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Scouting the Enemy: 2018 AL Central Preview

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The Royals will play 76 of their 162 games against AL Central opponents.

MLB: ALDS-New York Yankees at Cleveland Indians David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Another baseball season is upon us, Kansas City. As with every MLB season, teams spend a decent portion of time comparing themselves to teams within their own division. After all, you play each team 19 times throughout the year, and someone from each division must make the playoffs. Why not spend time comparing yourself to these teams?

While the Royals front office has certainly spent an exorbitant amount of time studying the other four teams in the AL Central, I spent just enough time to quickly break down each team for you. Let’s take a look at the four teams other than KC that make up the AL Central, including projected lineups, record/standings predictions, and team MVP predictions.

Detroit Tigers

I’m starting this journey with you in Detroit for the simple fact that I don't expect the Tigers to be very good in 2018. Committed to a bit of a rebuild, Detroit shipped ace Justin Verlander to Houston last summer at the last possible moment. New ace of staff Michael Fulmer will return to the mound for the Tigers in 2018 with as good a shot as anyone in the AL Central not named Corey Kluber of winning the AL Cy Young Award.

Outside of Fulmer, the rotation begins to get pretty dicey for Detroit. Let’s take a look at Detroit’s projected rotation for 2018:

  1. Michael Fulmer
  2. Jordan Zimmerman
  3. Mike Fiers
  4. Matt Boyd
  5. Daniel Norris
  6. Francisco Liriano

Yuck. Save for Michael Fulmer, there’s a very real chance that the Tigers don’t have a single pitcher with an ERA under 4.50 this season. That is ugly, and unless Jordan Zimmerman has a bounce back season, the Tigers are going to have a tough time stopping opposing offenses this season.

Maybe they can try to outscore everyone? Let’s take a peek at their projected lineup:

LF: Mikie Mahtook

CF: Leonys Martin

RF: Nick Castellanos

3B: Jeimer Candelario

SS: Jose Iglesias

2B: Dixon Machado...?

1B: Miguel Cabrera

C: James McCann

DH: Victor Martinez

...nevermind.

Projected Record: 60-102

Projected Standing: 5th in the AL Central

Team MVP: Michael Fulmer

Chicago White Sox

Our next destination on our trip around the AL Central takes us to a team that may not be ready to win just yet, but they aren't far away from going on a crazy run either. The Chicago White Sox have by most accounts one of (if not the) very best farm systems in baseball. While some of those top prospects like Reynaldo Lopez and Yoan Moncada have already debuted, others are not far behind.

The White Sox rotation has a chance to be stacked with immense young talent by September, but let’s take a look at what the rotation stands to look like on Opening Day:

  1. James Shields
  2. Lucas Giolito
  3. Reynaldo Lopez
  4. Carlos Rodon
  5. Carson Fulmer
  6. Miguel Gonzalez

There’s a whole lot of young fire power in that rotation already, rounded out nicely with a touch of veteran experience. Let’s take a look at the lineup:

LF: Nicky Delmonico

CF: Adam Engel

RF: Avisail Garcia

3B: Matt Davidson

SS: Tim Anderson

2B: Yoan Moncada

1B: Jose Abreu

C: Welington Castillo

DH: Tyler Saladino...?

There are a few really intriguing pieces to that lineup, and a few that are going to hold it back. The top half of the lineup, consisting of Abreu, Anderson, Moncada, Castillo, and Garcia could actually be pretty decent. Unfortunately for Chicago though, I think the youth of the team is going to bring them just short this year. They aren’t far away, however...

Projected Record: 69-93

Projected Standing: 4th in the AL Central

Team MVP: Yoan Moncada

Minnesota Twins

I honestly can not decide what I think of the Twins. I can legitimately see them having a down year and missing the playoffs, and winning the AL Central, all at the same time. There are players in their lineup that I think over performed last season, and players that I think are due for big years. My brain tells me that the Twins stand a fighting chance in the Central. My heart tells me that the Royals could actually win more games. Let’s take a look at the roster and see if we can’t make some sense of the Minnesota Twins.

