Tigers might be Indians' only competition in AL Central

Stranger things have happened, but if Cleveland doesn't win the American League Central, it's an upset.

The Indians have gone the longest - 68 years - without winning a World Series.

Detroit has a dangerous offense. They have Justin Verlander, Jordan Zimmermann and Michael Fulmer leading their rotation. And the Tigers, despite not having a healthy Zimmermann, were in the playoff hunt until the final day of last season, when they were beaten 1-0 by Atlanta pitcher Julio Teheran.

Kansas City finished .500 last season and this could be the beginning of the end for the Royals. Their trademark bullpen is weaker than in the championship years. The rotation has taken a hit with the death of Yordano Ventura.

And they have four key players eligible for free agency. If the Royals and/or Tigers start slow, could they start dumping stars in July?

The Twins, after 103 losses last season, and White Sox are each rebuilding.

Here's what is going on in the AL Central:

CHICAGO: The White Sox are tearing down one foundation while building another, trying to do what the cross-town Cubs have done. They traded Chris Sale to the Red Sox and Adam Eaton to the Nationals and signed shortstop Tim Anderson, who has one year of experience, to a $25 million contract. ... With Sale gone, the White Sox's best starter is lefty José Quintana, who walks two batters every nine innings. They also expect prospect Carlos Rodon to build on the 3.20 ERA he had his final 11 starts. ... Rodon and Anderson, 23, who hit .283 last season are two of the blocks in the White Sox's rebuilding program. ... The rest of the rotation includes James Shields, Miguel González and Derek Holland, who is trying to re-start his career, so Lucas Giolito, with his upper-90s fastball, should get a chance in the rotation sometime this season. ... Closer David Robertson, who has $25 million left on his contract, could also be made available. His salary is huge and last season he walked 4.6 batters per nine innings. He'll have to live with trade rumors this season, but says he's prepared for that. ... Todd Frazier and José Abreu are dangerous bats in the middle of the order, capable of combining for 70 home runs.

CLEVELAND: The Indians won the AL Central in 2016 despite missing their best hitter (Michael Brantley) for all but 11 games and two of their best starters (Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco.) They won their first AL pennant since 1997, but lost in the World Series. They're taking aim at their first World Series title since 1948. ... Brantley, the left fielder who was limited to 11 games last season because of a shoulder injury, hit .310 with 15 home runs and 84 RBIs in 2015 and should be ready to go this season. ... The Indians added designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion, 34, and lefty reliever Boone Logan. Encarnacion, the only player in the majors to have at least 30 home runs in each of the last five seasons, gives the Indians much-needed power after they ended 10th in the league with 185 home runs in 2016. He could hit 40 home runs. ... Logan is another lefty in the bullpen that has lefty Andrew Miller, as well as Bryan Shaw and closer Cody Allen. Logan pitched for the Rockies last season with 11 strikeouts per nine innings. ... Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis begins the year on the disabled list with a shoulder injury. ... The Indians will be without their best power hitter, Mike Napoli, who hit 34 home runs in 2016 and then went to Texas, so former catcher Carlos Santana, who hit 34 home runs last season, takes over there. Also gone is Raijai Davis, who led the AL with 43 stolen bases. ... But Indians rookie Tyler Naquin played well, hitting .296 with a .376 on-base percentage with consistent power. ... Corey Kluber (18-9, 3.14 ERA last season) led the AL in strikeouts with 227 and leads a rotation that has Carrasco, Salazar, Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin. ... Do the Indians have the best shortstop in the game with Francisco Lindor, 23, a switch-hitter with excellent defensive skill? Lindor hit .301 with 15 home runs, 78 RBIs and 19 steals last season. He's a potential AL MVP.

DETROIT: The Tigers won 86 games last season and have the best chance of challenging Cleveland in the AL Central, but does the Tigers' aging roster have one more push toward the postseason, ala 2011 to 2014 when they won the AL Central four consecutive years? ... The rotation is led by Justin Verlander, 34, who had a brilliant second half last year to finish second in the AL Cy Young Award voting, and Michael Fullmer, who won 11 games with a 3.06 ERA in his final 22 starts and was named the AL Rookie of the Year. ... Former National Jordan Zimmermann had a 5-0 start before a neck injury hindered his season. ... The lineup is loaded with high-average power hitters, including Ian Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera (now 34), Justin Upton, Nick Castellanos and Victor Martinez, 38, who has balky knees. Upton, a free agent signee, struggled in the first half of last season, but hit 22 home runs after the All-Star break, including 13 during the final month. ... At 35, Francisco Rodríguez is a dependable closer, but prospect Bruce Rondón is knocking on the door for the job. Rodríguez had 44 saves and a 3.48 ERA last season.

KANSAS CITY: The Royals won the 2014 AL pennant and the 2015 World Series, but this year, they're learning that nothing lasts forever. ... Four players - Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain - are each eligible for free agency after the season and the chances are slim that the Royals would keep all four. ... The bullpen, the team's strength during the World Series seasons, is not the same with only Kelvin Herrera left. He's gone from seventh-inning guy to closer, the only big name left. ... The Royals are grieving the tragic loss of pitcher Yordano Ventura, killed in an offseason traffic accident. The rotation is led by Danny Duffy (12-3, 3.51 as a starter and reliever) and Ian Kennedy (11-11, 3.68 ERA) with Travis Wood, Nate Karns and Jason Hammel the newcomers. ... The new DH is Brandon Moss and the new right-fielder is Jorge Soler, a reserve outfielder with the Cubs who was acquired for closer Wade Davis in the offseason. ... The Royals have one of the best catchers in baseball, Salvador Perez, who threw out 53 percent of potential basestealers last season. Since 2013, Perez has caught more innings (4,662) than any catcher in either league. Does he wear out? He's hit .234 combined in the last three Septembers.

MINNESOTA: After 83 wins in 2015, the Twins appeared headed for contention in 2016. Instead, they went 59-103, the most losses in a season since the Twins started in Minnesota in 1961. ... Ervin Santana leads the rotation after having a 3.38 ERA last season, but after that there are questions: Hector Santiago had a 4.70 ERA for the Twins and Angels combined in 2016. Kyle Gibson needs to bounce back from his 5.07 ERA. Phil Hughes needs to be healthy and José Berríos, one of their top pitching prospects, looked lost last season. ... The Twins need their young kids to grow, including Byron Buxton and Miguel Sanó. Buxton, who was sent to the minors last season, showed promise in September when he hit nine home runs and batted .287. Sanó, who hit .236 with 18 home runs last season, has defensive issues at third base. ... Rookie Max Kepler hit 17 home runs in 101 games last season and rookie shortstop Jorge Polanco hit .282 in the final two months of last season. Polanco struggled with his defense. ... Joe Mauer, 34, a former AL MVP and three-time batting champ, will struggle to hit double digits in home runs and might hit .275. Mauer will be paid $23 million this season and $23 million in 2018 before his contract runs out. He says health will allow him to get back to hitting .300. ... Can the Twins expect Brian Dozier, a hot topic on the winter trade market, to have another 40-home run season? ... Their new catcher is former Astro Jason Castro. The Twins think his defensive skill and pitch-framing will be an asset to the pitching staff.

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