MLB Preview 2010: AL Central

MINNESOTA TWINS

Even though the Twins lose Joe Nathan for the season, they still have a legitimate chance to repeat as AL Central champions. 6”11’ Jon Rauch, a former closer for the Nats, or setup man Matt Guerrier will be asked to take over the job and should fill in adequately. Guerrier may emerge as the favorite considering he had a minuscule 2.33 ERA and led the majors with 33 holds last season.

Your eyes aren’t deceiving you; the Twins are finally spending money. It must feel refreshing to Twins fans everywhere to be transitioning from a small market team to the upper middle class of baseball. First they fund the brand new Target Field. Secondly, Twins fans need not fret any further about the Joe Mauer contract situation. They signed the reigning MVP to a brand new eight-year $184 million contract. On offense there’s nothing the team can’t do. The M&M boys (Mauer and Justin Morneau) will continue their dominance as usual. What may surprise some is the two other emerging power hitters in the Minnesota lineup. Jason Kubel had 28 home runs and 103 RBI and Michael Cuddyer added 32 home runs and 94 RBI. Throw in Denard Span’s speed and Orlando Hudson’s intangibles and this will be one of the most feared lineups in baseball.

Prediction: 1st AL Central – This could be the best team in the central for years to come with the signing of Mauer. The franchise finally showed a commitment to winning by raising their payroll about $30 million to a franchise record $95 million. It must be nice to have the $50 million extra revenue that Target Field will provide to be able to pay players for the first time.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

Ozzie’s bunch has the pitching. Jake Peavy brings a wide arsenal of pitches to the table. Mark Buehrle will continue to eat up innings and lead the staff. John Danks is an emerging pitcher and a 20 pound lighter Bobby Jenks will look to solidify victories at the end of games. The pitching staff will keep them in the hunt for the AL Central crown all season.

The huge question lies with the offense. The White Sox added three starters in the offseason to jumpstart the offense beginning with leadoff hitter Juan Pierre. No one faced a tougher situation than Pierre faced last season. He was forced into the role of a fourth outfielder after winning a player of the month award in the same season. He didn’t complain. He didn’t create any problems for the Dodgers, and that’s quite impressive given today’s stereotypical athlete. His plate discipline will allow the lineup to see extra pitches, while his ability to get on base (.365 in 09) and steal bases (30 in 09) will give the middle of the lineup a lot more chances at RBI opportunities. The White Sox also added Mark Teahan and Mark Kotsay.

Prediction: 2nd AL Central – The Peavy-Buehrle combo makes me think they have a chance especially with the Twins losing Joe Nathan for the season.

DETROIT TIGERS

Since 2006, four of the five teams in the AL Central have won the division and this season figures to go down to the wire too. It will be interesting to see how the team can recover from losing Game 163 and one of their leaders Curtis Granderson. Johnny Damon will try to fill the void. He’s coming off his best power season yet and hits .363 at Comerica Park in his career. Other than Damon and Miguel Cabrera the offense is quite worrisome. Magglio Ordonez only hit nine home runs and 50 RBI last year, while Brandon Inge, Carlos Guillen, Gerald Laird and Adam Everett all struggled mightily. Guillen’s .242 BA was the best among those four.

The Tigers have a new closer in Jose Valverde. He may be exactly what the team needs to lock down wins. Detroit blew 24 saves last year, while Valverde had a 2.33 ERA and has converted on 87 percent of his save opportunities in his career. The Tigers will still be a contender, and even though they dealt Edwin Jackson and Granderson, they’re building for the future. Max Scherzer and Austin Jackson should be successful for many years to come.

Prediction: 3rd AL Central – This team needs to show me something! Blowing a playoff shot last season was embarrassing, and the team needs to show a little bit of heart this year. Their problem is that they have no true direction. They have an influx of young players trying to gain experience, and also have many struggling veterans trying to regain their rhythm.

CLEVELAND INDIANS

It seems like 2007 was a decade ago for Indian fans. The once promising franchise that boasted a C.C. Sabathia-Cliff Lee one-two punch (along with an overachieving Fausto Carmona) looked to be headed for years of greatness. Travis Hafner was one of the best power hitters in baseball, Grady Sizemore was an emerging stud and Casey Blake and his super manly beard was leading the youthful team. They were only one game away from the World Series. What a difference three years makes.

