If you missed our AL East Preview, check it out here.
Time for the Best Division in Baseball, the AL Central.
Chicago White Sox - Good Guys Wear Black
Their Deal: They won the World Series in 2005 thanks to great pitching and okay (read timely) hitting, they won 90 games last year thanks to great hitting and bad pitching. Odds are they’ll score fewer runs but get better pitching. This is probably the last run that the 2005 team has together. And I should say that the 2005 group of players first got together in 2005, in other words we aren't talking about the Yankees here.
Stud Muffin: Jermaine Dye was one of the three best players in the major leagues last year, if the Sox had made the playoffs, he might have been the AL MVP.
He Just… Won’t… Go… Away (aka, My God, he’s still playing!?!?): Darin Erstad, remember him? The Sox are a weird team, Jim Thome is the oldest player on the team and everyone else is about 28 or 30 years old.
Key To Season: The pitching has to be better and the offense needs to get the job done. If the Sox get good starting pitching, and they have the potential to get good starting pitching, they’re probably the best team in the majors. But Buehrle looked washed up in the second half of the year, Contreras battled injuries, and Vazquez is consistently inconsistent. Don’t bet on that 2005 rotation coming back all of a sudden. Plus their fifth starter is John Danks who has no major league experience.
Silver Lining: They hit a lot of home runs, and since the Sox have an exploding scoreboard, everyone has fun. And this might be the greatest ad campaign by any sports team ever.
Random Thoughts: I can’t get a feel for this team, some days I think they could win the World Series, other days just the Central, and still other days they seem like they might finish in 4th place... Like every team, it all comes down to pitching, but with the White Sox, it seems like the pitching for the Sox is even more ‘important’ because they have the potential to be really, really good. And if that happens, they’re the best team in the majors… who’s the fifth starter again?... Since they signed Erstad the Sox are the toughest team in baseball right? If nothing else, they have more grit than anyone else correct?... I can see the Cell from my apartment, HOT!... South Side!... If you walk the streets of Chicago, you’ll see more Sox hats than Cub hats, this town is as close to 50/50 as it’s been in my lifetime.
Chances/Prediction: As I’ve said five times, if they starting pitching is better than last year (i.e. a half run better), they’ll win about 95 games and make the playoffs. If the pitching is the same as last year, they might only win 85 games. They’re the best team in Chicago and in every other division in baseball (well not the AL East) they would be the favorites to win the division. That’s how good the AL Central is right now, the Sox could easily finish in fourth.
Their Deal: After a very good 2005 (in which they choked in the final days losing the Wild Card race in the process), the Indians were everyone’s hot pick in 2006… one problem, they had the worst bullpen of all time (may be an outrageous claim). The Indians can no longer be called a young team and it’s time to put up or shut up. Are guys like Jhonny Peralta, Cliff Lee, Jake Westbrook, and Andy Marte for real? If they’re not, the Indians are in trouble even if they do have Hafner, Sizemore, and Sabathia.
Stud Muffin: C.C. Sabathia and Grady Sizemore… Sabathia’s had a better career thus far, but Sizemore could be a special player when it’s all said and done.
He Just… Won’t… Go… Away (aka, My God, he’s still playing!?!?): Roberto Hernandez is still around filling gaps in bullpens apparently, so is Joe Borowski…
Key To Season: They need Cliff Lee not to suck this year (I guess he came on as the year went along last year) and they need Westbrook to be as good this year as he was last [Note, Lee may start the season on the DL]. Oh yeah, and their bullpen has to hold some leads. At one point last year, the Tribe bullpen blew something like 6 games in 8 days (including two games to Ortiz alone). That’s amazing.
Silver Lining: There really is no way the bullpen could be any worse this year. And hey, according to their run differential last year, they should have won like 90 games. In fact, the 2006 Tribe has to be one of the biggest statical anomalies of all time. This is why I only buy the whole stathead stuff so much. Yeah, the law of averages comes into play, but a bad bullpen or a 17-2 drubbing of the Royals in July is misleading at the end of the year.
