AL Central – The Sexy and Stacked Division
The AL Central is loaded this year. Three teams are easy picks to have ninety wins and one of them is a sexy dark horse. The division boasts the AL MVP, the AL Cy Young, MLB’s reigning batting title holder, the reigning American League champion, and a host other little treats. Unfortunately for them they don’t get to walk through the NL Central to inflate all their records again this season. They get the NL East, which may make things a little closer.
What’s To Like: All that stuff I just mentionedâ€¦ it’s on this team. They even managed to get a player not from the Northeast onto the cover of Sports Illustrated; and that’s saying something. If that wasn’t enough, they have one of the league’s top five closers, Torii Hunter in a contract year, and a host of role-players to fill in the gaps.
What’s Not To Like: Francisco Liriano is missing the entire season, but they made a push for the division last year without him. The fact is, there’s really nothing to hold this team back other than the fact they’re division is a war-zone.
The Verdict: If this team was in a big market, you’d be hearing about them constantly. Since they’re in Minnesota, they’re under the radar. They have the Cy Young Winner AND the MVP AND the holder of the batting title. They don’t have Liriano but they didn’t have him last year on their semi-insane run to the division. The Twins are my early pick to win the AL Central.
What’s To Like: Their rotation is strong. Their 5-starter won 17 games last year and pitched to a 3.63. Their middle relief should be fine as long as someone hides the PS2, and they added another big bat to their line-up by putting Gary Sheffield in at DH. While I think by the third year of Sheff’s contract he’ll be falling apart, his first two years are probably going to be pretty productive.
What’s Not To Like: Most experts seem to think the Tigers rotation won’t be able to reproduce their success from last year. I can understand that. They rushed out to a huge lead last season and then coasted the rest of the year until finally choking away the division. Then, they made the World Series only to be swept out by the Cardinals a team that, coincidentally, also almost choked away their division on the last day of the season. The idea that the Tigers are going to be able to duplicate that run this year is, at best, absurd.
The Verdict: Not 95 wins, that’s for certain. I get a creeping suspicion the Tigers are going to disappoint this season. By “disappoint” I mean 85 wins and third in the division. Also, the over/under on me calling them the “Lions” in text this year is roughly 88.5. The window opens on Sunday.
What’s To Like: Their line-up and their closer. They have a hugely under-rated third basemen in Joe Crede. DHing obviously suits Jim Thome who responded to the position with 42 home runs, 109 RBI, and an OPS over 1. Also, the constant possibility of AJ getting punched in the face. Always a bonus.
What’s Not To Like: Jermaine Dye will probably come back down to earth this year; no way he goes another whole year with an OPS over 1.000. They also have a feast-or-famine rotation. Their year is going to be defined by their start. If they start slow, their division is too good to dig out of a hole.
The Verdict: Second place. The question then becomes do they beat the Sawks, Yankees, Jays, Tigers, Athletics, and Angels for the wildcard. Since I think at least three of those teams will pull off 90 wins that leaves Chicago talking about how bad Rex Grossman once September rolls around.
What’s To Like: If Trot Nixon plays, he should help their lineup. They boast the best DH in the league (sorry Sawks, it’s true). They don’t have a lot of holes in their offense.
What’s Not To Like: Their pitching. Their ace is CC Sabathia who’s another feast-or-famine type. Their closer ended the season with 3.75 ERA and 7 blown saves. As is the Indians’ habit, they are right on the verge of being good, but without all the pieces to be quite there.
The Verdict: Like every year, they’re a dark horse division pick for writers who want to say “SEE, I PICKED THE INDIANS, I RULE” in September but completely ignore the pick when they turn out to be wrong. They win fourth in the division, which is kind of the last real position in the AL Central. On the bright side, Tribe fans will be able to comfort themselves by swearing they’d be the best team in the National League.
What’s To Like: I’m trying. They proved they are willing to improve the team in the offseason, spending some money on pitching. Unfortunately, they spent that money on Gil Meche instead of addressing the team’s issues with actually scoring runs. Cheap tickets and a really nice stadium?
What’s Not To Like: Where to start. Their closer made 14 appearances for the Yankees last season and wound up with a 10.80 ERA. Their ace is Gil Meche, who they decided was worth $55 million, and who went 11-8 last year. Their 2-starter was 6-8 last season. They can’t score, which doesn’t help matters.
The Verdict: Yet another long year for the Royals, who will continue to complain about being a small market club who can’t compete, while the small market Twins do just fine. The team will also continue to slap their fans in the face and they’ll continue to lap it up out of some misplaced sense of fan loyalty. Just a note: all the fancy waterfalls in the world doesn’t mean you have to keep giving an owner money who doesn’t care about delivering a good product.