MLB Preview 2011: Ranking the AL Central Division's Starting Lineups
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After ranking the starting rotations of the AL Central, it only makes sense to move on to the starting lineups. There are many variables involved with ranking the starting lineups (Grady Sizemore's health, Miguel Cabrera's drinking, other weird progressions/regressions, etc.), but this is my best attempt at it.
With spring training under way, I hope you enjoy looking ahead to how the offenses in the AL Central rank. If you want to see my starting rotation list, click here. Together, they form a pretty decent AL Central preview. If you don't want to see it, then don't click on the link and just proceed with this slideshow. It's that easy.
Note: I used the depth charts on each team's official website to formulate these lineups. I also used some common sense, though. For example, Jim Thome's not listed as the starting DH for the Twins, but I looked at the lineup with and without him before finalizing a ranking. Same goes for the Indians and Grady Sizemore's availability.
No. 5: Kansas City Royals
Billy Butler will do what he can to carry the Royals' offense this year.
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C: Jason Kendall
1B: Kila Ka'aihue
2B: Chris Getz
SS: Alcides Escobar
3B: Mike Aviles
LF: Alex Gordon
CF: Melky Cabrera
RF: Jeff Francoeur
DH: Billy Butler
It's shaping up to be a long year for the Kansas City Royals. With only Mike Aviles (29) and Jason Kendall (36) over the age of 27, the Royals offense will likely suffer through more growing pains this year. If new additions Cabrera and Francoeur turn things around, the Royals could surprise some people. As it is, expect more struggling out of Kansas City.
Best Hitter: Billy Butler
Needs a Big Year: Alex Gordon
Weakest Link: Jeff Francoeur
Combined Three-Year Average WAR: 5.82
No. 4: Chicago White Sox
The White Sox cannot afford another off-year from players like Gordon Beckham.
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C: A.J. Pierzynski
1B: Paul Konerko
2B: Gordon Beckham
SS: Alexei Ramirez
3B: Brent Morel
LF: Juan Pierre
CF: Alex Rios
RF: Carlos Quentin
DH: Adam Dunn
I know I'll take heat for putting them fourth, but I will stand by this. The addition of Adam Dunn was huge for the White Sox, but I'm still not in love with their lineup. You know what to expect out of Pierzynski and Konerko; the rest of the lineup, not so much.
Will Rios repeat 2010, Beckham repeat 2009 and Quentin repeat 2008? Or will they all struggle again? Konerko and Pierzynski are both 34; it'd be unwise to expect them to carry the whole load. The rest of the lineup will need to step up for the White Sox to match the promise their starting pitching holds.
Best Hitter: Paul Konerko
Needs a Big Year: Gordon Beckham
Weakest Link: Brent Morel (until he proves himself at the major league level)
Combined Three-Year Average WAR: 12.11
No. 3: Cleveland Indians
Shin Soo Choo is on the cusp of taking the league by storm.
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C: Carlos Santana
1B: Matt LaPorta
2B: Orlando Cabrera
SS: Asdrubal Cabrera
3B: Jason Donald
LF: Michael Brantley (Austin Kearns if Sizemore's not ready by Opening Day)
CF: Grady Sizemore (Michael Brantley if Sizemore's not ready by Opening Day)
RF: Shin-Soo Choo
DH: Travis Hafner
Honestly, if you want to flip the Indians and the White Sox, feel free; I'm standing by my rankings though. Shin-Soo Choo is better than any hitter on the White Sox, and the rest wash out pretty evenly. They both have players looking for consistency, players with a lot to prove and youngsters looking to establish themselves. Call this a bold prediction, call it idiocy, call it whatever. As of right now, the Indians have a better starting lineup than the White Sox.
Best Hitter: Shin-Soo Choo
Needs a Big Year: Matt LaPorta (though you can argue Sizemore or Hafner here)
Weakest Link: Michael Brantley (needs to prove he can succeed at the major league level)
Combined Three-Year Average WAR: 14.78 with Sizemore, 12.51 with Kearns
No. 2: Detroit Tigers
He may not make the best decisions off the field, but on the field, Miguel Cabrera is golden.
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C: Alex Avila
1B: Miguel Cabrera
2B: Carlos Guillen
SS: Jhonny Peralta
3B: Brandon Inge
LF: Ryan Raburn
CF: Austin Jackson
RF: Magglio Ordonez
DH: Victor Martinez
The offseason addition of Victor Martinez takes this group of good hitters and makes them much better. Martinez could easily be what gives the Tigers the edge in the AL Central race. How far the Tigers will go, however, comes down to Miguel Cabrera. He's already been a distraction for the club; how they move on from here will be very telling of how Detroit's season will go.
Best Hitter: Miguel Cabrera
Needs a Big Year: Miguel Cabrera
Weakest Link: Alex Avila
Combined Three-Year Average WAR: 18.70
No. 1: Minnesota Twins
The Twins need Justin Morneau back if they want to take the AL Central crown again this year.
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C: Joe Mauer
1B: Justin Morneau
2B: Tsuyoshi Nishioka
SS: Alexi Casilla
3B: Danny Valencia
LF: Delmon Young
CF: Denard Span
RF: Michael Cuddyer
DH: Jason Kubel/Jim Thome
So much of this weighs on Justin Morneau coming back 100 percent healthy. He and Mauer, with the supporting cast the Twins have around them, are the dominant lineup in this division. They have all the right pieces in place to make another run at the division title. The question is whether Morneau's health will let him be the MVP he was four short years ago.
Best Hitter: Joe Mauer
Needs a Big Year: Justin Morneau (they aren't the same team without him)
Weakest Link: Tsuyoshi Nishioka (needs to prove that he can play in MLB)
Combined Three-Year Average WAR: 19.07 with Kubel, 19.31 with Thome
As of right now, I see the Twins taking the AL Central again.
Adding the combined three-year average WARs of each team's starting lineups and rotations, my preseason predictions are as follow:
No. 5: Kansas City Royals (6.32)
No. 4: Cleveland Indians (12.71 without Sizemore, 14.98 with)
No. 3: Detroit Tigers (26.1)
No. 2: Chicago White Sox (29.01)
No. 1 Minnesota Twins (29.57 with Kubel, 29.81 with Thome)
Can these change? Definitely. Can Gordon Beckham and company carry the White Sox past the Twins? Sure. Same for Victor Martinez in Detroit. It's baseball; anything can happen. In the end, though, I foresee a three-way race ending with the Twins on top again—nothing the AL Central's not used to.