AL Central Preview: Indians Poised To Repeat As Rebuilds Abound In Division

Bryan Altman

Spring is slowing sweeping its way across the country, which can only mean one thing: baseball season. The boys of summer are back and, with Opening Day right around the corner, it’s time to dust off your glove and maybe catch up on some of the expectations for the 30 MLB teams this year. That’s where CBS Local Sports’ division preview series comes in. We’ll take you around the league giving you an overview of each team and their expectations heading into the year. 

While the team on the North Side of Chicago staged parades after ridding itself of 108 years of bad juju with some extra innings heroics in Game 7 of the World Series (much to the chagrin of a team we’ll get to shortly), the team on the South Side of Chicago set the stage for a fire sale; Sale being the key word in that sentence.

The White Sox’s shipping off Chris Sale to the Red Sox set a course for rebuilding mode for the White Sox and their fire sale is likely to continue into 2017.

Elsewhere in the AL Central, the team that the Cubbies bested have bolstered their lineup and are ready for another run at a pennant and World Series berth, while the Royals, now two years removed from their magical World Series run, might have just one more shot at glory with their current roster of stars.

Today, we’re taking a closer look at each of those teams, along with the Tigers and the Twins in our AL Central preview, which starts where the season ended for the division, with the Indians.

**Win totals courtesy of Bovada Sportsbook

Vegas 2017 Win Total: 92.5

The Indians will be five months removed from their back-breaking World Series defeat to the Cubs when they kick off their 2017 campaign against the Texas Rangers on April 3. Hopefully, that was enough time to heal and get ready for a 162-game grind, because if their heads are on straight and they can avoid the dreaded post-championship run hangover, this Indians team is going to be tough to beat.

The Indians made arguably the biggest signing of the offseason by snagging slugger Edwin Encarnacion from the Blue Jays with a 3-year, $60 million contract.

Encarnacion could well be the missing piece for an Indians team that came oh so close to closing out the Cubs after taking a 3-1 series lead in the World Series last year. Each of the last five years Encarnacion’s belted at least 34 home runs and last year was arguably his most productive at the plate in his 11-year career even though his batting average dipped slightly from his career average (42 HR, 127 RBI, .263 AVG).

Perhaps even more intriguing for the Indians is the fact that Michael Brantley is finally looking to rejoin the team after a year largely spent on the sidelines (played in 11 games, no playoff games).

When Brantley’s healthy he’s one of the best hitters in baseball, averaging above .300 at the plate in his last two healthy years. If he can come back and occupy the No. 3 slot in the lineup before Encarnacion, it’ll give Edwin a chance to do some serious damage in the RBIs department.

Aside from the two “new comers,” the Indians are stacked. Carlos Santana can mash with the best of them (34 HRs in 2016), while Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis, Lonnie Chisenhall, Tyler Naquin and Jose Ramirez were able to hit for average as all fell into the .275-.310 range.

This lineup is impressive, and it’s complemented beautifully by above average pitching from starters straight through to closer Andrew Miller.

Plus, the Indians will have Carlos Carrasco back in the fold after he missed the last month and half of the season — including the team’s entire playoff run, which should take some pressure off of Corey Kluber, who pitched nearly 250 innings in 2016.

All told, the bullpen is there too, so there are really no discernible weaknesses on this team that’s ostensibly only gotten better since they lost in Game 7 of the World Series. The sky’s the limit, and if Michael Brantley and Carlos Carrasco can come back and stay in the lineup this team should be looked at as the favorite to represent the AL in the World Series yet again. Over 92.5 

Lineup: (DH) Carlos Santana, (2B) Jason Kipnis, (SS) Francisco Lindor, (1B) Edwin Encarnacion, (LF) Michael Brantley (3B) Jose Ramirez, (RF) Lonnie Chisenhall, (C) Yan Gomes (CF) Tyler Naquin

Rotation: Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, Trevor Bauer, Josh Tomlin

Vegas 2017 Win Total: 76.5

Last year the Royals underachieved after arguably overachieving for two consecutive years with consecutive World Series berths and a title to show for it.