Random Thoughts: This year I sort of assumed that the Tribe would be flying under the radar a bit, but it looks like they aren’t since a lot of publications like them this year. I think there are too many question marks… unlike the Twins or the Tigers, I can’t respect the Tribe, I really do not like these guys… question, in 25 years, what will Cleveland look like? Will anyone still live there? Are they the case in point of the 21st Century Rust Belt city? Or does Buffalo get that title?... When did everyone decided that Cleveland should be the Rock’n’Roll Center of the Universe? Is there a Cleveland sound? Aren’t there like ten cities that have more of a music tradition compared to Cleveland?... Someone please teach Jhonny Peralta how to spell his name. Thanks.
Chances/Prediction: I’m not sold on this team, they have a few question marks in their line up and in the back end of their rotation. And that’s not even considering a bullpen which was horrendous last year. Like everyone but the Royals, they could win the division or finish in fourth.
Their Deal: For five months, everything that could go right, went right for the Tigers. Guys didn’t get hurt, guys played out of their minds, pitchers pitched as if they were Cy Young, they caught every break that they could catch… they were winning games they had no business winning. It was a magical season… and then September came and the law of averages came into play. But thankfully for them, Jermaine Dye started to run out of gas and the White Sox couldn’t catch the Tigers. And even though the Twins did catch the Tigers, the Tigers won the Wild Card. Then they started getting lucky again… some how ending up in the World Series. But then once in the World Series, roughly even single pitcher on the Tiger staff started throwing come backers down the left field line. This cost them two games and a so-so to bad Cardinal team won the World Series. (Thinking about this a few months later, this has to be the most amazing series of events that hasn't been covered ad nauseum by ESPN in the last 20 years. The Tiger pitchers literally threw the World Series down the left field line. We'll never seen anything like that ever again).
Stud Muffin: Even though they picked up Gary Sheffield, I’ll take Joel Zumaya and his 102 mph fastball. Though both Justin Verlander and Jeremy Bonderman look like the real deal.
He Just… Won’t… Go… Away (aka, My God, he’s still playing!?!?): Jose Mesa… I’m just as shocked as you are.
Key To Season: Pretty much they need a line up that has a history of getting hurt (see Maggilo Ordonez and Carlos Guillen) to stay healthy. Then they need Kenny Rogers, Nate Robertson, and Mike Maroth to pitch out of their minds again. Not very likely… and this is assuming that Bonderman continues to get better and that Verlander is the real deal.
Silver Lining: Last year was pretty sweet! On paper, this is probably the best team in the Central. GM has hit rock bottom right?
Random Thoughts: They used up about five years of mojo last year (or they had been saving 13 years of mojo for last year, take your pick). I’m not kidding when I said they caught every single break last year… There is about a 5% chance that Robertson and Rogers pitch as well as they did last year, and you know what, throw Maroth into that group… I can’t see the Baseball Gods being as kind to them this year... I still have yet to decide if I like Detroit or not... They do have sweet unis.
Chances/Prediction: Bringing Sheffield aboard was a nice move since the front office realized that they were lucky to score as many runs as they did last year. Sheffield really rounds out that line up, but can Maggs stay healthy and can Carlos Guillen come close to playing as well as he did last year while staying healthily? This is a nice team, but I just can’t see them doing what they did last year this year.
Kansas City Royals
Their Deal: They were the worst team in the majors last year, but some young kids, lead by Alex Gordon, are starting to finally come though the pipeline. Still a few years away, but at least they won’t be as bad this year. There is hope!
Stud Muffin: Considering they’re paying him an arm and a leg, Gil Meche gets the Muffin award. But Alex Gordon is suppose to be the real deal, the #1 prospect in baseball depending on who you talk to.
He Just… Won’t… Go… Away (aka, My God, he’s still playing!?!?): I know he signed a two year deal last year, but Reggie Sanders takes the cake here. Octavio Dotel is still in the majors AND CLOSING for the Royals, you figure that one out.
