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Archive for April, 2010

AL Central

Chicago White Sox:

The south-side Chicago team is looking to bounce back after finishing 4 games below .500 and 3rd place in the “grind it out” central division. Last year was only the second time in the past ten seasons that the Sox failed to win at least 80 games. This group of players is a mixture of young and old, with some new players coming into the fold, while a group of veterans still remains.

The pitching staff is led by Jake Peavy, who was acquired from the San Diego Padres late last season. Peavy gives the White Sox an elite arm in the rotation, a go-to-guy, something that they have not had in a while. One could argue that fellow starter Mark Buehrle has been that man, but I  don’t think that he is as dominant as Peavy, who when healthy, can win 20 games. Buehrle, Gavin Floyd, John Danks, and Freddy Garcia round out a solid rotation that should be the reason the Sox sink or swim. Bobby Jenks anchors the staff as the closer, and is looking to regain his old form with a sub 3.00 ERA.

As for the hitters, you will want to keep an eye on Gordon Beckham. This second year player out of Georgia had a great rookie campaign and will be looking to build off of that this season as the regular second baseman. He has the pop in his bat to hit 20-25 home runs. The return of Carlos Quentin and how he will respond to his injuries will be a big question entering the season. He looks solid so far, and had a good Spring, but the season is still young. Quentin, Alex Rios, and Alexei Ramirez will all need to bring their games up another level this season if the Sox have any hopes of making the playoffs.

Cleveland Indians:

It seems like just yesterday, the Cleveland Indians were winning division title after division title, led by Omar Vizquel, Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez, and Jim Thome. In reality, those days are long gone, and it seems as if the chances of a division title anytime soon vanished with the departures of C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee.

The Indians have a mediocre pitching staff, at best. That is being nice. Fausto Carmona has looked solid, but his ERA the last two seasons has been 5.45 and 6.32, so I don’t like the track record. The rest of the staff is young and inexperienced, and will have a tough time getting the heart of any lineup out, especially with Kerry Wood on the DL.

The hitting isn’t too much better, but has some bright spots. Grady Sizemore had a poor season last year, but should bounce back. He is the type of player that will fix his mistakes and work hard to get better. I am looking for him to have a strong season with 20-25 home runs, 85-90 RBI, and 35 stolen bases. Asdrubal Cabrera is another solid player who provided some speed and pop at the top of the order last season, and should continue to improve with a full season under his belt. Shin-Soo Choo provides the power that this lineup needs, as he hit 20 home runs and batted .300 last season. The Indians will need his bat, and that of the highly touted Matt LaPorta, to be connecting right out of the gate if they have any chance at winning this division.

Detroit Tigers:

The Detroit Tigers are ready to prove that they were worthy of representing the AL Central in the playoffs last season. After letting a large division lead slip away in the remaining weeks of last season, the Tigers are out to prove that they belong with the best, as they did in 2006 when they captured the American League Pennant and a World Series birth.

The pitching staff is anchored by ace Justin Verlander, who bounced back from a horrible 2008 with a CY Young-type performance in 2009. He led the AL in strikeouts, won 19 games, and was a workhorse pitching 240 innings. Jim Leyland will need that again if the Tigers look to capture the AL central crown. Newly acquired Max Scherzer is a solid pitcher who can rackup the K’s as well. He may not be able to replace Jackson and the innings and ERA that he provided, but he will be a reliable arm in the rotation. Last season was Rick Porcello’s coming out party, and I expect more of the same from him this year. Not too much of a change in his ERA (3.96), but an increase in innings and maturity. I think that he can win 17 or 18 games in this league, I just don’t know if that will be as early as this year. Jeremy Bonderman and Dontrelle Willis are the question marks of this rotation and will need to provide quality starts for the Tigers to make a run at this thing. Closer Jose Valverde brings experience to the bullpen and should help the Tigers win the close games they notoriously let slip away.

