by Ryan of The Sportmeisters
With Opening Day right around the corner, now is the time to preview the 2009 baseball season. Today’s focus is on the AL Central.
The Twins fell just short in their quest for the playoffs, losing a one game playoff to the White Sox to miss out on the AL Central crowd. They managed to keep the meat and potatoes of the team together, and even added Joe Crede to shore up the end of the order.
However, while Crede will help them out, the loss of Mauer for an extended time, due to his current back issues, does make for a tough few weeks. The team expects Mauer back quickly, and despite missing all of spring training, he should be able to contribute quickly. Through all this, they will require Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer to step up their production, in the hopes of assisting their young rotation.
The rotation’s oldest player is Scott Baker, himself a young 27, but he is the ace of the young squad. Francisco Liriano is trying to regain his 2006 form, where he was the second most dominant pitcher to former Twin Johan Santana. Out of the bullpen, Joe Nathan is one of the more effective closers, and if the middle relief can hold a one run lead, more often than not, Nathan will close the Twins out with a win. Make no mistake, the Twins are young, and hurting already, but they have the talent to compete.
A .500 performance was not the expectations heading into 2008, which prompted some big names to say bye-bye. CC Sabathia, Paul Byrd and Casey Blake were all dumped, turning into a mini-rebuilding season by bringing in some talented youth. That youth is still there, but don’t mistake the Indians in a rebuilding mode in 2009. This team does pack a punch, and they did add Mark DeRosa and Kerry Wood.
The biggest question mark of the lineup is the performance of Travis Hafner, who suffered with a shoulder injury last year. He has been on a deep decline since peaking in 2006. If he can’t get back to form quickly, the Indians will have to consider making a move rather than keeping a gaping hole in the middle of the lineup. Grady Sizemore packs a punch for a leadoff hitter, and new addition DeRosa should once again see his stats improve. Look for Shin-Soo Choo to be extremely effective at getting on base towards the bottom of the lineup.
Even with the loss of Sabathia and Byrd, this team still boasts 22 game winner Cliff Lee. Following him though, isn’t too much to boast about. Fausto Carmona needs to regain his edge from 2007, as the Indians don’t have too much behind him, unless one count’s New York Yankee washup Carl Pavano, who is currently slated to be their third starter. The addition of Wood in the bullpen should give this team the opportunities to win the close ones, but the setup and middle relief is shaky at best.
Chicago White Sox
This may be the White Sox that won the 2008 AL Central title, but one wouldn’t be able to tell when looking at the roster. The loss of Nick Swisher, Javier Vazquez, Nick Crede, and Orlando Cabrera drastically changes the makeup of the organization. The only significant addition was bringing in Bartolo Colon.
With the loss of some key hitters, Chicago fans might expect a drop in production, but they would be surprised. The team still has Carlos Quentin, coming off of a fractured wrist, as well as reliable players in Jermaine Dye, Jim Thome and Paul Konerko. They’ll keep the middle of the lineup strong, while using young talents in Alexei Ramirez and rookie Chris Getz in the bottom and top of the order, respectively.
The rotation had a better than expected 2008, and they will be hard-pressed to duplicate those numbers. Mark Buehrle, Gavin Floyd and John Danks all had double digit winning seasons. However, the bottom falls out in the back end of it, behind Jose Contreras and Colon, with both coming off of major surgery. Behind Bobby Jenks, the White Sox hold a formidable bullpen, and will likely lean on them heavily during the days of the season.
The Tigers were easily the breakout bust of 2008. High expectations quickly gave way to last place in the AL Central. The team is trying to rectify that, bringing in Adam Everett and Brandon Lyon, while departing with Edgar Renteria, who struggled mightily last year, as well as the recent departure of Gary Sheffield.
The offense had trouble last year hitting the ball, but still has a lineup that can mash them out of the park. They feature Curtis Granderson, who can get on base or hit the long ball, and expect big things from Magglio Ordonez, Miguel Cabrera, and Carlos Guillen. Following that, the defensive-minded Everett isn’t going to do too much, which makes the right-handed heavy lineup a little tougher to manage at the bottom.
The rotation needs a boost, and it starts with Justin Verlander. He lost only 15 games in 2006 and 2007, only to lose 17 in 2008. He needs to get his confidence back as the ace of the team, and not falter when runners get on base. The addition of Edwin Jackson should help the team as they rely on the arms of their pitchers, including Jeremy Bonderman and Armando Galarraga, for a better 2009. Bringing in Brandon Lyon should help shore up the closer role, but this squad may need some 11-10 scores to keep them floating above mediocrity in 2009.
When is 75 wins considered an improvement? When you’re the Kansas City Royals, who’s win total was the most in the last five years. It was such an improvement it forced the team to bring in some big names to help continue the success. Coco Crisp, Mike Jacobs and Kyle Farnsworth are three of the big veterans asked to help out this small-market squad.
The team is still young, but has a potent lineup that offers speed and some power. Along with Crisp and Jacobs, the team features David DeJesus, Jose Guillen, and Alex Gordon. They’re spread out throughout the lineup to help give this squad the best blend of age and experience. They have eight players who come to bat with double-digit home run totals in 2008.
Some of the ills of the pitching staff can be blamed on the youth, but that excuse won’t fly too well in 2009. The 25 combined wins of Gil Meche and Zack Greinke were a nice start, but outside of their potential continued success, the Royals don’t offer much else. Bringing in Farnsworth helps setup All-Star Joakim Soria to have another bright year, but the rest of the bullpen is still shaky. While competitiveness is possible, they’re still a few years away from the top.
Prediction: 1. Detroit Tigers 2. Cleveland Indians 3. Chicago White Sox 4. Minnesota Twins 5. Kansas City Royals