Two on Two: AL Central Preview
By Rich Lederer and Patrick Sullivan

Last week we kicked off the Two on Two Series with the AL East. This week it's the Central. Joining us are Seth Stohs of the popular Twins blog, Seth Speaks, and Brian Borawski, proprietor of Tiger Blog.

Sully: Thank you Seth and Brian for participating as we preview the ultra-competitive AL Central. We started the series last week with the AL East, a good division for sure but also a division whose reputation can be fueled by the northeast hype machine. Is the Central the best division in baseball?

Seth: The AL Central is head-and-shoulders the best division in baseball. Last year, the division had three teams over 90 wins. The Tigers were one of the feel-good stories of the year last year, and there is no reason that they can't duplicate it this year with the addition of Gary Sheffield. The White Sox had ups and downs but were still over 90 wins. They made a few moves which will likely pay off in the long run. And the Twins overcame so many obstacles to finally win the division on the final day of the season. They have the AL MVP, the AL Cy Young Award winner, the AL Batting Champ, the Minor League Player of the Year, the Executive of the Year, the best bullpen in baseball and a manager that, even with his faults, has the respect of all of his teammates. The Cleveland Indians offense and potentially improved bullpen should put them right in contention. Travis Hafner is as good a hitter as there is in the league. And although the Royals likely won't compete, the addition of Alex Gordon and Billy Butler to the lineup and the continued development of some other players, they could be a little better.

Brian: I think in 2006, you could definitely say that the AL Central was the best division in baseball but once again, I think the AL East may have surpassed the Central. I think the White Sox are probably the favorites in the Central but you could argue that both the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox are better with the Blue Jays being a solid team as well. I will agree that the AL Central is probably the most wide open. I think any of four teams (Sorry Royals fans) could walk away with the division and it may very well come down to which team stays the healthiest (which could concern White Sox fans).

Rich: The AL Central is undoubtedly tough. It goes four deep although I'm not sure I would take any of them over either the Yankees or Red Sox. Now I realize that the ALCS winner came from the Central in each of the past two seasons, but I'm not prepared to annoint this division as the best in baseball or even the American League. Strong, yes. The best? I'm not so sure about that.

Seth: The AL East is solid, no question. The Yankees lineup is devastating. The Red Sox made a couple of big moves in the free agent market. The Blue Jays finally passed the Red Sox a year ago and look to improve. Most people may not know it, because you generally will only hear about the Red Sox and Yankees on SportsCenter, but the AL Central is clearly the best division in baseball.

Sully: As I said last week, I am unprepared to call the better division for 2007. Let's talk about the Twins and their chances to repeat as Division Champs. For the first time in a number of years I think there are some real concerns about their starting rotation. Francisco Liriano is hurt and Brad Radke hung 'em up. Is the dominant bullpen and solid lineup enough to overcome spotty starting pitching?

Seth: Losing Liriano was a huge blow to the Twins last year. Statistically, he was performing even better than Johan Santana, the unanimous AL Cy Young Award winner. Bringing in retreads like Sidney Ponson and Ramon Ortiz certainly does not breathe confidence into any Twins fan. The scary thing for Twins fans is that Carlos Silva and Boof Bonser are far from sure-things, as well. From a talent and 'stuff' standpoint, it probably would be better to go with a complete youth movement, but Terry Ryan will not let that happen. He wisely is more concerned with the psyches of the young pitchers and what is best for them so that the Twins can remain competitive for years to come. That said, Matt Garza, Glen Perkins and Kevin Slowey are very close. Scott Baker has nothing more to prove at Rochester. Don't be surprised if three or even four of these pitchers are in the Twins rotation by June. I think that the Twins 2007 success directly hinges on how quickly they are willing to pull the plug on underperforming veterans. That, and the health of Jason Kubel are, in my opinion, the two big keys to the Twins 2007 season.

Brian: I think the Twins need too many things to go right to be at the top of the AL Central in 2007. They're relying on too many prospects in the rotation and while I think Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau will be good this upcoming season, I also see them coming back down to earth a bit. Still Top 20 in the American League but not Top 10 like they were in 2006.

Sully: Yeah I have a couple of problems with Minnesota. Although Santana is the best in the biz, the rest of the starting pitching is awful. Too many not-there-yets, has-beens and even never-were's. I also question the offense a bit. While Mauer will be fantastic again and Morneau very good as well, the Twins will be awful at left field and third base. Rondell White is 35 and coming off a 66 OPS+ season while Nick Punto's career 77 OPS+ suggests he will be one of the very worst regulars in baseball.

