For the second straight year, the Chicago White Sox and Hall of Fame manager Tony LaRussa are the odds-on favorite to win the Major League Baseball title in the AL Central, according to BetMGM. It’s hard for oddsmakers to ignore that the White Sox won the division by 13 games last year, and BetMGM was dealing them at -200 on Monday.
That victory margin was thanks in large part to no other division rival having a winning record. But before fans in Illinois and Indiana start buying up pennant and World Series tickets, history indicates we should tap the brakes a tad on this Chicago squad.
Since 2000, there have been 18 major league teams that finished at least 13 games clear of their nearest rival. Not only did nine of those squads fail to repeat the following year, they didn’t even qualify as a wildcard.
That was the case in the Central three years ago when Cleveland, off a 13-game edge in 2018, went off as a -410 favorite to win the division and wound up eight games off the pace of champion Minnesota. And back in 2000, Cleveland didn’t make the ensuing postseason after winning the Central by 21.5 games.
Dating to 1984, the White Sox also had a stupendous collapse of sorts, finishing fifth in the old AL West a year after winning the division by 20 games.
Let’s take a close look at the best futures value this year in the AL Central.
White Sox Are A Worthy Favorite To Repeat
According to odds at FanDuel, the White Sox are also favored to win the pennant at +460. Chicago’s solid front line of starting pitchers is led by Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito, and Dylan Cease, who was third in the AL with 226 strikeouts last year.
But all of them are right-handers. Thus, losing lefty Carlos Rodon to the Giants (13-5, 2.37) is a crusher.
Chicago’s top two relievers also are righties, which could become an issue when foes get to load up with lefty hitters late in the game without much worry.
At bat, Chicago has 2020 MVP Jose Abreu, who had 30 homers, 117 RBIs last year, and 2020 batting champ Tim Anderson, who again performed well in 2021, with a .309 average.
Who To Watch For Outside Of The White Sox
Minnesota’s odds (30-1 Westgate SuperBook) for the pennant seem generous. Although the Twins finished last in the AL Central in 2021, they were coming off back-to-back division titles. They now will try to emulate the 1996-98 San Diego Padres, who went from first to last and back to first on the way to winning the 1998 NL flag.
What makes Minnesota attractive is the addition of front-line starter Sonny Gray from Cincinnati and the evolution of ex-Tampa Bay righty Joe Ryan, who had a WHIP of 0.79 in five starts last year. Sure, a small sample size, but it spawns hope. It’s too bad, though, they let last year’s top starter, Jose Berrios, get away to Toronto.
Also giving the team hope is the acquisition of ex-Houston Astros star Carlos Correa, who should anchor the infield at shortstop.
And if the team can get center fielder Byron Buxton to play 100-plus games, which he’s done once in his six full-seasons, their offense can be formidable.
The Rest Of The AL Central Field
Detroit (30-1, FanDuel), Cleveland (55-1 DK) and Kansas City (70-1 DK) figure to bring up the rear in the division. The Tigers showed a lot of spunk last year when it appeared they were headed to their fifth straight season of having a winning percentage of less than .400.
After opening with a 9-24 mark, they went 68-61 the rest of the way. The addition of ex-Cubs/Mets second baseman Javier Baez shows the team isn’t averse to spending some money. But these odds are just a touch too low.
Cleveland, meanwhile, has done little since winning three straight division titles in 2016-18, with its win expectancy dropping from 102 in 2017 to 76.5 this year.
The majority of their stars have either jumped ship or were shipped off long ago. The Guardians at least get back ace righty Shane Bieber, who was limited to 16 starts last year because of a shoulder injury.
Then there’s Kansas City, which hasn’t had a winning season since winning the World Series in 2015.
The Royals did land veteran right-hander Zack Greinke, 38, who’s slotted in as their No. 2 starter. Greinke gave up a career-high 30 homers last season.
And what are the chances catcher Salvador Perez has anywhere near the repeat of his 48-homer season in 2021. In his previous nine years, Perez never hit more than 27.
Take The Twins As A Value Play
Minnesota gets the vote, not necessarily to beat out the White Sox, but to thrive as a major wild-card threat playing in the AL’s weakest division. If they can weather a difficult April schedule, they should thrive with a much easier time of it in May.