03
Apr
09

This Year in Baseball – AL Central


Decided last year by a one-game playoff, the AL Central featured 4 probable contenders last season, that is until the Tigers and Indians proved not up to the task. This season, the competition within the division should be pretty fierce; the White Sox, Tigers, Indians and Twins could all be contenders and the Royals are a hot pick to shock the world. Any team in this division could finish first, or just as easily last. After the jump join us as we venture into the wild wild world of the AL Central, the most maddening division to figure in baseball. And tomorrow, we go into the NL Central, NL East and AL West, stay tuned!

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Chicago White Sox – Predicted record (89 – 73)

Possessing the best starting rotation in the division is the only thing that separates this team away from the others in division. Headlined by Mark Buehrle, a consistent 200 IP, 30+ starts, 12-14 win lefty, followed by John Danks who should continue with his progression to being one of the better young starters in the league. Gavin Floyd on the other hand is more likely to see a regression in his numbers as hitters key off his pitches more. Floyd’s arsenal is not as advanced nor as sound as Danks’ leading to a further separation between the two youthful starters. Rounding out the rotation is ever hilarious Jose Contreras and Bartolo Colon. Who knows what you’ll get with either man, Contreras not too long ago had a very impressive win streak running and in his few starts before he injured himself swinging a bat last year, Colon was decent. Considering the state of the other rotations in this division, the White Sox are sitting pretty. At the back end of the pitching staff sits Bobby Jenks who has been reasonably consistent and should have another solid year in him. Matt Thornton, Octavio Dotel and Scott Linebrink all provide great depth in the set-up corps and should help bridge the gap, particularly after the clunkers that Colon and Contreras are likely to pitch their way into.

Carlos Quentin very likely would have won the MVP had he stayed healthy at the end of last season, and playing in the hitter’s haven that is US Cellular should only benefit him as the years go along. So long as his wrist is healthy, there is little reason to think that Quentin won’t be a monster in the middle of that lineup once more. While Alexei Ramirez has never seen a pitch he doesn’t want to swing at, he managed to produce strong numbers last season, whether that is sustainable or not remains to be seen. The two former pillars of the offense, Jim Thome and Paul Konerko are both still good options, look in particular for Konerko to have one more bounce-back season, with the two combining for something like 65 HRs and 180-200 RBIs. Then there is Jermaine Dye, a consistent 34 HR, 95 RBI man the last 4 years in a row, who while approaching 35 has shown no signs of decline and there is no reason to expect some this season. The defense leaves something to be desired, the best arrangement would probably feature rookie Gordon Beckham at shortstop, Alexei Ramirez in center and DeWayne Wise on waivers, all of which the club is unwilling to do at this time. Leaving Ramirez at short means that the athletically gifted, horrible-fielding shortstop will be left to bungle grounder after grounder. Look out ground ball pitchers!

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Minnesota Twins – Predicted record (88 – 74)

Once Scott Baker returns to the lineup, this rotation should feature two very good pitchers and then 3 also-rans. As is, the beginning of the season sees the team without their star catcher, their #2 starter and an outfield full of questions. Francisco Liriano was more than solid when he finally returned to the majors in late July last season, he had 60 strikeouts in 65 innings en route to going 6-2, this year he’ll be counted on to be the ace of the staff and get through a full season healthy. Since the rest of the rotation features Kevin Slowey, Glen Perkins and Nick Blackburn, three decent but nothing more than league-average pitchers at best, the return of Scott Baker, whose numbers last season were nearly identical to the much more heralded Scott Kazmir is eagerly awaited. If there is one thing the Twins excel at, it is assembling an excellent bullpen. The loss of Pat Neshak last year hurt the set-up corps, but Jesse Crain, Matt Guerrier and others will prove a useful bridge to Joe Nathan, one of the most consistently excellent closers. Since becoming the closer in 2004, Joe Nathan has saved 199 games for the Twins, blowing only 20 over 4 years, a 91 percent conversion rate. Having that kind of stability and shut down ability provides lots of confidence for the pitching staff and of course, more wins for the club.

Losing Mauer puts a big time hurt on the Twinkies’ offense. While not a power hitter, losing a two-time batting champion is hard on any team, even more so when that production comes from the catcher position. Now, former MVP Justin Morneau is left to carry more of the offense on his own, and as great a hitter as he is, he most likely won’t be enough. Meanwhile, the outfield features Delmon Young who could hit 35 HRs this year or just as likely hit 5, there is simply no way of knowing or expecting him to finally live up his potential. On the other side of the outfield Michael Cuddyer and Denard Span will be splitting time, Span has speed and defense and Cuddyer is one of the only other remaining 20 HR ability guys on the team, and a part-time role for both of them means it is likely neither is a major factor. In center is Carlos Gomez a DAZZLING defender who is lightning fast but unfortunately can only hit fastballs, something opposing pitchers quickly figured out, and he is, as yet, not allowed to steal first base. Joe Crede was the only big free agent signing in the off-season, and if he is healthy, brings Gold Glove ability at the hot corner and 20-25 HR power; he also brings his career .753 OPS and a creaky back that has limited him to 144 games the last two seasons. Although it should be noted that in only 97 games last season he did also mash 17 HRs. In the end, this offense will be decent, middle of the pack, but lacking a dynamite staff and lacking dynamic offense, they don’t have enough this year to play into October.

