American League Central capsules
Capsules of American League Central teams, listed in order of finish last year:
2017: 102-60, first place, lost to Yankees in ALDS.
Manager: Terry Francona (sixth season).
He’s Here: 1B-DH Yonder Alonso, LF Rajai Davis, RHP Alexi Ogando.
He’s Outta Here: 1B Carlos Santana, OF Jay Bruce, RHP Bryan Shaw, RHP Joe Smith, OF Austin Jackson, LHP Boone Logan.
Projected Lineup: SS Francisco Lindor (.273, 33 HRs, 89 RBIs, 44 2Bs, 15 SBs, 10 errors), 2B Jason Kipnis (.232, 12 HRs, 35 RBIs in 90 games), 3B Jose Ramirez (.318, 29, 83, AL-leading 56 2Bs), DH Edwin Encarnacion (.258, 38, 107), 1B Yonder Alonso (.266, career-high 28 HRs, 67 RBIs with Athletics and Mariners), RF Lonnie Chisenhall (.288, 12, 53 in 82 games), C Roberto Perez (.207, 8, 38, club went 44-22 in his starts) or Yan Gomes (.232, 14, 56), CF Bradley Zimmer (.241, 8, 39, 18 SBs, 0 errors), LF Michael Brantley (.299, 9, 52 in 90 games) or Rajai Davis (.235, 5, 20, 29 SBs with Oakland and Boston).
Rotation: RH Corey Kluber (18-4, 2.25 ERA, 265 Ks, 2nd Cy Young Award), RH Carlos Carrasco (18-6, 3.29, 226 Ks), RH Trevor Bauer (17-9, 4.19, 10-1 in final 13 starts), RH Mike Clevinger (12-6, 3.11, 137 Ks in 121 2/3 innings), RH Danny Salazar (5-6, 4.28, 12.67 Ks per 9 innings).
Key Relievers: RH Cody Allen (3-7, 2.94, 30/34 saves, 96 saves past 3 seasons), LH Andrew Miller (4-3, 1.44, 2 saves), RH Dan Otero (3-0, 2.85, walked just 19 of 511 batters since 2016), LH Tyler Olson (1-0, 0.00 in 20 innings over 30 games), RH Zack McAllister (2-2, 2.61 in 50 games).
Hot Spots: Kipnis and Brantley. The former All-Stars have been hindered by injuries in recent years, but both appear on track to bounce back in 2018. The Indians need them to produce. Cleveland is better defensively with Ramirez at second base, but he’ll stay at third as long as the 31-year-old Kipnis hits. Kipnis has been mentioned in trade talk for two years. Brantley, once considered one of baseball’s best all-around talents, has played in only 101 games since 2015.
Outlook: No team has felt postseason pain lately quite like the Indians. They blew a 3-1 lead and lost the 2016 World Series to the Cubs, and squandered a 2-0 advantage in last year’s best-of-five Division Series against the Yankees. With arguably baseball’s strongest rotation led by Kluber, the Indians are poised to possibly end a championship drought approaching its 70th anniversary. Alonso must help the offense offset the losses of Santana and Bruce. Francona won’t have Shaw in the bullpen anymore after the durable reliever pitched in at least 74 games each of the past four seasons. Winning the AL Central won’t suffice for the Indians, who are determined to finish the job this year.
2017: 85-77, second place, lost to Yankees in wild-card game.
Manager: Paul Molitor (fourth season).
He’s Here: RHP Lance Lynn, RHP Jake Odorizzi, DH-1B Logan Morrison, RHP Fernando Rodney, RHP Addison Reed, LHP Zach Duke, SS-3B Erick Aybar, RHP Michael Pineda.
He’s Outta Here: RHP Matt Belisle, RHP Bartolo Colon, C Chris Gimenez, DH-1B Kennys Vargas, LHP Hector Santiago, LHP Glen Perkins, LHP Buddy Boshers, RHP Michael Tonkin.
