Easily the tightest division in the American League. By my predictions, this one division will have four of the top seven teams in the league. Which is actually a bad thing for that fourth team, because they might would fair better had they been playing in a different division. But, so many teams in this division are going to be good that it was a very difficult division to sort out. Other than the last place team, I wouldn’t be surprised by just about any reordering of my picks by the end of the year. So, here we go…
- Kansas City Royals (89-73)
- Cleveland Indians (87-75)
- Detroit Tigers (86-76)
- Chicago White Sox (83-79)
- Minnesota Twins (67-95)
You’ll notice that the gap between 1st place and 4th place is only 6 games. No one is running away with this division. And, they might just beat up on each other enough to allow someone from another division to sneak into the playoffs ahead of them. But, that remains to be seen. Here’s my analysis of each team:
Speed. Defense. Bullpen. It’s what led them to the World Series this past year. And, no one in the division has caught up with them in any of those categories. They certainly lost two key pieces to what was already the weakest part of their team – the rotation: Sheilds; the offense: Butler. But, they’ve added Edinson Volquez and Kendrys Morales, who are above-average players. And, in case you hadn’t noticed, their starting rotation and offensive players are still very young. Hosmer and Perez are still not in their prime years. Ventura and Duffy are going to be nice starting pitchers in the years to come. Of the four competitive teams in this division, the Royals may have the worst rotation & offense. But, they are so far ahead of everyone else in the other categories, I still give them the edge.
This might surprise a few people. Primarily because I’m not sure how many people realize that Cleveland won 85 games last year. So, for them to improve just a little makes them a very competitive team in this division. With defending AL Cy Young winner, Kluber, at the top of this rotation, followed by the underrated Carrasco, they have a 1-2 punch at the top of their rotation that is as good as anyone in the division. Now, #3-#5 in that rotation are a little bit of a wild card (Bauer, Salazar, and perhaps House?), but they’re all young and blossoming pitching talents. Their bullpen doesn’t have the household names that the Royals do (yet), but they have four guys who posted WHIPs below 1.10 last season – two of which are still very young. Michael Moss was a nice addition to the offense, and their team speed is well above average. Defense is probably the lone area of concern, but if they call up Lindor from the minors to play SS, that will be a dramatic improvement.
Too many losses. Not enough additions. Over the last couple seasons, the Tigers’ starting rotation has lost Scherzer, Porcello, and Fister. What have they added? David Price, Alfredo Simon, and Shane Greene. Add that to the fact that Verlander has seen dramatic decline in his capabilities, and their starting rotation is middle-of-the-pack in this division (at best). The bullpen is also a concern, as their closer, Joe Nathan, had a bit of a troublesome year (1.53 WHP), and is now another year older (40). Joakim Soria was a nice pick-up late last season, but the rest of the bullpen is suspect. Their offense is easily the best in the division (and got better with Cespedes), which is why I think they will remain competitive. But, they have just sustained too many losses to their pitching staff for them to be as dominant as they have been the last couple years.
I have a feeling a lot of people will pick the White Sox to win this division. And, signing the top relief pitcher on the market, trading for a top-of-the-rotation starter, and adding offense like LaRoche and Melky Cabrera are going to make any team look significantly better. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The White Sox lost 89 games last year – even with the likes of Chris Sale and Jose Abreu having spectacular seasons. And, adding an aging LaRoche and injury-prone Melky aren’t exactly as exciting as they might first appear. Meanwhile, the reason they needed to sign a top-notch reliever is because the rest of their bullpen is pretty underwhelming. And, they didn’t do anything to help the worst team defense and speed in the division. I’m okay with giving them the nod as the best starting rotation in the division, top to bottom. But, the rest of their team is middle-of-the-pack at best. And, there are more complete teams in this division that will make it difficult for them to take a more substantial stride forward.
The Twins have good team defense and speed. In fact, they’re probably second only to Kansas City in this division. But, that’s the end of the list of things to be excited about in the Twin Cities. The best pitcher on the team is Phil Hughes – a guy who really should be a #3 starter. They have some young hitters that look nice (like Danny Santana), but it’s still the worst offense in the division. Once the young hitters develop some more, and they’re able to start calling up the likes of Buxton and Sano, they could have a very nice offense. They’ll need to figure out a way to get some legitimate pitching, but that’s not something they’ll need to worry about until 2016 or 2017. With so many other good teams in this same division, it wouldn’t surprise me if the Twins ended up losing 100 games.