The Cleveland Guardians will be looking to repeat as American League Central Division champions after running away from the pack late last season to win by 11 games over the runner-up Chicago White Sox.
It’s the fourth time since 2000 that Cleveland has won the Central by a double-digit margin, matching the most such division romps by any team in any division in that span. But after two of those seasons, the Guardians (then the Indians) followed up without making the postseason. Included is the 2002 campaign after winning by 21.5 games a year earlier.
They no doubt are hoping 2023 won’t be a third such season.
Unlike last season, when the White Sox were the prohibitive preseason division favorites, the Guardians are the choice to win out (+130 at DraftKings) this year. Naturally, they have the shortest World Series odds on the boards among Central teams in listings at DraftKings, FanDuel, PointsBet, and the Westgate SuperBook.
Check out our AL Central odds and predictions.
Odds to Win 2023 AL Central Division + Team-by-Team Predictions
Let’s take a look at the five Central teams (Cleveland, Chicago, Minnesota Twins, Detroit Tigers, and Kansas City Royals) and how the season likely will play out. MLB play commences on Thursday, with the season scheduled to conclude on Oct. 1.
Teams below are listed in order of shortest odds; records from 2022 and their best World Series odds are in parentheses:
|AL Central Odds
Cleveland Guardians (92-70, +2500 PointsBet)
The Guardians had the youngest team in the majors last year, but they showed their maturity by winning 24 of their final 30 games while their rivals dropped out of sight.
In the ensuing Wild Card round, they swept the Tampa Bay Rays in two games and took the AL East champion New York Yankees to the limit before losing in the ALDS. Surely that playoff experience will be a benefit down the road.
Cleveland was an ideal example of a team playing small ball, ranking next to last in homers with 127, but with the league’s seventh-best batting average (.254) and striking out the fewest times. They also had the third-most stolen bases (119), with five players having 18 or more. No other team had more than three players with that many.
The defense was outstanding as well, with a league-high four Gold Glovers: pitching ace Shane Bieber, second baseman Andres Gimenez, left fielder Steven Kwan, and center fielder Myles Straw.
Relief closer Emmanuel Clase was tops in the league with 42 saves (1.36 ERA, 0.73 WHIP) for a bullpen that had the league’s fifth-best ERA.
Clase is back this season along with veteran slugger Jose Ramirez for his 11th season in Cleveland. He led the team in homers in 2022 for the third straight year (29), had a career-best 126 RBIs, and finished fourth in voting for the American League MVP. Throw in 20 steals, too.
Also back and as power sources are first baseman Josh Naylor (20 homers) and Andres Gimenez (.296, 20 steals). Add in offseason acquisition Josh Bell, a DH who was part of that blockbuster trade last year that sent him from the Washington Nationals to the San Diego Padres along with Juan Soto. Bell had 19 homers in 2022, including the postseason and led Cleveland with four during the exhibition season.
Not to be overlooked is Kwan, last year’s rookie sensation who led the team in hitting (.298) and on-base percentage (.373) to go with 19 steals. Kwan even made headlines last April by not having a swing-and-miss on the first 116 pitches he saw in the majors. The Elias folks said that was the longest streak by anyone to start a career this century.
The starting rotation isn’t bad either, led by RHP Bieber, who went 13-8 with a 2.88 ERA and 1.04 WHIP, thus finishing seventh in AL Cy Young voting. He also was a workhorse. In his 31 starts, he lasted seven innings or more in 14 of them, plus one in the playoffs. He was a hero to that bullpen.
On a down note, the team will have to do without No. 2 starter Triston McKenzie for a while. The slender righty will miss roughly eight weeks with a muscle strain to the back of his pitching shoulder.
Prediction: The Guardians, who haven’t won the world title since 1948, have the longest Series odds among division favorites and seem like a worthy bet. Also, if they can weather the first two weeks of the season when they face the Seattle Mariners seven times and the Yankees three, they’ll be set up nicely with 15 straight games ensuing against teams that were buried in the standings last year.
Chicago White Sox (81-81, +4000 DraftKings)
The White Sox will be operating with new manager Pedro Grifol after the Tony LaRussa era ended with a thud in the wake of such high hopes entering last season. He missed the final 34 games of the season because of issues with his pacemaker and retired for good.
Although the ChiSox finished 11 games behind Cleveland, it wasn’t like they were hopelessly out of the division race all season. An eight-game losing streak in mid-September, which commenced with three straight losses to Cleveland, pretty much sapped their spirit.
Grifol will be inheriting a team that’s got the making of a strong starting rotation led by standout Dylan Cease and a quality lineup at the plate — provided those guys can stay off the injured list.
They also will be without two players who excelled for last year’s underachieving squad: reliever Liam Hendriks and first baseman Jose Abreu.
Hendriks had 37 saves in 2022 but in the offseason was diagnosed to have non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. His career is on hold. As for Abreu, who led the team in batting last season (.304), he jumped ship and signed with the Houston Astros as a free agent.
