American League Central
The American League Central looked at the start of last year to be one of the more competitive divisions in baseball. The White Sox were looking to repeat on their season from the year before, the Twins looked to have a solid pitching staff and looked to be on their way back up, and the Indians had a very strong line-up. The Tigers had a well-rounded team, and the Royals... well, they were the Royals. But before the season started the Twins found out they were going to be without their new young stud pitcher Francisco Liriano, the White Sox just completely collapsed and everyone was blaming everyone else, and the Royals were again...the Royals. It became a two-team race by the All-Star break between the Tigers and Indians. In the end, the Indians had the better pitching staff and bullpen to hold off the Tigers for the division crown. Will things be the same this year? Not if new Tigers Miguel Cabrera, Dontrelle Willis, and Edgar Renteria have anything to say about it.
1. Detroit Tigers (90-72)
Aside from the Johan to the Mets trade, the next big trade in the Majors this past offseason was the Tigers adding one of the best hitters in baseball to an already very strong line-up. Miguel Cabrera added into this line-up will take the Tigers from being a step below the Red Sox and Yankees in terms of line-ups, to having maybe the best line-up in the Majors. If you look at it, this line-up really has no easy part in the order. It has speed at the top with Granderson, a great bunter and contact hitter in Polanco, and the 3-4-5 is the best combination in the game with Magglio, Sheffield, and Cabrera. Factor in Pudge, Carlos Guillen moving to 1st base, Edgar Renteria coming off a good season, and Jacque Jones and his over 120 hits last year batting 9th and you have an incrediable 1-9 line-up. The piching staff also looks to get a boost the D-Train can get back to his winning ways. He joins ace Justin Verlander, Jeremy Bonderman, Kenny Rogers, and Nate Robertson. All these guys have to do is hold the other team to less then five runs and they have a chance to win. Their bullpen is also very good with Todd Jones as the closer and Rodney, Grilli, Seay, Byrdak, Miner, and after the All-Star break even the return of Joel Zumaya to the bullpen. I think the battles between the Tigers and the Indians will be the only thing worth watching in the Central Division this year.
Key Addition: Miguel Cabrera
2. Cleveland Indians (87-75)
The Indians had a great run last year winning the Division, beating the Evil Empire in the first round of the playoffs, then losing to the eventual World Series Champs: the Red Sox. They have found a great 1-2 combo in the starting rotation in C.C. Sabathia and Fausto Carmona. Their pitching staff was one of the best in the league, led by the two starters at the top and also a surprising year from Paul Byrd and Jake Westbrook. And now to add to that, a new young gun Aaron Laffey and this staff looks to be on of the best in the league. The Indians bullpen might be up there with the pen in Boston with Borowski closing, Betancourt, new pitcher Kobayashi from Japan, Aaron Fultz moved to the pen, Tom Mastny, and Rafael Perez. Their line-up has three potential All-Stars in Travis Hafner, Grady Sizemore, and Victor Martinez. After that the line-up shows a bit of weakness with not as much power at the bottom of the order. I think that this team will give a great fight with the Tigers, but in the end the Detroit line-up will just be too powerful for the Tribe.
Key Addition: Masahide Kobayashi
3. Chicago White Sox (76-86)
The White Sox were a bit of a dissappointment last season and that trend will continue this year with the Indians and the Tigers at the top of the division. The White Sox are getting older and more injury prone by the day. Their line-up was good three years ago but now Thome is getting older and has lost a little pop in his bat, Dye's numbers will start to go down since that career year he had two years ago, and Konerko can't carry this team by himself. The White Sox added some new players in Orlando Cabrera and Nick Swisher but they are not going to help them get over the hump. The bright side is that Josh Fields and Carlos Quentin have some upside in the line-up and should mature into good hitters by the end of the year. The pitching staff is too inconsistent with Mark Buehrle at the top and Vazquez, Contreras, Danks, and Floyd. I don't believe this rotation has enough to handle the Detroit demolition crew. Their bullpen has some good pitchers with Jenks as the closer and Linebrink and Thorton, but Octavio Dotel has been hurt and been with four teams the past couple years. I don't think this team has enough pitching and firepower to hang with the Indians and Tigers this year.
Key Addition: Orlando Cabrera
4. Minnesota Twins (70-92)
The Twins are now in a rebuilding mode after the trade of franchise pitcher Johan Santana, but the rebuilding process might not take that long. The Twins have the foundation for a strong team that might be ready to compete for the division not this year but maybe next year. Their line-up is very young with only one player over 30 in the starting lineup, Adam Everett who is 31. The Twins outfield has two of the best young players in all of baseball in Delmon Young and Carlos Gomez. They have one of the best catchers in Joe Mauer and one of the best 1st basemen in Justin Morneau. The rest of the line-up is a little weak with Brendan Harris, Mike Lamb, Michael Cuddyer, and Jason Kubel. Their pitching staff is young and has one of the best young starters in the league Francisco Liriano coming back from arm surgery, we will have to see how he does after the injury. Boof Bonser, Scott Baker, and Kevin Slowey will go through their bumps and bruises this year and Livan Hernandez will eat up innings for the bullpen. The bullpen still has one of the best closers in the game in Joe Nathan, and Juan Rincon, Jesse Crain, Pat Neshek, Matt Guerrier, and Dennys Reyes will provide an average bullpen for the Twins. This team won't be very good this year, but I have to give credit to the GM for what he got for Johan and what he got from the Ray. This team should grow and gain experience and might be ready to make a serious run at the division in two, maybe three years.
Key Addition: Carlos Gomez
5. Kansas City Royals (65-97)
And now for the report out of Kansas City, the Royals will again finish at the bottom of the division. I don't know how this team can have a top-five draft pick every year for the past 10 years and still not be in the playoff hunt. They do have some very good prospects, but they get thrown into the fire way to quickly. They don't give them any time in the minors to develop, instead they rush them up to the majors before they are ready and they struggle. Again, the Royals have a good young line-up with Alex Gordon and Billy Butler. The rest of the line-up has its issues with no power and not that much speed. Jose Guillen was a decent pick up but he has always been inconsistent, Mark Teahen has shown flashes of power, and the rest of the infield with Pena Jr., Grudzielanek, and Gload will land them at the bottom of the Central again. Their pitching staff doesn't have any young prospects or any potential to grow. Gil Meche is overpaid, Brian Bannister never really panned out, neither did Zack Greinke, Kyle Davies looked to be good but had a rough year last year with the Braves, and Luke Hudson really has no upside. Their bullpen has an unproven closer in Joakin Soria and relievers Gobble, Peralta, Mahay, Yabuta, and Bale. All in all this team has a long, long way to go before it's going to climb out of the basement of the Central Division.
Key Addition: Jose Guillen
Thats it for the AL Central. Stay tuned for the the final part in this series where I will examine the AL West. Comments appreciated.