AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL DIVISION PREVIEW
1) Chicago White Sox (2009 record: 79-83; 2010 prediction: 93-69)
The White Sox have arguably the best starting rotation in the American League, with former Cy Young winner Jake Peavy leading the way. The Sox acquired Peavy late last season, even though he was injured most of the year. He is coming into this season healthy and ready to go though. You can see why Ozzie Guillen thinks he has the best rotation in the AL when you add in the reliable lefty Mark Buehrle, the proven young talents in Gavin Floyd and John Danks, and then the veteran Freddy Garcia and talented prospect Danny Hudson competing for the fifth spot. The Sox also have a strong bullpen with closer Bobby Jenks coming in 15 pounds lighter, a newly acquired set-up man in J.J. Putz, and the hard-throwing lefty in Matt Thornton. The offense will look different this season without guys like Jermaine Dye and Scott Podsednik, but they have made a few upgrades. The acquisitions of Juan Pierre (LF), Mark Teahan (3B), Andruw Jones (DH/OF), and Omar Vizquel (SS/2B) gives the Sox some quality veterans who will not only give a boost on offense, but also give them some more reliable defensive players. They will also have the dangerous Carlos Quentin (RF) healthy (at the moment), who missed 63 games last year due to injury, but had 36 HRs and 100 RBIs in 2008. Alex Rios will be in CF and has stated he feels much more comfortable with the Sox coming into the season. He never really settled in with the Sox after they acquired him late in the season last year, but he looks to be ready to go this year. Then they have two of the best young talented middle infielders in the game with Alexei Ramirez (SS) and Gordon Beckham (2B), and longtime Sox veterans Paul Konerko (1B) and A.J. Pierzynski (C) providing some more punch to the lineup. This White Sox team has the talent, pitching, and depth to build a healthy lead in the AL Central and possibly get back to the World Series, which they won in 2005.
2) Minnesota Twins (2009 record: 87-76; 2010 prediction: 85-77)
The Minnesota Twins had one of the best home-field advantages in baseball with the Metrodome, but opposing teams will no longer have to deal with the hassle of playing in the unorthodox dome anymore. The Twins built themselves a new stadium, and it is completely outdoor. I think this is going to end up hurting the Twins, because they were a team built around playing in that dome. They also received some devastating news early in spring training, when their closer Joe Nathan tore a ligament in his elbow. Nathan is out for the season, meaning the Twins are without a closer who had 47 saves and a 2.10 ERA last season. Jon Rauch will likely fill in for Nathan at closer, who is 24/39 in save opportunities over the past 3 seasons. They have a solid starting rotation, with Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, Carl Pavano, and Nick Blackburn. Brian Duensing and Francisco Liriano are battling for the final spot. The pitching isn’t going to lead them to postseason though, so they will need a strong offense. Having one of the best hitters in the game in last year’s MVP Joe Mauer (C) will help, and he will be in Minnesota for a while after recently signing an eight-year $184 million contract. The Twins also have a healthy Justin Morneau, an all-around talent in Delmon Young (LF), Michael Cuddyer (RF), Denard Span (CF), and Jason Kubel (DH). Jim Thome will give them some power off the bench, but their offensive production from their infielders may be lacking. J.J. Hardy, Brendan Harris, and Orlando Hudson all had their offensive stats drop last season. They are contact hitters with some speed too, so they will miss the benefit of the dome and its quick turf. The Twins could very well repeat as AL Central Champions, but without a healthy Nathan closing, no dome benefits, and a much improved Chicago White Sox team, I don’t think it will happen.