Projected Lineup: 2B Brian Dozier (.271, 34 HRs, 93 RBIs, 106 runs), 1B Joe Mauer (.305, 7, 71, .384 OBP), 3B Miguel Sano (.264, 28, 77, 173 Ks in 114 games), DH Logan Morrison (.246, 38, 85, .868 OPS with Rays), LF Eddie Rosario (.290, 27, 78), SS Eduardo Escobar (.254, 21, 73), CF Byron Buxton (.253, 16, 51, 29/30 SBs), RF Max Kepler (.243, 19, 69), C Jason Castro (.242, 10, 47).
Rotation: RH Ervin Santana (16-8, 3.28 ERA, 5 CGs, 211 1/3 IP, expected to begin season on DL), RH Jose Berrios (14-8, 3.89), RH Lance Lynn (11-8, 3.43 with Cardinals), RH Jake Odorizzi (10-8, 4.14 with Rays), RH Kyle Gibson (12-10, 5.07).
Key Relievers: RH Fernando Rodney (5-4, 4.23, 39/45 saves with Diamondbacks), RH Addison Reed (2-3, 2.84, 19 saves with Mets and Red Sox), LH Taylor Rogers (7-3, 3.07), LH Zach Duke (1-1, 3.93 in 18 1/3 IP with Cardinals), RH Ryan Pressly (2-3, 4.70), RH Trevor Hildenberger (3-3, 3.21, 1 save), RH Phil Hughes (4-3, 5.87 in 53 2/3 IP).
Hot Spot: Left Side Of The Infield. Sano had surgery in November to have a rod inserted in his left shin after a stress reaction kept him out for the last six weeks of the 2017 regular season, and the burly slugger has struggled to keep his weight down. He’s also been under investigation by Major League Baseball, facing potential discipline, for alleged harassment of a woman during an encounter in 2015. Jorge Polanco, who got so hot at the plate down the stretch of his first full season as a regular in the lineup that he wound up third in the batting order, was suspended for the first 80 games this season for testing positive for a performance-enhancing substance. Escobar can fill in capably at shortstop, but he’s also the top backup for Sano if the All-Star has to sit for any reason.
Outlook: After their massive 26-win turnaround last season, earning Molitor the AL Manager of the Year award and a new contract through the 2020 season, the Twins were already on the upswing with their 25-and-under core of Berrios, Buxton, Sano, Rosario and Kepler. Then, after spring training began, they traded for Odorizzi and signed Morrison and Lynn, all at market-bargain prices. They’ve already had some setbacks, with finger surgery for Santana expected to keep him out for most or all of April, and the gut-punch news of Polanco’s suspension, plus the uncertainty that surrounds Sano. But this is a team, even with the bold offseason moves made by AL heavyweights Boston and New York, and the strength of reigning AL Central champion Cleveland, that has the talent and spunk to be right in the playoff mix. With Hughes and Tyler Duffey on track for long-relief roles and a spate of well-regarded prospects set to fill out the rotation at Triple-A Rochester, this is as much starting pitching depth as the Twins have had in years. After using 16 different starters in 2017, they needed that. Rodney, Reed and Duke were important additions to bolster the bullpen, too, after Minnesota relievers ranked 22nd in the majors with a collective 4.40 ERA.
Kansas City Royals
2017: 80-82, third place.
Manager: Ned Yost (ninth season).
He’s Here: RHP Jesse Hahn, CF Jon Jay, 1B Lucas Duda, RHP Wily Peralta, RHP Justin Grimm.
He’s Outta Here: 1B Eric Hosmer, CF Lorenzo Cain, LHP Jason Vargas, RHP Joakim Soria, LHP Mike Minor, OF Melky Cabrera, LHP Scott Alexander, DH Brandon Moss, RHP Mike Morin, LHP Ryan Buchter, RHP Trevor Cahill.
