the White Sox in 2020 and manager Rick Renteria needs to find a way to get this team to live up to this potential.
Kansas City Royals 68-94
After having a brief stint in the spotlight during the mid-2010’s which included winning the World Series Title in 2015, the Kansas City Royals are right back to being an also ran in Major League Baseball. The Royals finished with a losing record in each of the last three years which included losing 104 games in 2018, and 103 more last year. The Royals find themselves in the midst of a rebuild as this small-market club had to part with the majority of their core talent from the World Series team as they would be unable to afford them in free agency. And as the Royals have rolled out a new group of young players, will they be able to give the folks in Kansas City some hope for the future?
Designated hitter Jorge Soler is coming off of his best Major League Baseball campaign as he was able to make the most off his opportunity to be an everyday player. Last year Soler blasted 48 home runs to lead the American League as he finally showed the promise that once upon a time made him a highly touted prospect in the Chicago Cubs system. At 6’4″, 230 lbs., Soler is an imposing figure in the batter’s box. And although that Soler is prone to the strikeout pitch as most sluggers are, I expect him to have another strong season at the plate which could result in his first All-Star Game appearance.
Infielders Hunter Dozier and Whit Merrifeld are continuing to develop into quality players as their numbers keep on improving as these youngsters are showing that the future has the potential to be good for Kansas City. But if the Royals are going to be a factor in the American League Central in 2020, they will need their engine behind the plate in catcher Salvador Perez to rebound from injury.
Aside from being the World Series MVP for the Royals in 2015, Perez is also a six-time All-Star, and also one of the best catchers in the game due to his ability to call the action behind the plate. But Perez was on the shelf for all of 2019 as he was recovering from Tommy John surgery. And as the Royals have a new manager this year in former St. Louis Cardinals skipper Mike Matheny, he would not mind having his job being made a little easier with a solid field general in Perez taking care of business for his pitching staff on the diamond.
Perez’s return will be met with a big welcome in Kansas City as he will be a pitching staff that did not have one starter win at least 10 games last season. Aside from that the Royals team earned run average of 5.20 was 13th in the American League, while opponents batted .273 versus them which was 14th. And as the Royals were not active in free agency, or trades in regarding to improving their pitching staff, this unit will once again have their work cut out for them; even with the return of Perez.
The Royals have the potential to get off to a solid start due to the fact that they will only face one opponent in the month of April that finished 2019 with a winning a record as Matheny looks to get off to a fresh start with the other baseball team in Missouri.
Detroit Tigers 54-108
It’s hard to believe, but it was just six years ago that the Detroit Tigers were fresh off of winning their fourth consecutive American League Central Division Title. However since then the Tigers have become a team that has been straddled with bad contracts on aging players, while their young prospects have not panned out. And what the folks in Detroit are left with is a team that has put together four losing seasons in the last five years which includes losing 114 games last season. Ron Gardenhire is set to begin his third season as the manager of the Tigers, and as he has a team that is lacking talent, it is hard to foreshadow a situation where they’ll be able to compete in the A.L. Central in 2020.
The Tigers will have to make do with an offense that was near the bottom of most statistical categories in the American League last season which included runs as they only managed to cross the plate 582 times in 2019 which was dead last. Designated hitter Miguel Cabrera will turn 37 next month, and he is a shell of the player that he once was when he hit for the Triple Crown. And unfortunately for the Tigers, Cabrera is under contract with them through 2023, while they still owe him more than $120 million which will make it hard for them to move him and his bloated contract.
But aside from Cabrera, there is little hope for this Tigers lineup, while their pitching staff is hopeful that starting pitcher Michael Fulmer (who is returning from Tommy John surgery) will be able to regain the form that made him the American League Rookie of the Year in 2016.
18 of the Tigers first 21 games this season will be against the American League Central as we’ll get a real quick feel as to how this team will fare.