Elise Amendola/Associated Press
Minnesota Twins (O/U: 35; +120)
Minnesota’s “Bomba Squad” is back for an encore to its record-setting home run-hitting 2019.
The addition of Josh Donaldson to the heart of the order should make the Twins even more dangerous. Mitch Garver, Max Kepler, Miguel Sano, Nelson Cruz and Eddie Rosario return after each hit 30 long balls a year ago.
The Twins produced 356 runs versus the Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers. That’s an average of 6.2 runs per game.
Cleveland held Minnesota to 79 runs in 19 matchups, which was viewed as a major success in 2019.
In the rotation, Kenta Maeda and Homer Bailey give Minnesota more veteran experience behind Jose Berrios and Jake Odorizzi, who were two of five 10-game winners on the squad last season.
If the starters leave little room between them and Trevor May and Taylor Rogers in the bullpen, the Twins could outslug opponents and win a few close games as well.
Prediction: Over 35
Cleveland Indians (O/U: 32.5; +250)
Dropping Francisco Lindor from the leadoff spot to the No. 3 hole could benefit Cleveland’s chase of Minnesota in the offensive categories.
Lindor had 32 home runs, 73 RBI and 170 hits out of the top spot, and if Cesar Hernandez and Jose Ramirez get on base often, Cleveland could produce plenty of runs out of the top third.
That could help cover up the limitations of the bottom part of the order, where Oscar Mercado and other outfielders reside.
With Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber gone, Shane Bieber takes over the reins at the top of the rotation. If the 15-game winner in 2019 receives support from Mike Clevinger, Zach Plesac and Aaron Civale, Cleveland could be in close contention with Minnesota.
If Cleveland is in striking distance on Sept. 17, it could roll to a division title since it faces the Tigers, White Sox and Pirates in its final 11 games.
Prediction: Over 32.5
Chicago White Sox (O/U: 32; +275)
The White Sox are the most intriguing team in the American League.
They added Edwin Encarnacion and Yasmani Grandal to the heart of the order behind sluggers Yoan Moncada and Jose Abreu and brought up top prospect Luis Robert to play in the outfield.
Dallas Keuchel was brought in as the No. 2 behind Lucas Giolito, who produced a team-high 11.6 strikeouts per nine innings in 2019.
Starting with six games against Cleveland and Minnesota and ending with a 14-game run versus Minnesota, Cincinnati, Cleveland and the Chicago Cubs could determine whether the White Sox win more than half their games.
Prediction: Under 32
Kansas City Royals (O/U 24.5; +4,000)
Kansas City and Detroit find themselves in difficult positions.
Not only do they have to play 30 games against Cleveland, Minnesota and the Chicago White Sox, but they also have few easy interleague games versus the National League Central.
Whit Merrifield’s ability to get on base and Jorge Soler’s power are the most exciting aspects of Kansas City’s order, but it does not have the depth to compete with the three divisional contenders.
Kansas City did not make many significant pitching upgrades after three starters lost 10 or more contests, and its staff may be susceptible to conceding home runs to the three top teams in the AL Central.
In 2019, the Royals went 22-35 versus the Twins, Indians and White Sox and had a minus-29 run differential in those matchups.
Prediction: Under 24.5
Detroit Tigers (O/U: 21.5; +6,000)
Detroit is at least a year or two away from moving up the AL Central ranks.
Top prospects Casey Mize, Matt Manning and Spencer Torkelson have participated in Summer Camp, but none are expected to be on the Opening Day roster.
The Tigers won more than 10 games in a month once in 2019, and they mustered 20 total in July, August and September.
If that trend translates to 2020, the Tigers will come short of hitting their win total.
Prediction: Over 21.5
AL Central Prediction: Minnesota (+120)
Elise Amendola/Associated Press