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Thursday, December 01, 2022

American League Central Preview Capsules

Capsules from American League Central teams, listed in order of finish last year:

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CHICAGO WHITE SOX

2021: 93-69, first place, lost to Houston in ALDS.

Manager: Tony La Russa (second season of second game with team).

Opening day: April 8 at Detroit.

He is here: INF Josh Harrison, RHP Joe Kelly, RHP Vince Velasquez, RHP Kendall Graveman, VAN Adam Haseley.

He’s gone: LHP Carlos Rodón, 2B César Hernández, VAN Brian Goodwin, VAN Billy Hamilton, RHP Ryan Tepera.

Top hitters: SS Tim Anderson (.309, 17 hours, 61 RBIs, .807 OPS), 1B José Abreu (.261, 30, 117, .832), CF Luis Robert (.338, 13, 43, .945 in 68 matches), VAN Eloy Jiménez (.249, 10, 37 in 55 matches).

Projected rotation: RH Lucas Giolito (11-9, 3.53 ERA, 201 Ks), RH Lance Lynn (11-6, 2.69), RH Dylan Cease (13-7, 3.91, 226 Ks), LH Dallas Keuchel (9-9 , 5.28), RH Michael Kopech (4-3, 3.50 in 44 games, 4 starts).

Key Lighters: RH Liam Hendriks (8-3, 2.54, AL frontrunner 38/44 save, 113 Ks in 71 IP), RH Craig Kimbrel (2-3, 0.49, 23/25 save with Cubs; 2-2, 5.09, 1/4 save with White Sox), RH Joe Kelly (2-0, 2.86 with Dodgers), RH Kendall Graveman (5-1, 1.77, 10 save with Seattle and Houston), RH Reynaldo López (4-4, 3.43) in 20 games, 9 starts), LH Aaron Bummer (5-5, 3.51), LH Garrett Crochet (3-5, 2.82).

Prospects: The White Sox, runaway winners of the AL Central last season, are coming off rugby matches for the first time in franchise history. They were unable to progress both times, losing to Houston in four games in the division series after being knocked out by Oakland in the first round in 2020. Now they are looking for more. With Anderson and Abreu at the forefront of a loaded series and Giolito and Lynn anchoring a solid team, the White Sox have set their sights high. They are largely aimed at staying healthy and improving from the inside out after a surprisingly quiet off-season. Robert and Jiménez both missed big pieces from last season due to injuries. Kopech, who missed the 2019 season after a Tommy John operation and retired in 2020, is moving from the bullpen to the rotation. Harrison, a two-time All-Star, will play second base with Leury Garcia remaining in a utility role. He also played third, shortstop and every outfield spot in his 11 seasons. Kimbrel is a candidate to be treated after struggling to trade over the town of the Cubs.

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CLEVELAND GUARDIANS

2021: 80-82, second place.

Manager: Terry Francona (10th season).

Opening day: April 7 at Kansas City.

He is here: C Luke Maile, RHP Ian Gibaut, RHP Jake Jewell.

He’s gone here: C Roberto Pérez, 1B Jake Bauers, RHP Nick Wittgren.

Top scorers: 3B José Ramírez (.266, 36 HRs, 103 RBIs, 27 SBs, .893 OPS), SS Amed Rosario (.282, 11, 57), DH Franmil Reyes (.254, 30, 85 in 115 games ).

Projected rotation: RH Shane Bieber (7-4, 3.17 ERA in 16 starts), RH Aaron Civale (12-5, 3.84, 31 steps in 124 1/3 IP), RH Zach Plesac (10-6, 4.67), RH Triston McKenzie (5-9, 4.95, 136 Ks in 120 IP), RH Cal Quantrill (8-3, 2.89; 7-1 in second half).

Key Lighters: RH Emmanuel Clase (4-5, 1.29 ERA, 24 shots), RH James Karinchak (7-4, 4.07, 11 shots), RH Bryan Shaw (6-7, 3.49, MLB highlight 81 games), LH Sam Hentges (1-4, 6.68 in 30 games).

Outlook: New name, some known issues. No longer Cleveland’s Indians, the Guardians are entering the 2022 season with low expectations and one of baseball’s lowest payrolls (about $ 51 million). After being sidelined by serious health issues for the past two seasons, Francona returns for his 10th year at the club, which has remained competitive despite limited spending. Francona will once again rely on a strong rotation led by Bieber, the winner of the 2020 AL Cy Young Award who was sidelined for three months in 2021 due to a shoulder strain. The bullpen lacks depth, but Clase has the chance to be a top-flight closer. Cleveland’s most urgent needs are in the outfield spots in the corner and to find run production from a foul that struggled to score last season and was not upgraded. Ramírez, one of baseball’s best all-around players, needs protection, and a healthy Reyes will help. But the Guardians do not seem to have enough to contend with in the White Sox.

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DETROIT TIERS

2021: 77-85, third place.

Manager: AJ Hinch (second season).

Opening day: April 8 against the Chicago White Sox.

He is here: SS Javier Baez, LHP Eduardo Rodriguez, C Tucker Barnhart, LHP Andrew Chafin, RHP Michael Pineda.

He’s gone: LHP Matthew Boyd, INF / OR Niko Goodrum, OR Jacoby Jones, LHP Daniel Norris, RHP Jose Urena.

Top hitters: DH / 1B Miguel Cabrera (.256, 15 HRs, 75 RBIs, .701 OPS), SS Javier Baez (.265, 31, 87, .813 OPS with Cubs and Mets), 3B Jeimer Candelario (.271 , 16, 67, .795 OPS), 2B Jonathan Schoop (.278, 22, 84, .755 OPS).

