Today we're continuing our 2008 predictions with the AL Central. Now, in order of how they're finish, we begin with the Indians.
Yeah, I know Detroit traded for the entire Florida Marlin team and spent a jillion dollars signing Miquel Cabrera. But I still think Cleveland is the better-made team. Starting from behind the plate, Victor Martinez is a solid catcher and can hit for .300 and 25-30 HRs. Their starting five goes from dominant (Sabathia, Carmona) to solid (Westbrook, Byrd, Lee). The bullpen, too, is solid, with a combined 3.75 ERA last season, 4th best in the league. At times, though, it was scary, with Joe Borowski—he of the 5.07 ERA—though he did lead the AL with 45 saves last season. But, no 8th inning guy was as rock-solid as Rafael Betancourt and his 1.47 ERA in 79 innings pitched.
Travis Hafner should bounce back to his usual .305 BA and 35 HRs. Ryan Garko hit 7 HRs last September. And new sparkplug Asdrubal Cabrera, all of 21, is already a starter, and should be given the green light more on the bases.
The Indians were 1 game from the World Series. With C.C. Sabathia potentially leaving to get paid after this season, the time is now for the Tribe.
Sound Smart To Your Friends: Travis Hafner's nickname, "Pronk" comes from a former teammate calling him "part project, part donkey."
Thomas Magnum P.I. would be proud of this club. It's built to win, and it's built to win now. Then why am I saying they don't?
It's a number of things. Age being one of them. Gary Sheffield, who turns 40 this season, is coming off post-season arthroscopic surgery on his shoulder. Pudge turns 37 this season, which in catcher years, is something like 418. Another reason is I think their pitching is overrated. Their starters had a 4.68 ERA last season, which won't win games come playoff time. And they are counting on Kenny Rogers who turns 44 and had a terrible second half last season, and Dontrelle Willis and Jeremy Bonderman, both of whom had plus 5.00 ERAs last season. Also, Willis gave up 87 walks last season, 3rd highest in the NL—and now he's in the AL. Compare these guys to the Indians staff, and there's no comparison.
And then there's the bullpen. Both Joel Zumaya and Fernando Rodney are down, bringing middle-relief into serious question. Can the starters, who as a whole pitched terribly in the second half, pitch well enough to get to Todd Jones. And how long can the Tigers expect Todd Jones, who turns 40 this April, to close games?
Still, they are gonna rock the ball. Cabrera, Granderson, Ordonez and crew are gonna give pitchers fits. Last year, they were 2nd in BA, total bases, slugging and RBI. Add Cabrera and Edgar Rentaria to that, and you have the makings of a fun time in Detroit.
Sound Smart To Your Friends: Jeremy Bonderman had an 11.37 ERA in the first innings of games he pitched.
Kansas City Royals
Amazing. After 100 loss seasons from 2004 to 2006, and last year's 93-loss season, we're picking the Royals to be third in the AL Central. How?
Well, mostly it's because are young, talented and improving. Alex Gordon, who got off to a miserable start last year made huge improvements, both at third and at the plate. Gordon ending up hitting .275 after his awful spring. According to scouts, DH/1B Billy Butler is the second coming of Greg Luzinski in that he's a natural-born hitter with ball-powdering power. Brain Bannister won 12 games as a rookie. Zack Greinke had a 1.85 ERA in his final 7 starts. And reliever, Joakim Soria, who seemingly came from nowhere, saved 17 of the 21 games he was in and held opponents to a .187 BA. These youngsters, mixed in with the veterans Gil Meche and Jose Guillen add up to a team on the rise.
Now, the downside. The Royals last year had a pauper's year at the plate. How bad? Well, they had the fewest homers (102), the fewest total bases (2,145) and the worst slugging percentage (.388) in the AL. Need more? The club ranked next to last in total runs (706), walks and on-base percentage. To remedy this, the Royals brought in the aforementioned Guillen, who's 23 HRs last year match the TOTAL of the Royals outfield HR production from last year. Also, the rotation, if you subtract Meche and Bannister, had a 5.50 ERA.
However, this is still a team on the rise. Luke Hochevar, the no. 1 pick from 2006 is down in AAA and is developing. And Gordon, Bannister, Butler and the youngsters should only get better. They won't compete for a playoff spot this year, but next year....
Sound Smart To Your Friends: Shortstop Tony Pena's father once coached the Royals from 2002 to 2005.
You have to feel a little bad for the Twins. Like the Athletics, they could practically field an All-Star team with the guys they trade away or let go in free agency, because the cost of keeping them would be prohibitive. Just this year, they had to get rid of the best pitcher in baseball (Johan Santana), an All-Star centerfielder (Torri Hunter), a 25-year old pitcher with a 3.69 ERA, (Matt Garza), and an innings-eating horse of a pitcher with a 4.1 ERA (Carlos Silva).
Still, the Twins aren't devoid of talent. They still have Justin Morneau, Joe Mauer, and AL Rookie of the Year runner up, 22-year old Delmon Young. Young batted .288 and had 93 RBIs last year, only 14 fewer than the departed Torii Hunter. New center fielder, Carols Gomez, taken from the Mets in the Santana trade, had 17 steals in 36 games at AAA. Michael Cuddyer is solid in right field and at the plate, and Joe Nathan is a stud in the bullpen.
The problem might be in losing all that pitching. Francisco Liriano, who is mega-talented, is coming off Tommy John surgery, is starting the season at AAA, and will need time to get back to speed. Boof Bonser had a 5.10 ERA last season. Scott Baker and Nick Blackburn are unproven. In fact take out free agent signee, Livan Hernandez and none of these guys has started 50 big league games.
The Twins have a bunch of youngsters both in Minnesota and on the farm. But it's going to take a little time before this team gels together. In the improved AL Central, that's not good enough to compete.
Sound Smart To Your Friends: Michael Cuddyer had 19 assists from right field, the most in baseball.
Chicago White Sox
I'm not really sure what the White Sox are doing. Only two years removed from a World Series and they seem hell-bent on dismantling any chance at continued success. They traded their top three prospects for Nick Swisher, who hit .262 and 22 HRs last season. Also, after a season in which starting pitching was, at best, unreliable, they trade Jon Garland, a 200-innings plus anchor. True, they did get Orlando Cabrera back. But why trade for a shortstop when you also signed Cuban defector, 27-year old shortstop, Alexei Rameriz?
They still haven't solved the 3rd base problem. Do you try and trade Joe Crede, who's coming off back surgery? If you don't, you relegate Josh Fields to the outfield, where he's an error waiting to happen. Also, your middle lineup all had down years and got older and you didn't do anything about it. Are Jim Thome (37), Paul Konerko (32) and Jermaine Dye (34), who all battled below their career averages really bounce back?
The staff ERA was third worst last season and has 2 unproven and as-yet-to-show why they were 1st round draft picks in their rotation. Also, Jose Contreras, at 37 (which we all know is like 45 in Cuban Defector years) had his worst year in the bigs and only got worse as the year went on.
All in all, it's going to be a rough year for the South Siders. The Cubs look to make a serious run at the playoffs. The Sox will be home by then.
Sound Smart To Your Friends: Last year, Jim Thome had a .750 slugging percentage with two outs and runners in scoring position.
Tomorrow we head west for the 2008 AL West predictions.