They may not play great baseball in the American League Central. But one thing they do offer is one of the most competitive, inside-out, upside-down races in all of baseball. Every team in the A.L. Central has won the division at some point in the last decade. And with several teams poised to topple defending champions Kansas City it should make for another intense summer in the Midwest.
Kansas City has won back-to-back A.L. pennants. The Indians and White Sox have some of the best arms in baseball and Detroit's formidable lineup will also threaten the well-rounded Royals. And don't forget about a resurgent Minnesota team that quietly has built a strong young foundation to build on. Heading into this season the A.L. Central might be the only division in the Majors without a clear-cut "worst" team.
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Here is Doc's Sports 2016 A.L. Central picks and betting predictions (with odds courtesy of Sportsbook.ag):
2015 Record: 74-87 (-1050)
2016 Wins Over/Under: 81.0
Odds To Win 2016 AL Central: +400
Odds To Win 2016 AL Pennant: +1500
2016 Detroit Tigers Odds to win World Series: +3000
Outlook: Detroit has been the preseason frontrunner in the Central for most of this decade. But expectations are tempered coming into this season. While they still have some top-end talents, it has been apparent that this roster has deep flaws that can't be overcome by simply powering through on the mound or at the plate.
Ian Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez form one of the most devastating quartets in all of baseball. However, Detroit's offense isn't nearly as consistent as it should be because A) those guys can't seem to stay healthy and in the lineup together and B) the other five batters are mostly made up of replacement-level parts. Detroit needs 150 games from each of its stars to have a chance.
Detroit acquired Jordan Zimmerman for $110 in the offseason - half as much as what former/brief staff ace David Price demanded - and he lends another big arm to the rotation. However, Zimmerman has been overrated and overvalued by the books in recent years. He is still a quality starter. Or at least he was in the National League. But he is a pitcher I will be looking to bet against this spring until he adjusts to new surroundings.
I don't trust staff "ace" Justin Verlander at all. He was dominant in the second half of last year. But he has been a train wreck for long stretches the past few years and he is on the down slope of his career. Detroit needs a bounce back year from Annibal Sanchez. But beyond that their starters are average at best and their bullpen, last year's Achilles heel, is restructured and still a bit unknown.
2015 Record: 81-80 (-1320)
2016 Wins Over/Under: 85.5
Odds To Win 2016 AL Central: +220
Odds To Win 2016 AL Pennant: +1500
2016 Cleveland Indians Odds To Win World Series: +3000
Outlook: If you need pitching, the Indians have plenty of it. Corey Kluber is a Cy Young. Trevor Bauer and Danny Salazar are two of the most explosive right-handed pitchers in the league. And Carlos Carrasco and Josh Tomlin are solid, potentially outstanding, options as well. All in all, Cleveland has one of the best starting rotations in the A.L. and they are hoping to ride those live young arms back to the postseason.
But Cleveland isn't going anywhere if they can't find a way to score runs. They have some guys that, in a vacuum, can hit. But they averaged just 4.16 runs per game last year and weren't able to properly support a rotation that took no-hitters into the sixth inning an incredible 10 times.
Michael Brantley, though he is coming off surgery, can play. Carolos Santana can get hot and swings a hammer. Jason Kipnis is an All Star and Francisco Lindor was the runner-up for Rookie of the Year last season. So the pieces are in place. But finding consistency has been a big problem and Terry Francona hasn't been able to keep things from snowballing, in a negative way, for his sagging lineup the past two seasons.
I am not as high on Cleveland as a lot of people are. I think it is ridiculous that they are projected above Kansas City, a team that has shown no weakness over the past two years. Cleveland's starting pitching is top-notch. But it is also young. So these guys haven't shown sustained domination, just flashes of it. If they regress at all it would cancel out any nominal gains made by the offense.
Chicago White Sox
2015 Record: 76-86 (-1270)
2016 Wins Over/Under: 80.5
Odds To Win 2016 AL Central: +600
Odds To Win 2016 AL Pennant: +2000
2016 Chicago White Sox Odds To Win World Series: +4000
Outlook: The White Sox should enter this season with a pretty sizeable chip on their shoulders. The entire offseason they've had to listen to the hype and plaudits cast toward their Northside neighbors, the Cubs. And now the White Sox - the franchise that actually has won a World Series in the last century - has been relegated to second-class citizenship.
But if the White Sox are going to vault into the playoff picture in the Central they are going to need some bats to emerge. Jose Abreu is one of the best hitters in the game. But he's received zero help the past two season. The White Sox went out and signed two-time All Star Todd Frazier to offer support. But Frazier is switching leagues and now playing in a less homer-friendly ballpark after his time in Cincinnati. There are more questions than answers in the rest of the group. And the Sox probably need guys like Melky Cabrera and Adam Eaton to play above themselves if the offense is going to coalesce.
