MLB Central: Are the Indians Poised for Big Things?

MLB 2017 Central Time:

The Tribe is my pick for the World Series

American League:

You gotta love Terry Francona and the Indians. They almost won it all last year with 60% of its starting pitchers on the DL. Look out this year, if Bauer, Carrasco, Kluber, McAllister, Tomlin, and Salazar are healthy. Andrew Miller may be the best relief pitcher in baseball and Allen isn't far behind. Plus, the Tribe gets Brantley back to supplement a solid parade of hitters, including Kipnis, Lindor, Chisenhall, Santana, and Naquin. Add free agent Encarnacion and the Indians are loaded top to bottom. My pick for the World Series.

The Royals are enigmatic. They could challenge the Indians, or they could tank—neither would surprise me. Duffy, Hammel, Karns, and Kennedy can't compete with a healthy Cleveland staff, but they're solid. They will need more out of their # 5 (Vargas? Wood? Young?). They also need Moustakas, Cain, Gordon, and Hosmer to hit like they did in 2015, not last year. Soler was a good pickup but he's hurt. I'm not sold on Moss, a low OBP guy, but Orlando looks like he's almost ready.

The Tigers are starting to look toothless. Yes, Miggy Cabrera and both J.D. and Victor Martinez can still rake, but Iglesias has fallen so low he's on the trade block, Kinsler might be on the decline, Avila is no longer a starter, and any team that starts Justin Upton is playing roulette. Two relative unknowns will join him in the outfield (Jones and Mahtook). Detroit will also need Verlander to be an ace again, Sanchez to recover his mojo, Zimmerman prove he can pitch in the AL, and pray Fulmer doesn't have a sophomore slump. Is Greene an MLB pitcher or an AAA guy?

The White Sox were the AL equivalent of the Padres in that they thought they were buying a Rolls Royce in the 2015-16 offseason and ended up with a Yugo. They wisely blew it up and how they do this year isn't really the point—the ChiSox are looking a few years down the road. For now they still have Quintana as their ace and Robertson in the pen, though I doubt either will be there by the trade deadline. The rest of the staff will probably be guys you either don't know well (Covey, Ynoa, Gonzalez) or wish you didn't (Shields, Holland, Rodon). Three guys are legitimate hitters (Abreu, Frazier, Melky Cabrera) and the rest are hope-they-develop types.
The 2016 Twins were everything that can go wrong with a youth movement. They have to be better this year, right? Only if Hughes, Gibson and Santiago pitch better. Count me among those who don't think Ervin Santana will ever be a reliable MLB pitcher. The hitters? There's a declining Mauer, the budding star Dozier, and a bunch of former high-profile prospects trying to shed the "bust" label (Buxton, Sano, Escobar, Sand, Castro). If these guys don't gel this year, it might be time to back up the van.

National League:

The Cubs won it all it 2017 and now wear the unfamiliar hat as the oddsmaker' choice to repeat. That's a pretty tall order. Winning the Central will be tough enough. Their pitching features Jake Arieta, but then it's guys who could go either way: Lackey, Lester, Anderson…. Will Hendricks win 16 games again? The lineup is formidable: Baez, Bryant, Rizzo, Russell, Zobrist, Schwarber…. Look for either Szczur or Almora to relegate Heyward to the bench.

The Pirates could challenge if the pitching holds. Cole is the real deal, despite a down year in 2016. Red flags: Nova is Mystery Man and young guns Kuhl and Glasnow are unproven. The Bucs feature a potent lineup: Cervelli, Freese, Mercer, Marte, McCutchen, Polanco…. If the Cubs slump or are slow out the gate, Pittsburgh is capable of stealing the division. Their farm system is loaded.

The Cardinals suffered injuries and a down year in 2016, but no one should take them lightly. Lynn, Wacha, Leake, Carlos Martinez, and the back-from-the-dead-again Adam Wainwright make up a potentially dynamite staff. They will need Carpenter, Wong, Adams, and Peralta to step it up. Outfield production is questionable, unless Fowler is the stud they think he is and Grichuk hits for a higher average. Piscotty looks to be a keeper, though.

The Reds will hit— Votto, Duvall, Cozart, Peraza‑ but not consistently enough. Billy Hamilton might be the fastest man in baseball, but an OPS of .664 cancels his speed. The pitching? On paper it looks dreadful. Of the returnees, only Finnegan won as many as 10 games last year and he lost 11. Feldman becomes the ace without having yet thrown an inning for the Reds and that's not a good thing. Unless the young guys are better than projected and mature fast, the Reds are in for a long year.

The Brewers are a near carbon copy of the Reds. They feature some good hitters— Braun, Villar, Thames— and lots of guys who won't make anyone forget Robin Yount. Maybe new pickup Travis Shaw will help. Garza needs to get off the DL and pitch better, Zach Davies needs to repeat his 2016 stats, and Peralta needs to reverse his, or the Brew Crew will rival the Reds for batting practice pitching. But they have greater potential and Milwaukee has a strong minor league system that could help.


            AL Central: Indians, Royals, Tigers, Twins, White Sox (you can flip the last three any old way)

            NL Central: Cubs, Cardinals, Pirates, Brewers, Reds           

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