Can the Tigers take the AL central? To find out we need to look at the rest of their opponents.
For the past three years, the Cleveland Indians have reigned supreme over the rest of the division. This year, however, a serious contender looms in the Twin Cities. While the team from the Southside continues to re-build looking for their prospects to pay off. Long gone are the days of Kansas City having any chance of the postseason let alone the World Series. Here’s a closer look at the American League Central Division.
Ever since manager Terry Francona parted ways with Boston and landed in Cleveland, the Indians ball club has been given new life not seen since the mid-90s. One win away of the 2016 World Series, the re-vamped 2019 squad looks to finally stake its claim with another run for all the marbles. The strength and competitiveness no doubt lies with the starting pitching.
Former Cy Young winner Corey Kluber leads the staff. Innings-eater (and still underrated) Carlos Carrasco, controversial and drone enthusiast Trevor Bauer, and Mike Clevinger round out the rotation. All of them pitched 175 innings or more in 2018 and lead all other teams in WAR (wins above replacement) over the two past seasons.
Breaking camp this spring and coming into his first full season is Shane Bieber who very well could be a break-out player for the Tribe. Bieber has control of all his pitches tallying a mere 19 walks in 49 career minor league starts.
One weak spot, however, lies in the bullpen. The loss of closer Cody Allen and dominant set-up lefty Andrew Miller to free agency has the Indians scrambling to fill in the gaps. Now fans look to RHP Adam Cinder and LHP Oliver Perez to bridge the gap to closer Brad Hand.
At third base is MVP candidate Jose Ramirez. He is day-to-day after taking a foul tip off his left knee but should be fine. Jake Bauers mans the other corner at first base.
If the injury bug missed Ramirez, it took a bite out of the guys up the middle. Superstar shortstop Francisco Lindor and second baseman Jason Kipnis will start the season on the injured list both with calf sprains. Due to injuries the Indians signed recently released former Dodger infielder Brad Miller, who with Eric Stamets, will fill the infield vacancies. The also inked former all-stars, Carlos Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez. With key injuries to the lineup before the start of the season, Cleveland must ride the strength of the starting rotation to take the division.
First-year manager Rocco Baldelli takes over a Twins squad who surprised everyone in 2017 taking a wild card. Last season they surprised everyone tallying the most home runs of any non-playoff team. Minnesota looks to contend in 2019 mainly due to its player development and under the radar free agent signings.
The core players include CF Byron Buxton, LF Eddie Rosario, RF Max Kepler, infielder Miguel Sano, and potential ace Jose Berrios. Add in free agents DH Nelson Cruz, second baseman Jonathon Schoop, and utility man Marwin Gonzalez to the mix scoring runs will be of plenty while pitching lags behind.
Berrios needs to tap his potential and become more consistent if he wants to become a top American League pitcher while right-hander Kyle Gibson and Jake Odorizzi, who are serviceable, operate the middle of the rotation. Missing all of 2018 is a wild-card, Michael Pineda. At times he is unhittable with a nasty fall off the table slider but needs more consistency and to stay healthy if he is to make an immediate impact on the staff. If the Twins’ rotation has questions, then the bullpen has even more.
Who is going to be the set-up guys leading to the closer? As of now, it could be a closer by committee with righties Blake Parker, Trevor May, Addison Reed, and lefty Trevor May. If Twins pitching can better 2018’s seventh-worst ERA in the American League, they will have a shot at returning to the post-season.
Kansas City Royals
It seems like an eternity, even dreamy since manager Ned Yost took the Royals to back to back World Series winning it all in 2015. Whereas those teams were built for close games and the late innings with a stellar ‘pen the 2019 Royals are speedy and employ a version of ‘small-ball.’
Shortstop Adalberto Mondesi, a potential 15-20 home run guy, and 2B Whit Merrifield easily could steal 30-40 bags a piece, and everyone in the league knows how dangerous newly acquired CF Billy Hamilton is when on the base paths. Savvy veteran LF Alex Gordon has lost a step and less a threat at the plate but still has a gold glove while team leader and backstop Salvador Perez is out for the season with a right elbow injury. Perez’s big bat won’t only be missed but also his presence behind the plate which is invaluable especially to the young staff.
Starters Jakob Junis and Brad Keller will miss Perez behind the dish and have to settle with Cam Gallagher and 1B/DH Frank Schwindel who has been tried out catching this spring. Filling out the rest of the lineup is 1B Ryan O’Hearn, outfielder/DH Jorge Soler, 3B Hunter Dozier, and newly acquired lefty off the bench 1B Lucas Duda. Pitcher Danny Duffy will begin the season on the I.L. with shoulder tightness while Brad Boxberger, Wily Peralta, Kevin McCarthy, 65 appearances in 2018, and former starter Ian Kennedy are all options out of the bullpen.
Chicago White Sox
Fans on the Southside will be holding their collective breath as they wait for no.1 prospect outfielder Eloy Jimenez to break in with the big squad. Before even starting a regular season game Chicago signed Jimenez to a six-year, $43 million contract. He has power to all fields and maturity at the plate with a solid 16.6 percent K-rate across Double-A and Triple-A.
Manager Rick Renteria has plenty of young talent to work with but who all still have much to prove if the White Sox are to become contenders. Former top minor league prospect Yoan Moncada moves to third base making room for Yolmer Sanchez at second. Moncada still has plenty of upside but must cut down on 2018’s 33.4 percent K-rate. Coming over with Jimenez in the Cubs’ deal for pitcher Jose Quintana is 2018 minor league pitcher of the year, according to MLB Pipeline, Dylan Cease who will no doubt be eased into the rotation at some point.
Rounding out the rest of the rotation coming over from Pittsburgh is Ivan Nova, Carlos Rondon who is shaping out to be a bust, Reynaldo Lopez, and Lucas Giolito, a once top prospect who continues to have trouble with his command, and for the final rotation spot Ervin Santana, who will stay back in Arizona to build up innings before joining the big squad. Coming out of the ‘pen for closer Alex Colome are set-up men Nate Jones, Jace Fry, and Kelvin Herrera.
-Filling out the rest of the infield with the aforementioned Moncada and Sanchez with some pop in his bat playing short is Tim Anderson. Playing first base is newly acquired, via trade from Cleveland, Yonder Alonso and the savvy veteran DH looking for a bounce-back year Jose Abreu. And rounding out the lineup in the outfield are Jon Jay, Adam Engel, and Daniel Palka.