Rotation:

  1. Ervin Santana
  2. Jose Berrios
  3. Lance Lynn
  4. Jake Odorizzi
  5. Kyle Gibson
  6. Phil Hughes

Lineup:

LF: Eddie Rosario

CF: Byron Buxton

RF: Max Kepler

3B: Miguel Sano

SS: Jorge Polanco

2B: Brian Dozier

1B: Joe Mauer

C: Jason Castro

DH: Logan Morrison

I think the biggest wild card in the Twins lineup this season is going to be the bullpen. I didn’t bother covering the bullpens of Detroit and Chicago, frankly because they’re sort of irrelevant. However, given that the Twins could potentially be chasing a playoff spot, let’s talk about their ‘pen.

Fernando Rodney, Addison Reed, Trevor Hildenberger, and Zach Duke highlight what could be a bit of a boom-or-bust group for the Twins. Fernando Rodney is coming off of a very respectable 2017 season, but he’s also 40 years old. Addison Reed is one of the quietest bullpen superstars in the league, but he’s fared much better in the NL during his career than he has in the AL. I love Trevor Hildenberger but he’s 27 and only has 42 big league innings under his belt. Zach Duke only threw 18.1 innings last season with St. Louis.

I am (awkwardly) rooting for the Twins in 2018. Yes, I'm a Royals fan, but seeing as I don’t have much faith in their ability to make the playoffs this year, I'm rooting for Minnesota to knock off the Indians in the Central.

I just don’t think it’s happening. I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see significant regression from guys like Ervin Santana and Eddie Rosario, and we don’t know how much Miguel Sano will be able to play this year either. Minnesota desperately needs a shortstop and I don’t trust the bullpen. In what may be a surprising prediction, I have Minnesota finishing third in the AL Central and missing the playoffs completely.

Projected Record: 79-83

Projected Standing: 3rd in the AL Central

Team MVP: Byron Buxton

Cleveland Indians

I give to you to you, finally, the class of the AL Central. Unfortunately Royals fans, I am going to give the AL Central to the Cleveland Indians for the third consecutive year. Their rotation is absolutely fantastic, and they have some young guys arriving at the perfect time. Their rotation combined with a balanced offense leaves them head and shoulders above the rest of the division, and I expect Cleveland to win a ton of games again in 2018.

Projected Rotation:

  1. Corey Kluber
  2. Carlos Carrasco
  3. Trevor Bauer
  4. Josh Tomlin
  5. Danny Salazar
  6. Mike Clevinger

There is a ton of talent at the top of this rotation. Corey Kluber is a perennial contender for the AL Cy Young Award and Carlos Carrasco is one of the best “number two’s” in all of Major League Baseball. Trevor Bauer has done some interesting stuff to improve his game this offseason and I'm a fan of what I saw from Mike Clevinger in 2017. Add in some nice depth with Danny Salazar and Josh Tomlin, this rotation is as good and as deep as they come. You don’t win 22 games in a row without a dominant rotation, after all.

Projected lineup:

LF: Michael Brantley

CF: Bradley Zimmer

RF: Lonnie Chisenhall

3B: Jose Ramirez

SS: Francisco Lindor

2B: Jason Kipnis

1B: Yonder Alonso

C: Roberto Perez/Yan Gomes

DH: Edwin Encarnacion

This lineup has the potential to absolutely mash. The lineup listed above could have as many as seven left-handed hitters in the lineup against a RHP at any given time. The reverse to that is that they could also have five left-handed hitters against Chris Sale in the playoffs, which is less than ideal. The Indians do have Yandy Diaz that can play third base, and with Jose Ramirez’ flexibility, he may play some second base to allow Diaz to play third against LHP this season. This lineup paired with the Indians rotation has a chance to give Cleveland yet another shot at the Fall Classic.

Projected Record: 97-65

Projected Standing: 1st in the AL Central

Team MVP: Francisco Lindor

Poll

As of right now, where do you see the Royals finishing in the division?

This poll is closed

  • 4%
    1st
    (22 votes)
  • 17%
    2nd
    (83 votes)
  • 44%
    3rd
    (208 votes)
  • 27%
    4th
    (128 votes)
  • 5%
    5th
    (26 votes)
467 votes total Vote Now