AL Central – Odds to Win Division – MLB Betting

The AL Central features the Cleveland Indians, Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox, Kansas City Royals, and Detroit Tigers.  Outside of the Cleveland Indians, it is not anticipated that anyone will really compete for this division.  From an MLB futures perspective, it doesn't get a lot more lopsided than this.  Can anyone else compete with Lindor and company in this years AL Central?  Our AL Central Futures Odds preview takes a look.

Cleveland Indians -427

2018 Odds to Win AL Central (BOVADA)

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Let’s start with a fact that maybe you weren’t aware of: the Cleveland Indians were the best team in baseball last year.  And it wasn’t particularly close.

The Dodgers won 104 games, but they actually overachieved by 2 games based on run differential, so they were really a 102-win team.  The Indians did win 102, but they should have won 108 based on their incredible run differential.

Indians Pitching Staff

Their pitching staff was far and away the best in the majors in 2017, led by Cy Young award winner Corey Kluber.  Kluber had a 2.25 ERA over 203.2 innings, striking out nearly 12 batters per 9 innings while walking only 1.5 batters per game.  Dominant stuff.

The depth in their pitching staff was truly remarkable as well.  Carlos Carrasco (5.5 WAR in 2017) would have been the best pitcher on all but about two or three other clubs. Trevor Bauer, Danny Salazar, Mike Clevinger and Josh Tomlin all gave the Indians quality starts last year, and and surprisingly, all but Clevinger actually underperformed based on their peripheral stats.  In other words, they could have been even better.

That’s not even to mention relief ace Andrew Miller, who had yet another lockdown season out of the bullpen.  And here’s the bad news for the rest of the division: all of the pitchers mentioned above are back in 2018.

Indians Batting Order

While the pitching was the best in the league, the offense wasn’t far behind, ranking 3rd in the league in wRC+.  Jose Ramirez came out of relative obscurity to post a great season in 2016, but in 2017 he was a revelation - he posted a slugging percentage of .583, stole 17 bases, and played solid defense at 2nd and 3rd base.   

Young phenom shortstop Francisco Lindor had his 3rd great season out of 3 in the majors at age 24.  Don’t bet on Lindor slowing down any time soon - he’s a legitimate MVP candidate this season. Sluggers Edwin Encarnacion and Carlos Santana chipped in with a combined 61 homers - not too shabby from your 3rd and 4th best offensive players.   Austin Jackson, Michael Brantley, and Lonnie Chisenhall all contributed in limited time.

Of all of those hitters, only Santana and Jackson are playing elsewhere in 2018.  The Indians signed Yonder Alonso to replace some of their production. While he likely won’t, it really won’t matter, as far as the Central goes.


In the NBA, several teams in the last few years have been faced with the following question: should we try to compete with the mighty Warriors, or should we just blow it up and rebuild for the future?  Many have chosen to rebuild.

That appears to be what happened this last offseason in the AL Central: everyone appears to be resigned to the fact that the Indians are far and away the class of the division, and they’ve begun making plans for the 2020s.

The Indians could slide backwards 10-15 games from their expected win total from 2017, but I don’t see it making a difference.  Rarely does -427 look enticing, but I really think this race could be over by July. The Tribe will be my best bet in the Central.  

If you want to know why nobody else in the division has a chance, keep reading.

Minnesota Twins +436

2018 Odds to Win AL Central (BOVADA)

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The Twins had a very solid year in 2017, winning 85 games en route to the Wild Card, where they lost to the Yankees.  No shame in that, especially if you realize how good the Yankees were last year - and you would if you read my 2018 preview for the AL East, which you can read here.

The Twins bring back a remarkably similar team in 2017.  They added Lance Lynn to the back of the rotation. Backup catcher Chris Gimenez is now a Cub.  If those transactions appear unremarkable to you, it’s because they are.


The Twins seem content to hold pat on their good young core of position players.  Byron Buxton finally had a passable season with his bat, which is significant when you are stellar with the glove - Buxton won his first of what is likely several Gold Gloves in center field.  Eddie Rosario and Miguel Sano had solid offensive seasons in their 25-and-under seasons - Sano in particular seems capable of more.


