This is my first time here. I’m Shawn, you might remember me from ontheroadwithshawn or some of the minor league work I have done at TwinsTarget (or dial M for murderousness) but Puckett’s Pond will be my new primary home. Well, the NCAA Basketball Finals are over and the riots should have died down by now, which can only mean one thing….. baseball season is almost here. (some years it would mean it is already here, but i digress) With the season ready to kick-off on Thursday, it’s prediction time. Being this is a Twins blog and I am far too lazy (and busy) to do in-depth predictions for the entire major leagues, I will predict and preview the AL Central teams.
First Place: Detroit Tigers (95-67)
Every thing came together for the Tigers last year. They went 95-67 and were able to coast to the division title, winning by 15 games. Having the best pitcher and one of the best players in the league in Justin Verlander and Miguel Cabrera helps, but the Tigers have the best overall team in the division as well. They have an at All-Star Catcher and they have solid players all over their lineup. They have a really nice young pitching staff with Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello & Doug Fister and a really good bullpen led by Jose Valverde and Joaquin Benoit. When Victor Martinez went down, I had a slight amount of hope as a Twins fan…. then they signed Prince Fielder. The Tigers don’t expect to slip from last year, sure Jhonny Peralta should regress a little, Avila may fall back slightly and Verlander, Cabrera and Prince could all have lesser years but the Tigers have plenty of youth and should be able to compensate. The Tigers are looking at World Series, not just central division. Unless they lose their two best players like the Twins last year…..
Second Place: Minnesota Twins (82-80)
Many still picked the Twins to win the division last season. I thought they could win 85-90 but injuries decimated the team. I don’t think anyone in their wildest dreams could have imagined 63-99. Getting an average Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau back for 120 games a piece will be worth a minimum of 7 extra wins over last season and if they can play at a high level, at least 10. Replacing Nishioka and Butera (and the other back-up catchers) with Jamey Carroll and Ryan Doumit will add another 6 wins to the team. If they can also get a Denard Span free of injury and an improved Danny Valencia, the offense should be significantly better than it was last year. The pitching was pretty weak in 2011 and I see the starters performing similar to 2011 with the exception of Francisco Liriano. I don’t dare predict greatness for Liriano, but improving to closer to his 2010 numbers will be huge. The bullpen should be better this year if for no other reason is, they can’t be worse. There are a lot of positives coming out of camp, but most of those positives are due to the fact that 2011 was so horrible. If the Twins can hang in the race, trades improve the starting rotation and the relief corps, could put the Twins in the mix for one of those wild card spots.
Third Place: Cleveland Indians (81-81)
The Indians had a nice run in 2011 before fading near the end of the season. Even though they were financially strapped, the Indians made a run at the playoffs via trades for salary, picking up Jim Thome and sending a couple of their best prospects to Colorado for Ubaldo Jimenez. Many thought the Indians were competing a year too soon, but while they have a lot of good young talent on the MLB squad, most of it is not high end. The key to the Indians success in 2012 is the return of a healthy Shin-Soo Choo. Ubaldo Jimenez finding what he had in the first half of 2010 and an infield defense that fields all of the ground balls from the ground ball dominated staff pitching staff will help as well. If the Indians can get any sort of rebound from the former Fausto Carmona, Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner, they can compete for a wild card. I really like Carlos Santana and Justin Masterson, but to me, most of the rest of the roster is pretty average.
Fourth Place: Kansas City Royals (80-82)
The Royals are about to be destiny’s darlings. I have been telling everyone and their mother (or my mother) that the Royals are going to be competing for a spot in the playoffs in 2013. Alas, we are predicting 2012. I really like the starting lineup. Hosmer and Moustakas should both improve off of their rookie campaigns with Lorenzo Cain and Alcides Escobar establishing themselves as well. The lineup will still be anchored by Billy Butler and Alex Gordon with everyone’s favorite Jeff Francouer helping out. What I don’t like about the Royals is their pitching. Bruce Chen can only win 34 games after all! Luke Hochaver has not lived up to his prospect hype but has become an ok pitcher. Jonathan Sanchez comes over from the Giants, but can he control his walks enough to be effective. The Royals also have Felipe Paulino and young guys like Vin Mazzaro, Danny Duffy and eventually Mike Montgomery and Jake Odorizzi but no top end starters yet! The bullpen could be decent but is also uninspiring. Jonathan Broxton will try to restart his career in Kansas City after Joakim Soria went down with Tommy John surgery, though Greg Holland might end up as the closer.
Fifth Place: Chicago White Sox (78-84)
The White Sox could be pretty good or really bad. They have guys like Adam Dunn and Alex Rios that should be able to bounce back somewhat, even if they don’t come all of the way back. Alexei Ramirez is a really good player plus young guys like Alajandro De Aza, Dayan Vicedo and the potential for Gordon Beckham to come around. The lineup will miss Carlos Quentin and guys like Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski don’t expect to improve as they get older. The pitching could be solid if everything breaks right. The starters are set with the extended John Danks along with Gavin Floyd (for now), Phil Humber (can he keep it up?), Jake Peavy (can he stay healthy?) and Chris Sale as a first year starter. The bullpen will be ok if Matt Thornton and Jesse Crain stay healthy. The losses of Mark Buerhle and the mid-season loss Edwin Jackson from the starting staff and closer Sergio Santos will certainly hurt the depth.
The central will be Tigers dominated as expected, but the other teams, though flawed, all have an outside chance of snagging one of the two wildcard slots.