2012 MLB Preview: AL Central
After a slow start, the Detroit Tigers rallied and took back the Central crown as the only team above .500 in the division. This was made possible because of a terrible finish by the once-division leading Cleveland Indians, underwhelming campaigns by the usually top-dog Minnesota Twins and Chicago White Sox, and a typical Kansas City Royals mediocre year.
2012 proves to be an even wilder year for the AL Central with the additions of Prince Fielder to the Tigers, the emergence of some young Royals, a new skipper in Chitown, the Ubaldo project in Cleveland, and the M&M boys attempting to bring Minnesota back to prominence. Here’s a preview of all five of these teams and my predictions for the year:
Chicago White Sox
Where we left them: After a subpar 79-83 season, Sox manager Ozzie Guillen declared he’d be leaving the team that he coached for eight seasons and led to one World Series title.
Despite achieving an above-average record away from home, the Sox had failed to win consistently at U.S. Cellular all season, because of a weak and injured pitching staff and a rough season for the newly acquired Adam Dunn.
New sheriff in town: With Guillen gone, the White Sox went on a mad search for a replacement to the hotheaded manager.
Finally, general manager Kenny Williams landed on former Sox player Robin Ventura. This will be Ventura’s first managerial job – and first coaching job after retiring from the game in 2004. He is clearly knowledgeable about the game and will bring a youthful and disciplined spring into the clubhouse of veterans, but Ventura is sorely inexperienced. Only time will tell if this matchup will work out.
Someone's gotta pitch in: The White Sox staff last season was, safe to say, mediocre.
Finishing eighth in the American League in ERA with no current starters finishing above .500 last year, the staff also lost its star veteran ace, Mark Buehrle, to the Marlins during the offseason.
Even with former All-Star Jake Peavy and solid ace John Danks on the mound, the White Sox starting staff looks to be just as abysmal this year as last. Ventura has moved lefty Chris Sale up from the bullpen to fill the void, but it may not be enough.
OIPS (Other Important Players): 1B Paul Konerko, DH Adam Dunn, 2B Gordon Beckham, RF Alex Rios, SP Gavin Floyd
Biggest Question: Will the young Ventura, only 37 years old, be able to connect to and motivate a mostly veteran ball club?
Prediction: Fifth in the AL Central; 65-75 wins; very slight shot at the Wild Card
Where we left them: At one point last season, the Tribe were 30-15 and the best team in baseball. But it was all a mirage, one that came crashing down during a long summer of empty crowds at Progressive Field. The addition of Ubaldo Jimenez near the trade deadline did not help, and Cleveland finished with an 80-82 record.
But recently, that hasn’t been the case. In 2011, he put up ERAs of 4.46 and 5.10 for the Rockies and the Tribe, respectively, finishing 10-13 in total. The Tribe spent a lot to get Jimenez, sending four prospects to Colorado, and are expecting him to be their long-term ace. He’s already gotten himself in hot water this season, earning a five-game suspension for intentionally plunking his former teammate, Troy Tulowitzki during a spring training game. Jimenez is under a lot of pressure this season, and if he doesn’t perform well, the Tribe have no shot at making the postseason.
OIPS: CF Grady Sizemore, SS Asdrubal Cabrera, RF Shin-Soo Choo, C Carlos Santana, DH Travis Hafner, SP Justin Masterson
Biggest Question: Will Jimenez and young newcomers like Carlos Santana live up to the expectations and bring Cleveland fans to the ballpark?
Prediction: Fourth in the AL Central; 70-80 wins; slight shot at the Wild Card
Where we left them: For the first time since joining the division in 1998, the Tigers won the AL Central last season by an astounding fifteen games, and locked up the #3 seed in the playoffs. After edging the Yankees in the ALDS, Detroit lost a tough ALCS to Texas, 4-2.
Prince had been the backbone of the Milwaukee Brewers ever since coming onto the scene in 2005. He has been the most consistent hitting force coming from the first base position, save Albert Pujols, and will fill the void left by the injured Victor Martinez. This addition will move Miguel Cabrera to third base, a position with which he is familiar, but not yet so comfortable (see: Cabrera eye injury).
Despite some potential fielding issues, the Tigers are sure to have the most dominant offense in the AL Central with the addition of the Prince.
Cy Justin: Has there been a pitcher more consistently dominant the past three years for one team than Justin Verlander? You’d be hard-pressed to find one.
Verlander is coming off another fantastic season, after which he won not only his first Cy Young – unanimously – but also won the AL MVP, making him the first starting pitcher to win both awards since Roger Clemens in 1986. During the campaign, he also recorded his second career no-hitter against the Toronto Blue Jays, serving up four strikeouts and only one walk! It was an amazing pitching season that we may not see for another 20 years, but you never know – Verlander shows no signs of slowing down.
OIPS: CF Austin Jackson, LF Delmon Young, SP Max Scherzer, SP Rick Porcello, CL Jose Valverde
Biggest Question: With the addition of Prince and the consistency of Verlander, can the other members of the Tigers starting staff pick up the slack and make Detroit the most complete team in baseball?
Prediction: First in the AL Central; 90-105 wins; a LOCK to win the division, very strong chance to make the World Series
Kansas City Royals
Where we left them: Just another mediocre year for the ever-suffering Royals, finishing 71-91. A hot start faded by the All-Star Break and Kansas City finally called up a few of their highly touted prospects.
A Royal revolution: Ever since the Royals have claimed their place at the bottom of the American League and started receiving high draft picks, they have been cultivating their young talent as meticulously as a Missouri farmer tends to his soybeans. At the end of every September for nearly 10 years, Royals fans have been saying, “Just wait ‘til next year.” Before 2011, only Alex Gordon has made an impact in the majors as a product of the farm system.
But this year, that’s about to change. This year could be the year.
Eric Hosmer, although he was called up last year, will start at first on Opening Day; he’s got the ability to put up a .300 average with 30 homers in his first season, he’s that good. Other rising stars – and now starters – include C Salvador Perez, 3B Mike Moustakos, and P Mike Montgomery. The future is alive and well in Kansas City and a division title is on the horizon.
Biggest Question: Is this year the year?
Prediction: Third in the AL Central; 75-85 wins; will make a run at Wild Card
Where we left them: In one of the most disappointing seasons in recent Minnesota memory, the Twins finished last in the division – and the American League – with a 63-99 record. Despite a hot summer (32-22), the Twins faltered when autumn came around, finishing on a 13-41 skid in the last two months.
Stale M&M’s: The main reason the Twins had such a hard time last year was because of the lack of production coming from their typical 3-4 hitters, C Joe Mauer and 1B/DH Justin Morneau.
Combined, the two didn’t even play a whole season (151 games), they hit seven HRs, and they only drove in 60 runs. Mauer didn’t start until half way through the year following arthroscopic knee surgery and Morneau had numerous stints on the disabled list for pinched nerves, concussions, shoulder injuries, a sore wrist, and flu symptoms. Possibly a better nickname for these two leaders last year would have been the Walking Dead.
Both intend to start at their usual positions this year, relatively healthy, but there are still a lot of questions.
They will take turns at DH this year and Mauer has already played first base and right field last season in an attempt to alleviate the pressure on his knees when he plays. Here’s the bottom line: if the M&M boys stay healthy throughout the season, the Twins will make moves in the division; if they don’t it’s back to the drawing board.
Biggest Question: Can Mauer and Morneau stay healthy and get the Twins back on top?
Prediction: Second in the AL Central; 70-85 wins; will make a run at Wild Card
2012 AL Central Predictions
3. Kansas City