The AL Central was the hardest division to predict. I can see all five teams winning, and I could see all five teams finishing fifth. None of the clubs are very good. My strategy was to pick the teams that scared me least.
1. Chicago White Sox – The White Sox give me the least trepidation. Buerhle, Floyd, Danks and Contreras should be stable in the rotation. Jenks’ strikeout rate plummeted last season as closer, but they have strikeout stuff guys like Thornton who can step up. The lineup will score runs. Quentin, Dye, Konerko and Thome are proven assets, all with potential to hit 30 or more home runs. If their peripheral hitters can get on base, they could be very productive.
2. Minnesota Twins – The Twins have a young, risky rotation. No starter has thrown 200 innings. We don’t know how good Liriano is post-injury. Joe Nathan anchors the pen, which should be adequate, if they can bridge to him. As usual the Twins’ lineup is a concern. They have one player, Justin Morneau, who you would bet on to hit 20 home runs. They need Mauer and Crede to be healthy, and Delmon Young to fulfill his potential. Even then, they would not be overwhelming in the AL.
3. Kansas City Royals – The Royals have pieces, but not a coherent whole. Meche and Greinke are good. The rest of their rotation is a mess. They have a good bullpen with Soria at closer and viable setup arms around him. Their lineup is good. They have a nice mix of young and veteran hitters, particularly if Alex Gordon takes the step his scouted talent dictates. They are being hailed as the next Rays, but Tampa Bay’s success was built on starting pitching. The Royals are clearing space for Sidney Ponson.
4. Cleveland Indians – The Indians could have a playoff caliber lineup, if Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner return to form and Shin-Soo Choo is as sexy as Matthew Berry thinks he is. They do not, however, have a playoff caliber pitching staff. Fausto Carmona was a mess last season with more walks than strikeouts, and Cliff Lee should fall back to earth. Carl Pavano is the number three. Scott Lewis has only four career stats and Anthony Reyes has a terrible track record. If the $20 million man, Kerry Wood, can hold up the bullpen should be good.
5. Detroit Tigers – The Tigers dazzle with names and visions of success in 2006, but they have problems. Their rotation has young talent, but will miss the consistency of experience. Verlander should be far more effective with the stuff he has. He must learn to pitch. Their bullpen is an ominous darkness that will make Tigers’ fans long for the “stability” of Todd Jones. Their lineup is good 1-4 with Granderson, Polanco, Ordonez and Cabrera. However, Carlos Guillen is in decline and the Everett, Inge, Laird contingent, though providing good defense, cannot hit. The Tigers may be the club hardest hit by the economy. If a hot start does not mitigate the season ticket bleeding, they may start cutting costs.