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Kansas City Royals – Predicted record (85 – 77)

Over the last 15 years, the Royals have had exactly ONE winning season, 2003 when they went exactly one game over .500, which was, rightly so, considered a big step forward. Unfortunately, the next season the team returned to mediocrity, losing 490 games since. All is not lost though, help is on the way, fresh off drafting what many considered the best haul in last year’s amateur draft, the farm system is getting things together and in a few seasons this team could be poised to be a dominant force for several years. They aren’t there yet though. While Gil Meche is the ace in contract and title of this staff, the presumptive best pitcher here is Zach Greinke, the 25 year old is ready to show everyone exactly how talented he is this season, being some people’s pick to win the Cy Young this season. Pitching 200+ innings last season was an important hurdle for him to get past, and his low WHIP, low ERA and 8.1 K/9 ratio lead many to believe he’ll be a stud this year and many to come. Unfortunately, the rest of the rotation is filled out with Sidney Ponson –who didn’t have a team until a few weeks ag0– and Horacio Ramirez, who are more likely to make fans want to retch than cheer. Kyle Davies had a strong end to the season last year, but since much of his competition featured AAA call-ups, it isn’t necessarily indicative of his overall abilities. The first month of the season will be an important one for him. Fortunately for the Royals and their fans, they shouldn’t have to worry about the ends of games. Joakim Soria, the Mexecutioner, was one of the top 3 closers in all of baseball and was nearly unhittable, there is no reason to believe that won’t happen again this season. The rest of the bullpen, with free agent signees Kyle Farnsworth and Juan Cruz in to replace the traded Leo Nunez and Ramon Ramirez, looks to be strong and should be an asset to the team. If GM Dayton Moore is smart, and the Royals truly have no chance, he should trade both Farnsworth and Cruz in order to accumulate more prospects and pieces for when the team really is ready to compete.

A lot of the success or lack of success that the Royals will have this season is predicated on the ability of third baseman Alex Gordon. Once considered one of the top prospects in baseball, it’s getting to be time for Gordon to finally live up to the hype. Compared regularly in the minors to George Brett, it’s put up or shut up time for Gordon. If he is as good as advertised, the offense will revolve around him, if he isn’t, then other than Jose Guillen and OPS-allergic Mike Jacobs, there aren’t many other proven players in the lineup. Billy Butler the DH extraordinaire, who has been anything but at the major league level, is in a very similar situation. However the addition of Coco Crisp should pay dividends right away; he instantly upgrades the team’s defense and out of the pressurized situation of competing for a job in Boston, should get back to the success he had with the Indians. David Dejesus remains a serviceable option in left and with Crisp there to take the pressure off him trying to be a lead-off hitter might even have more success. Ultimately though, this team depends on its two young, presumptive stars, if Gordon and Greinke leap forward and become the All Stars that everyone predicted they would be when they were drafted then this team could shock the world, it’s all in their hands.

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Cleveland Indians (84 – 78)

A team with Grady Sizemore manning center deserves better, but the Indians, two years away from game 7 of the ALCS don’t seem to be in position to get anywhere close this season. Cliff Lee won the Cy Young last year, and while it wasn’t unprecedented, he had won 17 games before, he is highly highly HIGHLY unlikely to replicate last year’s miracle season. At the same time, Fausto Carmona had one excellent season and one miserable one, which one is the real Fausto and which one will show up this season, the miserable one is much more likely. Want to know how miserable the rotation situation for the Tribe is? Carl Pavano is the #3 starter and is being counted on for important innings. Since 2004 Pavano has manged a grand total of 146 innings pitched, so that doesn’t seem like a particularly good gamble. Scott Lewis and Anthony Reyes finish out this gang of five, and while both are decent young prospects, both are yet to prove themselves on the MLB level. Last year, Kerry Wood was an EXCELLENT closer, but as everyone familiar with his injury-riddled past knows, there is simply no way of knowing if he can stay healthy. You’d have to think that Rafey right and Rafey Lefty, Betancourt and Perez respectively improve upon their sub-par seasons last year but again, no guarantee. Sensing a theme here yet? This pitching staff simply features too many questions 1-12 and the likelihood of all the players with concerns succeeding is simply too unlikely to consider.

Anchored by Grady Sixemore, who could contend for an MVP almost every season, you’d think the offense would be stronger, but besides Victor Martinez, Jhonny Peralta and maybe Kelly Shoppach, this team is missing some bats. Shin-Soo Choo in right could provide 20-20 stats, or just as easily go 10-10 which is significantly less useful, and as good as Mark DeRosa was last season, will he be as efficient moving into the tougher league? When the Indians have both Shoppach and Martinez in the lineup they are significantly better, but that’s more an indictment of Ryan Garko than anything else. Defensively, the outfield is stellar and should cut down on hits, but Peralta’s best position is likely third, Asdrubal Cabrera’s is short and DeRosa’s second. So, of course, none of them will be playing those positions this season. Makes sense to me!

