American League Central Preview Capsules
Capsules of American League Central teams, listed in order of finish last year:
CHICAGO WHITE SOX
2021: 93-69, first place, lost to Houston in ALDS.
Manager: Tony La Russa (second season of second stint with team).
Opening Day: April 8 at Detroit.
He’s Here: INF Josh Harrison, RHP Joe Kelly, RHP Vince Velasquez, RHP Kendall Graveman, OF Adam Haseley.
He’s Outta Here: LHP Carlos Rodón, 2B César Hernández, OF Brian Goodwin, OF Billy Hamilton, RHP Ryan Tepera.
Top Hitters: SS Tim Anderson (.309, 17 HRs, 61 RBIs, .807 OPS), 1B José Abreu (.261, 30, 117, .832), CF Luis Robert (.338, 13, 43, .945 in 68 games), OF Eloy Jiménez (.249, 10, 37 in 55 games).
Projected Rotation: RH Lucas Giolito (11-9, 3.53 ERA, 201 Ks), RH Lance Lynn (11-6, 2.69), RH Dylan Cease (13-7, 3.91, 226 Ks), LH Dallas Keuchel (9-9, 5.28), RH Michael Kopech (4-3, 3.50 in 44 games, 4 starts).
Key Relievers: RH Liam Hendriks (8-3, 2.54, AL-leading 38/44 saves, 113 Ks in 71 IP), RH Craig Kimbrel (2-3, 0.49, 23/25 saves with Cubs; 2-2, 5.09, 1/4 saves with White Sox), RH Joe Kelly (2-0, 2.86 with Dodgers), RH Kendall Graveman (5-1, 1.77, 10 saves with Seattle and Houston), RH Reynaldo López (4-4, 3.43 in 20 games, 9 starts), LH Aaron Bummer (5-5, 3.51), LH Garrett Crochet (3-5, 2.82).
Outlook: The White Sox, runaway winners of the AL Central last season, are coming off back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time in franchise history. They failed to advance both times, losing to Houston in four games in the Division Series after getting knocked out by Oakland in the first round in 2020. Now, they’re looking for more. With Anderson and Abreu leading a loaded lineup and Giolito and Lynn anchoring a solid pitching staff, the White Sox have their sights set high. They’re banking largely on staying healthy and improving from within after a surprisingly quiet offseason. Robert and Jiménez both missed big chunks of last season because of injuries. Kopech, who missed the 2019 season following Tommy John surgery and opted out in 2020, is moving from the bullpen to the rotation. Harrison, a two-time All-Star, figures to play second base with Leury Garcia remaining in a utility role. He has also played third, shortstop and each outfield spot in his 11 seasons. Kimbrel is a candidate to be dealt after he struggled following the trade across town from the Cubs.
2021: 80-82, second place.
Manager: Terry Francona (10th season).
Opening Day: April 7 at Kansas City.
He’s Here: C Luke Maile, RHP Ian Gibaut, RHP Jake Jewell.
He’s Outta Here: C Roberto Pérez, 1B Jake Bauers, RHP Nick Wittgren.
Top Hitters: 3B José Ramírez (.266, 36 HRs, 103 RBIs, 27 SBs, .893 OPS), SS Amed Rosario (.282, 11, 57), DH Franmil Reyes (.254, 30, 85 in 115 games).
Projected Rotation: RH Shane Bieber (7-4, 3.17 ERA in 16 starts), RH Aaron Civale (12-5, 3.84, 31 walks in 124 1/3 IP), RH Zach Plesac (10-6, 4.67), RH Triston McKenzie (5-9, 4.95, 136 Ks in 120 IP), RH Cal Quantrill (8-3, 2.89; 7-1 in second half).
Key Relievers: RH Emmanuel Clase (4-5, 1.29 ERA, 24 saves), RH James Karinchak (7-4, 4.07, 11 saves), RH Bryan Shaw (6-7, 3.49, MLB-high 81 games), LH Sam Hentges (1-4, 6.68 in 30 games).
Outlook: New name, some familiar problems. No longer Cleveland’s Indians, the Guardians head into the 2022 season with low expectations and one of baseball’s lowest payrolls (about $51 million). After being sidelined by serious health issues the past two seasons, Francona returns for his 10th year with the club, which has stayed competitive despite limited spending. Francona will again lean on a strong rotation led by Bieber, the 2020 AL Cy Young Award winner who was sidelined for three months in 2021 by a shoulder strain. The bullpen lacks depth, but Clase has the chance to be a top-flight closer. Cleveland’s most pressing needs are in the corner outfield spots and finding run production from an offense that struggled to score last season and hasn’t been upgraded. One of baseball’s best all-around players, Ramírez needs protection, and a healthy Reyes will help. But the Guardians don’t appear to have enough to contend with the White Sox.
2021: 77-85, third place.
Manager: A.J. Hinch (second season).
Opening Day: April 8 vs. Chicago White Sox.
He’s Here: SS Javier Baez, LHP Eduardo Rodriguez, C Tucker Barnhart, LHP Andrew Chafin, RHP Michael Pineda.
He’s Outta Here: LHP Matthew Boyd, INF/OF Niko Goodrum, OF Jacoby Jones, LHP Daniel Norris, RHP Jose Urena.
Top hitters: DH/1B Miguel Cabrera (.256, 15 HRs, 75 RBIs, .701 OPS), SS Javier Baez (.265, 31, 87, .813 OPS with Cubs and Mets), 3B Jeimer Candelario (.271, 16, 67, .795 OPS), 2B Jonathan Schoop (.278, 22, 84, .755 OPS).
Projected Rotation: LH Eduardo Rodriguez (13-8, 4.74 ERA with Boston), RH Casey Mize (7-9, 3.71), LH Tarik Skubal (8-12, 4.34), RH Matt Manning (4-7, 5.80), LH Tyler Alexander (2-4, 3.81).
