AL Central Division betting preview
There remains a lot of uncertainty regarding the MLB season start date due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The best scenario would be early June and it will be most likely in July. One thing is assured, we won’t be seeing a customary 162-game regular season schedule. In any event, I’m going to be discussing the AL Central Division from an MLB betting viewpoint.
2020 AL Central Division Futures Odds
All futures odds listed below are courtesy of BetOnline.
• Minnesota Twins (-150)
• Cleveland Indians (+275)
• Chicago White Sox (+350)
• Detroit Tigers (+10,000)
• Kansas City Royals (+12,500)
The reigning AL Central Division champions are a favorite to defend their crown in 2020. It's not a fluke by any stretch when a team wins 101 games like the Twins did in 2019. Unfortunately, their season came to a disappointing end after being swept by the Yankees in the ALDS.
Minnesota returns most of their roster from a team that led all of baseball by hitting 307 home runs last season. The Twins were also #2 in runs scored per game (5.80) and #2 in team batting average (.270). Nonetheless, former Toronto and Atlanta 3rd basemen Josh Donaldson will be a welcomed addition to the Twins lineup. Donaldson had 37 homers and 94 runs batting while playing for Atlanta in 2019. As a matter of fact, the 2020 Twins projected starting lineup will contain 7 players who hit 22 or more home runs and 6 that produced 79 plus RBIs last season.
2020 Twins Projected Batting Order
1) Jorge Polanco, SS
2) Josh Donaldson, 3B
3) Nelson Cruz, DH
4) Max Kepler, RF
5) Miguel Sanó, 1B
6) Luis Arraez, 2B
7) Mitch Garver, C
8) Eddie Rosario, LF
9) Byron Buxton, CF
Starting Pitching and Closer
Jose Berrios and Jake Odoriizzi figure to be 1-2 in the Twins starting rotation. Those right-handers combined to go 29-15 in 62 starts a season ago. Minnesota also has added a pair of veteran right-handed starters in Homer Bailey and Kent Maeda. Southpaw Taylor Rogers will be the Twins closer. Rogers converted on 30 of 36 save opportunities last year while compiling an excellent 2.61 ERA and striking out 90 batters in 69.0 innings of work.
2020 Twins Projected Starting Pitcher Rotation
1) José Berríos
2) Jake Odorizzi
3) Kenta Maeda
4) Homer Bailey
5) Randy Dobnak
Closer: Taylor Rogers
The Indians missed the playoffs last season despite posting a very good 93-69 (.574) record. They finished 2nd in the AL Central Division standings but were still a distant 8.0 games behind first place Minnesota. Cleveland also fell 3.0 games behind Tampa Bay (96-66) for the final American League Wild Card spot.
The good news for Cleveland is they were able to keep last year's roster mostly intact. The Indians pitching was very good in 2019, but conversely their offensive numbers were middle of the pack across the board.
Jose Lindor returns despite widespread speculation to the contrary. Lindor has been one the elite leadoff hitters in MLB over the past three seasons. Carlos Santana is coming off a career year which saw him belt 34 home runs and manufacture 93 RBIs. A player to keep an eye on will be 24-year-old Franmil Reyes who smashed 37 home runs and knocked in 81 runs last year. Then there's the consistency of 3rd basemen Jose Ramirez who’s averaged a little over 30 home runs and 90 RBIs per season since 2017.
2020 Projected Indians Batting Order
1) Francisco Lindor, SS
2) Oscar Mercado, LF
3) Carlos Santana, 1B
4) Franmil Reyes, DH
5) José Ramírez, 3B
6) Jordan Luplow, RF
7) César Hernández, 2B
8) Roberto Pérez, C
9) Delino DeShields, CF
Starting Pitching and Closer
Cleveland returns all familiar names to their starting rotation. A big question mark will be Mike Clevinger, who missed a good chunk of last season after undergoing elbow surgery. When healthy, Clevinger went 13-4 in 21 starts while collecting a stellar 2.71 ERA. The Indians will hope talented right-hander Shane Bieber can be more consistent this season. Bieber had a tremendous first half of 2019 and then tailed off a bit as the season progressed. Still in all, during Bieber's first two seasons in MLB he’s gone a very good 26-13 in 52 starts. The Tribe also is wishing for talented 24-year-old Aaron Civale to show the form he did a year ago albeit in limited appearances. Civale compiled an excellent 2.34 ERA in 10 starts.
The Indians bullpen was one of the best in the American League last season. Once again lefty Brad Hand will be their closer. Hand made good on 34 of 39 save opportunities last season while recording a respectable 3.30 ERA.