Projected rotation: LH Eduardo Rodriguez (13-8, 4.74 ERA with Boston), RH Casey Mize (7-9, 3.71), LH Tarik Skubal (8-12, 4.34), RH Matt Manning (4-7, 5.80), LH Tyler Alexander (2-4, 3.81).

Key Lighters: LH Gregory Soto (6-3, 3.39 ERA, 18 saves), RH Michael Fulmer (5-6, 2.97, 14 saves).

Outlook: For the first time since signing Cabrera on a long-term contract in 2014, the Tigers have been serious spenders over the winter, signing Rodriguez, Baez and Chafin and trading for Barnhart. Consequently, after five consecutive losing seasons, they consider themselves viable contenders in the extended play-off format. Newcomer Riley Greene in midfield and Spencer Torkelson on first base got serious chances to make the opening day list. Last year’s leading rookie, outfielder Akil Baddoo, has been appointed as the frontrunner. Except for Rodriguez, the rest of the rotation was home-made and had a combined 116 major league start. Pineda and Wily Peralta were signed as rotation insurance in late spring, but visa issues delayed their arrival at the camp.

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KANSAS CITY ROYALS

2021: 74-88, fourth place.

Manager: Mike Matheny (third season).

Opening day: April 7 vs. Cleveland.

He is here: RHP Zack Greinke, SS Bobby Witt Jr., LHP Amir Garrett, RHP Brad Peacock.

He’s gone here: 2B Hanser Alberto, LHP Mike Minor, 1B Ryan McBroom, SS Lucius Fox.

Top Banners: C Salvador Perez (.273, 48 HRs, 121 RBIs), RF Whit Merrifield (.277, 10, 74, 40 SBs), LF Andrew Benintendi (.276, 17, 73), 1B Carlos Santana (.214), 19, 69).

Projected rotation: RH Zack Greinke (11-6, 4.16 ERA with Houston), RH Brad Keller (8-12, 5.05), RH Brady Singer (5-10, 4.91), LH Kris Bubic (6-7, 4.43), RH Carlos Hernandez (6-2, 3.68), LH Daniel Lynch (4-6, 5.69).

Key Lighters: RH Scott Barlow (5-3, 2.42 ERA, 16 strokes), RH Josh Staumont (4-3, 2.88), LH Amir Garrett (0-4, 6.04 with Cincinnati), LH Jake Brentz (5-2, 3.66 ), RH Domingo Tapia (4-1, 2.84), LH Gabe Speier (0-0, 1.17).

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Outlook: The Royals this season are a clash of past, present and future. The past would be Greinke, their 2009 AL Cy Young Award winner who was swapped to Milwaukee so many years ago and then chased wealth elsewhere before returning to Kansas City this season. The current one consists of Singer, Bubic, Lynch and the rest of the young rotation, who moved through the minors together and also took their first big league buds along. And the future lies in Witt, graded baseball’s no. 1 prospect. He batted a combined .290 last season with 33 homers, 97 RBIs and 29 stolen bases at Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha. Throw in the return of a healthy Adalberto Mondesi at shortstop and the Royals could have an exciting series. And if those young pitchers can learn a thing or two from Greinke, the club could make a big leap from 74 wins.

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MINNESOTA TWIN

2021: 73-89, fifth place.

Manager: Rocco Baldelli (fourth season).

Opening day: April 7 against Seattle.

He is here: SS Carlos Correa, RHP Sonny Gray, C Gary Sánchez, 3B Gio Urshela, RHP Dylan Bundy, RHP Chris Archer, RHP Joe Smith.

He’s gone: 3B Josh Donaldson, DH Nelson Cruz, C Mitch Garver, RHP Michael Pineda, RHP Alex Colomé, SS Andrelton Simmons, INF Willians Astudillo.

Top hitters: SS Carlos Correa (.279, 26 hours, 92 RBIs, 104 runs, .850 OPS for Houston), CF Byron Buxton (.306, 19, 32, 50 runs, 23 doubles, 1,005 OPS in 61 games), 2B Jorge Polanco (.269, 33, 98, 97 runs, .826 OPS), 1B Miguel Sanó (.223, 30, 75, 183 Ks, .778 OPS).

Projected rotation: RH Sonny Gray (7-9, 4.19 ERA in 26 starts for Cincinnati), RH Joe Ryan (2-1, 4.05 in 5 starts), RH Bailey Ober (3-3, 4.19 in 20 starts), RH Dylan Bundy (2-9, 6.06 in 90 2/3 IP for English), RH Chris Archer (1-1, 4.66 in 6 games, 5 starts, for Rays).

Key Lighters: LH Taylor Rogers (2-4, 3.35 ERA, 9/13 Savings, 59 Ks in 40 1/3 IP), RH Tyler Duffey (3-3, 3.18 in 62 1/3 IP), LH Caleb Thielbar (7 -0, 3.23, 77 Ks in 64 IP).

Prospects: Correa’s unexpected and announced arrival has caused a significant shift in prospects for a team that was one of baseball’s biggest disappointments in 2021 en route to Minnesota’s first last place in five years. Not only is Correa an elite shortstop in his heyday that could bolster midfield defense and the heart of the batting order, but he has played in 79 postseason games over seven years in the major leagues, including three World Series. Even after swapping Donaldson and Garver and leaving Cruz as a free agent, the integration of Correa and Sánchez into an already powerful series should ensure that the Twins will once again be under attack among the league leaders. The rotation remains the biggest question mark. With Kenta Maeda likely to miss the entire season recovering from elbow surgery, Ryan and Ober will be asked to make further progress after promising debut in 2021. Gray’s acquisition was a big help, but Bundy is a recycling project and Archer , a two-time All-Star, has scored less than 20 innings over the past two years due to injuries. Rogers must also bounce back from a sprained middle finger and re-establish himself as a reliable closer.

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