3/30/12

American League Central Preview


Detroit seems like a lock for this division but that, of course, is what everyone said about the Red Sox in the AL East last year. There are reasons to think the Tigers could be had by the tail. In order of last year’s finish:

Detroit Tigers:

Good: Man, can they hit! Miguel Cabrera was already a wrecking machine and they’ve added Prince Fielder. There’s also Delmon Young, Alex Avila, a suddenly rejuvenated Jhonny Peralta, and emerging talents such as Clete Thomas, Ryan Rayburn, and Don Kelly. Jose Velarde saved all 49 chances last year and seldom had to when Cy Young winner Justin Verlander pitched.

Bad: Knee surgery will sideline Victor Martinez for the season. Rick Porcello doesn’t inspire as a number three (14 wins, but an ERA of almost 5), and there’s not much beyond him. Cabrera moves to third; he’s bad at first and will be worse on the hot corner.

Hot Seat: Doug Fister needs to repeat his Motown Mojo (8-1 after leaving Seattle last season), or the Tigers will need to club their way to victory. Austin Jackson fell to earth last year (.249) and needs to dust himself off. Fielder has to prove the money wouldn’t have been better spent on pitching. (It would have!)

Prognosis: Keep the runs down and the Tigers can be tamed. Even with Verlander Detroit was just 17th in team ERA last year and there’s no reason to think that will improve dramatically. To me this looks like a team that will get you through September, but not through October.

Cleveland Indians:

Good: Derek Lowe is a good pick up who will help Justin Masterson, another one that Red Sox allowed to get away. Asdrubal Cabrera is an All-Star shortstop. Travis Hafner still has power and Shin-soo Choo is vastly underrated.

Bad: Sad = bad: Grady Sizemore is hurt once again. There are lots of holes in this line up and the staff is thin.

Hot Seat: Carlos Santana has a big bat, when he makes contact, which isn’t frequently enough. Ditto Matt LaPorta. Fausto Carmona isn’t himself; in fact, he’s actually Roberto Heredia and is at least three years older than he claimed. Plus he’s on the restricted list. The Indians may void his contract. The sudden decline in effectiveness has some wondering who Ubaldo Jimen├ęz really is.

Prognosis: Help awaits on the farm, but the Tribe is likely to take a few steps backward this year.

Chicago White Sox:

Good: Addition by subtraction–no more Ozzie at the helm. Danks and Floyd, if they stay, is a good top of the rotation. Alexis Ramirez is stable at short. Paul Konerko and Hall of Fame should start appearing in the same sentence.

Bad: The staff isn't deep enough. Pierzynski couldn’t throw out David Ortiz. Subtraction by subtraction–losing Buerhle, Carlos Quentin, and Sergio Santos. Matt Thronton is untested as a closer.

Hot Seat: Dylan Axelrod is being asked to become a top starter and Phil Humber simply must live up to his promise, or the ChiSox are going nowhere, especially if Jake Peavy has physical setbacks. There are no less than four players who are in their make-it-or-break-it years: Gordon Beckham (.230), Alex Rios (.227/12/44), Kosuke Fukadome (.262 but no power), and Adam Dunn (who hit a record-setting low of just .159 last year).

Prognosis: This may be the hardest team in baseball to predict. The ChiSox could win 88 games or lose 100; neither would surprise me.

Kansas City Royals:

Good: Picking up both Joanthan Sanchez and Yuniesky Betancourt were good moves. Billy Butler is scrappy and Alex Gordon finally put up great numbers (.303/23/89). Eric Hosmer and Luke Hochavar have big upsides. Few realize this, but the Royals were 4th in league in average and 6th in RBIs.

Bad: And they were 27th in ERA. Therein lies a tale. It didn’t help that the highly touted Joakin Soria blew 8 (of 35) save chances. Then he blew out his shoulder and will miss 2012.

Hot Seat: The entire pitching staff. To a lesser extent, Jeff Francoeur. He had a fine year last year (.285/20.87) but his track record is that a bad year follows a decent one. At some point patience is exhausted.

Prognosis: Every spring we hear that the Royals are “turning it around” and so it appears–until May becomes June. They play in Missouri and I say, “Show me!” They should improve, but they could be the 2011 Orioles of the Midwest.

Minnesota Twins:

Good: What’s good is what’s bad: Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. If healthy, the Twins do better; if not, way too much rides on guys such as Denard Span and Josh Willingham. (The latter is a nice pick up, though not for $6 million.)

Bad: The health of the M & M boys. Losing Michael Cuddyer and Jason Kubel won’t help this lineup. When Carl Pavano (9-13/4.30) is your “ace,” pitching is a problem. No one on the staff broke double digits in wins last year. The lineup is filled with lots of young guys–read cheap–who probably ought to be in AAA ball.

Hot Seat: General Manager Terry Ryan is listed as “interim;” need to know more? Matt Capps is being asked to take over Joe Nathan’s spot as closer. The B & B boys (Baker and Blackburn) may be more important to the Twins’ fortunes than the M & M boys. Alas, they’ll have to elevate their pitching to reach mediocre. Francisco Liriano is atop the most-likely-to-be-traded list and nobody is going to bid high.

Prognosis: It was shocking how bad the Twins were last year, but nobody should be surprised in 2012. It would take a meltdown for any team to boost them from the basement this year.

Predictions:

1. Tigers (but they don’t make the World Series)

2. White Sox (predicted with little conviction)

3. Royals (a hunch)

4. Indians (too many missing pieces, but could climb if Sox and Royals don't)

5. Twins (too little of too much)

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