With Spring Training well under way and the first games already in the books, I figured it was a good time to take a look at my own predictions for the league, and the changes the respective teams have made. Today’s group is the American League Central.
Last Year’s Records
Minnesota – 94-68
Chicago - 88-74
Detroit – 81-81
Cleveland – 69-93
Kansas City – 67-95
Cleveland – Orlando Cabrera
Minnesota – Tsuyoshi Nishioka
Cleveland – NONE
Chicago – This is a team that should compete, and despite losing all of the bullpen pitchers they did, should still be able to hold a lot of leads. They will have Chris Sale in the bullpen for the whole season, and Matt Thornton seems the most likely to be closing games for the team. The addition of Adam Dunn and his 35-40 home runs should help the offense quite a bit, and take some pressure off of both Paul Konerko and Alex Rios.
Cleveland – There’s not a lot to get super excited about here. The team remains in a rebuilding phase, as they hope that youngsters like Matt LaPorta and Justin Masterson can take a step forward. Carlos Santana could emerge as one of the top catchers in baseball, but it remains to be seen how he will recover from his season-ending knee injury last year. I don’t see them competing this year, but they could rebound somewhat with returns from Grady Sizemore and Santana.
Detroit – The Tigers made the first major splash of free agency, adding Victor Martinez to a lineup which could really use another big bat behind Miguel Cabrera. It remains to be seen whether or not Cabrera’s DUI arrest last month will have any affect on the season itself, but the Tigers seem to be the most likely competition for the division title. Their rotation could be even better this year as Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello will build on solid second halves.
Kansas City – It’s going to be pretty ugly this year in KC, and this could be the team most likely to finish with the worst record in baseball. There’s a lot of hope coming, with Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer having the potential to make an appearance in the Majors before the season is over. 2012 is the big push for the Royals, and it could be very good when these prospects start arriving. Until then, the best that Royals fans can hope for is to see improvement from players like Alcides Escobar and Billy Butler.
Minnesota – The reigning division champs, Minnesota retooled the middle of their infield by adding import Tsuyoshi Nishioka to replace traded SS J.J. Hardy on the diamond. They were also able to resign Jim Thome and Carl Pavano to help fill similar roles to last year. Their playoff hopes could very well rest on Justin Morneau and his ability to return from last year’s season-ending concussion.
The AL Central has a couple of teams who seem likely to compete, and a couple who are already practically eliminated. I think that the Twins, Tigers, and White Sox are likely to make solid pushes for the division title, but the division really seems up for grabs. Last season was the first in a while where the AL Central was clinched early, and I think that is unlikely to happen in 2011. Here’s my predicted order of finish:
5. Kansas City