Last fall Cleveland was one excruciating extra-inning loss in Game 7 away from its first World Series title in nearly 70 years. With a core of ascending talent locked up, a loaded young rotation, and a reasonable payroll situation on the heels of last year's success, the Indians look like a very stable franchise with a multiple-year window open for winning that first championship since 1948.
Cleveland's impressive situation has apparently become enough to throw Chicago and Minnesota into full-bore rebuilds and box Detroit and Kansas City into the limbo of do-we-or-don't we in regards to competing for the division. Detroit has an aging core and Kansas City, which won the American League title in 2014 and 2015, has several foundational players headed into contract seasons. So if the Indians get off to another hot start it could force Detroit and Kansas City into sell-offs and thrust every team not named "Cleveland" into rebuilding efforts by the end of 2017.
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Here is Doc's Sports 2017 A.L. Central picks and betting predictions:
2016 Record: 94-67 (+900)
2017 Wins Over/Under: 93.5
Odds To Win 2017 AL Central: -450
Odds To Win 2017 AL Pennant: +360
2017 Cleveland Indians Odds To Win World Series: +875
Outlook: For the second time in two decades, the Cleveland Indians were on the verge of the franchise's first World Series title since 1948. And now the Tribe will have to pick itself up off the mat and make another run after last October's heartbreak.
Fortunately for Cleveland, this year's team could be even better than the one that took the field against the Cubs in Game 7. First off, they are looking forward to the return of Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, neither of whom pitched in the 2016 postseason because of injury. Also, the Indians added professional masher Edwin Encarnacion to a lineup that was in desperate need of some pop.
Cleveland's strength starts with its phenomenal starting pitching. Carrasco, Salazar, former Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin form one of the best rotations in baseball. Their sensational starters pave the way for one of the best bullpens in the game, and Cleveland's 11 blown saves were the fewest in baseball last summer.
The Indians back their dominating pitching staff with a masterful defense and an offense that is predicated on grinding at-bats, utilizing the running game, and clutch hitting. Cleveland worked its way into the Top 10 in runs, hits, doubles, walks and batting average despite the fact that they were in the bottom half of the league in home runs. Adding Encarnacion, who belted 42 homers and who just murders lefties, should only help.
Cleveland is the clear favorite to win this division, and their only major concern will be a hangover effect from last fall's near miss. Terry Francona is one of the best managers in baseball and is a genius at wringing the most out of his rosters. If Cleveland stays healthy and focused then they should roll the rest of the Central and take another shot at a title this coming autumn.
Kansas City Royals
2016 Record: 81-81 (+200)
2017 Wins Over/Under: 76.5
Odds To Win 2017 AL Central: +1200
Odds To Win 2017 AL Pennant: +2500
2017 Cleveland Indians Odds To Win World Series: +6600
Outlook: I feel like Kansas City really soaked as much pleasure and enjoyment as it could out of the 2015 World Series championship. Which is good, because that could be their last taste of glory for a very, very long time.
The Royals enter this season with a host of uncertainty. Five of their best players, including Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Lorenzo Cain, are set to become free agents at the end of this season. There is no way that Kansas City will be able to keep all of them (I think they would settle for signing one of them), and that puts K.C. in the awkward position of deciding how to play this year out.
If the Royals decide to make one more run at the Indians, they could have the horses to give them a battle. Kansas City finished 81-81 and 13.5 games back last year. But the foundation of the team that won back-to-back American League titles in 2014-15 is still in town.
Kansas City's biggest question mark will be starting pitching. Pitching coach Dave Eiland has been a miracle worker for the Royals the past several years. And he will once again have to coax career years out of guys like Ian Kennedy, Jason Vargas and Jason Hammel in order for the Royals to remain competitive. Kansas City's bullpen isn't quite as stacked as it was during their heyday. But it is still one of the best in baseball.
The Royals are good - but not good enough. This team still has the confidence of a champion and the grit of a team that fights through all 27 outs. But financial constraints have taken a bite out of their depth, and any injury issues will submarine this season. Also, with so many key players in walk years, you have to wonder how the team's chemistry and focus will hold up under a cloud of uncertainty.
2016 Record: 86-75 (+1100)
2017 Wins Over/Under: 83.5
Odds To Win 2017 AL Central: +500
Odds To Win 2017 AL Pennant: +1750
2017 Cleveland Indians Odds To Win World Series: +4000
Outlook: A roster with Justin Verlander, Miguel Cabrera a host of other big-name all-stars means that Detroit will remain a tantalizing wager for the general public. However, this Tigers team isn't as good a people think it is, and Detroit has a lot of fundamental issues that should keep them from surging past Cleveland and Kansas City.
