After losing the 2016 World Series in seven games and the 2017 Division Series to the Yankees in five games, the Cleveland Indians hope to take a run at a third consecutive American League Central championship.
But their biggest competition comes from the Twins, a wild card team in 2017 that has added six players, including five pitchers, two of them starters.
The White Sox and Tigers are in rebuild, although the White Sox are, unlike the Tigers, beyond the first step.
The Royals lost two key players - Lorenzo Cain and Eric Hosmer - but they kept Mike Moustakas. They are caught in the middle of trying to win and thinking about the future.
Prediction: Indians, Twins, Royals, White Sox, Tigers.
The cheat sheet:
CHICAGO: The White Sox started last season 15-12, but finished 55-80, fourth with 67 wins. It was a season where they traded Todd Frazier, José Quintana and David Robertson, for prospects. ... The two most accomplished players on this year’s team - and therefore could be traded during the season - are first baseman José Abreu and outfielder Avasaíl García. Abreu hit .304 with a .354 on-base percentage with 33 home runs in 2017 while García was at .330 with a .380 on-base percentage and 18 home runs. ... The White Sox hope shortstop Tim Anderson, who hit .283 as a rookie in 2016 and signed a six-year contract, can break from his .257 slump last season. ... The White Sox are confident that right-hander Lucas Giolito, a first-round pick by the Nationals in 2012 and traded to Chicago in a deal for outfielder Adam Eaton, will come into his own this year. Giolito, 23, with his power fastball and curve, slumped into 2016, started 2017 in the minors, but had a 2.38 ERA in 45 1/3 innings when he was promoted to the White Sox. ... Another Nats prospect in that trade, right-hander Reynaldo López (9.7 strikeouts per nine innings at Triple-A), will be in the rotation along with right-hander Carson Fulmer, the White Sox’s first-round draft pick in 2015 who had a 3.86 ERA with 19 strikeouts and 13 walks in 23 1/3 innings last season. ... The catcher is Welington Castillo, who hit career highs for average (.280) and home runs (20) last season as an Oriole. Castillo has a strong arm and improved defensively. ... A prospect to watch is second baseman Yoán Moncada is a top-notch prospect who is 6-foot-2 and 22 years old. He’s a solid defensive player who is still learning the strike zone and who struck out 94 times in 199 at-bats last season.
CLEVELAND: The Indians, who haven’t won a World Series since 1948, have been in the postseason three of the last five seasons. ... The Indians are loaded with pitching, led by two-time AL Cy Young Award winner right-hander Corey Kluber, who had a 2.25 ERA last season, and right-hander Carlos Carrasco, who had a 3.29 ERA. The rotation had the lowest ERA in the AL last season and there’s also right-handers Trevor Bauer (4.19), Danny Salazar (145 strikeouts in 103 innings), Josh Tomlin (4.98) and Mike Clevinger (3.11), and left-hander Ryan Merritt, whose second big league start was in the 2016 postseason against Toronto. ... This will be the first time since 2010 the Indians will be without first baseman Carlos Santana, who is with the Phillies. His replacement will be Yonder Alonso, a .268 career hitter who, at age 30, might be coming into his prime as a power hitter. Alonso, a left-handed batter, never hit more than nine home runs in a season, but last year, he hit 28 home runs combined for Seattle and Oakland, five more than Santana, and hit .266, seven points higher than Santana. ... Shortstop Francisco Lindor is developing into a superstar. Last year, he played excellent defense and hit 33 home runs. ... The Indians are banking on a healthy season for outfielder Michael Brantley, who has had two seasons of injuries, first with a shoulder and last year with an ankle injury. He’s coming back from surgery on his right ankle. He hit .299 with nine home runs and made the All-Star team last year. ... The closer is right-hander Cody Allen, who has 120 saves combined in the last four seasons.
DETROIT: After a 98-loss season in 2017, the Tigers are trying to start over and most of the big-name players - Justin Verlander, Ian Kinsler, J.D. Martinez and Justin Upton - are gone to other teams. ... The Tigers’ new manager, Ron Gardenhire, who won six division titles in his 13 years as manager of the Twins, returns to the AL Central and goes against an offseason trend of teams hiring managers who have never led a team before. ... First baseman Miguel Cabrera, 35, is in a new position, leader on a team that’s rebuilding. Cabrera is coming off the worst season of his career - .249 average with 16 home runs and 60 RBIs - but the Tigers hope that the slide downward was because of two herniated discs in his back. Cabrera, who has $184 million left on a contract that runs through 2023, is in good health. ... The Tigers hope for health for designated hitter Victor Martinez, 39, who was second in the AL MVP vote in 2014, but slumped to .255 with 10 homers and 47 RBIs with injuries limiting him to 107 games last season. Martinez makes $18 million this year, the final year of his contract in Detroit. The Tigers are hoping he can be a trade chip in July. ... The Tigers tried to sign Orioles right-hander Chris Tillman, but they were able to add right-hander Mike Fiers, a pitcher the Orioles wanted, to a rotation that has righties Jordan Zimmermann and Michael Fulmer and lefties Matt Boyd and Daniel Norris. ... Fulmer was the 2016 AL Rookie of the Year. ... Zimmermann, 31, who had a 3.32 ERA in his seven seasons in Washington, has been a disappointment in Detroit because of neck injuries. His offseason weight lifting focused on back strength to take pressure from his neck. He’s 17-20 with a 5.60 ERA in his first two Tigers seasons.