Seth: I can't really argue with you on the concerns at 3B and LF. Nick Punto surprised a lot of people last year with how well he actually played once he became the regular 3B. Yet, it resulted in an OPS+ of just 90. He played terrific defense at the hot corner, but he has almost zero power. I can't see him even performing to his 2006 level again. Fortunately, the Twins make up for the deficiency at 3B with above average performance at Catcher and CF. Bringing in Jeff Cirillo, who mashed lefties last year, could get plenty of action at 3B too. As for White, he got off to such a horrific start last year. Maybe it was the shoulder, but it was so far below what White has been throughout his career. What gets lost is that after the All-Star break, White actually hit .321/.354/.538. He had 19 extra base hits in 156 at bats. He really just needs to find a way to walk more this year. Defensively, injuries have definitely made him a subpar outfielder. I expect to see plenty of Jason Kubel in left field as well this year.

Rich: Although the starting rotation has a few holes this year, the bullpen figures to be one of the best in the biz once again. Joe Nathan is an elite closer and Jesse Crain, Pat Neshek, Dennys Reyes, and Juan Rincon arguably form the top quartet of middle relievers and set-up men in the game. As a whole, Minnesota's relievers led the majors in ERA ( 2.91), OBP (.301), SLG (.359), K/9 (8.13), K/BB (3.28), and SV/OPP (80%). This bullpen is cheap and deep, which is a prerequisite for a middle market team in hopes of playing in October.

Sully: Without a doubt, baseball is back in the Motor City. Still, the Tigers limped to the finish line before heating up again in the post-season and I think that has some people questioning if they ought to be considered legitimate contenders in 2007. Can the Tigers get back to the World Series?

Brian: They can but it's going to be a tough road. They had a lot of things go right last year and they stayed relatively healthy. The Sheffield pickup will be a huge boost in the lineup because he provides a patient, yet great, hitter at the plate that the Tigers lacked last year. They also have a deep rotation and even if a guy like Mike Maroth (the exptect fifth starter) goes down, they have plenty of guys waiting in the wings like Wil Ledezma, Zach Miner and even Andrew Miller who can fill in.

Sully: I am not sure I would characterize Sheffield as a "great" hitter. He hit .284/.355/.502 the second half of 2005 and .298/.355/.450 this past season. He is now 38 and has been bothered by shoulder problems. Other concerns I have for the Tigers offense are at first base and left field. Sean Casey just won't cut it and as long as Craig Monroe is taking playing time from Marcus Thames, Detroit will suffer for offense out of the left field position.

Rich: I believe the Tigers are more likely to pull a Chicago White Sox on us and slip into third than work their way into first. In fact, I'm not even sure Detroit can win 90 games the way the South Siders did last year. This is a solid team with a decent offense and a bunch of good, young arms. However, despite the addition of Sheffield, I see the Tigers hitting fewer home runs and scoring less often than last year.

Seth: Count me in the Justin Verlander-is-the-real-thing camp. I think that he is right up there talent-wise with Jeremy Bonderman and Mark Prior. Let's just hope that he stays healthy. Brian, any concern that the 2007 Tigers pitching staff will return to reality the way the 2006 White Sox staff did? Any concern for a let down?

Brian: Absolutely. I think Kenny Rogers and Verlander will be hard pressed to match their 2006 numbers. Then again, I think this is the year Bonderman finally breaks out and possibly makes a run at Johan Santana and a Cy Young. If anything, it'll be Nate Robertson that's the wild card. If he can put together a good season, that could really help the Tigers to the playoffs again.

Seth: The White Sox scored 127 more runs in 2006 than in 2005. However, their team ERA fell from 3.61 in 2005 to 4.61 in 2006. So, what do we expect from the Ozzie-led White Sox in 2007?

Brian: I see the White Sox bouncing back. I'm still convinced that they were the best team in the Central last year (and probably second best in the American League to the New York Yankees) despite the third place finish. That middle of the lineup (Paul Konerko, Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye and Joe Crede) is just plain wicked. They could use some bullpen help, but that's always something they can pick up at the trade deadline. I know I'll take some heat from my Tiger brethren, but the White Sox are my favorite to walk away with the Central in 2007.

Sully: I think the White Sox are on really shaky ground as a club. The starting pitching features four durable, unremarkable types and a complete black hole in the 5th starter slot. And while the middle of the lineup may be formidable, the rest of the lineup is hugely problematic. Dye, who is 33, coming off of a career year and almost sure to regress, is really the only offensive asset in the outfield. Any combination of Brian Anderson (.290 2006 OBP), Scott Podsednik (.330) and Darin Erstad (.279) alone might kill the team's hopes. All the while, they will play 57 games against Minnesota, Cleveland and Detroit, three teams of genuine quality. An aging core and a dud off-season will cost Chicago in 2007.

Rich: The White Sox had a strange off season. I give Kenny Williams credit for stockpiling young arms, but I'm not sure the team made any strides in improving the rotation this year. Mark Buehrle got rocked last season. His strikeout rate ( 4.32 K/9) fell off the cliff n 2006 and is such that I wouldn't look for him to bounce back in a big way. Maybe he can become another Kenny Rogers. I don't know. But I'd like to see evidence of it first. Jon Garland is another starter who is living on the edge. And what makes anyone think Gavin Floyd is ready to step up?