Now, the Royals have come to a pivotal year for their future. In 2018, Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar will all be free agents and there’s a Twins’ chance of winning the AL Central (sorry, Twins fans) of them resigning all of those guys.

So this year is in a sense the last hurrah for the Royals before things change drastically in Kansas City. Oh, and that last hurrah could be a shortened one if the Royals underachieve early on in the season.

So which Royals team will we see? One resembling the World Series teams of 2014 and ’15? Or the 2016 iteration.

My guess is they’ll look more like last year’s club than that of the prior two seasons.

1-9, they’re far from weak. In fact, they’re pretty strong straight through the batting order with the only real question marks surrounding Jorge Soler and Brandon Moss — both of whom could provide power at the tail end of the lineup, but both of whom can struggle from the plate as well.

Their rotation also leaves much to be desired.

While Danny Duffy could very well be their ace for the foreseeable future, the rest of their starters have been hit or miss at best over the course of their careers and are too volatile to trust on a consistent basis.

And of course, they tragically lost Yordano Ventura this offseason and while it’s hard to try and discuss such an awful situation from a baseball standpoint, his absence in the rotation will be felt.

The Royals have also lost key components in their bullpen and no longer have the dominant seventh, eighth and ninth inning guys they had that keyed their World Series runs. Wade Davis is off to the Cubs and Kelvin Herrera is all that remains of the once dominant triumvirate of Davis, Herrera and Greg Holland.

Unfortunately, that in itself is a microcosm of the Royals in 2017. They’ll finish close to .500, but they don’t have enough in the tank for one final run with their core. Over 76.5

Lineup: (SS) Alcides Escobar, (3B) Mike Moustakas, (CF) Lorenzo Cain, (1B) Eric Hosmer, (C) Salvador Perez, (LF) Alex Gordon, (RF) Jorge Soler, (DH) Brandon Moss, (2B) Whit Merrifield

Rotation: Danny Duffy, Ian Kennedy, Jason Vargas, Jason Hammel, Travis Wood

Vegas 2017 Win Total: 82.5

Consistency is the name of the game for the Detroit Tigers, who have pretty much stood pat in terms of roster moves from the 2016 club and are returning the same core that won them 85 games in 2016.

That, of course, includes roster mainstays like Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez, J.D. Martinez and Justin Verlander. The question is, are their names and reputations just that? Or, do they still have what it takes to get the job done on the field?

If they’re going to, it’ll require bounce-back years from more than a few key players.

1-6 the Tigers are rock solid, but they’re seriously weak when it comes to the tail end of their lineup, which is slated to consist of Tyler Collins (OF), James McCann (C) and Jose Iglesias (SS). Each of those three players saw their batting averages drop by at least 30 points from their 2015 campaigns and their OBP (on-base percentage) followed suit. If they can return to 2015 form, they’ll be in much better shape and should be able to support the top half of their lineup.

Others in need of a rebound campaign? Starters Jordan Zimmermann and Anibal Sanchez. Michael Fulmer’s emergence made their ineffectiveness hurt less, but to contend for a Wild Card spot, and maybe even a pennant, they’ll need these two to come back from injury-plagued seasons with ERAs close to 5.00 (4.87 for Zimmerman) or over 5.00 (5.87 for Sanchez).

If they can rebound, and lefty Daniel Norris can be effective in his first year, the Tigers will boast a more-than-sound 1-5 rotation.

Their bullpen isn’t bad either, with Francisco “K-Rod” Rodriguez set to close, so a rebound year could be in order in Detroit. Over 82.5

Lineup: (2B) Ian Kinsler, (3B) Nick Castellanos, (1B) Miguel Cabrera, (DH) Victor Martinez, (LF) Justin Upton, (RF) J.D. Martinez, (CF) Tyler Collins, (C) James McCann, (SS) Jose Iglesias

Rotation: Justin Verlander, Michael Fulmer, Jordan Zimmermann, Daniel Norris, Anibal Sanchez 

Vegas 2017 Win Total: 69.5

Of all 30 teams in MLB, only the San Diego Padres have been given a lower projected win total by Bovada Sportsbook entering the 2017 season.

