MLB Season Preview – AL Central
Probably the weakest division of the 3 in the AL, but it does boast the most consistent team in the AL over the last 3 seasons. Maybe that is due to the division being down, but then how do you explain the 4 playoff series wins? The Tribe rose up last season and won a wildcard spot and they’ll be a threat this season, the Royals have been threatening to bust out for a few seasons now, and while the Twins and White Sox are down both have been well run organizations for a long time and have high end young talent which may turn some heads this season.
The division champs aren’t going anywhere. Pitching staff is still great, the lineup even without Fielder is still great, maybe they’ll miss Jim Leyland but what seems to happen a lot in sports after a long time manager/coach leaves a great team is that short term they get a jolt from the change. Brad Ausmus has been highly touted for a few years now and should do a great job.
Pitching: Easily the best staff in the division, maybe in the AL. Verlander is just the best in my mind. Kershaw, Strasburg, Price, all great pitchers. I’ll take JV and I don’t care that he only went 13-12 last season, he was still great. And behind that guy you have the Cy Young winner, not bad. If you’re looking for a Max Scherzer breakout this season, Rick Porcello could be that guy. I like Joe Nathan being brought into close, but he is 40 so he may not have much left. Losing Bruce Rondon for the year hurts their pen.
Hitting: Cabrera’s numbers might be hurt with Prince Fielder no longer around, but he is still going to be one of the elite bats in all of baseball. At least they better hope he stays that way after giving him that ridiculous 10 year/292 million dollar extension!! Kinsler gives them a solid stick at 2nd, Victor Martinez looked good despite missing all of 2012, so they’ll be fine. They don’t have a ton of speed, but definitely will put enough runs on the board for this pitching staff.
Defense: Jose Iglesias likely done for the season, so they just dealt for Alex Gonzalez though and you know he will be solid. Kinsler is a good bat at 2nd but not a great fielder. Cabrera is better at 1st probably than Fielder, and rookie Nick Castellanous is likely going to be better at 3rd than Cabrera was, so that is an improvement. The OF is ok. Jackson and Hunter can cover a ton of ground and both have good arms. Overall it is a solid defensive club.
Believe it or not this is their oldest symbol. They changed it I believe in 2002 to a darker blue. Come on! Anyway, this HAS to be the season this team gets back to the playoffs. The Central is pretty weak, and they’re pretty well balanced. They’re overdue for a return to the playoffs. It has now been 27 seasons (28 years) of no postseason baseball. At that time they were a model franchise.
Pitching: Easily the 2nd best staff in the division. James Shields is a legitimate staff ace. They also got 211.2 innings last season out of Jeremy Guthrie. And while 3-5 they have question marks, they have 2 kids in Kyle Zimmer and Yordano Ventura who are really close. Zimmer has ace type stuff, and while Ventura is small and might be better suited for the bullpen, he has electric stuff and had 3 quality major league starts in September. As for the pen, it was the best in the AL last season. Closer Greg Holland was simply lights out.
Hitting: I like their lineup, I don’t love it. They really could use one of Hosmer or Butler to take the next step and become an elite hitter. Both are nice, but not feared. I feel like they have more potential to do that than Alex Gordon. All 3 put up pretty similar numbers. Mike Moustakas is a kid who has the tools to be a real good hitter, but hasn’t really figured it out yet at the major league level. They do have the ability to manufacture runs though with a lot of speed and contact hitters in the lineup.
Defense: Best defensive team in the division for sure. 3 gold glove winners last season in Perez, Hosmer and Gordon. Alex Gordon in fact has won it 3 years in a row so that move to LF from 3B certainly helped his career! Lorenzo Cain isn’t anything good offensively, but his D in CF is outstanding. Really all over the diamond this team is just great defensively, right there with the Orioles as the best defensive team in the AL.
I missed on a lot last season, but maybe the worst of all the misses was on the Tribe. I thought it would take a while for Francona to turn this team around, at least a season. Nope. Took spring training. But there is a big question going into this season as to weather or not they can repeat or exceed an incredible and surprising 2013 season.
