Today we continue with the preview for the AL Central
1. Chicago White Sox
Sometimes it’s hard to figure out what the White Sox are doing, yet no matter how odd their moves may seem, somehow it usually seems to work out. Just look at the trade for Carlos Quentin, who came, seemingly from Pluto to make a run for the AL MVP award last year. And seemingly there is always a young pitcher who comes up and has a banner year and helps anchor their rotation. Last year, John Danks dropped his ERA over two full points to help drive the White Sox to win the AL Midwest. This year, the Sox are hoping lefty, Clayton Richard can make the jump and help solidify a rotation that needs it. Right now, the White Sox rotation is Danks, Mark Buehrle and Gavin Floyd and a lot of prayer. In the field, the White Sox are trying to interject youth alongside some of their aging veterans; promising youngsters Quentin, Josh Fields and Alexei Ramirez are interspersed with Jermaine Dye, Paul Konerko and Jim Thome. Overall, the White Sox hope the youngsters can handle the pressure while the vets can keep it going for another year. Come September, it may not always be pretty (with Ozzie Guillen, it rarely is), but it's enough as the White Sox win the Central for the 2nd year in a row.
2. Minnesota Twins
Year after year, somehow, the Twins keep plugging away. Small market, rebuilding, whatever, they keep going. 2009 shouldn't be different. Getting back a healthy Francisco Liriano (6-1 last season after rejoining the Twins in August) and joining him with Kevin Slowey, who had a great first full year (3 complete games) and Scott Baker (6th in AL with a 1.178 WHIP) should help. Also signing 2008 All-Star Joe Crede and putting him a lineup with Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, speedy Carlos Gomez and a healthy Michael Cuddyer should make the Twins contenders. However, there is too much of a power dearth—the Twins only had 111 HRs last year, 2nd to last in the majors—don’t the Twins to do much beyond making some noise at a playoff run. Expect 87 wins...and not much more.
3. Kansas City Royals
Is this the year? The year the Royals make it over .500—the first time since 2003? Slowly, the Royals have had some success with their young, talented roster—along with some growing pains—and appear to be turning the corner of a winning season. The youngsters, Alex Gordon and Billy Butler are solid, if not tremendous, while out-of-the-blue SS Mike Aviles hopes to repeat his excellent rookie season. Add Coco Crisp to solidify the CF spot, Mike Jacobs for much-needed power and the always-dangerous (to his own team, if not others) Jose Guillen, and you have a team that seems pointed up. Zack Greinke, Gil Meche and Brain Bannister form a decent front of the rotation, but Kyle Farnsworth, signed to be the fireman, provides as a living advertisement for Rolaids. Overall, the Royals should be better—85 wins—but not quite good enough.
4. Cleveland Indians
Last year, the Indians were poised to make a move in the Central. Didn't work out that way—injuries (Travis Hafner, Fausto Carmona, Victor Martinez) decimated any chance the Indians had for the playoffs. That said, the Indians still made it to .500. This year, Cleveland, who was relatively low-key during the off-season, is counting on bounce back years from a number of players. Carmona, coming off a lost year, joins Cy Young winner, Cliff Lee, Aaron Laffey and reclamation project, Carl Pavano to try and improve on last year's 4.45 team ERA. To help with that, Cleveland’s one big off-season acquisition, Kerry Wood, comes to aid the bullpen, which last year was woeful (Jensen Lewis led the Indians last year with 13 saves). The Indians are also ready to add highly regarded prospect Adam Miller to their bullpen. As for their offense, the Indians are hoping that Hafner and Martinez can play like they are capable of, and are hoping that Asdrubal Cabrera can play more like 2007 than 2008. Failing that, there's talented Matt Laporta and Michael Brantley waiting in the minors. Mix it all up, the Indians might not be as disappointing as last year, but they wont make it to the playoffs in 2009.
5. Detroit Tigers
What happened? The Tigers spent a boatload of money before the 2008 and were ready to buy a lot of champagne—they were so sure of dominating the AL. So what happened? Well to start with, their pitching feel apart—their 4.90 ERA was 4th worst in all of baseball. Dontrelle Willis couldn't throw strikes and was sent to the minors to rework his delivery and Nate Robertson's ERA hit the above-6.00 region as well. Kenny Rogers and Todd Jones got old. And Joel Zumaya pitched a total of 23 innings. To that end, the Tigers traded for Edwin Jackson to help shore up their rotation—and that's it. Is Jackson really the answer? Couldn't they have tried harder to get Brian Fuentes or K-Rod to help answer the bullpen issues? The Tigers did trade for Gerald Laird, a solid backstop, but not the game-caller the staff could have used. There is a lot of "hope" in the 2009 Tigers pitching plans. Hitting, however won't be a problem. The Tigers can smack the ball all over their spacious park—so much so, they signed good glove, no-hit Adam Everett to help solidify their middle-infield defense. In the end, the Tigers will provide a nice show, and a lot of runs, but can't pitch enough to escape the cellar of the AL Central.
Tomorrow, the AL West