Wednesday, March 26, 2014

AL Central Preview

We continue our division preview with the AL Central on day 2. The Central looks like it will be a 3 team race between the Tigers, Indians, and Royals, with the White Sox and Twins in re-building mode, but not too far behind. Remember to comment and share your opinions and predictions!

1. Detroit Tigers 
The Tigers are looking for a 4th straight AL Central crown, but it's going to be a dog fight in the Central this year. The Tigers have some serious competition with the Indians and Royals both putting together solid teams. The off season was a busy one for Detroit. After losing to the Red Sox in 6 games in last year's ALCS, the Tigers made some major changes. The biggest of course, was trading away Prince Fielder and getting Ian Kinsler in return to play second base. Kinsler will replace Omar Infante at second, which should add to an already potent lineup. Of course, they still have the two time defending AL MVP monster that is Miguel Cabrera to anchor their lineup. They also signed reliable closer Joe Nathan to help improve a weak bullpen. The rotation remains the best in the division, with reigning AL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and Anibal Sanchez leading the way. The only glaring weak spot on the roster is at shortstop, after Jose Iglesias went down with an injury. While he was not a offensive weapon, he is one of the best defensive players in the league and Detroit will surely miss him. The Tigers are very similar in talent to last year's Tiger team, but the difference this year is that the Indians and Royals should be better.

If Everything Goes Right: The bullpen is much improved from last year, and it pushes the Tigers over the top to the World Series crown they've come so close to the last few years.

If Everything Goes Wrong: The bullpen collapses, the offense declines, and the Tigers watch Kansas City or Cleveland take over the Central.

X-Factor: Joe Nathan. Nathan has been one of the most reliable closers in baseball throughout the past few seasons; and the Tigers desperately need a strong closer. It seems like a match made in heaven. If Nathan helps Detroit solve their bullpen problems, they could win their first World Series since 1984.

2. Cleveland Indians
The Indians surprised everyone last year, grabbing a wild card spot. It was their first playoff birth since 2007, although it ended in the Wild-Card game when they lost to the Rays. Over the winter they  lost starting pitcher Ubaldo Jiminez, but look for Danny Salazar to step up in his absence. Salazar should combine with Justin Masterson and Corey Kluber to form a solid rotation. Their offense is pretty good, with Carlos Santana and Nick Swisher leading the way. The Tribe signed John Axford to take over the closing duties, and he should be a good fit in Cleveland.

If Everything Goes Right: The Indians overtake the Tigers to win the AL Central through their clutch pitching and timely hitting. And this time, the Tribe don't go one and done in the playoffs.

If Everything Goes Wrong: The offense struggles and the rotation steps a step back, causing the Indians to miss the playoffs.

X-Factor: Danny Salazar. Big things are expected of Salazar this year. The Indians clearly have confidence in him, as they gave him the ball against the Rays in the Wild-Card game last October. Salazar pitched fairly well in 2013, posting an ERA slightly north of 3.00 in 10 starts. If the Tribe are going to end Detroit's reign in the Central, they need Salazar to be an ace.

3. Kansas City Royals
The Royals had a low key offseason, with their major moves being signing 2B Omar Infante and OF Norichika Aoki. While they are under the radar moves, they should boost an offense that already has young stars Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez. Closer Greg Holland has quickly become one of the best closers in baseball, and gives the Royals a strong chance to win when he comes into close a game. The rotation is the weakest part of the team, as James Shields is the only truly consistent starter on the staff. However, the offense could be good enough to overcome any shortcomings the rotation might have.

If Everything Goes Right: The young offense turns into a wrecking crew and leads the Royals to their first AL Central crown in team history.

If Everything Goes Wrong: The Royals miss the playoffs as they continue to wait for their young players to turn into superstars, while the watch their former top project Wil Myers turn into an MVP caliber player

X-Factor: Mike Moustakas. Just a few years ago, "Moose" was expected to be the next big thing at third base. However, in his 2 full major league seasons, he's hit .233 and .242 and has been quickly discarded as a mediocre third baseman. If he's able to reach his full potential, it would make an already strong Royal offense lethal.

4. Chicago White Sox
Over the winter, the Sox signed Cuban superstar Jose Abreu to a 6 year/$68 million deal. They also dealt away closer Addison Reed and acquired young prospect Adam Eaton in return. This should be a good move for the future. While the White Sox won't compete this year, they're building a young core in ace Chris Sale and Adam Eaton for the future.

If Everything Goes Right: Abreu becomes the star Chicago is paying him for, and the White Sox young players make progress, foreshadowing a return to playoff contention in 2015.

If Everything Goes Wrong: Abreu is a bust, the young guns struggle, and the South Side of Chicago has to wait awhile for another competitive team.

X-Factor: Jose Abreu. All eyes will be on the Cuban sensation in Chicago this season. If he lives up to the hype, the White Sox investment will be well worth it.

5. Minnesota Twins
There's not too much expectations for the Twins this year, but that will change soon. Minnesota boasts the #1 prospect in baseball with Byron Buxton, who should make his major league debut next season. Unfortunately, another highly touted prospect, Miguel Sano, went through Tommy John surgery and is out for the entire season. It's a shame, because Sano was expected to be in the bigs this year, but his development will have to be delayed by at least one year. The other big news from Minnesota this winter is Joe Mauer's move from catcher to first base. The Twins hope the switch helps improve Mauer's health and offense.

If Everything Goes Right: Sano recovers quickly from the Tommy John surgery and Buxton continues to destroy the minor leagues. The Twins are close to contending with these two stars

If Everything Goes Wrong: Sano has trouble returning from surgery, Buxton crashes back down to Earth, and the Twins are forced to wait a few more years.

X-Factor: Byron Buxton. While Buxton probably won't see a single pitch in the bigs this year, he's still the best prospect in baseball and the most important player in the Twins organization. The Twins need him to continue to improve if they want to compete soon.

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