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Ranking the lineups in the AL Central

Ranking the lineups in the AL Central
Carlos Santana, Michael Brantley and Jason Kipnis (Photo: AP)
December 13, 2014
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One of the busiest Winter Meetings in the history of the league-wide get together has come and gone, but for the Indians, the flurry of activity may have made the trip to the road to the top of the AL Central that much more difficult.

While they might have started things off with a deal to land All-Star first baseman/outfielder Brandon Moss from Oakland, the Indians were rather quiet for the rest of the meetings. Meanwhile, the rest of the AL Central kept incredibly busy.

With the litany of moves this offseason from the White Sox, Twins, Royals, Indians and Tigers that bolstered what was an already solid division, which lineup is the best at the moment following these recent transactions?

1. Detroit Tigers

1. Rajai Davis CF
2. Ian Kinsler 2B
3. Miguel Cabrera 1B
4. Victor Martinez DH
5. Yoenis Cespedes LF
6. J.D. Martinez RF
7. Nick Castellanos 3B
8. Alex Avila C
9. Jose Iglesias SS

Well, the strengths of this group are pretty obvious.

Kinsler, Cabrera, Martinez, Cespedes and Martinez are a portion of the lineup that not even the best of pitchers would want to go through and, as it stands right now, there's no efficient way to prepare for any one of these good to outstanding bats. Adding Cespedes to replace Torii Hunter gives Detroit another power threat to an already scarily power-heavy lineup and while Cespedes may strikeout more than his predecessor, he'll hit more bombs as well.

Of course, the bottom of the lineup leaves a lot to be desired, and the leadoff spot may see some changes throughout the season, but overall the Tigers easily boast the best lineup in this division, if not in baseball as a whole.

2. Kansas City Royals

1. Lorenzo Cain RF
2. Alex Gordon LF
3. Eric Hosmer 1B
4. Salvador Perez C
5. Kendrys Morales DH
6. Mike Moustakas 3B
7. Omar Infante 2B
8. Alcides Escobar SS
9. Jarrod Dyson CF

There's a reason this team went to the World Series last year and there's no reason to think, looking at this lineup, that they can't be in contention to get there once again.

While the Tigers two through six hitters are indeed baseball's best, the Royals are certainly not far behind, as Gordon, Hosmer, Perez, Morales and Moustakas will certainly strike fear into opposing pitchers throughout the 2015 season. That being said, as is the case with Detroit as well, just how good will the other four hitters in this lineup be? If they can produce, the Royals offense should be neck-and-neck with the Tigers for the majority of the season. If not, they could fall far behind and even be looking up at the Indians.

3. Cleveland Indians

1. Michael Bourn CF
2. Jose Ramirez SS
3. Michael Brantley LF
4. Carlos Santana 1B
5. Brandon Moss RF
6. Yan Gomes C
7. Jason Kipnis 2B
8. Nick Swisher DH
9. Lonnie Chisenhall 3B

While the Indians lineup isn't quite up to the lofty standards set by the Tigers and Royals, it could certainly prove to be one of the league's most formidable as well.

At this point, it's all about "if's."

If Bourn, Kipnis, Moss and Swisher can be who the Indians projected them to be when signing them - or in Moss' case, trading – then the Indians could be the Kansas City Royals of the 2015 season. If Michael Brantley can continue his MVP form in 2015 and Santana's offense settles in at first base, the top of the Indians lineup may be the best in the Central. If Lonnie Chisenhall can be the "Lonnie Baseball" we saw in the early months of last season, the bottom of the order could be one to watch as well.

Unfortunately, "if's" are far from sure things and in the case of the Indians, that means they're still looking up at the others as the class of this division.

4. Chicago White Sox

1. Adam Eaton CF
2. Alexei Ramirez SS
3. Jose Abreu DH
4. Adam LaRoche 1B
5. Dayan Viciedo LF
6. Avisail Garcia RF
7. Connor Gillaspie 3B
8. Tyler Flowers C
9. Leury Garcia 2B

All of a sudden, with the additions of Jose Abreu in 2013 and Adam LaRoche in 2014, the Chicago White Sox lineup is starting to take shape. Granted, there are massive holes at both the top and bottom of the order, but the core is there.

