The Indians rotation is one of the best in baseball, and because of that, they are the pick to win their fourth consecutive American League Central championship.
But unlike other years, the Indians’ chances are at their most vulnerable. Their bullpen is weaker and their offense took a hit. They have a no-name outfield, although former Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez signed late a minor league contract with Cleveland.
So which team has the best chance to catch them? The Twins are that team. They finished 13 games behind Cleveland last season, but have a strong defense and added a ton of power bats to the lineup. Their bullpen is strong, so contending comes down to how well their rotation pitches.
The Tigers, Royals and White Sox are each rebuilding.
The predicted finish: Indians, Twins, White Sox, Tigers, Royals
Here are the headlines in the AL Central:
CHICAGO: The White Sox had 100 losses in 2018, their most since 1970, when they lost 106 games, a season in which they had three managers and their best pitcher was LHP Tommy John, then 27. ... The White Sox go into the season trying to end five consecutive seasons of fourth-place finishes. ... The White Sox signed 1B Yonder Alonso after he hit 23 home runs for Cleveland last season, and RF Jon Jay to contracts. ... The White Sox have three starters - RHP Carlos Rodón, Renaldo López and Lucas Giolito - that are each younger than 26 with the potential for a breakout season. Giolito struggles with walks and had a 6.13 ERA last season. López was at 3.91 last year and Rodón at 4.18 in 20 starts. ... Yoán Moncada is one of the top prospects in the game, and he’s a building block in the White Sox lineup that will have another blue-chip prospect, OF Eloy Jimenez. Moncada’s polished his defensive problems. He hit 17 home runs last season. ... SS Tim Anderson hit 20 home runs and the White Sox hope he can improve defensively. ... One question: Will the White Sox sign José Abreu, 32, the 2014 AL Rookie of the Year and a two-time All-Star, to another contract. He is in the final year of his contract have hitting .262-22-78 last season.
CLEVELAND: The Indians will be trying to win their fourth consecutive AL Central championship after losing in the 2016 World Series and in the AL Division Series in each of the last two Octobers. They have won 94, 102 and 91 games in the last three seasons. Cleveland hasn’t won a World Series since 1948. ... The Indians will have a new-look lineup after parting with eight hitters that started in the postseason last year: Yonder Alonso, Michael Brantley, Melky Cabrera, Yandy Díaz, Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion, Yan Gomes and Brandon Guyer. ... With Gomes in D.C., the Indians will make Roberto Pérez their No. 1 catcher. His strength is defense. The backup is former Met Kevin Plawlecki. ... The Indians’ strength is the rotation, one of the best in baseball. Last year, they had four starters with at least 200 strikeouts, led by RHP Carlos Carrasco’s 231. RHP Corey Kluber had 222, RHP Trevor Bauer 221 and RHP Mike Clevinger 207. ... The left side of the infield has 3B José Ramírez, who finished third in the AL MVP voting in each of the last two seasons, and SS Francisco Lindor, who was bothered by a left calf strain in spring training. ... Indians manager Terry Francona says 2B Jason Kipnis will not play the outfield this season. He’s been used in center in previous seasons. ... The Indians want to find out of Hanley Ramirez has anything left. He was a late spring sign and will be the DH. ... The Indians have signed OF Carlos Gonzalez, 33, formerly of the Rockies, to a minor league contract, but he won’t be ready to join the team until mid-April. In his last three seasons combined, CarGo has hit .319 at spacious Coors Field and .243 on the road. ... RHP Brad Hand, acquired from San Diego during the 2018 season, is the closer.
