American League Central Preview

The AL Central should be the Twins territory; it's theirs to lose.

In order of last year’s finish:

Minnesota Twins: Good riddance to the Baggie Dome. It wouldn’t shock me if the Twins inaugurate their new park with a World Series title. It also wouldn’t shock me if they finished third in the AL Central. It all rides on pitching as the Twins are going to pound the ball like last year’s Yankees. Joe Mauer is the best player in baseball not named Pujols. Justin Morneau is a stud, and the Twins outfield of Michael Culdyer, Denard Span, and Delmon Young is one of the best about which you hear little. Ditto solid players such as Jason Kubel and Nick Punto. The Twins added J. J. Hardy, Jim Thome, and Orlando Hudson.

Pitching is where the dream could turn into a nightmare. Baker, Blackburn, Slowey, and Perkins don’t strike fear into hitters, every night is fireworks night when Carl Pavano pitches, and closer Joe Nathan has too many outtings in which things get more interesting than they should. The Twins need Francisco Liriano to be healthy. This staff could weave magic like the 2008 Rays, but it’s also a sore arm or two away from meltdown.

Detroit Tigers: Last year’s epic collapse ought to lay to rest that Jim Leyland as genius nonsense. The Tigers are hard to fathom. On paper a pitching staff of Verlander, Galaragga, Bondeman, and Porcello looks formidable. On the mound all but Verlander get slapped. The Tigers may have scored gold in stealing Max Scherzer from Arizona and closer Jose Valverde is a massive upgrade, but Zach Miner continues to disappoint and Dontelle Willis looks to be a total flameout.

Johnny Damon will probably replace Curtis Granderson, but he doesn’t have the wheels to hit leadoff any more and he’s not going to duplicate last year’s power numbers in cavernous Comerica Park. Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez need to return to form, Brandon Inge must remain indestructible, and Miguel Cabrera has to stay svelt and sober, or this lineup will struggle and Leyland will be given the gate by All-Star break.

Chicago White Sox: Should the Twins falter, the ChiSox might be poised to pounce. If Jake Peavy and Freddy Garcia are injury-free, they will join a staff with Mark-Perfect-Game-Buerle, Floyd Galvin, and John Danks that will be the class of the division. Their Achilles’ heel is an uncertain lineup and a manager who can go supernova at any time. Once you get past Carlos Quentin and the steady A. J. Pierzynski it’s filled with question marks. Are Paul Konerko and Omar Vizquel done? Will Gordon Beckham continue to grow? The ChiSox also have candidates for the Underachievers Hall of Shame: Juan Pierre, Andruw Jones, Alex Rios…. I like the pickup of Mark Teahan, though. I also think the Sox would be a whole better if they fired Ozzie Guillen. His act has grown boorish.

Cleveland Indians: This team imploded last year and backed up the van. This year’s Tribe will be competitive, but the talent on the farm needs some seasoning. The starting pitching core—Carmona, Laffey, Sowers, Westbrook—is decent, but not much more. Closer Kerry Wood is always a slip away from the DL, and no one can quite figure whether Justin Masterson will be a major league pitcher or a Boston-sent sucker-punch in the Victor Martinez deal. The lineup is shaky once one gets past the talented Grady Sizemore. Who will catch? Can Russell Branyan cut down on strikeouts and knock in more runs? Does 49 RBIs justify Travis Haffner’s massive contract? (No!) And guys like Andy Marte and Jhonny Peralta are in their make-it-or-find-a-day-job year. There are more kids in the wings like the delightful Shin-Soo Choo, but the Indians probably won’t be in the hunt this year. Look for a few more bodies to leave town soon.

Kansas City Royals: Theory—the Royals and the Pirates are the same team and the “players”—qualifying quotation marks needed—just change uniforms. Okay, not fair; the Royals do have Zack Greinke. Gil Meche and Robinson Tejada are serviceable, and maybe Brian Bannister will finally become a decent pitcher and Alex Gordon will grow up. Maybe. This is a team that needed a lot of help over the offseason. Major acquisitions? Josh Fields, Jason Kendall (for God’s sake, why?), Scott Podsednik, Chris Getz, and Rick Ankiel. You’ve got to be kidding me! The best thing that could happen to this team is a new owner.

Predicted Order of Finish:

(1) Twins, (2) White Sox, (3) Tigers, (4) Indians, (5) Royals.

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