Abreu has certainly become maybe the most feared young hitter in the American League, LaRoche provides added power that was not there prior and if Viciedo and Garcia can provide consistency at any level the White Sox may be the up-and-comers to look out for in this division. In addition, Alexei Ramirez has certainly come into his own atop the White Sox lineup which should only add that much more depth.

Gillaspie, Flowers nor Garcia— along with whomever sits atop this lineup at this juncture— isn't really going to cut it in a division with so many outstanding hitters and players from top-to-bottom, meaning that the core of this order will have to carry the White Sox if they do indeed want to go anywhere next season.

5. Minnesota Twins

1. Danny Santana CF
2. Joe Mauer 1B
3. Brian Dozier 2B
4. Kennys Vargas DH
5. Kurt Suzuki C
6. Trevor Plouffe 3B
7. Oswaldo Arcia RF
8. Jordan Schafer LF
9. Eduardo Escobar SS

Ah, and then comes Minnesota, patiently waiting for their young studs to progress through the Minor League system and make an instant impact at the Major League level.

To be completely frank, this lineup leaves a ton to be desired, but maybe with new Twins manager - and one of the greatest hitters of all-time - Paul Molitor holding the reigns it can improve. Mauer is still one of the best pure hitters in the game and Dozier was a machine in 2014, but outside of those two it's hard to see where there will be any serious production. Maybe the monstrous Kennys Vargas breaks out and becomes an Abreu-type player or Arcia starts putting bat-on-ball to produce some power of his own, but, again, neither of those things seem very likely.

Overall, if I'm a Twins fan, my patience is starting to wear thin and hopefully the stars of tomorrow, who's dominance has been foretold for the last couple of years, will finally see the light of Target Field and offer hope for a better 2015.

In Summary

1. Detroit Tigers- Middle of the order may be the best we've seen in a while.

2. Kansas City Royals- Very, very solid from top to bottom.

3. Cleveland Indians- "If's" could take this lineup from the middle to the top.

4. Chicago White Sox- Big holes, but bigger potential, especially in the middle.

5. Minnesota Twins- Patience is a virtue.

There is no doubt that the AL Central is one of the most improved divisions in baseball following the recent happenings in San Diego and while it may seem that the lineups of the Tigers, Royals and Indians belong in that particular order, don't be surprised to see any of those three offenses atop this division when all is said and done.

User Comments

barry
December 14, 2014 - 6:12 PM EST
FWIW, i don't see a rejuvnated kipnis hitting 7th.

IF he's producing at a 2013 level (minus the slump) francona will want to give him as many PA's as possible, and i personally would welcome seeing kipnis get a shot to lead off. between the .366 OBP, the power and the ability to steal a base. he'd give brantley 20-30 more RISP AB's.

even if he's not hitting for power, ditto for swisher, who's hit either 2nd or 6th most of his career. if he just gets his OBP back up around .350 that would look awfully attractive in front of brantley, santana & moss.

brantley drove in nearly 100 runs despite bourn & acab/jram posting OBP's of . about .315 & .300 respectively. give brantley another 50 RISP PA's with a .360 & .350 OBP guy hitting 1 & 2.

they're big IF's, but those two guy just produce at 2013 levels, and this offense scores runs.
Themaven
December 14, 2014 - 12:10 PM EST
Tigers will depend on power and fall short of having a dominant line up as they have in the past,it'll be all or nothing.

White Sox are similar to Tigers but have a bit more speed through out.

Royals have zip power and lotsa speed,Maury Wills and the Dodgers all over again only there's no Koufax and Drysdale.

Twins had some guys have career years last season and still finished dead last,still these guys are better hitters than you think.

Tribe has a nice blend of power and speed when everybody is healthy.If Chisenhall is your worst hitter you're doing pretty good.