First, let's start with the positives. Verlander was dominating for the last five months of last season and remains one of the best starters in baseball. Michael Fulmer is another powerhouse arm in the No. 2 slot, and young lefties Dan Norris and Matt Boyd made strides last year. Francisco Rodriguez is a reliable closer, and the bullpen is full of workmanlike arms.
The lineup is still potentially devastating with Cabrera as the linchpin. Ian Kinsler, Justin Upton, Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez are all capable of putting up big numbers in a lineup that was No. 3 in the league in batting average and No. 8 in home runs last year. The Tigers were just No. 11 in runs, though, and they need to be more efficient in their attack.
Which leads to the negatives. The reality is that there are just too many little things that the Tigers don't do well. This is one of the worst defensive teams in baseball. They don't play a lot of situational ball and they don't execute well. Detroit doesn't have a very athletic lineup and they don't run the bases well. Strikeouts are still a problem, as is consistency in the rotation.
Detroit can hit for power and they employ several power pitchers. But there is no nuance to this team's game. Further, their stars are aging. And because of the significant contracts those stars command, there isn't much depth in this organization. The Tigers are going to be the bellwether of the A.L. If they are in the race late in July they may make one last push for a ring. But if they are scuffling I expect a fire sale that could have massive ramifications for the rest of the league.
Chicago White Sox
2016 Record: 78-84 (-620)
2017 Wins Over/Under: 69.5
Odds To Win 2017 AL Central: +4500
Odds To Win 2017 AL Pennant: +11000
2017 Cleveland Indians Odds To Win World Series: +40000
Outlook: The good news for last year's White Sox is that they increased their win total for the fourth straight season. The bad news is that they still could barely threaten .500, winning 78 games and improving by just two W's after their sloppy 2015 campaign. The bad news is that this year's Sox will likely look back on last year's 78 wins as the good old days.
Chicago has thrown itself headlong into rebuilding mode. They traded Adam Eaton and Chris Sale this offseason and are attempting to rebuild a moribund farm system to help the organization get younger and cheaper. Chicago wasn't any good with Sale and Eaton. They are going to be pathetic without them.
Sale was the lone bright spot in a rotation that has been overstuffed with mediocre left-handed pitchers. Chicago will once again lean on southpaws Jose Quintana, Derek Holland and Carlos Rodon. But none of those guys scare anyone, nor do past-their-modest-prime righties Miguel Gonzalez or James Shields. The bullpen isn't much better, save closer Dave Robertson. And I expect the White Sox to be actively shopping Robertson in an attempt to stockpile more prospects for this rebuild.
Jose Abreu is one of the best hitters in baseball. But unfortunately he is stuck in this perfectly mediocre lineup. The White Sox will attempt to work in some of their younger bats as the season wears on. But they are heading into this campaign with their optimism focused on duds like Melky Cabrera, Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie.
The White Sox will be lucky to win 70 games this year. They made out pretty well in the Eaton and Sale deals, selling both players for max value. But the returns from those investments won't pay out for a few years, so if Chicago fans want to see any decent baseball this summer they are going to have to hike up to Wrigley.
2016 Record: 59-103 (-3200)
2017 Wins Over/Under: 74.5
Odds To Win 2017 AL Central: +2800
Odds To Win 2017 AL Pennant: +6600
2017 Cleveland Indians Odds To Win World Series: +20000
Outlook: I thought that the Twins had an opportunity to be a real nice surprise in the Central in 2016. Boy was I wrong. The Twins were the worst team in baseball, winning just 59 games, and they don't enter this spring looking appreciably better. Sure, the team has been touting the arrival of some analytics-driven executives leading a new-look front office. But as far as the product on the field goes the Twins have a lot of ground to make up.
Minnesota won't be all that much better this year because their pitching stinks. It just flat-out stinks. Ervin Santana is a No. 5 starter on most teams. In Minnesota his 133-116 record and 4.09 career ERA qualify him as the Opening Day starter. Phil Hughes, who is pathetic, Kyle Gibson, who is erratic, Hector Santiago, who is mediocre at-best, and Tyler Duffey, who is awful, round out the rotation behind Santana. It's not pretty.
The lineup isn't any better than the rotation. Joe Mauer is the shell of his former self and a cautionary tale for every small market team debating about what to do with its homegrown stars. Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Max Kepler and Jorge Polanco are all vying to be the next young stars for the Twins. But to this point potential has far outweighed production.
Minnesota has won the second-fewest games in the Majors the last six years, losing at least 92 games five times. And they aren't any better. They probably won't lose 100 games again. But don't expect this team to be anything but fodder.
2017 American League Central Picks and Predictions: Predicted Order of Finish
1. Cleveland Indians
2. Kansas City Royals
3. Detroit Tigers
4. Chicago White Sox
5. Minnesota Twins
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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 of four baseball seasons. Robert closed 2015 with an amazing $11,400 in earnings over the last four months and this summer will try for four of five 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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