Other than the Tigers, any team that seemingly turns a corner in this division seems to fade very quickly. I think back to the 07 Indians and they were built for a 3 or 4 year run even if they couldn’t hang on to C.C. Sabathia past the 2008 season. Well the 2008 season was a mess, and they haven’t come close since. The Twins were the class of the division for most of the 2000’s, but they’ve gone completely in the tank the last 2 seasons. The White Sox are usually pretty solid, but have only made the playoffs once in 2005 and they were quickly disposed of by the Rays in 4 games. Then you have the Royals who have been the division’s whipping boy. Perhaps this is there season to emerge…but history tells us in this division even if they do, it’ll be tough to maintain the success.
1. Detroit Tigers – The defending AL champs are still very much so the team to beat now that they have Torii Hunter added and Victor Martinez returning to what was already a scary lineup. I like Austin Jackson, but I think I would like him hitting 6th or 7th better. 5 tool guy, but that OBP needs to be up near .400 like it was in the first half last season. But that’s a minor problem to have. Hunter, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Victor Martinez, we’re talking BIG bats in the middle of this order. Obviously you can’t expect Cabrera to win the triple crown again. But you can expect him to still have one of the best bats in baseball, if not the best bat. The same goes for Justin Verlander. Probably shouldn’t expect a Cy Young every season, but the 29 year old is a horse and should continue to be among the best pitchers in the bigs. After Verlander it doesn’t get a whole lot easier either with Doug Fister, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez. Big righties who all have pretty dirty stuff. The only question mark on this team is in the bullpen. Jose Velverde is gone and rightly so after his awful postseason, but now they need to find his replacement. The buzz is about rookie Bruce Rondon, but if he falters they’ll have to find someone before the trade deadline. If Rondon can do the job, I believe this is a 100 win team. Can’t see them not winning this division, but crazier things have happened.
2. Kansas City Royals – They’re getting close. It has been about a 25 year rebuild in KC. I think when they started the rebuild the question was weather or not Jackson and Brett would want to be around for it! But they finall have the look of a team that can get in the playoffs for the first time since their World Series title in 1985! I personally loved the bold move GM Dayton Moore did in dealing top prospect and weekend update host Wil (yes, only 1 L) Myers to Tampa for James Sheilds and Wade Davis. They HAD to get pitching, and while we all tend to gush over prospects the fact of the matter is you simply don’t know what they will give you. Add to that Myers would have been a luxury at this point for the Royals. Alex Gordon has finally emerged, Billy Butler is a big stick, and Eric Hosmer should have a bounce back season. So they have a damn good offense, and the staff was massively improved not only by the trade for Sheilds and Davis, but also the trade for Ervin Santana. Sheilds and Santana both have a lot of experience, great stuff, and are in their primes. Jeremy Guthrie and Davis are the wildcards to me in this rotation. If they can give the Royals 12-15 wins this staff should be good enough to have them in the playoff race in September. I really like the arms they have in the bullpen, and if Greg Holland can solidify himself as the closer it could be the best pen in the Amerian League. Nobody knows for sure what to expect from this team, but I think the offseason moves should give everyone a lift and in a weaker division the Royals should make some noise.
3. Chicago White Sox – It was a real up and down season last year for the Chi Sox. Expectations were extremely low for this team going into the season. But Robin Ventura did a great job getting the most out of his roster and for much of the season they held 1st place in the Central. But the Tigers came on down the stretch and the White Sox just couldn’t hang with them. They went out with a wimper, 4-11 to end the season. 85 wins was still a success in my eyes though. Coming into this season I don’t like the loss of A.J. Pierzynski. It’s not that he’s that great behind the plate (pretty bad defensively) or with the bat (pretty damn good with the bat though), it’s that he’s a total spark plug both on and off the field. He keeps things interesting in the clubhouse and over 162 games you need that on a ball club. Tyler Flowers is a solid young player, but he has a lot more to replace than just a .278 average, 27 bombs and 77 RBI’s. The offense still has some pop. Adam Dunn will either strike out, fly out, or hit it out. Alex Rios had the best season of his career last season, Paul Konerko is still putting up big numbers but is now 37, so while the potential for a good offense is there I think there are just too many question marks to expect much. They’ll need to rely on their pitching which is rock solid with Chris Sale and Jake Peavy at the top of the rotation. The bullpen is rock solid as well. If they get the runs, they’ll be in the hunt for a wildcard spot. They just better hope last seasons collapse doesn’t carry over as we have seen happen with so many teams.
4. Minnesota Twins – What the hell has happened? This was the model franchise in MLB only about 3 years ago! Year after year they had a tiny payroll and they were a very competitive team. From 2002-2010 this franchise won 6 division titles. Of course they only won 1 playoff series in that time span, but I’m sure Twins fans would much rather have those problems again than the ones they’ve had the last 2 seasons. Terry Ryan was the architect of those teams and now he is back and the Twins hope he can work his magic and quickly. The pitching staff was a huge problem for this team the last 2 seasons, so he will be looking to do what he can to upgrade it even further. He’s already brought in Vance Worley, Mike Pelfrey, Kevin Coreria which should help, but the wildcard for them will be Kyle Gibson. This kid has absolutely filthy stuff, but was sidetracked by Tommy John surgery which forced him to miss the end of the 2011 season and most of 2012. If he can come back from that and show the promise he had 2 years ago the staff just might be formidable. The pen also needs a pretty big overhaul which Ryan has yet to really sink his teeth into, but I’m sure he will continue to retool throughout the season. I’m a big fan of Mauer and Morneau, and then Josh Willingham, Trevor Plouffe and Ryan Doumit are really good bats from the right side of the plate so the offense is pretty good in the middle. The problem will be replacing Denard Span and Ben Revere at the top of the order. I like Terry Ryan a lot and I think even though it looks pretty bleak on paper, this team will be a bit better than expected.
5. Cleveland Indians – First of all I’m a huge Terry Francona guy. Awesome hire for an organization that desperately needed someone with his experience, the level of respect that he will command, and the steady hand will bring to pressure situations. But the problem at least for this season is that Francona doesn’t have Big Papi, doesn’t have Manny, doesn’t have Pedroia, hell he doesn’t even have Kevin Millar! Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton, Pedro Cerrano, Roger Dorn, not even Rube Baker is walking through that door. I liked bringing Ohio native Nick Swisher home even though the money was pretty steep. Swisher is a great clubhouse guy and has a lot of experience as well….although his latest postseason experience was something I’m certain he would like to forget! Carlos Santana, Mark Reynolds, Asdrubal Cabrera and Michael Brantley make up the heart of the lineup along with Swisher, but they’re all just decent. They need a guy to emerge from that group. They also need a someone in the staff to emerge as well. You would think it would be Ubaldo Jimenez, but he’s never been close in Cleveland to what he was during the 2010 season. He’s getting worse, not better. Trevor Bauer is the kid who could emerge. As long as they don’t try to lean on him too much, if he learns to pitch he’ll be their ace someday soon. Unlike most of the teams in this division, closer won’t be a problem for the tribe. Chris Perez is a solid closer, although the rest of the pen isn’t anything to get too jacked about. It’s a rebuild that’s on the right track, but it has a long ways to go.
Follow me on twitter @TJ_Soups