One of Chicago’s biggest problems last season were injuries to star shortstop Tim Anderson, who missed 83 games with various ailments. Left fielder/DH Eloy Jimenez sat out more than 10 weeks in the first half but returned to hit 14 homers after the break.
With regard to Cease, he went 14-8 with a 2.20 ERA for the .500 team and finished second to Justin Verlander for league Cy Young honors. Also on hand are fellow veteran righties Lance Lynn and Lucas Giolito, who this year will be joined by ex-San Diego righty Mike Clevinger.
Prediction: The White Sox might find it difficult to contend with a pitching staff that’s dominated by right-handed starters and backed by a righty closer (Kendall Graveman). That’s particularly true considering the new rules that outlaw shifts in the field, which will benefit all the lefty hitters those RHPs will be facing. These odds seem too short to consider Chicago.
Minnesota Twins (78-84, +4000 SuperBook)
The Twins, who have won the division eight times since 2002, weren’t that far off getting No. 9 last season.
Despite a bundle of injuries to the pitching staff and key hitters, they were tied with the Guardians for the top spot on Sept. 4. But then, poof, they went 10-20 the rest of the way and wound up watching the playoffs on TV.
A painful loss at the plate for the Twins is that they will be without Luis Arraez, last year’s batting champ in the AL, who was traded to the Miami Marlins for RHP Pablo Lopez and two prospects.
A player they could have lost returns in shortstop Carlos Correa, who flirted with the San Francisco Giants and the NY Mets in the offseason but wound up staying with Minnesota after twice failing a physical. He anchors the infield and provides some wallop at the plate (22 HRs in 2022).
Also returning to the field, they hope, is center fielder Byron Buxton, who’d be an MVP candidate if he could stay healthy. In fact, it’s often startling to see him listed on the roster without the accompanying reference of “day-to-day” or “out.”
He had 28 home runs last year despite hip and knee ailments that permitted him to play only 92 games. Over the course of a whole season, that equates to a 49-homer year. But of course, he has played in more than 92 games only once in his injury-plagued eight-year career.
On the mound, Lopez (10-10, 3.08 ERA) has been named the Opening Day starter, with fellow righties Sonny Gray (8-5, 3.08) and Joe Ryan (13-8, 3.55) also in the rotation. But can Gray hold up? Three times last year he went on the IL. In addition, fellow right-handed starter Tyler Mahle, picked up from the Cincinnati Reds at the trade deadline last year, reportedly is dealing with shoulder fatigue.
In the bullpen is a dynamic customer in Jhoan Duran (1.86 ERA, 0.98 WHIP), who has topped out with pitches at 103 mph.
Prediction: Like the White Sox, too many righties in the rotation and righty closer — although he’s a good one. And what are the odds Buxton plays even two-thirds of the season? Steer clear.
Kansas City Royals (65-97, +20000 DraftKings, FanDuel, SuperBook)
The Royals have been a non-factor in the division since winning the World Series in 2015, finishing more than 10 games off the pace in each of the past seven seasons. Last year, it was 27.
This year figures to be no better for new manager Matt Quatraro, the former bench coach for Tampa Bay. The Royals have a win expectancy number of 69.5 listed at DraftKings and the SuperBook, which is 17 back of the forecast for Cleveland.
There are bright spots. For what it’s worth, the Royals did enter the final day of Cactus League play with the best record among the 15 teams (19-12).
There’s 22-year-old shortstop Bobby Witt Jr., one of only two players in the majors with 20 homers and 30 stolen bases.
On the mound, there’s 26-year-old righty Brady Singer, who was 10-5 with a 3.23 ERA for a team that otherwise had a record of 55-92.
Prediction: It’s not a good sign when a 39-year-old pitcher with sub-90 mph stuff coming off one of the worst seasons of his career gets to be the starter on Opening Day. It’s a nice gesture toward Zack Greinke, but not how you go about winning a division.
Detroit Tigers (66-95, +25000 DraftKings)
Like KC, the Tigers probably aren’t going anywhere in the near future either. That’s especially true if they start the season by losing 23 of their first 32 games as they have the past two seasons.
Longtime Detroit fans must yearn to re-live 1984 over again when the Tigers opened 35-5 en route to what would be their last World Series title.
It was so bad in 2022 that they scored a league-low 557 runs, which was the fewest by anyone in a full season since 2014. Detroit, which didn’t add much help in the offseason, couldn’t even plate more runners than the Oakland A’s, whose team batting average of .216 was the fourth lowest in the modern era.
As for the rotation, lefty Eduardo Rodriguez will get the Opening Day start, but he has seen his strikeout rate for nine innings drop from 10.6 in 2021 to 7.1 last year. That’s not a positive sign.
Prediction: For those of you with a bottomless pit bankroll, now might be the time to bet that the Tigers don’t make the playoffs (-2500 DraftKings). That seems like a sure winner.