Lot of if's for every team but the ceiling is the highest for the Tribe in terms of runs scored in this division.They don't even really need great seasons out of everybody just having guys play 130-140 games would make them better.
Hiram
December 14, 2014 - 8:04 AM EST
CWS getting Melkey is really going to help that lineup. They're going for it and could have the best lineup in the division now. On paper this team will be tough but I do question the depth of the team in case of under performance and injuries
Chip
December 14, 2014 - 8:03 AM EST
Damn! The Cabrera signing improves the White Sox on both sides of the ball.
Robinson
December 14, 2014 - 6:32 AM EST
Unfortunately, I love the Melky signing for CWS.

Last two years they have added Abreu, Melky, Eaton, Laroche.

Three excellent OBP guys combined with a top 3 run producer in the game.

If they get anything from Gillaspie, Flowers & Garcia then I think they are clearly no.2 behind Detroit.

Not as many question marks as Cleveland
Walter
December 14, 2014 - 12:42 AM EST
Melky Cabrera to sign with the White Sox. There lineup just got better.
John M
December 14, 2014 - 12:24 AM EST
I don't get why anyone thinks the Royals have a great lineup, let alone better than the Tribe. Go position by position, the Indians are better at most.
Jerry
December 14, 2014 - 12:10 AM EST
I tend to rate the Royals somewhat lower as Moustakas, Hosmer and Gordon all started to hit at about the same time last season after years of under-performing (i.e., they were all top of the chart draft choices and prospects). If they have actually realized their drafted potential, then the Royals will be dangerous indeed. But if they return to previous years' performances, then I think the Royals will have difficulty repeating last year's success.
Norm
December 13, 2014 - 10:58 PM EST
Observation! The tigers are even more one sided than the Indians but from the right side rather than the left like Cleveland. Even though the Tigers hit a bunch, they still do not hit RH pitching as well as LH for the most part. The Indians are just the opposite.
Drew
December 13, 2014 - 5:28 PM EST
1. Detroit belongs up top even if you factor in regressions from Martinez/Martinez.

2. Indians have the potential to be very close to Detroit by being solid up and down if we get bounce backs from Swish/Kip and Moss stays healthy and productive. They can also be pretty bad if those 3 guys stay on the same trajectory they set last year. The mean of those two potential outcomes still puts the Tribe squarely in the #2 spot.

3. White Sox are better than people think. Abreu may soon overtake Miggy as the scariest bat in the Division. Eaton might be the best leadoff hitter in the division. Laroche is an upgrade over Dunn and Garcia has a bunch of upside.

4. Royals have a bunch of guys that look like they may never quite reach their lofty projections. Gordon's a great player but still a guy that I wouldn't necessarily think of as "scary"

5. Twins
BrianM
December 13, 2014 - 5:01 PM EST
Without doing much research, I'm not getting the love for the Twins. Being 7th in the MLB in runs (if that comment was accurate) is quite impressive, but just from reading a bunch of fantasy pieces and what not, there are a number of guys in that lineup that really outperformed last year. Santana, Vargas, and Suzuki will surely regress (possibly to an extreme extent), and Dozier is expected to see some regression as well. They could be the worst offensive team by a longshot come next September. They are developing quite a good young core though and Buxton, Sano, and Rosario could turn this team into a dynasty. They remind me of the Nationals a few years ago, at least from an offensive standpoint. They really need to find some pitching though. I could see them being in on Zimmerman/Price/Samardzija/Cueto/Greinke next year.
Tony
December 13, 2014 - 4:35 PM EST
This is what I love about rankings pieces. Most everyone will see things differently. I'd rank the five teams offensively as 1. Tigers 2. Indians 3. Twins 4. White Sox 5. Royals. I think it's pretty clear that the Tigers still have the scariest lineup in the division, though I still think they have holes and are not as well rounded. The Indians are more well rounded but lack two thumpers like VMart/Cabrera. The White Sox are getting better. The Twins surprised and I think they were like 7th in baseball last year scoring runs and in top 10 in baseball in a lot of other important stats. And the Royals were a poor offensive team who thrived on speed, pitching and defense. All of that said, I really think you can make a case for any team in any spot. Just depends on your perception and what stats you value and such.
Dennis
December 13, 2014 - 4:25 PM EST
Agree with Mike L. Eaton is underrated. There are two big "if's" about ever player mentioned. If they stay on the field and If they perform up to expectation.
Kevin
December 13, 2014 - 4:06 PM EST
The only potent weapon KC has offensively is speed. They belong at #4.
Matthew
December 13, 2014 - 3:48 PM EST
On offensive production alone, it's

1. Tigers
2. Indians
3. Twins
4. Royals
5. White Sox

The gap between the Indians and Twins is small, and if the Twins prospects pan out, they will end up slightly ahead. The Royals and White Sox are also very close for the 4/5, but the back half of the White Sox order is so bad that the Royals squeak by.

