2010 MLB Preview: AL Central

In order to help get you ready for the MLB season, we’re doing division-by-division rankings with quick overviews on how each club could fair in 2010. Next to each team, you’ll also find a corresponding number written in parenthesis, which indicates where we believe that club falls in a league-wide power ranking. Be sure to check back throughout the next two weeks leading up to the season, as we will be updating our content daily. Enjoy.

All 2010 MLB Preview Content | AL East Preview | AL Central Preview | AL West Preview | NL East | NL Central | NL West

Next up is the AL Central.

1. Chicago White Sox (9)
Some folks will think that this is too high for the White Sox – that they should be behind the Twins and out of the top 10 in terms of the overall power rankings. Some folks will say that Jake Peavy won’t be healthy all season and that the Chi Sox will once again falter as they try to live station to station on offense. Well, I say the folks that disagree with my opinion are friggin idiots. Harsh? Yeah, but it also needed to be said. I realize that I’m taking a risk by moving the Sox to the head of the AL Central, but really, it’s hard to argue that this division isn’t a crapshoot anyway. Every team has question marks heading into the season but at the end of the day, pitching makes or breaks a team. I realize Peavy missed all of last year due to injury, but the Sox were second in the AL in pitching last season with a 4.14 ERA without him. If he stays healthy, Peavy will only add to Chicago’s solid rotation (which also features Mark Buehrle, John Danks, Gavin Floyd and Freddy Garcia) and the addition of J.J. Putz should bolster the bullpen as well. Outside of injuries, the only thing that could potentially hold Chicago back this year is its offense. What do you mean that’s kind of a big deal? I’m banking that youngster Gordon Beckham develops quickly and that Carlos Quentin and Alex Rios return to form. I also think the Sox will get key contributions from the additions GM Kenny Williams made this offseason in Andruw Jones, Juan Pierre and Mark Teahen. I’m not expecting the Sox to magically transform into the Yankees of the AL Central, but I do believe they have enough offense to get by while their pitching carries them to a playoff berth.

2. Minnesota Twins (10)
Boo! Hiss! Why do you have the Twins behind the White Sox, moron? Minnesota fans aren’t going to appreciate this – especially considering they’re still all hopped up on the Joe Mauer contract juice. But the pitching staff scares the bejeuses out of me. I’m well aware of what Mauer and Justin Morneau can do with 42 inches of lumber and I think the offseason addition of Jim Thome was great. But does this team have enough starting pitching to make a run? Based on the starters’ performances thus far in spring training, the answer to that question is “yes.” Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Kevin Slowey, Carl Pavano and even Francisco Liriano have all looked good thus far but the Twins will need consistency out of this group throughout the entire season. Plus, Jon Rauch (or Heath Bell or Jason Frasor) has to step in for Joe Nathan, who was lost for the season after deciding to undergo Tommy John surgery. Even though Rauch has looked good himself this spring, Nathan left some pretty big shoes to fill. Another factor that I can’t shake is that the club is moving out of the Metrodome this year into the brand new outdoor Target Field. The Twins have gone 102-61 at home over the last two years and just 73-89 on the road. While it may sound trivial, they had a distinct advantage inside the dome – a distinct advantage they no longer have. That said, after I spent an entire paragraph doubting them, I do believe that the Twins have enough talent to run away with the Central. If the success that the starters have had this spring carries over into the regular season, then they should win the division. And if Rauch pitches as well as he did last season and in spring training this year, then he’ll ease the pain of the club not having Nathan. But something tells me that the Twins take a step back this year – the excitement about Mauer’s new contract be damned.

3. Detroit Tigers (16)
It’s hard to get a read on the Tigers. Are they a team moving forward or are they a team that’s ready to blow itself up and start rebuilding? Justin Verlander is a serious Cy Young candidate and Miguel Cabrera is a serious MVP candidate now that he has vowed to stay sober. (He was actually a serious MVP candidate when he was hitting the bottle the night before games, but being sober only helps things.) But here’s where my concern comes in with the Tigers: If things go bad in the first half, will the front office hold a fire sale at the deadline? No club in baseball has been hit harder by the downturn in the economy like Detroit has and I could see the Tigers creating financial relief for themselves by clearing some big contracts off the books – including Cabrera’s. That said, it’s not hard to see why Detroit fans are excited about the Tigers’ chances this year. Behind Verlander is 21-year-old phenom Rick Porcello and then promising, hard-throwing right-hander Max Scherzer, who was acquired in the Edwin Jackson deal. The Tigers also overpaid to watch Johnny Damon’s power decrease dramatically now that he won’t be hitting in Tornado alley, but fans seem excited about what he can bring to a lineup (i.e. patience at the plate, speed) and a clubhouse (i.e. orange slices and Capri Sun). As I wrote in the write up for the White Sox, the AL Central will be a crapshoot again this year. All three teams at the top of the division – the Sox, Twins and Tigers – have a legitimate shot at winning the Central and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least if Detroit wears the crown at the end of the year. But after they parted with Curtis Granderson in a cost cutting move this offseason, I worry about whether or not the front office is committed to winning. The Damon deal suggests that they are, but we’ll see what their intentions are around the trade deadline.

4. Kansas City Royals (25)
There’s just nothing to say about the Royals that hasn’t been said for the past 10 years. They’re so bland that sometimes you forget they’re even there. “Hey, who do the Sox play today?” “The Royals.” “Who? Christ, they’re still in the league?!” The problems that the Royals have from top to bottom are a mile long. They lack the basic fundamentals on the field, including but not limited to: base running, situational hitting and overall defense. This is also an organization that refuses to spend and what’s worse is that they have a brutal scouting department. So basically, it’s the worst of both worlds. That said, there is some hope on the horizon. Zach Greinke gives fans a legitimate reason to show up at the ballpark every fifth day and Billy Butler gives fans a legitimate reason to return from the concession stand when the Royals are up to bat. There’s also a lot of excitement surrounding 19-year-old Cuban defector Noel Arguelles and there is still one or two people left that believe Alex Gordon will develop too. But outside of that, the Royals (who?) will battle the Indians for fourth place in the division once again this season.

5. Cleveland Indians (28)
It just seems like yesterday that, after years of rebuilding, the Tribe had set themselves up with a solid core of players that would help them win for years to come. Then, after just one trip to the ALCS (2007), the club is now back in rebuilding mode. Cleveland fans must be thinking to themselves, “All right – who’s the jokester? Seriously guys, where’s CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Victor Martinez? I’m not kidding around – they were supposed to help us compete for a decade and now somebody has misplaced them.” If enough things break right, the Indians could actually finish near the middle of the pack this year. But a lot has to happen. Jake Westbrook and Fausto Carmona have to have solid seasons and Chris Perez has to fill Kerry Wood’s (out until early May with a strained right latissimus dorsi muscle, which can also be found in dolphins I think) shoes. Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner also have to bounce back from injuries and some of the young pups like Matt LaPorta and Asdrubal Cabrera have to contribute as well. All in all, the Tribe probably won’t be as bad as many think, but obviously expectations should be kept low seeing as how they are in rebuilding mode. “Rebuilding mode? Again? Are you serious?! Come on!”

Photo from fOTOGLIF

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