X Factors in the American League Central for 2019

Every team in Major League Baseball has an X factor to their success before the regular season begins. Here is every American League Central team’s 2019 X factor.

Cleveland Indians: Adam Cimber

The Indians had one of the best bullpens in MLB in 2017, and then it became the most unreliable aspect of their ballclub. In fact, they finished last season 25th in MLB in bullpen ERA (4.60), 29th in strikeouts (478), and 19th in opponent batting average (.253). While they had discouraging 2018 campaigns, the departures of Andrew Miller and Cody Allen create a void in the backend of manager Terry Francona‘s bullpen; a prime candidate to fill that void is Cimber.

Cimber came over with left-handed reliever Brad Hand from the San Diego Padres in a midseason trade to bolster the Indians bullpen. While Hand thrived, Cimber struggled. Recording a 4.05 ERA and 1.65 WHIP in 28 appearances, he was a shaky presence in the late innings. With that said, it was Cimber’s rookie season; he should be able to improve in 2019.

Hand is one of the best relievers in MLB, and Olivier Perez — who the Indians re-signed to a one-year, $2.5 million deal — recorded an astonishing 1.39 ERA and 0.74 WHIP last season. Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, and Mike Clevinger remain in the Indians starting rotation, and their lineup is still a capable bunch. Whether individuals in their bullpen step up, Cimber in particular, will be a make-or-break factor this season.

Minnesota Twins: Jake Odorizzi

The Twins have one of the best young pitchers in the sport in Jose Berrios, and right-hander Kyle Gibson recorded a career-best 3.62 ERA in 2018. At the same time, their starting rotation needs more depth if they’re going to make a playoff push, and that can come in the form of a revitalized Odorizzi.

Odorizzi came over from the Tampa Bay Rays last offseason and didn’t pitch to his capabilities. Recording a 4.49 ERA and 1.34 WHIP in 32 starts, he was an inconsistent force on the rubber every fifth day. Meanwhile, he recorded ERAs of 3.35 and 3.69 in 2015 and 2016, was able to work out of trouble, and be a reliable force for the Rays.

Every @MLB team has an X factor going into 2019, an intriguing presence that could make or break their season. Here is every AL Central team's X factor, via @RPStratakos.Click To Tweet

With the likes of Eddie Rosario, Nelson Cruz, Jonathan Schoop, C.J. Cron, and Max Kepler, among others, in manager Rocco Baldelli‘s lineup, the Twins could be one of the most productive offenses in baseball this season. But without their pitching staff producing positive results on a consistent basis, the Twins could be looking at another sub-.500 season; Odorizzi is a focal point of that collective turnaround.

Detroit Tigers: Jeimer Candelario

The Tigers remain a team that’s several prominent players away from competing for the playoffs, but they did add the former Pittsburgh Pirates double-play duo of Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer. Another infielder who will be a vital piece to the Tigers this season is Candelario.

Since coming over in a 2017 trade from the Chicago Cubs, Candelario has hit for power. Totaling 19 home runs and 54 RBIs in a career-high 144 games, he was a competent source of offense in 2018. The third baseman’s issue is that he records too many strikeouts. In fact, he totaled more strikeouts than hits last season (160:121).

The Tigers have players who can hit for power and still have productive veterans such as Miguel Cabrera and Nick Castellanos. But they need other players to come into their own because, at some point, their veterans aren’t going to be as productive as they once were. Heck, Castellanos could be traded this summer given his looming free agency. This is going to be a big season for Candelario.

Chicago White Sox: Lucas Giolito

The White Sox have a healthy mix of intriguing young players and veterans in their starting lineup. With Tim Anderson, Yoan Moncada, Daniel Palka, Adam Engel, Jose Abreu, and Yonder Alonso present, the White Sox will have a competent offense in 2018. What they need is a reliable starting rotation, and an improved Giolito could be the difference.

Since acquiring him from the Washington Nationals two years ago, Giolito has been wildly inconsistent. He has struggled with his command, been hit hard, and recorded an abysmal 6.13 ERA in 32 starts last season. But he’s still 24, a former first-round pick, and can hit the mid 90s with his fastball.

The White Sox likely aren’t a playoff team in 2019, but they need to establish a reliable starting rotation. Reynaldo Lopez showed promise last season, the White Sox acquired right-hander Ivan Nova in the offseason, and Carlos Rodon has been consistent. But Giolito has instilled little optimism and/or reason to believe he’ll turn a corner. But if he could do so this season, the White Sox could give the AL Central a run for its money.

Kansas City Royals: Jakob Junis

The Royals are in the midst of what’s going to be a long rebuild, but they have some position players to build around such as Whit Merrifield, Adalberto Mondesi, Jorge Soler, and potentially Ryan O’Hearn. What they’re deprived of is a starting rotation that can keep them in games. They need someone to breakout and become an ace; Junis is a candidate to do as such.

Sure, Danny Duffy, before last season, was arguably the Royals ace, Ian Kennedy has been a reliable force in years past, and Brad Keller pitched well in the 20 starts he made in his rookie season. But Junis has the potential to be a top-of-the-rotation force. He can pitch deep into games, has five pitches in his arsenal, and can be relied on every fifth day.

While Junis’ 2018 season, which included him recording a 4.37 ERA, isn’t a sight to behold, the Royals should feel confident about the right-hander’s future. But if Junis takes a step back this season, it could lead to the Royals looking for a new role for him, whether that be in their bullpen or by trading him for an individual who plays a position of need.

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