The Central divisions are often the most forgotten in Major League Baseball and never was that more true than last year when powerhouse teams on each coast (plus the Houston Astros, who of course play in the American League West) dominated the conversation and the star power.
And at least the NL Central has its classic Cardinals-Cubs rivalry. The AL Central, on the other hand? Well, it’s a tough child to love. But that doesn’t mean it’s without intrigue.
The Chicago White Sox had a brilliant season in 2021, winning 93 games and then returning the nucleus of that team last season. Injuries and some surprise regression cost the Pale Hose, however, and it was the Cleveland Guardians who fought off the White Sox and fast-fading Minnesota Twins to win the Central last season.
For the 2023 season, Sportsbooks see much of the same, with the Guardians slight +125 favorites over nearly equally likely challengers in the White Sox (+210) and Twins (+220). The Detroit Tigers (+2500) and Kansas City Royals (+4000) round out the AL Central as long shots.
None of the five AL Central teams are better than a 30-to-1 shot to win the World Series.
Let’s break down each team, their chances and discuss AL Central futures:
Odds to win the AL Central: +125
Odds to win the AL: +1400
Odds to win the World Series: +3000
Any team that starts with perennial MVP candidate Jose Ramirez and Cleveland’s strong stable of pitching is going to have a chance to play in October.
That will be the case again in 2023, with Shane Bieber, Triston McKenzie (who left his final spring training start with arm tightness) and Aaron Civale anchoring a good rotation and handing over to an elite bullpen that features Emmanuel Clase, perhaps the game’s best closer now that the Mets’ Edwin Diaz is out for the season.
The Guardians’ problem is that the offense, outside of Ramirez, features a bunch of singles hitters, with a good batting average but not enough power or on-base prowess. Free-agent additions Josh Bell and Mike Zunino will help a bit, but expecting them to solve the problem seems hopeful.
If the pitching stays healthy, this is the rightful division favorite, but the roster is still somewhat limited.
Chicago White Sox
Odds to win the AL Central: +210
Odds to win the AL: +1600
Odds to win the World Series: +4000
The 2022 season was a disaster on several different levels, and a popular preseason World Series pick finished .500 and out of the playoff race by the final week.
Part of the problem was injuries, and the White Sox should be able to expect some positive regression on that front. It’ll take more than that to return to the postseason, but there is reason to hope.
For one thing, the retirement of manager Tony La Russa should help. La Russa is one of the game’s most influential and successful managers, but several in-game gaffes and half-hearted comments from players showed that the game had passed him by. Pedro Grifol is an unknown but must be considered an improvement by default.
As for the roster, staying healthy and getting a return to form from pitcher Lucas Giolito and sluggers Luis Robert and Yoan Moncada certainly would help.
Odds to win the AL Central: +220
Odds to win the AL: +2000
Odds to win the World Series: +4000
After nearly signing with first the San Francisco Giants and then the Mets and having last-second physical concerns scuttle both deals, shortstop Carlos Correa ended up back in Minneapolis, which helps the Twins immensely.
Minnesota needs Correa’s OPS in the middle of its lineup that could also use a full season from Byron Buxton. Considering the uber-talented center fielder has only played 100 games once in seven non-pandemic seasons, however, makes that unlikely.
Still, the Twins are a threat. They traded AL batting champ Luis Arraez to Miami but picked up talented starting pitcher Pablo Lopez in the deal and have enough top-end talent on this roster to contend for the division crown.
Odds to win the AL Central: +2500
Odds to win the AL: +5000
Odds to win the World Series: +10000
There’s not much going on in Detroit, where the Tigers have a mix of washed-up veterans and young players who have underperformed early in their careers.
Can Riley Greene or Spencer Torkelson take a step forward at the plate? What about Spencer Turnbull, who has shown signs of breaking out as an ace but hasn’t been able to stay healthy?
This certainly isn’t the worst team in baseball, but without some breakthroughs, it won’t be good enough to sniff contention.
Kansas City Royals
Odds to win the AL Central: +4000
Odds to win the AL: +7500
Odds to win the World Series: +20000
There’s a wider range of outcomes for the division’s other long shot, which is probably a good thing. If things go south, the Royals could be truly awful, but they also have more upside than the Tigers.
For one thing, the young position players here — namely Bobby Witt Jr. and Vinnie Pasquantino — are more interesting. On the mound, Brady Singer has shown flashes as a No. 2 starter or maybe even an ace, but the rest of the rotation is dreary, with veteran Zack Greinke back in town without much left in the tank.
AL Central best bet: White Sox to win division (+210)
There’s just not enough different about the rosters in this division for Chicago to go from a huge favorite last year to better than 2-to-1 odds in 2023. Jose Abreu has left, but the White Sox almost have to have better luck in the health department, and it’s reasonable to expect bounce-back seasons from two of the trio of Robert, Moncada and Giolito.
Both the Guardians and the Twins have potential to win the division, and I like Kansas City to go over its win total of 68.5 as well, but for value, it’s hard to pass up the Sox.