MLB Odds recently released at The Greek peg the Tigers as -300 chalk to win the division, their closest challengers coming in at 11/2. Jim Leyland's lads are listed at +350 to win the American League, the same MLB futures as the Toronto Blue Jays and just behind the Los Angeles Angels (+300). Motown's hardballers are +800 to go the distance for their fifth World Series title.
Detroit, previewed in more detail earlier this offseason at SBR, was an even bigger favorite last April and almost missed the playoffs. The Tigers were -650 on Opening Day 2012 and trailed the Chicago White Sox most of the summer before taking the division title by three games. Their 88 wins tied the St. Louis Cardinals, an NL wild card entry, for fewest dubyas among October's 10 playoff squads.
Leyland definitely has star power in his lineup and rotation. The last two AL MVP winners, Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera, are still in the fold and threats to claim another trophy in 2013. Boosting the lineup this year are Torii Hunter, a free agent acquisition from the Angels, and Victor Martinez, who missed the entire 2012 season due to a knee injury. Verlander will be trailed in the rotation by Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Max Scherzer, with Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly competing for the No. 5 slot in the order.
It's down in the bullpen where we find the biggest questions. Rookie Bruce Rondon is being penciled in for the closer's job, but the beefy Venezuelan will have to prove himself this spring. Leyland has hinted he could go the closer-by-committee route that would include Phil Coke, Joaquin Benoit, Al Albuquerque, Brayan Villarreal and Octavio Dotel.
ChiSox, Royals Seen As Motown's Top Challengers
Deep into last August, it appeared the White Sox were going to pull a mild upset as AL Central champs. Chicago reached a season-best 16-games above .500 (71-55) on Aug. 26 and held a modest 2.5-game lead over the Tigers at that time. But the Pale Hose fell out of contention by going 14-22 the rest of the way, losing 11 of their final 15 games.
Robin Ventura's crew is listed at +550 to upset the Tigers this time around, odds that seem a bit too optimistic. The White Sox lost solid veterans in catcher AJ Pierzynski and 3B Kevin Youkilis over the winter, and will plug in Tyler Flowers, a career .205 hitter, and Jeff Keppinger, who spent the winter rehabbing a broken right leg, in their places. Whether or not Alex Rios can repeat his fine '12 campaign remains to be seen, and rumors persist this could be Paul Konerko's final season on the diamond.
The mound corps was average a year ago, and it's very iffy to count on Jake Peavy staying healthy for an entire season plus John Danks is coming off shoulder surgery. Chris Sale should be in store for an even better year, but Addison Reed remains unproven at the closer slot.
Somewhat of a chic pick to claim the division, the Kansas City Royals check in at +650 for AL Central honors after spending the winter revamping their starting rotation. The Royals brought in James Shields and Wade Davis, both with the Rays last year, along with Ervin Santana from the Angels. The lineup has potential with budding stars like Alex Gordon, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Billy Butler, and the bullpen is led by Greg Holland as closer.
But lest we forget, those +650 odds right now are actually higher than the +550 that Kansas City started the 2012 season with, and this franchise hasn't seen the playoffs since 1985 with only two winning campaigns in the last 20.
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Odds Say Tribe & Twins Bring Up Rear
Terry Francona's break from managing is over after the former Red Sox skipper was hired by the Cleveland Indians during the offseason. The Indians are priced at +1200 to win the AL Central, and while they are a long shot to make the postseason even as a wild card, this is a club that could easily add another 15 wins to their 2012 total of 68.
Cleveland's lineup should be vastly improved from a year ago when the Tribe ranked 13th in the AL scoring 4.12 runs per game. The Indians added speed to the mix by picking up both Michael Bourn and Drew Stubbs, brought in another long ball threat in Mark Reynolds, plus veteran Nick Swisher. The starting rotation has been augmented by veteran Brett Myers and young Trevor Bauer, an ace in the making.
All signs point to the Minnesota Twins once again riding the AL Central caboose, though we don't expect them to be at the very bottom of the AL ranks like 2012. That honor should go to the Houston Astros over in the AL West thanks to their estimated $25 million payroll. The Twins are +2000 to win the AL Central.
Check back soon as we wrap up our preview of divisions with a look at the NL Central. You can find the other four divisions (which may help you with your future MLB picks) by clicking on the following links: