Capsules of American League Central teams, listed in order of finish last year:
2020: 36-24, first place, lost to Astros in first round of playoffs.
Manager: Rocco Baldelli (third season).
He’s Here: SS Andrelton Simmons, RHP Alex Colomé, LHP J.A. Happ, RHP Matt Shoemaker, RHP Hansel Robles, RHP Shaun Anderson, OF Kyle Garlick, OF Keon Broxton.
He’s Outta Here: LF Eddie Rosario, RHP Sergio Romo, RHP Trevor May, RHP Jake Odorizzi, INF/OF Marwin Gonzalez, LHP Rich Hill, RHP Tyler Clippard, RHP Matt Wisler, INF Ehire Adrianza, C Alex Avila.
Projected Lineup: RF Max Kepler (.228, 9 HRs, 23 RBIs), 2B Jorge Polanco (.258, 4, 19), 3B Josh Donaldson (.222, 6, 11 in 28 games), DH Nelson Cruz (.303, 16, 33, 33 runs, .992 OPS), 1B Miguel Sanó (.204, 13, 25, 90 strikeouts), LF Alex Kirilloff (rookie) or Brent Rooker (.316, 1, 5 in 7 games), CF Byron Buxton (.254, 13, 27 in 39 games), C Mitch Garver (.167, 2, 5 in 23 games), SS Andrelton Simmons (.297, 0, 10 in 30 games with Angels).
Rotation: RH Kenta Maeda (6-1, 2.70 ERA), RH José Berríos (5-4, 4.00), RH Michael Pineda (2-0, 3.38 in 5 starts), LH J.A. Happ (2-2, 3.47 for Yankees), RH Matt Shoemaker (0-1, 4.71 in 6 starts for Blue Jays).
Key Relievers: RH Alex Colomé (2-0, 0.81, 12/13 saves for White Sox), LH Taylor Rogers (2-4, 4.05, 9-11 saves), RH Tyler Duffey (1-1, 1.88, 24 strikeouts in 31 innings), RH Hansel Robles (0-2, 10.26 in 16 2/3 innings for Angels), RH Jorge Alcalá (2-1, 2.63).
Outlook: The Twins have returned largely the same team that won the last two AL Central titles, aiming to end their major league-record 18-game post-season losing streak. The pitching staff was superb during the pandemic-shortened 2020 schedule, and Happ and Shoemaker have added value and experience to the rotation with Randy Dobnak moving to a long-relief role after making 10 starts last year. Maeda and Berríos make for a solid one-two punch, but whether the pitching is deep enough for a post-season run remains to be seen. Signing away Colomé from their primary division competitor ought to pay off over the long haul, but to stay ahead of the White Sox, the offence will have to produce more like 2019 than 2020. Kirilloff made his major league debut in the playoffs after tearing up the team’s alternate training site with an otherworldly hitting display. The Twins could keep him in Triple-A to start and let Rooker, another of the organization’s top prospects, show off his bat. Garlick or Broxton could stick around for depth in the meantime. Keeping Buxton and Donaldson healthy figures to be the biggest key to success for the lineup, after a balky calf kept Donaldson from doing much in his debut with the Twins last year. The arrival of Simmons has given the infield defence a big boost and allowed the offence-oriented Polanco to move to a position that’s a more natural fit. There should be a winning team waiting for Twins fans who file back into Target Field, starting at about 25% capacity. What ultimately matters, though, after the summer fun is whether this talented club can finally win a game in the fall.
2020: 35-25, second place, lost to Yankees in first round of playoffs.
Manager: Terry Francona (ninth season).
He’s Here: OF Eddie Rosario, INF Andrés Giménez, INF Amed Rosario, RHP Bryan Shaw, OF Harold Ramirez.
He’s Outta Here: SS Francisco Lindor, RHP Carlos Carrasco, 1B Carlos Santana, LHP Brad Hand, OF Tyler Naquin, LHP Oliver Pérez, RHP Adam Cimber, OF Delino DeShields Jr., INF Mike Freeman.
