It may be the middle of July, but Opening Day is rapidly approaching for the 2020 season!
With the start of the Major League campaign now just two weeks away, we at SI Gambling are going through some of the most popular odds available at several different sportsbooks across the country within the MLB futures market.
Earlier this month, we put together our favorite World Series longshots and favorites breakdowns. Yesterday, we began going division-by-division to break down the projected win totals for the American League East.
Today we’ll focus on the AL Central win total odds courtesy of FanDuel Sportsbook.
AL Central Team-By-Team Win Total Projections
Minnesota Twins: UNDER 34.5 wins
The 34.5 win total for Minnesota feels like a fair number considering their breakout 2019 season.
Additionally, SI MLB writer Matt Martell discussed the advantages to the Twins schedule in the shortened season:
“The Twins play 20 games against the Royals and Tigers, two teams that combined to win only 32.8% of their games in 2019. No other division features two teams that were that bad last year, and neither team is expected to be any better this season.”
The Twins are still the prohibitive favorites to win the division, but there’s also a reason to be skeptical.
The 2018 Twins finished 23rd in home runs and 18th in OPS. With several of the same players in 2019, they catapulted to first in home runs and second in OPS. Mitch Garver hit seven home runs in 2018, then hit 31 in 2019. Jorge Polanco went from six home runs in 77 games to 22 home runs in 152. Several other players all reached their career-high in power numbers all at once.
Take a look at the difference in barreling, exit velocity, and hard-hit rate from 2018 vs. 2019 below.
I still believe in the Twins’ improved power, just not at the level we saw a season ago. Minnesota feels like a slight regression candidate for 2020.
Cleveland Indians: OVER 33.5 wins
The Twins and the Indians should slug it out for the top spot in the AL Central in 2020, but I see the Indians taking the division this season because of better balance in their starting pitching and bullpen, as well as what should be an improved offense this season.
Last year, Francisco Lindor led the way as a 5 WAR player. The year before? He was at 7.8. Jose Ramirez dropped nearly 60% from a 7.6 WAR player in 2018 to just 3.6 in 2018.
The Indians were a literal middle of the pack offensive team, ranking 15th in average, OBP, OPS, and runs, while moving one spot down (16) in home runs.
As for their pitching, we saw Shane Bieber take over the lead spot from former ace Corey Kluber who was recently sent to the Texas Rangers this offseason. Bieber leads a solid rotation with Mike Clevinger and a healthy and cancer-free Carlos Carrasco into the 60-game stretch of 2020.
For the same reasons that many like the Twins to control their weak division, Cleveland should be discussed in the same context. I’ll lean on the over here, considering the offensive upside I have projected in their starting lineup.
Chicago White Sox: UNDER 31.5 wins
This was the team total I kept tossing and turning over.
Ace pitcher Lucas Giolito enjoyed a fantastic breakout campaign. SS Tim Anderson and 3B Yoan Moncada are both coming off career seasons with Anderson leading all of baseball in batting average (.335). Yet even with several resurgent seasons from their young and coming stars, they still only won 72 games with a run differential of -124. Their expected win/loss total was even worse at 69-92.
The White Sox have addressed several key issues this offseason and appear on the doorstep of contention. After Major League Baseball’s proposal to expand the playoffs in 2020 was turned down, SI’s Matt Martell wrote how the White Sox were one of the teams most likely to suffer from this decision.
“With a core of twentysomething position players, a savvy new catcher and two veteran sluggers in their lineup, the Pale Hose should be able to hit with anybody. Their rotation includes Cy Young contender Lucas Giolito and former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel. They almost certainly would have snagged one of the five AL wild-card berths in the expanded playoff format.”
The offseason moves are substantial. Yasmani Grandal is one of the best catchers in baseball and will likely lead the team and newcomer DH Edwin Encarnacion in on-base percentage. On the pitching side, Keichel joins a high upside rotation with breakout star Giolito and upstart arms in Reynaldo Lopez and Dylan Cease.
The biggest question to attempt to answer is whether those moves are enough? Even with all of the additions, Fangraphs still has the White Sox projected for 30 wins, and I tend to side in that direction. 32 wins projected out over a 162-game sample equals 86.4 victories, essentially a 14.5 game jump from a season ago. With two impressive teams at the top of the division to contend with, I believe the White Sox’s time at the top of the AL Central is coming, but just not this season.
Kansas City Royals: UNDER 24.5 wins
The Royals are slowly stockpiling some exceptional pitching in their farm system to pair with a few of their young studs in their lineup, but none of those arms appear to be viable options for 2020. Their two major moves this offseason included a new manager with Mike Matheny taking over for the retired Ned Yost and the addition of Maikel Franco on a one-year contract to try and add a bit of pop to the lineup.
The Royals were near the bottom of the pack in multiple offensive categories: OBP (25), OPS (27), runs (26) and home runs (28) and have made no substantial changes to address it for this year. Their pitching staff and bullpen team rankings were also amongst the worst in baseball. Both their starting rotation and bullpen ranked in the bottom 10 in ERA (23, 27), WHIP (25, 30), BB/9 (24, 25), K/9 (27, 25), and H/9 (23,29).
I still like Brad Keller’s ability at the top of the rotation, and I still believe in Danny Duffy’s arm talent if he’s able to stay healthy. As for the bullpen, Ian Kennedy was moved to the bullpen to lock down the closer’s role. They also brought back Greg Holland and Trevor Rosenthal, hoping to reinvigorate two high-velocity arms that, at one point, were some of the best in baseball.
As SI MLB insider Joe Sheehan broke down at the beginning of Spring Training, the Royals hold a bright future ahead, but it’s still a while away.
With the team’s best prospects at least a year away, and in some cases three to four, Soler and Dozier—both 28—have more value as trade chips. The same can be said for Whit Merrifield, the 31-year-old All-Star second baseman.
Ultimately, this is pretty much the Royals team that won 59 games a season ago with no substantial changes. 25 wins projects to a 67.5 win season over 162, and that’s not where the Royals are right now. I’ll be going under.
Detroit Tigers: OVER 21.5 wins
The Tigers were the worst team in baseball a season ago, finishing with a 47-114 record and a .292 winning percentage. They won’t be the worst team in 2020.
Compared to some of the other projected teams in the cellar for win total projections, Detroit made some substantial offseason moves. C.J. Cron and Jonathan Schoop both come over from Minnesota, where they each hit 25 and 23 home runs, respectively, adding more quality at-bats and some thump to a lineup that desperately needs the help.
Schoop in particular, has the potential to be a key addition to the Tigers lineup according to SI Fantasy analyst Shawn Childs.
“Schoop should work well as a power-hitting middle infielder. An outside chance at a neutral batting average with 80 runs, 30 home runs, and 80 RBI while coming off the board at pick 333 as the 29th second base option makes him a value for the right team structure.”
Matthew Boyd is still a very solid top-of-the-rotation starter, Spencer Turnbull is on the way up after a bit of bad luck a season ago (3.98 FIP vs. 4.61 ERA). Joe Jimenez should hold down the closer’s role once again, and the bullpen should be improved from a season ago.
Will Detroit win much more than 22 wins? Doubtful, but I still envision an uptick from what we saw out of them a season ago.
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