You might have a better shot at picking Powerball numbers than picking the finishing order of the American League Central Division for 2016. This could be the most competitive division in baseball, although, not in a “three teams win 97+ games” kind of way. There are a low of teams in this division with low floors, in that nobody should lose 90 games, but there’s a distinct possibility that nobody wins more than 90 games either. Every team is severely flawed in one way or another, but that’s what makes it fun.
In a sense, everybody has a chance to win this division, though it would be pretty shocking if the Minnesota Twins were the team to do it. As hard as it is to believe, the Cleveland Indians have the longest drought in this division, which they have not won since 2007. The Chicago White Sox won in 2008. The Minnesota Twins won back-to-back Central Division titles in 2009 and 2010. The Detroit Tigers won the next four before giving way to the Kansas City Royals last year. This division is totally up for grabs this season.
In terms of division winner odds, here are the prices from BetDSI Sportsbook (click the team name for Adam Burke’s MLB season win total analysis):
If pitching and defense truly win championships, the Cleveland Indians are in great shape in the Central Division. Only the Chicago White Sox come close to matching Cleveland’s rotation and the Indians have an excellent infield defense spearheaded by Francisco Lindor. Minor acquisitions like Rajai Davis and Mike Napoli will help the Indians against southpaws and Michael Brantley’s return could be a lot sooner than expected. With a very solid bullpen and three bona fide ace-level starters, it’s clear to see why the Indians are favored in the Central Division. Whether or not they will live up to those expectations is another story.
The reigning two-time American League champions are the second favorite in the AL Central. The Kansas City Royals might have the worst starting rotation in this division, but their offense returns in tact and the Royals are going to have a spectacular outfield defense. A great bullpen and a contact-based lineup that seemed to excel in all important situations last season haven’t carried over as much buzz as you would expect, but the Royals did give up a lot of promising arms to acquire Johnny Cueto and Ben Zobrist last season. They may have the highest floor of any team in this division, so .500 could be a worst-case scenario, but it is fair to wonder what the ceiling is.
The Detroit Tigers are getting older and owner Mike Ilitch is approaching his late 80s. As a result, the wallet opened once again to bring in Jordan Zimmermann and Justin Upton. A tremendous lineup with Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, Upton, and JD Martinez will have no problem scoring runs, but it’s fair to wonder how the Tigers will fare in terms of preventing runs. Justin Verlander is the de facto ace of the staff and the starting rotation behind Zimmermann leaves a lot to be desired. The bullpen isn’t particularly exciting either. The Tigers don’t seem to have enough depth in the pitching staff to play right with the favorites in this division, but offense can hide a lot of problems. The hope in Motown is that the offense can carry the team into October.
With a late signing of Austin Jackson to culminate a pretty good offseason, the Chicago White Sox have been picking up a little bit of steam lately. The starting rotation top four is fairly close to Cleveland’s if Carlos Rodon can take the next step in his development. Chris Sale is an elite starting pitcher and you won’t find a more underrated pitcher than Jose Quintana. Mat Latos was a sneaky-good signing now that pitching coach Don Cooper can get his hands on him. The lineup leaves something to be desired, even with the Todd Frazier acquisition, and the bullpen is suspect behind David Robertson, but the White Sox have some upside.
Last season may have been a little bit fluky for the Minnesota Twins in Paul Molitor’s first season at the helm. Nevertheless, this is a Twins team that finished second and won 83 games last season in what was expected to be more of a transitional year. Miguel Sano might eventually be the second-best hitter in this division and the Twins have other quality regulars like Brian Dozier and Trevor Plouffe. If Byron Buxton can take the next step this season, the Twins become very dangerous. The pitching staff lacks household names, but Tyler Duffey and Jose Berrios have some significant upside. The bullpen looks a little bit thin.
Pick: Kansas City Royals
The Indians are the biggest challenger to the Royals, but their outfield situation is in a major state of flux and bounce back seasons from Yan Gomes and Mike Napoli are extremely important. For putting down your hard-earned dollars, there are much better divisions to gamble on, but a pick has to be made. To be the best, you have to beat the best. Somebody has to knock Kansas City off of its perch. Until that happens, in a division with so much parity, it’s tough to pick against them.
Best Value Pick: Chicago White Sox
This becomes a very interesting team if Carlos Rodon turns the corner. The raw stuff is there. The control and command are still a work in progress, but Don Cooper is tremendous at his job and the development of Jose Quintana, who has less pure stuff than Rodon, is a testament to Cooper and how he gets his pitchers to buy in. There might be just enough offense there to give this team a fighting chance at postseason baseball.