MLB Preview American League Central

Chicago White Sox:

This team is like manager Ozzie Guillen—you never know exactly what you’ll get. It might win; it might blow up like a bad chemistry experiment.

Strengths: The rotation frontend of Mark Buerhle, John Danks, and Gavin Floyd isn’t spectacular, but it gets the job done. Bobby Jenks is among MLB’s elite closers. If Carlos Quentin is injury-free, he and the magnificent Jermaine Dye anchor a productive outfield. Catcher A. J. Pierzynski won’t win any congeniality awards, but he gets under opponents’ skins in ways that lead to wins.

Weaknesses: A backend rotation depending on Jose Contreas and Bartolo Colon is going to tax the bullpen. Centerfielder Brian Anderson needs to hit more, the Sox infield is a mess, and both Paul Konerko and Jim Thome look to be at the end of the string.

Cleveland Indians:

Some handicappers are picking the Indians to win this division. It wouldn’t surprise me.

Strengths: If Jake Westbrook is healthy, having him as a number three starter following Fausto Carmona and Cy Young winner Cliff Lee is pretty darn good. They have hopes for lefty Aaron Laffey as well. The Tribe has MLB’s best centerfielder in Grady Sizemore and the best catching tandem in baseball with Victor Martinez and Kelly Shoppach. Travis Hafner has pop at DH, as does shortstop Jhonny Peralto.

Weaknesses: If Westbrook can’t go, the starting staff is a shallow as the kiddies’ pool. Carl Pavano? Please! The Indians also think Kerry Wood is their closer. It would make a nice story, but don’t bet the farm on his arm. Who’s on third? Andy Marte is a bust and Mark DeRosa has been playing out of position. There are lingering and legitimate concerns that their lineup isn’t productive enough.

Detroit Tigers:

Last year’s biggest bust needs to improve fast or Jim Leyland will be the season’s first managerial casualty. He might want to keeps his bags packed. Just two years ago Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robinson, Justin Verlander, and Mike Maroth were supposed to make the Tigers dominant for a decade. The latter is now gone and the other three went 20-41 last year.

Strengths: If last year’s thirteen wins wasn’t a fluke, the emergence of Armando Galarraga is a plus. Miguel Cabrera (1B) will knock the cover off the ball (and keep area restaurants in the black), Curtis Granderson is one of the best in centerfield, and Magglio Ordonez is a thoroughbred. Placido Polanco (2B) and Brandon Inge (3B) are steady and underrated.

Weaknesses: The pitching is as a suspect as a hit-man in a jailhouse lineup. Edwin Jackson will help, but he’s not the savior. Dontrelle Willis looks to be a fraud and if the Tigers think Brandon Lyon is the answer to their closer woes they’re deluded. The Tigers are also stuck with clubhouse poison Gary Sheffield, who never was worth the trouble and is now a past-his-prime jerk.

Kansas City Royals:

This team has been rebuilding longer than the National Cathedral. It’s hard to see KC as anything other than a feeder system for real MLB teams.

Strengths: Zack Greinke and Gil Meche make a nice 1-2 in the rotation, and Joakhim Soria emerged to save 42 games last year. Alex Gordon (3B) has the potential to be a great player.

Weaknesses: Quick—name an everyday player who isn’t Alex Gordon. Okay, Mike Jacobs (1B) slammed 32 homers last year; he also hit .247. Jose Guillen is a decent player and Mark Teahen might be one, but when your big offseason acquisition is the vastly overrated Coco Crisp …. And the Royals think that Kyle Farnsworth will stabilize their bullpen! LOL.

Minnesota Twins:

Their pitching made them an early favorite, but Boof Bonser is now out for the season and Francisco Liriano’s health is always worrisome. Ditto new third baseman Joe Crede.

Strengths: In theory, the Twins starting staff—Liriano, Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey, and Glenn Perkins—is among the deepest in baseball (though they need to be more consistent for this to pay full dividends), and Joe Nathan is an elite closer. Catcher Joe Mauer? Make a list of superlatives; they all apply. Justin Morneau (1B) is a beast, Nick Punto (SS) is a quiet leader, and young outfielders Carlos Gomez, Denard Span, and Delmon Young are maturing.

Weaknesses: Second and third are question marks. Parsimonious ownership means there’s no fat on this roster; a key injury or two could send the Twins into freefall. And it’s hard to root for this team as long as they’re in that god-awful dome.


1. Twins—For their pitching depth and youth.
2. Indians—They seem a piece or two short of completing the puzzle.
3. White Sox—Watch Ozzie explode.
4. Tigers—Say goodbye, Jim Leyland.
5. Royals—Hope you enjoyed last year’s respite from the cellar.

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