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MLB Preview 2017: American League Central

Francisco Lindor, Cleveland
1. Cleveland Indians
Roster Schedule
2016 Record: 94-67
After a magical run to the World Series last season, the Indians were unable to finish the job, choking away a 3-1 lead. The good news is that Cleveland still has more than enough talent to return to the Fall Classic and actually finish the job this time. They signed former Blue Jay slugger Edwin Encarnacion to a big deal over the off-season, adding to a great young core. That core includes shortstop Francisco Lindor who is already an All-Star caliber player at 23 (.301 AVG, 15 home runs), reliable second basemen Jason Kipnis and outfielder Michael Brantley, who is ready for a big year returning from injury. That core showed plenty of versatility and excitement on offense in 2016, and the pitching should once more also be terrific. Former Cy Young winner Corey Kluber is a legitimate ace, who should contend for the award once more after finishing third last season. Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar are healthy once again and have plenty of upside. While the offense and starting pitching was terrific last year, it was the bullpen that really guided Cleveland to the World Series in '16. Former Yankee Andrew Miller was absolutely shutdown in the postseason and has impressive stamina. Paired with rising star Cody Allen, the group should once more keep the Tribe on top of the Central. Encarnacio brings some much-needed power and a much needed righty to the lineup, which should only add more talent to a team that has proven they can hang with the elite. If the pitching and bullpen performs well again this team should once more make plenty of noise in the fall.
Projected Record: 95-67 Projected Result: Lose in ALDS

2. Kansas City Royals
Roster Schedule
2016 Record: 81-81
Following two pennants and one World Series title, Kansas City fell back down to Earth in 2016, managing to merely go .500. It was a wakeup call for the organization, who was also dealing with a franchise record payroll, forcing them to make some moves. The big one was dealing away reliever Wade Davis to Chicago in exchange for versatile Jorge Soler, who will likely play DH. More appear set to come with Alcides Escobar, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Danny Duffy and Eric Hosmer all hitting free agency this next winter. Even so, this Royals team still has enough talent to be a factor in the American League once more. Moustakas, Cain and Hosmer give the team a tough top of the order, while left fielder Alex Gordon is trying to recover from injuries but is terrific when healthy. The rotation suffered a huge loss this past month when young stud Yordano Ventura passed away, leaving a gap at the top. Ian Kennedy (11-11, 3.68 ERA) and Duffy are good (12-3, 3.51 ERA) but they aren't up to par with some of the other great arms in the division at the No. 1 spot. Moving on from Davis was a right move cap-wise, as he was set to make ten million this season. However, it leaves room for others that need to step up. Kelvin Herrera seems to be on the cusp of stardom after showing significant improvement last year, while hard-throwing Joakim Soria should still be an advantage late in games. No matter what the future might hold, Kansas City has enough up and down their roster to make the playoffs once more, if not overthrow Cleveland for the division title. If this team stays healthy they should be dangerous, but if injuries or pitching issues occur, returning to the World Series again will definitely fall off the table.
Projected Record: 86-76 Projected Result: Miss Postseason

3. Detroit Tigers
Roster Schedule
Projected Record: 86-75
It has now been two years since Detroit was playing in the postseason after a long run of success, and the fans appear to be getting restless. The Tigers won 86 games last season, but struggled to get over the top, and they have a payroll of over 200 million dollars. Yet, the Tigers weren't super active over the winter months, appearing to indicate they may be suiting up for one more shot with the current core. Miguel Cabrera is still around, coming off a monster 2016, with 38 homers and 108 RBIs. He is still a great hitter and very durable despite the fact he is aging, but his defense is extremely bad and there have been rumblings Detroit may try to deal him. J.D. and Victor Martinez (no relation) will provide the Tigers with plenty of offense as well. Victor is now 38 but still remains a great weapon in the middle of the order at designated hitter, while J.D. is incredibly reliable. Third-basemen Nick Castellanos had a breakout 2016 and should form a great corner with terrific fielding SS Jose Iglesias. Justin Verlander should once more head the rotation, after finishing second in Cy Young voting last season. Verlander appeared possibly to be on the decline before his resurgence in '16, posting numbers of 16-9, 3.04 ERA and 254 strikeouts. Jordan Zimmerman gives Detroit a solid No. 2 when healthy, but it is Michael Fulmer that has most Tigers fans excited. Fulmer won AL Rookie of the Year a season ago, and should only get better. At 23, he already has the arm strength and pitch diversity to be wonderful. The bullpen has long been an issue for Detroit, but they finally found a solution last year in the form of 38-year-old Francisco Rodrgiuez. Rodriguez is not quite what he was at the peak of his career, but played really well last year. Bruce Rondon is a flame-throwing setup man, ensuring the back-end should be just as quality as the starters. Much like the Royals, Detroit is a team in some type of transition. Trade talk looms around Miggy and several others, but the group still has enough to contend for the playoffs. Yet, depth issues and aging stars could be an ingredient to a tough year.
Projected Record: 80-82 Projected Result: Miss Postseason

