Major League Baseball’s Opening Day draws nearer every day. With Spring Training games starting this week in Florida and Arizona, baseball is officially back. This week’s MLB preview will cover the AL and NL Central.
In the AL Central, the Detroit Tigers begin a quest to repeat as division champions for the fifth straight year. New additions Alfredo Simon and Yoenis Cespedes look to support superstar Miguel Cabrera in their run at another title. The Tigers, however, lost former Cy Young pitcher Max Scherzer to free agency and also traded away Rick Porcello. Detroit must rely on good health and their rotation to propel them back to the postseason.
Even though the Kansas City Royals made a stellar run to the World Series in October 2015 may not be as kind. The Royals lost ace James Shields to free agency, and KC is relying on the bullpen to repeat an otherworldly, but unlikely, 2014 performance. Their lineup has potential to be great, but will require catcher Salvador Perez to remain healthy and productive. The road to the postseason through the AL Central will be even more difficult this year.
One of the most improved teams of the offseason was the Chicago White Sox. With Jose Abreu providing the spark in Chicago’s lineup, they added Jeff Samardzija and closer David Robertson to anchor the pitching staff. The White Sox are looking to return to the postseason for the first time since 2008.
Another team with much to prove this season is the Cleveland Indians. Cleveland will rely on 2014 Cy Young winner Corey Kluber to lead an otherwise untested rotation back to the postseason. The Indians lineup, led by Michael Brantley, Carlos Santana and Brandon Moss look to throw Cleveland back into the postseason discussion this year.
The Minnesota Twins may finish 2015 in last place again, but have a positive outlook on the future. Not only do they boast one of the best farm systems in baseball, the Twins also have Brian Dozier and former MVP Joe Mauer to lead the young lineup. Minnesota should regain relevancy again by 2017.
Over in the National League, the St. Louis Cardinals, the returning NL Central divisional champions, lead one of the strongest divisions in all of baseball. St. Louis was already good, but improved even more by adding Jason Heyward to fill the gap in right field. Combined with a deep rotation and consistent bullpen, the Cardinals are the favorite to win the National League Central division again.
Theo Epstein, the Chicago Cubs’ president of baseball operations, orchestrated an incredible offseason. He brought in one of the best managers in the game, Joe Maddon, as well as signed Jon Lester to excite the fan base that hasn’t seen a World Series title since 1908. With many of the Cubs’ top prospects beginning the transition into the Major Leagues, Chicago’s potential is as exciting as any teams in baseball.
The Pittsburgh Pirates, led by superstar Andrew McCutchen, look to return to the playoffs for the third consecutive campaign. They lost catcher Russell Martin, but have young Gregory Polanco to replace him in the lineup. Their rotation, led by A.J. Burnett, will have to rely on strong performances by young Gerrit Cole and Jeff Locke to again return to the postseason.
The Cincinnati Reds had a miserable 2014 season, and they did not improve much this offseason. Pitchers Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon were both traded, leaving questions in the starting rotation, and both the bullpen and lineup struggled mightily last year. Regardless, GM Walt Jocketty is remaining positive about 2015. If superstar first baseman Joey Votto and outfielder Jay Bruce can return to health, Cincinnati can contend in 2015.
Finally, the Milwaukee Brewers believe they have a chance to make the playoffs come October. Ryan Braun and Carlos Gomez look to anchor an aging lineup, and Kyle Lohse leads an underrated rotation. Milwaukee may not be considered a top team, but they definitely possess the talent to contend deep into the season.
Both the NL Central and the AL Central return a lot of talent in 2015, but it remains to be seen if they can turn talent into production and a run for a World Series title.