The American League Central will likely be the worst division in baseball this year. According to my calculations (which basically involve ranking every player and the managers), the AL Central will combine for 375 wins, equaling an average of 75 wins per team.
Let's see why this division projects poorly...
Projected record: 62-100, 28th in infield, 12th in outfield, 29th in starting pitching, 20th in bullpen.
The Indians have some intriguing offensive talent in CF Grady Sizemore, RF Shin-Soo Choo, and SS Asdrubal Cabrera, but their starting pitching is bordering on laughable.
RHPs Jake Westbrook and Fausto Carmona will top Cleveland's rotation, a fact that is probably disturbing to Indians fans. Carmona went 5-12 with a 6.32 ERA in '09, and Westbrook didn't even pitch.
I think Cleveland's faithful would prefer the combination of Rick "Wild Thing" Vaughn and crafty old Eddie Harris from Major League.
In all seriousness though, it should be a long season for Manny Acta's boys. I think Acta is one of the brightest young managers in the game, but he's in another situation where the personnel just isn't there.
Cleveland's only hope is that their divisional competition is shaky.
Projected record: 64-98, 29th in infield, 27th in outfield, 25th in starting pitching, 13th in bullpen.
As you can probably see, this team's only collective strength is its relief pitching. RHP Joakim Soria is an intelligent closer with a strong grasp on his craft, and setup men Juan Cruz and Kyle Farnsworth have electric stuff.
Well, electric stuff and a history of maddening inconsistency.
Kansas City's rotation is at a bit of a standstill, as they intend to bring back the same five from last year's unsuccessful campaign (as soon as Gil Meche is physically cleared to start).
Obviously, reigning Cy Young award winner Zack Greinke sits atop his throne, while RHPs Brian Bannister, Luke Hochevar, and Kyle Davies round out the group, none of whom can be expected to thrive.
Hochevar really impressed me during his collegiate days at the University of Tennessee, but he hasn't been able to put it together in the bigs. I haven't seen that same 94-to-96 MPH velocity from him.
Lastly, Trey Hillman is one of the worst managers in the league.
Projected record: 77-85, 24th in infield, 25th in outfield, 17th in starting pitching, 19th in bullpen.
It was a strange offseason for the Tigers, swapping young SPs Edwin Jackson and Max Scherzer, CFs Curtis Granderson and Austin Jackson, and losing 2B Placido Polanco while adding LF Johnny Damon.
All things considered, I think they downgraded. Anytime you replace a proven center fielder with pop with an unknown rookie commodity, it's impossible to assume improvement. Scherzer and Damon (in the two-hole) should be perfectly fine in place of Jackson and Polanco, but the drop off will be in center.
This is an old team, especially in the outfield. In addition to Damon, RF Magglio Ordonez and LF Carlos Guillen will get their defensive reps, and that's far from a good thing for Detroit's pitching staff.
I've always been a fan of manager Jim Leyland, but I'm not sure he has the pieces this season. Scherzer and young RHP Rick Porcello will certainly be X-factors in the Tigers' pursuit of a division title.
Projected record: 84-78, eighth in infield, 14th in outfield, 19th in starting pitching, 24th in bullpen.
The Joe Nathan injury is absolutely devastating to this club. There's been talk of a possible trade for one of the Blue Jays' extra relievers, Jason Frasor or Kevin Gregg, but nothing has materialized.
That leaves the ball with RHPs Jon Rauch and/or Matt Guerrier, neither of whom can come close to filling Nathan's shoes. I see devastating ninth-inning collapses in Minnesota's future.
On the bright side, these aren't the punch-and-judy Twins of old. They have an impressive offensive core with MVP Joe Mauer, 1B Justin Morneau (back from injury), RF Michael Cuddyer and DH Jason Kubel, and production wild cards like SS J.J. Hardy, LF Delmon Young, and bench bat Jim Thome.
Minnesota's starting pitching is interesting, but that's not necessarily a good thing. RHPs Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, and Carl Pavano are guys who can keep you in games, but that's another way of saying, "They're not lights out."
LHP Francisco Liriano has lights-out potential, but is enigmatic and sometimes a headache for the Twins' hierarchy.
In the end, Ron Gardenhire is one of the top five managers in the bigs, and he'll keep his club in the race. Will the bullpen hold up enough for them to win the division?
We'll have to wait and see.
Projected record: 88-74, 18th in infield, 13th in outfield, fourth in starting pitching, eighth in bullpen.
The foursome at the top of this rotation really jumps out at me: RHP Jake Peavy, LHP Mark Buehrle, LHP John Danks, and RHP Gavin Floyd. GM Kenny Williams addressed a serious roster concern when he acquired Peavy last season, penciling a legitimate No. 1 in front of two solid No. 2s, Buehrle and Danks.
As a No. 3 or 4, depending on where Ozzie Guillen places him, Floyd should be one of the best relative to his position in the rotation.
It doesn't end with their starters though, as Chicago's bullpen boasts two outstanding arms in closer Bobby Jenks and lefty setup man Matt Thornton.
RHPs Scott Linebrink and Tony Pena also have quality stuff; the issue for this relief core may be RHP J.J. Putz. Williams decided to take a flier on Putz this offseason, but he was an absolute dud for the Mets in '09. I watched Putz a couple of times this preseason, lobbing the same 88 MPH as last year.
Nonetheless, the White Sox have one of the best overall pitching staffs in baseball.
Offensively they are intriguing, and though I don't think they'll be as productive as the Twins, they should get enough from LF Carlos Quentin, 1B Paul Konerko, 2B Gordon Beckham, and CF Alex Rios.
SS Alexei Ramirez, 3B Mark Teahen, and DH Andruw Jones will be the wild cards in Guillen's lineup.
All things considered, I think the White Sox have the balance necessary to clip the Twins in the AL Central race.
If the Twins had Nathan, it might be a different story.
Interested in more? Check out my AL West and East predictions:
(John Frascella is the author of Theo-logy: How a Boy Wonder Led the Red Sox to the Promised Land, the first and only book centered on Boston's GM Theo Epstein. Check it out on Amazon or follow John's Twitter @RedSoxAuthor).
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