MLB Preview: AL Central

This is by far the easiest division to handicap. Detroit could win this thing by 10 games or more. They’re that good and the rest of these teams are playing catch up. But check back in a few years: once KC’s young pitchers have some MLB seasoning, they’ll be a force. For now, though, it’s Detroit’s division to lose.

1st place: Detroit Tigers

They already had the division’s best hitter (Miguel Cabrera) and starting pitcher (AL MVP and Cy Young award winner Justin Verlander) before adding Prince Fielder, an upper-echelon slugger just entering his prime. Fielder replaces injured clean-up hitter Victor Martinez (out for the year with an injury), giving the Tigers the most formidable 3-4 hitters in the majors. And the rest of the lineup is comprised of solid, if unspectacular, contributors: Austin Jackson, Delmon Young, Alex Avila, Brennan Boesch. Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello need to take the next step in their maturation, but with a solid bullpen, anchored by Joaquin Benoit and Jose Valverde, the Tigers won’t lose many late.

2nd place: Chicago White Sox

I know: they’re in rebuilding mode and they have a rookie manager. But this pick is based on what I consider to be the deepest starting staff in the division. John Danks and Gavin Floyd each pitched better than their surface stats indicate last year. Chris Sale has looked dominant in his transition from the ‘pen. And Jake Peavy — the former San Diego Padres wunderkind — is only 30 years old (hard to believe, right?) and primed for a comeback. And speaking of comebacks, did you see Adam Dunn’s spring numbers? He’s still in his early 30s, and he’s motivated to prove last season an aberration. Sure, there are question marks: Who closes? Is Dayan Vicideo a major-league caliber OF? Which Alex Rios shows up this year? But still, if those pitchers stay healthy…I think this club surprises.

3rd place: Kansas City Royals

A lot of pundits love the Royals and rightfully so: their bumper crop of minor league talent is finally starting to pay dividends at the big league level. Eric Hosmer is legit; we could be looking at an MVP candidate. He reminds me a lot of Joey Votto; always squares it up. And with Billy Butler and Alex Gordon, the Royals have a nice little lineup (although it’d look better if they dropped Gordon down in the order). Losing Salvador Perez is a killer, though, and the pitching hasn’t arrived yet. Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar and Felipe Paulino are retreads who are simply holding it down until Mike Montgomery and Chris Dwyer get the call. But by 2014, they could field a lineup with Hosmer, Perez, Will Myers, Bubba Starling, Mike Moustakas, and Cheslor Cuthbert. That’s scary. This is definitely a team on the rise.

4th place: Cleveland Indians

Last year’s overachieving aside, I don’t see a lot here to be excited about. Ubaldo is bound to pitch better than he did down the stretch last season, but the rest of the rotation is nothing to write home about. Grady Sizemore’s injuries have really hurt this club; Travis Hafner is a shell of his former self; and outside of Carlos Santana and Shin-Soo Choo, the lineup is fairly pedestrian. When you trot out the likes of Casey Kotchman and Jack Hannahan at the corners, you know you’re in trouble. But, hey: Derek Lowe should provide plenty of fireworks at the Jake this summer…for the opposition. So, you’ve got that going for you, Cleveland.

5th place: Minnesota Twins

This team is a mess. Mauer and Morneau simply can’t be counted on to stay healthy at this point. And they have so much money tied up in those two that it makes it really difficult to surround them with anything but middling talent. Scott Baker’s arm injury will hurt their rotation: Jason Marquis, Nick Blackburn and Carl Pavano are basically BP-fodder guys at this stage. And with Matty Capps nailing it down in the ninth, there won’t be a lot of safe leads.

All Division Team

C Carlos Santana

1B Prince Fielder

2B Gordon Beckham

SS Alexi Ramirez

3B Miguel Cabrera (at least offensively!)

LF Alex Gordon

CF Austin Jackson

RF Shin-Soo Choo

DH Billy Butler

SP Justin Verlander

SP Ubaldo Jimenez

SP Gavin Floyd

SP John Danks

SP Justin Masterson

RP Jose Valverde

Manager Ron Gardenhire

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3 Responses to MLB Preview: AL Central

  1. kkuepker says:

    KC Royals! Hoping they slide into that second spot and maybe give the Tigers some trouble.

    • Jason says:

      It’s definitely possible. In fact, Sports Illustrated has them coming in 11 games behind the Tigers for 2nd place. I think this is still a growth year for them, but they’re going to be very good for a very long time. Longsuffering KC fans deserve a contender after all these years.

  2. Pingback: MLB 2012: Dog Days | already & not yet

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