AL Central Preview (Part 3)

Now that I’ve broken down and ranked the individual components of each team in the division, it is time to tally the rankings, examine the teams as a whole, and think about what needs to go right for each team this season.

Rankings Recap:

 

MIN

KC

CWS

DET

CLE

C

1

5

3

4

2

1B

2

5

3

1

4

2B

4

2

5

1

3

3B

3

1

4

5

2

SS

4

1

2

5

3

OF

2

3

1

4

5

DH

2

3

4

1

5

Starters

1

3

2

4

5

Closer

1

2

4

5

3

Bullpen

3

1

2

4

5

Bench

1

4

5

3

2

Manager

3

5

2

1

4

Totals:

27

35

37

38

43

What these rankings and totals don’t show is the amount of separation within each measured component. Some categories have a large gap between 1st and 5th while other categories have a very small gap in the ranking. The rankings for closer are an excellent example of this. There is very little difference between 1st and 2nd, but a big difference between 2nd and 3rd, and an ever greater gap between 4th and 5th.

What has to happen for the Twins to win the division?
• The most important thing for the Twins rotation is to stay healthy. At the end of 162 games the best and deepest rotation will have their team in 1st place. In this division Minnesota starts the year with that rotation.
• They have the major and minor league depth to sustain a couple of injuries among the position players.
• Any injuries they have in the bullpen can be filled with similar quality from the minors because there isn’t much separation in talent level between their major league pen and what is down in the minors.
• Either Carlos Gomez and/or Delmon Young have to have a breakout season at the plate.
• Alexi Casilla and/or Denard Span need to improve on their surprise performances last season.
• Player(s) they can’t afford to lose: Justin Morneau and Joe Nathan
• Breakout Player(s): Delmon Young and Kevin Slowey

What has to happen for the White Sox to win the division?
• Carlos Quentin, John Danks, and Gavin Floyd have to prove 2008 was not a fluke.
• Josh Fields or Chris Getz has to step up and establish himself as an everyday ML player.
• They need to be in the mix at the trade deadline or else the aging group of Konerko, Thome, and Dye could be sent packing in deals. For the future of the franchise, moving these players at the deadline may be better long term even if they are in the mix. GM Ken Williams doesn’t get burned very often in deals and as an organization they have been willing to take the PR hit and disband prematurely.
• Player(s) they can’t afford to lose: Carlos Quentin and Mark Buehrle
• Breakout Player(s): Alexei Ramirez

What has to happen for the Royals to win the division?
• Gil Meche, Zack Greinke, and Kyle Davies all need to routinely pitch deep into games and provide quality innings to keep the bullpen fresh for when the 4th and 5th starters are pitching.
• The worst fielding infield in baseball has to be fundamentally sound and play sound above-average defense as a unit.
• Mark Teahen needs to prove he is worthy of being an everyday player on a major league team.
• Either Billy Butler or Alex Gordon needs to prove they can be all-star caliber hitters.
• Mike Aviles needs to keep Tony Pena Jr. on the bench.
• Sidney Ponson and/or Horacio Ramirez need to be replaced in the rotation with better options by midseason. One of those options needs to be Luke Hochevar.
• Trey Hillman needs to improve his decision making.
• Player(s) they can’t afford to lose: Zack Greinke and Joakim Soria
• Breakout Player(s): Mark Teahen and Zack Greinke

What has to happen for the Tigers to win the division?
• There is little chance for the Tigers to win the division. Outside of Cabrera their lineup is old, their rotation is thin, their bullpen is filled with question marks, and they open the season with one of the worst closers in baseball.
• Justin Verlander needs to pitch like he did in 2006 and 2007.
• Armando Galarraga has to at least equal his 2008 performance.
• Edwin Jackson needs to start turning potential into tangible results.
• Rick Porcello needs to hold his own as a starter.
• Player(s) they can’t afford to lose: Curtis Granderson and Justin Verlander
• Breakout Player(s): Rick Porcello

What has to happen for the Indians to win the division?
• The Indians realistically have no chance to win the AL Central unless the other four teams collapse.
• Cliff Lee needs to be in the Cy Young Award conversation again.
• Carl Pavano needs to pitch like it is 2004 and Fausto Carmona like it is 2007.
• Kerry Wood needs to stay healthy.
• Travis Hafner needs to hit like it is 2006.
• Grady Sizemore needs to have an MVP caliber season.
• Player(s) they can’t afford to lose: Grady Sizemore
• Breakout Player(s): Grady Sizemore

 

Projected 2009 Standings:

 

W-L

GB

Minnesota Twins

86-76

Chicago White Sox

82-80

4.0

Kansas City Royals

77-85

9.0

Detroit Tigers

76-86

10.0

Cleveland Indians

73-89

13.0

You will notice that this closely follows my rankings based on the individual components. The one exception I made was sliding the White Sox ahead of the Royals for second place. I did this primarily for two reasons. First, if the White Sox are in contention at the trade deadline I expect Chicago to make some moves to improve their team. I don’t see the Royals making a move at the deadline, because they already went over budget to bring in Juan Cruz and because the Royals are building toward consistently competing in future seasons.

The second reason is the manager. Ozzie Guillen’s antics get tiresome, but he seems to push the right buttons at the right times and he keeps Chicago from going into extended losing streaks. Guillen also commands respect in the clubhouse with his intensity, personality, and experience as a player. Having already won a World Series as a manager also helps his cause with the players. Guillen is also fairly sound with his in game decision making and strategy. He has an excellent feel for the players on his team. Trey Hillman doesn’t have any of those credentials and has already established a track record of making curious in game decisions. Perhaps more importantly, Hillman does not command the respect of his team to the point that he almost lost them completely before their September winning streak. If the Royals slip into an extended losing streak, as they have done so often the last several years, Hillman doesn’t seem to have the qualities to quickly react and turn the team around.

Of the five teams in the division, the Twins and White Sox are the best “teams” with the best chemistry, quality management, and the most depth and help ready at Triple-A. It should be a close race between the two teams heading into September when the Twins’ deep rotation and youth will allow them to separate from the White Sox. That said, both teams have flawed bullpens which may allow the Royals to hang around late into the season. Just like last season, the Detroit Tigers lack the pitching quality and depth needed to contend for the division. The Cleveland Indians have too many holes in their lineup and rotation to be a threat. Unlike the other teams, the Indians are relying on players finding the magic of years past instead of relying on players to improve on their previous seasons.

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Tags: AL Central Baseball Kansas City Royals KC MLB

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