Key To Season: The Royals finally brought aboard some direction last year when Dayton Moore was hired to be their GM. Basically, the key to the year for the Royals is to develop the young kids, keep their arms healthy, and finding an outfield. If all this happened it would be a good season.
Silver Lining: It can’t be worse than the last two years right?
Random Thoughts: Zach Greinke quit last year, but he’s back this year (an interesting read and I wish him the best in his fight)... On the plus side, Greinke is only 23 but has already been around so long that it feels like he's been around for ever, and he's got a lot of talent… 2003 Rookie of the Year, Angel Berroa, was sent down to the minors; hey Angel, Pat Listach called, he sends his congratulations… Sadly unlike last year, I don’t think they’ll come close to allowing 1,000 runs. That was the most fun subplot to last year, will the Royals allow 1,000 runs (they ended up allowing 971). Sadly, 900 just doesn’t have the same feel and excitement as 1,000… They might not lose 100 games!... Come see Alex Gordon!... BTW, Alex Gordon sounds like a defender who has five caps for Scotland and starts for Rangers… Okay I admit it, I really have nothing on the Royals.
Chances/Prediction: They’re going to finish in fifth. Maybe they can win 70 games, but that’s probably asking too much considering they play in the best division in baseball.
Their Deal: The Twins started a little sluggish, then came on in the second half to win the AL Central, but then meekly bowed out to the A’s in the ALDS. But last years team is a distant memory: rookie sensation Francisco Liriano blew out his arm and Brad Radke retired. The Twins haven’t replaced either one of them, hoping that Matt Garaza, Boof Bonser, and Carlos Silva can get the job done. I should probably mention that they have the AL’s Cy Young, Johan Santana, and AL MVP Justin Morneau. And Joe Mauer not only may be the best catcher in baseball, but he’s also attempting to bring back the sideburn. Somewhere in America, Brady Anderson is smiling.
Stud Muffin: Joe Mauer should have won the MVP last year, of course he didn’t have the power numbers to win the MVP. But Mauer is a special player. And the All American Kid now has an All American Girlfriend... oh to be Joe Mauer. And least I forget that the Twins have the best pitcher in baseball, a guy I like to call Johan "Hugo" Santana.
He Just… Won’t… Go… Away (aka, My God, he’s still playing!?!?): Take your pick between Jeff Cirillo and Rondell White. [Note: Rondell White didn’t quit after last season!?!?! You’ve got to be kidding me.]
Key To Season: Garaza, Boof, and Silva. Silva was horrible in the first half of last season, so bad that the Twins moved him to the bullpen for a while last year. Garaza is suppose to be a stud, but he looked so-so last year. Boof’s ability is self explanatory. Like all recent Twins teams, they’ll score enough runs and have a solid bullpen… but that starting pitching… how good or bad is it?
Silver Lining: JOHAN SANTANA pitches every fifth day.
Random Thoughts: The Twins are the anti-Yankees and they both make the playoffs every year, hummmm… they still haven’t figured out the left side of that infield have they? Who knew Corey Koskie was that important? I guess Bartlett and Punto are okay, but you can do a lot better than Punto at third… Who’s playing left field for this team? Lew Ford? Seriously?... This Twins team has a lot of question marks, which means this is a retooling year... I saw a sweet Hold Steady t-shirt in Arizona with the old Twins logo. I would totally buy that if I wasn't a Sox fan.
Chances/Prediction: The Twins have more question marks than anyone else in the division, which means they’ll finish around .500 and finish in fourth. Though if things break the right way, first place is a possibility. They do have a lot of really good baseball players, and they have a nasty habit of developing really good baseball players who seem to come out of no where. But I don't see the starting pitching being good enough.
5) Kansas City Royals
4) Minnesota Twins
3) Cleveland Indians
2) Detroit Tigers
1) Chicago White Sox