The Chicago White Sox took the American League Central division and ran away with it, with a 93-69 record.
They finished with a 13-game advantage over the second-ranked Cleveland Indians, but all four teams except Chicago finished with a losing record.
That situation may have cost them a chance to advance deeper in the postseason.
However, there is good news on that front: all five AL Central teams, without exception, appear to be on an upward trend.
That means the division should be more competitive in 2022.
The White Sox are still the favorite at this point, but after that, it’s hard to pinpoint who can be second and third.
The Detroit Tigers finished 77-85 but showed a lot of growth during the season, especially after May.
Even the Minnesota Twins should return to contention next year, but the absence of Kenta Maeda will likely hurt more than expected.
The Cleveland Guardians (former Indians) and the Kansas City Royals appear to be the biggest contenders to the White Sox in the Central, and here is why.
2. Kansas City Royals
The Royals were fourth in the division in 2021, with a 74-88 record.
However, they managed to uncover some gems during the season.
The Royals’ biggest hope, however, are their prospects.
Are the @OMAStormChasers having fun or what?
— Minor League Baseball (@MiLB) August 28, 2021
All hit more than 30 homers this season in the minors and could inject some much-needed thump to the lineup.
Kansas City can finish second or third in 2022 in a best-case scenario, and the next few years will be exciting.
1. Cleveland Guardians
The Cleveland Guardians almost finished with a .500 record in 2021, but settled at 80-82.
This was despite not having their best starting pitcher, Shane Bieber, for much of the second half.
As long as Cleveland has Jose Ramirez (.266/.355/.538, 36 home runs, 27 stolen bases) and Bieber (3.17 ERA in 96.2 innings), the Guardians will have a chance at overtaking the Sox, even if it is a small one.
Cleveland will depend on several breakouts to make a run at the division, not to mention the offensive reinforcements they bring in the offseason.
I think the development of Cal Quantrill and Triston McKenzie is a huge deal and Bobby Bradley + Ahmed Rosario having good success also bodes very well. I don't know if I'll ever expect "this team is a contender" until I see it again, but they should be at least a Good Team
— 🦈🎃Halloween Reference🎃🦈 (@sharktweets12) October 6, 2021
Josh Naylor should also be healthy from the go next year.
It’s clear, however, that the pitching will do the heavy lifting.
If anything, the Guardians should be a very interesting team to watch in 2022.