Projected Lineup: CF Jon Jay (.296, 2 HRs, 34 RBIs with Cubs), 2B Whit Merrifield (.288, 19, 78, AL-leading 34 SBs), 3B Mike Moustakas (.272, 38, 85), C Salvador Perez (.268, 27, 80), 1B Lucas Duda (.217, 30, 64 with Mets and Rays), DH Jorge Soler (.144, 2, 6), LF Alex Gordon (.208, 9, 45), RF Paulo Orlando (.198, 2, 6), SS Alcides Escobar (.250, 6, 54).
Rotation: LH Danny Duffy (9-10, 3.81 ERA), RH Ian Kennedy (5-13, 5.38), RH Jason Hammel (8-13, 5.29), RH Jakob Junis (9-3, 4.30), RH Nate Karns (2-2, 4.17).
Key Relievers: RH Kelvin Herrera (3-3, 4.25, 26/31 saves), RH Wily Peralta (5-4, 7.85 in 19 games, 8 starts with Brewers), RH Brandon Maurer (2-2, 8.10 in 26 games with Royals; 1-4, 5.72 in 42 games with Padres), RH Justin Grimm (1-2, 5.53 with Cubs), LH Brian Flynn (5-3, 5.40 at Triple-A Omaha), RH Kevin McCarthy (1-0, 3.20), RH Brad Keller (10-9, 4.68 ERA at Double-A Jackson).
Hot Spots: Just About Everywhere. The Royals struggled to score last year, and losing Hosmer and Cain in free agency won’t help. They’ll turn to Moustakas, who set a club record for home runs in a season, and newcomers Jay and Duda to ignite the offense. The only starting pitcher with a track record of success is Duffy, while the bullpen features plenty of unproven talent that must show it can close down games if the Royals are to approach .500 this season.
Outlook: This was supposed to be a rebuilding year in Kansas City, when most of the Royals’ top players hit free agency en masse. With Moustakas and Escobar finding little market, both returned to Kansas City with prove-it contracts. That gives the Royals a fighting chance to stay competitive into July, and then all bets are off. But the reality is there are still far too many holes, both in the lineup and on the pitching staff, for the Royals to be considered contenders. They would do well to match the 80 wins they had last season, and could be a big seller at the July 31 trade deadline, which would allow them to replenish a shallow farm system and begin their rebuilding job in earnest.
Chicago White Sox
2017: 67-95, fourth place.
Manager: Rick Renteria (second season).
He’s Here: RHP Miguel Gonzalez, C Welington Castillo.
He’s Outta Here: LHP Derek Holland, RHP Mike Pelfrey, RHP Al Alburquerque, RHP Jake Petricka, C Geovany Soto, OF-2B Alen Hanson, RHP Zach Putnam.
Projected Lineup: 2B Yoan Moncada (.231, 8 HRs, 22 RBIs), RF Avisail Garcia (.330, 18, 80), 1B Jose Abreu (.304, 33, 102), DH Matt Davidson (.220, 26, 68), C Welington Castillo (.282, 20, 53 with Orioles), SS Tim Anderson (.257, 17, 56), 3B Yolmer Sanchez (.267, 12, 59), LF Nicky Delmonico (.262, 9, 23), CF Adam Engel (.166, 6, 21).
Rotation: RH James Shields (5-7, 5.23 ERA), RH Lucas Giolito (3-3, 2.38), RH Reynaldo Lopez (3-3, 4.72), RH Miguel Gonzalez (8-13, 4.62 with White Sox and Rangers), RH Carson Fulmer (3-1, 3.86) or LH Hector Santiago (4-8, 5.63 with Twins).
Key Relievers: RH Nate Jones (1-0, 2.31, 11 appearances), LH Luis Avilan (2-3, 2.93 with Dodgers), RH Joakim Soria (4-3, 3.70, 1 save with Royals), RH Juan Minaya (3-2, 4.53, 9 saves), RH Gregory Infante (2-1, 3.13), RH Danny Farquhar (4-2, 4.20 with White Sox and Rays).
