Oscar season is officially over, which it means it's finally time for us to turn our gaze towards the Walkoff Walk annual divisional previews. Do yourself a favor and look back at 2008 and 2009's versions for a chance to wander down the hallways of silly predictions and hack jokemaking.
Previously, Rob checked out the exciting National League West. Today, we flip back to the AL to run down the flyover states where people eat a lot of potatoes.
Even if you were in a coma for the whole 2009 season, (I'm looking at you, BJ Upton) last year's AL Central standings has an anomaly that's impossible to overlook. The Twins and Tigers played 163 games. And that only happened after the Tigers blew a 7 game lead in the final month of the season. The champion Twins pretty much stood pat, using their offseason to lock up Joe Mauer and Nick Blackburn, while the White Sox and Tigers did some significant dealing. And the Royals got Rick Ankiel. At least Indians fans are optimistic! Even more so than last year when Rob picked them to win the division. To the picks!
5. Kansas City Royals
5. Kansas City Royals
- Reigning AL Cy Young winner and most popular player in baseball Zach Greinke is geared up for another big season, the second of a five year deal. Despite a down year in 2009, #2 starter Gil Meche has done a mostly admirable job in KC.
- Billy Butler lived up to some expectations last season and is as legitimate a run producer as other more highly touted divisional infielders like Justin Morneau or Miguel Cabrera.
- Joakim Soria.
- Despite being something of a major league reclamation project for '07 and '08, Scott Podsednik actually represents an upgrade at leadoff over last season's injury necessitated twosome of Coco Crisp and Willie Bloomquist. Wait, maybe this should be in the bad column.
- Rick Ankiel fell off an offensive cliff last year and is projected to hit 2nd. Alex Gordon spent most of last year injured and is starting this season off with a broken thumb. Couple that with Jose Guillen still getting a huge share of the at bats in the 5 spot and it's hard to see where any production outside of Butler is going to come from.
- Infield defense.
- Brian Bannister is now coming off of two disappointing seasons and along with the underwhelming Ho Shaver and Kyle Davies round out the staff. Not enough arms.
Predictions: 60-102 record, Joe Cocker and Jennifer Warnes remake "Love Lift Us Up" as "Back In The Basement Where We Belong." It becomes the 7th inning Jam O' the Year at Kauffman.
4. Cleveland Indians
- Coming off of career years, Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin Soo Choo fit nicely with Grady "Teacup" Sizemore at the top of the order.
- Indians people are chomping at the bit to get Matt LaPorta some at bats. He's a Florida alum, I am rooting for abject failure, but by all accounts he's a natural hitter and decent fielder so I'm probably out of luck.
- Kerry Wood entering his 3rd season as a viable major league closer. He's averaged over 10/K per game since moving to the back end.
- Eesh, that rotation. Westbrook, Carmona, Masterson, Laffey and something named Mitch Talbot. At least Westbrook is in the last year of a terrible contract.
- Travis Hafner nee Travis Hafner is shouldering the burden for a full season in the cleanup spot. He showed flashes of his old self in limited AB last season, but how much has he really lost? This actually belongs somewhere between the good and bad.
Predictions: 69-93 record, Hot prospect catcher "Lou Marson" turns out to be an 82 year old nymphomaniac chainsmoking woman.
3. Chicago White Sox
- Jake Peavy is on the Southside. What seems like it was a 25 year struggle for the Good Ol' Boy to escape from San Diego lands him as the 1a starter with Mark Beurhle. Formidable top of the rotation.
- A full season from 2B Gordon Beckham should produce some big numbers at the plate.
- Too much riding on Alex Rios and Juan Pierre both in the outfield and in the top half of the order. Rios's had a .296 OBP in 2009 and Pierre had a feel good season in LA but getting an entire's season of ABs in the leadoff spot could make Chicago fans forget that quickly.
- Defense up the middle from from Beckham and Alexei Ramirez is error prone and not all that rangey.
- Carlos Quentin is now one and a third injury riddled seasons removed from proving that his MVPish season in '08 was no fluke.
Predictions: 77-85 record, Ozzie Guillen leaves his wife and moves in with his mistress, a 450 pound lion. Gavin Floyd buys a pogo stick.
2. Minnesota Twins
- Boy, that Joe Mauer aint too shabby. Morneau, Kubel and Cuddyer also have their moments. We have yet to know anything about park factor at Target Field, but a nearly identical lineup produced the most runs in the division last year and 4th overall in the AL.
- Francisco Liriano is healthy and out of minor league options. 200 innings out of him could significantly boost this rotation.
- Ron Gardenhire looks like this.
- Baker, Pavano, and Slowey all gave up around 10 hits per game last year. This doesn't bode well for new 2B Orlando Hudson.
- Joe Nathan is hurt!
- Without a significant contribution from Liriano that puts 50's country star Glen Perkins back in the rotation. Not optimal.
Predictions: 82-80 record, JJ Hardy cries himself to sleep each night because he misses the tropical climate of Milwaukee, Delmon Young puts out a record of droney shoegaze on Drag City.
1. Detroit Tigers
- You'll notice that the Tigers are the only team in the division that didn't land in the bottom five of last year's UZR ratings (The Royals were 30th, the Twins 28th, the White Sox 27th, and the Indians 26th). The Tigers were 5th and that ranking wouldn't have suffered dramatically without Curtis Granderson's 1.6.
- Granderson's replacement in CF, Austin Jackson, has tremendous potential and along with 2B Scott Sizemore could make up the best rookie tandem in the league.
- Verlander is a near ace, Rick Porcello is emerging as one and with the young Max Scherzer on board, there is enough upside (shoot me) to this rotation to potentially smooth over the bad old times of last year's Dontrelle Willis debacle, and non-seasons from Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson.
- There are still plenty of home runs in the dusty old bats of Damon, Guillen, and Cabrera (who isn't even old). And possibly Tilde.
- Robertson and Bonderman are penciled into the rotation again. Drastic improvement is needed.
- A long losing streak, a wave of tough injuries or other varied misfortunes could really send Smilin' Jim Leyland packing for retirement midseason. After last year's collapse I imagine his last working, coffee colored nerve to be near extinction.
Predictions: 84-78 record, Gerald Laird takes his pants off in the DMV claiming that his vision is fine but his butt needs glasses.