Projected Lineup: 2B César Hernández (.283, 3 HRs, 20 RBIs, 35 runs), CF Óscar Mercado (.128, 1, 6 in 36 games), LF Eddie Rosario (.257, 13, 42 with Minnesota), 3B José Ramírez (292, 17, 46, 45 runs, 10 steals, .993 OPS), DH Franmil Reyes (.275, 9, 35, 69 Ks), Jake Bauers (spent 2020 season at alternate training site) or 1B Bobby Bradley (spent 2020 at alternate training site), RF Josh Naylor (.247, 1, 6 in 40 games for Padres and Indians) or Jordan Luplow (.192, 2, 8 in 29 games), C Roberto Pérez (.165 1, 5 in 32 games, won Gold Glove), SS Andrés Giménez (.263, 3, 12 in 49 games for Mets).
Rotation: RH Shane Bieber (8-1, 1.63 ERA, 122 Ks, led majors in all three categories), RH Zach Plesac (4-2, 2.28, 57 Ks in 55 1/3 innings), RH Aaron Civale (4-6, 4.74), RH Triston McKenzie (2-1, 3.24), RH Cal Quantrill (2-0, 2.28 in 18 games for Padres and Indians) or LH Logan Allen (3.38, 3 games).
Key Relievers: RH James Karinchak (1-2, 2.67, 53 Ks in 27 innings), RH Emmanuel Clase (2-3, 2.31 in 2019 for Rangers, suspended in 2020 for PEDs), RH Nick Wittgren (2-0, 3.43 in 20 games), RH Phil Maton (3-3, 4.47 in 23 games), LH Oliver Pérez (1-1, 2.00 in 21 games, .185 vs. lefties), RH Adam Plutko (2-2, 4.88), RH Bryan Shaw (1-0, 18.00 in 6 innings for Mariners).
Outlook: Expectations have fallen following Lindor’s trade this winter, but the Indians believe they have enough talent to compete for the AL Central title. They certainly have the pitching. At just 25, Bieber has become one of baseball’s best starters, and the right-hander anchors a staff with big arms but limited experience. Karinchak is the new closer following Hand’s departure, and Clase, with his 100 mph fastball, gives Francona another back-end weapon. Ramírez was more consistent than Lindor last season, and he’ll need to carry an even heavier offensive load. Eddie Rosario’s signing to a one-year contract — he pounded Cleveland pitching with Minnesota — should offset some of the power lost with Lindor and Santana leaving, and he brings needed quality to an unsettled outfield. Francona’s return after missing most of last season due to health issues is another positive for the Indians, who will probably be known by another name in 2022. Cleveland will host fans in April at 30% capacity at 34,788-seat Progressive Field.
Chicago White Sox
2020: 35-25, third place, wild card, lost to Oakland in first round of playoffs.
Manager: Tony La Russa (first season of second stint with team).
He’s Here: Manager Tony La Russa, RHP Liam Hendriks, RHP Lance Lynn, OF Adam Eaton, C Jonathan Lucroy.
He’s Outta Here: Manager Rick Renteria, DH Edwin Encarnación, C James McCann, RHP Alex Colomé, 2B Yolmer Sanchez, LHP Gio Gonzalez, CF Jarrod Dyson, RHP Dane Dunning, RF Nomar Mazara.
Projected Lineup: SS Tim Anderson (.322, 10 HRs, 21 RBIs), CF Luis Robert (.233, 11, 31), 1B José Abreu (.317, 19, 60, AL MVP), 3B Yoán Moncada (.225, 6, 24), LF Eloy Jiménez (.296, 14, 41), C Yasmani Grandal (.230, 8, 27), DH Andrew Vaughn (.278, 6, 36 at Arizona Rookie League and Class A Kannapolis and Winston-Salem in 2019), RF Adam Eaton (.226, 4, 17 with Washington), 2B Nick Madrigal (.340, 0, 11).
