12 postseason series wins, 4 95-win seasons, 4 American League pennants, 1 World Series title.
These are the collective accolades of the AL Central division over the past decade which since realignment in 1998 has consisted of the Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians, Kansas City Royals, Chicago White Sox, and Minnesota Twins.
Each of the 5 teams have won the division title at least once since 2008. The Minnesota Twins are reigning champs of the division – winning titles back-to-back in 2019 and COVID-shortened 2020.
Before Minnesota it was Cleveland who ruled the Central. The Indians claimed 3 consecutive titles from 2016-18 although could only advance past the initial round of the playoffs one time.
Postseason struggles are common in this division. The Central has been rather weak lately and their collective playoff record shows it. Only the Twins, Sox, and Indians have even reached the playoffs over the past 5 years with the division’s last postseason series win back in Cleveland’s AL pennant-winning 2016 season.
In the expanded 8-team playoff format for the 2020 season, the Central sent 3 teams into the bracket (Chicago, Cleveland, Minnesota) – none of which advanced beyond the opening Wild Card round.
This division has boasted some extremely strong teams over the past couple of years, including the ’19 Twins who won 101 games and the ’17 Indians who won 102.
The success for this division has halted, however, once the calendar hits October. Perhaps 2021 will be the season in which the AL Central returns to October prominence.
The Bovada MLB futures odds are out and list which AL Central teams are most likely to make a deep run this season. Below are both the World Series championship odds and AL Pennant odds for each team along with how those odds rank.
Included in this table are the projected records for each AL Central team in 2021. These projections come courtesy of Fangraphs.
|Team||Projected Record||AL Pennant Odds (Rank in AL)||WS Odds (Rank in MLB)|
|White Sox||84-78||+400 (2nd)||+1000 (T-4th)|
|Twins||86-76||+750 (3rd)||+1600 (T-7th)|
|Indians||81-81||+2200 (9th)||+5000 (T-16th)|
|Royals||77-85||+5000 (11th)||+10000 (T-23rd)|
|Tigers||72-90||+6600 (T-13th)||+15000 (T-28th)|
It is interesting to note that the Fangraphs projections do not align with the Bovada futures odds. Fangraphs has Minnesota taking the Central this season while Vegas has Chicago.
Perhaps the popularity of the White Sox among recreational bettors has shorted their odds beyond where they should be.
AL Central Managers
Twins – Rocco Baldelli
Former MLB outfielder turned coach Rocco Baldelli is beginning his third season at the helm of the Minnesota Twins. Baldelli has excelled out of the gate – leading his crew to back-to-back division crowns and regular season win percentages of 62.3% and 60% respectively.
The MLB bestowed the 2019 AL Manager of the Year award upon the young skipper in recognition of his leadership during the team’s 101-win season.
Indians – Terry Francona
Terry “Tito” Francona has been managing at the big-league level since 1997 and finds himself in his 9th season in the dugout in Cleveland.
Francona is well-decorated – winning 2 World Series rings as a manager (both with Boston) and taking home 2 AL Manager of the Year awards.
Tito Francona possesses a lifetime managerial winning percentage of 54.3%. Francona is 61 years old and currently signed by Cleveland through the 2022 campaign.
White Sox – Tony La Russa
While Francona’s managerial career is storied, his accolades cannot compete with those of Hall of Famer Tony La Russa. The White Sox hired La Russa this winter – ending La Russa’s 10-year hiatus from coaching after leaving St. Louis following a World Series-winning effort in 2011.
La Russa earned his first managerial stint in the big leagues in 1979 with the White Sox and is now back on the South Side 40 years later.
Over a legendary span of 4 decades managing MLB clubs La Russa has won 3 World Series rings, 4 Manager of the Year awards, and has his #10 retired by the Cardinals. In 2014, La Russa was a unanimous first-ballot pick for the Hall of Fame.
Royals – Mike Matheny
The Kansas City Royals hired former-Cardinals manager Mike Matheny to manage the club beginning in the COVID-shortened 2020 season. 2021 will be the first full regular season for Matheny in the home dugout at Kauffman Stadium.
While Matheny has not collected any hardware in his 10-year managerial career, he was an instant success upon landing the job in St. Louis in 2012.
