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2013 American League Central Preview

Jeremy Bergman |
March 26, 2013 | 12:16 p.m. PDT

Associate Sports Editor

Chris Sale will anchor a veteran staff on the South Side. (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
Chris Sale will anchor a veteran staff on the South Side. (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)

In what should be an exciting season of upheaval in Major League Baseball, there will be no such radical change in what is considered by many to be the league's weakest division: the American League Central.

Although there is clearly a dominant team in the Central this year, the next four spots in the division are up-for-grabs. The Tigers are sitting pretty at the top, coming off their impressive postseason run, but their rivals are closing in on the talent gap. Big offseason moves by Cleveland and Kansas City indicate that the traditional division doormats are determined to win now, while the aging power and leadership structures in Chicago and Minnesota are still strong and present.

The 2013 regular season will be one of transition for most of the teams in the AL Central and will be telling as to how the division will be won for years to come and who will do so, although there is no doubt that 2013 belongs to the Motor City.

Chicago White Sox (2012: 85-77, 2nd)

Key Additions: 3B Jeff Keppinger, RP Matt Lindstrom

Key Departures: C A.J. Pierzynski, SP Philip Humber, 3B Kevin Youkilis, SP Brett Myers, SP Francisco Liriano

Last season, a promising year on the South Side diamond crashed hard and fast in the last weeks of play. In a season that featured only the White Sox's third perfect game in franchise history, on the arm of Philip Humber, and more than a three-month stint at the top of the AL Central, Chicago went 4-11 down the stretch, losing the division title and a spot in the postseason. It was an impressive first go-around for Robin Ventura as the Sox manager, who got the most out of his young staff, including Chris Sale (17-8, 3.05 ERA, 192 K), and his aging sluggers, like Paul Konerko (.298, 26 HR) and Adam Dunn (41 HR). 

However, unlike many of their division rivals, the Sox didn't make any headline-worthy transactions over the offseason. In fact, they let the young Humber walk onto the waiver wire where he was claimed by the Houston Astros. Humber will be replaced in the starting lineup by rookie Jose Quintana (6-6, 3.76 in 2012). Quintana will join a healthy pitching staff that boasts Opening Day starter Sale, veterans Jake Peavy and Gavin Floyd, and the injury-prone John Danks, who sat out most of last season with shoulder issues. If Danks pitches well in his last few minor league stints of the spring, he could cement his spot in the starting rotation for Opening Day and provide the Sox with the division's most consistent and formidable top-to-bottom rotation. 

At the plate, the South Siders are led by two aging members of the Old Guard of Sluggers. Despite his massive dips in batting average over the past few season, Dunn is still a top-10 power hitter in the game, and Konerko is the de facto leader of the team and a consistent middle-of-the-lineup guy. The fate of the Sox's 2013 season lies in the bats of their younger players. Gordon Beckham and new starting catcher Tyler Flowers had underwhelming campaigns at the plate last year (.234 and .213, respectively) and will need to improve if Chicago has any shot of competing for a wild card, let alone the division. 

Prediction: 75-80 wins, 4th in AL Central, very slight chance at Wild Card

The addition of manager Terry Francona has everyone in Cleveland eyeing the elusive prize. (Wikimedia Commons)
The addition of manager Terry Francona has everyone in Cleveland eyeing the elusive prize. (Wikimedia Commons)
Cleveland Indians (2012: 68-94, 4th)

Key Additions: IF/OF Nick Swisher, OF Michael Bourn, SP Brett Myers, 1B Mark Reynolds, OF Drew Stubbs

Key Departures: DH Travis Hafner, 1B Casey Kotchman, OF Shin-Soo Choo

No team received, or needed, more of a face lift over the offseason than the Cleveland Indians. The club couldn't hit for power (Carlos Santana led the team with just 18 dingers), its starting pitching was disappointing (Justin Masterson led the team with 11 wins and a 4.93 ERA), the organization couldn't draw fans (29th in home attendance), and the Indians missed the playoffs for the fifth straight year since they were one game away from the World Series in 2007. 

Cleveland will open the 2013 campaign with new manager Terry Francona at the helm - Francona took a one-year hiatus at ESPN after his successful stint as Red Sox manager during which he won two World Series. When Tito took over Boston in 2004, his club broke the Curse of the Bambino in the same year; Indians fans are hoping his "One and Won" reputation transfers over to America's most winning-less city. 

Joining Tito is a plethora of hitting talent that came to Lake Erie via free agency. Swisher, Bourn, Stubbs, and Reynolds are dependable power-oriented hitters that will all start and certainly help the Indians' mediocre lineup. The key to Cleveland's offensive production this year will be the consistency from the young guns - Santana and Asdrubal Cabrera - to compliment the power of the slugging newcomers. If the Indians can put more men on base, they may experience their greatest offensive season since the days of Jim Thome.

Still, pitching may be Cleveland's undoing. Ubaldo Jimenez's presence in the starting rotation was disastrous, if not a complete distraction. The highly-touted trade-deadline acquisition has underwhelmed tremendously since he came to Cleveland, finishing last year 9-17 with a 5.40 ERA. Whether the addition of Myers will take some of the pressure off Ubaldo and ease him back to his Cy Young caliber days is still to be determined, but it is imperative that he improves - Cleveland will not be able to stomach a league-worst rotation (4.78 ERA) two years in a row. 

Prediction: 75-85 wins, 3rd in AL Central, good chance at Wild Card

Justin Verlander and the Tigers will be all smiles this season while cruising to a division title. (lakelandlocal/Creative Commons)
Justin Verlander and the Tigers will be all smiles this season while cruising to a division title. (lakelandlocal/Creative Commons)
Detroit Tigers (2012: 88-74, 1st, lost in World Series)

Key Additions: OF Torii Hunter

Key Departures: P Jose Valverde, 2B Ryan Raburn, OF Delmon Young

If it ain't broke, don't fix it. And so go the Detroit Tigers.

