American League Central Preview and Predictions
The MIN Twins won the AL Central in 2020 but it was a nail biter! They were 36-24 while CHW and CLE went 35-25 for the slimmest of a 1 game margin. All 3 teams made the playoffs only to see them all lose in the 1st round.
The 2021 season should lose CLE from the mis of contenders so MIN and CHW will be competing for the division. There is much hype surrounding the CHW and no one much mentioning MIN at all. CHW had an off-season success with free agent signs and trades. They brought in Adam Eaton (WSH), Lance Lynn (TEX), and Liam Hendricks (OAK). These additions make them better for sure. BaseRuns standings suggest that CHW should have won the Central in 2020 by 2 games over MIN, so MIN is the team in need of catching CHW!
Looking at MIN, we must gaze back into 2019. They led the MLB and set a record with 307 HRs. They were the 3rd best offense and led the league in ISO. The 2020 team fell all the way to 16th ranked in offense. They were 6th in HRs and 11th ranked in ISO. This is important because we should look at 2020 as a segment of a season and not a season, thus we should conclude MIN will have a terrific rebound with offensive performance. It should start at 3B with Josh Donaldson. He will get a complete season with MIN this year as he is healthy. Their lineup will have all 9 batters with above average wRC+ numbers depending on who is in it. Their starting pitching is where they are not elite but have capable starters. Kenta Maeda “saved” them last year producing his best season ever. We should look for a regression from him. Jose Berrios is an established #1 but is no. ACE. They brought in JA Happ who is serviceable and have quality from Michael Pineda. It is not terrible but for a contender, it is not overwhelming either. Their bullpen is good. It ranked 3rd in MLB last season and maybe that was a stretch. It projects 12th in 2021. Alex Colome will now close games and they will mix and match with the others to get to him. The models like MIN to win 89-90 games. Las Vegas win total is 90 games. I like their offense to light it up.
CHW had the AL MVP last season in 1B Jose Abreu. He finished with 166 wRC+ or was 66% better than an average hitter! His season was more of an outlier though and he should not be expected to produce to those levels in 2021 so a regression from him. Their lineup could have up to 6 over average wRC+ batters. Look for Eloy Jimenez to be the main offensive threat. They have only 2 players projecting with double digit OFF WAR numbers (Abreu and Jimenez). They have a complimentary lineup where they can disperse who get the important hit. Other than Abreu, they do not have a proven RBI guy so they will need to keep their young talent progressing forward. Tim Anderson projects lower as one of the few under 100 wRC+ (98) which is the average. If that happens, it is another big drop off as he produced 142 wRC+ in 2020. Lot’s of questions on how good this offense really is. They may have an ACE in Lucas Giolito. He produced great numbers over 12 starts. His FIP in 2019 was 3.43 and 3.169 in 2020 so he is establishing quality. My concern with the rotation is no one projects under 4.00 FIP for 2021. They have arms and they can pitch well but I cannot really see a consistency of solid performance. Keuchel projects with 4.69, Lynn 4.33, Cease 4.87 and so on. They can rely on the most underrated and now with Hendricks, the #2 bullpen in the league. Hendricks improves the #8 ranked bullpen form 2020 immediately. He was the #1 closer in MLB last season. The models like the CHW to win 88 games (1 less than MIN) and Las Vegas set the win total at 91.5.
The CHW could be better, and MIN IS better. You can see some of the hype in the Las Vegas line of 91.5 wins. CHW and MIN are neck and neck to win this division. I like MIN! CHW must prove they can overcome Abreu and Anderson regressing before I can predict them as the division winners.
Another interesting development in the Central is the fall of CLE and the rise of KC. KC is my favorite OVER win total bet! Las Vegas has 72.5 wins for them. I think they will compete with CLE for the 3rd spot in the division. CLE win total is 81.5. Tons of value there! like KC to win 79 games. KC has brought in some veterans and have a developing rotation. CLE has some front office issues lingering, lost Lindor, but can pitch. CLE needs offense. This will be a fun watch and I think if thing fall right for KC, they can be the 3rd best team n the division!
Did not mention DET but they are developing. They are going to be better with Mgr. Hinch. They also are not the worst team n the AL (TEX, BAL). Their targets are SEA and KC, and CLE. Will have to see how they grow this season and if Michael Fulmer and make a good return.