MLB: A Complete Breakdown With Predictions For The AL Central
Continuing the previews of Major League Baseball teams and divisions, next up is a breakdown of the AL Central.
Really, this division has been dominated by three teams over the last couple of years, with the Tigers, Twins, and White Sox taking control.
It's the home to arguably the best hitter in the American League, Tigers' first baseman Miguel Cabrera.
The Twins have won this division six of the last nine seasons, and the Indians and Royals have had little to no success.
Will the Twins once again take the division and at least play in the first round of the playoffs? Will the Indians or Royals be one of the surprise teams in the league this season?
Those questions and more are answered here in a complete breakdown of each team with predictions.
The Cleveland Indians haven't made the playoffs since they held a 3-1 ALCS lead over the Red Sox in 2007. After blowing the series lead and AL pennant, they haven't been the same. The past two seasons have been terrible, as they've failed to win 70 games.
The team has gotten much younger and is looking very different—perhaps a sign of good things to come.
This season, they don't have a roster that looks primed to take the team back to the postseason or win that many games.
However, seeing the talent develop will be very interesting—like right-side infielders Matt LaPorta and Jason Donald.
The Indians' best player on the infield right now would be shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. He had a down season last season and was injured for a good portion of it. The rising star in the lineup appears to be catcher Carlos Santana. He made his debut last season and although he didn't impress a whole lot, he showed ability and the scouts are enamored with his potential.
The best hitter in the entire lineup is right fielder, Shin-Soo Choo. Over the last two seasons, he's hit exactly .300, while showing some pop and some speed. Grady Sizemore, who's promising career has been ruined by injuries, is returning from microfracture surgery on his left knee.
The Indians rotation isn't too deep. Fausto Carmona had his best season since his breakout year of 2007, but still lost 14 games—albeit on a bad team. Mitch Talbot in his first full season, won 10 games, and could develop into a third starter this season. Other than that, the rotation is nothing to get excited about.
It's going to be a trying season for the Indians, and the best part might be seeing their young talent put it together for future success.
AL Central team rankings
Starting rotation: 4th
2011 prediction: 68-94, 5th place
Kansas City Royals
Is this the year the Kansas City Royals finally make the playoffs? I mean, they haven't been there since they last won the World Series in 1985. I don't think the stretch will end, but there is plenty of hope.
After losing 95 games last season, you can expect a slight improvement, and it's because they have built a decent offense with the moves they made this offseason. At every position there's a bat that has potential.
In the trade that sent Zach Greinke—we'll get to that later—to the Brewers, the Royals received young shortstop Alcides Escobar. He was ranked very highly by prospects while in the Brewers organization, and although hasn't shown much at the plate, he's still only 24 years old and can improve with a new team.
Over at third base is Mike Aviles, who is a career .298 hitter. In another offseason move by the Royals, they brought in second baseman Chris Getz from the White Sox along with Josh Fields for Mark Teahen. Getz's production at the plate has decreased over the course of his career, so second base could potentially be a huge weak spot for Kansas City.
Two new outfielders were acquired—both of whom have high potential, but are looking for bounce-back seasons.
Jeff Francsoeur was signed after spending last season with the Mets and Rangers to play right field. His issue is he swings at nearly every pitch he sees, and doesn't take advice from his coaches. That's what led to his departure in both Atlanta and New York.
The former Yankee Melky Cabrera will be the new center fielder, as he tries to rebound from an awful season with the Braves. Both of those guys have potential and bolster the lineup to score some runs this season.
The issue with Kansas City is one thing and it's big.
They no longer have starting pitcher Zach Greinke.
The Royals had trouble winning games with him as a Cy Young award winner—now imagine how things will be without him anchoring their starting staff.
The "ace" on the depth chart right now would be former first overall pick, Luke Hochevar. He's been a big-time bust thus far, having never won more than seven big league games in any of his first three full seasons.
After him comes guys who haven't proven they can win consistently, including signing former Rockie Jeff Francis, who's coming off an injury-plagued season.
The Royals have an average lineup, a great closer, but no rotation. Thus, they won't be too good.
AL Central team rankings
Starting rotation: 5th
2011 prediction: 71-91, 4th place
After finishing 2010 with an even .500 record of 81-81, the Detroit Tigers will enter this season with a potent lineup, but an average starting rotation.
Since losing the World Series in 2006, the Tigers have flirted with a return to the playoffs, but haven't made it. If things break right and the pitching comes together, they can potentially get there this season.
The biggest offseason move made by the Tigers was signing catcher/designated hitter Victor Martinez. He'll most likely spend the majority of his time as the DH, with Alex Avila catching.
Martinez knows the AL Central very well, having spent seven and a half seasons with the Indians before being traded to the Red Sox in the middle of 2009. He'll add some major punch to a lineup that already features some solid veterans.
If you're going to start breaking down the Tigers lineup, you can't begin anywhere else other than first base. Miguel Cabrera is the best hitter in the American League and if you want to think so, could be the best hitter in baseball. It's very hard to bring to the table more than this guy does, and he's only going to enter his prime this season.
