Last week, Chad Stewart and Jim Turvey began their journey to discuss the over/unders on all of the USA Today 2017 MLB projected win totals. This week they continue with the American League Central.
Cleveland Indians (95 wins)

Chad Stewart: The Indians managed to win 94 games last year despite two of their three best starting pitchers succumbing to injuries by the end of the year. They also managed to win 94 games without Michael Brantley, who, when healthy, is one of the game’s elite hitters. And not only should they be getting all of those guys back, they also added one of the best power hitters in the game, Edwin Encarnacion, to a lineup that finished second in runs scored in the AL last season.

Then there’s the bullpen that carried them through October. They’ll have arguably the sport’s top relief pitcher, Andrew Miller, for the entirety of 2017 in addition to the excellent Cody Allen. And Bryan Shaw, Dan Otero, and Zach McAllister are no slouches either. Oh, and they added lefty Boone Logan this offseason, who held opposing left-handed hitters to a .139/.222/.255 line in 2016. All of that, and I didn’t even mention the marvelous Francisco Lindor or the consistently great Jason Kipnis, who form what might be the best middle-infield duo in the league.

Notice I said “best” (or its synonyms) a lot. Well, let me say it one more time. The Indians are the best team in the AL, and I’m pegging them to win just north of 95 games this year. What do you think, Jim? Should I temper my expectations for a team coming off such a long, exhausting postseason run?

Jim Turvey: I think you’re completely reasonable in your expectations. That being said, I’m going with the under. I’m going with the just barely under. I think there are a few holes and a few possible regressions that will keep this team from reaching 94 wins. First of all, my hottest take is that although Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez are amazing, they are due for slight regressions. I think we might see Lindor’s defense drop off from almighty to merely excellent, and we might see Ramirez have his average drop below .300. My biggest concerns on the offensive side are the holes at catcher and center field. Yan Gomes has proven himself not to be a big league-level backstop at this point, and I don’t have much faith in Tyler Naquin keeping up the magic in 2017. On the pitching side of things, as we have all heard a million times now: “The biggest indicator of future injury is past injury,” so I’m going to have my guard up as to whether this crew can get through the season maintaining their health. Of course, even if everything I just wrote does happen to go wrong, this is still a playoff team. They have depth of talent and a phenomenal manager. I just see things going just awry enough to keep them from 94 wins.

Tigers (85 wins)

CS: I’m going with the under here. At the very least, Detroit is an interesting team. They still have plenty of star power in the form of Miguel Cabrera, Ian Kinsler, Justin Upton, J.D. Martinez, and Victor Martinez. Despite all of those names, however, they were only able to muster up the 11th-most runs in the majors last year. And a rotation with Justin Verlander, Michael Fulmer, Jordan Zimmerman, Daniel Norris, and Matt Boyd has the chance to be really good. But outside of Verlander, who should’ve won the Cy Young Award in 2016, and Zimmerman, none of those guys even have a full season under their belts, and Zimmerman dealt with injuries all of last year.

The bullpen looks like it will be the team’s Achilles heel once again, and I think it is what ultimately prevents them from being legitimate contenders. I think the Tigers will finish around .500 this year, and it just seems to me that Detroit’s window to win a championship is just about over.

JT: I’m also going under here, but a little further under than you. I don’t think this team will reach .500, and 2017 might well be the year the bottom drops out. Here are the ages for some of their stars: Miguel Cabrera (34), Ian Kinsler (35), Victor Martinez (38), Justin Verlander (34) and Jordan Zimmermann (31). Even J.D. Martinez (29) and Justin Upton (29) are past their true primes, and the club’s closer is 35. I love the nugget you dropped about the offense – despite its name power – being outside of the top 10 in runs scored last season. I’m really down on this Tigers team and think that with Mike Ilitch (RIP) no longer at the reins they may well be sellers at the trade deadline, which would only drop their potential win total even lower. Outside of Nick Castellanos and maybe Michael Fulmer, there’s not a player I truly feel good about on this team. I just get an overwhelming sense of dread looking over the roster. I think it’s merely the fact that they have been in contention for the last several years that got them a projected win total as high as 85.

Royals (83 wins)

CS: I’m taking the over for the 2015 World Series champs. Pretty much the entirety of the core that got them to the World Series in back-to-back years will leave in free agency following the year, but the good thing for Kansas City is that they are all here for 2017. They added some pop to the lineup with the acquisitions of Jorge Soler and Brandon Moss, and I think they did the best they could with rotation following the Yordano Ventura tragedy by inking Jason Hammel and Travis Wood to two-year deals. And I really do believe that Danny Duffy is the real deal.

Kelvin Herrera is the only one who remains from the triple-headed monster that once resided in Kansas City’s bullpen, but their relief pitching should still be good enough to keep the club competitive. They should also benefit simply from health. Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, and Alex Gordon all missed significant time last season due to various injuries, and the impact of that cannot be understated. The Royals are certainly not as good as they were a couple of years ago, but this is their last opportunity to win with their current core of players intact, and they should do everything they can to take advantage of it.

