Monday, March 26, 2012

MLB Previews 2012: AL Central

Continuing with the theme we started in our last post, previewing the AL West, we'll continue working down through the East then start in the NL West and do the same with the National League. I don't anticipate anything too big with Bay Area Sports right now besides upcoming MLB's upcoming Opening Day but if the Raiders or Niners make a move between now and then, or some the Giants or A's swing a big trade or something, we'll have certainly have it here for you. Anyway, back to the predictions:

AL Central Preview

First Place, Detroit Tigers

CF Austin Jackson
RF Brandon Boesch
3B Miguel Cabrera
1B Prince Fielder
LF Delmon Young
C Alex Avilla
SS Johnny Peralta
DH Don Kelly
2B Ryan Rayburn

RHP Justin Verlander
RHP Max Scherzer
RHP Doug Fister
RHP Rick Porcello
LHP Andrew Oliver (R)
CL: Jose Valverde

In perhaps the weakest division in baseball, the Tigers, with two MVP candidates in the lineup and the reigning AL Cy Young award winner atop their rotation look heads and shoulders above the rest of the four. The Fielder addition was one that should seal this paper-thin division for them and look for the Fielder/Cabrera combo to provide one of the best 3-4 punches in the game for years to come (both players still in their 20's and locked up long-term). I'd expect the Tigers to have this thing locked up by early September baring catastrophic injuries. The only question with them lies at the end of their rotation and with the depth of their bullpen, but both are strong enough in this division to win, but may not be strong enough to be competitive in the Postseason. As the season wears on and they see they're legit contenders but need more pitching, look for them to be proactive in the market. They're a squad and play in a park that I think Roy Oswalt (still a FA) would be ideal for!

2nd Place, Kansas City Royals

LF Alex Gordon
CF Lorenzo Cain
1B Eric Hosmer
DH Billy Butler
RF Jeff Francoeur
3B Mike Moustakas
2B Johnny Giavotella
C Bryan Pena
SS Alcides Escobar

LHP Bruce Chen
RHP Luke Hochevar
LHP Jonathan Sanchez
RHP Luis Mendoza
RHP Felipe Paulino
CL: Jonathan Broxton

The Royals have already suffered a catastrophic loss in young closer Joakim Soria, but they have the young rotation, bullpen, and enough young talent in their everyday lineup to help overcome it and give KC their best team they've seen since the turn of the century! All their young hitters are having strong springs, but there are some questions surrounding their starting rotation, where they have no true ace. Chen will fill that role, and they're hoping Hochevar and Sanchez each pitch to their potentials, which would give KC a strong front-3 even without that true ace. Their closer will likely be Broxton, who if healthy should be just fine in Soria's place. They're still not playoff material yet, but the Royals are rising in a weak division. Speaking of more starting pitching, they too should be all over Javier Vazquez and Roy Oswalt!

3rd Place, Chicago White Sox

CF Alejandro De Aza
2B Gordon Beckham
RF Alex Rios
1B Paul Konerko
DH Adam Dunn
SS Alexi Ramirez
3B Brent Morel
LF Dylan Viciedo
C AJ Pierzynski

RHP Jake Peavy
LHP John Danks
RHP Gavin Floyd
LHP Chris Sale
RHP Phillip Humber
CL: Matt Thornton

The White Sox are banking on just about everybody besides De Aza and Konerko to have bounce-back seasons in 2012, or in some players cases like Morel and Viciedo's, build on 2011's brief success. The guys they need to rebound that hold the key to their success in 2012 are: Dunn, Beckham, Rios and Peavy. If all those guys play like they're capable of, and shown in the past, then the White Sox will rise up the charts, especially with their deep pitching staff. If that doesn't happen, it's going to be another long year on the South Side and they should really look into blowing things up and building from scratch. If they're out of it at the deadline, look for Kenny Williams to try and deal Konerko, Peavy, Rios, Thornton, and if he can get back on track, even Adam Dunn. Right now, the Sox are weighed down by big contracts that are underperforming, and until those go away, or those players start performing, then they'll be stuck in neutral! Good enough to tease, but no where near good enough to compete for the playoffs.

4th Place, Cleveland Indians

CF Michael Brantley
LF Grady Sizemore*
SS Asdrubal Cabrera
C Carlos Santana
RF Shin-Soo Choo
DH Travis Hafner
1B Shelly Duncan
2B Jason Kipnis
3B Jack Hannahan

RHP Ubaldo Jimenez
RHP Justin Masterson
RHP Josh Tomlin
RHP Derek Lowe
RHP Kevin Slowey
CL: Chris Perez

Injuries to the rotation forced the Indians to add Derek Lowe this offseason, and I think it will wind up being a nice addition to a young staff. Masterson and Jimenez should be solid atop, but Slowey is questionable in the five-slot and could be expendable. They have a under-appreciated closer in Perez, and some very good young pieces in their lineup like Cabrera, Santana and Brantley, but will need Hafner, Choo and Sizemore to avoid major DL time to have any hope of contending. In this division though, an injury here or a hot streak there could really change the shape of things, and it wouldn't surprise me the least of any of these top-4 teams win the division. If those three injury-prone guys stay on the field, and Jimenez does regain pre-2011 form, then the Indians will be compete in this division. The one team I'm pretty certain wont are...

Fifth Place, Minnesota Twins

CF Denard Span
SS Jamey Carroll
C Joe Mauer
1B Justin Morneau
RF Josh Willingham
DH Ryan Doumit
3B Danny Valencia
LF Trevor Plouffe
2B Alexi Casilla

RHP Carl Pavano
LHP Francisco Liriano
RHP Scott Baker
RHP Jason Marquis
RHP Nick Blackburn
CL: Matt Capps

The Twins, out of every team in baseball, sport a pitching staff full of guys MLB hitters lick their chops to face off against. The staff, as a whole, is one of the weakest bunches in baseball, flat out. Liriano should be a bit better which should help them, but any time a team is trotting out a 9-13 pitcher with a 1.34 ERA on opening day, you know they're in trouble. From Pavano, down through Marquis, Blackburn and even in their closer Capps, these guys just don't scare anyone, don't strike people out and have a hard time getting hitters out in general. Also, their best two hitters, the J.M.'s, are as fragile as they come and need to spend more time on the field than the DL for the Twinkies to have any sort of offense. Those two were batting champion and MVP candidates just 2 years ago, hard to believe they both completely lost it at the same time? But the Twins, for a team with a new yard should be drawing up more hype and spending more money and they just haven't been making good baseball decisions.

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