It is probably the easiest division in baseball to pin down entering the 2013 season. The Detroit Tigers, coming off a World Series appearance, are the heavy favorites in the American League Central. The questions are whether two smaller market clubs -- the Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians -- can make a push at a second wild card or whether the more established Chicago White Sox have a run left in them.
Led by stars like Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Justin Verlander, the Tigers would have to endure catastrophic injuries or a bullpen disaster to miss out on the postseason. They are just too deep to pick any other team to sneak off with the division.
The White Sox, meanwhile, are stuck a level below. They have won between 79 and 88 games each of the past four seasons and not made the playoffs in any of them. And they don't look like a team capable of making the leap -- even if they're a decent bet to have another winning season.
The Royals have a much higher ceiling with one of baseball's deepest prospect pools but have yet to prove it. But if clubs like the A's and Orioles can make massive gains in a single season as they did last year, why not Kansas City? It even made a push in the offseason to patch an ugly rotation with a trade for James Shields. At least the Royals are trying.
The Indians can say the same -- though their offseason free agent additions have a little more punch (Michael Bourn, Nick Swisher) while their minor league system isn't as fertile as Kansas City's. They made an upside play, too, with a trade for Arizona pitcher Trevor Bauer, who is an intriguing pitching prospect even though he will start the season in the minors.
The only team left out of the mix is the rebuilding Twins, who offer hometown star Joe Mauer, a resurgent Justin Morneau and little else. They traded center fielder Denard Span to the Nationals for a top pitching prospect and do feature Aaron Hicks, a promising young outfielder. That won't be nearly enough in 2013.
- Brian McNally