The American League Central is one of the toughest divisions in all of baseball to figure out. You can seemingly always count on Minnesota to be in the mix. The Tigers underachieved big time in 2008 and the White Sox overachieved. The Indians have some holes and the Royals, like every other year, will be eliminated on Opening Day. It’s time to make our picks for this year’s divisional race.
ORDER OF FINISH
– Minnesota is not as good as they’ve been in previous years, but they are still the cream of this crop. They have nice, young talent in both the lineup and the rotation. Joe Mauer’s back problems could haunt the team, but assuming he is in his customary three-spot in the batting order for the bulk of the season you can expect the Twins to carry the division. Justin Moreneau is still underrated despite his MVP-caliber numbers. They will get a big boost with a healthy return of ace Francisco Liriano to go along with right-handers Scott Baker and Kevin Slowley at the top of the rotation. Joe Nathan is a top-notch closer and easily the division’s best at nailing down a win.
– The line-up has some serious thump. Grady Sizemore is the best all-around player in the division. Expect Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner to bounce back in 2009. Shortstop Jhonny Peralta is poised for a breakout year. The problem that will haunt the Tribe is their pitching. Closer Kerry Wood was signed to help shore up the bullpen, and he is an improvement. While I expect a nice bounce back from Fausto Carmona, Cliff Lee will be hard pressed to match ‘08’s numbers. The 3-4-5 spots in the rotation though are horrendous and will ultimately doom the Indians.
– Here is where things really start to drop off. The White Sox have some bright spots, but they aren’t as good as last year’ playoff run suggested. Simply put, the Sox are going to have a tough time scoring runs. Carlos Quentin and Jim Thome are legitimate run-producing threats, but the lineup surrounding them is as weak as it has been in years on the South Side. Mark Buerhle, Gavin Floyd, and John Danks are legitimate big league starting pitchers, but none of them are better than a No. 3 at best. Bobby Jenks is one of the few bright spots in a makeshift bullpen.
– After four straight last-place finishes, the Royals got out of the basement in the standings during 2008. They have a young team and this off-season they finally kept one of their young stars when they inked ace Zach Greinke to a long-term deal. He joins Gil Meche to give the Royals a nice 1-2 punch in the rotation. Closer Joakim Soria is a player on the rise. The line-up still has questions and I’m not sure that Coco Crisp and Mike Jacobs helped the team answer them. They could move up the list if everything goes right or they could wind right back up in the cellar.
– The auto makers aren’t the only ones that need a bailout in the Motor City. The Tigers sold their soles to the devils and had the whole thing blow up in their faces. Miguel Cabrera is still one of the best players in the game and the lineup still has plenty of potential. However, when you got nearly $40 million tied up into Dontrelle Willis and Nate Robertson, you staff is in trouble. If Justin Verlander can return to his ace status they might not finish last, but they are going to sniff .500 this year.
– Justin Moreneau (MIN)
Cy Young Candidate
– Cliff Lee (CLE)
– Kerry Wood (CLE)
– Jhonny Peralta (CLE)
– Francisco Liriano (MIN)
Rookie of Year
– Matt LaPorta (CLE) - though he may start season in minors