Welcome to our next 2015 division preview and prediction here at BBP! After addressing the NL East, a division I expect to be rife with competition despite a surefire first place pick, it’s time to turn our attention to a division I expect to be a dumpster fire: the American League Central. Despite being relatively strong the past few years, including hosting two of the last three AL pennant winners, this might be the weakest division in the game in 2015. Basically, if you’re looking for the team to win it all, you won’t find it in America’s heartland. So, with subdued expectations, let’s dive in!
1. Detroit Tigers
2014 result: 90-72. 1st Place. Lost ALDS to Baltimore Orioles, 3-0.
A relatively easy pick, albeit none too exciting. Last year’s Tigers team was probably the most discordant, lifeless division winner imaginable, barely warding off a mediocre Royals team to seal the division on the last day of the season. After which, of course, they were clubbed by the Orioles in the ALDS to officially extend their championship drought to thirty (!) years. This offseason, they traded Rick Porcello to the Red Sox for Yoenis Cespedes, while Max Scherzer predictably walked for a plump contract in Washington. Cespedes will give their lineup the energy it desperately lacked in 2014, and they still have a formidable rotation with David Price, Anibal Sanchez, and the newly acquired Alfredo Simon. However, they lost a lot of pitching not only with Porcello and Scherzer’s departures, but also by trading Drew Smyly to Tampa Bay last summer. (Not to mention, the inexplicable Doug Fister trade in 2013, which is looking worse by the day.)
Moreover, some of their most pivotal players are becoming question marks. Justin Verlander (he of one of the priciest contracts in the game) has declined so significantly that few believe he’ll touch his prime form again. Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, the invaluable heart of the lineup, have been plagued by recent injuries that have made even starting on opening day a question. Altogether, although Detroit will win the division, I don’t see much more. By any measure, it looks to be another exhausting, wheezy, and ultimately heartbreaking grab at that elusive championship that’ll come up short. I’ve said many times before that 2013 was their best chance at winning it all. Sadly for the tortured baseball souls of Motown, that still holds true in my eyes. With the Verlander/Cabrera contracts and an awful farm system, the Tigers are likely going to be the AL’s answer to the Phillies before you know it.
2015 prediction: 90-72. AL Central Champions.
2. Chicago White Sox
2014 result: 73-89. 4th Place.
Last year, I looked at the White Sox as a team headed for a standard rebuilding cycle, coming off a disastrous 2013 campaign. But this past offseason, they suddenly asserted themselves as a hopeful contender. They snagged ace Jeff Samardzija from the Athletics by trade, signed Adam LaRoche to power up their offense, and also inked Melky Cabrera, Zach Duke and David Robertson. This is enough to build on the foundation of Chris Sale and Jose Abreu, two of my favorite players in the game who deserve to see October action. I see the ChiSox as just a wild card team this year, but there’s a legitimate chance they can challenge an aging Tigers team for the division crown. Although, despite Sale’s commendable confidence, it doesn’t mean they’ll even smell the flagged trophy.
2015 prediction: 88-74. 2nd AL Wild Card.
3. Cleveland Indians
2014 result: 85-77. 3rd Place.
Just last year, I was absolutely thrilled by the Indians’ dramatic overhaul that took them from 68 wins in 2012 to 92 in 2013, along with a wild card spot. Their 2014 season didn’t feature a playoff trip, although they would quietly contend late into the year. While they have the reigning AL Cy Young champion in Corey Kluber, and Terry Francona ever ready at the managerial helm, I’m not quite as bullish on the Tribe this year. They’re limited financially, a problem exacerbated by the Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher contracts. With the big money of the Tigers and the ambitious moves of the White Sox, they just don’t have enough to get back in the dance in my eyes.
2015 prediction: 83-79. 3rd Place.
4. Kansas City Royals
2014 result: 89-73. 2nd Place. Lost World Series to San Francisco Giants, 4-3.
Wow….it’s been months now, and I’m still in a daze from the Royals’ miracle run in October. Even though they knocked out my beloved A’s in a cruelly heartbreaking wild card game, I still rooted for them with ease for many reasons. One of which is, to be blunt, it was their real shot at that first title since 1985, even if they probably got further than they should have. I said all throughout the 2014 playoffs they wouldn’t even be back in October in 2015, and their subsequent offseason has certainly cemented that notion. Key slugger Billy Butler left for Oakland, while the elastic defensive outfield wizard Nori Aoki went to World Series adversary San Francisco. Most importantly, James Shields was snatched up by the Padres. These departures were effectively replaced by a battery of awful signings: Kendrys Morales, Alex Rios and Edinson Volquez, all of whom add up to $48 million total. They may still have that menacing bullpen trio, but even with their youth I just don’t see them contending again this year. And let’s not lie: They still have an atrocious owner, who may now get to hide behind the afterglow of the pennant run for quite some time.
2015 prediction: 80-82. 4th Place.
5. Minnesota Twins
2014 result: 70-92. 5th Place.
The good news: The Twins finally, finally….FINALLY…..fired their hideously overrated manager Ron Gardenhire, and lost pitching coach Rick Anderson (who oversaw the worst rotations in the game for the past few years) as well. Better yet, they have one of the richest farm systems in the game, one that’s earned praise from elite baseball writers such as Grant Brisbee, Keith Law and Will Leitch. The bad news: They didn’t do enough to really overhaul the team now. Almost every move they made was painfully pedestrian. First, they hired the unproven Paul Molitor as manager, even with the far more qualified Tony Lovullo and Doug Mientkiewicz also in the running for the job. Rather than upgrade their outfield defense, they wasted $10 million on a 40-year-old Torii Hunter, who should add some pop offensively but is among the worst outfielders statistically in defense. While I admittedly liked the Ervin Santana signing more than I should, I still would have preferred taking fliers on guys like Brandon Morrow and Kris Medlen to make the rotation more ample. A decent rotation and a productive offense, as well as the (at least temporary) shot in the arm from a new manager should keep them above the 60’s range in wins. But they still have a lot of work to make the team a contender in time for when the farm system begins to harvest. And sadly, that’s awhile from now.
2015 prediction: 70-92. 5th Place.