Brian: I guess I like the pitching staff a bit better than you guys do. Mark Buehrle is playing for a contract so I think we'll see him revert to at least his 2004 form. Jon Garland will ride his solid second half in 2006 into another solid season in 2007 and I've always been a big Javier Vazquez fan. I do agree that trading Brandon McCarthy after dealing Freddy Garcia to the Phillies was a bit odd but he would have been almost as much of a question mark as anyone else the White Sox throw out there. And I'd hardly say that the rest of the lineup is problematic. Tad Iguchi provides a nice table setter for the big bats in the middle and A.J. Pierzynski is a solid hitting catcher. You might also see some more Rob Mackowiak (.365 OBP) if Ryan Anderson can't get it done in centerfield and Darin Erstad has lost a step.

Rich: I don't think it matters at all that Buehrle is in a contract year. I mean, let's be real now. The Cubs will give him a 5 x 11 contract no matter what he does this year.

Seth: I definitely think that the Sox took a step backwards this offseason, although I do think that the moves Ken Williams made will make them strong again in 2008. Getting Gio Gonzalez and John Danks was good, but I agree that the Sox rotation in 2006 takes another step backwards. The offense will be fine though, particularly if they can get Josh Fields and Ryan Sweeney in the lineup quickly. I think that the shortstop situation is another big question mark.

Sully: I think you bring up a great point, Seth. The sooner Fields and Sweeney cut into Erstad's, Anderson's and Podsednik's playing time, the better for the Pale Hose and their fans. Transitioning from a team I am really down on to one I think could turn some heads this year, let's talk about the Cleveland Indians. With a punishing offense, some nice off-season tinkering and better health and development from the starting staff, this could be the Tribe's year in the AL Central.

Brian: The Indians are one of those teams that are hard to get your hands around. I've already shown my hand and said I like the White Sox to win the Central but I keep flip flopping between the Indians and Tigers as to who is better between the two. I like the bullpen moves the Indians made and they should help but the question is, can they help enough. They also lack some depth in the rotation. Once you get past those front three (C.C. Sabathia, Jake Westbrook and Cliff Lee), it gets pretty spotty. There's no doubt this team should score some runs though. You've got a nice mix of seasoned talent with some younger players anchoring some key spots (Andy Marte at third and Josh Barfield at second).

Seth: The Indians had one of the league's most potent offenses last year and the additions of David Dellucci, Josh Barfield and Andy Marte should make them even stronger. I believe Sabathia is ready to take that next step. Jake Westbrook is solid. Cliff Lee still has upside. I think that Jeremy Sowers could be an All-Star. Where the Indians had struggles last year was in their bullpen. So this offseason, the Tribe went out and signed Keith Foulke, Joe Borowski, Roberto Hernandez, Aaron Fultz and some other veterans to minor league contracts. The thought being that, even though these guys may not be great anymore, they also will also get over poor outings right away. They won't have the meltdowns like Fausto Carmona had last year. Even with the retirement of Foulke, the bullpen will be stronger which should mean about five more wins. Combined with an even stronger offense and solid starting pitching, the Indians definitely should be competing all season long.

Rich: I like the Indians. Most sabermetric types know they underperformed their Pythagorean record by 11 games last year. But I also like the fact that the Tribe finished #1 in the majors in Rob Neyer's BeaneCount. As an example of its relevancy, the Yankees, Tigers, and Red Sox placed second, third, and fourth in the AL. This is a good team. Cleveland just needs to learn to play better on the road and win more than its fair share of one-run games. The latter has now been a bugaboo for a couple of years. Despite the changes, I'm not sure if that bullpen is ready for prime time yet. I'm also concerned that the pitchers don't miss more bats. The Indians finished second from the bottom in Ks in 2006. I don't see where this issue was addressed at all, which means the defense needs to come up big this year if Cleveland is going to reach its potential.

Sully: I think it will be interesting to see if Eric Wedge takes advantage of his outfield depth. As it looks now, the Tribe could have two very potent platoons flanking Grady Sizemore in center field. Against right handers, it would be David Dellucci in left and Trot Nixon in right. Here is how they have fared against righties over their career:

            AVG  OBP  SLG
Dellucci:  .271 .359 .468
Nixon:     .292 .379 .513

And here is what Jason Michaels and Casey Blake have managed against southpaws:

            AVG  OBP  SLG
Michaels:  .303 .387 .464
Blake:     .253 .335 .487
All four hit significantly better with the platoon advantage. Wedge's resourcefulness will go a long way in determining Cleveland's hopes this season.

Seth: Sully, that makes a lot of sense to you and I, but Casey Blake is slotted in as the team's 1B. Could he play 1B against righties and RF against lefties? Ryan Garko really deserves an opportunity to get some at bats as well. And, will we see more of Victor Martinez at 1B with Kelly Shoppach behind the plate?

