- Despite not winning the division since 2008, the Chicago White Sox are comfortable favorites to claim the AL Central crown in 2021
- After two straight AL Central titles, the Minnesota Twins are the second-favorites this season
- Read on for analysis, full odds, and the best bet for a division that looks like at best a three-horse race
Like so many of the rest of us starved of professional baseball, the Chicago White Sox are excited to get 2021 underway, and you can hardly blame them. Since the South Siders last sat atop the division at season’s end in 2008, every other team in the American League Central has claimed the crown at least once. Even new Sox skipper Tony La Russa, who’s been retired from managing for 10 years, won a division title more recently (St Louis, 2009).
But the White Sox are the -143 favorites to end that drought this year.
2021 AL Central Division Odds
|Chicago White Sox||-143|
|Cleveland baseball team||+650|
|Kansas City Royals||+4000|
Odds as of Feb. 28 at DraftKings.
Having seen their winning percentage grow from .383 in 2018 to .444 two seasons ago, before finally climbing to .583 last year (first winning record since 2012), there is good reason to expect Chicago to take the next step.
After all, if they hadn’t finished 2020 by going 1-7 in their final eight games, they would be defending the division title that they conceded to the Twins, who are at +175 to repeat in the AL Central division odds.
White Sox Ready to Roll
Priming a team for on-field success is always an inexact science, but after losing the 2020 division crown in heartbreaking style and ultimately falling to third behind the Cleveland baseball club on head-to-head record, it can be argued that the Chicago White Sox are as ready as they will ever be.
— MLB Stats (@MLBStats) November 12, 2020
For starters, with first baseman Jose Abreu, they have the MVP of the American League. Abreu was an offensive wrecking ball last year, leading the AL in slugging at .617, RBI (60), and total bases (148), while smacking 19 home runs. While he has been delayed from reporting to camp after contracting COVID-19, nobody in Chicago is overly worried that it will slow him down long-term.
But while Abreu took much of the attention of opposing pitchers, he was ably abetted by the likes of outfielders Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert, who drove in 72 runs between them. As a result, Chicago’s offense was the second-best in the AL with 306 runs, trailing only the Yankees (315).
Good morning it is fun to think about Luis Robert, Eloy Jimenez, Tim Anderson, Jose Abreu, Yasmani Grandal, Nick Madrigal and Yoan Moncada all in the same lineup. Andrew Vaughn is also on the way. Lets go see pic.twitter.com/KzFUgkFS2O
— Southside Showdown (@SoxShowdown) February 23, 2021
Things are also looking up for the South Siders on the mound, too, with the team posting a combined ERA of 3.81 in 2020, good for fifth in the AL.
Lucas Giolito seems to have finally turned into the pitcher many projected when he was drafted in the first round in 2012.
Congrats, Lucas Giolito 👏
He completed the first no-hitter of the 2020 MLB season 🔥 pic.twitter.com/o6pdv5njSH
— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) August 26, 2020
He paired superbly with Dallas Keuchel at the front of the rotation in 2020, as the duo combined to win 10 games from 33 starts. The addition of Lance Lynn last December gives them another reliable starter, and the rotation will be filled out by the likes of Carlos Rodon, Dylan Cease and Reynaldo Lopez. And the team took steps to beef up the bullpen, too, bringing in Liam Hendriks, who was an all-star in 2019.
Twins Still the Bomba
With 91 home runs in 60 games, last year’s Minnesota Twins weren’t quite the Bomba Squad of 2019, when they set the all-time home-run record with 307. But they were still pretty good, finishing third in the AL in that department to power the team to a second straight division crown.
— MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM (@MLBNetworkRadio) February 25, 2021
Hopes are high of an offensive repeat in 2021, and with Nelson Cruz, who turns 41 in July, returning for another year, the power shouldn’t suffer too much of an outage.
Those hopes will be increased if Josh Donaldson, who was limited to just 28 games in 2020 due to injury, can stay on the field. The team also brought in Andrelton Simmons to bolster the defense up the middle, allowing Jorge Polanco to move to second base, and freeing up Luis Arraez for a utility role.
A well-deserved hat tip.
