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Friday, March 20, 2009

'09 AL Central Preview

The AL Central, in my mind, is going to be one of the tougher divisions to pick this season. They're really isn't a clear-cut favorite, but here's my take:

1st Place, Minnesota Twins
Lineup-
CF Denard Span
2B Alexi Casilla
C Joe Mauer
1B Justin Morneau
RF Michael Cuddyer
DH Jason Kubel
3B Joe Crede
LF Delmon Young/Carlos Gomez
SS Nick Punto

Pitching-
RHP Scott Baker
LHP Francisco Liriano
RHP Kevin Slowey
LHP Glen Perkins
RHP Nick Blackburn
SU: Jesse Crain
CL: Joe Nathan

I think the Twins will stay the most consistent in this division because of their starting pitching. Scott Baker is vastly underrated and Francisco Liriano looks like he's fully healthy and ready to rock after finishing strong in '08. If he stays healthy all year, he should be amongst the AL Cy Young candidates. Their lineup is also young and has the potential to be very good. I think Joe Mauer (if he gets healthy sooner than later) and Justin Morneau are ready to take another step and become even better ballplayers than they've been. Both of those guys should be in the AL MVP discussion come September as well. The only question I have with the Twins (outside of how Mauer's back will hold up) is with their bullpen. It's still led by Joe Nathan and Jesse Crain, but it's not as strong as it's been in years past (the loss of Pat Neshek is big) as they have some unproven guys down there playing some big roles. Still though, their pitching should hold up and their offense should be good enough to score consistently, so I see the Twins coming out of a mediocre AL Central. Even if they aren't scoring 7-8 runs a game, they can beat you with speed, defense and pitching and that's what they'll do.

2nd Place, Detroit Tigers
Lineup-
CF Curtis Granderson
2B Placido Polanco
RF Magglio Ordonez
1B Miguel Cabrera
LF Carlos Guillen
DH Gary Sheffield
C Gerald Laird
3B Brandon Inge
SS Adam Everett

Pitching-
RHP Justin Verlander
RHP Jeremy Bonderman
RHP Armando Galarraga
RHP Edwin Jackson
LHP Nate Robertson/Rick Porcello
SU: Fernando Rodney
CL: Brandon Lyon

I like the Tigers finishing towards the top of this division if they can keep their pitching staff somewhat healthy. Both the bullpen and starting rotation have been nailed by injury over the last few seasons in Detroit, and it's caused the team to underachieve. They certainly do have talent in their starting rotation, but Bonderman is a huge question mark after starting only 4 games in '08, and their fifth spot is still undetermined at this point. Their bullpen also has question marks as they've got some injury issues there as well and a new, sometimes-shaky closer in Brandon Lyon. I do like their lineup again, as they should have no problem scoring runs, especially with those top 5 hitters. The Tigers will probably have a handful of players in the all-star game come July, but unfortunately for them, that doesn't mean they will be playing October baseball.

3rd Place, Cleveland Indians
Lineup-
CF Grady Sizemore
3B Mark DeRosa
C Victor Martinez
DH Travis Hafner
SS Jonny Peralta
LF Shin-Soo Choo
1B Ryan Garko
LF Ben Francisco
2B Asdrubal Cabrera

Pitching-
LHP Cliff Lee
RHP Fausto Carmona
RHP Carl Pavano
RHP Anthony Reyes
LHP Aaron Laffey
SU: Rafael Betancourt
CL: Kerry Wood

It's tough not to appreciate the way Cleveland's gone about business, producing a solid, homegrown team that is getting better and better. I really liked the add of Mark DeRosa, and Grady Sizemore is a stud and a perennial MVP candidate, but Vic Martinez and Travis Hafner need to rebound in a big way for the Tribes' offense to be at full-strength. They have some major questions in their rotation after Lee and Carmona, and things could get really messy there once the season starts. They are counting on two guys (Carl Pavano and Anthony Reyes) who combined for only 72 big league innings last season. Their bullpen should be nails, as Betancourt should rebound from a tough '08 season and Kerry Wood should provide plenty of stability to the back end. If only they had another arm or two that they could count on a little more than they are with their 3-5 starters, they would probably division favorites, but as they stand now, I don't think they could hit with Detroit or be able to pitch with the Twinkies.

