Yet again, the AL Central will be the most competitive division in baseball. The White Sox, Twins, and Tigers could be the team making the playoffs here. Hell, the Indians could make a run as well. Because of this, you aren't going to see a team win 100 games. However, you will see some great baseball.
Chicago White Sox:
Last year, the White Sox spent the majority of the summer getting publically bashed by Ozzie Guillen and justifiably so. The lacked effort, were bad in the field, and were just flat out terrible in fundamentals. This year, I have to figure Guillen is using every threat including water torture in spring training to assure that isn’t the case again.
Despite last year, I really like this team. The lineup looks solid in my opinion with a little bit of everything. Juan Pierre is a solid lead off guy, and has a lot of names behind him that can get him across the plate. When healthy, Carlos Quentin hits it over the fence half asleep, and Paul Konerko is the same. Yea, there are question marks with Alex Rios, who seems to be on a very steep decline, and Andruw Jones, but I bet that at least one of them has a good season to contribute on offense.
The pitching staff is solid. Having Mark Buerle and Jake Peavy to hold you staff down is pretty damn good. John Danks and Gavin Floyd aren’t bad themselves. If Freddy Garcia can return to what he was three years ago, they have the best rotation outside of the AL east.
I was all ready to say that the Twins would be the division champs again, but spring training has been rough for Minnesota. The loss of Joe Nathan is way bigger than anyone can imagine. If the tear in his arm is enough to need surgery and he misses significant time, the Twins might be too far in a hole to get back to the top.
The lineup is not the issue; it is loaded with stars. A 3-4-5 of Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Michael Cuddyer is scary. Especially when it sits behind guys like Denard Span, who have no trouble getting on base.
Pitching is another story. I like Nick Blackburn, but everyone else is just average. There is a lot of talk about Francisco Liriano getting back into form and if that is true, then I retract my previous statement. After a fantastic 2006 and okay 2008, his ghastly 2009 has made people forget he was once someone we thought to be a superstar in the making. If he goes back to his 2006 form, the Twins have an edge. However, I don’t quite see that happening. I don’t doubt that he will bounce back and have a decent year, but nothing like what we saw a few years ago.
Last season’s second half collapse was enough to have management make some pretty big changes. These changes include trading away Curtis Granderson, signing Johnny Damon, and starting rookies Austin Jackson and Scott Sizemore. For better or for worst, the team looks drastically different.
With two rookies in the lineup, here will be a bit of inconsistency coming from them. In order to counter that, the veterans must step up. There in lies the problem.
Magglio Ordonez had one of his worst seasons ever, and Carlos Guillen wasn’t much better. Miguel Cabrera is one of the premier hitters in all of baseball, but I don’t see much protection behind him. I just explained Guillen’s situation, but it then gets worst with Brandon Inge and his .226 average over the past three years.
Damon is coming to Detroit after a great season in New York, but it will be interesting to see whether the short right field fence in the new Yankee Stadium aided his stats.
Everyone knows that Justin Verlander will dominate when he is on the mound, but what’s behind him is in flux. I really like Rick Porcello, who is coming off a fantastic rookie year, but it will be interesting to see if he suffers from a sophomore slump.
Rounding out the rest of the rotation is Max Scherzer (it is rare for a National League pitcher to do great in the AL), injury prone Jeremy Bonderman, and Nate Robertson. Notice that I didn’t mention Dontrelle Willis.
Overall, you have question marks all over the place, which doesn’t bode well for playoff contention.
The Indians are a team that people can’t really figure out. There are some that think they could lose 100 games, and other who think they can contend in the AL East. While I don’t think they will lose 100 games, I don’t think they are good enough to threaten the Twins.
At the plate, the Indians will be led by Grady Sizemore, who is coming off of a season riddled with injuries. I really like the decision by new Manager Manny Acta to drop him from the lead off spot because it gives him protection with Shin-Soo Cho behind him with more RBI opportunities.
Even without Sizemore, the Indians have a great offense. Travis Hafner, Cho, and Russell Branyan are all good power hitters, and guys like Asdrubal Cabrera have no trouble getting on base.
Pitching will be the problem in Cleveland. After a great 2007, Fausto Carmona has appeared to be a terrible identical twin. After a 3.06 ERA and 19 wins in ’07, Carmona has just 13 wins in the two years since with an ERA of almost six.
The Indians are hopeful with young guys Jake Westbrook and Justin Masterson, but they are still too ripe to lead a staff of nothing but trouble.
Kansas City Royals:
The Royals are…how do I say this without being mean…not good. They are destined to finish in the cellar for what seems like the millionth time after some predicted them to surprise people last season (not me).
Zach Greinke will continue to dominate and will give them the opportunity to win every fifth day, but the other four will be painful to watch.
Gil Meche and Luke Hochevar both had ERAs above five and even though they are young, there are some things a year of experience can’t fix. In addition, Brian Bannister’s 3.66 ERA might look good, but the 6.63 ERA after the break doesn’t.
I will concede that the Royals did improve greatly in the offseason by adding Rick Ankiel, Jason Kendall and Scott Podsednik, but adding consistent veterans isn’t something that will fix a team riddled with inadequacy.
While I don’t see them contending this year, winning 80 games might not be a giant stretch. Who knows, maybe the Royals know more about the talent they have than we do.