Tasked with following up the great Tony La Russa, Matheny was handed control of the reigning World Series champion Cardinals despite having no previous professional coaching experience.
Matheny held up impeccably under the pressure, leading St. Louis to a Wild Card berth in his first season at the helm and then 3-straight NL Central titles after that. This feat makes Matheny the first rookie manager in MLB history to lead 4-consecutive playoff runs.
While the talent in Kansas City may not be up to par with what Matheny enjoyed a few miles down I-70, the Royals are hoping they can wallow in the success that follows the 50-year-old manager everywhere he goes.
Tigers – AJ Hinch
The final AL Central manager to meet is the former skipper of the Cheating Astros AJ Hinch. Hinch played one season for Detroit back in 2003 as a middling catcher but is more well-known for coaching the Houston Astros during one of the biggest cheating scandals in MLB history.
As manager off and on since 2009, Hinch led his teams to a combined winning percentage of 55.8% with a World Series title in Houston in 2017. This title, of course, is the center of much controversy.
The lowly Tigers jumped at the opportunity to grab a young, successful manager for a bargain after Hinch served his 1-year suspension. Detroit is hoping that Hinch will be the spark they need to ignite their rebuild and shoot back into contention in the American League like their glory days of the 2010s.
Chicago White Sox (-105 to win Central)
Fangraphs Projection – 84-78 (2nd in Central)
My Projection – 93-69 (1st in Central)
White Sox Top Players: SP Lucas Giolito – SS Tim Anderson – OF Luis Robert – 1B Jose Abreu – 3B Yoan Moncada
The loss of budding superstar outfielder Eloy Jimenez takes this Sox lineup down a tick from an A. This lineup can absolutely mash.
At the top you got Tim Anderson. The Sox shortstop has played everyday since 2017 but was mired in mediocrity until a breakout 2019 season. Anderson compiled a .335 batting average in ’19 which earned him the American League batting title. The speedy Anderson added 17 steals and scored 81 runs.
In 2020 Anderson proved the previous season was no flash in the pan. In the shortened COVID season, Anderson hit .322 with 10 homers while scoring a league-leading 45 runs batting leadoff for the South Siders.
Anchoring the middle of the Sox lineup is reigning 2020 AL MVP Jose Abreu. Abreu hit .317 in the 60-game campaign – a career best for the big fella. He accompanied his high average with 19 homers, 60 RBIs (league lead), and a .617 slugging percentage (also league lead).
Abreu had a very poor 2018 season and then totalled 123 RBIs in 2019 but at the cost of a career high in strikeouts (152). Some were announcing the beginning of the end of Abreu’s production. With Abreu locked in, this Sox lineup is a contender for best in the MLB.
Lucas Giolito is quietly becoming a dominant starting pitcher for the Sox. Watch this man pitch and notice the nasty movement he gets on his changeup – a pitch which routinely grades among the league’s best for Giolito.
Apart from the 26-year-old Giolito, the Sox rotation is not very deep. Michael Kopech is decent. Dallas Keuchel will spin the occasional gem – as will Lance Lynn.
Rotation depth, especially if injuries come into play, is what separates the White Sox from the MLB’s elite squads.
Minnesota Twins (+125 to win Central)
Fangraphs Projection – 86-76 (1st in Central)
My Projection – 83-79 (2nd in Central)
Twins Top Players: SP Jose Berrios – SP Kenta Maeda – OF Byron Buxton – OF Max Kepler – DH Nelson Cruz
With a bevy of sluggers Minnesota can pile on the runs in a hurry. The staple in the middle is the ageless Nelson Cruz who is on his 17th consecutive 1-year contract (it feels like).
Ignoring the shortened 2020 season, Cruz has totaled at least 90 RBIs in each of the past 6 seasons. His career batting average is .278 but Cruz has hit above .300 in 3 of his full seasons.
We know that Cruz can’t play forever so this milestone seems unattainable, but the now-full-time DH is at 417 career dingers. This number is especially incredible when considering that Cruz is a late bloomer who had hit just 22 home runs by age 28.
When Cruz is hitting at peak Cruz levels – this Twins lineup shifts up a gear into A territory. If Cruz is on the IL or stuck in a slump, the responsibility of big bopper falls to … Max Kepler … I guess?