Rotation: RH Lucas Giolito (4-3, 3.48 ERA, 97 Ks, 28 BBs), LH Dallas Keuchel (6-2, 1.99), RH Lance Lynn (6-3, 3.32, 84 IP with Texas), RH Dylan Cease (5-4, 4.01, 44 Ks, 34 BBs), LH Carlos Rodon (0-2, 8.22) or RH Reynaldo López (1-3, 6.49).
Key Relievers: RH Liam Hendriks (3-1, 1.78, 14/15 saves, 37 Ks, 3 BBs in 25 1/3 IP with Oakland), LH Garrett Crochet (0-0, 0.00, 8 Ks, 0 BBs in 5 appearances), RH Michael Kopech (1-1, 5.02 in 4 starts in 2018), LH Aaron Bummer (1-0, 0.96), RH Evan Marshall (2-1, 2.38), RH Matt Foster (6-1, 2.20), RH Codi Heuer (3-0, 1.52).
Outlook: The White Sox made the playoffs for the first time since 2008 and ended a run of seven losing seasons last year. Now, they’re aiming for the biggest prize of all. Chicago loaded up in the off-season while other teams were cutting expenses, hoping to bring home its first World Series championship since 2005 and only the second since 1917. The club made an eye-opening change in the dugout when it brought back Hall of Famer and three-time champion La Russa to take over for Renteria. The move came 34 years after the White Sox fired La Russa, who went on to win a title with Oakland and two more with St. Louis. But he hasn’t filled out a lineup card since the Cardinals won the World Series in 2011. Something else to watch: How will he relate to a vibrant, fun-loving team? That wasn’t the only big move the White Sox made. They added arguably the game’s best closer when they signed Hendriks to a $54 million, three-year deal. The Australian was on the mound when Oakland knocked off Chicago in their wild-card series. The White Sox also acquired Lynn from Texas, adding a workhorse starter to go with Giolito and Keuchel. The hard-throwing Kopech is back following Tommy John surgery in 2018 that sidelined him for the following season and a decision to opt out in 2020. The lineup — anchored by AL MVP Abreu and 2019 major league batting champion Anderson — is deep. And fans will get a chance to see them in person, at least on a limited basis. The White Sox and crosstown Cubs got the green light from the city to allow spectators with capacity capped at 20% — 8,122 at Guaranteed Rate Field and 8,274 at Wrigley Field.
Kansas City Royals
2020: 26-34, fourth place.
Manager: Mike Matheny (second season).
He’s Here: LHP Mike Minor, 1B/DH Carlos Santana, OF Andrew Benintendi, RHP Wade Davis, RHP Ervin Santana, CF Michael A. Taylor, RHP Carlos Sanabria, 2B Hanser Alberto.
He’s Outta Here: LF Alex Gordon, OF Franchy Cordero, RHP Ian Kennedy, 3B Maikel Franco, RHP Glenn Sparkman, RHP Matt Harvey.
Projected Lineup: RF Whit Merrifield (.282, 9 HRs, 30 RBIs, 12 SBs), SS Adalberto Mondesi (.256, 6, 22, 24 SBs), C Salvador Perez (.333, 11, 32), DH Jorge Soler (.228, 8, 24), 1B Carlos Santana (.199, 8, 30, 47 BBs with Indians), 3B Hunter Dozier (.228, 6, 12), LF Andrew Benintendi (.103, 0, 1 in 14 games with Red Sox), CF Michael Taylor (.196, 5, 16 with Washington), 2B Nicky Lopez (.201, 1, 13).
Rotation: RH Brad Keller (5-3, 2.47 ERA), LH Danny Duffy (4-4, 4.95), LH Mike Minor (1-6, 5.56 with Rangers and Athletics), RH Brady Singer (4-5, 4.06), LH Kris Bubic (1-6, 4.32).
