MLB: 7 Bold Predictions for the American League Central the Rest of the Way
In April, there weren't too many people who thought that the race for the American League Central championship would come down to the wire in August and September.
Most people thought that honor would go to the Detroit Tigers. Those same people thought with the addition of Prince Fielder, the Tigers would have the division wrapped up by June and they could coast all the way into October.
The Tigers pitching staff has failed them (outside of Justin Verlander), and the surprise team of baseball (the Chicago White Sox) actually holds a game and half lead over the Tigers headed into Monday night's action.
The bottom of the AL Central has also become entertaining as there is a race to see who can finish behind the two front-runners.
While the Cleveland Indians, Minnesota Twins and Kansas City Royals are looking to go through the motions en route to a calm October, neither of these teams want to finish in last place and could bring up some prospects to help them stay out of the cellar.
As the race for the AL Central heats up, here are seven predictions as we head down the stretch in the 2012 season.
The Minnesota Twins Will Be the Biggest Spoilers in the Division
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While the White Sox and Tigers will likely steal all the headlines when it comes to the division race, there's an opportunity for one of the bottom three teams to cause some havoc as the season winds down.
The team that is going to make these top teams' lives miserable is going to be...the Minnesota Twins.
The Twins have been awful this year as their record of 47-61 is good for fourth in the division and 12.5 games behind the White Sox for first place.
However, things have started to turn around for the Twins as they've found some starting pitching that is able to give them innings down the stretch.
Scott Diamond could command some Rookie of the Year votes, and the pairing of Cole De Vries and Samuel Deduno have done enough to breathe some life into one of the worst rotations in the major leagues.
The Twins will have plenty of opportunities to send teams home early, as they'll have 15 games against Chicago and Detroit, including three against the Tigers at Target Field to end the season.
If the pitching can keep this small spark going, the Tigers and White Sox may want to be leery as they face the Twins late in the season.
The Cleveland Indians Are Done
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Coming into the season, I was thinking that the Cleveland Indians could realistically compete for a division championship if their pitching staff came together and their young offense matured.
Those two things haven't happened recently, as the Tribe is on a nine-game losing streak after Sunday's 10-8 loss to the Tigers.
That loss will prove to be the Indians' final nail in the coffin, as it wasn't just that they lost but how the team lost. The Indians scored three runs in the top of the ninth, but proceeded to allow the Tigers to score five runs including a walk-off bomb to Miguel Cabrera.
The bottom line is that the Indians have too much going downhill for them to compete. Their pitching has failed them, and the bright spots in their offense early on (mainly Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana) have struggled at the plate.
There's a chance that the Indians could climb back in it, but at 9.5 games behind the White Sox, it seems like they are officially dead and buried.
Wil Myers Will Electrify the Division in September
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It always seems like the Kansas City Royals are looking toward a future that hasn't always panned out. In the case of Wil Myers, he will be the real deal.
Myers has ripped the cover off the ball this season, first at Double-A Northwestern Arkansas (.343, 13 home runs, 30 runs batted in over 35 games) and then Triple-A Omaha (.285, 20 HR, 63 RBI over 71 games).
With the Royals having nothing to play for over the last month of the season, there's a strong chance that the team will call up the 28th ranked prospect according to Baseball America.
It will be interesting to see how Myers, who was a huge favorite at the Futures Game in Kansas City over the All-Star weekend, will fare in his first cup of coffee in the majors. If it's anything like his play in the minors, baseball fans will be in for a treat come September.
Francisco Liriano Will Be This Year's Doug Fister
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Last season, the Tigers made a trade for a pitcher who was performing well for a struggling team. That pitcher, who had an unsightly win-loss record of 3-12 when he was traded, wound up becoming the No. 2 starter for the Tigers going into the postseason on the strength of a 8-1 record and 1.79 ERA.
That pitcher was Doug Fister, and I predict that Francisco Liriano will have the same impact for the White Sox.
Liriano, who was just acquired from the Twins for two prospects, was terrible to begin the season and was sent to the bullpen. Upon his return, Liriano dominated for the Twins going 3-5 with a 3.63 ERA. After that spurt, Liriano was still 3-10 with an ERA north of five.
Still, Liriano has had a transformation and could benefit by hearing a new voice as he heads to the South Side. Liriano gave up a run over five innings on Sunday and as the season winds down he could fill the void left by the injury to opening day starter John Danks.
The Tigers Pitching Staff Will Let Them Down
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The Tigers can slug it out with the best lineups in baseball. However, their pitching may make their lineup an afterthought come September.
The Tigers have the best pitcher in baseball in Justin Verlander. They also have a solid second starter in Doug Fister. Still, the Tigers will need to get something from their back end of the rotation if they want to play deep into October like they did last year.
The three back-end starters (Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello and Drew Smyly) have combined for 22 wins on the season, but their collective ERA is closer to five than it is four, and they will also need to find some consistency down the stretch.
The Tigers come into the home stretch as the favorites to win the AL Central, but they'll need some help from their pitching staff to make everybody's April prediction come true.
There Will Be One Team from the AL Central This Postseason
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This isn't a bold prediction, but it's one worth mentioning with the addition of a second wild-card berth for both the American and National Leagues.
The AL Central is the weakest division in baseball, and the team that will finish second will not make the playoffs behind teams such as the Los Angeles Angels, Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays and possibly the Baltimore Orioles.
The new rule should add excitement to playoff pushes over the next several years, but don't expect it to happen in 2012.
The Chicago White Sox Will Win the American League Central
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The condemnation of the Tigers pitching staff may have given this away, but I think the 2012 AL Central champions will be the Chicago White Sox.
The Sox have an advantage because they have made several moves, including the Liriano trade, that have and should benefit them toward the end of the season.
Besides Liriano, the White Sox have also traded for Kevin Youkilis (.256, 8 HR, 25 RBI in 33 games with Chicago) and Brett Myers (0.70 WHIP in seven games with Chicago) who have combined with a solid core with A.J. Pierzynski (.288, 20 HR, 59 RBI) and Paul Konerko (.315, 17 HR, 53 RBI) having solid seasons.
The White Sox are a more well-rounded team than the Tigers, and that should propel them to their first division championship since 2008.