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ChiSox are the stars of AL Central
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But let’s face it: From a competitive standpoint, it wasn’t a very good division.
As recently as 2007, you could have argued that the Central was one of the best divisions in baseball. No more. The Twins had the fewest wins of any playoff team last year. AL Central representatives are 1-9 in their last 10 postseason games.
If only the Rays were willing to move to Dyersville, Iowa …
Competitive balance issues aside, the Central isn’t about to relinquish its automatic bid to baseball’s Big Dance. And particularly given the state of the Indians and Royals — 36 very winnable games, thanks to the unbalanced schedule — the division should have a 90-victory champion this year.
The Twins and Tigers have a chance. But I think the White Sox will do it.
Tweet all about it.
As entertaining as the New Media/Ozzie Guillen controversy was, let’s put it aside for a moment. The White Sox themselves are worthy of our attention.
They should win the division, in large part because they have the best rotation. Jake Peavy will be around for a full season. John Danks is one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball, despite winning 25 games over the past two seasons and playing in the nation’s third-largest city.
The bullpen hinges on the health of Bobby Jenks and J.J. Putz; both have missed time due to injuries in recent seasons.
The White Sox don’t have an overpowering offense, but they demonstrated in the past that they might not need one. They ranked in the bottom half of the AL with 741 runs in 2005, but that didn’t stop them from winning the World Series.
AL Central team previews
If they can add another 50 runs onto last season’s total of 724, then they should be a playoff team. A.J. Pierzynski is in a contract year. Expect big things.
The Twins lose a key player. The Twins are written off. The Twins make the playoffs, anyway.
It happened in 2006 with Francisco Liriano. It happened in 2009 with Justin Morneau. Let’s not take the bait again, even with Joe Nathan on the shelf. The Twins will find a way to have a good team this year. They almost always do.
Minnesota won’t have a lights-out closer — not to start the year, at least — but Ron Gardenhire has enough bullpen depth that it shouldn’t be a season-wrecking weakness.
The Twins have added Morneau (healthy again), Orlando Hudson and Jim Thome to the offense they had in the playoffs last year. And Liriano looks like he could be a major factor on the mound for the first time since that ’06 season.
There is plenty of talent on hand for the Twins to find out what outdoor October baseball will be like at the new and spectacular Target Field.
The Tigers might have the greatest upside of any team in the division. But they also have questions at second base, in center field and through the back end of the rotation.
If rookies Austin Jackson and Scott Sizemore are truly ready to contribute, and if Jeremy Bonderman and Dontrelle Willis have really regained their form, then this could be a playoff team.
But manager Jim Leyland is a big believer that stars must produce in order for teams to succeed. By that metric, Detroit should be just fine if Magglio Ordonez and Carlos Guillen reclaim even 75 percent of their 2007 production. Miguel Cabrera could have a big year, now that he says he has stopped drinking.
Despite the uncertainty, the Tigers have the foundation of a contender: three above-average starters (Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, Max Scherzer); a 40-save closer (Jose Valverde); and a 100-RBI slugger (Cabrera).
Since the start of the 2008 season, the Indians have traded CC Sabathia, Casey Blake, Mark DeRosa, Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez, among others. By the end of this season, we should know a lot about the returns.
Chris Perez (DeRosa trade) will be the closer while Kerry Wood is out. Michael Brantley and Matt LaPorta, who arrived in the Sabathia trade, should see significant playing time this season.
But many of the Indians’ best prospects won’t be on the Opening Day roster. And their record will probably be a reflection of that.
Cleveland’s young pitching won’t be good enough for this team to finish higher than fourth, although Fausto Carmona has had a surprisingly consistent spring. Left-handers Aaron Laffey and Jeremy Sowers, much-hyped prospects of yesteryear, simply haven’t panned out.
The Royals were a 97-loss team last year. And they didn’t get much better during the offseason.
They have little power in an outfield that includes Scott Podsednik, Rick Ankiel and David DeJesus. First baseman Billy Butler is the best all-around hitter on the team, but he can’t turn the Royals into a contender by himself.
One encouraging sign: Jose Guillen, the likely designated hitter, is batting .342 this spring. Still, he’s not the threat he once was.
Despite having the reigning Cy Young winner on the staff, the Royals had the third-worst team ERA in the American League. They aren’t going to frighten many teams on the days when Zack Greinke doesn’t take the ball.
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