Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Preview: AL Central

We're doing MLB previews all week long, one a day, except today, where we'll be rolling out TWO previews. First, let's take a look at the AL Central. Yes!

The AL Central: (Middle) America's Game

The only division in baseball where you can make a case for any team to win the division. Any team except the Royals. They Royals won't be that bad this season, but likely still under .500, lets begin with them.

Royals... Its been too long since they've been any good, but there are signs of change afoot. Theck this out. We knew about Gil Meche, with a pretty decent line last season (3.98 ERA, 183K, etc), but how about Zack Greinke last year? Only 24, and already piling up strikeouts... 183 of them to go with a 3.46 ERA. Not a misprint, Meche and Greinke had the same number of strikeouts. In addition, Joakim Soria, already a VERY good closer, now has some help in the bullpen. Kyle Farnsworth, Juan Cruz, and Ron Mahay, will all be stepping in to set up. Boy that Royals pitching staff looks pretty good all of a sudden!

Offensively, we're looking at a Buck and Olivo platoon at C, they're ok. but wait until you see the rest of the infield... Mike Jacobs takes 1st coming in from the Marlins... he can slug it! 29+ HRs last year. Then there's Callapso who's mostly unproven but serviceable, and Aviles barely out of the farm. Alex Gordon might be the best guy of the bunch, and he too is under 25. This infield has a lot of potential. The outfield is Coco Crisp, Jose Guillen, and David DeJesus... not fantastic, but DeJesus ain't so bad. This isn't your brother's Royals... they'll still be a non-factor but I think they'll be better than most years.

I had to be more in-depth with the Royals since I didn't really follow them last year, and neither did anyone else.

Now to the teams that matter...

White Sox... I have no idea how good their pitching is. Even Mark Burhle is good not great, and even at that I'm not sure if he'll keep it up. Last year, John Danks and Gavin Floyd had great seasons, but its hard to tell if they're keepin that up. reason is that before last year, their ERA was well above 5... no clue and given the mediocre periphs, we just won't know how good any of these guys will be. The best thing is, most of them are very young, so its not as if they're injury risks. The Bullpen is going to be interesting to watch, because Jenks will have to stay sharp to keep the Sox in games. Linebrink underperformed last season (lots of injuries, otherwise very good).

Offensively, ugh... do I really have to get into this? this offense sucks!! Even guys like Konerko and Jermaine Dye... They're ok, but just not that big a deal... honest to God! All right, well Alexi Ramirez was pretty good and so too was Carlos Quentin. Jim Thome also made decent contributions. But despite all this I get the impression we're looking at a team that was assembled using the "throw @$%! on the wall and see what sticks" strategy. The White Sox are probably a below .500 team all told. To be better, they'd have to have better rotational depth and more "WOW, look at that guy" hitters. They have neither.

Twins... Twins lose Santana, no problem! Twins lose Hunter... oh hell NO theres no problem! Hunter, as it turns out, was quite overrated. Seems to me the offense worked just fine without him. Span, Morneau, Mauer, and Punto all can slap the ball past the infield. Those are just the names I got off the top of my head. They dont have a TON of power, but they are a good good offense. Ok when I said "don't have a ton of power", I mean they were DEAD last in the AL in HRs last year (only 111). But they still averaged 5.09 runs a game, good for 3rd in the AL... boy how good is your offense when you average 5 runs a game AND are dead last in HRs? wow!!

Pitching is middle of the pack... Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano, Nick Blackburn and others will be their rotation this year... mostly home grown, and no FA pitching pickups for the Twins this season. The Bullpen is again solid with Joe Nathan taking his spot at closer among others. I like the pitching on the Twins. They're as good as anyone to compete for the crown, but the complete absence of power could eat them alive!

Tigers... It's too predictable to roll out the Tigers preview last, so instead I'll go next to last. While they lose Renteria, the remainder of the lineup will be excellent. Miguel Cabrera was not as good as usual, but damn he was GOOD last year. Even in a "down year" he led the AL in HRs. Mags is still there, Sheff is still there, Guillen is still there, and Polanco is still there. Provided Granderson doesnt wreck his thumb again he'll be ready to go opening day, and that will do a lot to spark the offense. I think not having him was as big a reason as any the Tigers got off to a slow start. I'll bet anybody 5 garrets the Tigers don't lose six in a row to start the season. It won't happen.

Now for pitching, their rotation will be much better. Verlander should be good again. Jeremy Bonderman was bad last year, but he is a very good pitcher... I'm not giving up on him yet. Plus, the Tigers picked up Edwin Jackson who even now has a lot of potential. Sure I'm biased; Jackson was a former Dodger and Ray, but he can turn it around. The bully? Better! Yea Brandon Lyon is a gascan, but with that HUGE ballpark he'll get his share of saves, plus lots of run support. Lyon will be fine. Then there's Rodney and Zumaya, both likely to be at full strength. Tigers' pitching will be a TON better this season. I like the Tigers... I've liked the Tigers in this division since 2002, but still... I think they can be the team to beat.

Indians... If there's going to be a chic, popular, "in" pick for the AL Central, it will be the Indians. And why not? They have Carlos Santana waiting in the wings to take over if Victor Martinez falls apart. They have Sizemore wowing audiences in CF. They've got Cliff Lee and Fausto Carmona anchoring the rotation. And this year they have............... (gasp!) a closer! While they grossly overpaid, Kerry Wood will end up being a very good pick to close for the Tribe, provided he stays off the IR. We shall see... This year, the Indians' record will be much closer to the 2007 team than the 2008 team. Roll out the barrel for the Indians!

Dave's Take: I gotta give this one to the Tigers. Isn't it obvious? They have the World's Greatest Offense. They have a much better pitching staff this year. They have a lot of experienced hitters. They have no weight of expectations. Think about it: If you thought the Red Sox were getting overlooked, how about Detroit? Nobody expects them to be any good. This is going to be the second story of MLB this year (the first story is how the Dodgers challenge the 2001 M's for the most wins in a season). The Indians are going to be very close behind. I really like the Tribe this year, so I wouldn't be surprised to see Cleveland take it. I'd leave out an olive branch for Minnesota, because their lineup has been together for a while now, give or take a guy. Love the Twins' pitching. I'd even give the Royals an outside shot... I have no hope for the White Sox... too many things are on tenuous ground. Too many "ifs" on that team. They're last.


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