al-central-logosIt took only 88 wins to win the division last year and 3 teams had 90 or more losses, so it’s no surprise that it would be considered the weakest in baseball. However, the division winning Tigers went on to the World Series and they look primed for another run. Unless something big happens they’ll have little competition this season. Chicago returns pretty much the same squad as last year, Kansas City got pitching but needs its young sluggers to take a big step, Cleveland’s rotation could hold them back and Minnesota will continue to occupy the cellar for the foreseeable future. It seems unlikely that a wild card team will come out of this division.

Other previews: NL West, NL Central, NL East, AL West

5) Minnesota Twins
The team is rebuilding for the future, which means it’ll be another long season at Target Field. They still have C Joe Mauer, 1B Justin Morneau and LF Josh Willingham, but it’s not enough to compete. They traded away both of their CF options in Ben Revere and Denard Span, but the hope is prospect Aaron Hicks can step in. The story is much the same with pitching as it is with the offense. Vance Worley is more a 3 or 4 starter then the ace he’s projected to be and their best pitcher Scott Diamond will begin the season on the DL. Kevin Correira and Mike Pelfrey are vets who could eat innings, but at least the bullpen should be solid. Jared Burton and Casey Fien are a good combo in the late innings while former starter Glen Perkins takes over the closer role.

4) Cleveland Indians
There certainly is some buzz around the Tribe after the offseason signings of CF Michael Bourn, 1B/RF Nick Swisher and DH Mark Reynolds. 2B Jason Kipnis could emerge as a 20-20 threat, C Carlos Santana is still productive, while 3B Lonnie Chisenhall and LF Michael Brantley are young guys who could breakout. The offense will be much improved, but it’s the rotation that is a major cause for concern. Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jiminez are the top guys but could struggle to keep their ERAs below 4.00. Behind them there’s no real depth as Brett Myers is attempting a comeback to being a starter and Scott Kazmir is attempting a comeback from obscurity. The good news is that the bullpen has several underrated guys and closer Chris Perez continues to get better, but rotation depth will hold the team back.

3) Chicago White Sox
The theme for the South Siders this season might be consistency. RF Alex Rios had a good year but has had trouble over his career keeping it going. DH Adam Dunn will give the team 40+ homers but not much else, and who knows what they’ll get from SS Alexei Ramirez and 2B Gordon Beckham. They still have the ageless Paul Konerko to depend on, but the key could be how well Tyler Flowers handles taking over for Aj Pierzynski. The rotation could be a strength as Chris Sale was a revelation, while Jake Peavy and Gavin Floyd were brought back and youngster Jose Quintana looks to improve on his debut last season. The bullpen is deep with closer Addison Reed and setup man Matt Thornton at the head. If the Sox can get more consistency from their offense, they could surprise in the division.

2) Kansas City Royals
The team has been on the brink for several seasons and this could be the one where they finally break through. They may live to regret giving up prospect Wil Myers, but he did net them the pitching they’ve needed in James Shields and Wade Davis. Shields will be the ace and workhorse of the staff that includes Davis, Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie. The bullpen should be even more exciting with hard throwing Greg Holland getting a full year as closer and Kelvin Herrera, Aaron Crow and Tim Collins all young but productive guys in front of him. On the offensive side, the team needs 1B Eric Hosmer and 3B Mike Moustakas to shake off their sophomore slumps. SS Alcides Escobar and C Salvador Perez are fellow youngsters who are underrated and vets DH Billy Butler and LF Alex Gordon provide leadership. The team just needs to put it all together to succeed.

1) Detroit Tigers
It will be hard to dethrone the Tigers as they have the best hitter, Cabrera, and pitcher, Verlander, in baseball. The return of DH Victor Martinez to team with 1B Prince Fielder and Triple Crown 3B Miguel Cabrera will be a lethal combo in the middle of the order. CF Austin Jackson will provide the speed and RF Torii Hunter provides the veteran savvy. Justin Verlander is the unquestioned ace but the other starters are pretty good in their own right. Max Scherzer and Doug Fister could each get 200+ Ks, while Rick Procello and resigned Anibal Sanchez hold down the back-end. The only question with this team is the bullpen. They decided to let Jose Valverde walk and appear to be handing the closer job to prospect Bruce Rondon, though he’s struggled in spring training. Phil Coke, Joaquin Benoit, Al Alburquerque and Octavio Dotel are solid relievers and should be able to step in to take over for Rondon.