By Patrick Gunn
Yankees Baseball is racing towards us as the winter snow melts into April rosebuds. With that said, the Yankees have some competition to get back to the World Series. I will dig into the Bombers’ competition around the league over the next few weeks, going through every division ending with the AL East. I’m basing my predictions for the season on the team’s PECOTA projected records, statistics from last season, and overall talent.
The AL Central appears to have somewhat of a set dichotomy, with two main contenders, one team in the middle, and two rebuilding teams at the bottom. Regardless, I think there could be more parity here than most people think. Teams from this division made fascinating and startling moves this offseason. This leaves openings for surprises and stunners. Here’s where PECOTA stood on the AL Central:
1. Minnesota Twins (91.0-71.0)
2. Cleveland (84.7-77.3)
3. Chicago White Sox (82.8-79.2)
4. Kansas City Royals (71.0-91.0)
5. Detroit Tigers (65.5-96.5)
FIRST PLACE: MINNESOTA TWINS
Last Season’s Record: 36-24
Most Exciting Part of This Team: La Bomba Squad 3.0
Most of the core pieces of Minnesota’s potent lineup are still here. Nelson Cruz is back, as is Josh Donaldson, Miguel Sanó, Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler, and Byron Buxton. Not to mention the Twins also feature solid table setters in Luis Arraez and Mitch Garver.
Biggest Question: How’s the pitching going to hold up?
Trevor May and Jake Odorizzi left Minnesota, hurting the team’s depth. Alex Colome and his declining strikeout percentages (17.8% last year) and former Yankee J.A. Happ are not amazing improvements to this staff. Granted, the Twins did finish second in MLB in pitching WAR, finishing behind only rival Cleveland. With that said, the bullpen depth behind closer Taylor Rodgers (Hansel Robles is listed as the team’s fourth reliever) leaves much to be desired.
Pat’s Prediction: 89-73
I think PECOTA has this team down pat. The lineup is not nearly as strong as it has been in years past, but the Twins still have plenty of talent. Also, their pitching staff excelled last season even with a lack of trendy or notable names. Really, the question about Minnesota comes with the playoffs and ending its streak, but it should be able to get back there with this roster.
SECOND PLACE: CHICAGO WHITE SOX
Last Season’s Record: 35-24
Most Exciting Part of This Team: The Young Core
Chicago has spent years acquiring and developing talent. Now, the squad is starting to come to fruition. Tim Anderson and Lucas Giolito are studs and Jose Abreu just won his first career MVP. Yoán Moncada is coming off a down year, but he is feeling much better after battling COVID symptoms for much of 2020. Eloy Jiménez and Luis Robert have a taste of the show and are ready to ball out.
Biggest Question: How will La Russa Work With the Youth Movement?
Tony La Russa may be a Hall of Fame manager, but he might be one of the oddest managerial hires in a few years. He last managed a game in 2011, and his comments on players kneeling and his DUI raises more questions. This feels more bizarre because the White Sox could have gone out and brought in a young, fresh face but instead chose to go in the opposite direction.
Pat’s Prediction: 88-74
The White Sox have all of the talent necessary to make a playoff run. Lance Lynn, Liam Hendriks, and Adam Eaton are solid additions that will help improve Chicago at the margins. I think this team may take some time to find its footing, but Chicago should at the very least contend for a playoff spot.
THIRD PLACE: CLEVELAND
Last Season’s Record: 35-25
Most Exciting Part of This Team: Shane Bieber
Bieber ran away with the AL Cy Young race after striking out 41.1% of batters last season while allowing home runs in fewer than 2.4% of plate appearances. His .267 BABIP against will rise undoubtedly, but Bieber appears to be legit.
Biggest Question: What is Cleveland Doing?
Needless to say, Cleveland has had a tough offseason. Cleveland traded Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco to the Mets and let closer Brad Hand leave rather than pay him $10 million. What’s worse, Mickey Callaway’s sexually inappropriate actions came to light, raising even more questions about Cleveland’s organizational culture. This is a cheap, poorly run team that needs more than one ace starter to prove themselves.
Pat’s Prediction: 77-85
I picked Cleveland to finish here last season and was dead wrong. So, why pick them here again? Well, losing Lindor and Carrasco hurts without much reinforcements in return. Cleveland is leaning on young, inexperienced starters and a new bullpen to carry the load given the mediocre lineup on display. Jose Ramirez is still solid, and Andrés Giménez could be a decent replacement but he is no Lindor. Cleveland just has much less depth and certainty thanks to the penny pinching trades, and this culture might need a recent after what has come out regarding Cleveland.
FOURTH PLACE: KANSAS CITY ROYALS
Last Season’s Record: 26-34
Most Exciting Part of This Team: The Interesting Lineup
The Royals have some young pitching developing in Brad Keller and Brady Singer, but their lineup features many interesting veterans. Whit Merrifield and Jorge Soler are back, along with Hunter Dozier, Adalberto Mondesi, and Royal’s legend Salvador Perez. Carlos Santana, Andrew Benintendi, and Michael A. Taylor join the fray in what should be a compelling lineup to examine as the season goes on.
Biggest Question: Will they show signs of improvement or reset?
Such questions often arise when discussing teams in a rebuild. The Royals have seen several core figures from the 2015 Championship team – including Eric Hosmer, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, and Alex Gordon – depart in recent years. Perez remains, and Greg Holland has returned (with Wade Davis coming back as a minor league invite), but the Royals will live and die by its prospect capital and young players growing up. How much they grow will indicate how many deals the Royals will make this year.
Pat’s Prediction: 72-90
I almost put the Royals in third, but this roster does not have the young depth to put them above Cleveland. Adding Benintendi and Santana will help this team compete with better teams, but the Royals lack the quality talent on either end to get close to a playoff spot. I do think this team will compete for third place in the Central.
FIFTH PLACE: DETROIT TIGERS
Last Season’s Record: 23-35
Most Exciting Part of This Team: The Young Pitching
Casey Mize has entered the show. He’s one of the most exciting prospects in all of baseball, and the former number one overall pick should still have plenty of hype surrounding him even after a sluggish debut in 2020. Spencer Turnbull, despite the early IL stint, also receives more chances to grow, as should Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning
Biggest Question: Who lasts the season in Detroit?
The Tigers signed several veterans to supplement their young core, including José Ureña, Wilson Ramos, Jonathan Schoop, and Nomar Mazara. Detroit is still in the middle of a long rebuild so the Tigers have to look to trade several veterans for more prospects to rebuild its system.
Pat’s Prediction: 66-96
Detroit has some talented young players, but this team is not ready to contend yet. The Tigers can push teams, as shown by their great start last season. With that said, Detroit will have a successful season if its young pitchers improve, and it acquires more prospects.