JT: Not to be boring, but yet again I agree. I think this team can really challenge Cleveland for the division. They have an experienced lineup that goes nearly top-to-bottom with hitters. I like Alex Gordon to bounce back from what I believe was more of an injury-scarred season than a age-related decline. Eric Hosmer always seems one year away from a true breakout, so maybe 2017 will be the year. There’s also the sense of urgency this club will have, as you noted that many key parts will likely be on the move after the season. What I really like about this team, however, is the rotation. Danny Duffy is a legit ace, and it wouldn’t surprise me if he won the AL Cy Young this year. That’s how into this dude I am. The loss of Ventura is devastating on many levels, but as you noted, Hammel and Wood were both excellent stealth pick ups. Their run prevention should be better than in 2016. As far as the bullpen is concerned, Herrera was always the most unheralded, but most electric, of their end of game trio, and it will be fun to watch him have the closer’s role all season. The Royals bullpen had the fifth-best ERA in baseball last season, and I don’t see any reason for that to drop significantly. It would be fun to see this team make a final run with their beloved core.

White Sox (68 wins)

CS: I guess I’ll take the under for the White Sox. I mean, there’s not really much to say about them. They already traded Chris Sale and Adam Eaton. The only useful position players they really have left are Todd Frazier, Jose Abreu, and Melky Cabrera. And I would expect at least Frazier and Cabrera to be shipped off by season’s end. Jose Quintana is still there and he’s fantastic, so they won’t lose every game. Outside of that, David Robertson and Nate Jones are quality relievers, but I’m not exactly sure why Robertson hasn’t been traded yet. As it stands, the White Sox aren’t that much worse than last year, but they will be significantly so once the Trade Deadline comes around. Lucas Giolito, Carlos Rodon, Tim Anderson, and Yoan Moncada are intriguing, and they have a stacked farm system, but the White Sox aren’t trying to win this year.

JT: That’s the correct answer, Chad. But I’m going with the over. Maybe it’s my irrational love of prospects, maybe it’s Michael Baumann speaking to me a bit too clearly, or maybe it’s my personal obsession with Jose Quintana (I’ve had him on my fantasy probably the last four years), but I’m weirdly excited for this ChiSox team. I’m excited for a full season of Tim Anderson. I’m excited to see if Carlos Rodon can ever fully turn the corner. I’m excited to see Quintana get 0.01 runs of support every time he takes the mound. I’m excited for Yoan Moncada! I’m excited to see if Brett Lawrie ever literally runs through a wall to actualize the description of his playing style. I think Todd Frazier and Jose Abreu will both have better seasons than 2016, and think Frazier could be a low-key fantasy MVP. One of the Giolito-Kopech-Lopez trio of young arms has to pan out, right? What if all three do?! It may make me a bit of a baseball masochist, but I’m honestly thinking the White Sox will be in my top five of most watched teams this upcoming year… Very strange, I know.

Twins (66 wins)

CS: I like the Twins to bounce back a bit this year, so I’m taking the over. And I think that has a lot to do with the fact that I find it so difficult to comprehend how a team could go from winning 83 games one year to losing 103 the next. It also has to do with how much young talent they have. I was expecting big things from Miguel Sano last year, and he left me disappointed. That does seem a little odd to say about a player who slugged 25 home runs in 116 games, but he set the bar so high in 2015 that I expected much more than a 107 wRC+.

And it’s only a matter of time before Byron Buxton breaks out in a big way. He’s still only 23 years old and his potential is endless. He finally began to flash some of that potential last September/October when he posted an OPS over 1.000. Then there’s Max Kepler, who had a fine rookie season last year, and the list goes on. Oh, and Brian Dozier hit 42 home runs in 2016. Their pitching staff is still pretty bad, though Jason Castro and his pitch framing skills should help improve it somewhat. Additionally, Jose Berrios should be given a chance to establish himself at the big league level, which may also help. Overall, the Twins are still not a good team, but I wouldn’t expect them to come close to 100 losses again.

JT: I’m with you on the Twins. I think any time a team sees their win total change as drastically from one season to the next as the Twins just did, it’s fair to bet on a win total somewhere in the middle the following season. Looking at the offense, I see lots of potential here. Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton are the biggest names, but guys like Jorge Polanco, Max Kepler, Eddie Rosario and even Byung Ho Park have plenty of untapped potential. If three of those guys hit (in the lottery ticket, as well as baseball, sense) the Twins offense will be decent. Brian Dozier probably won’t crank out 40 home runs again, but I could see him easily topping 30. The pitching leaves a lot to be desired, but if Ervin Santana and Phil Hughes can just be decent innings eaters, and Jose Berrios can finally cash in on what looks to be a mountain of potential, they could at least be a bit better than last year (worst ERA in the AL by over half a run). This team is kind of like the Tampa Bay Rays in that I don’t have a true feel for what their season is going to look like, but I agree with you that they won’t reach triple-digit losses again.

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