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Last year, the American League Central was competitive outside of first place. While that battle was fun to watch, it ultimately didn’t equate to much as only the Cleveland Guardians made it to the playoffs. At least it was fun, right?
This year has the potential be either exactly the same or slightly different. Changes in lineups and managers could play a huge role in what happens this year.
1. Cleveland Guardians
Last Year’s Record: 92-70
Player To Watch: Outfielder Steven Kwan
X-Factor: First Baseman Josh Bell
Under the guidance of manager Terry Francona, the Cleveland Guardians had a successful first year under their new name. Fueled by breakout seasons from outfielder Steven Kwan and second baseman Andrés Giménez, Cleveland made their way to the playoffs, even winning a series against the Tampa Bay Rays.
With limited losses in the off-season, and the key additions of first baseman Josh Bell and catcher Mike Zunino, this year could be one that Cleveland goes further into October. With things possibly winding down for Francona’s managerial career, it may be now or never for Cleveland.
2. Chicago White Sox
Last Year’s Record: 81-81
Player To Watch: First Baseman Andrew Vaughn
X-Factor: Manager Pedro Grifol
The Chicago White Sox broke .500 despite a rough start and a coaching change due to then manager Tony La Russa’s health. Now with a new manager in charge and it becoming now or never for some of their younger players, Chicago should be motivated to do better. They’re trying to be the Atlanta Braves of the American League (with how they’re handling younger players contracts) but if they can’t produce similarly, then it will go down as a waste.
Chicago has been on the verge of having good seasons for a while now, and need to have that landmark season to keep any momentum going. If they don’t, the players they tabbed as stars for them could wallow in the muck of a lower tier player on a good contract. It’s an awful thought, but it’s possible.
3. Minnesota Twins
Last Year’s Record: 78-84
Player to Watch: Pitcher Pablo Lopez
X-Factor: Catcher Christian Vazquez
It must be hard to be a Minnesota Twins fan. Year after year team is either not good or not good enough to escape the first or second round of the playoffs. They’re stuck in a purgatory that seems like there’s no way out.
While bringing back shortstop Carlos Correa, trading for pitcher Pablo Lopez and signing catcher Christian Vazquez were big moves, they’re most likely going to remain stuck in this rut. The one thing that could turn it around is Vazquez’s influence after being on two different teams that won championships. If he can bring the team together, then there may be some hope for Minnesota.
4. Kansas City Royals
Last Year’s Record: 65-97
Player To Watch: Pitcher Zack Greinke
X-Factor: Shortstop Bobby Witt Jr.
While the championship window for the Kansas City Royals seemingly closed a couple of years ago, it seems like the lock on top may have finally be switched. This Royals team has two legacy members on it: pitcher Zack Greinke and catcher Salvador Perez. The rest of their everyday players are in their mid-twenties.
Kansas City is more than likely waiting for Greinke and Perez to retire before they begin their next venture and strategy. Newly hired manager Matt Quatraro has been one of the names with the most hype around him for the last few seasons. Now with a chance to make this team his own, he’ll look to get the ball rolling. It’s just a question of if he makes changes this year or next.
5. Detroit Tigers
Last Year’s Record: 66-96
Player To Watch: Designated Hitter Miguel Cabrera
X-Factor: First Baseman Spencer Torkelson
Let’s be real here, if it wasn’t Miguel Cabrera’s final season, would anybody care about the Detroit Tigers? The answer is, probably not.
This year needs to be the year that first baseman Spencer Torkelson and third baseman Akil Baddoo breakout. Torkelson especially needs to live up to his first overall pick status. If he can’t, then Detroit may need to really make some changes to their minor league system.