Now, Jake Westbrook is the ace of the staff. He hasn’t pitched since 2008, and he’ll still never live down that amazing opening day start in 07 when he gave up seven earned runs to the White Sox, yet his team still won in spite of him. He’s a decent middle of the rotation sinker ball pitcher, but #1 starter??? Uh-oh! A true #1 needs to have a definitive strikeout pitch; he needs to be a shutdown guy who refuses to let his team lose. Westbrook relies heavily on his defense that will include many unproven commodities this year. Luis Valbuena better have amazing range because new acquisition Russell Branyan is like a gargantuan rock cemented three feet away from first base that is incapable of moving. #2 starter Fausto Carmona is also a groundball pitcher who needs a superb defense behind him. The young Tribe will have to improve on last season’s 97 errors (12th most in MLB) if they want to have any chance of contending for the wide open AL Central crown. The problem is they lost a whole slew of players through trades including Cliff Lee, Victor Martinez, Mark DeRosa, Ryan Garko, Carl Pavano, Rafael Betancourt and even Ben Francisco. We’ll see how some of the young guys fill in. Catcher Lou Marson, Left Fielder Matt LaPorta and Second Baseman Luis Valbuena are all youngsters who have been acquired over the past two years and will start in Cleveland this season. They’ve only combined to play 151 career games.

The good news for this team is Justin Masterson has a chance to develop into a great pitcher. He’s only 24 and he’s already shown overpowering stuff at times. His arm angle can be difficult for many right handers to pick up. Grady Sizemore will also be a bright spot for the Tribe, but that is a given. There’s nothing he can’t do. Indian fans can take some solace in knowing they’ll have him through 2011 with a club option that has to be taken for 2012.

Prediction: 4th AL Central – The Tribe is in trouble. They’re far too inexperienced to be dealing with teams like the Twins, White Sox and Tigers on a daily basis.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS

Many people will latch on to Zack Greinke and his nasty 65 mph curveball when talking about the Royals. We know about his gaudy stats on a team that couldn’t give him any run support, but what about the rest of the team?

Well… first there’s Jason Kendall making $6 million over two years. WOW. REALLY? The only reason you could ever pay this guy is if you think he’s going to bring fans and that’s definitely not the case. Fans want to see someone who can make the ball fly and Kendall’s 11 total home runs since 2005 isn’t exactly going to sell tickets. Nobody cares about a guy who is only good for catching the pitcher’s balls. That’s the job description of a catcher. Sure, you could argue he’ll do wonders for the pitching staff, but at what costs? Don’t you have any upcoming catchers who need to gain experience? And what’s worse? Kendall’s “superb” catching skills led the Brewers to a 4.83 team ERA last year, fourth worst in the majors. Surely if he was really such a great game caller behind the plate, he could have done better than that – now he has the Royals, a far inferior team.

That’s the disappointing thing for Royal fans (if there are any out there), management has no direction. They also signed two 30+ year-olds Scott Podsednik and Rick Ankiel, while they’re still on the hook for the $12 million owed to Mr. Jose Guillen. This is the problem. They compound not spending money with stupid moves and then set back their franchise a quarter of a century. The Royals haven’t sniffed the playoffs since 1985 and that streak will continue in the foreseeable future. They need a new GM, one who can spot talent. They need a better farm system, one that can develop young talent. They need a better owner, one who’s willing to spend money on good players to be competitive. But until then – they’ll just be the same old Royals.

Prediction: 5th AL Central – The Royals have two things going for them: they have Zack Greinke, and at least they’re not the Nats.

Oh those Royals… Royals backup outfielder hit for the cycle on March 19 in the first four innings of a spring training game. The career .227 hitter hit a triple in the first, double in the second, single in the third, home run in the fourth and added a single in the fifth just for the heck of it. Unfortunately for him, it wasn’t good enough to even stay a hitter. Anderson will pursue a pitching career in the minors this season.

LINKS TO OTHER DIVISION PREVIEWS:

NL WEST
NL CENTRAL
NL EAST
AL WEST
AL EAST

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