The batting order is not as solid as it was in years past. Carlos Guillen and Magglio Ordonez aren’t getting any younger, and Adam Everett and Geral Laird provide little, if any, power or average at all. With that said, the Tigers do still have Miguel Cabrera who is in the best shape since his early days in Florida and can hit the ball a country mile. He will have another solid season and look to keep his 30 HR 100 RBI streak alive, as well as batting over .300. The addition of Johnny Damon will bring experience and leadership to the Tigers, that I believe will prove invaluable in late game situations and down the stretch. He is a solid hitter and fielder, but his weakness is his arm. Hopefully all of his other intangibles will make us forget about that. Brandon Inge provides one of the best gloves in the game at the hot corner, but needs to pick up his average to go along with his surge in power. Austin Jackson and Scott Sizemore are the young guns of the group and may make or break the Tigers season. Jackson is a young speedster out of the Yankees farm system and has an eerily similar style of play to that of former Tiger Curtis Granderson. If Jackson and Sizemore can come close to replacing Granderson and Polanco, the Tigers will be in great shape come August/October.

Kansas City Royals:

The Kansas City Royals have been the doormat of the AL Central for the last 10+ seasons. They have not made any big changes in those years and have had problems signing players who want top dollar contracts. Their situation is similar to one the Tigers were in a few years back, before Mike Ilitch decided to start spending some money on his players. If the Royals can’t realize that they need to do this, they won’t be contending anytime soon.

The Royals pitching staff is led by Cy Young Winner Zack Greinke. He is  strikeout machine and knows how to keep runs off the board. He finished last season with an ERA of 2.16 and continues to get better. Look for him to be the lone bright spot on this team. Joakim Soria provides a strong arm at the end of the bullpen, but the question will be how often they are able to get to him when Greinke isn’t making the start.

As I eluded to earlier, the Royals have not gone out to get top free agents or draft picks. They did sign Rick Ankiel, Scott Podsednik, and Jason Kendall, but none of these players are in their prime, and none of them provide a bright future. I don’t understand why they signed these players other than the fact that they play hard, and want to win (which is a big difference than actually winning). Billy Butler is going to have a breakout season in home run totals, as he should convert at least 10 of his 50+ doubles into round-trippers. Butler should lead this lineup, but he can’t do it on his own.

Minnesota Twins:

The Minnesota Twins were the comeback kids last season, tracking down the Tigers, and beating them in a one game playoff to advance to the postseason. Every year the Twins seem to be down and out, and every year they crawl back into the picture. Ron Gardenhire is one of the best managers in baseball, and gets more out of his players than most, which is why you can never count the Twinkies out.

The pitching staff is young and ready to perform. Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, and Nick Blackburn all provide young, healthy arms that should build off of solid 2009 performances. Francisco Liriano is the wild card of the group, and if he regains any of his old form, the Twins could make a run. The loss of Joe Nathan is huge, though, and may be the reason the Twins aren’t playing in October.

The offense is one of the best in the division, and added Jim Thome, Orlando Hudson, and J.J. Hardy in the offseason. American League MVP Joe Mauer and former MVP Justin Morneau lead the offense and provide a power and average duo that is unmatched in this division, and maybe throughout the league. Michael Cuddyer, Denard Span, and Jason Kubel are also solid pieces to this lineup. They know how to generate a run and can play small ball with the best of them.

The one adjustment the Twins will have to make is leaving the Metrodome. As much as other teams hated playing in the dome, with the lights and white ceiling, the Twins loved it. They thrived at the Metrodome and used the noise and atmosphere as fuel during late season runs. I’m not saying that it won’t be loud and packed at their new ballpark, just that it will be different. It could play a huge role in the way they play this season.

Predicted Order of Finish:

1. Detroit Tigers                     90-72

2. Minnesota Twins              87-75

3. Chicago White Sox           85-77

4. Cleveland Indians            70-92

5. Kansas City Royals           68-94

Matthew Benedetto © 2010

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