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The Greyhound

2017 AL Central Preview


Photo courtesy o Tony Hoffarth vis

2016 RECORD: 94-67, No. 1

What was most remarkable about the Indians’ run last year was not that it happened, but that it happened without many of their biggest playmakers. Star outfielder Michael Brantley was lost for most of the season due to injury. Starting pitchers Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar were injured before the start of the postseason, and both were figured to be key starters in playoff success. Carrasco missed the entire month of October, while all Salazar contributed was three scoreless innings in the World Series.

Yet, the Indians won their first AL pennant since 1997 andwon 10 out of their first 12 playoff games. They came within one win of their first World Series since 1948, losing because they blew a 3-1 lead.

Now, going into this season, Brantley, Salazar, and Carrasco are all back and healthy, even though Corey Kluber is still the ace on this pitching staff. He is looking to re-capture his Cy-Young form from 2014. They’ve got their dangerous bullpen duo from last season in Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, the relief pitchers who both carried the Indians on their backs last October.

The team landed a big signing in free agency, getting first baseman Edwin Encarnacion away from the Toronto Blue Jays. He’ll go along with an offense that already included Brantley, exciting young shortstop Francisco Lindor, quietly underrated third baseman Jose Ramirez, and second baseman Jason Kipnis.

With a team built like this, the only question for Cleveland is how many games they will win in the division. Their main goal is getting their revenge in the World Series this year, and finally taking home some World Series hardware.

2017 PREDICTION: 101-61, No. 1 in AL CENTRAL


2016 RECORD: 86-75, No. 2

After a very disappointing 2015 season that saw them finish in last place, Detroit rebounded last year, winning a solid 86 games and staying in the wild card hunt until the last day of the season.

Over the off-season, the team threatened to change everything and trade away a lot of their stars, including future Hall of Famers first baseman Miguel Cabrera and pitcher Justin Verlander. In the end, however, most of the team stayed put, and the Tigers enter 2017 with a squad similar to last year’s.

The primary strength of the Tigers lies in their two best starting pitchers: Verlander and Michael Fulmer. Verlander came achingly close to winning the Cy Young Award last season, finishing a close second in the voting after leading the league in strikeouts with a 3.04 ERA.

Fulmer, who made his MLB debut in April, was voted the AL Rookie of the Year after a strong debut campaign. He led the AL in ERA most of the year, and would have finished third in the league, with a 3.06 ERA, had he pitched enough innings to qualify for the title.

In the bullpen, possible Hall of Fame closer Francisco Rodriguez saved 44 games, the fifth time in his career he’s saved at least 40 contests. He’ll need to continue his production for the Tigers to threaten other teams.

On the offensive side, Cabrera was his usual excellent self, and is showing no signs of slowing down even as he gets older. The team led the AL in runs scored with 750 runs, and was second in hits with 1,476. The offense is strong, just like the pitching.

On paper, there’s no reason to doubt they’ll be a contender in the Central. In practice, though, they only won 86 games last year, and will have to deal with a Cleveland team operating at full strength this year. It wouldn’t be surprising if they wound up with a wild card bid, but it’s not expected one, either.

2017 PREDICTION: 84-78, No. 2 in AL CENTRAL


2016 RECORD: 81-81, No. 3

Kansas City began 2016 with optimism, coming off the franchise’s first World Series win in 30 years in 2015. They never quite got going last year, however, and were out of playoff contention by the season’s final weeks.

With a dominant Indians team and the always-dangerous Tigers standing in their way, the Royals look to have a tough season once again in 2017.

Their pitching rotation took a hit with the untimely death of Yordano Ventura and the departure of Edison Volquez in free agency. They signed Jason Hammel from the Cubs to fill one of those holes. Hammel fit the role of “fifth starter” pretty well for the Cubs last year, but will have to assume a larger role as he is viewed as one of the aces in Kansas City this season.

The Royals bullpen took a hit with the trade of pitcher Wade Davis to the Cubs. Kansas City got outfielder Jorge Soler in return, a response to the loss of slugger Kendrys Morales to the Toronto Blue Jays.

One thing to keep in mind for the Royals is that a lot of their core — first baseman Eric Hosmer, outfielder Lorenzo Cain, and third baseman Mike Moustakas, among others — will be free agents after the season.If they don’t re-sign with Kansas City after this season, a lot of the players that helped the Royals win the World Series will be gone, and the team will be back at square one. It wouldn’t be surprising to see some of these players get traded away if the Royals fall out of contention.

2017 PREDICTION: 78-84, No. 3 in AL CENTRAL


2016 RECORD: 78-84, No. 4

The White Sox started off strong last year, beginning 23-10 and taking an early six-game lead in the Central. In mid-May, the possibility of an all-Chicago World Series was not a far-fetched one.

After that fast start, however, the Pale Hose crashed down to Earth, going a bumbling 55-74 after May 9. It was a bad ending to the year, and the team was made worse in the off-season with the trades of two valuable assets: outfielder Adam Eaton to the Nationals, and pitcher Chris Sale to the Red Sox.

In the long-term, the White Sox got a large batch of prospects from both teams that hopefully ensures a bright future. In the short-term, however, the loss of two great players like Eaton and Sale will be a difficult hole to fill.

Among the remaining players, pitcher Jose Quintana established himself last season as one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball. However, he too, was subject to trade rumors in the off-season, and it would not be surprising at all to see him dealt before the July 31 trade deadline.

Third baseman Todd Frazier hit a career-high 40 home runs last year, in his first season on the team. However, he also set a personal low in batting average and a career high in strikeouts. First baseman Jose Abreu, who won the AL Rookie of the Year in 2014, hit 25 home runs, a career-low.

The problem with the White Sox is that they have a lot of talent that does not appear to mesh well as a team. It’s likely that if they don’t start off strong this year (and they probably won’t) expect the whole team to be traded. With the possibility of strong returns for trading Frazier and Quintana it would leave the remaining squad a shell of their former selves.

2017 PREDICTION: 65-97, No. 4 in AL CENTRAL


2016 RECORD: 59-103, No. 5

The good parts about the 2016 Twins can be summed up in two words: Brian Dozier. The slugging second baseman equaled a record for most home runs by a second baseman in a season last year, with 42 long balls.

Unfortunately, Dozier comprised almost the entire Minnesota offense last year. No one else on the team hit 30 home runs, drove in 70 runs, hit above .270 when playing at least 100 games, or posted a wins above replacement (WAR) score above 4. The team’s only all-star last year was infielder Eduardo Nunez, and he was traded last July.

As bad as the offense was, the pitching was even worse. Ervin Santana was easily the team’s best starter, with an ERA of 3.38. The combined ERA off the pitching staff was an unbelievable 5.08, by far the league’s worst. Tyler Duffey led the team in wins, with 9…but also posted an ERA north of 6.00.

The worst thing about the team is that not only were they terrible last year, they didn’t do much to get better in the off-season. They managed not to trade away Dozier, despite tempting offers from other teams, but he might be gone at the trade deadline this season. They’re still holding out hope that former super-prospect center fielder Byron Buxton will blossom, although his 118 strikeouts in 298 at-bats last year does not inspire confidence.

Long story short: barring a miracle, expect the Twins to suffer and slog through their sixth season with at least 90 losses in seven years.

2017 PREDICTION: 60-102, No. 5 in AL CENTRAL

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2017 AL Central Preview