Rich: Garko had a boatload of RBI last year (45 in 50 games) so my sense is that the casual fan may overrate him a bit this year. He's already 26. I don't really know what to make of him, but I would be surprised if he is special as a first baseman. Shoppach rusted away a bit on the bench last year, but he didn't really earn more playing time either. I mean, 8 walks and 45 strikeouts in 110 at-bats makes me wonder if he can make the proper adjustments and hit big-league pitchers.

Sully: OK guys, it's that time. What do you got on Kansas City?

Seth: I think Dayton Moore taking over the GM role is a positive for the Royals. I think that they have been very smart with Billy Butler and Alex Gordon. No need to start their arbitration clocks any earlier than necessary. It may not show in record, but I do believe that this team is getting better. Offensively, the addition of those two and the emergence of Mark Teahen as legitimate offensive players is huge. David DeJesus needs to finally step it up though. John Buck is solid. Mark Grudzielanek's injury hurts a little. If only Joey Gathright could steal 1B. The concern is the pitching staff, and they are bad. Seriously, #s 2-5 in that staff make Gil Meche look good! The Royals are trying. They are getting better, but it will take a complete overhaul to get them back to respectability.

Brian: In a weird sort of way, this could be an important year for the Royals. You won't see it in the boxscores, because they'll probably still come close to touching 100 losses, but how guys like Alex Gordon develop could go a long way towards them finally getting out of the cellar. I think we could see a reemergence of David DeJesus in kind of a Freddy Sanchez like way where he finally contends for a batting title and remains healthy. We'll also see how bad (or good if you're an extreme optimist) of a signing Gil Meche was, at least for the money. The team needs to see what it has and they'll find that out in 2007.

Sully: Gordon, Butler and Luke Hochevar are definite up and coming bright spots but this team is still just so far away. As you mentioned, Seth, nothing short of an overhaul will do for Kansas City. I can't see any way this pitching staff gives up less than 900 runs and even though Gordon, DeJesus, Teahen and even Ryan Shealy may produce some, the offense is still only mediocre. I know it sounds like old hat but there really is not a lot of good to say about these guys.

Rich: Look, the Royals have been awful for three years and have only posted one winning record in the last dozen seasons. Although Dayton Moore has a lot of work ahead of him, Kansas City is just a few players short of where Tampa Bay was a couple of years ago. The franchise has the second pick in the amateur draft and should be in a position to land another star player, whether it be Vanderbilt lefthander David Price or Georgia Tech catcher Matt Weiters. It's going to take awhile to turn things around, but the organization appears to be on the right track for the first time since the days of George Brett.

Sully: What do you guys see as being the biggest potential surprise in this division? Could be an individual, a team, anything really. I will go back to my earlier sentiments and say the Chicago White Sox. I think their starting pitching is suspect, their lineup contains too many holes and where they are good on offense, they are old. I have them in fourth place this season and think they will have a hard time eclipsing the .500 mark.

Seth: I don't disagree with you at all on the White Sox. I don't want to sound like a homer, but I think that the Twins will be wise and go with the young pitchers earlier than we think. I think Jason Kubel will become a star. And although I think most will predict that the Tigers, the White Sox or even the Indians to win the division, I think that the Twins will find a way to win their fifth division title in six years. Secondly, despite the fact that Daisuke Matsuzaka has already been given the AL Rookie of the Year, I think that Kevin Slowey will actually win it.

Sully: Just so we have this on the record - and please, no homer apologies. I am a Red Sox fan for crissakes. We have a Kevin Slowey for AL Rookie of the Year call - right here, and on the record.

Seth: You read it here first!! Kevin Slowey, AL Rookie of the Year!

Rich: You gotta love Seth going out on a limb like that. No pedestrian predictions here.

Brian: My biggest surprise isn't much of a surprise but it's the Indians. I have them in third place but I could easily see them vaulting over everyone and winning the division if some of their pitchers catch fire. I also think the key to the team isn't Travis Hafner(although he's a huge part of the offense), but Victor Martinez. I think if the Indians win the division, Martinez will be the guy who ends up as the MVP.

Sully: I don't know if I would call Cleveland challenging for the division a real surprise but Martinez outshining Hafner sure would be.

Rich: Mine is a bit of a stretch, but I'm going to say that Ozzie Guillen gets canned before the All-Star break. His style works great when you're winning, but it wears mighty thin when you're losing. I know it's a longshot, but I think it's within the realm of possibility.

Sully: Guys, do we see any of the major award winners coming from the Central this season? I know Seth is on the record with his Slowey for AL ROY call but what else? Does Santana cruise to another Cy Young? Will Joe Mauer or Travis Hafner get their due? Let's hear your ROY, MVP and Cy Young candidates from the Central.

