Baseball is finally back. After the most exciting Royals season in arguably Royals history, the anticipation is running high. The Royals play their first spring training game against the Rangers on Thursday, and things are looking good for this team.
Ned Yost is doing interviews everywhere, Alex Gordon is running miles around the park, and Lo Cain and Sal Perez are playing jokes on each other. This still feels like it did in October, which is a great feeling. As Ned Yost said, this Royals team certainly has a certain “swagger” heading into 2015, and it should be a good season.
As Sam Mellinger of the Kansas City Star wrote, the AL Central may not be the best division this year, but it will certainly be the most competitive. This division really is up for the grabs, as the Royals, Tigers, Indians and White Sox all have a legitimate chance to win the division this year. The Twins are still the Twins, though.
The Royals managed to keep a lot of their pieces during the offseason, even though we all speculated they would lose some of that great bullpen depth in a possible trade. Instead, they went out and signed two really old guys to replace Billy Butler and Nori Aoki, and it will be interesting to see how those moves pan out this year.
The core of their team is still the same, with Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Alex Gordon all leading the way this year. Gordon was arguably the best of the three last year, but we don’t know how he is going to recover from that wrist surgery. Hosmer and Moustakas need to step it up a notch, or their futures with the Royals could be in jeopardy.
James Shields may be gone, but Yordano Ventura still throws fire. He’ll be taking the #1 spot in the rotation, followed by Danny Duffy. The last three spots are really up for grabs, and Yost should have fun dealing with that. This year we are going to find out how big of an impact Shields really had on the World Series run last year.
The Royals are going to rely on their pitching and defense much like they did last year, but hopefully those few added pieces on the offense can get them to where they need to be. The projections haven’t been nice to the Royals thus far, but I think they come in far too low.
The Tigers are going to be interesting to watch this year. Max Scherzer is gone, and Justin Verlander is a year older. Verlander really fell off a cliff last year, and I’m not sure he can climb back up. Their pitching staff is their major weakness this year.
The center pieces of the Tigers’ offense is going to be Victor Martinez, Miguel Cabrera and Yoenis Cespedes. Martinez was resigned during the offseason, and Cespedes was acquired in a trade with the Red Sox for Rick Porcello. Cespedes was outstanding with Oakland, but hit a real plateau when he was traded to the Sox.
The Tigers are always a tough matchup for the Royals, and it’s going to be fun to watch these two teams in 2015. Ultimately, the Tigers lost too many pieces than they added. They only reached 90 wins last season, and I’m predicting less this year.
The Indians are probably the most intriguing team in the division this year. They finished third last year, after giving both the Royals and Tigers a run for their money. They’re a team on the rise, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they had a break out season this year.
Their roster remained largely intact during the offseason, with a pitching staff headlined by the young Corey Kluber. Kluber gave the Royals some trouble last year, and probably will again this year. Their #2 is Gavin Floyd, who only pitched in 9 games last year with Atlanta.
The Indians have a somewhat high powered offense led by Michael Brantley, Lonnie Chisenhall and Yan Gomes. The team hit 142 home runs in 2014, ranking 9th in the AL. Their batting average of .253 was good enough for 8th in AL. Expect them to hit somewhere around the same numbers this year.
Cleveland is definitely on the rise, but won’t be able to take the division in 2015. They should finish around the same spot as last year.
The White Sox were the most active of all the teams during the offseason, acquiring a lot of pieces and filling a lot of holes. They finished 4th in the division last year, and although I’m going to have them at 4th again, it’s only because the three above them will be better.
Their biggest improvement was pitching, something the Royals proved last year is important for winning. They signed closer David Robertson and reliever Zach Duke, along with their biggest signing, Jeff Samardzija. Samardzija will take the #2 spot in the rotation, following Chris Sale. That’s a pretty good top 2.
Their offense got significantly better, as well. They added Melky Cabrera in big three year deal, along with first baseman Adam LaRoche. Combine that with Jose Abreu and the ever so popular Connor Gillaspie, and this is a great offense.
The White Sox could easily finish in third and the Indians in fourth, but I just historically don’t like the White Sox so I’m putting them at 4th.
There isn’t much to say about the Twins. They have Torii Hunter back, but that’s about it. I don’t think anybody is really sure what they are doing, including myself. You can pretty much lock them in at dead last in the division.
Wow, this was a long post. You can clearly see my bias show with my prediction as the Royals clinching the division, but I definitely think it’s highly plausible. Will they make another World Series run? Heck, why not. Ned Yost can pretty much do anything if he can make it to the Fall Classic.
Please leave your comments and let me know what you think!