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5 Questions Facing the AL Central This Spring

Every spring there are questions facing each team as organizations report to their facilities in Florida and Arizona. Here are five questions facing the teams of the AL Central.
Image courtesy of © Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
1. 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.

How would you answer these questions? Leave a COMMENT and join the discussion.

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10 Comments

This certainly has the potential to be a much-improved division over the one the Twins won the last couple of years. Should be an exciting season.

 

It will be interesting to see the LaRussa/youngsters combination in action. I know some people are saying LaRussa won't adjust to new ways to play the game, but he invented the new closer role with Eckersley and somehow was able to not notice Canseco's advocacy of new training regimes in the clubhouse, so he ought to be able to adapt to bat flips.

    • adjacent, Richard Swerdlick and 4twinsJA like this
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TeddyBallgameIA
Feb 20 2021 08:21 AM
@bigdog 'Canseco's new training regimin' I love that comment!
    • adjacent, TopGunn#22 and Richard Swerdlick like this

I think Cleveland will be sneaky good and hang around all year, pissing me off. I'm not sure how much stock you can give hitters in certain parks but Rosario hit better at Progressive Field than any other park, and it wasn't really close. I think the dimensions just sort of suit him. Anyhow, they have good pitching. I think they'll finish third but outperform their projections.

 

I think the Twins will win the division again. Chicago wil fade a bit. Not sure if they'll have a sophomore slump so much as the full grind of a full season will affect their players. Like, I don't think Dylan Cease is a 111 ERA+ pitcher over a full season.

 

KC and Detroit will make improvements. If you squint, KC could push for .500 and Det's young players could be exciting for them to watch. But Twins shouldn't have to worry about them too much.

 

MN 93 - 69

Chi - 89 - 72

Clev - 84 -78

KC - 74 - 88

Det - 70 - 92

    • Dman likes this
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terrydactyls1947
Feb 20 2021 08:42 AM
Sign Odorizzi and the Central crown is ours!

Despite all the gloom and doom that the twins didn't do enough this off-season on TD I'm optimistic.We need players like Donaldson, Sano, Kepler and Polanco to bounce back to maybe not 2019 but certainly better than 2020.

 

I think Kiriloff will be in contention for Rookie of the Year.Taylor Rogers will bounce back. It will be a close race.The White Sox and Indians will definitely contend and the Royals might be closer to 75-80 wins, but in the end I think the Twins will win the Central.Now, I'd REALLY like to see a BOLD move made at or just before the trade deadline to put the Twins over the top this season.That was something the Terry Ryan regime could never seem to pull off.It was why, when they had players like Santana, Mauer and Morneau we were always muttering:"If not THIS year, WHEN!!!"  

I can’t figure out that White Sox projection. They are just too talented.

I’d probably take their rotation over ours. It’s close, but Giolito is phenomenal. People give Keuchel a lot of crap, but he was great last year (better than anyone in our rotation behind Maeda statistically). We all know how good Lance Lynn has been. Kopech has a lot of upside. Cease is a very solid 5th starter.

Hendrix and Bummer at the back end of their bullpen is absolutely elite.

It’s very close, but I’d give their pitching staff the edge over ours.

I’m terrified of how good their lineup could be. Just go around the horn. Grandal, Abbreu, Madrigal, Anderson, Moncada, Jimenez, Robert, Eaton, Vaughn. I can’t look at and that and definitively say we have a better lineup. They could explode this year.

Defensively, you could point out Tim Anderson’s shaky defense at SS. But, we seemed to do fine with Polanco, who is similar: Robert just beat out Buxton for gold glove. Grandal is phenomenal behind the plate.

It’s very close , but with our injury history at nearly every position, I’m not confident that we’ll win the division. I feel like they look like a lot like we did going into 2019, but with a better pitching staff.
    • Dman and adorduan like this
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Major League Ready
Feb 20 2021 10:41 AM

Chicago is only go to play 161 games?

Must have figured LaRussa into projections for Chicago.

As usual, Gardy is under rated and Hinch is lucky to have Gardy pave the way for him. The White Sox are real and we should not plan on a sophomore slump.KC is not a challenger, but they have been sneaky good in their off season work.  

There are a lot of ifs for every team in the central.The only team I am counting out is Detroit.They don't seem to have the pitching or the hitting to contend just yet but I think they can beat their projections if some of their players improve this year.

 

The Indians have the pitching to get it done the only question is will their hitters step up?If they do they can take the division their pitching is just that good.

 

I tend to agree with Darius on the White Sox. Maybe I am a bit too star struck but if that lineup preforms then I am sorry but I think they take it this year.They have solid pitching and they have a young team.While young teams can be volatile they generally seem to have fewer injuries and that can make a difference especially later in the season.

 

If KC's rookie pitchers perform they are going to be a tough team to beat.They have a solid group of hitters and while their pen seems old and less effective than some I think they will give teams trouble this year.

 

The Twins have a good rotation and a great lineup but they have problems staying healthy.They do have a fair amount of depth so maybe they can overcome some of those injuries and keep things going but injuries are my greatest concern for the club this year.If they stay healthy I think they are the best team in the division if not then they could fall off.  

 

Should be a really competitive and fun season this year.

    • DocBauer likes this

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