The main task for Twins managers over the past several seasons has been to find protection for Cruz in the lineup. Miguel Sano was once labeled a slugger but is now a bottom of the order filler.
Jorge Polanco hits fine for a middle infielder but is just a table-setter. The fast and fiery Byron Buxton is a spark plug atop the lineup with his 3.47 home-to-first time but lacks elite power.
It has to be Max Kepler. The German outfielder slowly increased his home run total from 17 in 2016 to 19 and then to 20 in 2018.
Kepler broke out with a .252/36/90 season in 2019 before hitting just .228 with 9 homers in the shortened COVID season.
The Twins need Kepler more now than ever if they are to return to the MLB postseason in 2021. Minnesota’s lineup is loaded with dudes who can hit but they lack the power in the middle to score bunches of runs on very few hits.
Some teams have good table setters while others rely on the 3-run homer. Good teams can beat you either way. This is why Minnesota’s lineup is simply a B. They’re good, not great.
The young stud Jose Berrios begins his 6th season in the Majors and is looking to finally turn the corner from “aight” to dominant. We see flashes of brilliance from Berrios but his career has been plagued by bouts of ugly innings and loss of command.
Strikeouts have never been a problem for Berrios who is averaging exactly 1 per inning in his career. The 26-year-old’s career WHIP is a little high for an ace (1.26) but his batting average against is solid (.240).
Walks have been an issue for Berrios. His career BB/9 is 2.99 and he has plunked 44 batters in his career (116 starts).
Berrios holds a career ERA of 4.15 – not bad in the AL but Minnesota knows Berrios can be stifling to opposing offenses when he is locked in.
Behind Berrios is the Japanese Kenta Maeda. Maeda came over as a 28-year-old rookie in the MLB and is now in his 6th season (2nd with Minnesota).
Maeda was pretty good for the Dodgers early in his career but emerged as an elite starting pitcher in the shortened 2020 season. Maeda finished 2nd in the AL Cy Young voting last season with a record of 6-1, a 2.70 ERA, a league-best WHIP of 0.75, and 80 strikeouts in 66 innings.
Minnesota has other serviceable options in their rotation such as Michael Pineda, Matt Shoemaker, and JA Happ. Minnesota boasts a very talented and deep roster. This team lacks the firepower to beat Chicago but can definitely become a factor in the American League pennant discussion.
Detroit Tigers (+7000 to win Central)
Fangraphs Projection – 72-90 (5th in Central)
My Projection – 80-82 (3rd in Central)
Tigers Top Players: 1B Miguel Cabrera – OF JaCoby Jones – SP Tarik Skubal – RP Gregory Soto
Remember, this is my hometown team. Take everything I say here with a grain of salt. If you are wondering how on Earth I am predicting a .500 season for Detroit – that’s how.
Here’s the thing, each of the past 2 seasons Detroit has started hot. They’ve started on playoff paces for the first quarter of the season before things fall apart. These “things” are usually injuries which is when the shallowness of the roster comes into play and holes are exposed.
One of these years the Tigers will cease sucking. All these high draft picks are coming up through the system and the organization is becoming deeper. All it will take is for a couple of the younger players on this team to blossom into stardom and Detroit is suddenly a contender for the Central.
Selling at the deadline has killed Detroit over the past several seasons – rendering the 2nd half of their season a glorified AAA exhibition showcase.
Detroit has finally ridded themselves of all high-priced, contract-year vets at their disposal. This means Detroit is very unlikely to do much dealing at the 2021 trade deadline, meaning the team should remain competitive in August and September.
Unless you follow baseball closely, chances are most of the names in the daily Tigers lineup will sound unfamiliar. Willi Castro … Jeimer Candelario … Akil Baddoo.
While Tigers hitters could tear up AAA pitching, the team struggles to score in the MLB. Detroit’s big man in the middle is still Miguel Cabrera (in his 14th season in the Motor City). These days, the name Miguel Cabrera is more scary than the hitter Miguel Cabrera.
Miggy hasn’t eclipsed a .300 average nor hit 20 bombs in a season since 2016. Injuries robbed Cabrera of most of 2018 while COVID robbed us all of 2020.
In Miggy’s two full seasons since 2016, he put up a .249/16/60 line in 2017 and a .282/12/59 line in 2019. Not exactly what Detroit is looking for in the middle of their lineup.
