Friday, March 29, 2013

2013 MLB Season Preview Part 2: AL Central

Snoop Lion in the house.

Continuing our quick rundown of each division...

AL Central

1. Tigers
My pick: Even

They spent most of last season figuring things out, not solidifying first place until late September despite being the odds-on favorites to run away with the division. Once they settled in (and patched a major hole at second base), they were dominant on their way to the AL pennant.

With free agent Torii Hunter and a recovered Victor Martinez joining the star trio of Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder and Austin Jackson, this is a much deeper lineup than they've had in recent years. Despite the Triple Crown performance by Cabrera, the team only put up 726 runs last year, their lowest total since 2005. They should easily exceed 800 runs this year.

The rotation is loaded, led by last year's top 2 strikeout pitchers in the American League with three above-average starters behind them. This could easily be the best starting staff in the AL. The bullpen situation is unsettled but there are enough good arms (Coke, Dotel, Albuerquerque, Benoit) to get by. They should run away with the division from the start this time and compete again for the AL championship.

2. Indians
My pick: Over

They're kind of a trendy pick to be a breakout team and it's easy to see why, the roster received a major injection of new talent. By some measures, this was the worst defensive team in baseball last year. They'll now have three quality centerfielders manning the outfield pastures including (by some measures) the most valuable defensive player in baseball last year, Michael Bourn.

The lineup looks surprisingly deep with lots of walks and power now added to the mix. Despite whatever flaws they may have, Nick Swisher, Mark Reynolds, Jason Giambi, and Drew Stubbs can all draw a walk and bash a homerun. I'm also a big fan of Carlos Santana's game (who isn't?).

It's the starting pitching that causes concern. The outfield upgrades will certainly save plenty of runs but there's nobody to be excited about pitching-wise. Maybe Scott Kazmir's inspiring return from the dead will continue and rookie right hander Trevor Bauer gets a chance to blossom. Either way, this team will need everything to break right if they are to even sniff the Wild Card. Ultimately, I see them with around 84 wins or so.

3. White Sox
My pick: Over

Always known for exceeding preseason projections, there's not much of an argument you can make for that possibility this time around. Their ceiling looks to be around .500 and that won't be enough to be a contender since the lowly AL Central never produces a Wild Card-worthy team and the path to a division title is suddenly so much steeper with the Tigers having improved.

I find it interesting that they've handed the starting catcher job to Tyler Flowers who hasn't proven himself in the majors yet at all. He reminds me a bit of Mike Napoli and indeed their minor league stats are similar (lots of walks, Ks, and power) so maybe he breaks out like Napoli did now that he's not fighting for playing time. I can see it happening.

With good defense and solid pitching all around, they'll be strong on the run prevention side but there's just not nearly enough offense here. If the team's lone superstar Chris Sale remains healthy over the full season, I'll say 80 wins and 3rd place. If he falters, they might be looking up at the Royals in the standings for once.

4. Royals
My pick: Over

While this is the best the Royals have looked in a while, they're still the Royals. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas haven't yet looked like the superstars they were projected to be (though both are still very young), Jeff Franceour is still starting for them, and the incompetent Ned Yost is running things from the dugout.

Despite plenty of reason for optimism on a young team with a much-improved rotation and good defense, I don't see them quite getting past .500 yet. And that'll represent progress for this flailing franchise. It's been 10 years since they last approached a .500 record.

5. Twins
My pick: Under

This team looks disgustingly bad. The franchise is stuck in a dark age; despite having Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau still on the roster the Twins have been basically unwatchable for a couple years now. It will be more of the same this year as their lineup is overloaded with scrubs and the entire pitching staff, top to bottom, is a horror show. This team really sucks, no other way of putting it.

They'll be lucky to avoid 100 losses again this year after losing 96 last year and 99 the year before.

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