While parity will be prevalent in many Major League Baseball divisions during the 2020 season, the American League Central Division might bring more top-heaviness instead.
On one side of the coin, there are the Minnesota Twins, who could be the next superteam in the sport. Then, there are the Cleveland Indians and Chicago White Sox who will look to dethrone them. Last but not least, you have the Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers who will continue their lengthy rebuilds in an attempt to make noise in future seasons.
Even though there looks to be less parity in the AL Central than other divisions, there will still be excitement and drama as all five teams will battle it out. With all five teams scheduled to play their first games of 2020 this evening, here are the rankings of the teams within the division as the season gets underway.
1. Minnesota Twins (2019 record: 101-61)
The league’s second-best offense returns once more for 2020. Potentially, the offense could be even better this season. After possessing a team on-base plus slugging (OPS) of .832 last season, Minnesota splurged and brought on the “Bringer of Rain” in Josh Donaldson over the offseason. Although the MLB veteran is 34 years old, he still brings pop with the bat, as he slugged 37 home runs in 155 games with the Atlanta Braves last season. He gets slotted into an offense that not only smashed 307 home runs last season (first in MLB) but is also deep enough to give Donaldson a day off if needed.
While the offense will bring the thump once more, the question mark for the team will be Minnesota’s rotation behind ace Jose Berrios. The Twins brought in Kenta Maeda and Rich Hill in the offseason who should be able to supplement the rotation that also has Jake Odorizzi. While the rotation might not be as stacked as other teams in the American League, it is enough that, when paired with their electric offense, will give Minnesota another convincing shot at winning the AL Central again.
2. Cleveland Indians (2019 record: 93-69)
The Cleveland Indians, even without Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer, still possess an explosive rotation that will look to be among the most efficient in the majors once more.
Shane Bieber, who pitched to a 3.28 ERA in 214.1 innings pitched last season, will look to compete with Mike Clevinger (2.71 ERA in 126.0 innings) for the title of the top starter on the team.
The rotation will be effective but the offense might not be able to make it worthwhile. While Francisco Lindor and Carlos Santana are both productive batters at the plate (both batters possessed an OPS over .850), the protection around the duo is inconsistent. This inconsistency showed itself last season through Cleveland’s first 60 games, as after Lindor and Santana (who both had an OPS over .900 in that span), the offense did not have that electric batter who could protect the duo in the lineup.
Cleveland, over the past several years, has been a team well-known for having slow starts to their regular season. Over their last three seasons, Cleveland has gone 31-29, 32-28 and 30-30 through their first 60 games. While the expanded playoff format will help them overcome this, another slow start could see Cleveland play for their potential postseason survival on the road. This scenario would not be ideal for Cleveland, especially if they have to go on the road to face more consistent and productive offenses.
3. Chicago White Sox (2019 record: 72-89)
A lengthy rebuild for the South Side might eventually pay off this season, especially in the expanded playoff format.
While Tim Anderson, Jose Abreu and Joan Moncada have already established themselves as lineup mainstays, blooming prospects, including that of Luis Robert, could become the next sparkplug for a lineup that also features Eloy Jimenez.
Offseason acquisitions, including Yasmani Grandal and Edwin Encarnacion, will provide additional lineup protection and bench depth.
While pitcher Michael Kopech will sit out the 2020 season, Lucas Giolito, in addition to offseason acquisition Dallas Keuchel, will be the anchors to a developing rotation. Alex Colome and Kelvin Herrera, two more offseason additions, will bolster the back of the bullpen.
The busy offseason, when combined with a young team, could be the unique combination that will see the White Sox play postseason baseball once more. The offense looks to be solid but it will all boil down to the pitching. Will it perform to the expectations of a club eager to see its postseason drought end? Only time will tell.
4. Kansas City Royals (2019 record: 59-103)
While 2020 will be another rebuilding season for Kansas City, one thing is for certain; they will be aggressive on the basepaths. After being second among all MLB teams last season in stolen bases (117), the Royals will still be a force on the basepaths, as Adalberto Mondesi (43 stolen bases last season) and Whit Merrifield (20 stolen bases last season) return to the 2020 team. Although the club will be entertaining to watch on offense (when they get on base, that is), the pitching will still be a work in progress and will definitely have more growing pains, even in a shortened season.
5. Detroit Tigers (2019 record: 47-114)
Detroit, similarly to Kansas City, continues to rebuild its roster from the ground up. While the team will continue to give prospects the opportunity to test the major league waters, veteran pitcher Matthew Boyd will be one of the more intriguing players this season. After pitching in a career-high 185.1 innings last season, the left-hander is bound to come up in trade talks.
The million-dollar question, of course, will be if Detroit asks for the moon in a potential trade for him. Whatever the circumstance, Detroit will continue to find value internally as well as look for prospect capital externally as their rebuild moves forward.