Thursday, April 2, 2009
AL Central Preview
Now that we already know that John Frisch is going to win the NCAA Championship, we can focus on the AL Central race this year. The AL Central is really anybody's division this year. I could honestly see any of these teams winning the division. The defending champion White Sox are getting old, the Tigers fell way off the map last year even though they were supposedly gearing up for a World Series run, and the Twins, Royals and Indians are looking to capitalize on some young talent. Due to a number of nice offseason acquisitions, and some good talent already in place, I like the Indians to wake up the echoes of Willie Mays Hayes and steal the AL Central this year.
Though they are getting well old, I see the Chicago White Sox being the AL Central runner up this year. They won the Central last year, but are in a stage of serious decline. Sluggers Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko are on their way out, but will hopefully be buoyed by full seasons from Carlos Quentin and Alexei Ramirez this year. The White Sox pitching is decidedly average. Mark Buehrle, John Danks and Gavin Floyd will pitch a lot of innings and could each tally up anywhere from 10-15 wins. Bartolo Colon and Jose Contreras fill out the roster, and could either get injured or implode at any time. Octavio Dotel, Scott Linebrink and Bobby Jenks make for a pretty solid bullpen, saving those hard earned wins for the starting rotation. Looking at the whole team, I see the White Sox contending, and maybe going on a hot streak or two during the season, but ultimately falling just short of the playoffs this year.
The Twins are a very tough team to read this year. I could see them winning this division, or their pitching falling flat. Coco Liriano, Kevin Slowey, Scott Baker, Glen Perkins and Nick Blackburn seem like they could be a great staff, but never really dominate games. Liriano is the ace without question, but the rest of the rotation will probably end up going .500. Joe Nathan is a stud closer, but I'm not sure I trust the Twins bullpen other than him. Also, the Twins lineup is nothing to shake a stick at. Justin Morneau is good, but seems to struggle in the second half, and with Joe Mauer out for a while the Twins lineup shall go wanting. They've got some good pieces in place, but need a little more fire power to win the division.
The Kansas City Roy Dawgs look to be a nice surprise this year. After sucking for so long, they deserve to be somewhat successful once again. They are loaded with young talent, and if they can keep the players around they could be a force to be reckoned with in the near future. In the starting rotation, Dill's favorite pitcher Gil Meche eats innings for breakfast, and Zach Greinke and Kyle Davies could make for a good 2 and 3. Sidney Ponson pitched well in the WBC and will be a solid, sturdy, hefty 4th starter. When you put that all together, the Royals rotation isn't half bad. They also have a nice bullpen with Joakim Soria, Kyle Farnsworth (who will do well out of NY) and Ron Mahay. The batting order is where the Royals could make some huge strides though. From 1 to 9 they have great potential. Miguel Olivo looked good in the WBC, Billy Butler, David DeJesus, Mike Aviles, Alex Gordon, Mark Teahen and Mike Jacobs all could be solid hitters. No easy out in that lineup. The Royals will probably finish below .500 this year, but the framework is certainly in place for future success. George Brett will soon be a proud Royal once agian.
The Tigers are my hard luck team to finish in last place this year. They sucked it up last year even though they are very talented and I think will struggle with the expectations placed upon them. They have a great lineup with Miguel Cabrera, Carlos Guillen, Magglio Ordonez, Curtis Granderson and Marcus Thames, but for some reason they did not gel as a team last year. The pitching that once carried them to a World Series appearance is now in serious question. Verlander had a horrible season last year, Edwin Jackson and Armando Galaragga could be decent but not great, and Zach Miner and Rick Porcello are unproven as starters. The bullpen is also shaky with injury prone Fernando Rodney replacing the ever shaky Brandon Lyon as closer. Playing in Comerica Park could be the Tigers only hope for decent pitching. The Tigers certainly have some star power, but I think they will crumble under their high expectations again this year. Therefore, I have low expectations for them. Hey someone's gotta finish in last place.
The Cleveland Indians are my choice to win the AL Central dogfight this year. Their lineup is certainly good enough with a healthy Travis Hafner (or maybe Matt LaPorta) striking fear into the hearts of pitchers at DH, fatsos Victor Martinez and Kelly Shoppach slugging home runs, MVP candidate Grady Sizemore providing great support as leadoff hitter, and Mark Derosa chipping in to do a little bit of everything. I was very impressed with him in the WBC. Also, Shin Soo Choo aka Tie My Shoe could be a sleeper in the Indians outfield, and Ryan Garko is a good option off the bench. Last year's Cy Young winner Cliff Lee will probably not be able to do as well as he did in 2008, but Fausto Carmona surely won't do as badly as he did in '08 either. The two make for a good 1-2 punch at the front end of the rotation. Carl Pavano could be another guy who does well out of New York, and Scott Lewis looked good in September last year going 4-0 in 4 starts. The Indians bullpen was strengthened greatly with the addition of Kerry Wood as the new closer. Last year the Indians kept trying to turn good set up men into closers with no success. Now they have a solid closer, and all the middle relievers can stick to what they are good at. Addition by addition. While I don't expect any AL Central team to challenge for the World Series title, I think that the Indians have all the pieces in place to make a playoff run. I see them finishing at about 89-73 to capture the AL Central crown. You might see Grady Sizemore hoisting the MVP trophy by season's end as well. Enough from me though. What do you guys think?