The AL Central division has gone from being one of the weaker divisions in the MLB just five years ago to being one of the more competitive ones entering 2015. Four of the five teams have the ability to win it, and even the team projected to finish in last place (Minnesota) is much improved. Today’s article will highlight the Detroit Tigers and the Kansas City Royals. The Tigers are the four-time defending AL Central Champions and the Royals squeaked in as a Wild Card team in 2014 and went all the way to the Fall Classic as the AL pennant winners. Both teams have their sights set on a division championship in 2015, but there can only be one AL Central Champion. Detroit Tigers- 2014 (90-72, 1st Place) – 2015 Prediction (89-73, 1st Place): The Tigers have dominated the AL Central for years now, and, although the division continues to get more competitive each season, I still predict they will come out on top once again. They have a very small window to contend for a championship with their aging roster and a number of players set to hit the open market in 2016 and 2017. They will only be the division favorite for so long, so they better take advantage of it while they still can. They lost Max Scherzer to free agency who was arguably their best pitcher. They also traded away their best young pitcher in the 25-year old Rick Porcello. Even with the loss of those two big name SPs, the Tigers have David Price, Anibal Sanchez, Justin Verlander and newly acquired Alfredo Simon in their rotation, making it the strongest rotation in the AL Central and possibly one of the best in the American League.
There is also no shortage of offense in Detroit heading into the 2015 season. They have two of the best hitters in all of baseball (Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez) as well as one of the best second baseman in baseball in Ian Kinsler. Cabrera and Martinez both hit for high averages, drive in over 100 runs and should both hit at least 20 HR as well. Kinsler is a player who produces across the board. He has speed, power, can drive in runs and even hit for a .275 or better BA. Their addition of Yoenis Cespedes, who they acquired from the Red Sox this offseason, only solidifies the Tigers as having the best 2-5 hitters in the AL Central. This team is a force to be reckoned with offensively. Watch for speedy outfielders Anthony Gose and Rajai Davis to rack up the SBs while RF J.D. Martinez looks to prove that his breakout 2014 season was no fluke. Young 3B Nick Castellanos will look to improve upon his solid rookie season and SS Jose Iglesias hopes to be fully recovered from injuries that forced him to miss all of 2014. The Tigers bullpen has a lot of question marks heading into the 2015 season. Veteran closer Joe Nathan struggled mightily in 2014 and it looks like his age has caught up with him. There are a few possible internal replacements that can act as security blankets, most notably Joakim Soria and Joba Chamberlain. Neither one of them are great options, however, if Nathan falters, both could be in line for saves. Flame thrower Al Alburquerque may also get a look at save opportunities as well. Bruce Rondon was supposed to be the Tigers future closer entering the 2013 season. Unfortunately, injuries kept him off the field and he will look to put his name on the map this year at the MLB level. The Tigers’ bullpen situation is one to follow closely throughout spring training and even through the month of April. Nathan had a lot of leeway last season, however this year, his leash appears to be much shorter. Kansas City Royals- 2014 (89-73, 2nd Place) – 2015 Prediction (83-79, 4th Place): It was surprising enough to most people that the Royals even qualified for the playoffs in 2014 after missing the postseason every year since 1985. I think what really shocked the baseball world is that they went all the way to the World Series, took the Giants to seven games and had the tying run just 90 feet away with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. The entire playoff run was memorable, yet the one game that stands out to me was their win over Oakland in the wild card game. The Royals greatly exceeded all expectations last season and really have no where to go but down from here. It’s not that they are necessarily worse than last year; it’s that the teams who finished below them last season are all improved heading into 2015. They let long time Royal Billy Butler walk in free agency and were also unable to offer their former veteran ace James Shields the lucrative free agent deal that he eventually got from the Padres. They did sign Alex Rios and Kendrys Morales to make up for the offense that will be missed with Butler’s departure, but replacing Shields’ production will be much more difficult. Beyond Yordano Ventura (the Royals #1 SP), there is not much fantasy value in the starting rotation.
Alex Gordon, Lorenzo Cain and Rios make up a very athletic and talented outfield. They all hit for a solid BA, can steal bases and play great defense, but they lack power like most of the Royals roster. The fourth outfielder is Jarrod Dyson, who does not offer much fantasy value, even with his three straight seasons of over 30 SB. If he was to get everyday at bats, he would be worth taking a flier on in late rounds. They don’t have many top fantasy options on the offensive side, even with former top draft picks like Eric Hosmer at 1B and Mike Moustakas at 3B. Both players have not lived up to expectations and should be left off your fantasy rosters until they prove they can hit consistently well over 162 games. The middle infielders lack fantasy value with the exception of Alcides Escobar’s SB totals and Omar Infante’s career high in RBI in 2014. Their catcher, Salvador Perez, has a very high ceiling, but will need to get his BA up again to be considered a top fantasy option at the position. Greg Holland is going to rack up a ton of saves and strikeouts again as the Royals ninth inning option. If he does get bitten by the injury bug, the Royals have a number of incredible options to take his place. Wade Davis is the best RP in baseball who isn’t a closer, Kelvin Herrera has closer caliber stuff and pitches in the 7th inning, and both will be among the league leaders in holds and inherited runners stranded while racking up big strike out numbers. This wraps up my preview on the top 2 teams from the AL Central Division in 2014. Tune in next week for my preview on the Cleveland Indians.
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Major League Fantasy Sports Radio Show: Join Ej Garr and Corey D Roberts Sunday March 15th from 7pm-9pm EST for this week’s episode of Major League Fantasy Sports Radio sponsored by the Sports Palooza Radio Network. We will be taking live callers at 646.915.8596. This week’s topic will the Outfield positions.