>Wednesday Lunch: AL Central Preview

Posted: February 23, 2011 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

>By Nick Gallaudet

Our six week trip around the Major Leagues continues this week as The Sack Lunch looks at the American League Central division. Over the past few years, this has been one of the more exciting divisions in baseball, needing one game playoffs in two of the last three years, with the White Sox beating the Twins 1-0 in 2008 and the Twins beating the Tigers 6-5 in 2009 in one of Chip Caray’s last games with TBS, and rightfully so. The Twins are coming off back-to-back division titles, do they have what it takes for a three-peat?

The White Sox used this offseason to beef up an already potent lineup, and with the addition of 1B/DH Adam Dunn, the Sox look like they could have one of the best lineups in the league. Dunn is joining Carlos Quentin, Alexei Ramirez, Alex Rios, and Paul Konerko, who quietly finished in the top five or six in nearly every major offensive category last year. With that firepower, even if two of the five of those players underperform, which is a distinct possibility given the shaky track records of Quentin, Ramirez, Rios, this offense should still be able to put up plenty of runs.
The pitching staff is in decent shape, too. The staff is full of talent from top to bottom, and if you’re relying on Edwin Jackson or Mark Buerhle as your 5th starter, you’re probably feeling pretty good about your team. The only real question mark with this team is their bullpen, and with unproven Matt Thornton up for the closer job, but no matter what happens, they probably can’t do much worse than Bobby Jenks did last year. I really like the makeup of this team and think they could make a serious run at unseating the Twins atop the division.
I really like the Indians; they’re one of my best friends from childhoods’ favorite team and I want desperately for something good to happen for the city of Cleveland, but don’t bank on this team to snap the city out of decades of misery. The lineup is not very good, Grady Sizemore’s reckless play in the outfield seems to have caught up to him, prematurely ending his last two seasons, and without Sizemore, their cupboard is pretty dry. Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin-Soo Choo anchor this lineup, and while you could do worse, you could do a lot better. The supposed power bats of Michael Brantley, Travis Hafner, Matt LaPorta could provide some help for this pedestrian lineup, but don’t count on it.
The pitching staff looks a lot like the lineup. Cleveland fans are still waiting for Fausto Carmona to return to form from three years ago, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen anytime soon. After that, there’s just not a lot to work with. Jensen Lewis, Justin Masterson, and Mitch Talbot all have potential, but I just don’t think they’re ready to take over the central, and their hodgepodge of relievers isn’t going to help them win many games. With the talent in this division, the Indians just aren’t ready to compete this year, sorry Ben.
We all know what happened to Miguel Cabrera and it’s sad to see such a talent derailed by alcohol. Granted it’s definitely not then end of the road, he’s come back from a similar issue before, and just look at Josh Hamilton. The more telling part about this is the fact that his teammates didn’t seem surprised and were very dubious about his recovery. It’s a shame, because I’m not a Tigers fan, and I don’t like Cabrera very much, but I would hate to see such a dynamic hitter waste his prime. Hopefully he can come out of this, and produce like he’s been doing the last few years, but if not, I’m sure Dr. Drew would save him a spot on Celebrity Rehab.
Now, as far as the rest of the lineup goes, they have a little to fall back on if Cabrera’s issue is big enough to cut into his playing time once the regular season starts. The Tigers have a nice mix of young talent and veteran smarts, and it should translate to a decent offense. Austin Jackson and Ryan Raburn both proved they could play last year, and with a manager like Jim Leyland, don’t expect them to rest on their laurels. The pickup of 1B/C Victor Martinez will fill some holes in their lineup, but unfortunately, it’s going to add a couple holes in their defense, but again, his bat should make up for it and fit in well with Magglio Ordonez and Jhonny Perralta (and yes, the “h” goes before the “o” in “Jhonny”).
The Tigers’ pitching has the potential to be great, but young phenom Rick Porcello did show signs of slowing last year, so we’ll see if he can bounce back strong. Justin Verlander is still the stud of the staff, and Max Scherzer rounds off a solid top three, but they don’t have much to offer after that. Their bullpen is a little rag-tag, but it should be serviceable if Joel Zumaya can return to his pre-Guitar Hero ways and Jose Valverde doesn’t fall off the face of the earth like he did last year. This team can make a run, but I don’t see them making the playoffs this year.
No Zach Greinke this year means no reason to care about the Royals. I do have to say, I am mildly invested in the Royals, though, because I really want my boy, Vinny Mazzaro to do well. His stuff is filthy, and if he can throw strikes, he will be a great guy to build your staff around. However, with that being said, the Royals have little to offer this year. They are filled with what is widely regarded as the best farm system in the American League, but that doesn’t help you get wins in the Bigs. Billy Butler is all they have to offer offensively, so sorry KC, but football is just around the corner…oh wait…
The Twins are always in the hunt, manager Ron Gardenhire always puts a competitive team out there, regardless of who’s available. They should be getting closer Joe Nathan and 1B Justin Morneau back from injury, and they also re-signed big boy Jim Thome. This looks like another typical Twins team, not too flashy, grind it out, win ugly, consistent team, and they should be able to compete for the title.
Minny’s starting rotation is the same as last year, and that young rotation was good enough to get them to the playoffs last year, so they should be poised for another good season. The bullpen lost a few key relievers in Matt Gurrier, Jon Rauch, and Jesse Crain, but they’re not irreplaceable. I don’t know if they’ll have the firepower to compete with the wildly upgraded White Sox, but it should be a fun race to watch.
TEAM                     W-L
Chicago White Sox  90-72
Minnesota Twins      88-74
Detroit Tigers           81-81
Cleveland Indians     70-92
Kansas City Royals  4-158


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