I've decided to put together a round table for each division. I have asked five fans (that are Bleacher Creatures) five questions about their division. The second installment of this six-part series has to do with the American League Central.
The writers involved are Jeremiah Graves (Minnesota Twins), Nino Colla (Cleveland Indians), Johnny Lawrence (Detroit Tigers), Josh Dugan (Kansas City Royals), and myself (Chicago White Sox).
1. Who is the best player in the AL Central?
JG: Joe Mauer is--hands down--the best player in the AL Central. He plays Gold Glove defense at the toughest position in all of baseball and puts up incredible offensive numbers to go along with it. Simply the best, and he figures to keep getting better.
NC: Joe Mauer is the best player in the AL Central. It's a tough choice, but he's got the defense behind the plate and ability to manage a pitching staff, all on top of this in addition of power to his already advanced offensive game. Zack Greinke is the best pitcher, but he's only going out once every five days. Mauer is a tad better than his teammate Justin Morneau and the Tigers' Miguel Cabrera, who's probably the best offensively, but not having the MVP type season you'd expect. Plus he lacks defense. Mauer takes it for me with his hitting and defense.
JL: Despite missing April, Twins' catcher Joe Mauer gets a slight nod over the Tigers' Miguel Cabrera. Both Hall of Fame talents excel at the plate, but Mauer ranks first in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage—a historically rare feat from the backstop position. Defensively, Mauer controls Minnesota's pitching staff and dictates the running game of the opposition.
JD: If you are going with who has been the best this season, the edge probably goes to Morneau over Mauer simply because he has played much more. It is really a toss-up between those two. When they've both been in the line-up, it is definitely Mauer who has been most impressive. He is probably the best player in the Central in the qualitative sense, but the health issues do tend to creep up a little too often to feel comfortable relying on him for anything resembling staying power. Oh, who am I kidding? Objectivity be damned. It's Zack Greinke. The difference in his ERA+ to the next best pitcher in the AL is four times greater than Mauer's advantage over his next closest competitor in OPS+.
DA: Justin Morneau is the best player, not just in the AL Central, but in the American League. Not only does he have an underrated glove, he's the best run producer in the AL and is statistically in the top of every category. He has triple crown potential. Morneau is the crux of the Twins offense. I think most people are going to say Joe Mauer, but I still say Morneau is the better of the M&M boys.
2. And the most disappointing?
JG: This season, I'd have to say it is Tigers outfielder Magglio Ordonez. For the money he is making and for the type of numbers he's typically put up, this is a horrendous year. Hopefully, he still has something in the tank and can get it back together.
NC: I guess to pick the most disappointed you'd have to pick someone from the most disappointing team? It's hard to pick someone from the Indians because there are two that are equally disappointing. For me, it comes down to Jhonny Peralta and Fausto Carmona. I can honestly say I expected better out of Fausto, but he was still a bit of a wild card. For that, he gets a bit of a pass. He's been bad, but not as disappointing as Jhonny Peralta has. We're talking about someone who stepped in and was the clean-up hitter for a team that was without Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez last year. He moves down, pressure is off and for whatever reason, he regresses? I didn't expect the world from Peralta, but after last year, I didn't think he'd be the lug that he has been this season with the stick.
JL: Hands down, this distinction goes to the division's highest-paid player, Magglio Ordonez. The Tigers need his bat as desperately as a Sahara-bound camel needs its water reserves. $18,971,596 has bought Detroit just five homers and 32 runs batted in through his 76 games. These numbers also make him the favorite for "most disappointing player" in all of baseball.
JD: Since he has actually played more than Carlos Quentin, the most disappointing player in the AL Central this season has been Grady Sizemore. Don't get me wrong, the failures of both players have dealt major blows to the chances for success that their respective teams have had thus far, but Sizemore has amassed almost twice as many plate appearances while being almost as useless as Quentin.
DA: I got to go with Grady Sizemore. He was my preseason pick for American League MVP. Yes, he has been injured, but he hasn't performed up to his caliber and he has a terrible on-base percentage for a lead-off hitter. I also can't go wrong with Magglio Ordonez, whose career has just taken a nosedive, and is now platooning right field.
3. Who will win the division?
JG: It's a tough call. The Sox, Tigers and Twins all have the goods to do it. Right now the Tigers have the edge and figure to be the most likely to pull the trigger on a big-move. Knowing how the AL Central works, this is always a scary prediction to make, but right now, I'd have to say the Tigers look the strongest.
NC: I think the Tigers are not long for holding the first place spot for the entire year. Overall, I like the Twins, but they don't seem to have it going on this year. Chicago on the other hand looks like they are starting to light it up offensively and they've got pitching already in place. A decent bullpen with some good starters to me is enough to win this division. You add in an offense that has the potential, that just is starting to get hot. I like the White Sox to end up winning the division.
