American League Central:
There are three constants in the AL Central- Ozzie Guillen saying something stupid, the Twins eeking out a pennant, and the Royals being a double-A baseball team. Basically… 2011 won’t be any different.
1. Minnesota Twins (94-68)– Yes, Joe Mauer came down to earth from the godly state he was in during his 09’ campaign, but he is still the game’s best hitting catcher, and maybe even the league’s best contact hitter. If he is in the lineup for 135 games, the Twins figure to have a great shot. In addition, if Justin Morneau can get his noggin on straight and continue on the tear he was on in the first half of last year (.345-53-18-56) this may be the best 3-4 combos in the AL. Another nice thing about Minnesota is the way the draft, develop and bring in good supporting casts to their super stars. This year is no different with their import of Tsuyoshi Nishioka who figures to be an average hitter with a slick glove up the middle to help prevent runs. Speaking of preventing runs, aside from Francisco Liriano, this staff has no big names, yet somehow out-produces most other American League team’s rotations.
2. Chicago White Sox (92-70)– It is really fascinating to me how this team’s fifth starter is the most talked about player in camp. But, that just comes with the territory for former Cy Young winner Jake Peavy, who is attempting to come back from a crazy back injury that only he could conjure. With him, the Sox have five legitimate starters, giving them a good shot at the pennant. Adam Dunn will help Chicago’s lineup with some much needed left handed pop that hasn’t been provided since the Thome years. However, Gordon Beckham took a hhhuuuugggeee leap backwards last year, and showed little of what he did in his 2009 rookie stint. If Paulie Konerko can pick up where he left off last year, and Peavy pitches like we all know he can, the Sox will win the division. But there are too many ifs for this team, and too few answers the Ozzie can provide.
3. Detroit Tigers (83-79)– I could come up with a funny joke about Miguel Cabrera’s offseason, but at this point, it’s just old news. Unless he gets jail time or time on the suspension list, the Tiger will easily finish third in this division (doesn’t mean much though). Their pitching staff is very solid with three flamethrowers heading their rotation in Justin Verlander, Matt Scherzer, and Rick Porcello. They even went out and signed catcher Victor Martinez to help protect Miggy in the middle of that lineup. Their problem is every other position. No one else will scare an imposing pitcher by stepping into the batter’s box. Only way they pressure the top of this division is if Brennan Boesch plays like he did in the first half of last year.
4. Cleveland Indians (75-88)– Shin- Soo Choo getting out of Korea military service is the best news Cleveland sports fans have gotten in a VERY long time. Unfortunately, Travis Hafner is no longer THE Travis Hafner and Grady Sizemore is running on an 80 year-old’s knees. The only hope they have at passing the Tigers is in the form of catcher Carlos Santana (no not the guitarist). Santana was one of the most highly touted prospects before having to undergo knee surgery last year during his rookie season. This is simply not a good team, which just adds to the agony for the poor citizens of Cleveland, who now have to endure a long summer. Hey- at least you will get a lottery pick in the NBA draft….
5. Kansas City Royals (55-107)– I am going to be nice, not waste your time and just say one thing: This team probably couldn’t win the College World Series much less 60 games.
Power at the Cell Pushes Sox Past Twins
1. White Sox (91-71)- Adam Dun is a perfect fit for the White Sox for one reason: these guys live and die by the long ball. Don’t be surprised if he connects for 50 homers this season in the heart of a very strong White Sox lineup. Pierre proves he can still be atop the league in steals and Rios finally had the breakout year Blue Jays fans had been waiting for. Too bad it came during his first year in Chicago. Konerko probably won’t put up the numbers he did last year, but the veteran still has a ton of pop left. On the other hand, Quentin and Beckham remain huge question marks going into the season hoping for major bounce back years. The White Sox don’t have any aces in their rotation, but they still have one of the healthiest staffs in the league (except for that guy named Peavy). The White Sox should be in the hunt til’ the finish in the always exciting AL Central.
2. Twins (89-73)- The Twins had many up and down years last season. Most surprisingly was that of Delmon Young who drove in 112 runs. Imagine what he could have done if he had batted at the top of the lineup. Another bright spot was Francisco Liriano, who had his first successful season since his ridiculous rookie campaign. However, injuries sidelined Justin Morneau, former MVP, and Joe Nathan, arguably the best closer in the game. Joe Mauer may have finally felt the effects of being a catcher on his swing as he came down to Earth a bit after his 2009 MVP campaign. The bottom line is that they won the division last year without their first baseman and closer. They hold the division title right now and are in good position to keep it, but the real question is whether or not they can avoid an early exit this year in October.
3. Tigers (84-78)- There is no question that the leaders of this team are MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera and Cy Young candidate Justin Verlander. These two will win many games for the Tigers, but they won’t be enough to take the division. The addition of Victor Martinez will help them make a run for the crown while Ryan Raburn offers a great deal of hope after a fabulous second half in 2010. Jackson in center and Ordonez in right provide young and veteran talent to close off the outfield. Scherzer and Porcello are solid two three guys behind the ace at the top. The Tigers may need to make a deal or two during the season to be at the level of the two teams in front, but they shouldn’t have to worry about the Indians or that blue “minor league” team from Kansas City.
4. Indians (73-89)- At this point, Indians fans should realize that Grady Sizemore is a waste of talent. He had a few good years, but never really exploded into an MVP caliber player. Along with him comes Travis Hafner. His golden days are over so Indians fans will only be spoiled again by believing in something that will never happen. The decline of these two makes Choo and Santana the new faces of this below average ballclub. Each of them should put up All-Star seasons, but the players they have around them won’t let them accomplish anything more than that. Their rotation is just awful, but closer Chris Perez does provide hope after a strong 2009 season. That is of course if this weak team can give him the ball with the lead every once in a while.
5. Royals (63-99)- It is hard to believe that the attendance at Royals games could get any worse, but that may just happen with the loss of former Cy Young Winner Zack Greinke. The only real sign of hope is Billy Butler, but even he isn’t living up to potential. The Royals outfield of Francoeur, Cabrera, and Gordon can be summed up in one phrase: waste of talent (see above, Grady Sizemore). Arguably the best closer in the game, Joakim Soria, continues to dominate in the ninth. Again, only when his team gets him there (see above, Chris Perez). The only thing the Royals will be playing for is the crown from the Pirates for the worst team in the majors.