Brian: While I think it will take an injury from Johan Santana, I really think Jeremy Bonderman is going to put it together this year and could compete for the Cy Young. If the White Sox win the division like I predict, I can also see Jim Thome winning the AL MVP. Alex Gordon could also walk away with the AL ROY if he's as good as the hype.

Rich: Ho hum, Santana for Cy Young. This will be the year of the DH. If Big Papi doesn't win the MVP, I can see Hafner winning the honors with a .310-45-125 type year. Heck, he was close to those numbers last year in just 129 games. But those stats will go a long ways with voters if Hafner leads the Indians into the playoffs. As far as the Rookie of the Year goes, I believe it will be tough to beat out a certain pitcher in Boston but, if not him, then Gordon is one of the next two or three logical choices.

Seth: I am going to stand by my Kevin Slowey pick for AL Rookie of the year despite so many great choices in the AL Central alone. I think that Mauer and Hafner are definitely top MVP choices, but I don't think that the reigning AL MVP should be lost in the discussion either. I would say the darkhorse is Carlos Guillen. And yes, Johan Santana should win his third Cy Young Award this year!

Rich: Before we let you go, we need your predictions as to the standings in the AL Central. Who will take first, second, third, fourth, and fifth place? Bring it on.

Seth: My head says: I'll keep it simple with this answer. I will say: Twins, Indians, Tigers, White Sox, Royals.

Brian: This might be the toughest division to call outside of the Royals finishing in last place. I have White Sox/Tigers/Indians/Twins/Royals in that order. I kept flipping back and forth between the Tigers and Indians at second and third but I think the Gary Sheffield trade and the return of that rotation puts them slightly over the top. Last I picked the White Sox and Indians one and two and they finished three and four so this is really anyone's division if they go out and grab it.

Sully: I will go with Cleveland edging out Minnesota in a tight one, and then Detroit, Chicago and Kansas City.

Rich: I agree with Brian. This is a tough division to call. No one team stands heads and shoulders above the rest. I like the Indians the most, followed by the Tigers, Twins, White Sox, and Royals.

Brian: It could well come down to who's willing to sell their future at the trade deadline. It'd be interesting to see a team like the White Sox turn around and trade John Danks for a guy like Adam Dunn in July. All four teams have some guys in their farm system that could net them a short term gain if they feel they're on the cusp.

Sully: Thanks guys.


My head spins trying to rank the AL Central from first to fourth. Excellent discussion.

You guys made a mistake starting with the only division that matters. I doubt there will be much discussion about the rest.

This AL Central is the best division in baseball stuff needs to stop. The top teams beat up on the jobbers and inflated their records. Hell, the Tigers wouldn't even have been in the playoffs if they didn't get cupcakes like the Indians and Royals so many times last year.

I still think the Tigers are EASILY the team to beat in baseball's best division. It's not just the rotation and bullpen, but it's the depth they have. Gary Sheffield, coming off a fluke injury, will still be a dominant hitter with RISP. The rest of the lineup is shaky, but that's okay with this pitching staff.

I expect the Indians to finish in second place, but their bullpen kept me from putting them in first. The 'pen is better than last year only in the sense it now has experience... but talent-wise it's still not good. The lineup will be dominant even if Martinez has to move to first because of his throwing.

I don't like the White Sox at all this season at it begins with their starting pitching. Garland and Contreras MIGHT be good, but can they expect anything better than average from Javy Vazquez or Mark Buerhle? Buerhle could be horrible this year and who's in the five spot? Despite various holes in the lineup, a healthy middle of the order will mean plenty of runs.

The Twins needed a lot of things to go right last season to make the playoffs... including Nick Punto and Jason Bartlett playing great and two months of the major's best pitching performance from a rookie (in addition to having the major's best pitcher). With no Liriano, I can't see where this team makes up the victories. Heck, Cuddyer or Torii Hunter could even regress. I just don't see the magic this year.

My AL Central prediction right at this moment would be 1. Tigers 2. Indians 3. Twins 4. White Sox 5. Royals. I think the White Sox come out of the gate fastest this spring but I also say injuries begin depleting them by the end of May and they'll peter out and finish weak. Thome's age will work against him once again (his HR total will be closer to 35-38 in '07), and Uribe, Cintron, Podsednik, Anderson and Erstad don't exactly add punch to a batting lineup. The pitching I think is more solid than the Twins - Minnesota will be relying heavily on a questionable Carlos Silva, Ramon Ortiz and Sidney Ponson. Yes, they have many young pitchers with a great upside - but other than Bonser & Garza they haven't proven a thing at the MLB level yet. So let's not get ahead of ourselves Twins fans. Ozzie Guillen fired??? Not out of the picture but it would take another disasterous nationally covered media fiasco like last season's to get him canned. He won't lose his job because the team isn't competing. GM Ken Williams will 'fix' the team before canning Guillen; it's been one season since they won the World Series after all. The Indians have made significant improvements from '06 and they have become a dangerous team in the process. Solid rotation, lethal offense, very good bullpen (only the closer job remains a question mark). Rich pointed out the Tribe's one potential weakness and that is the team's defense. That said the Tigers are still the team to beat - last season should have proven that to us. The addition of Sheffield gives them the edge they need, and LH Maroth's return gives them a lot of flexibility in the pitching staff. Only the Yank's stand between them and a WS berth again this season.

