The Chicago White Sox are defending AL Central champions as they won the division in 2021 by a whopping 13 games. The Sox are -200 favorites to repeat, but the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins specifically have gotten a lot better this offseason and could challenge the Pale Hose.
Chicago was in first place for 152 days in 2021 (every day since 5/7), the third-highest total in franchise history behind the 2005 (183) and 2000 (169) clubs. The Sox moved into first place for good with a 3-0 victory at Kansas City on 5/7, took an 8.0-game lead into the All-Star Break, and their lead was never smaller than 9.0 games after 8/1. The Sox owned a 10.0-plus game lead at any point in one season for the fifth time in franchise history.
The White Sox recorded a winning record in all sixth months in 2021 and have posted eight straight winning months dating back to last season, their longest streak since a nine-month run from June 1993-August 1994.
Pitching really carried Chicago last season as the White Sox ranked sixth in the major leagues with a 3.81 ERA in 2021, which was their lowest mark since 2005 (3.61). The starting rotation ranked eighth in the majors with a 3.85 ERA, its lowest mark since 2005 (3.75). Sox pitchers set new franchise records in strikeouts (1,588), strikeouts per 9.0 IP (10.18) and strikeout percentage (.279), as well as strikeouts by the starting rotation (944) and bullpen (644).
The White Sox ranked fourth in the American League with a +160 run differential, trailing only Tampa Bay (+206), Houston (+205) and Toronto (+183). Alas, the season ended in disappointing fashion, an ALDS four-game loss to Houston.
The 2022 starting lineup should be mostly the same other than at second base with new addition Josh Harrison. He was signed to a one-year, $5.5 million contract. Harrison’s deal also includes a $5.5 million team option for the 2023 season and a $1.5 million buyout. He slashed .279/.341/.400 with eight home runs, 60 RBI, and nine stolen bases over 558 plate appearances last year between the Athletics and Nationals. Starting pitcher Carlos Rodon left in free agency and will be replaced by Michael Kopech, who was terrific out of the bullpen last year.
The Minnesota Twins and Detroit Tigers are +600 second-favorites and both added a star shortstop in free agency. The Tigers offered Houston All-Star shortstop Carlos Correa a 10-year, $275 million deal but he turned it down. Detroit pivoted to the Mets’ Javy Baez for six years and $140 million. The $140 million contract is the Tigers’ largest for a free agent since Prince Fielder a decade ago, and the largest contract of any sort since Christopher Ilitch became the team’s owner.
The Tigers centered their rebuilding project around pitching and rode their young starters to a 77-win season in 2021, their best win total since 2016. With two of baseball’s top offensive prospects in corner infielder Spencer Torkelson and outfielder Riley Greene, the future already looked bright in Detroit. To take the next step towards contention, however, the Tigers needed a shortstop.
Baez strikes out a lot but is a phenomenal defensive presence. That would be a benefit to any team, but especially so to the Tigers, who ranked dead-last in defensive runs above average in 2021.
The Twins landed Correa this past weekend in a pretty big surprise as he agreed on a three-year, $105 million deal with two opt-outs. Correa, 27, batted .279/.366/.485 (131 OPS+) with 26 home runs last season. He made his second career All-Star Game and won his first Gold Glove Award for his stellar play at the shortstop position. He also finished fifth in Most Valuable Player Award voting, his highest career finish.
Minnesota has been very active since the lockout was lifted. They traded catcher Mitch Garver to the Rangers, using part of that return along with Josh Donaldson to get Gary Sánchez and Gio Urshela from the Yankees. They acquired pitcher Sonny Gray from the Reds via trade, too.
The Cleveland Indians are now known as the Cleveland Guardians and they are +900 to win the Central with the Royals at +1200. Neither is going to win the division and neither has done much this offseason. Kansas City does have AL Rookie of the Year favorite Bobby Witt Jr.
In the last five full seasons (not counting the 60-game season in 2020), the AL Central champion has finished ahead of the second-place club by an average of 11 1/2 games. And in each of the last four full seasons, either three or four teams out of five have finished with a losing record.
- White Sox repeat as champions, Twins earn a wild-card spot.