We continue our preview of the 2016 MLB regular season with a look at the AL Central. A lot of experts are touting this division as being the toughest and their statement's true. Any one of these mentioned teams can win the division. Take a look at what to expect from the AL Central this season.
Chicago White Sox
Sweet Dream: Chris Sale (274 SO, 3.41 ERA) rebounds and gets some help from his fellow starting pitchers, i.e. Carlos Rodon. Jose Abreu throws his hat into the AL MVP discussion with a solid year. The outfield improves enough offensively to help the South Siders get back to the top of the AL Central for the first time since 2008.
Nightmare: The lineup (622 runs in 2015, 28th in MLB) sans Abreu can't take advantage of the hitter's park known as U.S. Cellular Field. The lack of run support hurts the staff as the White Sox fall below .500, leaving trade rumors of Chris Sale festering.
Sweet Dream: The pitching staff (1,407 total strikeouts, second in MLB) picks up where they left off with Corey Kluber (3.49 ERA, 245 SO, 1.05 WHIP) leading the way. There's enough hitting from Francisco Lindor (.313 BA, 51 RBI in 390 plate appearances) and company to get by for when Michael Brantley (.310 BA, 15 homers, 84 RBI) returns. The Indians build off of a hot second half in 2015 with a solid bullpen (3.12 ERA last season, fourth in MLB; allowed 150 walks last year, sixth-lowest in baseball) en route to an AL Central title.
Nightmare: Cleveland gets mired in their traditional April/May swoon as Cleveland pitchers, especially the starters, can't stop giving up the long ball (123 homers allowed last year, sixth-most in MLB). Their division rivals build a sizable lead to where Cleveland's playing catch-up all season, thus hovering around .500.
Sweet Dream: Justin Verlander continues his rebound as he forms a formidable 1-2 punch with Jordan Zimmermann. A revamped bullpen featuring Francisco Rodriguez (2.21 ERA, 38 saves, 0.86 WHIP with Milwaukee) and Mark Lowe (1.96 ERA, 17 holds, 1.05 WHIP) finally puts the relief issues to bed. An intimidating lineup (.270 team batting average, best in MLB) featuring Miguel Cabrera (.338 BA, 18 homers, 76 RBI, 440 OBP in 119 games), J.D. Martinez (38 homers, 102 RBI), and Justin Upton (26 homers, 81 RBI) propels the Tigers to a return to the Fall Classic.
Nightmare: Like Cleveland, the Tigers continue to give up the long ball (second-most homers allowed by starters last year with 136), along with many other hits. Injuries also plague this team as they fall back down into the AL Central cellar.
Kansas City Royals
Sweet Dream: The 2015 World Series champions continue their formula of pesky hitting and a solid bullpen (Joakim Soria's back in KC)! With the likes of Lorenzo Cain (.307 BA, 16 homers, 72 RBI, 28 stolen bases, .361 OBP), Eric Hosmer (.297 BA, 18 homers, 93 RBI, .363 OBP), and a returning Alex Gordon in the lineup, this team will continue to find ways of manufacturing runs. Whether it's through timely hitting (973 SO, the only team below 1,000) or through stolen bases (fifth-most stolen bases in 2015 with 104), Kansas City will hit you into oblivion and retain their World Series title.
Nightmare: The rotation makes like the lineup: lots of runs (22nd-best starting ERA in baseball at 4.34), not many strikeouts (24th in starters SO with 658). If starters like Danny Duffy (4.08 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 53 walks in 30 games) and Yordano Ventura (4.08 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 58 walks in 28 starts) can't improve, the Royals will fulfill many pundit's predictions of a below-.500 season.
Sweet Dream: One of the best prospects in baseball in Byron Buxton is as good as advertised. He becomes an on-base threat (94 steals, .301 BA in four seasons in the minors) and is part of the youth movement in the Twin Cities. This mix of young and prime featuring Miguel Sano and Trevor Plouffe doesn't miss a beat as they make their way into the postseason.
Nightmare: The team hits a bump in the road as they falter back into the bottom of the division. Only one batter had an average of .280 or higher in at least 180 plate appearances for the Twins last year (Eduardo Nunez). The Twins' batting woes (.247 team BA, 26th in MLB) will linger on as they fall behind in this packed division.