I know it’s traditional for writers to make their baseball predictions before the season starts. I’m breaking with tradition here. I wish there was a good reason for this (you know, kind of a rebellious spirit, march-to-a-different-drummer thing), but the simple truth is that I wasn’t a member of the Puckett’s Pond staff until after the season began. But I’m not here to make excuses. I’m here to make predictions:
First Place: Minnesota Twins (95-67)
All during Spring Training one mantra could be heard over and over with regards to the Twins: too many questions. There were questions about starting pitching, questions about the middle infield, questions about Justin Morneau’s brain health, and on and on. If I had a dollar for every time I heard a sportswriter complain about all the Twins’ questions, I think I could afford to pay Joe Mauer’s salary out of my own pocket (my beer league softball team could use another lefty in the lineup).
But I don’t have those dollars. What I do have is a few questions of my own. Which AL Central team has two former MVPs on its roster, along with one of the top 10 homerun hitters of all time? Which AL Central team has six proven starting pitchers – enough to get through the injury problems that are inevitable in every 162 game season without missing a beat? Which AL Central team boasts batting champions from two different continents in its lineup? And which AL Central team led the division in OBP (.341), SLG (.422), ERA (3.95), and Fielding PCT (.987) last season?
All these questions and just one answer: the Twins.
Second Place and AL Wild Card Winner: Detroit Tigers (93-69)
The Tigers underachieved last season. By all rights, this team should have been in the division race until late September. Instead, untimely injuries and disappointing play sapped their second half and doomed them to an 81-81 finish, 13 games behind the Twins. Don’t expect the same this season.
Victor Martinez brings his .300/20 homer bat to an already strong lineup. Magglio Ordonez is on the wrong side of 35, but he can still hit. Austin Jackson and Ryan Raburn are as promising and young as Ordonez is old. And Miguel Cabrera is even more dangerous at the plate than he is on the highway (sorry, couldn’t resist). Add to that a pitching staff featuring true ace Justin Verlander and future ace Max Scherzer, and you have a very well-balanced team.
Third Place: Chicago White Sox (85-77)
One thing that strikes me about the White Sox is how similar their rotation looks on paper to the Twins. This is a staff filled with solid pitchers who would never be mistaken for aces. Mark Buehrle, John Danks, and Edwin Jackson should all rack up wins and quality starts. The wild card here is Jake Peavy. If he can return to his Cy Young form, he’ll be a difference maker. But based on his injury history, I wouldn’t hold my breath for that to happen.
The difference between the Sox and the Twins is on the offensive side of the ball. The White Sox are a power-oriented team. Carlos Quentin, Alexei Ramirez, Paul Konerko, and Alex Rios are all capable of strong homer totals. Newcomer Adam Dunn should add 35 to 40 more. But look for Konerko to fall back to Earth after an otherworldly 2010 performance.
Fourth Place: Cleveland Indians (72-90)
Year Three of the Indians’ rebuilding process has begun. Based on Cleveland’s successful track record with rebuilds, I’m sure two or three years from now, the names on the Cleveland roster will all be familiar to even the most casual of baseball fans. But as of today, Justin Masterson, Carlos Carrasco, Matt LaPorta, Asdrubal Cabrera, and Carlos Santana don’t really strike fear into opposing fans’ hearts. I look for Cleveland to show some flashes of brilliance, but this will be another losing season for them.
Fifth Place: Kansas City Royals (63-99)
I want the Royals to get better. I really do. It’s hard not to root for a team so downtrodden for so long. But I am new to this site and I just don’t have enough street cred yet to do something silly like pick the Royals to finish .500. So last place it is. On the plus side, the Royals do have a young crop of hitters coming up from the minors. Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Kila Ka’aihue all have bright futures. Plus, Ka’aihue could one day challenge Ben Roethlisberger for the title of “Most Difficult Star Athlete’s Name to Spell.”
I was only asked to predict the division finish, but I’m throwing in these for free:
Two AL Central pitchers will throw no-hitters this year.
The AL Rookie of the Year will come from the Central.
AL Central athletes will prove they are smarter than their NFL counterparts this season. No player from the Central will be arrested for a violent crime or comment that he is treated like a “slave.”
The Twins and Tigers will meet for the ALCS. I know who will win, but I don’t want to ruin the surprise for you. You’re welcome.