AL Central: The Cinderella Team
If you're a real baseball fan, people will know it when they see your basement. Why would they know you're a baseball fan by looking at your basement? The answer is simple: you've got a wall dedicated to tracking your predictions and current standings.
Here's what your wall should be predicting for the AL Central this year:
1) Detroit Tigers
2) Minnesota Twins
3) Cleveland Indians
4) Kansas City Royals
5) Chicago White Sox
At this point, you probably spilled food all over yourself. Go ahead, clean it up.
Alright, now that you've fixed that mess, let me tell you what you just read was correct. The Twins will finish ahead of the Indians this year.
In fact, the Twins may just give the Tigers a run for their money. While Detroit, Minnesota and Cleveland should all be good teams this year, betting on the Twins IS a risky proposition.
Johan Santana is gone. The best pitcher in baseball will be missed. Garza, a promising starter for the Twins, is also gone. Torii Hunter, considered to be the face of the club, left to free agency. The heart of the team is gone, right?
What most people don't realize is that the Twins are a new team this year. Some of the small market teams like the Royals, Twins, Rays and Brewers can make major changes that aren't always as visible as with the Red Sox or Yankees.
In case you haven't heard, here's what is new with the Twins this year:
1) Liriano is back. Some pitchers actually perform better after coming back from Tommy John surgery. Time will tell if Liriano can pitch as well as he did in 2006.
2) Baker and Bonser should be on the rise, and both could have a huge 2008. Slowey will be right there with them with some comparing him to Brad Radke.
When Liriano joins this young rotation, anything is possible. Watch this staff to catch fire late May or early June.
3) The Twins got a huge pickup with Livan Hernandez this off season. Sure he isn't a Johan Santana, but he will be the anchor of this rotation.
His experience and stamina will provide the closest the Twins have to a "sure thing" this year. Watch for him to be the most consistent of the bunch.
4) The bullpen is one of the most solid in the league. Nathan, Crain, Guerrier and Neshek should all have good years. Rincon still has some stuff, but watch for him to slow down this year.
Still, the best thing that a team with young star-studded starting pitchers can have is a dependable bullpen.
5) So there is plenty of upside in the relatively nameless pitching staff, but what's happening on the field and in the batter's box?
Look for new contributions from Everett, Lamb, Harris, Casilla, Young, Monroe, Gomez and Pridie. While the new Twins are for the most part unknowns to the media world, there is plenty of young talent waiting to surprise everyone this summer.
6) Just in case you forgot, Mauer, Morneau and Cuddyer are holding down the first base line again this year. While some of the old faces will be missed, they've kept 3 of their best in the lineup.
To summarize, just because you've seen the 2007 Twins and you noticed they lost some key players, doesn't mean you can count them out in 2008. This roster, filled with new faces, is unpredictable.
It is, however, stacked with enough upside to surprise the division. Watch for some upsets, as they may win some games that they aren't supposed to.
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