Hot Spot: Bullpen. A particular strength for the first half of 2017 is now a major question mark after Chicago traded away Tommy Kahnle, Anthony Swarzak, Dan Jennings and closer David Robertson last season. Soria has 204 career saves but his best days might be behind him, and there aren’t many other proven late-inning options. Renteria and respected pitching coach Don Cooper might have their hands full mixing and matching while trying to figure out how to hold leads.
Outlook: For a team with five straight losing seasons and a record that ranked among baseball’s worst last year, the White Sox are generating plenty of buzz. That’s because they’re loaded with promising young players after going all-in on a rebuild prior to last season. The moves have sparked a belief that better days are ahead. Moncada and hard-throwing pitchers Giolito and Lopez showed promise in the majors last season. Right-hander Michael Kopech, outfielder Eloy Jimenez and outfielder Luis Robert are elite prospects on their way in the minors. Garcia, coming off a breakout season, is looking to prove he’s not a one-hit wonder. Anderson hopes to bounce back from a trying season in which a close friend was shot to death. Abreu is back after the slugger was viewed as a potential trade candidate this winter. Left-hander Carlos Rodon is expected to be out until at least June following shoulder surgery last September. It’s not clear when he’ll be ready. Rodon also was sidelined at the start a year ago because of shoulder and biceps problems. The big question is whether he’ll ever develop into the pitcher the White Sox envisioned when they drafted him with the No. 3 overall pick in 2014.
2017: 64-98, fifth place.
Manager: Ron Gardenhire (first season).
He’s Here: OF Leonys Martin, RHP Mike Fiers, LHP Francisco Liriano, OF Victor Reyes.
He’s Outta Here: Manager Brad Ausmus, 2B Ian Kinsler, RHP Anibal Sanchez, INF Andrew Romine, RHP Bruce Rondon.
Projected Lineup: CF Leonys Martin (.172, 3 HRs, 9 RBIs with Mariners and Cubs), 3B Jeimer Candelario (.283, 3, 16 with Cubs and Tigers), 1B Miguel Cabrera (.249, 16, 60), RF Nicholas Castellanos (.272, 26, 101), DH Victor Martinez (.255, 10, 47), C James McCann (.253, 13, 49), LF Mikie Mahtook (.276, 12, 38), SS Jose Iglesias (.255, 6, 54), 2B Dixon Machado (.259, 1, 11).
Rotation: RH Michael Fulmer (10-12, 3.83 ERA), RH Jordan Zimmermann (8-13, 6.08), LH Francisco Liriano (6-7, 5.66 with Blue Jays and Astros), RH Mike Fiers (8-10, 5.22 with Astros), LH Daniel Norris (5-8, 5.31) or LH Matthew Boyd (6-11, 5.27).
Key Relievers: RH Shane Greene (4-3, 2.66, 9/13 saves), RH Joe Jimenez (0-2, 12.32), RH Alex Wilson (2-5, 4.50, 2 saves), LH Daniel Stumpf (0-1, 3.82).
Hot Spot: The Farm System. After finishing tied for the worst record in baseball last year, the Tigers enter 2018 with no real expectations of success at the big league level, so the question is how quickly the franchise can make it through this rebuilding stage. Franklin Perez, a right-hander acquired last season when Detroit traded Justin Verlander, is expected to be out at least until June with a lat strain, and right-hander Matt Manning is also dealing with an injury. Alex Faedo and Beau Burrows are other pitching prospects to watch as they try to work their way toward the majors. Wins may be few and far between in Detroit, but Tigers fans will hope Cabrera — one star who avoided the roster purge of the last year — can rebound from a rough season.
Outlook: The Tigers traded Verlander, Justin Upton and J.D. Martinez last season, then dealt away Kinsler during the offseason. There could be more big moves on the horizon — Fulmer, Iglesias and Castellanos should all have some trade value, but each of them is young enough that he could be useful to the Tigers when they become competitive again. That’s especially true of Fulmer, the 2016 AL Rookie of the Year. Barring a huge surprise in terms of on-field results, the biggest suspense this season might revolve around how general manager Al Avila approaches the next few steps in the rebuild.
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