Forecast: American League preview

Jerry Crasnick @jcrasnick: The Royals took a significant step forward with 86 victories last season, and anything other than a playoff berth is going to be a disappointment. With three Gold Glovers (Salvador Perez, Eric Hosmer and Alex Gordon) and an emphasis on athletes around the field, they play as entertaining a brand of defense as any team in the majors. Hosmer keeps getting better, and no less an authority than George Brett thinks Mike Moustakas is ready for a breakout year. Luke Hochevar's elbow injury hurt the bullpen depth, but the Royals have lots of power arms to bridge the gap from the starters to closer Greg Holland. Yordano Ventura and his 100 mph fastball will be fun to watch at the back end of the rotation, and it won't surprise anyone if Danny Duffy and Kyle Zimmer arrive from the minors to contribute at some point this season. Detroit is still better than Kansas City on paper, but the Royals are a good bet to pass Cleveland and take second in the AL Central.

Jim Bowden: The Royals could make the playoffs for the first time since Brett was their third baseman in 1985. They have arguably the best overall defense (including five players nominated for Gold Gloves last year) and bullpen (which led the AL in ERA last year) in the American League. Hosmer and Perez are primed to have breakout All-Star, Silver Slugger and Gold Glove-type seasons while rookie pitchers Zimmer and Ventura could be the difference-makers by season's end.

3. Cleveland Indians

David Schoenfield: The Indians made their first playoff appearance since 2007 last season, finishing just one game behind the Tigers. The teams probably weren't as close in talent as the standings indicated considering the Tigers had a plus-172 run differential while the Indians were at plus-83. Plus, the Indians must replace Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir, who combined to make 61 starts and pitched 340 2/3 innings. A full season from Danny Salazar, who sizzled with his blazing fastball in 10 starts, will help, while Carlos Carrasco and Shaun Marcum are the shaky candidates for the final spot. The offense was a solid fourth in the AL in runs scored but may have to do better to counteract the likely decline in pitching. Moving catcher Carlos Santana to third base will help the attack if he can play the position defensively, but the Indians will need free agent David Murphy to have a bounce-back year in the outfield and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera to produce more than a .299 OBP. John Axford takes over as closer, but he has been shaky after a stellar 2011 with Milwaukee, so Cody Allen may eventually take over.

Jim Caple @jimcaple: The Indians lost Jimenez and Kazmir, but they still should have a decent season. The question is whether the September schedule will be favorable enough to help Cleveland get to the postseason as was the case last year. Don't count on it.

4. Chicago White Sox

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