Cabrera has hit at least 33 home runs in six of his seven full seasons and has driven-in over 100 RBIs in each year. To add to his incredible productivity, he even showed more patience last season, leading the AL with a .420 on-base percentage. He finished second in AL MVP voting last season, losing out to Josh Hamilton.
The other three infielders are all quality veterans, and the outfield has young talent along with Magglio Ordonez in right field.
The one part of the team that could be a little shaky is the starting rotation. Justin Verlander leads the way, having gone 37-18 over the last two seasons, but the other four guys have question marks. Max Scherzer was pretty good and should've had a better record than 12-11, but Rick Porcello regressed and Brad Penny, who was just-signed, is coming off an injury-pleagued season with the Cardinals.
The Tigers bullpen has the potential of being very strong with a solid closer in Jose Valverde, but Joel Zumaya can get injured after throwing one pitch.
There are way more positives than negatives on this team and they'll certainly be in the mix for a playoff spot.
AL Central team rankings
Starting rotation: 3rd
2011 prediction: 83-79, 3rd place
Chicago White Sox
Ozzie Guillen is returning as the manager of the Chicago White Sox and with that, comes plenty of promise—along with craziness. After winning 88 games last season and still missing the playoffs, the White Sox look like they're ready to make another run at the Twins and capture the division crown.
The starting rotation is arguably the best in the division and it's definitely the team's biggest strength.
That doesn't mean the offense is suspect.
In fact, it might be better than last season with the addition of Adam Dunn, who'll be the everyday DH. Dunn comes in and replaces Manny Ramirez, and with all respect to Manny, Dunn is a beast. The guy is hardly ever spoken about in the league, and all he does is hit home runs and produce.
He's hit at least 38 home runs in each of his last seven seasons—an unbelievable pace that should land him in Cooperstown someday—and will finally play on a team that is respected. He's played in cities like Cincinnati, Arizona, and Washington, where baseball hasn't been at its best lately.
Around him are a bunch of other quality players, especially in the outfield. In left field is lead-off hitter Juan Pierre, who had a nice season and ran wild on the basepaths in 2010. He led the league in steals with 68 in 86 attempts, while recording 179 hits.
While Pierre provides speed and athleticism, the other two outfielders—Alex Rios and Carlos Quentin—provide power.
Other than Paul Konerko at first base, the rest of the infield won't excite you, but shortstop Alexei Ramirez isn't bad at all.
The rotation is where the White Sox separate themselves. Mark Buehrle must improve from last season where allowed the most hits in the league (246), but is still crafty and consistent. The rest of the staff is deep—with Gavin Floyd, John Danks, Jake Peavy and the inconsistent Edwin Jackson.
The one big loss for the White Sox—although his effectiveness declined recently—is closer Bobby Jenks, now with the Red Sox. Matt Thornton will most likely assume closer duties.
The White Sox will once again be right in the middle of the AL Central race, trying to dethrone the Twins.
AL central team rankings
Starting rotation: 1st
2011 prediction: 89-73, 2nd place
The Minnesota Twins have won the AL Central six of the past nine seasons. They are said to be the best organization from top to bottom in baseball. They draft well, build around players from within their system, and play with probably the best style in the game today. Their manager, Ron Gardenhire, could be considered underrated for the job he's done with these Twins.
The one thing that Minnesota hasn't done over the last nine years, is get to the World Series. The last three times they've made the playoffs, they've been swept in the first round with the last two seasons being to the Yankees.
You know they'll be good this season and probably get to the playoffs, but will they make any noise come October? That question can't be answered any time soon, but they have the pieces once again to get the job done.
The leaders of the offense are the "M&M Boys" Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau. Catcher Mauer had a difficult season in the power department, adjusting to the Twins new ballpark Target Field. He also saw his batting average dip 38 points which is the biggest concern, although hitting .327 isn't bad by anyone else's standards.
First baseman Morneau will be returning from post-concussion syndrome which he began feeling after suffering a concussion on July 7 of last season. He missed the remainder of the season from that point on, and will look to return to his All-Star caliber ways.
The Twins imported a Japanese player to take over at second base, 26-year-old Tsuyoshi Nishioka. The former member of the Chiba Lotte Marines recorded 911 hits in eight seasons with the team.
The Twins outfield looks to be pretty strong with Delmon Young trying to duplicate his career-best success from last season. Young finally broke through, as he hit 21 home runs and drove in 112 runs, in his third season in Minnesota.
With a solid offense, the Twins will look to get stability from the back end of their starting rotation. The top two starters are very good with Francisco Liriano and Carl Pavano—who was signed to return—combining to win 31 games last season.
The next three guys can pitch decently, but haven't showed it recently. Scott Baker continued to see his ERA rise after signing a nice contract and winning 15 games a couple of years ago. Brian Duensing stunned everyone and had a magnificent season, winning 10 games and pitching to a 2.62 ERA while splitting time in the bullpen and in the rotation but is still unproven.
In the bullpen, Joe Nathan will return after missing all of last season having undergone Tommy John surgery. He'll set up for closer Matt Capps, who'll enter his first full season with the Twins. The bullpen is pretty good right now and the Twins have the most depth of any team in the division.
As long as they play like they always do, they should win the division, but it's not a given.
AL Central team rankings
Starting rotation: 2nd
2011 prediction: 94-68, 1st place