The American League Central is one of the toughest divisions to predict. It doesn’t contain any elite teams, but arguably all five teams have a shot at the title, making it one of the most competitive divisions in all of baseball.
Chicago White Sox
The defending AL Central Champs did very little in the off-season in the way of both pitching and defense.
They don’t have an overly impressive lineup, but few picked them to win the division last year and they came through, so it’s hard to argue they can’t do it again.
Why they will win the Central: Their offense will continue to hit many home runs with power hitters Carlos Quentin, Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko. The fact that they were able to win the division despite Quentin’s injury last year shows a lot about the make-up of this team.
Why they won’t win the Central: The top of the rotation with Buehrle and Danks will give them a good amount of innings and a solid ERA. The back end of the rotation has quite a few question marks.
Will Gavin Floyd, Clayton Richard, and oft-injured Bartolo Colon be able to produce consistently for the entire season? If they can’t, Chicago could have a disappointing 2009.
Kansas City Royals
For the first time in quite a while, the Royals have a chance to compete for a division title. I think they may still be a year or two away, but they are moving in the right direction.
Why they will win the Central: The Royals have quite a few young players that have their fair share of potential. Off-season additions of first basemen Mike Jacobs and outfielder Coco Crisp were great pickups for K.C.
Shortstop and third basemen Mike Aviles and Alex Gordon began showing signs in 2008 of what they are capable of, and second basemen Alberto Callaspo could just be the fastest base-runner in baseball.
Their starting pitching, though not dominant, has three guys capable of winning close to 15 games.
Why they won’t win the Central: I’m not sure the Royals bullpen has what it takes to win the division. Joakim Soria is proven at closer, but past Kyle Farnsworth, who can be erratic more often than a manager would like, the Royals have some guys who are unproven for the most part.
The Twins remained relatively quiet during the winter, but adding third baseman Joe Crede is a move that should prove to be a good one, if for no other reason than he will get to face his former team, the White Sox, 18 times.
Not only does the move improve their offense, but improves their extremely good defense as well.
Why they will win the Central: I believe if the Twins are going to win the Central this year, a large part of it will be thanks to their offense.
Morneau and Mauer are two of the better young hitters in the game, and Delmon Young is on the verge of stardom as well.
However, the Twins may have one of the best fielding teams in the league. Morneau and Mauer are among the best at their respective positions, and utility player Nick Punto could have his own segment on Baseball Tonight’s “Web Gems” segment.
Adding Gold Glover Joe Crede at the hot corner makes this defense one of the best, and playing on artificial turf, defense is always important.
Why they won’t win the Central: The Twins have an extremely young starting rotation. Francisco Liriano, if he can return to his dominant self from before his surgery, will win 15-18 games, but past that, the Twins could have a hard time getting quality starts. If their starters are able to produce, this could be a team to be reckoned with.
Entering 2008, the Tigers had huge expectations after adding some big names in the off-season, including Dontrelle Willis and Miguel Cabrera. Unfortunately, the team got off to a rough start and was unable to recover.
This year, however, the Tigers made three under-the-radar moves, bringing in shortstop Adam Everett, starter Edwin Jackson, and closer Brandon Lyon. They also should have Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya back healthy after both dealt with injuries last season.
Why they will win the Central: This team still has a lot of potential on offense, and if they can stay healthy and produce for an entire season, they will be right in the mix come September.
However, the bullpen for the Tigers might be their biggest strength. If flame thrower Zumaya can stay healthy along with Rodney, and Brandon Lyon can consistently get hitters out, the Tigers could become a dangerous team.
Why they won’t win the Central: If Justin Verlander and Jeremy Bonderman struggle like they did in 2008, (though Bonderman only made 12 starts), the Tigers will struggle.
They have fairly reliable 3, 4, and 5 starters in Jackson, Galarraga, and Miner, but it’s Verlander and Bonderman that must produce. If not, the Tigers will have another underachieving season.
This team has too much offensive talent to finish at .500 like they did in 2008. Granted two of their best three hitters, Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez, both missed a lot of time due to injury, and never got on track when they were in the lineup.
Why they will win the Central: If Hafner and Martinez return to form from 2007, and Grady Sizemore and Jhonny Peralta can continue doing what they do, the Indians will score a lot of runs.
Their starting pitching has the potential to be very good as well. Cliff Lee pitched out of his mind last year, winning the Cy Young award. If Fausto Carmona can get back to how he threw in 2007, the Indians would have one of the better 1-2 punches in baseball.
Why they won’t win the Central: One would assume Cliff Lee can’t reproduce the numbers he put up last year. Not to say he can’t be very good and win close to 20 games, but the chances are likely he will tail off a little bit.
If Carmona pitches like last season, the Indians rotation will be a weak spot.
Lastly, the Indians bullpen if very iffy. Much depends on if Kerry Wood can stay healthy. Even if he can, the other guys in the pen really haven’t proven a whole lot at the major league level.
Finally, time for my predictions of how they’ll finish the season. Assuming no team suffers any major injuries, I predict all five teams will finish within eight games of each other, that’s how competitive this division will be; making it nearly impossible to predict the order of how they will finish.
This is my order as of now, but it can, and likely will, change many times.
2. Kansas City