2020 Indians Projected Starting Pitching Rotation
1) Shane Bieber
2) Mike Clevinger
3) Carlos Carrasco
4) Aaron Civale
5) Zach Plesac
Closer: Brad Hand
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox were an uninspiring 72-89 in 2019 and finished 28.5 games behind AL Central Division winner Minnesota. However, I like Chicago to be one of the most improved teams in baseball.
Chicago added key offseason acquisitions in Edwin Encarnacion, Nomar Mazzara, Yasmani Grandal. Encarnacion was hampered by injury last season, but still managed to hit 34 home runs and manufacture 86 RBIs in just 102 games. It marked the 8th straight season in which Encarnacion had 32 home runs or more. The 37-year-old right-handed hitter has also batted in 104 runs or more in six of the previous 8 years. Meanwhile, Mazzara has hit 19 home runs or greater in each of his four MLB seasons, and all came while playing for the Texas Rangers. Grandal will be entering his 9th MLB season and previously played for the Padres, Dodgers, and Brewers. The 31-year-old veteran catcher and native of Cuba has homered 22 times or more in each of the last five years.
Jose Abreu is coming off the best season of his 6-year MLB career. The powerful right-handed hitter connected on 33 home runs and added a whopping 123 RBIs last season. Abreu will hope to be protected by an up and comer in 23-year-old Eloy Jimenez, who is coming off a terrific rookie campaign. Jimenez accounted for 31 home runs and 79 RBI’s while appearing in just 122 games. Speaking of rising young stars, the White Sox have another in 24-year old Cuban export Yoan Moncada, who hit .315 with 25 home runs and 79 RBI’s last season. Furthermore, keep an eye on an additional young Cuban-born player in 22-year old centerfielder Robert Luis, who will be making his MLB debut in 2020. Luis played at all 3 minor league levels last season and had a combined 32 home runs, 92 RBIs, and 36 stolen bases while hitting .328. By the way, we started this paragraph discussing Jose Abreu, and he's originally from . . . you guessed it, Cuba. Do you see a pattern here?
Let's not forget the only player from the United States projected to be in the White Sox starting lineup. That's 2019 American League batting champion Tim Anderson who hit .335, socked 18 homers, and stole 17 bases.
2020 Chicago White Sox projected Batting Order
1) Leury García, 2B
2) Yoán Moncada, 3B
3) José Abreu, 1B
4) Eloy Jiménez, LF
5) Yasmani Grandal, C
6) Edwin Encarnación, DH
7) Tim Anderson, SS
8) Nomar Mazara, RF
9) Luis Robert, CF
Starting Pitcher and Closer
Let's start with the White Sox closer Luis Colome. He did an excellent job in that role for Chicago last season. Colome converted on 30 of 33 save opportunities while registering a shiny 2.80 ERA. As a matter of fact, since 2016 while pitching for Tampa Bay and Chicago, Colome has succeeded on 126 of 143 chances to record a save (88.1%). Obviously, the White Sox are in pretty good shape with him as their closer.
If the White Sox are going to contend for a division title or even an American League wildcard berth their starting pitching must be much better than it was in 2019. On a positive note, they were able to obtain a pair of experienced left-handed former 20-game winners during the offseason in Gio Gonzalez and Dallas Keuchel. Both should be relatively fresh after coming off seasons in which they made only a combined 36 starts. The White Sox brass is also hoping that Lucas Giolito can take the next step after going 14-9 with a solid 3.41 ERA and 1.06 WHIP over 29 starts last season. Giolito has realistic potential to be a 20-game winner considering the improved run-support he should receive in 2020.
2020 Chicago White Sox Projected Pitching Staff
1) Lucas Giolito
2) Dallas Keuchel
3) Dylan Cease
4) Gio González
5) Reynaldo López
Closer: Alex Colome
I'll go out on a limb and say the Detroit Tigers will be better than a year ago (laugh). After all, how can they not be, after going a dreadful 47-114. Hence their current 100-1 odds to win the AL Central!
Future MLB Hall of Fame inductee Miguel Cabrera returns for his 18th MLB season. At this point, the 36-year old Cabrera has his sights sight on 3,000 career hits. He enters this season 185 hits short of that milestone. Unfortunately. Cabrera hasn't reached that plateau since 2016, when banged out 188 hits.
The Tigers were able to bring in two former Minnesota Twins during the offseason. C.J. Cron had 25 home runs and 78 RBIs for the defending AL Central Division champs last season. Then there's second basemen Jonathan Schoop, who hit 23 homers and added 59 RBIs for the Twins in 2019. Although these players are a bit of an upgrade to what the Tigers had in 2019, it's a big ask for them to be substantial difference makers, considering their less than imposing supporting cast.