JL: Detroit and Chicago will scrape and claw until October 4, but the Tigers will prevail. If asked a week ago, I would have given a different response, but Carlos Guillen added the clutch bat Jim Leyland's crew has so noticeably lacked of late. Detroit has snagged seven of 11 against the White Sox so far, reversing their dismal 6-12 showing last year. By far, Detroit is the strongest home team in the division. With 35 of the last 66 games scheduled for Comerica Park, the Tigers seem to control their own destiny.
JD: The better question might be, "Who should win the division?" The answer to that would be no one, but especially not the Royals or Indians. None of the other three teams are actually good enough that they should win. The Tigers rotation past Verlander and Jackson (the latter is due for a fairly significant regression in the second half if the fourth-largest negative ERA-to-FIP differential in baseball is any kind of signifier) is sketchy at best, and the bullpen is shaky, at best. The White Sox are not particularly good either. The Twins rotation just lost Slowey for the year. Baker and Liriano appear to have been pretty unlucky thus far, but with Liriano's struggles, it would be hard to back an ace-less Twins staff for predicting success over the second half of the season. That being said, Gardenhire seems to be a miracle worker, getting far too much out of what seems like very little every year. I'll go with the Twins, but not without a large measure of trepidation.
DA: The Twins. They're the most complete team. The Tigers haven't fared well in the second half under Jim Leyland. The White Sox have a lot of holes. The Twins have a great manager, the best closer, and the best 3-4-5 (M&M/Kubel) punch in baseball.
4. Will Cliff Lee go and where?
JG: I think Lee will get moved. The Indians appear to be in a serious financial crunch and need to shed some money and acquire prospects. Whoever misses out on Roy Halladay--be it the Phillies, Brewers, Dodgers or Angels--they figure to be in the mix (and desperate).
NC: Nope. Cliff Lee will stay because the Indians do not have anything close to an Ace to take over next year. Mark Shapiro wants to compete next year, and if no one overwhelms him with an offer that can provide something close and a lot more to replace Lee, he will hold onto his reigning Cy Young Award winner. If he were to go anywhere, it would be to either A) The Team that loses out to Roy Halladay or B) The Team that tried to get Halladay, didn't, but then realized they wanted to after Halladay was taken off the market.
JL: Highly Doubtful. Unless the Red Sox or Yankees are ready to part with Clay Buchholz or Phil Hughes, respectively, than Lee will remain an Indian. A traded Lee would deplete Cleveland's rotation so badly, there would be almost nothing left, and GM Mark Shapiro is demanding among several things, a major league-ready starter in return. Who is looking to give that up at the trade deadline?
JD: I think he ends up in Philly or Tampa. Philly seems to become more incensed each day they talk to J.P. Ricciardi. That could prove to be the motivation, but Tampa has enough desirable pieces that they could swoop in and pull off the deal, especially if they decide to ship off Kazmir, as has been rumored.
DA: 50/50 chance. There are signs that the Rays might be interested. It depends if they're able to dump Scott Kazmir's contract. But after Halladay, Lee is the most prized pitcher in the free agent market.
5. What's the most important series remaining?
JG: Up until the Twins recent west coast struggles, I was going to say the four-game Twins/Tigers series in Detroit the final week of the season. Given the Twins recent woes, I think next week's three-game set against the White Sox will determine whether or not the Twins are still in the race and it becomes the most important series--for now.
NC: Since I picked the White Sox to win it and Detroit is leading the division, it would be easy to say the final series of the year between the two teams. However I'm looking at the fact that both teams face Boston, New York, and Tampa Bay in some combo in August and September. The White Sox have to face the Red Sox twice and the Yankees once while the Tigers have the Red Sox once and the Rays twice. So I'd say that the White Sox second series against Boston is going to be very important. Why? The AL East is the ultimate equalizer. The Central can beat up on themselves and Oakland all they want, but if you can steal games from Boston, New York, and Tampa Bay, you are in good shape. Also pay attention to the two late series both teams have with Cleveland. If the Indians get hot, they'll play spoiler.
JL: As discussed in Question #3, the October 2-4 Detroit-Chicago series will garner national attention. The Pale Hose travel to Comerica Park, where they have lost four of five games thus far. Seeking revenge and to retain the division crown, Ozzie Guillen and company may be fighting to salvage their season.
JD: The Tigers and Twins face off in a four-game, Monday-through-Thursday series at Detroit in the final week of the season. I think it comes down to them in the end, and this series will be the decider.
DA: The 9/28-10/1 series between the Tigers and Twins. I think that will determine the winner of the division. It's a four game series so a sweep or three game will seriously leave a mark in the standings without much time remaining.
Contribute to the discussion. What do you people think?