Selling off your ace (Chris Sale) and your prized center fielder (Adam Eaton) for top prospects will have that effect, especially when further sell offs loom in the not-so-distant future.

Star pitcher Jose Quintana could be a centerpiece for the White Sox to build around, or, he could be trade bait to a contender at the deadline in exchange for a coup of young and talented players a few years behind the left-hander developmentally.

Todd Frazier may also be up for grabs, as well as Melky Cabrera, and even Jose Abreu could be up next.

So yeah, the White Sox won’t be any good this year, but there are some youngsters to watch out for that will shape the future of baseball on Chicago’s South Side.

Among them, Yoan Moncada, the prized hen in the Chris Sale deal, who could take some cuts at the major league level at some point this year.

There’s also fireballer Michael Kopech, who was also acquired in the Sale deal. Kopech routinely throws over 100 MPH and will be a force to be reckoned with when he cracks the White Sox’s roster. It might not happen this year, but get used to hearing his name, Sox fans.

All things considered, this is a talented enough team to compete day in and day out, but for how long? They don’t have the talent to make the playoffs, so eventually they’ll start to strip it down and sell it off piece by piece for young prospects, which will keep the White Sox under the .500 mark for much of the year. Still, 70 wins feels within reach for this team. I think they’ll finish around 72,73. Over 69.5

Lineup: (CF) Charlie Tilson, (SS) Tim Anderson, (1B) Jose Abreu, (LF) Melky Cabrera, (3B) Todd Frazier, (C) Geovany Soto, (DH) Cody Asche, (RF) Avisail Garcia, (2B) Yolmer Sanchez

Rotation: Jose Quintana, Miguel Gonzalez, Derek Holland, James Shields, Carlos Rodon

Vegas 2017 Win Total: 74.5

The Twins and the White Sox are essentially in the same boat, albeit on slightly different courses. The White Sox are still completing their sell off and stockpiling young talent, while the Twins are more or less ready to see how their young talent is ready to fare at the MLB level.

Guys like Byron Buxton (CF), Miguel Sano (3B) and Max Kepler (RF) all figure into the Twins’ opening day plans and are looked at as potential franchise cornerstones for the future.

Both Buxton and Sano have had their struggles — Buxton had rough stints in 2015 and ’16, before breaking through towards the end of last year, while Sano set a Twins record for most strikeouts in a season last year — but they’re set to take key roles in a Twins organization that needs to replace an aging and injury-prone Joe Mauer with a new face(s) of the franchise.

These three, along with whoever the Twins take with their No. 1 overall pick in this year’s draft (at least there’s SOME positive to take out of losing 103 games), will set the course for the franchise for the foreseeable future, and Twins fans are about to get a real close look at them for quite a long stretch.

On the mound is still where trouble finds the Twins. After sporting a combined ERA of 5.09 (tied for worst in MLB) the Twins don’t have much in the way of reserves coming to help out this year.

Ervin Santana is the golden goose of the rotation while Phil Hughes is a bit of an enigma as it remains to be seen how well he returns from thoracic outlet surgery.

All told, the Twins’ rotation doesn’t look like it’ll be much better than it was last year, which bodes poorly for a team coming off a 103-loss season to say the very least. Under 74.5 

Lineup: (2B) Brian Dozier, (SS) Jorge Polanco, (1B) Joe Mauer, (3B) Miguel Sano, (RF) Max Kepler, (DH) Kennys Vargas, (C) Jason Castro, (CF) Bryron Buxton, (LF) Eddie Rosario

 

Rotation: Ervin Santana, Hector Santiago, Kyle Gibson, Phil Hughes, Jose Berrios

 

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