Sweet Nasty MLB Preview: A.L. Central
1) Chicago White Sox – By far, the hardest division to predict and the most competitive. Not necessarily the best, but definitely the most competitive. A case could be made for every team to come out on top, although every team feels like they’re missing something. The White Sox look to be missing the least, so they eak out the crown.
THE SWEET: Management. Williams is a fiery guy, who is not afraid of the “big move”. His manager, Ozzie Guillen, is also a smidge fiery. (Which is like saying Paris Hilton likes a little attention now and then.) Together, the two have merged youth and experience in an exciting way for the Southsiders. Alexei Ramirez almost surged to the Rookie of the Year with a strong 2nd half and this year, he goes back to his natural position of SS. Carlos Quentin has recovered from his broken wrist and hopefully, won’t jeopardize any more post-season runs and MVP awards by slapping his bat after a strike out. The rotation is solid and so is the bullpen. And if holes need filling, Williams can pull the trigger to plug it. (Which is like saying Paris Hilton…oh never mind… I’m too tired of her to even make another joke…)
THE NASTY: Experience That May Be Too Experienced. The ChiSox have them some old guys at key positions. And old guys break down. Luckily, Jim Thome is a DH, so he can rub Ben-Gay on his back while his team plays defense. Paul Konerko, Jermaine Dye, and AJ Pierzinski aren’t so lucky. Same goes for 2/5ths of the rotation. Jose Contreras (who really could be pushing 50, we just don’t know) and Big Fat Bartolo Colon (he legally changed his name) are not exactly card-carrying members of the Lou Gerhig Iron Man Club. In fact, after pulling a muscle in his back (most likely…let me look this up on WebMD…a “fatty muscle”), BFB Colon just left the Red Sox at the end of last season because he had to go do something in the Dominican. No one knows what, but he had to go do it. In the midst of a pennant race. So, you know he’s committed. The depth of this organization will be tested at some point this season.
PREDICTION: Guillen finds a way to motivate guys. Williams finds a way to get a piece that also motivates guys. I just feel like Williams has another bullet in the chamber, waiting to signal to the players that the front office is behind them. Plenty of motivation here to scratch out a division title.
2) Cleveland Indians – At the end of the 2007 season, the Tribe was one win from the World Series. Then the next season, you trade one little (heh) ace, half the team doesn’t perform up to expectations while the other half is ravaged by injury, and your bullpen implodes and look what happens. You waste an out-of-nowhere Cy Young performance, but give some kids valuable experience. The Indians can contend for the Wild Card, but more likely will be a force in 2010.
THE SWEET: Hunger. Having 3 chances to go to a World Series and rolling snake eyes on all 3 has to dog you for a while. It looks like it dogged this team for a year. Guys like Asdrubal Cabrera and Fausto Carmona took major steps backward, while Travis Hafner forgot how to play baseball all together. And he only “plays” DH! Last year may end up being the best thing for this team in the long run. Grady Sizemore became a 30/30 threat. Cliff Lee became an ace. And CC Sabathia became 3 prospects and a balloon in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade! (Get it? He’s HUGE! Pipe down, Yankees fans. You know he’s…um…portly.)
THE NASTY: Guys listed in the Newspaper as “Scheduled Starting Pitchers”. Let’s take “promise” out of this and go on the Bill Parcells theory that, “You are what your record says you are,” and look at last year’s stats. It’s Cliff Lee (22-3, 2.54 ERA – Cy Young), Fausto Carmona (8-7, 5.54 in 22 starts), Carl Pavano (4-2, 5.77 in 7 starts), Scott Lewis (4-0, 2.63 in 4 starts), and Anthony Reyes (4-2 in 6 starts, giving up 47 hits in 49 innings with the Cardinals and Indians last year). So, how much confidence can the team really have 4 out of every 5 games? Every guy’s prediction for the season starts with, “You have to hope that…” Not a good sign.
PREDICTION: The 2010 Indians are going to be a scary team. The 2009 Indians are going to be a tough team to face and will be in Wild Card contention if everything breaks right.
3) Kansas City Royals – Looking over the whole league, the Royals could be this year’s Tampa Bay Rays. Not really. More likely, there isn’t one of those teams out there this year, especially since it was the first time EVER that a team went from last place overall to the World Series. But a lot of media outlets have to give you a team that can come out of nowhere and contend. My answer is none, but the Royals are the closest.
