I saved this division for last because it’s the division that I know and love. The AL Central has been more like the AL Comedy Central for the past couple of years. This year will be a little bit different, but this is not an elite division in any way. Almost all of the teams added some pieces to improve their teams and this division should be somewhat competitive this year.
1. Detroit Tigers
The Detroit Tigers have the best team in the AL Central and they have the best team in the American League. The Tigers only have one hole, closer. This hole will either be filled with a closer by committee or one of multiple candidates in Bruce Rondon, Joaquin Benoit, Octavio Dotel, Al Alberquerque, Phil Coke or Bryan Villareal. If the Tigers can make a trade to get a closer or one of these step up into the role and flourishes, this team does not have a glaring flaw. This team has the past two MVP’s on its team in Cabrera and Verlander, and the best pitching staff in the AL. All of those names I listed above could be a potential closer for the Tigers so they have depth in the bullpen. Their lineup is strong batters 1-9. The defense of this team in the outfield is vastly improved with the addition of Torii Hunter to roam the canyon known at right field and right-center in Comerica Park. The pitching in this division is weak and the lineups won’t keep pitchers up at night. The Detroit Tigers have the best line up and the best rotation in this division by a pretty good margin. The Detroit Tigers should win this division and make a deep run into the postseason.
2. Chicago White Sox
I think the Chicago White Sox is the only team not to make a substantial change their lineup from last season. The only additions to the starting lineup are Jeff Keppinger and Tyler Flowers. Unless the White Sox have some injury troubles or the wheels completely fall off of some of their players, I think the White Sox will do the same thing that they did last year. The White Sox are a solid team. They have a balanced lineup and a solid pitching staff with a solid bullpen. The loss of Pierzynski to the Rangers hurts this team and will probably cost this team a game or two by the end of the season, but I expect the White Sox to end up in the same place that they did last year: 2nd in the AL Central and outside of the playoffs.
3. Cleveland Indians
The Tribe added some pieces this year which could make things a little bit interesting for the first 80 games or so for the AL Central. The Indians have come out in the first half of the year and set the world on fire for the past couple of years and then fallen off of a cliff in the second half. I see more of the same this year for Chief Wahoo’s tribe. The Indians made nice improvements in the managerial role with Francona, and then in their roster with Michael Bourn (one of the best offseason signings for any team in baseball), Nick Swisher, Drew Stubbs, Mark Reynolds and Ryan Raburn. (Okay, that last one may have had some sarcasm, and yes, it’s spelled Raburn, not Rayburn.) The Indians also have some nice pieces in Carlos Santana, Jason Kipnis, Asdrubal Cabrera, Lonnie Chisenhall, and Michael Brantley. This lineup will strike out a ton, but it will be explosive at times. The problem with the Indians is that they have no starting pitching. Ubaldo Jiminez’s arm is dead due to his time in Colorado. Justin Masterson has a career ERA over 4.00 and was at 4.93. Brett Myers and Carlos Carrasco are not good pitchers and I have never heard of Zach McAllister. This pitching staff will give up a boatload of runs this year. If the Indians can get a lead to Pestano and Perez late in the game for the Indians, they will win some games. The Indians have some pieces and may be players in July, but they fill fade down the stretch once again.
4. Kansas City Royals
I have no faith in the Kansas City Royals. A lot of people have jumped on the Royals’ bandwagon this offseason with the addition of “Big Game” James Shields and Wade Davis to the rotation and that bandwagon will be full when the Royals get out to a hot start like they normally do. The Tampa Bay Rays don’t just trade away quality talent and get nothing back for it. Tampa was the big winner in that trade. The Royals also added Ervin Santana to the rotation. It is going to be funny when Bruce Chen has the best year of anyone on this staff. Somehow, “Cy” Chen just pitches well. Besides Shields and Chen, the Royals have 3 #5 starters in Davis, Santana and Guthrie who won’t pull out another career revival miracle like he did last year in Baltimore. Now let’s look at the Royals’ lineup. A lot of people think that this is the year that all of the prospects develop and come into their own. I just don’t see it. Hosmer, Butler, and others will continue to develop, but I just don’t see the Royals coming out and winning the games needed to win this division. Someone give me a real reason with facts that shows me that the Royals will win this division. I don’t see anyone on this team that will step up enough to win this division and the Royals will not need just one player to step up like this, they will need a full team to step it up. I see the Royals ending up in the same place that they normally do in the AL Central, toward the bottom.
5. Minnesota Twins
The Twins have some nice pieces in their system. I have a serious man crush on Joe Mauer and I’m not afraid to say it. He just hits and hits and hits and hits. If Josh Willingham can put up numbers even close to what he did last year, the Twins may have something going. I like Trevor Plouffe who has massive power if he can just keep making contact with the ball and stop the streaks where he can’t hit a beach ball. Justin Morneau has not been the same player since suffering a concussion a couple of years ago. The Twins normally put together some scrappy lineups and that is what they are going to have to do this year. The Twins will have trouble scoring runs if they do not get scrappiness from this lineup. Another problem for this team is the fact that Vance Worley is the ace of this staff. After that, the Twins don’t really have a pitching staff behind him. The Twins were known for developing pitchers who throw a lot of strikes and are usually successful. The past couple of seasons those pitchers have not been developed by the Twinkies. This team has a few good pieces, but they are not going to be a good team this year.