The Cleveland Indians rotation is one of the best in baseball, which makes life difficult for the other four teams in the American League Central, so that makes them the favorite.
Minnesota has the most improved team, but will the Twins rotation help them make up 13 games in the division race? For drama to happen in the AL Central, the Twins need a consistent rotation.
Kansas City is banking of health for Danny Duffy and a bounceback from Ian Kennedy. The White Sox will have at least two former Nats in their rotation, and former Nats farmhand Dane Dunning could be there soon.
In Detroit, the Tigers are hoping their getting money’s worth from former National Jordan Zimmermann.
Here’s the AL Central rundown:
CHICAGO: The White Sox have hope for the three pitchers they received from the Nationals in the trade for Adam Eaton. RHP Lucas Giolito, 24, is struggling to find consistent performance. The White Sox need him to cut down on walks after going 10-13 with a 6.13 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP in 2018. He led the AL with 90 walks and 118 earned runs allowed. ... RHP Reynaldo López, 25, finished with a 3.91 ERA and had good and bad, mostly good. He was strong at the start (1.78 ERA in April) and at the end (1.09 in September) but his ERA was all over the map in between, including 7.39 in July. ... The new member of the rotation is steady RHP Ivan Nova, 31, a former Pirate who, if he pitches up to capabilities, will have an ERA in the 4.25-4.35 range. ... RHP Kelvin Herrera, who had a 2.44 ERA with 17 saves in 48 games combined for Kansas City and Washington, will compete with Alex Colomé and Nate Jones for the closer’s job.
CLEVELAND: The Indians rotation last year had four starters with at least 200 strikeouts each: RHP Corey Kluber had 222, RHP Trevor Bauer 221, RHP Carlos Carrasco 231 and RHP Mike Clevinger 207. ... Kluber (with a 2.89 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP) was in his third consecutive All-Star Game in 2018 and finished third in the AL Cy Young voting. Kluber, 32, has five consecutive seasons of at least 200 innings. ... Bauer, 28, finished sixth after his breakout season and was 12-6 with a 2.21 ERA. ... Carrasco, 31, had 17 wins and a 3.38 ERA. ... Clevinger, 28, was with 13-8 with a 3.02 ERA. ... The No. 5 starter is RHP Shane Bieber, 23, who was 11-5 with a 4.55 ERA last season. He had 118 strikeouts in 114 1/3 innings. ... The Indians aren’t sure how they’ll use RHP Danny Salazar, who missed all of 2018 after shoulder surgery, but he could be a backup starter or used as a reliever. ... The Indians also have RHPs Adam Plukto and Cody Anderson as backup starters. ... The Indians lost RHP Cody Allen (Angels) and LHP Andrew Miller (Cardinals), to free agency, so the bullpen is thin. .... RHP Brad Hand is the closer.
DETROIT: The Tigers rotation includes former National Zimmermann, 33, who has battled injuries in his last two years in Detroit. Zimmermann is expected to be healthy in spring training and he has two years and $50 million left on his contract. Last season, he made 25 starts and had a 4.52 ERA with 111 strikeouts and 26 walks in 131 innings. ... The ace of the staff is RHP Michael Fulmer, the 2016 AL Rookie of the Year, who will be in his fourth season with Detroit. He had 24 starts and pitched 132 innings last season. Tigers are counting on him to be healthy. ... LHP Matthew Boyd, 28, was the Tigers’ best pitcher in 2018, allowing 146 hits in 170 innings with a career-low 4.39 ERA. ... The new pitcher is RHP Tyson Ross, who has a 3.95 career ERA in nine seasons. Ross pitched for the Padres and Cardinals last season with a combined 4.15 ERA. ... After two seasons of ERAs over 5.00, LHP Daniel Norris, 26, is facing a big year. He’s been a prospect, but the Tigers need him to step it up a notch.
KANSAS CITY: The key to the Royals rotation is the health of their top two starters, Duffy, 30, and Kennedy. ... Duffy, in the third year of a $65 million contract, struggled with a shoulder injury last year. He was shut down early in 2018 and finished 8-12 with a 4.88 ERA. The team expects him to be healthy, but is also concerned about his fastball velocity, which dipped by 5 mph last season .... Kennedy, who battled an oblique strain last year, has had ERAs of 5.38 and 4.66 in each of the last two seasons. He threw 119 2/3 innings in 2018. At 34, the Royals have concern for Kennedy. ... The third and fourth spots in the rotation will likely go to RHP Jakob Junis and RHP Brad Keller. ... Junis, 26, pitched well early and late last season, but struggled during June and July. The Royals like his stuff, but this could be a make-or-break year for him. Keller, a Rule 5 pick, was a rookie pitcher last season who threw 140 1/3 innings and finished with a 3.08 ERA. He’s a sinkerball pitcher who threw at least seven innings in three of his last four starts ... The Royals will focus on fixing their bullpen in spring training after having the highest ERA (5.04) and WHIP (1.54) in the league last season. The Royals bullpen saved 33 of 57 games last season.
MINNESOTA: The top three in the rotation include RHPs Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson and Jake Odorizzi. ... Berrios, 24, is the staff ace after having 202 strikeouts and 61 walks last season. His ERA was 3.84. ... At 31, Gibson established himself last season with a 3.62 ERA and coming within four innings of a 200-inning season. It was a big improvement over the previous two seasons when he posted ERAs of 5.07 in 2016 and 2017. ... When the Twins traded for Odorizzi, 28, from Tampa Bay before the 2018 season, they thought he was the missing rotation link to a team that could contend. Instead, Odorizzi was up and down, finishing with a 4.49 ERA. He did fine through the first two times through the order, but struggled the third time through. ... The Twins signed RHP Michael Piñeda in December 2017, knowing he wouldn’t pitch in 2018 while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Piñeda has had two elbow surgeries. From 2014-2017, Piñeda made 117 starts for the Yankees with a 4.05 ERA, 687 strikeouts and 157 walks.