Tuesday, March 26, 2013

MLB Preview / A.L. Central


The Detroit Tigers ended up winning the A.L. Central, despite not waking out of their slumber until the last couple of months of the season to catch the Chicago White Sox. White Sox rode their pitching staff in young stud Chris Sale & with Jake Peavy rebounding from injuries for his best season since 2008. The Kansas City Royals, actually finished 3rd, but to most Royals fans -- it's yet another losing season (72 wins), now they've added a pitching staff, maybe their fortunes will change. Manny Acta is out, Terry Francona is in -- for the Cleveland Indians & the Minnesota Twins have now officially hit rock-bottom during the Ron Gardenhire era -- it'll be another long season in 2013 as well.

Chris Sale is all smiles (with Snoop Dogg) after a successful 2012 campaign.


If you told me entering 2012 that the Chicago White Sox was control the division lead for most of the season, I would have told you to go check into rehab, buddy. The White Sox took advantage with their steady rotation led by Sales & Peavy, as the Detroit Tigers sleepwalked through the first-half of the season. Robin Ventura proved to be the right man for the managerial job, when during the off-season it raised many eyebrows, the team hopes they can raise their on-base percentage, which will help their chances to go along their rotation & strong fielding -- two of their team's recent benchmarks.

Chris Sale made the All-Star Game in his first year as a starting pitcher, after converting from relief, as John Danks looks to return to his 2008 form. Jake Peavy was actually 5th in the A.L. in Innings Pitched with 219 last season, his most since 173.2 IP during 2008. Gavin Floyd is looking to have a good year, since he's up for free agency in 2014 -- expect him to be good trade bait for a contender if the White Sox' season goes south. Jose Quintana had a surprising rookie season & projects to be the fourth starter; 6-6, 3.76 ERA in 136.1 innings (81 K's & 42 BB's). Hector Santiago (4-1, 3.33 ERA) could be pushed to the 5th spot, if Dank continues to have problems or Floyd is traded; he started 4 of his 42 games, even notched 4 Saves, he's got good strikeout power with 79 K's in 70.1 innings!

Youngsters Addison Reed (projected to keep the closing job) and Nate Jones seems to have passed Jesse Crain & Matt Thornton on the team's depth chart, personally I think a 4.75 ERA is way too high for a closer in Reed (Think Joe Borowski for Cleveland, 2007). It's good they got a lot of youth going with Sale, Quintana, Santiago, Jones & Reed -- giving Chisox fans hopes for future seasons when it comes to pitching, now on to the weak batting.

The White Sox have seen nothing but a decline in players such as Gordon Beckham and Alexei Ramirez, who both used to bring excitement to their fans. The lineup also features swing-for-the-fences Adam Dunn, who hit 41 HR's -- but is it all worth it when you strikeout 222 times & bat only .204?! Paul Konerko had a hot start, hit .298 & 26 HR's, but cooled off after the All-Star break (his second-half OPS: .771)! The team will also lack a great bat from the catching position with the departure of Pierzynski (who signed with Texas), Tyler Flowers only batted .213 in 136 at-bats, look for Hector Gimenez to get some work as well. Dayan Viciedo hit 25 HRs for his first season as a regular starter, playing in LF.

Best Move: Promoting Kenny Williams to Executive Vice President of the Chicago White Sox, giving Assistant GM Rick Hahn, the GM reigns, in which he has already tried to refresh the farm & add depth to it, after Williams has practically depleted the system since his 2005 World Championship pinnacle. With Hahn, we'll see a more, much-needed youth movement for the White Sox. Another good move, adding Jeff Keppinger, who's been compared to a 'Poor Man's Jeff Kent' by scouts and former teammates, he's a veteran who can play multiple infield positions & will get a shot at full-time. He batted .325 with 9 HR's in 385 at-bats for the Rays in 2012.

Worst Move: Not resigning (or at least trying-to-do-so) A.J. Pierzynski, it would be something else if they had someone more promising behind the plate than Flowers.

Best Possible Outcome: Despite the fact they could have won the division from the favored Tigers last season, and Detroit could under-achieve again during the regular season -- giving the White Sox hope... I feel  like they could finish second with their rotation, defense & bullpen.

Worst Possible Outcome: I just don't see any team besides the Minnesota Twins finishing in the cellar in this division, fourth place at absolute worst, Peavy's arm troubles return, the lineup becomes even more anemic & Gavin Floyd is traded to a contender for some prospects.

