In the HBO series Entourage, the main stars bet on black in the game roulette every time they go to Vegas. Even if they think it's lucky, they still only have a 50-50 chance to win. That's what picking this division is like.
Seriously, who doesn’t have a chance to win it?
Well, the Royals.
But the White Sox, Twins, Tigers and Indians all have a legitimate shot at the AL Central crown.
You have three groups that will emerge at some point during the season. The first, which will be two teams, is the contenders. The next two will surely disappoint.
The last group is the Royals.
Sorry, Kansas City. At least they won’t disappoint you. (Well that's not true.)
We know what will happen, but where will the teams land?
Let’s start off with the Tigers.
Last year, this team was supposed to hit like crazy, and have above average pitching.
That didn't happen.
Justin Verlander’s great 2007 season—a mirage.
They had good hitting, not great hitting.
Pitching, defense, and the bullpen—all abysmal.
Not going to be the case this year.
First off, the two Achilles’ heels (I know you can only have one, sue me) were the team’s defense at the catcher spot and up the middle, especially shortstop.
Adam Everett, a perennial Gold-Glove candidate, takes over at short. Problem solved there.
Gerald Laird, also brought in from Texas' cluster of catchers, finally gets an everyday job.
For the Tigers, these are tremendous upgrades.
Miguel Cabrera cost the defense a lot in the first half of the season, and then Jim Leyland finally figured out a 260 pound man can’t play third, and moved him to first.
Good move. He’s at least average over there.
As for hitting and pitching, both should improve. Most people believe that Miguel Cabrera had a bad year in his first season as a Tiger.
If his .292 AVG, 37HRs, and 127RBI is bad, I don't know what's good.
I’ll take those stats any season, especially in a down year. Granted, he struggled mightily in the first half, but figured things out in the second.
It’s a pretty safe bet to think he can at least equal those numbers, if not improve on them. He just needs to plays decent for the whole year.
Laird also brings a pretty good stick, and the team still has Magglio Ordonez, Curtis Granderson, Carlos Guillen and Gary Sheffield. The lineup will be just fine.
The pitching has nowhere to go but up.
I would be absolutely stunned if Verlander doesn’t bounce back somewhat. It’s near impossible to have that much ability and stink the way he did last year, especially with the run support he will receive. Expect north of 16 wins from him.
Jeremy Bonderman is a real strong pitcher as well; and Edwin Jackson did OK with the Rays last year. If the back end of the rotation, with guys like Armando Galarraga and Zack Miner, can step up, this could actually be a strong point this year.
The last problem is the bullpen.
Unlike the Mets, where there was no TALENT, the Tigers had NO TALENTED GUYS PLAYING.
Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya were injured for large chunks of the season, and this crippled the bullpen. If these guys can stay healthy, erase walks and hits with their flamethrowers, this team will be able to pull out a bunch of victories.
Expect big improvements from Detroit this year. God knows the city needs it.
Let’s move to Kansas City.
I could talk about the moves they made, namely bringing in Juan Cruz and Kyle Farnsworth to bridge the gap between the starters and Joakim Soria.
Or Mike Jacobs at first base and CoCo Crisp in center, but the thing that’s going to get this team on the right track is their homegrown talent.
Alex Gordon has to step up.
Granted, he was placed with the weight of the world on his shoulders, but .260-16-60 isn’t going to cut it when you have his ability, it’s just not. He was one of the safest bets to succeed coming out of Nebraska, and got put into a nice situation real close to home.
Now that the expectations have passed and he has had two full seasons in the bigs, maybe things will start coming together for him.
The other guy who needs to come alive is Luke Hochevar. He was a number-one pick and has proceeded to go 6-13 with a 5.21 ERA.
To quote Ron White, there’s some good news.
He has to elevate himself. At least tap into his potential if he and this team want to go anywhere this season. The division will be too difficult to win if these two don’t break out.
The Indians are another one of these teams I can’t figure out.
They don’t have CC Sabathia anymore, but Cliff Lee rebounded to win the Cy Young last year.
They have some good offensive boppers in Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner, but really need to focus on the C-1B position battles; two spots are available for Kelly Shoppach, Victor Martinez, and Ryan Garko.
Right now, it looks like Garko is the odd man out, and Martinez will play first. But he won’t keep the job long if he repeats last year’s numbers.
The starting pitching is really interesting.
Lee is strong at the top, and then you have Fausto Carmona. He was real good two years ago, and regressed greatly in ’07. I have a bad feeling he lost his motivation after he got paid early last year.
Anthony Reyes is intriguing at the back end of the rotation. But for a former top prospect to change teams in the middle of a season, and for no one to realize it, you have to ascend to new depths of badness. That's the truth.
(By the way, Tribe fans, I don’t think you'll get anything from Carl Pavano either. He’s three years past something you could call a prime.)
The offense will have to be huge if this team is going anywhere.
For some reason, I love Minnesota.
When you look at their lineup—with names like Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau—you expect big things.
When you see the talent of Delmon Young and Carlos Gomez, you expect big things.
Young came around late last year, and Gomez showed flashes of what's to come.
When you see three starters had sub-four ERAs—the other two were pretty strong as well—and you see Francisco Liriano started to come back into shape late last year, you expect big things.
I expect big things from the Twins this year. (Didn’t see that coming, did you?)
And last but not least, the White Sox.
Not a lot has changed in Chi-town.
Carlos Quentin was headed toward great things last year, until he got injured. John Danks had a real strong showing.
Expect a lot of the same.
Quentin will eventually bounce back from injury and commence his slugging ways, and I really like Danks. Quality lefties are hard to come by, and the Sox have two.
Alexei Ramirez had a strong rookie campaign and had some real good moments in September, including the homer in the play-in game. He has a good chance to improve his already strong numbers.
Top to bottom, this is a strong team, but they have a limited ceiling.
They don’t have a real go-to-guy, a guy where you can put your hopes and dreams on their shoulders and have them ride you to the top.
Most championship teams have a guy like this, the White Sox do not.
That’s going to be their issue this year.
I think things will break down like this.
1. 1. Twins
2. 2. Tigers
3. 3. White Sox
Inii 4. Indians
5. 5. Royals
There you have it. I could have thrown out a lot of stats, but this division basically boils down to a gut feeling.
I broke down my theory on the stratification of this division (that means groups, don't go and look it up). The White Sox move down a group, the Tigers move up, and everyone else stays pat.
By the way, I'm trying to stay on top of things and keep pumping these bad boys out, so just bare with me. (I know the fate of society hinges on it)
And don't bet on black with these predictions.