Money doesn't guarantee wins Adam. The Indians did in fact do a very good job of scoring runs and keeping them from scoring. Unfortunately for them, they seemed to come at the wrong times, causing them to underperform their pythagorean record. Despite what the rotation for the Twins looks like at the moment, by June it will be very good (because by that time they'll have figured out which 5 guys out of the 10 starters they have should be in there). Also, they have the batting champ, the MVP, the Cy Young, and the best closer in the league. That helps.

The White Sox pen is much improved. Plus, Fields could give them another big bat.

The Tigers rotation is probably even better than last year. Oh, and they added Gary Sheffield who is healthy, and pissed at the world.

The Royals still suck, but I was surprised to hear you guys didn't mention Luke Hochevar. If I was Moore, I wouldn't bring him up too soon either, no point in starting his clock until 2008. But, as the number #1 pick with fantastic stuff, he has the potential to be an ace. If they some how manage to get to June with a decent record - he could be added to help out that shaky rotation.

I'm lovin' the Slowey ROY prediction, Seth. That certainly is bold, but after seeing him pitch a bit - I'm impressed with his mechanics. Damn, him and Garza could end up being huge this year.

Thanks for doing these previews, Rich - and inlcuding Seth on this one. No one knows the Twins better, except maybe TR or Jim Rantz.

I don't know if I would call the AL East the only division that matters. And regarding the comment that Central teams inflate their records by beating up on cupcakes within their division - Twins and Tigers were both playoff teams, the White Sox won the WS in 2005, and as the discussion mentioned, the Indians underperformed by 11 games and still nearly finished at 500. Compare to the AL East, where the Yanks and Sawx get to beat up on the Orioles AND Devil Rays, as opposed to the the only gimme in the Central - the Royals. The Central (Twins +30, Tigers +28, White Sox +18, Indians -6, Royals -38) were a combined 32 games over 500, while the East (Yankees +32, Blue Jays +12, Red Sox +10, Orioles -22, Devil Rays -40) were a combined 8 under.

As for the Central race, I think its going to be fun to watch...Tigers, Indians and White Sox will be battling all year with the Twins right behind until they get their pitching settled. A Silva/Ortiz/Ponson back end suggests their offense may want to shoot for 1,000 runs this year.

Trade Danks for Dunn? ugh. Thats an awful idea.
I rather see the Sox throw Danks into the fire like they did with Garland his rookie year. Having him in the 5th starting slot atleast will give us southside fans some good things to look forward to. Im a bit worried about a 2003 type year where the Sox were a well oiled machine for four games and then sucked eggs every fifth day. Rauch and Moreno anyone? No thanks. Throw Floyd into that scrap heap. Hes awful too. Give me Haeger the knuckleballer or Danks please. Pods and Erstad at the top of the order could force Sox fans to eat their hats. This is all a worst case scenario. As Brian suggested, the Sox could feasibly run away with the division as well. Konerko, Dye and Thome are geting older, but that doesnt make the 100+ HRs any less significant. I also like what Kenny did by getting power arms for the pen. Especially since it seemed like the strikezone shrank last year.
Detroit should regress some, I think their pen played well over their heads last year(like the Sox in 05). Sheffield and Maggs should keep them in the thick of things. The Twins are SCREWED without Liriano. Never mind Radke. His loss is significant, but not on the same scale. White, Punto, Bartlett, an aging Castillo= not scary. I'll give you Mauer and Morneau, and a maybe for Hunter and 'future star' Kubel. Seth, drop the "I don't want to sound like a homer..." You are a homer, dude. Embrace it.
Id say the division is Clevelands for the taking if they didnt play such atrocious defense and also have a terrible bullpen. Oh and mediocre starters. Barfield should help defensively a little bit, but Im not a believer in Peralta. Sizemore and Hafner are awesome, and if C.C. ccan stay healthy they could compete as well.
I give the Central to Chicago with Detroit really close behind and Cleveland bunched in there as well. The Twins look like the 4th place team. Royals in 2013.
I also think the east is stronger than the central for this upcoming year. As Rich said, Id take Boston and the Yanks over any of these teams. The central definitely matters though. They could make it to the series again for sure.
Corey- great argument for the central for last season. I just think the power shifted back as far as getting the wild card. With the top 3 in the central beating each other up, and two punching bags in the east, its probably Boston and New York back in the post-season.

