2021 A.L. Central Divisional Preview, Odds, & Predictions

By: Trent Pruitt (@trentbets)

2020 Divisional Recap 

The truncated 2020 season was a wild ride that saw a constant battle for first place amongst the Twins, White Sox, and Indians. It was a season we’ve never experienced before, at least in our lifetime. A 60 game sprint with an expanded playoff led to all three of the aforementioned ball clubs reaching the postseason. It looked like a promising postseason for A.L. Central fans entering October but the high expectations were quickly derailed with the Twins and Indians losing 2-0 to the Astros and Yankees, respectively. The White Sox split the first two games of the series with the A’s and poor game management led to their demise in game three (and you can tell I’m still not over it). It was an interesting campaign but the focus has shifted towards 2021 where we’ll have a full 162 game slate! Here’s my analysis on each organization entering the new season and my prediction on how they’ll finish. 

A.L Central Projections for 2021

1. Chicago White Sox

Vegas Win Total: 90.5 (Over -130, Under +110)

Odds to Win A.L. Central: -120 

Odds to Win A.L. Pennant: +425

Odds to Win World Series: +1000

Notable Additions: Liam Hendriks, Lance Lynn, Adam Eaton

Notable Departures: James McCann, Alex Colome, Edwin Encarnacion, Nomar Mazara

The White Sox took a huge leap forward in 2020 but came up short thanks to a few boneheaded mistakes in the postseason and ultimately being a couple of pieces short. They addressed those issues this offseason by bringing in legendary manager, Tony La Russa. Say what you want about Tony, but this guy is the real deal. I don’t think he’s going to skip a beat despite not managing since 2011. Oh, and he won the World Series with the Cardinals that year so it’s not like he retired by being forced out for poor performance like you often see. 

As for player talent, the Sox addressed two key needs. The first was starting pitching. Former skipper, Rick Renteria didn’t trust Dylan Cease or Dane Dunning to make a worthwhile start in game three of the Wild Card series, so it was clear they needed to reinforce the rotation. They shipped the promising Dunning to Texas for Lance Lynn in return. Lynn coupled with Lucas Giolito and Dallas Keuchel gives you a lethal top of the rotation. Then you have several guys battling it out for the last few spots in Cease, a returning Michael Kopech, Reynaldo Lopez, and Carlos Rodon is also getting looks. 

The second need that was addressed was a left-handed hitter and right fielder. They checked both of those boxes by bringing in Adam Eaton to fill that role. Eaton will be a versatile piece who can work a count, he’s quick, and he places well in right field. The rest of the lineup is pretty much stacked. Jose Abreu returns after an MVP season and he hasn’t skipped a beat in Spring Training. I’ll go more in-depth in my individual preview for the Sox (coming this week), but it looks like Rick Hahn’s rebuild is coming to fruition. The only weakness worth mentioning is the departure of James McCann. Chicago decided to look in-house to replace the all-star and it will be interesting to see how they fare without the leader. 

Prediction

The White Sox are primed to make a run at the World Series in 2021. I have them exceeding the 90.5 win mark (-130) and winning the A.L. Central (-120). I’m hesitant to say they win the Pennant or World Series but they have a fantastic opportunity to raise another banner on the Southside! I’ll put them between 92-97 wins in 2021. 

2. Minnesota Twins

Vegas Win Total: 89.5 (O -105, U -115) 

Odds to Win A.L. Central: +160

Odds to Win A.L. Pennant: +700

Odds to Win World Series: +1800

Notable Additions: J.A. Happ, Andrelton Simmons, Alex Colome, Matt Shoemaker, Andrew Romine, Glenn Sparkman

Notable Departures: Jake Odorizzi, Sergio Romo, Marwin Gonzalez, Eddie Rosario, Tyler Clippard

It was an unfamiliar ending for Twins faithful in 2020 after being on the wrong side of a 2-game sweep at the hands of the Astros in the play-in round. That pushed their postseason losing record to 18 games. They haven’t won a playoff game since 2004 when they lost the ALDS 3-1 to the Yankees. Similar to the aforementioned White Sox, the Twins are only focused on this upcoming season. Minnesota’s retooled some ancillary players around their core guys and they’re ready to make another run at the A.L. Central and hopefully break the streak. 