— The Athletic Minnesota (@TheAthleticMIN) August 19, 2020
The rotation is largely set, factored around team ace – and AL Cy Young runner-up – Kenta Maeda. While he will take the Opening Day start, starting pitching is a position of strength for the Twins, with the unit rounded out by the likes of Jose Berrios, Michael Pineda, and J.A. Happ, with the team picking up Matt Shoemaker as a possible fifth starter.
In all, the rotation was good enough to help the Twins to a team ERA of 3.58 in 2020, good for third in the AL.
Cleveland Turns to Youth
After the off-season trade of stars Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco to the New York Mets, along with the departures of Brad Hand and Carlos Santana, 2021 will be a season of change along the shores of Lake Erie.
The team’s strength will still be found on the mound. First and foremost, Cleveland will be able to trot out unanimous AL Cy Young-winner Shane Bieber every fifth day. Backed by a rotation featuring Aaron Civale, Triston McKenzie, and Cal Quantrill, the team shouldn’t see too much drop-off from its AL-leading team ERA of 3.29 from last season.
Of course, it will still have to find a new closer, with names such as sophomore James Karinchak – who had a 2.67 ERA in 27 innings last year – mentioned as possibilities.
— Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) November 19, 2020
Similarly, the top of the batting lineup seems set, with Cesar Hernandez, Jose Ramirez, and Franmil Reyes teaming with former Twin Eddie Rosario. But the rest of the order might be riddled with question marks.
After sitting out a year because of his role in the Astros sign-stealing scandal, A.J. Hinch is back in an MLB dugout after taking over the Tigers. He’ll have a vastly different team than he did in Houston. While that team was winning World Series (legitimately or otherwise), in Detroit he inherits a team that has gone 198-345 in the past four seasons, the worst record in MLB.
AJ Hinch is proud of @Tigers prospects Spencer Torkelson and Riley Greene, and said they're linked together like Mize/Manning/Skubal.
"The talent is real. Now we gotta cultivate it," he said. "There's a great buzz… they gotta play well." pic.twitter.com/P1brl33dHH
— Brad Galli (@BradGalli) February 23, 2021
But there are signs of life in Motown, with a young rotation headlined by the likes of Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal and Matt Manning, who are three of the best pitching prospects in baseball. That trio alone – with a combined 14 career major-league starts between them – should help improve on an MLB-worst team ERA of 5.63.
At the other end of the age spectrum there is Miguel Cabrera, 13 home runs away from 500 in his career. Despite some of the worst offensive seasons of his career in the past few years, he still led the team in home runs (10) and RBI (35) last campaign. That should tell you all you need to know right there. Detroit is +4000 to win the AL Central for a reason.
A Royal Reboot
Since winning the 2015 World Series, the Kansas City Royals have won just 305 games. In five seasons.
Fair enough, that number is skewed lower by virtue of last season’s 60-game campaign, where they won just 26 games to finish fourth for the second straight year.
Pitcher Brad Keller on a couple of new #Royals:
On LF Andrew Benintendi: "That's a huge get for us."
On 1B Carlos Santana: "The guy's a stud. … I'm happy we don't have to face him anymore." pic.twitter.com/z1GKMcTvqG
— FOX Sports Kansas City (@FSKansasCity) February 22, 2021
So it’s hardly surprising that the Royals are a massive outsider in the division race once again. But it appears the team is turning the corner. Though the Royals still have championship holdovers, such as catcher Salvador Perez, they have boosted their lineup with the additions of Carlos Santana from Cleveland and trading for Andrew Benintendi from Boston. Those additions should help improve the second-worst offense in the AL last season.
Andrew Benintendi taking some cuts in his new team colors. pic.twitter.com/zIS8zrhIXM
— Lynn Worthy (@LWorthySports) February 23, 2021
The Royals rotation could be the team’s strength, with ace Brad Keller leading the way with his 2.47 ERA last season. The team ERA was the sixth-best in the AL at 4.30, and the stability formed by the likes of Danny Duffy and Brady Singer should help it stay the course.
Twins Turn to Threepeat
While the moves Chicago has made are nice, at -143 the team doesn’t offer much value, and even those odds might be inflated by success-starved South Side Chicago fans placing wagers on their beloved Sox. As a result, the Twins offer a settled rotation and offense, and better value to boot.
Pick: Twins (+175)
2021 MLB division previews:
Let's have fun and keep it civil.