Start of a beautiful relationship? Tribe fans are hoping so.


When you first glance at the Indians' lineup, in my opinion there is a lot to like. Some people bashed the move of signing Nick Swisher in the off-season, but I feel that this could be a good move -- one thing he's a Ohio native, the other thing is he consistently hits around 25 HR's & 85 RBI's a season; plus in recent years he has hit above his career average of .256 with seasons of .288, .260 & .272, the last three years, at times with the Yankees when he was on, he could be one of the dangerous men in that lineup, so added him to Cleveland's team is no waste, considering he's definitely a step up from Johnny Damon. Did the Indians pay too much? Yes, it should have been a shorter contract for less per season (Swisher is making $14 million a year). But he's the type of veteran that new Manager Terry Francona wants.

If Drew Stubbs can figure things out at the plate (.213 AVG in 2012), he can be a huge lift to this lineup, there will be a bit of pressure considering that he came in the deal that sent popular Shin-Soo Choo to Cincy. Mark Reynolds, is an intriguing addition to the tribe, the question is which Reynolds will the Tribe get? The one that was clutch for the Orioles down the 2012 stretch (had 15 of his 23 HR's during last two months), or the one that batted .207 with only 7 HR's during the first-half? Still probably a step up from disappointing Matt LaPorta. There is a lot of things I like about gritty, Jason Kipnis, he tied for the team lead in RBI's with Carlos Santana (76 RBI), despite only getting 27 after the All-Star Break. A full season from Lonnie Chisenhall will boost the lineup, and Michael Brantley does all the little things on a consistent basis. Asdrubal Cabrera is probably the lineup's leader, leading all A.L. Shortstops in OPS with a .765 clip, while hitting 16 HR's. Great addition in Micheal Bourn for the lead-off spot, that will give the Indian fans longing for Kenny Lofton some satisfaction!

The rotation, once again will be key to the Indians' success -- the lineup can keep them competitive, but the rotation will have to show more balance and production. I'm starting to wonder if Ubaldo Jimenez may be only suited for the National League, since his career ERA in the A.L. is a whopping 5.32 during 1 1/2 seasons, his career high in the N.L. was the 4.46 during the first-half of 2011; he's now 29, and I'm starting to also wonder if the brief flashes of possible brilliance in 2010, may have been a fluke of sorts. I think at the time of his red-hot start that season, Sports Illustrated was comparing him to Pedro Martinez (DOH!). After Jimenez, we got another frustration in Justin Masterson -- If he can be more consistent and not have too many outings where he is getting bombed, his record and ERA would be a heck of a lot better & the lineup will have a chance to do it's thing. Brett Myers, year-in & year-out, on the most part gets things done, he's a bulldog of sorts, and is durable -- he is slated for #3 spot in the rotation, and can help the Tribe balance things out. Zach McAllister showed promise with 110 K's in 125.1 innings, sporting a 4.24 ERA.

Chris Perez, surprisingly is still the closer after blasting all of upper management during the 2012 season & off-season (probably because the Indians didn't really have another choice). Vinnie Pestano has improved into a pretty good setup man for the Tribe, as Joe Smith & Nick Hagadone will get plenty of work during 2013.

Best Move:  Besides Micheal Bourn in CF, the hiring of Manager Terry Francona, who returns to Cleveland after being a special assistant for the Tribe in 2001 & playing for them as a player in 1988. Terry's father Tito played a good portion of his MLB career for the Indians from 1959 through 1964.

Worst Move: Can't really think of a bad move this season, but all I can still think about is the handful of prospects that were handed over to Colorado for under-achieving Ubaldo Jimenez during the 2011 trade deadline. Plus didn't they also extend his contract?

Best Possible Outcome: Second place definitely, especially now with Francona at the helm. No playoffs, only division winner is getting out of this division alive.

Worst Possible Outcome: Fourth Place, if they fall out of contention, Chris Perez will likely be traded to a contender with possibly one-year signee Brett Myers, many pieces to mix and match. The Indians could get some good quality time at looking what they have on the farm & figuring out a new game plan for 2014, which might not be a bad thing.

Looking to add to their successful run, making that next big step.


