2011 MLB Preview: AL Central

I’ve never waited this long to complete my divisional previews. Good thing, too, when it comes to this division. A few weeks ago, I probably wouldn’t have been able to see what a mess the White Sox are and I might’ve actually picked them to win the division. But that ain’t happenin’. I really think this one could be wide open, but here’s my best guess at handicapping this division.

1st place: Minnesota Twins

Injuries have already plagued this club. Justin Morneau is still trying to knock off the cobwebs from last year’s concussion. Joe Mauer has been ravaged by flu. Japanese import Tsuyoshi Nishioka has a broken leg. And Joe Nathan isn’t quite right yet either. But this club catches the ball better than any team in the division. And Mauer and Morneau — the heart of the offense — are both on the mend (Morneau actually played over the weekend.) This is still a pretty iffy pick, but Francisco Liriano and Scott Baker have the potential to pitch like aces, the lineup is quite deep with Nishioka setting the table for the M&M boys, and Matt Capps has looked like the second coming of Rick Aguilera while Nathan rehabs. Throw in the best manager in the AL in Ron Gardenhire and this becomes the team to beat in a very winnable division.

2nd place: Detroit Tigers

No other team in the division can boast a 1-2 punch like Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer. After his recall from the minors last May, Scherzer pitched at a Cy-Young-level. And Verlander has emerged as one of the two or three top pitchers in the league. The Tigers also opened their wallets to add C / DH Victor Martinez, who should provide protection for MVP-candidate Miguel Cabrera. The rest of the lineup and rotation are pretty ordinary, but the other teams in the division are too flawed to rate here. With a little luck, Detroit could push the Twins for the division crown.

3rd place: Chicago White Sox

There’s still a lot to like about this club — present swoon withstanding. Juan Pierre and Gordon Beckham are the best table setters in the division. Free agent acquisition Adam Dunn could lead the league in home runs playing half his games at U.S. Cellular. And I expect Edwin Jackson to assert himself as a true top of the rotation starter this season. But the bullpen is an absolute mess. Jake Peavy is still at least two weeks away from making a difference at the big league level. Mark Buehrle has looked very hittable lately. And it looks like Alex Rios is following the Bret Saberhagen every-other-year-I’m-good career arc. Unfortunately for the Pale Hose, his good year was LAST season. They’re too talented to finish in the cellar, but Ozzie Guillen might want to keep the resume ready.

4th place: Kansas City Royals

I can hear your snarkiness through the computer screen. And yes, I would’ve picked them here even before the season started. I don’t think anybody could’ve anticipated Alex Gordon’s emergence (leading the league in hits as I type this), but this should be the year KC begins to reap the benefit from the league’s best farm system. The cupboard is absolutely LOADED for these guys. 3B prospect Mike Moustakas should be up by June; he profiles as an immediate middle-of-the-order power bat. 1B / DH Eric Hosmer, more of a line drive / batting average threat, shouldn’t be too far behind. There are already a few pieces in place at the big league level: Joakim Soria, Billy Butler, Alcides Escobar. But things look bright in KC for the first time in about 20 years. Enjoy it Royals fans. You deserve it.

5th place: Cleveland Indians

After dealing off C.C. Sabathia and Cliff Lee in the past couple of years, there’s not much talent left on the parent club. But this will be a make or break year for a few of the club’s young players. It’s time for Matt LaPorta (the crown jewel of the Sabathia trade) to prove he can rake like an MLB 1B. OF Michael Brantley has a golden opportunity to show his mettle as Grady Sizemore rehabs from injury. And Carlos Carrasco needs to provide quality innings for a Tribe staff woefully short on experience. Carlos Santana — a Victor Martinez clone — should be exciting to watch. But check back in two years to see if this rebuilding project is going to work.

All-Division Team

C Joe Mauer

1B Miguel Cabrera

2B Gordon Beckham

SS Alexi Ramirez

3B Brandon Inge (ugh)

OF Shin-Soo Choo

OF Alex Rios

OF Delmon Young

DH Adam Dunn

SP Justin Verlander

SP Max Scherzer

SP Francisco Liriano

SP Edwin Jackson

SP Scott Baker

Closer Joakim Soria

Manager Ron Gardenhire

This entry was posted in Baseball, Sports and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.