THE SWEET: No One Sees Them Coming. It’s much harder to play with a huge target on your back, along with expectations of a rabid fan base and the scrutiny of a massive media contingent. Not a problem here! I’ll bet the average KC fan couldn’t name 3 players on this team. But fantasy players can, as the 2nd half of drafts everywhere have a tinge of Royal Blue for the first time in years. Several pieces are in place (Zach Grienke, Joakim Soria, Mike Aviles) and with the additions of a couple of young veterans (Coco Crisp, Mike Jacobs) this won’t be another forgettable summer of baseball in KC.
THE NASTY: Leadership. Whose team is this? Manager Trey Hillman, in his 2nd year of managing? Alex Gordon, who is supposed to be the next George Brett? Jose Guillen? (If that’s true, then the Royals should fold as an organization before they bring about the end of civilization by some kind of psycho zombie riot.) Young teams like this need someone, player or manager, to look to for leadership. And without it, they become a floundering team that never fulfills promise and trades off its good pieces to the highest bidder. Or the Pittsburgh Pirates West.
PREDICTION: I look forward to the next step for this team. They don’t hit like the Rangers and they don’t pitch like Angels or Giants, but they have a solid core and could make big strides. It would be nice to see a once proud baseball tradition get dusted off this summer.
4) Detroit Tigers – I, like so many out there, got seduced by the siren song of the Tigers last year. Two years removed from a World Series, acquiring one of the best young hitters in all of baseball, and climbing into the stratosphere of team salaries, the Tigers looked like a lock for the postseason. Then the games started. Dontrelle Willis started his meteoric, Rick James-ian decline, which is now capped off by an “anxiety disorder due to something in his blood.” (It could be guilt for making over $10 million while posting an ERA over 6.) The Tigers will try and put it back together this season, but contention will be as tough as figuring out the appeal of Tyler Perry.
THE SWEET: Hitting. If the Tigers played in Coors Field, Citizens Bank Park, or even Fenway, they would threaten records. Plenty of hitting here. But they play in the American League’s Petco Park. That said, they still will field a line up that could get at least 12-15 HR from 8 of the 9 starters and a .300 average from 2/3rds. Not much speed, but plenty of hits.
THE NASTY: The Guys Who Throw the Ball from the Dirt Circle in the Center. (It’s getting much harder now.) Edwin Jackson was a nice surprise for the Rays last year. The Tigers were so surprised and elated, that they traded for him and made him their number 2 starter! Whoa, slow down there, hoss. Justin Verlander has to get himself together in the 1st spot, while Armando Gallaraga and Zach Miner look to build on their combined 21-13 record from last year. (Eeee…) And last-top-prospect-left-in-the-Tigers-minor-league-system-after-the-Cabrera-Willis-trade Rick Porcello gets rushed to the Show because Jeremy Bonderman is injured to start the year. And those are the starters. Throw in a closer combo of Fernando “Gimmie Vaughn!” Rodney and future slo-pitch softball All-Star Brandon Lyon and this staff is a mess. But I’m sure Willis’s blood will come around by June.
PREDICTION: Cabrera will regret signing a long term deal here, while Willis will write a Thank You card a day to owner Mike Illich. You asked for a prediction. Gary Sheffield might send a Thank You card for giving him $14 million to NOT live in Detroit anymore. But it will probably have an expletive in it.
5) Minnesota Twins – Someone has to come in last in this division, and the smoke and mirrors trick the Twins have been pulling off for the past few years is now over. I just have a feeling that injuries and depth of real talent will catch up to the Twins this year.
THE SWEET: The Core. (Yup. I got tired of saying “Pieces.”) Justin Morneau is an MVP. Joe Mauer is a batting champion. Joe Nathan is one of the best lock down closers in the game. Michael Cuddyer is the right-fielder on the All-Underrated team. And Francisco Liriano is finally back from Tommy John surgery and is ready to be the ace of the staff. So there is plenty of talent. It’s the spaces in between the talent that’s the problem.
THE NASTY: The Spaces In Between The Talent. (See? I told you that was the problem.) The Twins have cycled lots of players into the 3B spot in the last few years. And they still may have to after signing Joe Crede to man 3rd. (I think after writing that sentence, somewhere Joe Crede’s back just twinged…) If Cuddyer has to go back to 3rd, the Twins may have the lightest hitting outfield in the league. Denard Span, Delmon Young, and Carlos Gomez might not hit 30 HR combined. The starting rotation on mlb.com lists 4 guys, with Scott Baker being placed on the DL. Not a good way to start off the season, with no legitimate replacement starter, unless R A Dickey is suitable. And that’s assuming Liriano has no lingering effects. And if Mauer’s injury is serious, forget it.
PREDICTION: Kelly Thieser, a writer on mlb.com, says the Twins will be playing the role of favorite in the AL Central. ESPN the Magazine says the Twins win the division. I can’t wait to find out who is right, and who is off to rehab.