Projected order of finish in 2020: Twins, White Sox, Indians, Tigers, Royals.
The Twins slugged their way to an American League Central championship in 2019 with 307 home runs. Their lineup may even be more dangerous in this shortened season.
The Twins signed Josh Donaldson, who hit 37 home runs for the Braves, in the offseason. Donaldson, 34, will be an upgrade defensively at third base over Miguel Sanó, who moves to first base after C.J. Cron (25 home runs) wasn’t offered a contract.
The Twins had 11 players reach double figures in home runs last season, including five that hit at least 30: Nelson Cruz hit 41 home runs, Max Kepler 36, Sanó 34, Eddie Rosario 32 and Mitch Garver 31. Sanó played in 103 games, Garver 93.
Suffice it to say, the Twins have enough power.
And the Twins have an exciting young player in Luis Arraez, 22, who came up last May and hit .334 with a .339 on-base percentage, replacing Jonathan Schoop at second base. Schoop is with Detroit.
Power hitting gets the headlines, but pitching wins titles. The Twins seem to have plenty of arms as well.
In the offseason, the Twins added three starters in Kenta Maeda, Homer Bailey and Rich Hill to a rotation led by the one-two punch of José Berríos (3.68 ERA) and Jake Odorizzi (3.51).
Maeda was 10-8 with a 4.04 ERA for the Dodgers last season while Bailey had a 4.57 ERA combined for Kansas City and Oakland. Hill had a 2.45 ERA for the Dodgers.
The Twins bullpen has left-handed closer Taylor Rogers, who had 30 saves and 90 strikeouts in 69 innings last season. The setup crew includes Tyler Duffey (2.50 ERA), Trevor May (2.94 ERA) and new arm, the reliable Tyler Clippard.
The Indians, a team that might change its nickname - Rockers or Spiders? - have rotation depth and that should make them contenders.
They even traded their top pitcher, two-time AL Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, to the Rangers, but that shouldn’t hurt the Indians much.
Manager Terry Francona has Shane Bieber (3.28 ERA), Mike Clevinger (2.71 ERA), Carlos Carrasco (5.23 ERA), Adam Plutko (4.86 ERA), Aaron Civale (2.34 ERA), and Zach Plesac (3.81 ERA).
In the lineup, the Tribe has Franmil Reyes, who hit 37 home runs combined for San Diego and Cleveland last season, as the designated hitter and the infield has all switch-hitters, from third to first: José Ramírez (23 home runs), Francisco Lindor (32 home runs), César Hernández (14 home runs) and Carlos Santana (24 home runs).
Hernández played for Philadelphia last season. Ramírez finished third in the AL MVP voting in two seasons, 2017 and 2018.
The team has a decision to make on Lindor, who is eligible for free agency after the 2021 campaign. Do they sign or trade him? The trade deadline is Aug. 31, and the market is unpredictable. But the general consensus is that the sooner they trade him, they more the Indians will get in return.
The White Sox haven’t played in the postseason since 2008, but they are getting closer to ending that streak. They added experience - catcher Yasmani Grandal, DH Edwin Encarnación and pitchers Dallas Keuchel and Gio González - to a growing nucleus of young talent.
Grandal, a strong defensive catcher, hit 28 home runs for Milwaukee last season. Encarnación hit a combined 34 home runs for Seattle and the Yankees last season. Keuchel, 31, had a 3.75 ERA in 19 starts for Atlanta and González a3.50 ERA for the Brewers in 19 games, 17 of them starts.
Last year, the White Sox saw their young team explode with promise, including shortstop Tim Anderson, whose .335 average was tops in the AL; third baseman Yoán Moncada (.315/.367/.548) and outfielder Eloy Jiménez (31 home runs).
Pitching prospect Michael Kopech, coming back from Tommy John surgery, decided not to play this season because of concerns about the coronavirus. Carlos Rodón, another prospect, is recovering from Tommy John and might get a few innings this year.
The White Sox have two former Nationals prospects in their rotation, Lucas Giolito (3.41 ERA) and Renaldo López, who had a 3.91 ERA in 2018 and a 5.58 mark in 2019.
The White Sox, who won 72 games last season, haven’t had a winning record since 2012.
In Detroit, after 114 losses last season, the Tigers have nowhere to go but up. They scored 3.61 runs a game last season, so they added Schoop and Cron, players who could each hit 25 home runs, as well as outfielder Cameron Maybin and catcher Austin Romine for lineup stability.
The rotation is led by soft-tossing lefty Matthew Boyd (4.56 ERA) and includes Iván Nova, Daniel Norris (4.49 ERA), Jordan Zimmermann (6.71 ERA) and Spencer Turnbull, a prospect who lost 17 games last season.
The Royals, World Series champs in 2015, are trying to dig out from consecutive seasons of 104 and 103 losses. Mike Matheny is their new manager and he’s trudging up hill with a team where top prospects are not expected to arrive until at least 2022.
Their three most exciting players are Jorge Soler, who hit 48 home runs last season, plus Hunter Dozier, who hit 36, and Whit Merrifield, an AL All-Star in 2019.