We began our division prediction series with the two most-contested divisions in Major League Baseball. The AL East is a war between demigods that rivals The Shattering. The NL East is a dizzy bat race. The AL Central is, well, neither of those things. Projections have already handed the division title to the Chicago White Sox and for good reason. The other four teams aren’t great! In the AL East, there will likely be three teams with at least 90 wins. In the AL Central, there might only be one team with a winning record.
But you know what they say: the game isn’t won in PECOTA. A lot can change between now and October. Heck, a lot can change between now and Opening Day.
Here are our predictions:
Andrés Chávez: Chicago White Sox
The Detroit Tigers, the Minnesota Twins, and even the Kansas City Royals have significantly improved their rosters for the 2022 season. None of them, however, is in the Chicago White Sox’s league, at least not yet.
Without making major additions (depending on how you view reliever Kendall Graveman, of course) and even losing top starter Carlos Rodon, the White Sox should have enough to top the competition.
If injuries cooperate, they will enjoy full seasons from Luis Robert (3.2 fWAR in just 68 games in 2021) and Eloy Jiménez; and several impressive young players such as Andrew Vaughn, Gavin Sheets, Jake Burger, Michael Kopech, and Dylan Cease could conceivably take a step forward.
The Pale Hose, once again, are putting their hopes in a super-bullpen, as Liam Hendriks, Graveman, Craig Kimbrel, Joe Kelly, Aaron Bummer, and Garrett Crochet are good enough to shut down any lineup in the late innings.
Will the rotation hold up without Rodón? That’s an important storyline to follow this year: Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito, and Cease are all very good, but there are questions marks after that. The offense, though, shouldn’t be a problem.
It should be noted, however, that the gap in the AL Central between the White Sox and the rest of the division may be starting to close. The Detroit Tigers got Javy Baez, Tucker Barnhart, Eduardo Rodríguez, Michael Pineda, and Andrew Chafin; while the Twins just signed Carlos Correa and traded for Gary Sánchez and Gio Urshela. Even the Royals brought Zack Greinke and will give MLB’s best prospect, Bobby Witt Jr., the chance to win the third base job. The Guardians haven’t made any significant moves but remain dangerous as long as they have Shane Bieber and José Ramírez.
Kenny Kelly: Chicago White Sox
I’ve been high on the White Sox for longer than I had any right to be, so I’m not going to stop now. Why they’ll win the division should be pretty clear. Luis Robert, Eloy Jimenez, and Yoan Moncada headline a solid, if top-heavy, offense. The Rodón-less rotation still has enough there in Lucas Giolito, Dylan Cease, and Lance Lynn to keep them in most ballgames, and with a bullpen of Liam Hendriks, Craig Kimbrel, Aaron Bummer, and Kendall Graveman, they don’t have to worry about coughing up any leads. Not to mention they have Michael Kopech floating around.
If anyone is going to take the crown from the Southsiders, it’s going to be the Tigers. It might require Spencer Torkelson having a Pete Alonso-esque rookie year and Casey Mize and Tarik Skubal pitching to the top of their game, but anything’s possible. As good as the White Sox are, they still have questionable depth on the bench and in the rotation. The White Sox might struggle to get quality innings from their starters if anyone gets hurt. Enough dominoes fall and the whole thing will come crashing down like a house of cards. Checkmate.
Steven Martano: Chicago White Sox
Last year Chicago was the only team in the AL Central to finish above .500, and while they would not be favored to win the AL East or West, despite a myriad of injuries in 2021, they still managed 93 wins. A healthy Chicago team that has a good core reinforced through free agency positions this team as the obvious favorites to win the Central.
In 2021, Eloy Jiménez, Nick Madrigal, and Luis Robert all missed significant time due to injury. Chicago also lost catcher Yasmani Grandal for over a month, José Abreu and Tim Anderson both hit the injured list for periods of time. While IL stints are inevitable in a 162-game season, it’s hard to imagine Chicago getting hit with as bad an injury bug as they did last year.
The Sox inked two solid players following the lockout, signing utility infielder Josh Harrison and reliever Joe Kelly. Harrison is a solid replacement to Madrigal, and Kelly is a welcome addition to a bullpen that was already one of the best in baseball — the Sox led the AL in K/9 and were effectively tied with the Rays for fWAR despite relievers throwing 150 fewer innings.
The White Sox have a strong rotation as well, with a starting trio of Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito, and Dylan Cease, followed by a backend rotation consisting of former Cy Young winner Dallas Keuchel and flamethrowing Michael Kopech.
The Twins are getting rid of every decent player on their team, the Royals are hardly ready to compete, the Tigers have not been good for the better part of a decade, and the Guardians are in rebuild mode. The question is can the White Sox translate their regular-season success into a playoff series victory?
Estevão Maximo: Chicago White Sox
The AL Central has an owner. As much as I want to believe that the Twins will acquire Frankie Montas and Sean Manaea to field a competitive rotation that can truly challenge for the division crown, I highly doubt it will happen, and even if it does there’s no reason to bet against the White Sox now.
A lineup with depth and up and coming hitters such as Eloy Jimenez and Luis Robert who we’ll hopefully see for a full season, and a rotation that has the likes of Lance Lynn still hitting on all cylinders, Lucas Giolito, and a Michael Kopech ready to step in and fill some of the innings left by Carlos Ródon, plus a bullpen led by the best in the business, Liam Hendriks.
The White Sox have a balanced contender ready to win now and the Twins and Guardians have too many question marks surrounding their pitching and hitting respectively to challenge for the number one spot.
Baseball is a surprising sport, no one expected to see the Giants winning the NL West last year and it’s never wrong to reinforce the anything can happen narrative. However, there’s no sense in picking anyone else to take the AL Central. The White Sox are the prohibitive favorites and I’m sure they have their sights on higher flights than just a division crown.
Matt O’Halloran: Chicago White Sox
It’s difficult to see any of the Guardians, Twins, Royals, or Tigers seriously challenging Chicago for the division crown. While they have a smattering of great players and exciting young talent, they’re all some pieces and a few years away from contention, but surprises happen.
The White Sox benefit from a relatively weak division but have the roster to compete with anybody in the league. Despite the loss of Carlos Rodon, their rotation is still one of the best in baseball, headlined by the trio of Lance Lynn, Lucas Giolito, and Dylan Cease. Their bullpen is even better, with Liam Hendriks, Craig Kimbrel, Garrett Crochet, Aaron Bummer, Joe Kelly, and Michael Kopech.
The lineup has a hole or two but has plenty of talent with a strong mix of youthful talent and veteran wisdom. The likes of Luis Robert, Eloy Jimenez, and Yoan Moncada will be another year wiser and another year stronger. They benefit from the veteran presences of guys like Tim Anderson and Jose Abreu. They could certainly be improved by another left-handed bat in the outfield or at second base - Michael Conforto would be a good fit - but more than enough pieces are there for this lineup to be amongst the most productive.
A lot of things would need to go wrong for the White Sox to be caught in this division, there’s simply too much talent on this roster and not enough of it on the other four. This is a unanimous pick for a reason. The White Sox have the clearest path to a division championship of any team in baseball in 2022, and it’s not particularly close.