2020 Detroit Tigers Projected Batting Order
1) Niko Goodrum, SS
2) Victor Reyes, RF
3) Miguel Cabrera, DH
4) C.J. Cron, 1B
5) Jonathan Schoop, 2B
6) Christin Stewart, LF
7) Jeimer Candelario, 3B
8) Austin Romine, C
9) JaCoby Jones, CF
Starting Pitching and Closer
The Tigers are expecting Mathew Boyd to be their ace. Considering the 29-year-old southpaw hurler is a sub-standard 31-47 with a lofty 4.92 ERA in 118 career MLB starts, it'll be a monumental task for him to fulfill.
The Tigers slated #2 starter is Jordan Zimmerman. The 33-year-old righthander is entering his 10th full MLB season, and is coming off a year in which he was 1-13, with a sizable 6.92 ERA.
Need I go any further with the rest of the rotation when these are the Tigers top two starting pitchers? I don't think that requires an answer.
Joe Jimenez is penciled in to be Detroit's closer, or at least to start the season. Jimenez was a poor 12-21 (57.1%) on save opportunities in 2019. On a positive note, Jimenez did display a power arm while striking out 160 batters in 122 1/3 innings pitched.
2020 Projected Detroit Tigers Starting Pitching Rotation
1) Matthew Boyd
2) Jordan Zimmermann
3) Ivan Nova
4) Spencer Turnbull
5) Daniel Norris
Closer: Joe Jiminez
Kansas City Royals
The Royals were a dismal 59-103 last season. Yet, thanks to Detroit, they didn't finish in the AL Central cellar. Kansas City does have a bona fide star in 28-year-old Cuban refugee Jorge Soler. Last season was Soler's rookie campaign and he cracked 48 homers while driving in an enormous 117 runs on an awful team.
Besides Soler, Kansas City possesses some power in Hunter Dozier and Salvador Perez. Dozier contributed 26 homers and 84 RBIs last season. Perez has produced exactly 27 homers and 80 RBIs in each of the past two seasons. Now that’s consistency!
The Royals second basemen Whitt Merrifield has proven to be an effective leadoff hitter based on an ample sample size. Merrifield has a .296 batting average, .344 on-base-percentage, and has swiped 107 bases during his 8-year MLB career all coming with Kansas City.
2020 Projected Kansas City Royals Projected Batting Order
1) Whit Merrifield, CF
2) Adalberto Mondesi, SS
3) Hunter Dozier, RF
4) Jorge Soler, DH
5) Salvador Perez, C
6) Alex Gordon, LF
7) Maikel Franco, 3B
8) Ryan O'Hearn, 1B
9) Nicky Lopez, 2B
Starting Pitching and Closer
When scouring over the predicted Kansas City 5-man starting rotation, one word enters my mind, and that's inconsistent. There are four starters who were with Kansas City in 2019 and a hopeful 23-year old rookie (Brady Singer). Remember, this is a ballclub that lost 103 games last season. Nevertheless, their front office showed no urgency in upgrading its starting pitching staff. Not exactly a selling point to potential season ticket holders.
The Kansas City closer is expected to be 35-year-old veteran right-hander Ian Kennedy. Last season was a first time that Kennedy filled that role and he truly did an admirable job. Kennedy successful on 30 of his 34 save opportunities. Putting those numbers into proper perspective, Kennedy hand a hand in closing more than half of Kansas City's 59 wins. That's for sure a feather in Kennedy's cap. Moreover, that ratio of saves versus total team wins doesn’t equate to a playoff caliber team.
2020 Kansas City Royals Projected Staring Pitcher Rotation
1) Brad Keller
2) Danny Duffy
3) Jakob Junis
4) Mike Montgomery
5) Brady Singer
Closer: Ian Kennedy
Final AL Central Division Thoughts and Prediction
On paper the Minnesota Twins should repeat as AL Central Division champions. Personally, you'll never get me to make a futures wager before a season begins when it requires an investment that exceeds my possible return.
Secondly, if you're considering futures bets on either the Tigers or Royals, I would highly suggest seeking psychological therapy.
That leaves me with the Indians and White Sox. I do think the White Sox will surprise a lot of people and be an exciting team to watch. Having said that, I’ll go with the Indians as my AL Central Division futures prediction because they unequivocally have a superior pitching staff in comparison to the White Sox.
Pick: Cleveland Indians +275
Ross Benjamin is a top sports analyst and one of the sports industry's most respected handicappers. Follow him on Twitter: @RossBenjamin1 or visit his website at RBWins.com