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2017 AL Central Preview: Tribe Time Again?

Last year’s division champions came as close as you can to a World Series title without winning it. Will the Cleveland Indians rule the 2017 AL Central as well?

The road back to the World Series, and the playoffs, is a long one. An unending spring training, 162 regular-season games, and then a slog through the playoffs. The Cleveland Indians won 10 of the 11 games necessary for a Major League Baseball championship, just like in 1997. Whether or not they win 11 playoff games this year is one thing, but winning the division is another animal.

We look at the five teams of the Central and size up their coming seasons.

2017 AL Central Preview: Chicago White Sox

No more Chris Sale or Adam Eaton, among others. Chicago wasn’t very good to begin with, but now what do they have? A rebuilding project, that’s what.

At least when the ChiSox unloaded Eaton, they took some of Washington’s key pitching prospects. The Nats are looking to win now, and the Sox are trying to build for later. That in itself should signal that the White Sox do not see themselves as contenders in 2017. Yet, like the Yankees who sold heavily midseason last year, Chicago hopes it will pay dividends later with their stocked farm system.

In fact, chances are that some of the bigger names left on the roster will get sent on their way if Chicago tanks early. For those players, it will probably be a blessing. Their youth movement is on, so expect it to happen sooner or later in 2017.

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2017 AL Central Preview: Cleveland Indians

The Cleveland Indians are the best team in the AL Central by a mile this season. Not much additional explanation is required.

This doesn’t mean by any stretch that they can look forward to the playoffs, but they’re a heavy favorite. With Edwin Encarnacion now boosting their lineup, it seems unthinkable that they won’t be a hot-hitting playoff team.

If they’re lucky, they’ll follow the script of the Royals from a few years ago. Lose a tough World Series Game 7, then win it all the next year.

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2017 AL Central Preview: Detroit Tigers

There’s nobody Detroit lost in the offseason that will make you gasp, but there’s nobody they gained that will make you gasp, either. The net result is is that Detroit about holds level with last season, give or take a few games. They are not good enough to compete with Cleveland this season, but the Tigers just might be better than the three other teams in the Central.

Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera are still around, so there’s no fire sale — yet. The Tigers have kept their best players around for now, but one gets the sense a rebuild is coming soon if they tank. Not to mention, Verlander and Cabrera are both well on the wrong side of 30. Detroit has lost its sparkle and there’s an air of impending doom hanging over the year. Maybe not as doom-y as, say, the Twins, but things aren’t looking up.

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2017 AL Central Preview: Kansas City Royals

One can chalk up 2016 as a hangover season from their back-to-back World Series appearances, and a championship in 2015. The makeup of their 2017 roster is quite different, and part of it was the untimely passing of Yordano Ventura.

Guys like Eric Hosmer are still around, but for how long is a matter of debate. As for 2017, Hosmer, Mike Moustakas, and Lorenzo Cain are all still here, trying to recapture Kansas City’s glory from a few years ago.

Here’s what should worry the fans: that the above players are in contract years. If the Royals stink up the joint early, and the front office becomes pessimistic in being able to sign them, they’re getting traded. When those guys get traded, the white flag is up. At least the Royals can say that some of these same key players were involved in a World Series run (two of them, actually, if you count the one they lost).

Having an unexpectedly great year would be a fitting tribute to Ventura, but right now, the Royals appear to be an average team.

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2017 AL Central Preview: Minnesota Twins

This team HAS to be better than last year, right? Minnesota was uncharacteristically awful in 2016, meaning either 2015 was an aberration, or last year was. Unfortunately, adding Ryan Vogelsong and Jason Castro isn’t the recipe to add 25 wins to your total. Don’t get me wrong, Castro isn’t a bad player, but let’s get real here.

Miguel Sano is promising young player, and Brian Dozier is hitting well for power. That’s about all the the Twins have going for them right now. Joe Mauer is past his sell-by date and long gone are the days of Johan Santana, Joe Nathan, Justin Morneau, and Torii Hunter.

Their young players will get better this season, but we’re going to be a little more measured in saying how much. Minnesota shouldn’t have lost 103 games last year, but they’re not going to come back and win 90, either. The Twins won’t be as hard to watch in 2017.

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