What do an "entertaining" manager, an unreal farm system, a superstar catcher, an alcoholic future hall-of-famer, and a big dude named PRONK! have in common? THE AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL! WOOT! Last year it went down like this....
White Sox: 88-74
The Minnesota Twins get it done. It's amazing. They may not impress on paper all the time but they make it happen. I think a huge part of that is Ron Gardenhire, the Twins' manager. I love his approach to the game and unity he inspires in his players. Now it hasn't all been mystical managerial success. This team has talent. Joe Mauer is such a great hitter. He seems to have had a flukey (professional term) power season in 2009 but even without his home run stroke returning he will continue to hit for average and drive in runs, not to mention being great behind the plate. I think he may start to have some injury problems but if not look for another .320 BA and 100 RBI season. This is a line up of scrappy players who love to compete. Jason Kubel, Michael Cuddyer, and Delmon Young are all, I feel, underrated players. I think Delmon Young will add to the progress he has already made as a hitter and put some great number this year. Kubel and Cuddyer are both clutch hitters and Cuddyer especially is very versatile on defense. As I Yankee fan its hard for me to talk about Carl Pavano in a positive way but he did have a good year last year. I'm bitter about it but he seems to have to starter a new chapter of his career and if it continues he will be key for this team. There are three players with recent injury problems that will make or break this team. Joe Nathan, Francisco Liriano, and Justin Morneau. If these three guys are healthy, this division will be epic, if they aren't, its a two team race.
I don't like Ozzie Guillen. I don't like the Chicago White Sox. I think they will be very good this year. :) Okay, moving on......The pen, the rotation, and the line-up are all nasty! Mark Buehrle is the best non-ace ace in baseball. He doesn't have front end stuff, but he carries himself like a front end pitcher and KNOWS how to pitch. I like both Gavin Floyd and John Danks and I think they will both continue to improve and be fantastic pitchers. Jake Peavy could be a key for them. If he is healthy he could add 15-18 wins to the club but even if he's not healthy I think the rotation is good enough to survive. Edwin Jackson came over from Arizona and will work out his issues and be a great back end guy. Chris Sale may end up making a few starts and is a nasty hard throwing south paw. Sale may also contribute to a fire filled bull pen. With Jenks gone to Boston Matt Thorton will assume the closing role and he should dominate. Along with (possibly) Sale, Scott Linebrink, a flame throwing righty, will set up for Thorton. With the addition of Adam Dunn to an already strong line up this team should compete heavily for the division.
Motor City Kitties! Tiger fans probably aren't thrilled with that nick name but it's cute! The Tigers will attempt to be anything but cute this season. Miguel Cabrera probably should have tried being cute with the cops butttt he didn't. Whether or not pro athletes should be accorded leniency for poor decision is not what I want to discuss. This incident will not effect Mcab on the field. He will hit .320 and hit 40 HRs while driving in 120 runs. Ahead of Mcab, Austin Jackson. I was looking forward to him being a star Yankee but I will root for him in Detroit also. I think he will prove to be a great acquisition for the puttey tats. Behind Mr. Cabrera, Victor Martinez. Martinez won't throw anyone out from behind the plate but the man can hit. Going from Fenway to Tiger Stadium won't help his home run total but his average may climb and he may add a few more doubles. Either way he'll drive in the runs that Mcab doesn't. Valverde will get his saves and the new set-up man Joaquin Benoit along with Joel Zumaya (no more guitar hero or saving your parents from fires man!!!) will make for a solid pen. What I really want to talk about with the Tigers is their rotation. I've written about the youthful brilliance of the Oakland and San Fransisco rotations and some teams with one or two great young arms. The team with the best combined stuff among their top 3 starters is the Detroit Tigers. Justin Verlander, Rick Porcello, and Max Scherzer. These three young horses are all at different levels of consistency. Justin Verlander has a fastball that sits at 98 or 99 and he can hit 100 through the entire game! He hit 101 with his 100th pitch in one start last year and his curve ball is just filthy. He had some problems in the last couple seasons, especially in 2009, but he made some mechanical tweaks and seems to have solved the issue and became one of the nastiest pitchers in baseball. Porcello had a great season in 2010 and although he is younger than Scherzer, seems to have surpassed him in his ability to maintain a quality start. Scherzer will get it together. Last year he went 12-11 with a 3.50 ERA. Not a bad year by any standards. However his stuff projects a much better upside. If he can gain some better control and maintain his stuff longer into a start I think he can put up some great numbers. As a sinker ball pitcher he needs to keep the ball down and get ground outs and not worry about trying to strike batters out. This team will be right in the thick of the division race.
I am going to preview the Royals and the Indians together because well, there ain't much to say.....To any Royals fans I say hold one a couple more years guys its about to get sooooo good! The Kansas City farm system is unreal. Just to mention a few, if you want to look them up for yourself, check out Mike Moustakis, Eric Hosmer, Wil Meyers, and Mike Montgomery. For the Indians I don't see a bright future. Carlos Santana, a big catching prospect, comes up and very quickly has a season ending knee injury? Not good. Grady Sizemore is not going to be ready for opening day and if history is any example, he won't stay healthy long even when he gets there. The bright spot? Shin-Soo Choo! If you don't know who he is, look him up and then draft him in the third round of your fantasy draft. I think the Indians will need to make a move dealing Choo and Santana for a new core of 4 or 5 young players.
I am really hoping the Twins compete because along with the improved Tigers and White Sox this division could challenge the A.L. East for the best division in baseball. With a healthy Twins team it will definitely be the most fun division. Don't be surprised to see this division end in a one game play-off....again! Here's how it will wrap up....
White Sox: 94-69 (defeats Detroit in a one game play-off)
Tigers: 93-70 (American League Wild Card Winner)