Key Relievers: RH Josh Staumont (2-1, 2.45), RH Scott Barlow (2-1, 4.20), RH Tyler Zuber (1-2, 4.09), LH Jakob Junis (0-2, 6.39), RH Greg Holland (3-0, 1.91, 6 saves), RH Kyle Zimmer (1-0, 1.57), RH Wade Davis (0-1, 20.77 with Rockies).
Outlook: The first wave of college arms that the Royals drafted a few years ago started to arrive last season with Singer and Bubic showing promise in the rotation. They could soon be joined by LHP Asa Lacy, the No. 4 overall pick last summer, and fellow first-rounders LHP Daniel Lynch and RHP Jackson Kowar. If all those youngsters are able to show progress on the mound, the Royals could return to .500 and perhaps compete for a playoff spot given the investment GM Dayton Moore made in the rest of the roster. He signed Santana, a longtime AL Central nemesis, to handle first base, and swung a three-team trade for Benintendi. Throw in the signings of veteran pitchers Minor and Davis, and the Royals are deeper and more talented than they have been at any point since going to back-to-back World Series in 2014 and ’15 and beating the New York Mets in 2015 to win their second championship.
2020: 23-35, fifth place.
Manager: AJ Hinch (first season).
He’s Here: Manager AJ Hinch, C Wilson Ramos, OF Nomar Mazara, OF Robbie Grossman, INF Renato Nunez, RHP Jose Urena, RHP Julio Teheran, LHP Derek Holland, RHP Wily Peralta, RHP Drew Hutchison, LHP Robbie Ross Jr., LHP Miguel Del Pozo, C Dustin Garneau, RHP Erasmo Ramirez, INF Greg Garcia.
He’s Outta Here: Manager Ron Gardenhire, C Austin Romine, RHP Ivan Nova, RHP Jordan Zimmermann, 1B C.J. Cron, 1B Brandon Dixon, RHP Anthony Castro.
Projected Lineup: LF Robbie Grossman (.241, 8 HRs, 23 RBIs with Athletics), 3B Jeimer Candelario (.297, 7, 29), 2B Jonathan Schoop (.278, 8, 23), DH Miguel Cabrera (.250, 10, 35), SS Willi Castro (.349, 6, 24), 1B Renato Nunez (.256, 12, 31 with Orioles), RF Nomar Mazara (.228, 1, 15 with White Sox) or Victor Reyes (.277, 4, 14), C Wilson Ramos (.239, 5, 15 with Mets), CF JaCoby Jones (.268, 5, 14).
Rotation; LH Matthew Boyd (3-7, 6.71 ERA), RH Spencer Turnbull (4-4, 3.97), RH Casey Mize (0-3, 6.99), LH Tarik Skubal (1-4, 5.63), RH Jose Urena (0-3, 5.40 with Marlins) or RH Michael Fulmer (0-2, 8.78).
Key Relievers: RH Bryan Garcia (2-1, 1.66, 4/6 saves), LH Gregory Soto (0-1, 4.30, 2 saves), RH Joe Jimenez (1-3, 7.15, 5/6 saves), RH Jose Cisnero (3-3, 3.03), RH Buck Farmer (1-0, 3.80).
Outlook: After missing last season while suspended in the aftermath of the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal, Hinch gets his opportunity to manage again with the rebuilding Tigers. He takes over a team that averaged 103 losses from 2017-19 and then finished last in the shortened 2020 season. Detroit does have a handful of highly touted prospects, including Mize and Skubal, who both pitched a bit at the big league level last year. Outfielder Riley Greene, infielder Spencer Torkelson and right-hander Matt Manning are also prospects to watch, although none of them have reached the majors yet. Cabrera is on the downside of his career, but he has a chance to reach 3,000 hits and 500 home runs this season. The Tigers have said they’ll consider a six-man rotation, and the lineup could change quite a bit over the course of the season. Isaac Paredes is a candidate to play third base, for example, after making his big league debut last year. A state pandemic order amended in early February said outdoor entertainment and recreational facilities could have no more than 1,000 customers gathered, but Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office said the state health department has had talks with the Tigers about expanding capacity limits at the ballpark.
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