DETROIT: The rebuilding Tigers haven’t hit rock bottom and are trying to recover from two consecutive 98-loss seasons. Including four 90-loss seasons with Minnesota, Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire has endured five consecutive seasons of at least 90 losses. ... The Tigers received bad news at the end of spring training when they found out their best pitcher, RHP Michael Fulmer, 26, will have Tommy John surgery and be out for the season. Fulmer was the AL Rookie of the Year in 2016, when he had 11 wins, a 3.06 ERA and 1.12 WHIP. ... The Tigers’ rebuild is slowed by the $55 million - about half their payroll - owed to two aging players, RHP Jordan Zimmermann and Miguel Cabrera, 38, whose injuries limited him to 38 games last season. ... Zimmermann, 32, has been slowed by injuries during his three years in Detroit, and last season, he gave up more hits (140) than innings pitched (131 1/3) to finish with a 4.52 ERA. ... The Tigers’ best player is RF Nick Castellanos, who hit .298 with a .354 on-base percentage last season. The Tigers listened to trade offers for him in the offseason, hoping to boost their farm system. ... The Tigers’ new middle infielders are former Pirates, SS Jody Mercer and 2B Josh Harrison.
KANSAS CITY: The Royals haven’t been to the postseason since they won the World Series in 2015. Considering the Royals lost 104 games last season, it is likely to be a long time before they return. ... The biggest blow to the team is the loss of C Salvador Pérez, who will miss the season because of Tommy John elbow surgery. He is a six-time All-Star with five Gold Gloves. He hit four home runs for the Royals in the 2015 postseason, and last season, he hit a career-high 27 home runs with 80 RBI. He has three years and $36 million left on his contract, and won’t play until 2020. The Royals signed free-agent Martín Maldonado to be Perez’s replacement. Maldonado a strong defensive player, known for pitch-framing, but he’s not much of a stick. ... The first two rotation spots are locked down by RHPs Brad Keller and Jakob Junis. ... Keller, 23, has gone from an unknown minor-leaguer with the D-Backs to K.C.’s best starter. He led the team with nine wins last year even though he had more appearances as a reliever (21) than he did starts (20). ... Junis made 30 starts and led the Royals with 164 strikeouts. ... LHP Ian Kennedy’s better days are behind him after giving up 125 hits in 119 innings last season, and he’ll work out of the bullpen. ... The new center fielder is Billy Hamilton, 28, who has amazing speed but struggles getting on base. He’s had a .299 on-base percentage in each of the last two seasons and still had 59 and 34 steals. ... At 35, LF Alex Gordon is in need of a rebound, but his averages in the last two seasons have been .208 and .245. ... 2B Whit Merrifield, 30, is a late bloomer who led the AL with 192 hits and 45 steals last season. ... Two infield prospects showed good power last season: SS Aldalberto Mondesi hit 14 home runs in 75 games and 1B Ryan O’Hearn 12 in 44.
MINNESOTA: The Twins have a long list of additions, but will they be good enough to make up the 13-game deficit they finished with last season against Cleveland? ... The lineup is loaded with more power, including 2B Jonathan Schoop (21 home runs for Orioles and Brewers in 2018), 1B C.J. Cron (30 home runs for Tampa Bay), DH Nelson Cruz (37 home runs for Seattle) and utility guy Marwin Gonzalez (16 home runs for the Astros). Gonzalez will play third at the start of the season because Miguel Sanó starts on the injured list. ... RHP Michael Pineda had 687 strikeouts in 680 innings before having Tommy John elbow surgery. The Twins signed him six months after the surgery, but who knows how many innings they will get from him this year? ... The rotation’s first three are RHP José Berríos (12-11, 3.84), RHP Kyle Gibson (10-13, 3.62) and RHP Jake Odorizzi (7-10, 4.49). Berrios, an All-Star in 2018, is the opening-day starter against Cleveland. ... The Twins need comebacks from OF Byron Buxton and Sanó. ... The Twins hope that Buxton, who has battled injuries, can hit better when he gets into 1-2 counts. Last year, he struck out 21 times in the 33 times the count went to 1-2. He showed promise in spring training. He’s one of the best defensive centerfielders in the game. ... Buxton, along with the Nationals’ Trea Turner and KC’s Billy Hamilton, is one of the fastest players in the game. ... The Twins’ outfield of Buxton, LF Eddie Rosario and RF Max Kepler is among the best defensively. ... Sanó hit 28 home runs in 2017, but slumped to the point where the Twins sent him to Single-A Fort Myers last season. He came to camp with a renewed dedication, but wound up getting hurt.