Not to go all FJM on this piece, but the other non-sensical passage is, "There's a reason this team went to the World Series last year…" The Royals went to the World Series because of run prevention. Decent rotation, outstanding bullpen, and outstanding defense. Their offense had almost nothing to do with it.
C L Who
December 13, 2014 - 3:42 PM EST
As others point out the Royals lineup did not set the world of BA / OBP on fire in 2014....I'd say it's "iffy" but with lots of potential if several players get hot at the same time.

For the Tigers, also some "ifs"......Miggy has been injured the last two seasons and got to wonder if that continues. Of course, it reduces his production from "other worldly" to merely "top 10." Will VMart be able to keep it up.....he's getting old. And finally, JD Martinez could have a sophomore slump. Still.....a great lineup.
BrianM
December 13, 2014 - 3:19 PM EST
Like the others, I've gotta disagree about KC being #2. As far as offensive production only, I would take Brantley over Gordon, Santana over Hosmer, Gomes and Perez are close, but I take Gomes, and despite the down year, Kipnis is way ahead of Infante. Every other position is a wash for me aside from MAYBE Cain in RF. We also seem to have more upside at the top and bottom of our lineup with Swisher, Moss, Chiz, and Ramirez. I agree that we do have plenty of 'If's', but the core of Brantley/Santana/Gomes/Kipnis in itself should beat out KC, and if the rest of our lineup performs reasonably well then we are actually much closer to matching Detroit than your giving us credit for.

For what its worth, Buster Olney referred to the AL Central as the best division in baseball in his winter meetings recap. Its hard to disagree. He specifically made a reference to how much better the pitching is in our division compared to the AL East. It is quite ridiculous. I look forward to reading the pitching rankings. I expect there to be quite a debate about the top spot between us and Detroilet.
Rocky55
December 13, 2014 - 2:27 PM EST
I agree with Matthew, the Royals don't scare me on offense. Gordon & Cain are the only guys that are above average.
Matthew
December 13, 2014 - 1:03 PM EST
"Royals are certainly not far behind, as Gordon, Hosmer, Perez, Morales and Moustakas will certainly strike fear into opposing pitchers throughout the 2015 season"

This particular statement is a real doozy. 3 of those 5 guys had OBP under .290 and OPS under .700 in 2014. Any pitcher afraid of that doesn't belong in MLB.
Hiram
December 13, 2014 - 12:53 PM EST
I didn't realize he put them in order of how they rank... I hope this isn't the case because if he did then this is terrible because no way in hell can you put KC's lineup ahead of Indians... NO WAY
Hiram
December 13, 2014 - 12:52 PM EST
I agree matthew... If everyone is playing well the Indians lineup is as good as anyone in the division, IMO
Mike L.
December 13, 2014 - 12:45 PM EST
You're saying that Adam Eaton is not a good leadoff hitter for the White Sox??? He hit .300 this year with a good OBP.
Matthew
December 13, 2014 - 12:33 PM EST
Is this meant to include defense? This is written as a comparison between teams' offensive output, but there's no way anyone could rank the Royals ahead of the Indians unless they were including defense as a component.
Hiram
December 13, 2014 - 12:21 PM EST
Very good analysis on all the teams.

Very explosive lineups if everyone plays they way they're capable. What I do like about the Indians is that they can dip down into farm system and get a nice bat so it won't be a big drop off. This is a big deal and often overlooked by ppl in MLB when doing analysis
Matt
December 13, 2014 - 10:00 AM EST
You forgot Torii Hunter on the Twins

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