The Detroit Tigers have now been to the last two American League Championship Series & won the last one to advance to the World Series -- in which they once again, had to wait (forever!) to play the San Francisco Giants. Sad to say for Tiger fans, the Giants were on a mission and won the World Title. Tigers will get their chances in 2013, with the addition of Torii Hunter to the lineup, who brings a consistent veteran bat that the Tigers could really use near the top of the lineup & the return of Victor Martinez (V-Mart) in the lineup, in which if all goes right, the opposing pitchers will have a hard time also pitching around Prince Fielder. These two additions will finally make this lineup almost flawless.

We all know what Miguel Cabrera can do, he will very likely not repeat a Triple Crown performance, but he will once again bring solid numbers from all three Triple Crown categories as he always had. Personally, I don't know why one of his other feats didn't get enough attention, in the fact that he is one of the very few players ever to reach 300 career HR's before age 30! He turns 30 on April 18th, and has 321 Home Runs, well on pace for 600! Austin Jackson was snubbed for an All-Star appearance in 2012, and in many ways besides Cabrera, was the Tigers' MVP; before 2012 started, I was really tough on Jackson -- that he needed to step up at the plate & quit being such a free-swinger, the man certainly stepped up. I laughed at other Tiger fans, who actually complained about Prince Fielder -- yes... because a .313 average, 30 HR's & 108 RBI are something to sneeze at, apparently. I think Jhonny Peralta's bat will bounce back, it was one of the worst seasons in his career, bouncing back to a average good Peralta season would be huge! His glove is only going to decrease, let's face it.. he's really stretching it as a shortstop. Alex Avila followed up his impressive 2011 season with a dud, but still doing well at getting on base 35% of the time.

Justin Verlander, he's absolutely the best pitcher in all of baseball (and I'm not saying this because he happens to be my favorite player), he brings an element of old-school that the other pitchers (Kershaw, Weaver & Price) contending for that "best pitcher", simply don't have! Max Scherzer, came in second to Verlander's 239 K's with 231 of his own -- plus a 16-7 record & 3.74 ERA. Doug Fister, the #3 starter is in many ways the #2 most dependable pitcher for the Tigers & would be easily a #2 or even #1 on many ballclubs. He had nagging injuries that effected his numbers in 2012, despite a respectable 3.45 ERA. Anibal Sanchez completes the top four slots, he came over in a trade from Florida that said goodbye to prized prospect Jacob Turner. Hopefully the money the Tigers shelled out to keep him in Detroit ($80 million) pays off, he has a lifetime record of 48-51, but then again it really could have hurt Detroit's 2013 & future chances at a title without replacing him as well. The fifth spot is an interesting one, we have starters Rick Porcello & Drew Smyly. Not to sound like a homer here, but I remember watching the draft and was excited when Porcello was drafted in 2007; I have been Porcello's biggest supporter in so many ways, but I now admit, it's time to possibly trade him away for his sake & the team's sake -- as of press time, Porcello was still in the midst of trade rumors, possibly for a reliever. Smyly did surprisingly well, tired down the stretch, and probably should keep him as a starter than a reliever -- he is kind of the Tigers' new version of Zach Miner of a couple years ago, with much more strikeout velocity.

The Tigers won't have to deal with the roller coaster ride in Jose Valverde as a closer, but as far as I know have yet to label someone as the #1 closer. The Tigers have a few options in rookie Bruce Rondon, lefty Phil Coke (who was impressive during the playoffs), and Joaquin Benoit. There is question marks with whoever the Tigers choose. Rondon has yet to make his MLB debut, and is a bit too wild, even though he throws the heat; his body weight of 275 lbs also makes me wonder if they keep a close eye on that. Making Coke the man, would sacrifice him from being a lefty specialist & helping in a set-up role -- he has the mentality and closer look I like, but he has allowed righties to hit .299 against him for his career. When you look at Benoit's numbers all across the board, he seems like the logical choice as closer, but he's far too valuable to loose him in his set-up role in the 7th & 8th innings, which would put more pressure on the likes of Brayan Villarreal & Al Alburquerque. Closer by committee might best suit the situation, if they don't happen to land a closer via trade.

Best Move: Torii Hunter. Yes, he'll be 38 this summer, but the man still shows good glove, and good bat -- not to mention a .365 OBP that will help this lineup oil out the kinks that the team showed from time to time in 2012.

