The last three American League winners have come out of the AL Central, and the Cleveland Indians are among the favorites on the MLB futures odds to make it four in a row.
Following two consecutive American League pennants and the World Series Championship in 2015, the Central Division of the Junior Circuit was supposed to belong to the Kansas City Royals last season. Expected to give them their stiffest competition were the Detroit Tigers.
It was not to be for either club, though Detroit did wind up giving the eventual division winner its best competition. It doesn't look too promising for either the Royals or Tigers in 2017, that is if MLB futures odds prove prophetic.
The good news for AL Central lovers is the division produced its third consecutive league pennant winner, that being the somewhat surprising Cleveland Indians who would stretch the Chicago Cubs to extra innings of World Series Game 7 before bowing. I say surprisingly only because the Indians were picked third, even fourth in the division in 2016 and lost two of their better young arms late in the campaign.
Indians Boost Offense With Encarnacion Signing
Cleveland is now seen as the runaway favorite in the division, and second on the futures odds board behind the Boston Red Sox to win the AL. Boston is projected as a 3/2 favorite to win the American League at several of the top sports books on SBR's charts, the Indians coming in around 9/2 or 5/1.
The loss of Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar last season forced manager Terry Francona to often reach deep into his bag of tricks to keep the Tribe in the race. Francona worked his magic to near perfection during the playoffs, thanks to Corey Kluber lifting the rotation on his shoulders and the deep bullpen that is back intact for 2017 with Cody Allen and Andrew Miller at the back end. Cleveland also inked one of the prize free agent bats from this past winter, Edwin Encarnacion, and is hopeful to have a healthy Michael Brantley to boost the offense this year.
Detroit is going off second in the division behind the Indians as a 10/1 wager to win the AL, and a team worth watching out of the gate. If Michael Fulmer can avoid the sophomore jinx and Jordan Zimmermann rebounds after a tough season, they'll join Justin Verlander to form a tough 1-2-3 in the rotation. Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, and Victor Martinez ain't getting any younger, so a slow start could see the team jettison payroll by late July.
Can Royals Recover From Loss Of Ventura?
Kansas City is not only entering 2017 off a disappointing .500 showing a season ago, the Royals are also now dealing with the loss of young pitcher Yordano Ventura who died in an auto accident this past weekend. It's a huge loss since he and Danny Duffy were supposed to be the studs at the top of the rotation. So far, there hasn't been any movement on KC's odds to win the AL (15/1), and it's still a good enough team to be right there with the Tigers when the division odds come out soon.
Chicago at 50/1 and Minnesota (60/1) to win the AL are the division long shots. The White Sox will continue their sell-off into spring training, already losing ace Chris Sale and outfielder Adam Eaton with rumors they're still pushing starters Jose Quintana and James Shields plus closer David Robertson.
I'll always have a soft spot for the Twins, going back to the Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, and Rod Carew days. Not this year, however, though I'll be looking for favorable matchups with my free baseball picks when they're underdogs, which they'll be 70% of the time in 2017.
Last year: 50-48 (+4.75)
Since 2012: 575-487-25 (+90.3)