The American League Central is not nearly as miserable as their National League counterparts, probably because they only have five teams worth of rosters to fill up. Actually, despite the fact that no team broke the 90-win barrier last year, no team failed to win 70 games either. I'm calling this league a toss-up in 2009 and predicting that the difference between first and last place will be less than fifteen games.
Some of the exciting new arrivals in the division include two ex-Cubs who have joined up with Cleveland in Mark DeRosa and Kerry Wood, White Sox rookie second basemen Chris Getz, and, for some strange reason, Sidney Ponson. The Royals will try to get something positive out of the hero pitcher of the Netherlands WBC team despite his AMAZINGLY WELL-DOCUMENTED POOR RECORD IN THE MAJOR LEAGUES, not to mention his numerous legal troubles, including the infamous judge-punching incident. Also, Adam Everett switched teams and is now a Tiger. That's fun.
So join me after the jump and read up on the division that any team could win, if they only signed Barry Bonds and Pedro Martinez to shore up their weak points:
5. Chicago White Sox
- Jim Thome might push Rafael Palmeiro out of the top ten in all-time tater tots. Thome is currently #14 on the career HR list and could end up #9 if he plays his cards right. I try not to be too judgmental when it comes to alleged steroid users, but Raffy was a dastardly dickhead and does not belong among the Pantheon of ding-dongs.
- Carlos Quentin is healthy. The good doctors at Baseball Prospectus have him rated yellow, for caution but say that his 2008 wrist injury is unlikely to recur. Maybe this will be the year Q gets his MVP consideration.
- Um...they have a nice new spring training facility.
- Old farts in the middle. With Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye and Paul Konerko clogging up the middle of the order, it's one of the slowest teams in the league.
- Dewayne Wise is the new Corey Patterson. The team will struggle to get on base and nobody personifies that struggle more than Mr. Wise sitting atop the lineup. With Wise leading off and rookie Chris Getz in the nine spot, don't expect many RBI opportunities for the meat of the order.
- Bartolo Colon might make the rotation. That fatso proves that black is not necessarily slimming on every figure. If he can't nab the fifth slot, look for fellow aging vet Jose Contreras or Clayton Richard to pick up the slack. Past Mark Buehrle and John Danks, the ChiSox pitching is in tatters.
A sad-sack 70-92 record that sees them plummet from first place to last place, a sad-sack White Sox fan across the pond, and reliever Lance Broadway finally gives up baseball and takes off for Manhattan to pursue a career on his namesake street. Jazz hands!
4. Kansas City Royals
- Manager Trey Hillman knows the importance of on-base percentage. He's pushing the concept again this season, claiming that the more pitches his team sees, the better chance they'll have to outscore opponents.
- They have a tidy outfield defense. New acquisition Coco Crisp is range-y enough in centerfield to push incumbent David DeJesus to left field. Jose Guillen ain't no gold glover but he'll do in a pinch; fella had 10 assists last year.
- Joakim Soria speaks a language that has zero words for the concept of "fear". The Mexicutioner converted 42 of 45 save opportunities last year while striking out 8.8 batters per nine innings. Soria, acquired in the Rule V draft from San Diego, might be one of the niftiest moves of the Dayton Moore era.
- The Royals have nobody on the team who can get on base consistently. Sorry, Trey. Your heart is in the right place with your OBP preaching, but your ass is employed on the wrong team. Youngsters Billy Butler and Alex Gordon have yet to have their breakout seasons; even if 2009 is their year, there's still the corpse of Guillen clogging up the lineup.
- The rest of the bullpen stinks on ice. Really, Dayton? Kyle Farnsworth as a free agent signing? Really? Doug Waechter? Why not just sign Kenny Powers as your setup man? I hear he's available.
- They're the Royals.
- They have a true MVP candidate in the lineup. Joe Mauer and his sensuous sideburns rule the roost in the greater Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area, and he just might be the best catcher in all of baseball. Fella won't smash 20 ding-dongs or collect 100 RBI, but real stat nerds know there is true value in his patience in the batters box and smoothness squatting behind the dish. Did I mention he was handsome?
- Francisco Liriano is ready for his comeback. The southpaw missed all of aught-seven and half of last year but went 6-1 down the stretch to help his team nab a first place tie that eventually proved meaningless. But this blogger has high hopes for Frankie; as long as he keeps his walk rate and homer rate down, he'll be a solid number two.
- Joe Nathan gets results, you stupid Chief! Unlike their counterparts in the National League Central, the AL Central closers are a pretty good group. Nathan has been good for 35+ saves the last five years and shows no signs of slowing down. He's durable and solid as a rock.