One of the biggest question marks entering this offseason was if they’d bring back Nelson Cruz. It dragged out a bit, but eventually the two sides came to terms on a $13 million, one-year contract to keep him in navy and scarlet red. Focusing on additions, the front office also brought in Andrelton Simmons and reinforced the pitching staff with J.A. Happ and Alex Colome. Personally, I love the Colome move. Picking him up on a $6.25 million, one-year deal is an absolute steal. I mean, we’re talking about a guy who has gone 42/46 over the last two seasons in the closer role so Twins fans will love having “a sure thing” on the backend of their pen. 

Overall, the expectations remain high as Minnesota looks to win the A.L. Central for the third straight season. They’re a talented team up and down the lineup with a fantastic one-two punch in the rotation with Kenta Maeda and Jose Berrios. Michael Pineda, J.A. Happ, and newcomer, Matt Shoemaker should round out the bottom of the rotation and I’m “mehhh” on them. All of those guys will be able to eat some innings and I think Pineda and Happ will be able to make some serviceable starts. But make no mistake, this is not a World Series rotation (and team for that matter), nor is it a team that’s going to make a run. 

Prediction

This is a very appropriate win total set by our friends in Las Vegas. 89.5 will be a tough number to eclipse in an emerging A.L. Central, but I think they do it. I have the Twins finishing in the 88-93 range but lean towards them hitting the over (-105). My bold pick for the Twins is that they will not make the playoffs at +130 odds. I think the A.L. Central has four teams that will “beat up” on each other a little bit and ultimately have the Twins on the outside looking in. The middle of the road rotation combined with the front office’s inability to out and land another electric player has me very iffy on Minnesota. I think they’re far from a lock to make the playoffs, so I’ll take a flier on them with a positive payout to miss the playoffs in 2021. 

3. Kansas City Royals

Vegas Win Total: 73.5 (O -115, U -105)

Odds to Win A.L. Central: +5000

Odds to Win A.L. Pennant: +5500

Odds to Win World Series: +10000

Notable Additions: Andrew Benintendi, Carlos Santana, Michael Taylor

Notable Departures: Maikel Franco, Glenn Sparkman, Alex Gordon, Ian Kennedy

My second bold prediction in regards to A.L. Central futures is that the Royals will finish above the Indians for third place. This is a speedy lineup mixed in with a few power guys and some “balanced” players. Whit Merrifield is probably one of my favorite players to watch in the league. He brings the energy every night and he’s one of those guys that can single-handedly take control of a close game by getting on and swiping some bags. The moves to bring in Andrew Benintendi and Carlos Santana are going very unnoticed by the national media guys. Plus, we’re getting a healthy Salvador Perez, a big bopper in Jorge Soler, and Hunter Dozier is emerging as a fine player too. Mike Matheny will opt to finish his lineup with speed via Nicky Lopez and newcomer, Michael Taylor. 

One of the bigger question marks for the Royals this season will be their rotation. There’s plenty of untapped potential, but the bottom line is they’re young and not yet refined. I think Brad Keller is going to turn out fine and bringing in Mike Minor on a 2-year, $18 million contract is a big plus. Not only is the guy coming off a great stint in Texas, just bringing in the veteran lefty and having his presence will help guys like Brady Singer and Kris Bubic develop. 

Prediction

Clearly I will be taking the over on Royals wins at 73.5 (-115). This team is going to surprise some people and I think they’ll even clear the 80 win mark. I have them in the 79-85 range and this is my lock of the season. In last year’s shortened season, it was the under on Red Sox wins, this year, it’s the Royals. And to be 100%, I’m very tempted to pull the trigger on the Royals +900 to make the playoffs. Of course that wouldn’t make sense with my prediction on the Twins not making the playoffs, but that’s just how high I am on Matheny and his guys this season. 

