Today’s installment will take a look at the American League Central. For those who have forgotten, this division went to a “163 regular season game” a year ago, and in extra innings the Twins defeated the Tigers to move into the postseason. A lot has changed in this wide open division. Here’s how I think it will shake out.
Minnesota Twins 94 – 68
Chicago Whitesox 90 – 72
Detroit Tigers 84 – 78
Cleveland Indians 75 – 87
Kansas City Royals 71 – 91
Minnesota Twins (INTRIGUING) Player to Watch – JJ Hardy
2010 marks the season in which the Minnesota Twins eliminate the greatest home field advantage in baseball. Gone is the HHH Metrodome. Welcome Target Field. When it came to playing in the baggie with the noise, the roof, and against a Twins club that always was great at home, visiting teams couldn’t wait to get out of town. How different will it be at Target Field? Who knows for sure. The one thing it will be is downright cold. The Twins had a busy offseason, with the major moves being acquiring a talented middle of the infield. Orlando Hudson brings great range and speed to the Twins, while JJ Hardy will try to live up to the hype he had when he came to the big leagues. The rotation is young, and it is important that Fransisco Liriano is healthy. Blackburn, Slowey and Baker will continue to develop. The signing of Jim Thome is interesting as it gives the Twins a very lefthanded hitting club. Cuddyear and Kubel will share time with Thome. Former MVP Justin Morneau is coming off an injury, and current MVP Joe Mauer is talking long term contracts. Twins fans just may relive the glory they had in 1991.
Chicago White Sox (REVAMPED) Player to watch – Jake Peavy
Gone from the southside of Chicago are the thunderous bats of Jermaine Dye and Jim Thome. In are Mark Tehan and Juan Pierre. In Pierre, the Sox gain speed and a pesky hitter. I for one am glad he’s out of the National League. Future HOF’er Omar Vizquel will tutor Gordon Beckham and Alexsi Ramirez. But where the hopes lie for the Sox is on the pitching side. Mark Buehrle anchors the staff that will be highlighted by full season of Jake Peavy. Gavin Floyd and John Danks are solid contributors. Bobby Jenks comes to camp much lighter and ready to prove his worth to Ozzie Guillen. Look for more hitting and running, more stolen bases, and a big year from a healthy Carlos Quentin.
Detroit Tigers – (UNCERTAINTY) Player to watch – Austin Jackson
Now that Johnny Damon is a Tiger, there might be a little more certainty. However, this club blew a lead over the final weekend and then lost the playoff game to the Twins in extra innings. The Tigers are certain that Justin Verlander will be around for a while. What kind of year will Miguel Cabrerra have, following his drinking problem at the end of last season? Will Rick Porcello have a sophomore slump? Will Austin Jackson, Scott Sizemore, and Alex Avila be ready to play everyday in the big leagues? Is this the year that Joel Zumaya and Dontrelle Willis are factors for the Tigers? These are the questions that remain for the Tigers in 2010.
Cleveland Indians – (YOUNG)
How does a team, a city, and a fan base deal with losing two former Cy Young Award winners, and an All-Star catcher over the last 2 seasons? That’s where the Indians are at. Welcome Manny Acta. Justin Masterson and David Huff will be counted on heavily, along with Fausto Carmona. Carmona is coming off a dreadful season in which he was highly counted on behind Cliff Lee. Carlos Carrasco needs to take what he learned last season and turn it into a positive. Lou Marson will be behind the plate. Russell Branyan adds some offensive punch to go along with All-Star Grady Sizemore. Asdrubal Cabrerra is a talented player, and Matt Laporta showed us why he was a top prospect. A Travis Hafner sighting will go a long way for this offense.
Kansas City Royals – (COMPLACENT)
Maybe complacent isn’t the right word for the Royals. They made the deal with the White Sox. They brought in Jason Kendall, Rick Ankiel, and Scott Posednick. But to me, they just seem willing to stay where they are. This is a franchise with a great past. The late 70’s through the mid 80’s were the glory days. The biggest question they have is whether or not Alex Gordon will become the player they thought he was. Injuries and poor play have diminished his star. Gil Meche continues to be the veteran presence on the staff that is highlighted by Cy Young Award winner Zach Greinke. Joakim Soria is legitimate. David Dejesus, Jose Guillien, and Billy Butler need to get on base and produce runs. Brian Bannister and Luke Hochevar need to have solid seasons in the rotation. It’s just too bad that this once proud franchise seems to be ok with just treading water.
Well there you have it. The AL Central. I think it’s a three team race, and if things break right for the White Sox or Tigers, they could win it. On deck, the National League Central.