Division Outlook: AL Central
Regardless of how much offseason hype they get, both the AL and NL Central tend to never live up to those expectations. Ever since the 2016 clash in the World Series between the then Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Cubs, it feels like both central divisions have never had a serious competitor to add to the postseason mix. For a lack of a better word, both divisions always seem to just be average and can't get over that hump. Hopefully this year there can be an end to that trend, and as we take a look at the American League Central today.
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox were the definition of average last season, finishing the season with a 81-81 record. Projections aren't that kind on them going into this season either, as FanGraphs projects them to finish one game worse this year, at 80-82. Aligning with their record, the Chicago had an average offseason. They added outfielder Andrew Benintendi and starting pticher Mike Clevinger, but Clevinger's playing status is up in the air due to some off the field legal issues. Despite solid additions, they lost first baseman Jose Abreu in free agency, a guy who has been a key cog in this lineup for years. Heading into 2023, there are far too many question marks when looking at this White Sox roster to announce them as serious contenders this season. A big reason is the fact that health is the name of the game for this White Sox offense. An offensive core of Eloy Jimenez, Tim Anderson, and Luis Robert is no joke, but all three of their playing times have been limited by unfortunate injury histories. Combine that with Yasmani Grandal and Yoan Moncada scuffling offensively, this offense can be either really good or really average, even with the Benintendi signing. The White Sox pitching staff is led by ace Dylan Cease, who has blossomed into one of the best pitchers in baseball with a wicked slider. Lance Lynn and Lucas Giolito are two excellent supplements to Cease, but they also scuffled throughout last season. The general theme of this White Sox team is they have a group of talented guys, but the combination of injuries and mediocre performances have limited them. Think of them as a team with a high ceiling that could win the division if they stay healthy and perform to the level they can, but at the same time, they have a floor that could easily see them finishing third in the division again.
Team MVP: Luis Robert
Team Cy Young: Dylan Cease
Team X-Factor: Eloy Jimenez
The Nationals will host the White Sox for three games from September 18-20.
Kansas City Royals
The Kansas City Royals will be young and fun, but not very good in 2023. The development of the offensive trio of Bobby Witt Jr., Vinnie Pasquantino, and MJ Melendez are key for the Royals franchise. Those same three could end up molding into a formidable 1-2-3 start of the lineup for years to come. They still have slugger Salvador Perez, but other than that, this lineup is a mix of young guys still attempting to prove themselves as big league caliber players. On the pitching side, Brady Singer showed some great signs of development last year for KC, finishing with a 3.23 ERA and 1.141 WHIP.
Other than that, their pitching mix is full of young guys still looking to develop as Singer did, such as Kris Bubic, Daniel Lynch, and Brad Keller. The rest of the pitching is veteran holdovers including Zack Greinke, Jordan Lyles, and Ryan Yarbrough. There isn't too much more to say about the Royals, as they won't be too good, but could end up playing spoiler towards the end of the year against the teams at the top of their division.
Team MVP: Bobby Witt Jr.
Team Cy Young: Brady Singer
Team X-Factor: Drew Waters
The Nationals play three games in Kansas City from May 26-28.
Similar to the Royals, the Detroit Tigers will be a rough team in 2023. The first year of the Javier Baez contract did not work out so well, as Baez finished with a .671 OPS. What the Tigers do have though is a couple of young guys with former top prospect status that hope to be the core of the future in Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene. Torkelson was a first overall pick back in the 2020 draft, and made his debut last year, appearing in 110 games. It did not go too well. He hit to a .203/.285./319 slash line, finishing with a -1.3 WAR. The Tigers are changing the dimensions of Comerica Park, a change that will hopefully allow Torkelson to reach his max potential. Riley Greene showed more success than Torkelson, but will still look to improve upon his 2022 season and become the franchise center fielder. Other than those two, names like Kerry Carpenter, Matt Manning, and Alex Lange will be names to keep an eye out for this season. The Tigers look like they are in for another rough season.
Team MVP: Riley Greene
Team Cy Young: Tarik Skubal
Team X-Factor: Spencer Torkelson
The Nationals host Detroit in May for three games from May 19-21.
The Twins are the kind of team that always has playoff expectations placed on them pre-season, and by the time August comes and you look at the standings they start to fall out of the picture. I want to place them in the playoffs this year, especially with the talent on their roster, but the American League might just too competitive for them to handle this year. They brought back Carlos Correa and added an All Star arm in Pablo Lopez, but sold high and shipped Luis Arraez away. Minnesota is similar to their division foe White Sox in the fact that both teams could find themselves at the top of their division if things go their way. If Byron Buxton is healthy and someone like Kenta Maeda can return to his former self, this team is a well built team all around.
Team MVP: Carlos Correa
Team Cy Young: Pablo Lopez
Team X-Factor: Byron Buxton
The Nationals visit the Twin Cities and play the Twins in a three game set from April 21-23.
The Guardians are going to be much better than people expect this year. They have one of the best in business at the hot corner in Jose Ramirez, saw Steven Kwan and Andres Gimenez break out in a big way last year, and added Josh Bell, who already introduced himself with a bang.
Cleveland is more known for their pitching, which leads to their lineup becoming a little under the radar. Regardless, they have contributors from top to bottom. Oscar Gonzalez became an immediate fan favorite when he made the Spongebob theme his walk up song, and backed it up with strong rookie season. They also have brothers Josh and Bo Naylor, where the former has solidified himself as an electric power bat. Like I just mentioned, their pitching tends to get most of the attention, and for good reason. Shane Bieber continues to pitch like an ace and Triston McKenzie is blossoming into a second ace behind him. The Guardian's relief group might just be the best in baseball, headlined by Emmanuel Clase, who puts up a competition against Edwin Diaz for best closer in baseball. Cleveland returned to the playoffs last year with a 92-70 record, and only got better this offseason. They won't get the attention they deserve, but tune into what should be another solid year for Cleveland.
Team MVP: Jose Ramirez
Team Cy Young: Shane Bieber
Team X-Factor: Oscar Gonzalez
The Nationals will host Cleveland for three games from April 14-16.
The American League Central looks like it could easily be headed for another year of mediocrity, but it could also surprise everyone and be full of three worthy division champions. In other words, this division will be very top heavy, or average all around minus the division champion. To wrap it up, here are my division predictions for 2023:
1. Cleveland Guardians (94-68)
2. Minnesota Twins (86-76)
3. Chicago White Sox (78-84)
4. Kansas City Royals (72-90)
5. Detroit Tigers (68-94)