Key Relievers: LH Gregory Soto (6-3, 3.39 ERA, 18 saves), RH Michael Fulmer (5-6, 2.97, 14 saves).
Outlook: For the first time since signing Cabrera to a long-term contract in 2014, the Tigers were serious spenders over the winter, signing Rodriguez, Baez and Chafin and trading for Barnhart. Consequently, after five straight losing seasons, they consider themselves viable contenders in the expanded playoff format. Touted rookies Riley Greene in center field and Spencer Torkelson at first base were given serious chances to make the opening day roster. Last year’s top rookie, outfielder Akil Baddoo, was installed as the leadoff hitter. Except for Rodriguez, the rest of the rotation is homegrown and has a combined 116 big league starts. Pineda and Wily Peralta were signed late in the spring as rotation insurance, but visa issues delayed their arrivals to camp.
KANSAS CITY ROYALS
2021: 74-88, fourth place.
Manager: Mike Matheny (third season).
Opening Day: April 7 vs Cleveland.
He’s Here: RHP Zack Greinke, SS Bobby Witt Jr., LHP Amir Garrett, RHP Brad Peacock.
He’s Outta Here: 2B Hanser Alberto, LHP Mike Minor, 1B Ryan McBroom, SS Lucius Fox.
Top Hitters: C Salvador Perez (.273, 48 HRs, 121 RBIs), RF Whit Merrifield (.277, 10, 74, 40 SBs), LF Andrew Benintendi (.276, 17, 73), 1B Carlos Santana (.214, 19, 69).
Projected Rotation: RH Zack Greinke (11-6, 4.16 ERA with Houston), RH Brad Keller (8-12, 5.05), RH Brady Singer (5-10, 4.91), LH Kris Bubic (6-7, 4.43), RH Carlos Hernandez (6-2, 3.68), LH Daniel Lynch (4-6, 5.69).
Key Relievers: RH Scott Barlow (5-3, 2.42 ERA, 16 saves), RH Josh Staumont (4-3, 2.88), LH Amir Garrett (0-4, 6.04 with Cincinnati), LH Jake Brentz (5-2, 3.66), RH Domingo Tapia (4-1, 2.84), LH Gabe Speier (0-0, 1.17).
Outlook: The Royals this season are a collision of the past, present and future. The past would be Greinke, their 2009 AL Cy Young Award winner who was traded to Milwaukee so many years ago and then chased riches elsewhere before returning to Kansas City this season. The present consists of Singer, Bubic, Lynch and the rest of the young rotation, which moved through the minors together and took their first big league lumps together, too. And the future lies in Witt, rated baseball’s No. 1 prospect. He batted a combined .290 with 33 homers, 97 RBIs and 29 stolen bases at Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha last season. Throw in the return of a healthy Adalberto Mondesi at shortstop and the Royals could have an exciting lineup. And if those young pitchers can learn a thing or two from Greinke, the club could make a big jump from 74 wins.
2021: 73-89, fifth place.
Manager: Rocco Baldelli (fourth season).
Opening Day: April 7 vs. Seattle.
He’s Here: SS Carlos Correa, RHP Sonny Gray, C Gary Sánchez, 3B Gio Urshela, RHP Dylan Bundy, RHP Chris Archer, RHP Joe Smith.
He’s Outta Here: 3B Josh Donaldson, DH Nelson Cruz, C Mitch Garver, RHP Michael Pineda, RHP Alex Colomé, SS Andrelton Simmons, INF Willians Astudillo.
Top Hitters: SS Carlos Correa (.279, 26 HRs, 92 RBIs, 104 runs, .850 OPS for Houston), CF Byron Buxton (.306, 19, 32, 50 runs, 23 doubles, 1.005 OPS in 61 games), 2B Jorge Polanco (.269, 33, 98, 97 runs, .826 OPS), 1B Miguel Sanó (.223, 30, 75, 183 Ks, .778 OPS).
Projected Rotation: RH Sonny Gray (7-9, 4.19 ERA in 26 starts for Cincinnati), RH Joe Ryan (2-1, 4.05 in 5 starts), RH Bailey Ober (3-3, 4.19 in 20 starts), RH Dylan Bundy (2-9, 6.06 in 90 2/3 IP for Angels), RH Chris Archer (1-1, 4.66 in 6 games, 5 starts, for Rays).
Key Relievers: LH Taylor Rogers (2-4, 3.35 ERA, 9/13 saves, 59 Ks in 40 1/3 IP), RH Tyler Duffey (3-3, 3.18 in 62 1/3 IP), LH Caleb Thielbar (7-0, 3.23, 77 Ks in 64 IP).
Outlook: Correa’s unexpected and heralded arrival trigged a significant shift in outlook for a team that was one of baseball’s biggest disappointments in 2021 on the way to Minnesota’s first last-place finish in five years. Not only is Correa an elite shortstop in his prime who can solidify the up-the-middle defense and the heart of the batting order, but he has played in 79 postseason games over seven years in the majors, including three World Series. Even after trading away Donaldson and Garver and letting Cruz leave as a free agent, integrating Correa and Sánchez into an already powerful lineup ought to ensure the Twins will be again among the league leaders in offense. The rotation remains the biggest question mark. With Kenta Maeda likely to miss the entire season recovering from elbow surgery, Ryan and Ober will be asked to make further strides after promising debuts in 2021. Gray’s acquisition was a big help, but Bundy is a reclamation project and Archer, a two-time All-Star, has logged fewer than 20 innings over the last two years due to injuries. Rogers also must bounce back from a sprained middle finger and re-establish himself as a reliable closer.
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