- They are going to get out-homered by 50%. Besides clunky Canuck Justin Morneau, who on this team can smack a tater tot with aplomb? Hitting homers isn't the be all and end all of a team's success, but when your corner outfielders are Mike Cuddyer and Delmon Young, you're not a team built for power.
- Nick Blackburn, Philip Humber and Glen Perkins are not ready for primetime. The three guys fighting for the #4 and #5 spots in the rotation have no place in a major league rotation. The loss of Boof Bonser hurts, which is scary, because Boof Bonser really wasn't that good either.
- Carl Pohlad's ghost will haunt them forever. When longtime Twins owner Pohlad passed away in January, his body was buried behind the baggie but his spirit did not ascend to heaven nor descend to the depths of hell. Instead, Pohlad's ghostly apparition will haunt the Metrodome for its final year of existence. Expect new Twin Joe Crede to get slimed every third home game.
A perfectly average 81-81 record, an all-time Twins steals record by centerfielder Carlos Gomez, and several bouts of separation anxiety with ex-Twin Adam Everett.
2. Detroit Tigers
- Six-foot-five right-hander Rick Porcello (from New Jersey!) is the future of the franchise. The team's best prospect and perhaps one of the top five pitching prospects in all the land might get his shot at glory this year. It's not like his competition for the fifth starter slot are any good. Dontrelle Willis and Nate Robertson have seen better days, while Zach Miner might never have the control necessary to be a professional pitcher.
- They should beat up on the three previously discussed teams. It's fun to play in a bad division! The Tigers might not even be as good as the fifth-best AL East team, but when you get 57 games a year against the Royals, White Sox, and Twins, you'd better rack up some victories.
- They are not scoring 1,100 runs this year or any year. The average age of the Tigers lineup is 32; past Curtis Granderson and Miguel Cabrera, each of these guys is in the decline of their careers. If the team breaks five runs per game I'll be surprised. And hey, Cabrera's uniform looks a little tight lately, no?
- Brandon Lyon is nobody's closer. Dude blew saves last year like he had money on the other team. Five blown saves in thirty chances is no way to be a professional stopper, son. Even worse, with Fernando Rodney and Joel Zumaya as the set-up men, Lyon might not even have leads to protect.
- The Big Tilde totally sold out. I liked that blog better when it only had a couple readers, when they were all about the art, mannnn.
An 82-80 record that leaves them just shy of taking the division, Jim Leyland gets a 3-year contract extension of which he will manage just one before retiring to start a cattle ranch in Argentina, and Edwin Jackson pitches a no-hitter on May 26th, only to end the year 2-15 with an ERA north of 6.
1. Cleveland Indians
- Grady Sizemore is the best all-around player in the division. He's the proverbial six-tool player (hit for contact, hit for power, speed, range in the outfield, throwing arm, and caring for abandoned kitty cats) and probably should have won the MVP last year despite his team's poor, poor showing. No matter, Grady will score 100 runs, drive in 100 fellas, smash 30 tater tots, steal 30 bases, and break the hearts of thousands of fat Ohio girls all for the love of the game.
- Cliff Lee is an ace. The reigning AL Cy Young might regress a bit after his historically awesome 2008 season, but the next step down from 'awesome' is still 'pretty damn good.' He'll go out to the mound every five days and strike dudes out with his fat K:BB ratio (a solid 5.00 last year) and hopefully keep the gopher balls to a minimum.
- Kerry Wood is actually a very good closer. Despite spending half his year in Wrigley Field situations, he had a surprisingly low tater-tot rate (6.2% of fly balls) and kept his walks down. That's a recipe for success in the relief game. And even if his brittle bones and ligaments break down halfway through June, his backup Jensen Lewis is quite capable of carrying his weight.
- Travis Hafner is Haf the man he used to be. The fella they call Pronk was once good for 40 ding-dongs, 100 RBI and 100 walks on demand. Like yours truly, his thirties have seen him an a deep career decline. Assorted ouchies saw him regress to just 233 plate appearances and a .323 slugging percentage in 2008. He's old and he's one-dimensional and, unfortunately, now he even sucks at that one dimension. At least he's not signed through 2012 or anything.
- After Cliff Lee, the rotation falls off a craggy cliff. Fausto Carmona, Jeremy Sowers, Anthony Reyes, and Carl Pavano are nobody's idea of control pitchers. The Indians are going to need to score with efficiency and great frequency to win games because four out of five games will see their pitchers get hit hard. Hey, at least Jake Westbrook can't hurt the team too bad during April and May.
A good-enough-to-win-the-division 83-79 record, a hasty playoff exit at the hands of a to-be-named-later AL East team, and some of the finest owner-fan relations this side of the Ohio River.