AL Central power rankings
College Contributor Network
In part two of our 2015 MLB preview we take a look at the AL Central. What a year it was for the division, having produced a Cinderella American League Champion, the Kansas City Royals, whose playoff run fell just short in a seven-game World Series bout with the San Francisco Giants. The Central will be right in the thick of things again in 2015, with what could be the most improved division in baseball.
1. Detroit Tigers
After a disastrous ending to the 2014 season which ended in a three-game ALDS sweep at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles, the Tigers come into the season with by far the most talent in the division once again. A one-through-five lineup consisting of Ian Kinsler, Rajai Davis, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Yoenis Cespedes will be deadly, for what could be one of the most prolific offense's in baseball. With Jose Iglesias returning to shortstop this season, the Tigers will get a much-needed defensive boost in the infield, and a cannon of an arm with Cespedes in the outfield.
The rotation will obviously feel the effects of losing Max Scherzer to the Nationals. Still, a top-three made up of David Price, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez is not too shabby, with Shane Greene and Alfredo Simon serving as solid four and five starters for the Tigers. Verlander will need to come back to his dominating form, after his 2014 campaign will be remembered way more for the photo-hacking scandal than his performance on the diamond.
2. Cleveland Indians
Tito's Tribe took a small step back in 2014, dropping its win total by seven games from Francona's first season in Cleveland. Even without the talent of some of the bigger-market teams, the Indians would run through a wall for the best manager in baseball. A pesky lineup featuring Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher, Michael Brantley, Yan Gomes and Lonnie Chisenhall will certainly have its ups and downs this season, but will hang around and contend for a Wild Card spot. The Indians are a true example of hard work being rewarded, and that's exactly what will happen in 2015.
With that being said, if the Indians are going to sniff the Wild Card they need 2014 Cy Young Winner Corey Kluber to have another monster season. Look for Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar to be key members of the rotation this season and establish themselves as true difference-makers by the All-Star break. Much like the lineup, the pitching will have some bumps in the road, but will be good enough to keep Cleveland right in the thick of things.
3. Chicago White Sox
Wow. That's the only way to describe the offseason the 73-89 White Sox had by adding Melky Cabrera, Adam LaRoche and Jeff Samardzija to the mix, providing a nice blend of veteran leadership for the South Siders. With Jose Abreu smack dab in the middle of the lineup, the ChiSox will be a serious threat to Cleveland for second place in the Central.
Even with one of the best one-two punches in baseball in Chris Sale and Jeff Samardzija, the bottom of the rotation will be an Achilles' Heal for the White Sox. Jose Quintana, John Danks and Hector Noesi is simply not enough to cut it, forcing Sale and Samardzija to have another career year in order to keep Chicago in contention. In the end, the pitching will leave the White Sox just outside of the playoff picture.
4. Kansas City Royals
No one captured America's heart more in 2014 than the Royals. In true David versus Goliath fashion, Kansas City won a thrilling Wild Card game against Jon Lester and the Oakland A's before beating Los Angeles and Baltimore en route to the World Series. Unfortunately it will be a one-and-done for Ned Yost's team, who lost Billy Butler to the A's, and are almost a sure bet to part ways with James Shields. Although Kendrys Morales was a nice pickup for the Royals, the offense just does not have enough punch to have a repeat performance in a much-improved AL Central.
The rotation is still solid for Kansas City, headlined by Yordano Ventura, Jason Vargas and Jeremy Guthrie. Even bigger for Kansas City is the bullpen, which is without a doubt a top three in the major leagues. Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland were absolute studs for the Royals coming out of the pen last season, with Brandon Finnegan shaping up to be one of the best young pitchers in baseball. If everything clicks the Royals could certainly contend for a Wild Card, but until proven they can win consistently without a true ace they will have an average 2015.
5. Minnesota Twins
While the Twins shouldn't be expected to finish 22 games below .500 this season, they simply are not a good team. Joe Mauer, Kennys Vargas and Torii Hunter will provide decent pop in the middle of the order, but don't have the pieces around them to climb out of the cellar. With that being said, watch for Danny Santana to have a breakout year in the outfield for Paul Molitor.
The top half of the rotation is not bad, with Phil Hughes, Ervin Santana and Ricky Nolasco occupying the top three spots. Other than that, the rest of the staff and bullpen is too weak for the Twins, who still have a long rebuilding project ahead of them.
Joshua Brown is a Sports Correspondent for the Boston Globe. He is a color commentator for Northeastern University basketball and hockey and also writes for USCHO and College Hoops Daily. Follow him on Twitter: @josh_brown31