3) Detroit Tigers (2009 record: 86-77; 2010 prediction: 80-82)
The Detroit Tigers no longer have Curtis Granderson, Edwin Jackson, Placido Palanco, or Aubrey Huff so it looks like they will be taking a step back this season. They have some big question marks offensively with Gerald Laird (C), Adam Everett (SS), and Brandon Inge (3B), who are all coming off seasons where they hit under .240. They will likely be starting two rookies in Scott Sizemore and Austin Jackson (CF). Ryan Raburn (OF) had a very solid season last year and could end up starting, but he has been battling injuries this spring. The newly acquired Johnny Damon (LF) will definitely help the offense, and veterans like Miguel Cabrera (if he can stay sober), Magglio Ordonez, and Carlos Guillen will need to stay healthy and carry a big load on offense if the Tigers want a chance in this division. The starting pitching looks pretty good with ace Justin Verlander atop the rotation, who is followed by some good young pitchers. Rick Porcello will be the number two guy, after going 14-9 with a 3.96 ERA last season as a rookie. Jeremy Bonderman will be the third guy in the rotation and has good stuff but has not had a ton of success. Look for the newly acquired young Max Scherzer to have some impressive starts this season. He is a hard-thrower and can rack up a lot of strikeouts, but can be wild and will give up the deep ball at times. Eddie Bonnie will be the fifth starter and he will struggle in that spot, but overall the starting rotation looks decent. Jose Valverde gives them a solid closer, while Bobby Seay and the newly acquired Phil Coke will give them some reliable arms out of the bullpen. The Tigers will compete this year, but with the combination of aging veterans and inexperienced youngsters, I don’t see them having too much success.
4) Kansas City Royals (2009 record: 65-97; 2010 prediction: 74-88)
The Kansas City Royals have a lot of new faces this season with newly acquired starters Jason Kendall (C), Scott Podsednik (LF), Rick Ankiel (CF), and Chris Getz (2B). They also picked up some decent bench players in defensive specialist Brian Anderson (OF) and a solid bat in Josh Fields (3B). I really like the moves the Royals made this offseason and I think it will result in more wins this year. Jason Kendall gives them a great veteran leader at catcher, although his offense has really dropped off the past few seasons. Scott Podsednik gives them a good lead-off hitter with speed and Rick Ankiel has shown he can be a great all-around player with good power. Both have struggled to stay healthy in recent years though, so the Royals need them to keep it together and be everyday players. Chris Getz proved he can play at a high level in the pros after having a very solid first full season last year with the White Sox. The rest of the starting lineup includes Billy Butler (1B), Alex Gordon (3B), Yuniesky Betancourt (SS), David DeJesus (RF), and Jose Guillen. Butler and DeJesus are both coming off great seasons at the plate. Betancourt is a proven bat, but struggled last year, while Gordon is still renowned as a great young talent despite his lack of production at the plate. Look for Gordon to have a breakout season this year. Pitching wise, the Royals have one of the best in the game in Cy Young Winner Zack Greinke, but unfortunately for them they don’t have much after him with Gil Meche, Luke Hochevar, Brian Bannister, and Kyle Davies rounding out the starting rotation. They have okay stuff and will compete, but they all had ERA’s over 5.00 last season besides Bannister (4.73). Joakim Soria gives them a good closer, while Kyle Farnsworth should be a good set-up man for them. The Royals have definitely improved in my opinion, but they still are not at the level of the top teams in this division.
5) Cleveland Indians (2009 record: 65-97; 2010 prediction: 63-99)
The Cleveland Indians will not be any better this year than last, but they are rebuilding right now and are taking the right steps to be good down the road. They acquired some good young prospects, but they will be in the minors for the time being. Indians’ fans won’t see any results this year , and it could be another very ugly season in Cleveland. They still have a superstar in Grady Sizemore (CF), and two very good hitters in Shin-Soo Choo (RF) and Asdrubal Cabrera (SS). Travis Hafner (DH) gives them good power, but it seems like he can never stay healthy. Matt LaPorta (LF) should continue to improve after having a good showing in 51 games as a rookie last season. Jhonny Peralta (3B), Russel Branyan (1B), and Luis Valbuena (2B) aren’t very impressive at the plate. Peralta has some power and can get hot at the plate sometimes, so they are going to need him to step it up and be more consistent this season. Since the Indians really only have three good hitters, the offense will struggle. The pitching isn’t much better this season either. The rotation looks like it will be Jake Westbrook, Fausto Carmona, Justin Masterson, David Huff, and Aaron Laffey. Huff was the leader in wins last season of that group, with only 11 wins. Kerry Wood was expected to be the closer, but the injury-prone Wood is going to be out 2 months after injuring his shoulder. That means the bullpen, which was probably the Indians strength, will be in some disarray as well. Chris Perez will likely close until Wood is back, but this season will not be a fun one for Indians’ fans.