2018 MLB AL Central Preview
The Indians pay homage to former first baseman, Jim Thome with a statue and may bring a World Series title to lay at its feet this year. Photo by Erik Drost via Flickr (cropped)
1 Tribe called Quest For A Title
I am not impressed by the Cleveland offense, but that’s not their strength and come postseason time, that’s okay. They posted ten people in the outfield last year, not all at the same time of course, that would be a fine of some sort from the league office. Speaking of fines, there should be one for having Rajai Davis in a starting lineup. This year, the Indians are without Austin Jackson, who left for the Giants, and in his place have Tyler Naquin who had a solid 2016 season but was lost for almost all of last year. Michael Brantley should also return for a full year, assuming he doesn’t get hurt again. Designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion is 35 this year, but should still have enough to crank out 35 homers and 100 runs batted in.
Speaking of homers, I wonder about the power surge from third baseman Jose Ramirez last year. He goes from 11 homers as a third baseman to 29 in one year? None of the other stats changed appreciably. I don’t see how he does that again. I do appreciate how little he strikes out.
Speaking of strikeouts, and yes, I am a segue machine, this team has one of the best starting pitching staffs in the majors. Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco would be frontline starters on most teams. Mike Clevinger, Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin and Danny Salazar all had second halves last year that would put them solidly in as number-two starters for most clubs. If they can get to closer Cody Allen, it’s night-night time. He’s about as good as there is.
So, plenty of pitching, just enough hitting.
Prediction: 93 wins
2 Deep-fried Twinkie mound power
How smart were the Twins to stay with Jose Berrios? Two years ago, his earned-run average was over 8.0. A year later, it was less than half that. New guy, Jake Odorizzi had five really solid seasons with Tampa Bay. He’s a nice addition. Kyle Gibson was not good last year. He’s always been a groundball pitcher and he’s had a WHIP of more than one-and-a-half for the last two years. Maybe he starts working up in the zone. Maybe he can be moved into the bullpen if he doesn’t figure it out. Once Ervin Santana gets back from his finger injury, they don’t look bad. They only had four guys they could really rely on in middle relief though. One’s gone and Alan Busenitz was rewarded for a 1.99 ERA last year with a trip to AAA this year. Closer? 41-year-old Fernando Rodney. I hope he succeeds. Gives 47-year-old writers hope.
No hope Joe Mauer will provide much damage power-wise as a first baseman, but they don’t need him to with Brian Dozier bopping 30 homers as a second baseman. I love seeing Minnesota unafraid to stay with a guy who hits .300 with 70 RBIs at first. I’ve always hated the “right fielder has to hit 30 homers or he’s a failure” way of thinking. Just put the best team on the field.
Twins’ll be pretty good.
Projection: 86 wins
3 White Sox wildcard
I don’t know what Avisail Sanchez did last year but his batting average and on base percentage skyrocketed. Can he do it again? It wouldn’t hurt if Chicago bats him behind first baseman Jose Abreu. Considering he plays in Chicago, which is not a small town, I don’t think anyone knows who he is. Second baseman Yolmer Sanchez put up career numbers last year, I think, because he got a chance to play every day. He can also play seven positions. Tim Anderson at shortstop had a solid year in his first full campaign. The rest of the offense is a crap shoot because everyone else barely played half a season. This team could come out of nowhere and win 90 games, maybe more.
Or, with their starting pitching they could win 60.
They are so young, with the exception of James Shields, and their rookie campaigns were rough. If they have a collective ERA under 4.5 it’ll surprise me. Manager Rick Renteria will have to figure out who can pitch and who he needs to pulled out of the bullpen to try their hand at taking the mound every fifth day.
Projection 75 wins
4 Royale with chez
That’s French for “good enough for fourth.” In another division they might be fifth but they still have enough pieces to finish out of the cellar. That will likely be Detroit’s lot.
You’ve got Lucas Duda, Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar and Alex Gordon from the playoff years and they added John Jay. I don’t know if Gordon will ever be what he was, though. And that’s the good news. On the other hand, they lost first baseman Eric Hosmer, centerfielder Lorenzo Cain and catcher Salvador Perez.
On the mound, Jakob Junis had a nice rookie campaign with 11 wins. Maybe he’s the next big thing. A couple of other guys are fourth starters and Eric Skoglund needs to go back to the minors. You can’t give up a run in every inning.
Projection: 74 wins
Hall of famer Miguel Cabrera is on the downside of his career. FYI this is how a superstar is supposed to wind down a career. He’s not supposed to hit 70 homers at the age of 40. Also on the downside: designated hitter Victor Martinez. For a team that needs to rebuild, the Tigers still have some very expensive older players and not much around them. Right fielder Nicolas Castellanos is coming into his own but they need talent and pitching. Michael Fulmer is their ace. He should be a number two, though. After that are a lot of guys with ERAs over 5.0 last year, or career marks over 4.0. Good luck, Tigers fans. Looks like 2020 might bring something resembling hope.
Projection: 66 wins