4th Place, Kansas City Royals
Lineup-
CF Coco Crisp
SS Mike Aviles
LF David DeJesus
RF Jose Guillen
1B Mike Jacobs
3B Alex Gordon
DH Billy Butler
C Miguel Olivo
2B Alberto Callaspo

Pitching-
RHP Gil Meche
RHP Zack Greinke
RHP Kyle Davies
RHP Brian Bannister
LHP Horacio Ramirez
SU: Juan Cruz
CL: Joakim Soria

The Royals have the potential to field their best team this decade if they all stay healthy and break camp together. They have a nice mix of youth and veterans in their everyday lineup and a lot of those players aren't as good as they're going to be yet. I also really like their bullpen and think it can be the best in the AL Central. Soria and Cruz are supported by Kyle Farnsworth and Ron Mahay and shouldn't have a problem shutting the doors on teams when they have the lead. Their starting rotation is still a work in progress. Meche and Greinke are legit leaders, but then things get a little less stable. This division isn't a great one though, and a lucky break here or there could catapolt the Royals into relevance. I look at them a lot like I looked at Tampa Bay last season. The Royals aren't as good as last season's Rays, but they have similar squads and the Royals have a much easier division to play in.

5th Place, Chicago White Sox
Lineup-
CF Jerry Owens
SS Alexei Ramirez
LF Carlos Quentin
DH Jim Thome
RF Jermaine Dye
1B Paul Konerko
C A.J. Pierzynski
3B Josh Fields
2B Brent Lillibridge

Pitching-
LHP Mark Buehrle
RHP Gavin Floyd
RHP Jon Danks
RHP Bartolo Colon
RHP Jeff Marquez
SU: Octavio Dotel
CL: Bobby Jenks

A lot of people are predicting the demise of the ChiSox this season, but not many have them finishing last in the division. Their top three starters alone could have them avoid finishing fifth, but I just don't see '09 being a good year for Ozzie Guillen and Co. Their lineup is getting very old and so is their bullpen. Carlos Quentin and Alexei Ramirez are both rising stars, but I don't know how much Dye, Thome and Konernko have left in the tank. They still hit home runs, but they don't get one base and are nowhere near the threats they were just a couple of seasons ago when they won the World Series. I've been wrong with predictions before, and I'm going to be wrong again, but something is telling me that this team is really going to be a mess.
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5 Comments:

  • At 6:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The Sox finishing last? Not on Kenny Williams' watch. I see them finishing 2nd behind Cleveland, then the Twins, then Detroit and Royals. But true, this division is the toughest to pick.

     
  • At 12:10 AM, Anonymous Giants' Fan Dan said…

    The old Giant Joe Nathan. I cringe every time I here the name because I can't help but think of that horribly AJ "Peiceofsh#%sky" trade. I have dreams at night of what the rotation would have been like with liriano, lincecum and cain. Then Nathan and Wilson in the bullpen. That would be soo sweeeeetttt!

     
  • At 6:01 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    If I were a Giants fan, I would be concerned about Tim Lincecum's delivery. I know he learned it from his pops and it's supposed to work great for him, but it just seems like so much movement and so violent that it's bound to catch up with him. I really hope I'm wrong, but he's gotten a lot of work early on, and he could burn out at a young age. I couldn't imagine the Giants without him.

     
  • At 3:55 AM, Anonymous Walter Guest said…

    That was the same thing that occurred to me the first time I saw Lincecum.

     
  • At 5:24 PM, Blogger Trevor Cole said…

    Yeah, but I think that's what works for Timmy. I guess it's anyones guess as to how it will hold up for him 5 years from now, but he seems like one of those freaks of nature. The kid still doesn't even ice his arm, so worrying about overworking him is probably premature at this stage. Again though, he has had a very high workload, between his collegiate career in Washington and his pro career.

     

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