The Chicago White Sox disappointingly finished the 2021 season in four games against the Houston Astros. The bright lights of postseason play seemed to be just a little too bright for the young core on the Southside. While they won the American League Central going away, they did little to prove they belong among the elite in the American League. While winning 93 games is a great season, the White Sox were just 40-41 on the road, and 27-29 against teams that finished with a winning record.
The Southsiders played their division schedule very well, especially at 35th and Shields finishing with an overall 53-28 record at home. While being at home proved to be a big deal for Chicago, playing inside their division was at least equally important finishing with a 44-32 record inside the AL Central. While most know the AL Central was a weak division in 2021, division games can prove challenging regardless of the record of your opponent for several reasons. The White Sox dominated inside their division again after a very strong 2020 season in the AL Central. While what happens this off-season will have much to say about this trend continuing, the Sox cannot afford to sleep on the rest of their division.
The Detroit Tigers hired AJ Hinch, the manager most looked at to be a strong candidate for the opening left with the White Sox when Rick Hahn fired Rick Renteria ultimately hiring Tony La Russa instead. Much of the White Sox fan base strongly disapproved of the hire of La Russa, and a lot of them wanted nothing to do with Hinch either due to the scandal that cost him his job in Houston. While all of that is useless to linger on at this point, the Tigers look like a team that could rise back towards the top of the Central in the not-so-distant future under Hinch.
The Cleveland Indians dealt with the loss of their manager for much of the season when Terry Francona was forced to step down for the remainder of the season to deal with some personal health issues. While the pitching fell from third-best team ERA (3.52) in all of baseball in 2020, all the way to 16th (4.19) in baseball in 2021. The Indians will become the Guardians in 2022, but I do not see them competing for a division crown in the near future. If Francona comes back healthy, you cannot count them out, but I just do not see it at this point. It is also possible they trade their best player, Jose Ramirez as he enters the last year of his contract.
Minnesota in my opinion is stuck between a rock and hard place. While they have some tremendous talent on the roster, they have never quite been able to put together a deep playoff run. Actually, they have not won a playoff game since 2004. With a Byron Buxton extension being a possibility, his inability to stay healthy gives cause for concern on a long-term deal. Josh Donaldson‘s contract makes him difficult to move and really puts the Twins in a bind contractually being able to move him or sign other players they would need to be a consistent contender in the Central. Pitching will also be an issue, having moved Jose Berrios to the Blue Jays at the deadline and not having much experience left in the rotation. Kenta Maeda underwent Tommy John surgery in September and will be out at least most of 2022. With team needs plentiful and money tied up in aging and ailing stars, it makes it hard to project contention.
Kansas City looks like their young talent could be ready sooner rather than later. With prospect Bobby Witt Jr. seemingly ready to play at the major league level, will the Royals bring him up to start 2022 and start his clock on service time, or keep him down and see what happens to begin the new campaign? If the young arms they have can stay healthy, and leaders like Salvador Perez and Whitt Merrifield can continue their strong production Kansas City could also be ready to challenge the White Sox for AL Central supremacy.
Outlook and Prediction
While the Tigers and Royals seem to be the closest to challenging the White Sox for the AL Central crown, I refuse to eliminate the Guardians from the conversation simply because of Terry Francona. While he may not have the talented roster the White Sox have, he has proven more than once he can lead. I think the Central is the White Sox division for the 2022 season but if they sit on their proverbial hands and do nothing to improve the roster, there are a few teams capable of catching them.
The young stars on the Southside should continue to develop and add more postseason experience this year cannot hurt. Luis Robert is a star and should only get better. I am inclined to assume the Sox should have a healthier campaign in 2022 than 2021 when they lost stars including Robert and Eloy Jimenez to injury for considerably long stretches of the 2021 campaign. Jimenez should get back to crushing baseballs and have his best year as a pro as long as he can stay healthy. I think they should go big filling the two most glaring holes on the roster at second base and in right field. Maybe a Marcus Semien reunion for second base? While many have speculated several free agents to fill the void in right field, I do agree with those who think the Sox need another lefty bat.
While Gavin Sheets proved he can hit at the major league level I am not sure he is the everyday answer in RF. Removing right-handed hitters from the free agent pool eliminates the Nick Castellanos ideas and I would venture to say the Sox will steer clear of the contract players like Castellanos will command. I like Eddie Rosario to fill this role but Rick Hahn and company will ultimately make that decision. At least for 2022, I see the division shaping up like this.
- Chicago White Sox
- Detroit Tigers
- Kansas City Royals
- Cleveland Guardians
- Minnesota Twins
Come join the discussion made by the fans at the Overtime Heroics forums! A place for all sports!
main image credit: Embed from Getty Images