On to the AL Central, the most competitive division in baseball though not the most talented.
1. Cleveland Indians
2. Chicago White Sox
3. Detroit Tigers
4. Minnesota Twins
5. Kansas City Royals
Best Hitter: Miguel Cabrera
Best Pitcher: Cliff Lee
The Indians have some question marks in both their lineup and pitching staff, but a solid enough core of players to make them a slight favorite in this competitive division. Cliff Lee leads the rotation and is followed by Fausto Carmona, Carl Pavano, Anthony Reyes, and Aaron Laffey. Lee is a strong pitcher, but the end of that staff is very uncertain as no one really knows what to expect from the 2-5 pitchers. Grady Sizemore leads the lineup, but more questions exist in Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez, both of whom need to bounce back from tough 2008 seasons. Kerry Wood is the closer for Cleveland, but I doubt that he’ll spend the entire year on the active roster. A lot of questions remain for this team, but not more than the other teams in the division.
The White Sox have many questions as well, but also possess a solid rotation and lineup that make them a contender in the AL Central. Ace Mark Buehrle, John Danks, and Gavin Floyd lead the White Sox’s starting staff and though the second two are not stars, they are solid enough starters to keep Chicago in the game. A lineup with Jim Thome, Jermaine Dye, and Paul Konerko won’t be short of power, though their age is certainly a concern. Carlos Quentin and Alexi Ramirez are much younger and offer offensive skills as well. With Bobby Jenks closing out games, the White Sox will be capable of holding leads. Whether or not this team can overtake the Indians will depend upon the health of their lineup and the consistency of their rotation.
The Tigers are in a similar position to the White Sox and Indians with a solid core of players, but some uncertaintywell. Miguel Cabrera and Magglio Ordonez are two big bats in the middle of the Tigers’ lineup, but Curtis Granderson and Carlos Guillen are two lesser known, but very important hitters for Detroit. In the rotation, Detroit relies Justin Verlander to rack up innings and wins since the rest of their staff is shaky. A resurgence by the currently injured Dontrelle Willis would make the Tigers the favorite for the division, but I wouldn’t count on Willis. Jeremy Bonderman and Nate Robertson need to keep the Tigers in the games they pitch in and their bullpen must somehow hold itself together (Brandon Lyon is the closer!) or else Detroit will be looking at a long offseason.
This division is so competitive that the Twins may have as good a chance as the Indians, White Sox, and Twins to win the division. Led by Francisco Liriano and Scott Baker, the Twins have the best 1-2 punch in the AL Central, but the remainder of their rotation is worrisome with Glen Perkins, Nick Blackburn, and Kevin Slowey all inconsistent pitchers. Justin Morneau will put up big numbers as usual, but Joe Mauer needs to find his power-stroke again. The rest of the Twins’ lineup has the likes of Joe Crede, Alexi Castilla, and Denard Span, all of who can help out a little bit, but none can carry the offense. Having Joe Nathan at the back of the bullpen will certainly help the Twins in their quest for the division title.
Kansas City may be the only team in this division without a legitimate shot at the title, but even they could shock baseball and find themselves in the playoffs. With Zach Greinke and Gil Meche accompanying Kyle Davies, Brian Bannister, and Luke Hochevar, the Royals have a solid starting staff. The lineup is the weak point of the team with Jose Guillen batting in the cleanup spot. Mike Jacobs adds some power to the team and Coco Crisp some speed, but overall, this lineup is going to have a tough time competing with the rest of the league. However, a couple of breakout years from some young players and the Royals could all of a sudden find themselves in the midst of the division race.