The pitching staff was pretty bad last year, ranking 26th in baseball in xFIP.   The only two solid contributors were Ervin Santana and Jose Berrios, who both posted ERAs under 4 in a combined 357 innings.  Santana is unlikely to repeat that performance at age 35. Berrios appears to be their ace of the future, but at age 23 it’s still hard to depend on any real greatness out of him.  The pitching staff is very likely to stay bad in 2017.


The Twins should be fine in 2018 - and by fine, I mean they should play about .500 baseball.  Maybe Sano and Berrios will take leaps forward, and they can enter 2019 with a chance to compete with the Indians.  But fine isn’t enough to compete with the wealth of talent the Indians have in 2018 - I’ll pass on betting on them to win the Central.

Chicago White Sox +1965

2018 Odds to Win AL Central (BOVADA)

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General Manager Rick Hahn has done good work in rebuilding the farm system on the southside.  Their system now ranks 4th in baseball, according to Keith Law, and that should start paying off in the years to come.  

As for this year though, players like Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Adam Eaton, and all of the rest of the solid big leaguers they’ve traded away to rebuild the farm aren’t walking through that door.  And what’s left isn’t pretty, at least for 2018.


The White Sox finished dead last in pitching by xFIP in 2017, and they don’t project to be much better in 2018.  However, it should be a fun year to watch their staff, as some high-level prospects will be given the opportunity to hone their craft without the pressure of a playoff race.

Lucas Giolito, acquired in the Eaton trade, made 7 starts last year and finished with a 2.38 ERA - not bad.  However, his ERA was artificially low - his strikeout rate was far below average for pitchers with at least 40 IP, and his batting average for balls in play (BABIP) was unsustainably low at .189.  Look for his ERA to suffer in 2018 as more of those balls start landing in play. However, as long as Giolito shows progress - increasing that K rate is a must - the White Sox shouldn’t care if he struggles a bit.

Michael Kopech, acquired in the Sale trade, should make his debut this year, and that should be appointment viewing for Sox fans - Kopech is rated as the #11 overall prospect coming into 2018 by Keith Law.   The concern for the White Sox will be his control - he’ll likely walk too many guys in 2018 to be a productive pitcher.  For a 21 year-old pitcher and a rebuilding team, that’s okay.

Carlos Rodon will start the year on the DL.  If he can get back healthy and make some quality starts toward the end of the year, optimism about the former 3rd overall pick should return.  Regardless, this staff is going to struggle - finishing near the bottom of the league seems like a certainty.


The offense won’t be quite as bad, but certainly not a powerhouse by any means.  Jose Abreu and Avisail Garcia are very solid hitters, and they should lead the offense in 2018 as they did in 2017.   Free agent catcher Wellington Castillo is solid at the plate and behind it, and should act as a stabilizing force on both sides of the ball.  

The young player to watch on offense is second baseman Yoan Moncada, another piece in the Sale trade.  Moncada’s strikeout rate has been too high in his first 250 major league at bats - making more contact will help him become a difference maker on offense.


While the upside is high in years to come, there’s no chance this inexperienced team competes with the current talent of the Indians.  If I could bet on the White Sox winning the 2020 AL Central I might just do it, but I won’t be putting my money on them in 2018.

Kansas City Royals +2248

2018 Odds to Win AL Central (BOVADA)

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2018 might be the year that the Royals return to being the Royals we all know and love - no, not the 2015 World Series champion version.  I’m talking about the Royals who lost at least 87 games in every year from 2004 - 2012 before starting their recent renaissance and winning their first title in 30 years.

The 2017 Royals were lucky to finish with 80 wins - they ranked in the bottom third in offense and pitching, and had a run differential equivalent to a 72 win team.  72 wins is not a good mark, but they would be lucky to get there this year.


Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain, arguably the two best position players from that 2015 team, both departed this offseason, and the Royals did not sign anyone to replace their production.  They finished 23rd in offense last year, so it’s hard to see a scenario where they beat that mark by a significant margin.

Mike Moustakas re-signed on a team friendly deal to stick around for at least one more year, so he should continue to provide power in the middle of the lineup after hitting a career-high 38 bombs last year.  Whit Merrifield had a low-key breakout last year, hitting 19 homers and stealing 34 bases - the Royals will hope he can repeat it in 2018.

Salvador Perez is the heart and soul of the Royals behind the plate and is guaranteed to provide good defense.  He had his best power season last year at .495 SLG, but the OBP was still sub-.300. Until he’s able to get on base a little more often, the offensive upside will be limited.  Amazingly he’s still only 27 years old, so there is still time.


The pitching staff is in a similar boat - they finished 24th last year, took some hits in free agency and they didn’t add anyone of note.  Out are Mike Minor, Jason Vargas and Joakim Soria - two of their four most productive starters and their best reliever.

Their top starter from last year, Danny Duffy, will return, but projection systems are down on him this year - he only allowed 13 homers in 146.1 innings last year, a rate that seems likely to increase this year.   Jason Hammel will eat up innings again - his 180.1 innings pitched led the club last year, but at an ERA around 5 it’s not helping too much.  Aging starters Ian Kennedy and Nathan Karns aren’t moving the needle. Young starter Jake Junis could develop into a mid-rotation starter in his age 25 season, but he doesn’t appear to have a real high upside.


Given that they lost so much in free agency and weren’t able to find replacements, I see the Royals as a team that should be much worse in 2018.  Their over/under is set at 71.5 - I really like the under.

Detroit Tigers +4134

2018 Odds to Win AL Central (BOVADA)

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The Tigers had the worst record in the MLB last year at 64-98.  If you’re gonna suck, you might as well do it right - they will have the  #1 overall pick in June’s draft, which should help in restocking their farm system.  They began restocking last year, trading Justin Verlander, J.D. Martinez, and Justin Upton amongst others.  The rebuild is in full swing in Detroit.


Their lineup actually produced at about league average last year, surprising for a last place team, and shocking when looking at Miguel Cabrera’s numbers - his .249/.329/.399 line was far and away the worst of his career.  If he stays healthy this year, there’s no way he falls to those depths again, even at age 34. However, he won’t be getting a lot of help.

Ian Kinsler is now an Angel, joining his ex-Tiger teammate Justin Upton.  Alex Avila is now a Diamondback. James McCann has a solid arm behind the plate, and Jose Iglesias is a very talented shortstop, but neither are impactful offensive players.

Elsewhere in the lineup, Nick Castellanos should do his Nick Castellanos thing - solid power numbers with a lacking OBP.  24 year old Jeimer Candelario will attempt to solidify his status as a major league regular. There’s just not much to get excited about here.


The pitching staff is what sunk the 2017 Tigers to the bottom of the league, and it should remain bad in 2018.

Michael Fulmer was their best starter last year and it should remain that way this year, although his low strikeout rate makes him better suited for the middle of the rotation on a contending team.  Retread starters Francisco Liriano, Mike Fiers, and Jordan Zimmermann should eat up innings, but that’s about it - hitters are going to happy to see Detroit coming up on the schedule this season.

One guy to root for is Daniel Norris: after beating cancer in 2015, Keith Law has him as a breakout candidate in 2018.  At age 24, a breakout season could lead to Norris as a cornerstone in this rebuilding Tigers club.


The Tigers are not trying to contend in 2018, and they shouldn’t be - another top pick will start laying the groundwork for their return to the top of the division.  As with the Royals, I like the the under here too - I don’t see them hitting 69 wins this year.

AL Central Conclusion:

The Twins are a decent team, but the White Sox, Royals, and Tigers are all at various stages of a rebuild.  Cleveland was the best team in baseball last year (postseason excluded), and they should have an easy time winning the AL Central this year.

Best Bet: Cleveland -427

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