Hey ya'll,
Eric, thanks for the note. I embrace my homerism. That said, I think that the Twins pitching will work itself out. The question is, how long will it take to work it out. Will they be willing to make changes by early May if the 'veteran' starters are not getting the job done? How many young pitchers will they be willing to put in there?
Because of their age, there is no reason to believe that Mauer and Morneau will regress. If healthy, Jason Kubel is another .300/25/80 guy. Hunter... well, I guess it is a contract year for him. Don't underestimate Jason Bartlett either.
Luis Castillo, I woudln't mind the Twins dealing him and going with Alexi Casilla at 2B. Equivalent production, cheaper, more speed, LOTS more effort.
Maybe then they could spend the extra money to go get a 3B. Santana, Garza, Bonser, Ortiz, Slowey with Perkins an option too... that would be ideal!

Do you guys ever watch baseball?

The Tigers and Indians have bar none the best pitching and the most depth. Both also have good hitting

The Sox have a decent middle but Dye wayyy outdid himself, and their pitching was average before they got rid of Garcia and McCarthy.

The Twins are a terrible team, two superstars (Santana and Mauer) one good player (Morneau) and some pitching prospects. They were extremly lucky last year and the way they played the first two months is better than how they should preform this year.

Royals have a guy like Grienke who has the chance to be really good and some prospects pitching wise and alot of hitting prospects, but their pitching is no better than the Twins.


Detroit 102-60
Cleveland 96-66
Chicago 82-80
Minnesota 72-90
Kansas City 70-92
(+/- 4)

The keys to the Twins season are Silva, Ortiz and Ponson. They need two of those three to return to career years. They can fill the other two spots in the rotation with Bonser, Garza, Slowey, Perkins or Baker. With Santana and what is probably the best and deepest bullpen in baseball, they will be tough to beat.

Of course those are huge question marks. If the Twins have three or four youngsters in the rotation in June its a sure sign they are in trouble. Not because none of those guys will do the job but because its unlikely all of them will immediately. And it will also mean they have probably already dug themselves a hole.

Their lineup will be solid. Mauer and Morneau probably aren't going to repeat last year. But its likely Rondell White won't either and a healthy Kubel adds another bat that may be on par with Mauer and Morneau. Punto is actually not a bad number two hitter and if he falters Bartlett could easily step into that role. And Cirillo gives them another option at third.

My guess is the division will be determined by who stays healthy.

People love to point to the rotation as the Twins' downfall in 2007, however I guarantee the Twins' rotation for the first six weeks in 2007 will be better than they were for the first six weeks of 2006, when the Twins had the worst starting pitching in baseball, even worse than the Royals.
Liriano was still in the bullpen, Silva was at his lowest, Kyle Lohse was abysmal, Scott Baker wasn't much better, and even Radke was admittedly bad, struggling to find a routine to offset the pain in his shoulder. Even Santana was off to his typical slow start to a season, although it was the best start of his career.
So, the Twins should certainly get off to a better start pitching-wise and don't discount the effect of Rick Anderson, probably the most under-appreciated pitching coaches in baseball. I feel good about his chances of reviving the career of at least one of Ramon Ortiz or SS Ponson, most likely Ortiz. Since Anderson has been pitching coach (2002) the Twins have not finished lower than seventh in ERA in the AL despite the Twins having only one pitcher still remaining from his first year (Santana, who only made 14 starts as a midseason callup that year).
Love the Slowey prediction, Seth. I'm not willing to go that far yet, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him in the rotation before Garza, Baker and Perkins. The man has ice in his veins. He proved that by pitching Team USA over the Cubans (in Cuba?) and then again when winning a playoff game for AAA Rochester in his first game after being promoted from AA.

1.twins 2.tribe 3. kitties 4.chi-sox.
It's really ridiculous that i feel like a homer for picking the twins to win the division when they have won 4 out of the last five.
i love the tribes balanced offense and the front of their rotation. I don't love their defense or pen. the motorcity kitties have a pretty good offense and maybe the second best pen in the majors (behind the twins, of course). I have not fallen in love with their rotation like a lot of people. Despite Bonderman not being able to get his ERA below 4.00 in five seasons he is going to contest Johan for his cy young this year? Verlander is ligit, rogers is 87, and the rest are far from being proven.
I'm really down on the soutsiders this year. The line-up still has pop, but i expect decline from about everyone. the rotation and pen are just not good enough.
Twins will have a better offense and pen. And if they can win the division with reed, lohse, milton, radke, and mays...they can win it with johan and any other four warm bodies Rick Anderson puts behind him

This is a hard division to call, but I'd say that any blanket assertions about it being the "best division in baseball" are wrong-headed and ultimately incorrect. It was the best division in baseball last year. Might have been the year before that, too. And it's still more consistent than the AL East, which has two clear patsies. But I also think that to get too excited about this division is to overrate the White Sox fairly significantly, to forget that the Twins might well have grave difficulties both scoring and preventing runs, and to bite too hard on the Detroit hook.