Young center fielder JaCoby Jones is renown as one of the league’s elite defenders – patrolling Comerica Park from the 420′ fence in center to the out-of-town scoreboard in right-center 365′ away from home plate.
In 2020, Jones began on a torrid pace but crashed back to Earth and ended the shortened season with a line of .268/5/14. Strikeouts have plagued the Oklahoma native since his call into the league.
Jones struck out in 30.4% of plate appearances in 2018, got it down to 28.2% in 2019, but then allowed it to balloon back up to 31.5% in 2020. Cutting down on the Ks will allow Jones to become a more consistent hitter and showcase his tremendous combo of raw power and speed.
The Tigers rotation contains many unknowns but has the potential to carry this ballclub. 2018 #1 overall pick Casey Mize and 2018 9th-rounder Tarik Skubal are both on the MLB roster to begin play in 2021 as the teams’ top pitching prospects.
Matthew Boyd is the Opening Day starter for Detroit. Boyd has shown flashes of greatness but has yet to put together a full, strong season. Spencer Turnbull, Jose Urena, Julio Teheran, and Daniel Norris round out a rotation filled with talent but lacking on-field results.
Kansas City Royals (+2200 to win Central)
Fangraphs Projection – 77-85 (4th in Central)
My Projection – 73-89 (4th in Central)
Royals Top Players: C Salvador Perez – SP Brad Keller – RP Greg Holland – 2B Whit Merrifield – OF Jorge Soler
The Royals are pretty splashy on offense – meaning they erupt for short bursts of production before taking long hiatuses from run scoring.
Whit Merrifield is a bona fide star – posting a career batting average of .296 while leading the league in steals twice and triples once.
Jorge Soler has emerged as a legitimate deep threat in Kansas City – hitting a league-leading 48 bombs in 2019 before having an off COVID season.
25-year-old Brad Keller is the “ace” of the Royals but it’s a bit of a stretch to give him that title this early in his career. Keller put together a very nice shortened 2020 campaign with a 5-3 record, 2.47 ERA, and 1.02 WHIP. Apart from these 9 starts, Keller hasn’t shown much consistency.
Other names in the Royals rotation include Brady Singer, Danny Duffy, and Mike Minor – none of whom are keeping opposing hitters up at night.
Cleveland Indians (+950 to win Central)
Fangraphs Projection – 81-81 (3rd in Central)
My Projection – 61-101 (5th in Central)
Indians Top Players: SP Shane Bieber – SP Triston McKenzie – SP Zach Plesac – 3B Jose Ramirez
The Cleveland Indians once ruled the AL Central but team execs opted to break the team up after their 2016 World Series appearance rather than pay through the roof to keep everyone together (and happy).
Since their heyday, Cleveland has traded away Corey Kluber, Mike Clevinger, and Francisco Lindor while letting Carlos Santana and Andrew Miller walk. This has left Cleveland with a roster that is a shell of its former self. I see things unraveling as the 2021 season progresses and predict a last-place finish for the Tribe.
The only consistent and good hitter remaining in the Indians lineup from their heyday is the powerful and speedy indfielder Jose Ramirez. Ramirez is a consummate pro, posting a line .292/17/46 in the COVID season to follow up a down year in 2019. The two years before that 2017 and 2018, Ramirez made the All-Star team each season while finishing 3rd in the AL MVP voting each season.
With some protection in the order, Ramirez could make a major impact. Sadly for the Tribe, without a solid hitter behind Ramirez, opposing pitchers can afford to pitch around him and force someone else to burn them.
Cleveland’s rotation has been their strong point over the past several seasons, but even that is slowly being dismantled by the front office.
Reigning AL Cy Young winner Shane Bieber is back to lead the rotation, but Cleveland does not boast the depth behind Bieber they once did.
Zach Plesac is a solid #2 option for the Tribe but he is a prime candidate to be dealt at the deadline. Triston McKenzie is an exciting young arm but is very raw and unproven.
Picture this and tell me it’s not outside the realm of possibility: Shane Bieber regresses in his first full season following his Cy Young award, McKenzie is yet to break out, and Plesac gets dealt in mid-July.
This leaves Cleveland with an extremely vulnerable pitching staff paired with weak hitting – the recipe for a last-place team.