Worst Move: In time, it could be the pricey resigning of Anibal Sanchez if the Tigers keep falling short for the title in future seasons, the Tigers want nothing less than a World Title.

Best Possible Outcome: A World Championship, they are already contenders and have made two runs the last two seasons, a World Championship would be wonderful for a region that has been effected by economic strife.

Worst Possible Outcome: Not winning the division, which means missing the playoffs. The bullpen is of all things the weakness for the Tigers.

Royals fans: Time to step up, the future is now.


The Kansas City Royals have only experienced one winning season in the last 20 years (2003), and that was a 83 win season under Tony Pena as Manager. This was a once proud franchise that experienced quick and long success from it's inception in 1969. Between 1973 & 1989, the Royals only witnessed  4 losing seasons; one in 1981 in which they still went to the playoffs for winning the 2nd-half A.L. West Division Title at 50-53 overall (30-23, 2nd half). The team will finally add what's been lacking from them since the days of Kevin Appier, a pitching staff.

The Royals traded the early projected favorite for A.L. Rookie of the Year in Will Myers to Tampa Bay, and landed James Shields, giving the Royals a capable ace. Jeremy Guthrie played really well down the stretch for K.C., which the team would like to see that carry over in 2013. The Royals take a $12 million gamble in Ervin Santana in exchange for prospect Brandon Sisk; Santana is a free agent entering 2014 -- personally, I think it's kind of nice to see the organization taking some more risks that could really benefit the team's chances & growth. He's definitely better than his 9-13 record & 5.16 ERA! Wade Davis' move back to the rotation will be interesting to watch, if he can return to his better days in Tampa, he'll pay off for the Royals. Remember when Luke Hochevar was the "ace", not even two years ago? Right there, shows you the improvement... just by the players they put in place; Hochevar was recently demoted to the bullpen which will probably be better for him in the long run, Bruce Chen is the likely 5th spot, who was the team's #1 starter a year ago -- if not the 5th spot will go to Luis Mendoza.

The Royals need Eric Hosmer & Mike Moustakas to revert back to their star potential, any repeat (especially combined) will be worrisome for fans. Billy Butler continues to show why he's the man with the big bat, as Alex Gordon might become lead-off man -- if Hosmer shows he can hold down the #3 slot in the lineup. A 2011 version of Jeff Francoeur would be nice, plus an injury-free Lorenzo Cain as well.

The bullpen should be better in recent years with young arm like Greg Holland, Kelvin Herrera, Tim Collins & Aaron Crow.

The Royals' current situation and team, according to James Shields, reminds him of the Tampa Bay Rays circa 2007; that said, the Royals are at least one year away still, in a division where the Tigers are king, the Indians made some key upgrades, and the White Sox' pitching & defense should keep them competitive. I will say this though, if their youngsters can turn things around or improve dramatically, don't be surprised to see this team make a wild card push.

Best Move: Going after James Shields who shows he can be a mentor for a young staff.

Worst Move: Maybe not going for a Outfielder who can bring a big bat, if Francouer & Cain repeat 2012 -- Alex Gordon will be the only productivity coming out of that outfield. Plus that adds up when you don't have power coming from your double-play combination as well.

Best Possible Outcome: The Royals earn a Wild Card spot, on paper -- no one thought Oakland would go on to do the things they did in 2012, so anything is possible -- but likely a year away.

Worst Possible Outcome: The prospects and young studs get lost in the mix, which will have the upper management second-guessing, some panicking & before we all know it, it's another decade later of futility.

Last Hurrah for this duo? Times They are a-changin' in Minnesota.


The team has now suffered back-to-back seasons of 99 and 96 losses, after winning the A.L. Central six times in nine years; prior to the last two seasons, they had only one coaching staff, now several are gone -- Is Ron Gardenhire next? The owner is not really giving him much to work with here.

Joe Mauer came back stronger in 2012, playing in 147 games & leading the majors with a .416 on-base percentage, the Twins are finally mixing it up with Mauer by keeping him fresh -- giving him some time at first base & as a DH. Maybe in time, he will move totally away from the catcher position; team extended Ryan Doumit's contract another two years, since he brings a good bat & gives Mauer a chance to play elsewhere in the lineup. The Twins are hoping that Justin Morneau's bouts with symptoms suffered from concussions are over, he is entering his last year of his contract this season. Rookie 2B- Brian Dozier has yet to transfer his good hitting in the minors to the majors, while Pedro Florimon will get more playing time as the projected start at shortstop. Trevor Plouffe smacked 24 HR's in 422 at-bats last season, while batting only .235 and providing dismal defense at the hot corner.