Pitching: It’s not looking good. Justin Masterson is the staff ace, but apparently contract talks have broken off between him and the organization and he will test free agency. So that likely means he will be dealt prior to July 31st. It looked like Trevor Bauer might be ready last season, but he’ll need more seasoning. And the bullpen might be in as rough of shape as the starting staff. It’s not pretty, and could be a LONG season in Cleveland if they don’t get some shocking performances.
Hitting: While the staff looks pretty bad, the bats will have to pick up the slack much like the Indians teams of the 90’s did. And while this lineup is good, it isn’t THAT good. They’re just kind of solid 1-9. Nobody stands out. No big power, some speed with Bourn and Kipnis, Brantly and Kipnis had the top BA of only .284, so the chances that they start mashing this season like the Tribe of old are slim to none. Nice lineup, but nothing special.
Defense: The Indians haven’t had a gold glove winner since Grady Sizemore went back to back in 07 and 08. They aren’t that good defensively either and the more research I do on this team the more I find myself asking “how the hell did Terry Francona do this?!” No other way to describe them defensively as just ok. Nobody that hurts them, but no stud either.
While the Royals hardly ever mess with their symbol, I LOVE this old school one for the Twins! I’m still stunned that this team fell off the way they did after the 2010 season. They were so strong from 2002-2010 and because of budget restraints were still very young. But everything went wrong. We will see if Ron Gardenhire can get them back to playing like those teams did.
Pitching: It is an improved staff, but still isn’t anything to get too pumped about. Ricky Nolasco can give you 200 innings, but he’s just ok. Phil Hughes has the talent to be a number 2 guy, and I think getting out of NY will be good for him, but you shouldn’t be depending on him. Kyle Gibson once upon a time was an elite prospect, but injuries and inconsistency have him chasing his potential. Bullpen is the middle of the pack but they did find a decent closer last season in Glen Perkins.
Hitting: Moving Mauer to 1B should help his power numbers specifically. It is tough to top a .324 BA, but doubling his HR totals (11 in 2013) should be attainable. Brian Dozier was a nice surprise at 2B last season, but outside of these 2 it isn’t pretty. Nobody had 20 HR’s, they don’t steal a lot of bags, other than Mauer nobody with more than 200 AB’s hit .260. It’s bad. Stud prospects Byron Buxton and Miguel Sano can’t get here fast enough.
Defense: No gold glove winners kicking around (Mauer was but obviously not at 1st), but this team is really solid in the field. Mauer shouldn’t have too much trouble adjusting to playing 1B, Dozier is solid at 2nd, they aren’t flashy but they don’t make many mistakes. A .987 fielding percentage last season.
Paul Konerko is just about the only recognizable face that this team will be putting on the field this season, and it could be his last. They’re rebuilding on the South side of the windy city, so it might be a few years until we see something similar to the team that had been right in the mix in the AL central since 2005.
Pitching: This staff is actually pretty good and made me think hard about placing them ahead of the Twins and possibly the Indians in the division because while it isn’t saying much, they are better at the top than those 2 teams. Sale is an elite number 2 guy if he isn’t an ace, and Jose Quintana gave them 200 innnings last season with a 3.51 ERA. It gets bleak after them though. Their bullpen was pretty bad last season, finishing the year with an ERA of 4.00. Nate Jones will start this season as the closer.
Hitting: The total wildcard here is Cuban rookie Jose Dariel Abreu or JDA as he will be known as I’m certain….he won’t be Yasiel Puig, but big things are expected out of the 27 year old. Adam Dunn can still go deep but that’s all he can do. If you read my preview last season, specifically on the D-Backs, then you know I’m a big Adam Eaton guy and a lot of pundits seem to feel the same way. He was never fully healthy last season, so this could be his coming out party as a top lead off man.
Defense: Worst fielding team in the division last season, 2nd worst in all of baseball. 121 errors and just a .980 fielding percentage. Terrible to say the least, but it isn’t that shocking with such a young team. I like Alexei Ramirez at short, but outside of him I really don’t know what they’ll get from their kids in the field.
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