Despite starting the 2012 season slowly, Detroit finished strong, winning the AL Central title in the last week of the season and pitching their way through the American League playoffs and into the World Series. Miguel Cabrera captured the first American League Triple Crown (.330, 44 HR, 39 RBI) since 1967 and was the runaway league MVP. The rest of the Tigers' lineup was stellar, including new addition Prince Fielder (.313, 30, 108) and upstart Austin Jackson (.300, 16, 66), and was ranked in the top ten of most offensive categories. Justin Verlander impressed once again, leading the league in innings pitched and ranking second in ERA (2.64). Overall, the staff performed well, ranked third in the AL with a 3.75 ERA.

Although Detroit impressed statistically throughout the regular season and the AL Playoffs, the memory of getting swept by San Francisco in the Fall Classic is not, and should not, be long forgotten. After rolling through the Yankees in the ALCS, many pundits were stone-cold confident that Detroit would make mince meat of the gimmicky Giants; instead, the Tigers' bats froze with the weather, averaging 1.5 runs/game, and Detroit's pitchers - ahem, Verlander - let Kung Fu Panda and the rest run all over them. 

Still, there is not much to worry about in the Motor City this season. The Tigers will miss Jose Valverde, their streaky closer of last year's playoff run, and the bullpen may struggle while meddling with a closer-by-committee system; but their lineup and rotation, head-to-toe, are tops in the Central without a doubt and, barring any significant injuries to their power hitters or Verlander, the Tigers will cruise to a division title and, quite possibly, the best record in the league. 

Prediction: 88-102 wins, 1st in AL Central, LOCK to win the division, very strong chance to make World Series

Are the Royals finally ready to put all the pieces together and make a run at the playoffs? (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
Are the Royals finally ready to put all the pieces together and make a run at the playoffs? (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
Kansas City Royals (2012: 72-90, 3rd)

Key Additions: SP James Shields, SP Ervin Santana, SP Wade Davis, C George Kottaras, 3B Miguel Tejada

Key Departures: OF Will Myers, C Joakim Soria, P Mike Montgomery, P Jake Odirizzi

So last year I said that 2012 would finally be the year for the long-plagued Royals. While Kansas City certainly improved, moving up to third in the division, the Royals' top young talent underachieved - or at least, did not live up to this writer's expectations - and once again, their rotation struggled mightily (4.30 ERA, 10th in AL). Makes you wonder if the Royals will ever again have a year, reminiscent of the glory days of George Brett and Astroturf.

But mark my words: this is the year! The Royals are finally living in the now (YOLO, as the kids say). A blockbuster deal with the Tampa Bay Rays landed two high-quality starters in the prime of their careers (Shields and Davis) in Kansas City, in return for three hot prospects. Add Ervin Santana to the mix and, in one summer of dealing, Ned Yost and the Royals have developed a promising and layered rotation for the first time in years. After building through the farm for nearly a decade, Kansas City finally looks ready to contend because of strong veteran additions.

The Royals will need more production out of Eric Hosmer (.232, 14 HR, 60 RBI), who had an impressive spring at the World Baseball Classic, but has yet to shine in the majors. If Hosmer can come through this year and provide the powerful burst that is so needed in the heart of the order, anchored by DH Billy Butler and LF Alex Gordon, then he may just give the Royals the balance they have sought after for years to compete and thrive in the AL Central. 

Prediction: 75-85 wins, 2nd in AL Central, good chance at Wild Card

The M&M Boys will need Mantle and Maris-like numbers to help the Twins compete in 2013. (Wikimedia Commons)
The M&M Boys will need Mantle and Maris-like numbers to help the Twins compete in 2013. (Wikimedia Commons)
Minnesota Twins (2012: 66-96, 5th)

Key Additions: P Vance Worley, P Rich Harden, P Mike Pelfrey, P Rafael Perez

Key Departures: OF Denard Span, SP Carl Pavano, OF Ben Revere

If ever I was wrong about anything in life, it was my prognostication about the Minnesota Twins' 2012 season. Although they improved by three games in the win category, the Twins still dwelled in the cellar of the AL Central. Thanks to horrid pitching (4.77 ERA, 13th in AL) and defense (107 errors), the mildly impressive comebacks from Joe Mauer (.319, 85 RBI), Justin Morneau (.267, 19 HR, 77 RBI) and the rest of the Minnesota lineup was canceled out and went unnoticed.

The Twins attacked the market for free agent pitchers with a vengeance, snagging a plethora of veterans and ex-aces. Despite adding the likes of Harden, who had been hampered by injuries, and Pelfrey, who is coming off of Tommy John surgery, the Twins' rotation is still the weakest in the division. On the bright side, new acquisition Worley (6-9, 4.20 ERA) will add some youth and juice to the rebuilding ball club and will be a staple for years to come.

If Minnesota is to make any run at respectability this year, the M&M Boys must play at All-Star levels, not only maximizing their output, but leading and mentoring an otherwise no-name lineup. The Minnesota front office spent a combined $264 million to keep the two in the Twin Cities long enough to open Target Field and sustain success there. This season will tell if Mauer and Morneau were worth the hefty investments.

Prediction: 65-75 wins, 5th in AL Central, no chance at Wild Card

2013 AL Central Prediction

1. Detroit Tigers

2. Kansas City Royals

3. Cleveland Indians

4. Chicago White Sox

5. Minnesota Twins

Reach Associate Sports Editor Jeremy Bergman via e-mail or on Twitter



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