With the roster set to go north and begin the season, Ron Gardenhire and his Twins now set their sites on playing games that matter. While the Detroit Tigers are the prohibitive favorite to win the AL Central, the Twins could play spoiler down the stretch, stealing games from potential postseason teams like the Tigers, Red Sox or Angels. What will the American League Central look like? Who will the rest of the teams in the playoffs be, and who will eventually win the World Series in October?
American League Central
1. Detroit Tigers (88-74) – Detroit has an opportunity to prey on the rest of the American League Central that does not feature another dominant team. However, unlike the AL East and the AL West, neither does it feature bottom dwellers the likes of the Baltimore Orioles or the Seattle Mariners. The Central will be hotly contested because after the Tigers, the rest of the division will be bunched up around .500, fighting for a winning season. Detroit will be hitting the ball all over the ball park, and their pitching staff, besides Justin Verlander, will be just good enough to keep them in games until their bullpen takes over and shuts down opponents for the 8th and 9th innings.
2. Cleveland Indians (83-79) – The Indians are not a 2nd place team in any other division, but in the Central they have a chance to remain relevant up through the last couple of weeks of the season. Ubaldo Jimenez, when he isn’t throwing at former teammates, may never return to his first half 2010 levels, but will certainly be the best pitcher on the Indians staff, keeping the Tribe from any extended losing streaks and helping them finish 4 games over .500 for the first time since the 96 win team of 2007.
3. Minnesota Twins (82-80) – The Twins will be better in 2012, but they’re not going to be great. Even with a healthy Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau, the Twins pitching staff is not strong enough to lead the Twins back to AL Central dominance. 2012 will be a building year, and the Twins will once again be competing for a championship in 2013.
4. Kansas City Royals (79-83) – This team could battle the Twins and Tigers in the Central in the near future if they could develop quality starting pitchers. 79 wins is a stretch for this team. Want proof? Their Opening Day starter is Bruce Chen. Case closed.
5. Chicago White Sox (77-85) – Is this team rebuilding, reloading, or a little bit of both. Adam Dunn will most certainly come back stronger than he was in 2011, and while he will always be a high strike out, high power guy who doesn’t hit for average, 2011 was an aberration and not representative the typical aging curve for sluggers. Unfortunately for the White Sox, they do not have the starting pitching, the defense, or hitters to take them anywhere but last place in the Central. Kenny Williams, what are you doing on the South Side of Chicago?
The rest of the playoff teams:
New York Yankees (AL East Champion, 92-70)
Texas Rangers (AL West Champion, 87-75)
Los Angeles Angels (1st AL Wild Card, 86-76))
Boston Red Sox (2nd AL Wild Card, 86-76)
The next best team in the American League is the Tampa Bay Rays, who fail to make the postseason not because they are not good enough, but because they play too many games against the other teams that are.
Philadelphia Phillies (NL East Champion, 90-72)
Milwaukee Brewers (NL Central Champion, 86-76)
San Francisco Giants (NL West Champion, 85-77)
Atlanta Braves (1st NL Wild Card, 89-73)
Saint Louis Cardinals (2nd NL Wild Card, 85-77)
The next best team in the National League features former Minnesota Twin Jason Kubel. The Arizona Diamondbacks will finish the season on the cusp of the NL postseason, but will not have what it takes to return to meaningful October baseball.
Philadelphia Phillies over Los Angeles Angels in six games. The Phillies will be healthy and hitting their stride at the end of the season and will carry that energy into October. Relying on a dominant pitching staff is never a bad idea, and the Phillies still have one of the best.