5 Questions Facing the AL Central This Spring
Image courtesy of © Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports1. How much can A.J. Hinch help the Tigers?
Ron Gardenhire is no longer at the helm in the Motor City with former Astros manager A.J. Hinch taking over a young roster. Hinch was suspended for all of 2020 as part of the fallout related to the Astros cheating scandal. The Tigers are ready to give him a second chance, especially with an organization close to making the turn back to being relevant. Detroit’s farm system that includes some of the game’s top prospects and Hinch will be there to pull all the strings.
Hinch will bring a new focus to the Tigers and he might help to change the organization’s direction. He was at the helm of the Astros as they became a juggernaut in the American League. In five seasons, he never had a losing record and the club won over 100 games in three different seasons. Hinch’s data driven approach might help turn around a Tigers team that has averaged over 100 losses in each of the last three full seasons.
2. Will the White Sox suffer a sophomore slump?
Chicago got a lot of national love this winter with some of their offseason moves and a young core that fought the Twins for the AL Central last year. However, young rosters are tough to predict because there can be volatility with players as they adjust to playing at baseball’s highest level. Baseball Prospectus uses PECOTA to predict every team’s final record and they have the White Sox finishing eight wins behind Minnesota and two games behind Cleveland.
Luis Robert was sensational in the outfield, but there were some slumps at the plate. How will he adjust to a full season of work? Yoan Moncada is a former top prospect and he is still trying to put it all together at the big-league level. More veteran players like Jose Abreu and Yasmani Grandal should help to stabilize the offense. Lance Lynn joins Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel at the top of the Sox rotation. Even if they slump, it’s looking like the White Sox will challenge the Twins for the Central’s top spot.
3. How far will Cleveland fall?
It’s amazing to consider the pitchers that Cleveland has dealt away over the last two seasons. Gone are names like Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevenger, and Carlos Carrasco. It helps to have the reigning AL Cy Young winner Shane Bieber and other young arms set to take on more important roles on the pitching staff. PECOTA has Cleveland finishing second in the AL Central, so maybe the team won’t fall too far.
Cleveland also dealt away one of baseball’s superstars, Francisco Lindor, to the Mets. As a team that already had offensive issues, trading away a player of Lindor’s caliber certainly will have long-term ramifications. Jose Ramirez will be asked to carry more of the offensive load and new additions like Eddie Rosario and Ahmed Rosario will be looked to fill some of Lindor’s void.
4. How good can Kansas City really be?
Kansas City had a sneaky good off-season by adding players like Andrew Benintendi, Carlos Santana, Michael Taylor, and Mike Minor. Players like Jorge Soler and Whit Merrifield each bring their own unique skillset that can help bolster Kansas City’s line-up. Even with these players, PECOTA pegs the Royals for a 71-90 finish, which is closer to the Tigers than to the White Sox. Also, they have less than a 1.0% chance of winning the division.
One of Kansas City’s strengths might be their bullpen with players like Greg Holland, Jesse Hahn, Kyle Zimmer, Scott Barlow, and Josh Staumont. Former Twin Ervin Santana has a shot to get some innings in their rotation, but he certainly isn’t a different maker at this point in his career. Their farm system has some top tier talent, but they are still rebuilding after dealing away prospects to make back-to-back World Series runs.
5. Who will win the AL Central?
Minnesota is the back-to-back AL Central champions, but other teams are trying to impede on their run for a three-peat. Kansas City and Detroit don’t seem to have the firepower necessary to sustain winning over a full season. This leaves Minnesota, Chicago, and Cleveland vying for the top spot. Some betting lines have the White Sox as favorites, while others have Minnesota and Chicago in a near dead heat.
The division still belongs to the Twins especially if the White Sox suffer any kind of slump in 2021. Cleveland’s pitching might be strong enough to keep them in the conversation, but one or two key injuries and they won’t have the depth to stay in the race.
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