Over the next few days, all of us writers here at Puckett’s Pond will be sharing our predictions and thoughts on how we think the AL Central will pan out in 2011. We’d love to hear what your predictions are as well, please leave them in the comments section, thanks!
1st Place: Minnesota Twins (92-70)
If the Twins can win 96 games without their help of their biggest offensive weapon for half the season, and in spite of a slew of other injuries (Hardy, Hudson, Slowey, Baker, etc) throughout the 2010 season, I can’t really bet against them in 2011. I think the Twins biggest asset this season will be their starting pitching, not so much in who their starters are, but because of the fact that they have competent starters in Kevin Slowey and Kyle Gibson who can step in if one of the current starters struggles or is injured. The bullpen will be interesting, but if Rick Anderson and Ron Gardenhire have proven one thing in past years, it’s that they can put together a bullpen, no matter the pieces they have to work with.
One of the big keys to last year’s success was the Twins domination of the AL Central. It will be a tougher task this year, but they will need to continue that dominance this season in order to recapture the division crown. The one thing I will be watching very closely in the early goings is how Nishioka and Casilla handle their positions. The Twins middle-infield defense was quite good last year and with a couple of ground-ball heavy pitchers in the rotation (Liriano & Blackburn) that defense will be tested often. As for the outfield D, well, it is what it is, we can only hope for the best.
2nd Place: Chicago White Sox (90-72)
Last year I begged the baseball Gods not to allow the White Sox to acquire Adam Dunn at the trade deadline. They didn’t, instead landing the dud that is Manny Ramirez and the Twins pretty much walked away with the division. This off-season was a different story, however, as the Sox went “all in” acquiring Dunn and a small cast of bullpen arms. Dunn makes the middle of the Sox lineup pretty scary for opposing pitchers with Rios, Dunn, Konerko, Quentin and Ramirez all possessing power in the middle of the lineup. I think if that group all stays healthy, the Twins are in for an absolute dog-fight for the division.
On the pitching side of things, the Sox are less intimidating. That could all change if Jake Peavy gets (and stays) healthy and if Edwin Jackson has a season that more closely resembles 2009 than 2010. As it stands now, John Danks and Gavin Floyd are the only consistent starters and Floyd is prone to struggles in April & May. After that you have an oft-injured Peavy, Edwin Jackson and Mark Buehrle who is clearly on the last legs of his career. If Peavy can’t pitch, or one of the other starters goes down with an injury, the Sox don’t have much in the way of backup starters which would give the Twins a definite advantage in the division. The Sox bullpen looks very solid with the additions of Will Ohman and former-Twin Jesse Crain. Chris Sale and Matt Thornton look to be a dominating duo as well which should help the Sox close out a bunch of close games.
3rd Place: Detroit Tigers (85-77)
As great of a manager as Jim Leyland is, I think this will be his last year in Detroit. It seems like for the last few years, the Tigers have hung around till about June or July, only to fade away after the All-Star break. I don’t see their fortunes changing much this year because a) Austin Jackson and Brennan Boesch will probably not be able to successfully duplicate their rookie campaigns and b) they don’t have enough pitching to keep up with the Sox and Twins. Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer make two good front-end starters, but after that they have Rick Porcello, Phil Coke and Brad Penny which is not that impressive. Landing Victor Martinez was a great move and the Tiger’s offensive should be pretty good, but hitting doesn’t often win you championships. Unless something complete unforeseen happens, I don’t see this team finishing that many games over .500.
4th Place: Cleveland Indians (74-88)
I suppose there isn’t much explanation to be made here. The Indians and Royals, for now, continue to be the bottom-feeders of the division and whereas in years past there has been some optimism that the Indians might be competitive in the AL Central, those days are now behind us. When I look at the Indians, my thought is always, “wow, would could have been?” In the past 3 years, they’ve traded away Cliff Lee, CC Sabathia and Victor Martinez, all of whom are now at the top of their game with other contenders. Through those trades the Indians have managed to build a pretty good farm system, which gives them a little hope for the future, but when your Opening Day rotation contains names like Justin Masterson (#2) and Mitch Talbot (#3), your chances for being anything but a mediocre team are pretty remote. Fausto Carmona is the defacto “ace” for the Indians this season, but it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the Indians traded him mid-season if they think they can get something good in return. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Royals finish with more wins than the Indians this year…it looks like the city of Cleveland will continue to be a bastion for bad sports teams for at least another year.
5th Place: Kansas City Royals (70-92)
The Royals have lost more than 90 games in 7 out of the past 9 years, but their fortunes could be in for a change as some of their more valuable prospects reach the Majors. Via high draft picks and trades, the Royals have built themselves a powerhouse farm system which ought to give Royals fans some hope for coming seasons. As for this season, it will be more of the same as their young team goes through the growing pains of maturity. That said, I still think this will be an exciting year for Royals fan as the likes of Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer, John Lamb, Mike Montgomery and company get their first tastes of the Majors. It will be frustrating to watch at times, no doubt, but take heart Royals fans, there is reason to be excited!