5 pressing questions in the AL Central

September 5th, 2018

There are less than four weeks to go in the regular season, and each team still has at least one or two burning questions they'd like answered.
So let's take a look at those questions as it pertains to the American League Central:
The question: Will the Tribe's sidelined stars be primed for October?

Shortly after the Indians acquired Josh Donaldson last Friday, the club announced that the 32-year-old former AL MVP Award winner will become the team's everyday third baseman, moving All-Star to second base and sliding into the outfield. Usually, a positional shuffle of that magnitude with less than a month left in the season would pose the most questions, but the Tribe is still waiting for Donaldson to return fully healthy from his Minor League rehab assignment, along with other key pieces returning from injury.
The Tribe is also missing right-hander , who's been out since Aug. 12, and was in the midst of an AL Cy Young Award-caliber season with a career-best 2.22 ERA and an fWAR of 6.0 (second in the AL), according to FanGraphs. Relief ace (left shoulder impingement) has also been out since Aug. 27. Should Donaldson, Bauer and Miller return healthy and productive, it's not unreasonable to consider Cleveland as World Series contenders.
The question: Will rookie right-hander be a rotational candidate in 2019 or a bullpen piece?

The Royals know they have Danny Duffy, Jakob Junis, and in their rotation heading into Spring Training. And rookie right-hander is making a strong case for a spot as well. So that leaves us with Lopez, who was acquired from Milwaukee as part of the Mike Moustakas deal right before the non-waiver Trade Deadline. Catcher raves about Lopez's stuff -- his two-seam fastball, his slider, his curveball, his changeup. The question becomes where will that stuff be most effective. Lopez was an effective reliever for the Brewers this season, posting a 2.75 ERA in 10 outings. Kansas City wants to use the rest of September to see if Lopez can be even more valuable as a starter. Lopez showed flashes of his potential as a starter in his first three outings for the Royals. Then he seemed to put it all together last Sunday against the Orioles, going seven innings while giving up five hits and one run. Lopez walked none and struck out a career-high eight. He likely will get four or five more starts to show Kansas City he merits serious consideration for the rotation next season.

The question: Can Christin Stewart find a place in the Tigers' lineup?

While the Tigers have held off on promoting their power-hitting outfielder all summer, the former first-round pick is likely to get a September callup once Triple-A Toledo's playoff run ends. From there, team officials want to see not only how he handles Major League pitching, but how he plays defense, the long-running question in his profile. While reviews of Stewart's play in left field have been mixed, Detroit doesn't want to follow 's Tigers tenure with a 24-year-old full-time designated hitter, especially with a 36-year-old likely to garner time at DH next season. Yet the Tigers' need for impact hitters from their farm system means they have to find a place for him somewhere in their lineup next year. A late-season trial similar to ' shift to the outfield last September wouldn't be a surprise.

The question: Can finish strong?

Since returning in late July from a six-week stint in the Minor Leagues that also saw him work on his conditioning, Sano has remained inconsistent at the plate, but he has looked better defensively. Strikeouts are still his biggest problem, which is why his average has been in the low .200s before and after his time in the Minors. Sano has immense power, but he needs to improve his contact skills down the stretch to provide more optimism for next year. It's been a rough year for Sano, who was an All-Star just last season, but he at least has a chance to finish the year on a high note unlike fellow former top prospect , who was not among Minnesota's September callups. Sano is dealing with a bruised left leg, but he is expected to return soon.

The question: How will the young relievers respond to their first Major League challenge?

has been with the big league team since early May and already has proven his considerable value to the White Sox as a back-end piece to the relief corps moving forward into 2019. But there are many young arms who figure to be in the White Sox future plans and will be gaining important September innings as they work toward playoff contention and a championship season. Ian Hamilton, an 11th-round Draft pick who could be the team's closer of the future, , , and Caleb Frare make up that list. If these young arms provide initial hints of excellence, albeit in limited opportunities, it could dictate less spending on free-agent relievers.