Don't Laugh Now: Kansas City Royals Will Win AL Central

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Don't Laugh Now: Kansas City Royals Will Win AL Central
(Photo by G. Newman Lowrance/Getty Images)

With there being no clear favorite in the American League Central Division for 2009, I am here to say that the American League playoffs will be shaken up once again, as the Kansas City Royals will take home the Central Division crown.

Much like the surprising Tampa Bay Rays from 2008, the 2009 Royals have a good mixture of young players, both pitchers and position players, and a few proven veterans sprinkled in. 

Here is a rundown of the 2009 Royals.

 

Starting Pitchers

The Royals have arguably as a good a one-two punch in terms of starting pitchers as any team in their division.  Mr. Consistency, Gil Meche, and phenom Zack Greinke are both possible All-Stars, and the Royals' success in 2009 depends on their right arms. 

The third starter, former Atlanta Brave Kyle Davies, was as dominant as any pitcher in the majors last September, when he posted a 4-1 record and a 2.27 ERA. 

Although the team's fourth and fifth starters are as shaky as the next team in the Central (currently Sidney Ponson and Horacio Ramirez), the three at the top look to be in top form at the beginning of the season and seem poised to carry the team to a divisional crown. 

Look for youngsters Luke Hochevar and Brian Bannister to possibly win out the fourth and fifth spot in the rotation as the season progresses.

 

Bullpen

Similar to their starting pitchers, the Royals have dominant relief pitchers as well, boasting one of the best bullpens in the American League. 

The bullpen is anchored by "The Mexicutioner," closer Joakim Soria, who recorded 42 saves and posted a 1.60 ERA and 0.86 WHIP in 2008. 

As for the rest of the bullpen, the Royals retained left-handed shutdown setup man Ron Mahay, who carried an under 1.00 ERA deep into the season in 2008.

They also opened up their wallets to some right-handed relievers, signing hard-throwing setup man Juan Cruz as well as Kyle Farnsworth, both of whom have proved to be reliable relievers throughout their respective careers.

 

Outfielders

The Royals enhanced their outfield in the offseason by adding speedy switch-hitting center fielder Coco Crisp. 

Although adding Crisp does not help the Royals from a power standpoint, he has stolen 20 bases or more in the last three seasons, and has also had an increased on-base-percentage in each of those seasons, two categories that the Royals have been lacking in in the recent past. 

While Crisp is anchoring center field for the Royals, lefty David DeJesus will take over in left.  DeJesus is coming off his best season yet in the majors, when he hit .307 with 12 home runs and 11 stolen bases in 2008. 

What many people don't know but should about DeJesus is that he led the majors in hitting with runners in scoring position in 2008, posting a .419 batting average. 

The Royals hope to have a healthy and determined Jose Guillen in right field, as he provides as their only consistent power hitting right-handed bat. 

Guillen has had 20 or more homers and nearly 100 runs batted in in the last two seasons, although he did see his average dip from .290 in 2007 to .264 in 2008. 

Guillen will need to be an integral part of the Royals' offense if they are to succeed in 2009.

 

Infielders

The Royals will boast one of the most balanced infields that they have had in a long time, which includes newly-acquired first baseman Mike Jacobs and oft-moved second baseman Mark Teahen on the right side, while young guns shortstop Mike Aviles and third baseman Alex Gordon look to anchor the left side. 

Jacobs adds to another category that the Royals have been lacking—power.  He cranked 32 home runs for the Marlins last year, a stat that Royals fans are not exactly accustomed to seeing. 

The Royals have been waiting and waiting for Teahen to develop into a major-league hitter, but he struggled again in 2008, hitting .255 with 15 home runs. 

However, the seven home runs he hit in spring training earned him a spot as a starter and continue to give the Royals hope. 

The additions of Crisp and Jacobs put Teahen at second base, a position where he likely won't have as much pressure to hit for power.

Shortstop Aviles put himself into the running for American League Rookie of the Year in 2008, as he hit .325 with 10 home runs and 51 runs batted in in just 102 games. 

Although the batting average is likely to decline in 2009, another productive season from Aviles, both offensively and defensively, will only help the Royals' chances.

Last but not least, highly-touted third baseman Alex Gordon looks to have his breakout season in 2009.

Gordon slightly improved his numbers from his rookie season in 2007 to 2008, but the Royals hope that he will make a big improvement in both categories of power and speed in 2009. 

Gordon's success is not only key to that of the Royals in 2009, but of the franchise's progression in the future.

 

Designated Hitter/Catchers

Aside from Gordon, the Royals have another highly-touted prospect as their designated hitter.  22-year-old Billy Butler has also yet to have his breakout season, but his numbers at the Triple-A level are impossible to ignore. 

With him being so young, it is almost a foregone conclusion that he will find a way to produce big numbers at the major league level.

The Royals also boast one of the better catching tandems in the American League with Miguel Olivo and John Buck.  Although neither is an All-Star catcher, both have shown decent power and a good ability to work with their pitchers behind the plate.

With the acquisitions that the front office has made and the likely development of the highly-touted young players, the Royals put forth one of the most balanced teams in the American League Central.

They have improved their on-base percentage and speed with the addition of Crisp, their power with the addition of Jacobs, and their bullpen with the addition of Cruz and Farnsworth. 

Adding those players and improving their talent all-around (not letting players like Tony Pena Jr. and Joey Gathright take up a combined 550 at-bats, like in 2008), the Royals will be able to shock the baseball world and head to the playoffs for the first time since 1985.

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