Anyway, here's how it breaks down, to me:

(big gap)
White Sox
(enormous gap)

The Indians have a bullpen problem, it's true. Have had. But in the grand scheme of things, the bullpen is not some massive deciding factor. It's largely a place where marginal advantages are picked up in the regular season -- having a good bullpen might be the difference between winning 93 and 98 games, which can be important -- and then as a blunt axe with which to pound people in the post-season, which is why I don't think the Indians will go far in the playoffs. But they have the best offense in the division by miles and miles, possibly the best one in baseball. They have the second-best starter in the division in Sabathia, and interesting things happening behind him in the rotation; I think Adam Miller is nearly ready and could make a difference this season. If they luck out in the bullpen -- which is possible -- they could win 100 games and just run away with the division. As it is, I think they take it with 94 or so. There are phases of the game in which you know they're going to be good.

This comment is ballooning to ridiculous proportions, so let me try to be brief: The Tigers are not as good as they looked last year, and Gary Sheffield is not the solution. Justin Verlander could be in trouble; Jeremy Bonderman could be Roy Halladay. Strong defense and pitching gets them in the high 80s, wins-wise. The Twins have Johan Santana and a billion young guys, and while that could go great (Matt Garza is real), their floor is giving up 875-900 runs, and you can't win doing that. Joe Mauer will likely regress simply because there's almost no such thing as a true .350 hitter; Scratchiro's the only proven one in the game now. Morneau has arrived but is overrated. I see steps back on defense (Hunter has clearly lost a step, as has Castillo) and offense (Nicky Punto is a tweener and there were a certain number of career years last season). Their ceiling is the division; the pits is 75 wins; for real, they're and 85-89 win team. The White Sox are a house of cards, with and offense made up of plus-30 mashers, of whom Konerko in particular is exactly the sort to tank at this age. Most of the outfield's a gaping vortex, Jermaine Dye is extremely unlikely ever to slug .600 or anything like it again, and nearly everybody is too old to be completely relied upon. They traded one too many pitchers over the winter, and the wrong ones. Their bullpen's not as much of a strength as some people seem to think. There's a real chance this team falls flat, everything goes wrong, and they tumble to 70 wins. More realistically, everybody from Jim Thome to Tad Iguchi sits out some time with various assorted owies, the pitching lurches between surprisingly effective and terrifyingly bad, and they end up around .500.

Do they still play baseball in Kansas City?

But in the grand scheme of things, the bullpen is not some massive deciding factor.

On most teams the bullpen gets, very roughly, about one third of the outs - half what the starters will get. Which is pretty large in itself. But even that is misleading, because the manager can optimize how those innings are accumulated to great effect, with the best guys pitching with games on the line and the worst when it isn't.

There is a pretty wide variation in the number of losses attributed to bullpens. A lot more than 5 wins, especially on good teams. And that doesn't even consider starters who lose games when they are left in longer than they should be because the manager can't trust the bullpen to hold a lead.

I think the people need to remember that the Twins were by far the best team in this division starting in June to the end of the season. The loss of Radke and the absence of Liriano are going to hurt them. So they will need some luck with their starting pitching. If they don't get it, that bullpen won't look so hot when its constantly getting overworked.

On offense, the Twins shouldn't have much drop off. Morneau didn't really start to hit until June and White didn't get on track until after the allstar break. Having those two producing all year, along with Bartett, will make up for some of the career years. And they have the possible emergence of Kubel as a star now that his legs are healthy.

If the Twins get some starting pitching, I see no one in the division who is going to challenge them any more than they did at the end of last year.

I think the only obvious thing in the AL Central is that the Royals will finish last. Other than that, you can make a case for just about any ranking of the top four teams.

It seems to me that each of the contenders has a clear weakness, which is easy to identify and talk about... perhaps moreso than their considerable strengths.

Tigers - good to great pitching, good defense. The offense has its good (HRs) and its bad (OBP). Sheff will help mostly by getting on base, I figure.

Twins - Santana, Mauer, Nathan, Morneau on the plus side (I'm sure I've missed a middle reliever, but bear with me). Also some youngsters who might develop into real assets this year as opposed to emergency plugings. The Twins seem to do a pretty good job of coming up with suprise contributors. I could see another rise from the ashes mid-season... though whether it will be enough to win the division is another matter.

White Sox - their starters regressed last season and that killed them, though they still won 90 games. I figure there will be some bounceback in that department - enough that they will be in the mix.

Indians - their bullpen just killed them last year. They can hit, and their starters are good (though it appears that Lee is hurt now - dunno how bad). You have to figure their 'pen will be better (it almost has to be).

It's nothing but a WAG, but here is my prediction:

1. Tigers
2. White Sox (WC?)
3. Indians
4. Twins
5. Royals

I look at that and the only thing I feel sure of is that I'm wrong. :lol:

As for AL Central vs AL East... I think the Central has the most balance - four teams that realistically project to be good, with one patsy. The East has the twin titans and the pretty good Jays, and then two patsies. You could call that either way.