The Twins traded Ben Revere, who was to be the heir replacement for the traded Denard Span. The upper management is pretty excited about 2008 first-round draft pick Aaron Hicks, and are showing their confidence in the prospect who made big progress in Double-A. The game plan was to hand the center field responsibilities to Darin Mastroianni, who had 21 steals in 2012; but Hicks had a spectacular spring & will get his trial by fire now. Josh Willingham comes off a career year in 35 HRs & 110 RBI's at age 33, while the RF slot is projected to be Willingham's polar opposite in Chris Parmalee, who batted only .229 with a .671 OPS.

The other morning, I was listening to sports radio when one of the announcers asked his co-anchor if he can name the rotation of the Minnesota Twins -- good question, better one is can you name at least two? The Twins have never had the biggest names for a rotation, but they always had a recognizable rotation, most of the same guys back at least; guys like Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey & Carl Pavano. They acquired Vance Worley from Philadelphia, who showed plenty of success in his young career with a 18-13 career record and 3.50 ERA to go along with it, but is he an ace? He's projected to be their #1 starter. Mike Pelfrey had an injury-plagued 2012, but from 2008 through 2011 he averaged anywhere between 180 - 205 innings; only a career 50-54, 4.50 ERA pitcher though. Another career 4.50 ERA was also added to the staff in Kevin Correia, who showed good veteran leadership with the young arms in Pittsburgh. The Twins were forced to start Cory De Vries, who posted a 4.11 ERA in 87.1 innings, he also loves to give up the long ball (16 HR's allowed). Liam Hendriks, only has a career total of 109 innings, he is the type of pitch-to-contact pitcher that the Twins mold into success -- a career record of 1-10 & 5.71 ERA is a tad-bit scary. Scott Diamond and 2009 first-round draft pick Kyle Gibson are the most promising pitchers for the Twins. Gibson is still recovering from Tommy John surgery and will build up his strength in Triple-A, as Diamond will start the season on the disabled list; Diamond ranked third among all qualifying MLB rookies in ERA (3.54) during 2012, while posting a 12-9 record in 27 starts.

The Twins turned trash into gold last season by revamping the bullpen after Joe Nathan's departure. Jared Burton (2.18 ERA) and Casey Fien (2.06 ERA) were minor-league signees last season, who are back as bullpen regulars in 2013. Glen Perkins, once starter, now closer, posted a 2.56 ERA & 16 Saves, while striking out 78 batters in 70.1 Innings. Brian Duensing keeps bouncing around from rotation and the bullpen, the last few years -- will stay in the bullpen who does better there overall, it's just a bit surprising with their absent rotation that Duensing wasn't given at least a shot at the rotation. The Twins felt comfortable with their new bullpen that they didn't bother resigning Matt Capps.

Best Move: Giving young Aaron Hicks a shot at starting, if all goes wrong or bumpy, there is always a fall-back option in Mastroianni. Also extending Doumit's contract to take load off Mauer.

Worst Move: Maybe not getting a stronger veteran arm in the rotation, and not replacing weak right fielder in Parmalee, maybe a one-year signee with a productive bat.

Best Possible Outcome: Maybe... Maybe... Fourth Place, if all goes wrong for either one of Chicago, Cleveland & Kansas City. Minnesota as long as they have had Gardenhire, have always been known as a team you couldn't count out -- but sometimes things just fade in time.

Worst Possible Outcome: Last Place, which is likely either way. Twins fans may say goodbye to Justin Morneau for possible trade-bait, since he is in his last season.

1. Detroit Tigers
2. Cleveland Indians
3. Chicago White Sox
4. Kansas City Royals
5. Minnesota Twins

The Tigers will be the lone playoff team (wins in the high 80's, 92 at best) from this division, teams 2-4 can easily be shuffled, K.C. is this season's dark horse, Chicago's pitching & defense will keep them competitive, as Cleveland made many moves, but it will be their bats that will carry them with their suspect pitching. Another long year in Minnesota, will Gardenhire & Morneau be there at the end of the season?

NEXT: The American League West

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