4. Cleveland Indians

Vegas Win Total: 81.5 (O -115, U -105)

Odds to Win A.L. Central: +700

Odds to Win A.L. Pennant: +1800

Odds to Win World Series: +4000

Notable Additions: Amed Rosario, Eddie Rosario

Notable Departures: Domingo Santana, Carlos Santana, Brad Hand, Tyler Naquin, Francisco Lindor, Carlos Carrasco 

I’ll tell you a team I’m not high on.. The Indians.

For starters, they lost Carlos Santana and Francisco Lindor so you have to wonder how they’ll replace that productivity. This lineup just doesn’t do it for me. After the top five in the lineup, there is a massive drop off. The 6-9 hitters are a black hole – not going to be much production coming out of there. 

The pitching will be the only chance that the Indians have at making some noise this season. Of course you have Shane Bieber, the reigning A.L. Cy Young. And you have a great supporting cast of Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale, and Triston McKenzie who’ve all proved their major league worth. I think the Tribe have shifted their mentality as a team and they’re going to fully rely on their pitching and timely hitting. And sure, that strategy will win them a few games this year but it isn’t sustainable over 162 and the playoffs

Prediction

I’m obviously low on the Tribe this season. I will be taking the under on 81.5 wins (-105). Ultimately, the lineup is not deep and you have to wonder where the run production is going to come from. The pitching staff is primo but you will not be able to win 2-1 games in this division on a nightly basis when facing guys like Jose Abreu and Nelson Cruz. 

5. Detroit Tigers 

Vegas Win Total: 67.5 (O -110, U -110) 

Odds to Win A.L. Central: +5000

Odds to Win A.L. Pennant: +6000

Odds to Win World Series: +10000

Notable Additions: Nomar Mazara, Wilson Ramos, Robbie Grossman

Notable Departures: Dawel Lugo, C.J. Cron, Jordan Zimmerman, Austin Romine, Ivan Nova

I’m not excited at all about the Tigers at all entering this season. The long term look shows some potential but this year might get ugly. 

Offensively, it’ll be Miguel Cabrera and Jonathan Scoop leading the charge. Miggy’s far from his 2012 triple crown form, but that guy can still hit the ball wherever he wants. He’s one of the top players I wouldn’t want to face with a guy in scoring position. I have PTSD from the amount of times he’s shortened up his swing and blooped or lined a single into center to score a run against the White Sox. In addition to these two, the Tigers brought Robbie Grossman in from Oakland. He’s a .345 OBP guy and will be a nice piece at the top of the lineup. After Grossman, Jeimer Candelario, Schoop and Cabrera, the lineup drops off quite a bit. Wilson Ramos at catcher doesn’t do it for me and I’ve experienced enough Nomar Mazara for one lifetime. The offensive production is probably going to be pretty top heavy for the Tigers. 

When it comes to pitching, I think we can all get behind Jordan Zimmerman’s contract finally being off of the books. He’s finally gone. Matthew Boyd will be the lead man entering this season and he’ll be aided by Spencer Turnbull once he’s back from the COVID list. Detroit also brought in Julio Teheran. He’ll be a nice piece to slot into the third spot but overall, I’m not very high on their pitching staff either. 

It’s all about the future for Detroit. They have my guy, Spencer Torkelson (former ASU alum), and he’s ranked third overall for MLB prospects. RHP, Casey Mize is ranked 11th overall, and we’ve already seen what he can do at the big league level. Riley Greene (OF), Tarik Skubalm (LHP), and Matt Manning (RHP) are also ranked in the top 25 MLB prospects. The future is bright but they’re a little while away from making some noise in the Central. 

Prediction

I’m actually taking the under on 67.5 wins (-110) for the Tigers. The A.L. Central will be pretty strong this year and there isn’t much on this roster to make a case for Detroit not being a 100 loss team. The future has potential but the Tigers won’t be a threat to anyone this season. 

A.L. Central MVP: Luis Robert

A.L. Central Cy Young: Kenta Maeda

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