4. Chicago White Sox
Roster Schedule
2016 Record: 78-84
Over the past few seasons, the White Sox have been stuck in a weird spot. They were too good to really tear it all down and rebuild, but not good enough to be serious threats in the AL. This off-season, they finally declared their direction: certainly rebuilding following the trades of building blocks Chris Sale (Boston) and outfielder Adam Eaton (Washington). The White Sox received Yoan Moncada from the Red Sox (one of the best prospects in the sport) and a load of prospects in the deals, replenishing their farm system but not helping the actual 2016 product on the field. Power hitter Jose Abreu can still strike fear into opposing pitchers despite a pretty slump-riddled '16, and Todd Frazier and Brett Lawrie offer great fielding and other weapons to use. However, without Eaton the outfield is really, really bad with two unproven players likely to take over the center and right field roles. The big issue for the White Sox is their rotation, which must move on now that Sale is gone. Carlos Rodon is considered by many the future of the pitchers for the team, but he struggled to adjust to the MLB level last season, and needs time. Derek Holland was signed this off-season, and will compete with Jose Quintana and journeyman James Shields for the top spot in the rotation. The bullpen could also be a problem, with few proven options outside of closer David Robertson, who had 37 saves a season ago. Youngsters Lucas Giolito and Carson Fulmer (who are 22 and 23 respectively) could be asked to play big roles in the middle innings, which will come with some serious growing pains. It won't be a great season at Guaranteed Rate Field in 2016, but the team made the right choice dealing Sale and looking ahead to the future. They still have enough firepower to wreak some havoc and some of the young guys should take steps. Yet, patience must be reinforced on the South Side, who haven't been to the postseason in eight years, the second longest drought in the American League.
Projected Record: 69-93 Projected Result: Miss Postseason

5. Minnesota Twins
Ervin Santana, Minnesota

Roster Schedule
2016 Record: 59-103
The Twins were a bit early in their rebuild in an 83-win 2015, and some of that youth and immaturity really caught up to them last season. An off-season of trade rumors surrounding second basemen Brian Dozier followed but the 29-year-old remains in Minnesota, after coming out of nowhere to hit 42 home runs, including 33 in just 73 games. Dozier will need others to step up around him, most notably more from some former top-flight prospects. Miguel Sano looked lost at rightfield last year but should feel more comfortable moving back to his natural third base. Hopefully that can translate to his hitting, where he struck out way too much. Center fielder Byron Buxton struggled to adjust to major league pitching for awhile before tearing it up the past few weeks of the year. The speedster should be able to get on base more this season, and do some real damage on the base paths. Max Kepler was a major surprise last season, showing great power with 17 homers and 63 RBIs, but slumped near the end of it. If he can regain his first half form, this lineup has some significant upside to it. Much like the White Sox, the issue could well be starting pitching for the Twins, who have little to nothing beyond ace Ervin Santana. Santana played very well despite having no run support to help him out, but somebody else must emerge. Kyle Gibson is still young but the former big-name prospect has work to do, and Jose Berrios really struggled after being elevated to the MLB, with an 8.02 ERA. The bullpen is at an interesting place right now. Former closer Glen Perkins missed all of 2016 but could return to take over the gig, or Brandon Kintzler (17 saves) could lock it down. Relievers Trevor May and J.T. Chargois could help bail out the terrible starters. May has really adjusted well to a relief role after originally being a starter, while Chargois had a wonderful 0.79 ERA over his last 13 outings of the season. After the pitiful '16 the Twins should be eager to show they still have a bright future. Sano, Buxton and Kepler must continue to take steps and the new management must figure out how to get some quality pitchers. Even if those things do happen, getting out of the cellar may be too tough.
Projected Record: 66-96 Projected Result: Miss Postseason

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