Chris Sale is on the short list of the best pitchers in baseball. He is the leader of a lefty-laden rotation that the White Sox can throw at opponents. The problem is that when they face teams like Toronto, which crush lefties, the mediocrity of Chicago's southpaws gets exposed. If the White Sox aren't contending by July look for them to move either Carlos Rodon or Jose Quintana.
There is too much mediocrity in this clubhouse. And certainly not enough to support superstars like Sale and Abreu. The White Sox have also had to deal with some Spring Training drama surrounding Adam LaRoche, who retired. I think the White Sox will be streaky. And at the end of the day they don't look like contenders.
Kansas City Royals
2015 Record: 95-67 (+1940)
2016 Wins Over/Under: 85.0
Odds To Win 2016 AL Central: +160
Odds To Win 2016 AL Pennant: +500
2016 Kansas City Royals Odds To Win World Series: +1400
Outlook: Kansas City is truly baseball royalty right now. They enter the season as the two-time defending A.L. champions and the reigning World Series champs. And with most of the primary pieces back in play I expect the Royals to make a realistic run at winning three straight American League crowns.
Kansas City's offense doesn't bludgeon people the way that a team like Toronto or Texas can. But the Royals lineup is relentless. This team doesn't give away at-bats, rarely strikes out, and can beat teams by putting pressure on them on the base paths or with a well-placed three-run home run. No one guy stands out. But that is what makes Kansas City's approach so dangerous and difficult to stop.
The Royals have gotten by without a true staff ace anchoring the rotation. Instead, Kansas City has done exceptionally well finding undervalued or cast-off hurlers and plugging them into their system. It helps that Kansas City has the best bullpen in baseball. Their ability to shorten games takes the pressure of their starters, who know they only need to go six quality innings before turning it over. Keep an eye on Yordano Ventura, who is capable of a breakthrough, and Kris Medlen, who was awesome in Atlanta before his career was sidetracked by injury.
I did a double take when I saw that Kansas City's season win total was posted at just 85.0. This team is sound, capable and talented in all facets of the game. Obviously some people are expecting a letdown after their title-winning campaign last fall. But I don't think so. The Royals do too many things well - clutch hitting, stealing bases, defense, relief pitching - and they can beat opponents in a variety of ways. I think the Royals are still the best team in the American League and they should dominate the Central once again.
2015 Record: 83-79 (+2030)
2016 Wins Over/Under: 79.0
Odds To Win 2016 AL Central: +900
Odds To Win 2016 AL Pennant: +3000
2016 Minnesota Twins Odds To Win World Series: +6000
Outlook: The Twins won six division titles over a nine-year stretch from 2002-2010. But they have been forced to rebuild in this decade, winning an average of just 66 games per season from 2011-2014. Last year things finally clicked for the Twins, though, as they were one of the league's surprises with 83 victories, a 13-win improvement. They are hoping they can pick up where they left off this season.
Kyle Gibson is a quality young starter that could develop into a staff ace. I am not a big fan of Phil Hughes. But even I have to admit that he has shown enough the past two season to be considered a reliable No. 3 starter. Decent and unassuming veterans like Tommy Milone and Ervin Santana bolster the rest of the rotation. The bullpen is not overpower. But it has been effective.
Joe Mauer is still the face of the franchise. But it is unacceptable that he gets the amount of payroll-busting money that he does and only hits .265. Trevor Plouffe and Brian Dozier are considered the other leaders of the offense and the posted decent peripheral numbers last season. But they hit just .236 and .244 respectively. That's just not good enough. The X-factors for this roster are slugger Miguel Sano, Korean import Byung Ho Park, and top prospect Byron Buxton (who was awful in his debut season).
Minnesota is another team to keep an eye on in the Central. They don't do anything exceptionally well. But they don't really have any glaring weaknesses either. Sound familiar? The same thing can't be said for the Indians (hitting), Tigers (bullpen and defense) and White Sox (pitching).
2016 American League Central Picks and Predictions: Predicted Order of Finish
1. Kansas City Royals
2. Cleveland Indians
3. Minnesota Twins
4. Detroit Tigers
5. Chicago White Sox
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Robert Ferringo is a professional sports handicapper for Doc's Sports. He is considered one of the top MLB cappers in the country and has turned a profit in three consecutive baseball seasons (and six of his last eight). Robert closed 2015 with an amazing $11,400 in earnings over the last four months and this summer will try for four straight profitable years. He is looking forward to a great upcoming season against the MLB odds. Click here for more information on his MLB picks.
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