KANSAS CITY: The Royals’ rebuild is without center fielder Lorenzo Cain (Milwaukee) and first baseman Eric Hosmer (San Diego), key players that helped the Royals get to consecutive World Series in 2014 and 2015, beating the Mets in 2015. But thanks to a slow market, the Royals were able to keep third baseman Mike Moustakas, who hit a team-record 38 home runs last season, 24 of them on the road. ... The Royals replaced Hosmer with lefty-swinging first baseman Lucas Duda, 32, who hit 30 home runs combined for the Mets and Rays last season. Royals fans are familiar with Duda, the Mets first baseman who threw wide to home when Hosmer scored the tying run in Game 5 of the 2015 World Series in New York. ... The most familiar players are left fielder Alex Gordon, shortstop Alcides Escobar (.250 with six home runs and 54 RBIs), catcher Salvador Perez (.268 with 27 home runs and 80 RBIs) and second baseman Whit Merrifield, who hit .288 with 19 home runs and 78 RBIs last season. ... The rotation is questionable behind ace left-hander Danny Duffy, who had 130 strikeouts and 41 walks last season. Right-hander Ian Kennedy, 34, had a 5.38 ERA last season after having a 3.68 ERA in his first year in Kansas City. Right-hander Jason Hammel is also in the rotation, and the Royals need him to pitch better than his 5.29 ERA from a year ago. ... The closer is right-hander Kelvin Herrera, who had 26 of 31 saves last season.
MINNESOTA: The Twins, who lost to the Yankees in the 2017 wild card game after an improvement of 24 wins, are doing all they can to win a division title for the first time since winning consecutive titles in 2009-2010. ... They acquired two starters - right-handers Jake Odorizzi and Lance Lynn - along with three relievers - right-handers Fernando Rodney and Addison Reed and left-hander Zach Duke - and first baseman Logan Morrison, who hit 38 home runs for Tampa Bay last season. ... Odorizzi, 27, and Lynn, 30, join a rotation that has right-handers Ervin Santana, José Berríos and Kyle Gibson. ... Odorizzi, who has a cutter, slider and curve, has 3.71 ERA in his last three seasons with Tampa Bay. ... Lynn had Tommy John surgery in 2016, but had a 3.43 ERA in 33 starts for the Cardinals last season. His career ERA is 3.38. ... Santana, the Twins’ All-Star pitcher last season who had a 3.28 ERA, starts on the disabled list with a finger injury and should be ready by May 1. ... Gibson was strong in the second half of last season (3.76 ERA) after a slow start in the first. Still, he’s had two consecutive seasons with an ERA of 5.07. ... Berríos threw 150 innings last season with a 3.83 ERA last season and the Twins expect him to take the next step. ... The Twins will be without shortstop Jorge Polanco, who was suspended 80 games for PED use. He hit .310 with after Aug. 1. Polanco can return at the end of June, but he can’t play if the Twins make the postseason. ... First baseman Joe Mauer completed his 17th spring training with his hometown Twins, and Mauer, 35, is in his final year of a $184 million contract. The three-time AL batting champ and AL MVP had a career that was on a Hall of Fame trajectory, but injuries in the last few years have slowed him. Mauer would love to get back to the postseason and improve the Twins’ record. They are 1-13 in postseason games since he got to the majors in 2004. ... Duke, Reed and Rodney go into a bullpen of talented arms that includes right-handers Trevor Hildenberger, Ryan Pressly and Alan Busenitz and left-hander Taylor Rodgers. .... The young outfield is explosive with strong defense. Max Kepler (19 home runs) is in right with Byron Buxton, 24, in center and Eddie Rosario (27 home runs) in left. Buxton hit .300 with a .347 on-base percentage, 11 home runs while going 13-for-13 in stolen bases in the second half of last season. ... Second baseman Brian Dozier, a power hitter at the top of the order, is also in the final year of his contract.