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Detroit Tigers – Predicted record (80-82)

Times are tough in Detroit; there’s a recession on didn’t you hear? Only a few years off an exciting World Series trip, the Tigers are in for another long season. While they feature one of the better hitting lineups in the division, second only to the White Sox, the pitching staff is so unsure that this seems to be the only appropriate position for them. Justin Verlander left camp in 2006 as a starting pitcher for the Tigers and went on to win 17 games, then the next season he followed it up with 18 more wins and the best winning percentage in the AL. Then 2008 struck, the year everything went wrong for the Tiggers. Expected to contend for the Cy Young, instead Verlander lost a miserable 17 games and the team finished in last place. Not all of that was his fault. However, he was maddeningly inconsistent and his velocity dipped noticeably during the season, leading many scouts to believe he was covering up an injury. Nothing has been reported and while his spring numbers haven’t been especially encouraging, there is a chance he returns to the stellar form he so recently had. Then again, one only needs to look at his teammate Dontrelle Willis to think that it also might never be so good again. Armando Gallaraga, an afterthought, was the only consistent pitcher last season in Detroit and since he outperformed all likely expectations of him, it isn’t clear what to expect from him, although a regression of some sorts is likely. Edwin Jackson could be good or prove to be just as expendable as the Rays found him to be, and while Zach Miner has been ok in an occasional relief and spot-starter role, he is now thrust into the 4th starter role. Then there is Rick Porcello, the 20 year old highly-touted prospect who is expected to be the 5th starter. Is this going to work out like Verlander and Zumaya did in 2006, or will it be like Jeremy Bonderman’s first season when he nearly lost 20 games? Both are possible, and it is nearly impossible to predict which is more likely.

You’d think, with an offense as prodigious as the Tigers’ should be, that last place would never be a consideration, but here they are. Miguel Cabrera, still only 25 years old is the driving force of this train, with Magglio Ordonez and Curtis Granderson rounding out the top performers. Carlos Guillen, long underrated has now passed his peak and is headed to left field where he had better return to his 20-15 levels to be worth the salary they’re paying him. Second base is manned by Placido Polanco, a strong average hitter who doesn’t otherwise offer too much else. The move to shift Inge back to third is great for the defense, but does little for the offensive production, as well, the addition of Adam Everett should drastically help the defense up the middle, although, since he is allergic to hitting about .250, that’s a problem too. In the end, the Tigers could just as suddenly as they did in 2006 burst onto the scene and take the division, but this team, predicted by many to score 1000+ runs last season became a miserable also-ran instead, and that is probable to happen once more. It should be restated though, that this division is so wide-open that it is just as conceivable the White Sox finish last and the Tigers finish first. Another important aspect about this team is the strong possibility that if the Tigers look to be out of it, owner Mike Illitch could look to unload some salary, with Magglio Ordonez a very possible passenger off the Tigers’ careening express.


5 Responses to “This Year in Baseball – AL Central”


  1. 1 garnold
    April 3, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    Bold picks here Slanchy. However, to say that the White Sox have a better rotation than the Twins is flat out wrong, especially when one notices how well all the Twins’ starters fared during home games last season.

    I would much rather have Liriano/Baker/Slowey/Blackburn/Perkins than Beurhle/Danks/Floyd/Contreras/Colon.

    I mean, Contreras AND Colon? All they need to do is add Livan Hernandez and they’ll be the Texas Rangers.

  2. April 3, 2009 at 5:15 pm

    Now, to be clear, I think Colon and Contreras are terrible; but seriously, look at the other rotations in this division. I challenge you to find a better top three.
    Perkins is a 5 at best, blackburn too, slowey is ok, but you’re forgetting, and so did I, a very important point: the twins are playing in a new stadium.
    I forgot to bring this up, but I think that their new park, which is OUTDOORS as compared to the Metrodome, is going to be play big this season. I actually avoided all Twins pitchers for this season because of it. I think the wind is going to be a big factor in the new park, fly balls are going to get pushed by the wind and the stadium will have a lot more home runs. Pitchers like Perkins and Blackburn are going to see their hr rates rise and it is going to be a big factor. Thanks Garnold for reminding me to bring that up!

  3. 3 garnold
    April 3, 2009 at 5:37 pm

    HAH!

    Target Dome opens in 2010 Slanch.

    2010.

    Soooooooooooooooooo………care to readjust the ranking?

    http://minnesota.twins.mlb.com/min/ballpark/new_faq.jsp

  4. April 4, 2009 at 2:48 pm

    Dammit! I thought I was so clever in avoiding the Twins. What a fool! This is just like when I went a day early to my study abroad program and didn’t have a place to stay. I read a date and then forget it, and remember it later as something different and am convinced that’s what it is and not relook it up. Touche, Garnold.

    However, I still stand by what I said about the Twins rotation.

  5. 5 youppi
    April 5, 2009 at 3:04 pm

    wow, you love the royals.

    HYPE!!! It’s still KC.

    I agree with you slanch, I think the Twins rotation is going to be money. Slowey = Star.


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