2016 MLB: AL Central Rules

If they pitch, the division will be holding on to the Tigers' tail.
Sorry East Coast baseball fans, but this is MLB’s strongest division. The Royals are the defending World Series champions and they’ll have trouble winning their division, let alone repeat as champs. On the flip side, most analysts (not me) predict the Twins to finish last in the division, but they’re good enough to win the AL East or West.

I’m going out on a limb and picking the Tigers to win the Central, but they could finish last—that’s how good this division is. My dark horse is Cleveland.

Predicted order of finish: Tigers, Royals, Indians, Twins, White Sox.

Welcome to the age of J. D. Martinez, MLB’s next superstar. He joins a Victor Martinez, Ian Kinsler, newly acquired Justin Upton, and Miggy Cabrera in a lineup that can bash with anyone, including Toronto. And I don’t give a damn how many Mike Trout man-love charts you show me, Miggy is the best hitter in baseball—period. If the Detroit Tigers get decent pitching, they will hard to beat. Therein lies the Tigers’ tale. Will Justin Verlander regain his mojo, or is he done? Can Jordan Zimmerman pitch in the AL? What gives with the hot/cold Anibal Sanchez? Did the Yankees fleece the cats on Shane Green and Justin Wilson? Francisco Rodriquez is a heart attack closer. The Tigers will either roar or turn into domestic tabbies.

The Kansas City Royals look weaker on paper, though losing Cueto was no big deal; he didn’t help much anyhow. Zobrist strikes me as the bigger loss. Their lineup doesn’t dazzle; it simply bleeds you like a thousand paper cuts. The only potential weak link 1 through 9 is untested right-fielder Paul Orlando; by now everyone knows what Cain, Hosmer, Gordon, Morales, Perez, Moustakas, et. al. can do. (Although things could go wrong if the Moustakas of 2014 shows up instead of the stud from 2015.) Starting pitching could be the Achilles’ heel if either Volquez or Ventura slip, as the remainder—Ian Kennedy, Chris Young, and Kris Medlen—are reclamation projects. They only need to take a lead into the sixth and KC’s magnificent bullpen, anchored by Wade Davis, will deliver the W, but getting there may be a challenge.

Think the Boston Red Sox would have been so bad the past few years if Terry Francona was still there instead of at the helm of the Cleveland Indians? My instincts say the Tribe is still a few years from planting a pennant atop the teepee and financial woes could lead to a fire sale, but this is no longer a team to be taken lightly. They have some topnotch hitters—Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantley, Carlos Santana, Mike Napoli, Francisco Lindor—and a few others (Chisenhall, Gomes, Davis)  who ought to be better than their slash lines. A lot of teams would take a 1-3 staff of Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Danny Salazar. If they get decent performances from Josh Timlin and Cody Anderson, the Tribe is going to ambush a lot of teams picked to finish above them.

The Minnesota Twins aren’t patsies anymore either! They still have Joe Mauer, a great pure hitter, and they’ve been adding youth—Byron Buxton, Jose Berrios, Trevor Plouffe, Brian Dozier—who thus far have been relegated to on-the-job-training. When (not if) they figure it out, the Twins will be dangerous. No one knows what Korean import Byung Ho Park will bring to his namesake, but if he’s 70% of what’s advertised, it’s a good signing. Pitching is the problem, once one gets past Phil Hughes, who found his stride in the Twin Cities. I think we can safely call Ervin Santana a tantalizing fraud by now, and then it’s a matter of how fast Kyle Gibson develops and whether Tommy Milone and Ricky Nolasco can contribute. The Twins could also use a closer upgrade over Glen Perkins. The Twins mantra: Not enough to win, but good enough to compete. {Note: Since I wrote this Buxton went on the DL & the Twins have had the worst start in MLB, but I still think they will be better.}

A few folks see the Chicago White Sox as playoff bound. Not me. The ChiSox have the wonderful Jose Abreu, who might win the home run crown, and Chris Sale, always a Cy Young threat. There are too many question marks after them. Todd Frazier was a good pickup, but he won’t hit 35 homers against AL pitching and especially not in his new home stadium. The rest is guys who are in decline (Melky Cabrera, Jimmy Rollins, Alix Avila) or simply never were all that good (Brett Lawrie, Austin Jackson, Adam Eaton). After Sale, it’s Quintana, Latos, and Danks, which rhymes with tanks, and it’s goodbye on the South Side unless all four pitch like Cy.  

No comments: