Sports

American League Central 2009 Preview

indians

Cleveland Indians:

The Indians are coming off of a 2008 season no one saw coming. In 2007 they were one game away from the World Series, so you can imagine where some may think there was some potential heading into 2008. Unexplainably they started the season out cold. Mix in a few injuries here and there, and you have a unproductive 2008.

There was hope at the end though. The team seemed to wake up and play the baseball they were meant to the last two months of the season. It’s a new year with new expectations. The Indians have a lot to be excited about again this year.

To start they have last years reigning Cy Young winner in Cliff Lee. Behind him in the rotation is someone who I personally put a lot of stock in last year, Fausto Carmona. That stock plummeted last year. He is still very young and a very real threat to be a top ten pitcher in this league.

The Indians also picked up closer Kerry Wood from the Cubs and Carl Pavano from the Yankees. Wood is coming off a great season in 2008, but if his career has shown you anything, he’ll usually follow up good with bad. He is a bit more of a sure thing than the disaster Joe Barowski was last year for them as a closer.

I’m so intrigued to see what Pavano does this year for the Indians. He has always had the talent, but in New York he was literally the biggest bust the town has ever seen. The Indians offense is headed by relatively new super-star Grady Sizemore, who just needs to raise his average to become one of the biggest offensive threats in baseball.

The Indians also added Mark DeRosa to their line-up, who is a real wild card because of the fact that last year was his first real big offensive output. Next there is the two names that the Indians have depended on for the last 6 years for their power, Travis Hafner and Victor Martinez. You don’t really know what you’re going to get from them this year, but I do see Hafner getting close to what he used to be.

Also there are a few consistent hitters that you kind of know what you’ll be getting from them in Ryan Garko and Johnny Peralta (20 home runs and about 75 rbis). All in all I think the Indians have a good shot of winning a wide open and very talented A.L. Central.

Diamond in the rough:
 
mattMatt LaPorta (OF): Matt was the selling point in the C.C. Sabathia trade last year. He is a patient and powerful young hitter that will be playing by May in left field. The Indians are weak in left field and could give LaPorta a chance as soon as Ben Fransisco doesn’t produce. If LaPorta can produce even a little, the Indians outfield will be one of the youngest and best in the American League.

May not live up to expectations:

cliffCliff Lee (SP): I’m sorry Cliff Lee, I just don’t think you have it in you. Last year was magical and I was happy for you. You are just too streaky throughout your career for me to believe that you’re going to do it again. I see him getting about 14-16 wins this year, which in any year but this one would’ve been great for you. Then again he’s never come into a season following a 22 win season. I hope for the best, but I don’t think it’s happening.

 

royals

Kansas City Royals:

Why Royals? How can you be so bad for so long? You get top draft picks every year. Look at the Rays, it’s paying off for them. Is it your turn? Not this year. The good news is that they will be respectable. They do have that talent on their team, it just hasn’t done what it should of yet.

It’s another year for Kansas City to think Alex Gordon is going to be George Brett, maybe this year he finally steps into the beginnings of that role. Or we could step back and realize that it’s only his third full year in the majors.

They still have Jose Guillen who is going to hit another 25 home runs and drive in 100 runs. An increase in his batting average would be a great help. He also needs to become a positive leader on a young team, instead of complaining about their losses. Someone who will fill that role immediately is newly acquired Coco Crisp who will bring his winning experience from Boston.

The Royals brought a big bat in with Mike Jacobs from the Marlins, who looks to build on a very impressive year in which he hit 32 home runs. On the negative side he only posted a batting average of .248. I expect big things from him this year with just as many dingers, and a hopefully improved on base percentage and a decrease in his strike outs.

The area in which the Royal’s potential could start to pay off this year is in their pitching staff. They have Zack Greinke who made strides to becoming the pitcher everyone thought he would be. He is only 25 and coming off a year in which he was 13-10 with a 3.47 ERA. More importantly he finished the year strong with great numbers in September. Kyle Davies did the same last year and showed that the former prize of the Braves pitching prospects could start to be a valuable key to the future of the Royals.

The last of the 25 year olds is Luke Hochevar. He is a former number one draft pick who entered the major leagues last year and wore down at the end. Hopefully he will push through this year and have a much improved season from start to finish. At the end of the game the Royals will rely on all-star Joakim Soria. He saved 42 games last year with a miniscule 1.60 ERA, not a bad person to hand the lead off to.

Diamond in the rough:

mikeMike Aviles (SS): I know that when you’re talking about the Royals, any success is surprising, but I had to pick one. Aviles came from nowhere last year as a 27 year old rookie and showed great promise a the major league level. He hit 10 home runs in about a hundred games last year with a very impressive .325 average. I see his home runs going up and his average going down just a bit. I think he will hit about 18-20 home runs this year and show that he should be batting third in the Royals line-up.

Might not live up to expectations:

kilaKila Ka’aihue (DH): Don’t get me wrong, this kid is a beast, with a capital BEAST. I just don’t think that this is the year that he makes an impact at the major league level. He will at one point in a big big way, but I don’t see him being more than an experiment at the end of the season this year. He would need a total collapse from Mike Jacobs and Billy Butler to get a real shot, and even then he has some monstrous expectations to live up to. The expectations that will collapse him at first but then fade away and let him produce.

tigers

Detroit Tigers:

Beginning the 2008 year the Tigers looked stronger offensively that most teams ever have. They were one year removed from the World Series and looked like it was going to be an easy transition back to dominance, and this time it would be expected. Just one problem, it all fell apart. Their offense did not produce anywhere close to where it should’ve.

The Tigers dominating young pitchers didn’t produce at all like they did in the two years prior. It was a disaster. The good thing about this year? They still have all the pieces that made them a unanimous pick a year ago to win the World Series.They still have two of the best hitters in the game heading up the middle of their lineup in Magglio Ordonez and Miguel Cabrera.

They also have a speedy centerfielder who just keeps getting better and better in Curtis Granderson. Granderson is the key to the Tigers offensive production this year. His power numbers are surprising (22 home runs last year), but the Tigers need his OBP to keep rising along with his stolen bases. Big prediction: Granderson is going to have a monster year.  

Almost equally as disappointing as the offense was the play of the pitching staff in 2008. Justin Verlander was coming off a Cy Young caliber season in 07′ and was only 24, sounds like a sure fire winner for 2008. No dice, he finished last year 11-17 with no real explanation why. I don’t expect it to follow him into this season though. He’s another year older and still has the firepower he has always had. A turnaround from Verlander could lead to a turnaround for the whole staff.

There are other questions within the staff though. Is Dontrelle Willis going to get his accuracy back? Can Jeremy Bonderman overcome injuries from last year to get back to his overpowering form from 2007? Will Edwin Jackson become the pitcher he showed signs of becoming in Tampa Bay? Can Armando Galarraga follow up to a great rookie season last year?

It’s a bunch of questions that hold the key to their season. If they all are answered positively for Detroit this year, watch out. They could make up for the holes they have offensively at short-stop, catcher, and third-base this year.

Diamond in the rough:

marcusMarcus Thames (DH): Marcus Thames hits home runs. He hits home runs against righties, he hits them against lefties. The craziest thing about him is that he doesn’t get more than 350 at bats a year. Well this is the year that all changes. With Gary Sheffield growing older and less powerful, Thames is primed to take his spot as DH this year if Sheffield doesn’t produce immediately. He has hit too well for too long to be left on the bench again. It is truly frustrating watching Thames come off the bench and slam the ball out of the stadium, then move right back onto the bench. The Tigers have to use him more this year, and when they do his numbers will be great.

Might not live up to expectations:

magglioMagglio Ordonez (OF): I think this is going to be another year like 2004 and 2005 for Magglio. I don’t see him playing more than 80 games this year. He’s 35 and has declined slowly since 2003. He has had great years in the past and fans have become accustomed to the gaudy numbers he usually puts up, not this year Detroit. I think this year officially begins the end for Ordonez. I think his batting average will drop marginally, but the power numbers go way down this year. That is if he is not injured.

 

twins

Minnesota Twins:

I like them this year, which is scary for the Twins because I never think much of them and then they succeed anyways. They are never impressive but play the game hard and do the little things right every year. They lose the best pitcher in the history of their organization, who cares. The Twins find a way every year to contend for the central title.

This year I think they have the tools to surpass their success last year. Their offense starts with one of the fastest men in baseball, Carlos Gomez. He’s going to steal 50 bases this year, yeah I said it and I don’t care who hears me. With that said it means Gomez will have to increase his OBP by a great deal. He is the key this year for the Twins, if he can be more patient, use his speed to get himself on base, he will get more steals and produce much more runs.

You know that Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau are going to produce if they are healthy. It’s weird because people still don’t seem to know about Morneau even now. He’s been a wrecking ball for three years straight now, someday we’ll all wake up and realize that he is one of the best first basemen in baseball.

There are some variables this year for the Twins offensively. One of them is the production of Delmon Young. Last year his stolen bases were a surprise, but so was his lack of power, finishing last year with only 10 home runs. Another question mark is Michael Cuddyer. If he can produce like he has in the past and avoid injury this lineup will have more power than it has possessed in a long long time.

If the offense does produce like I think it will this year, there won’t be any problems because their pitching staff if solid. They have Francisco Liriano at the top of their rotation. We all know what he is capable of, it’s just a question if he can stay healthy enough to show off that talent. If he does stay on the field this year there is no telling what he can accomplish this year. It might have people asking “Johan who?”.

Behind Liriano is a slew of intelligent and controlled pitcher. Kevin Slowey emerged last year as a great young pitcher who threw a lot of strikes, maybe too many at times. He was effective and controlled the tempo of the at bat. He has to avoid a late season decline like last year, but if he does he will be a great piece to the puzzle in their rotation.

Scott Baker will is a pitcher that I’m excited to watch this year. He is also a young arm for the Twins. He started out with an impressive 11-4 record last year before injury took away the rest of his season. At the end of the game the Twins are almost unbeatable because of continually dominating closer Joe Nathan. He just keeps doing it year after year, and seems like he’ll just do it forever.

Diamond in the rough:

delmonDelmon Young (OF): I was one of the stupid people last year that looked at Delmon Young with way too high of hopes. I had to step and realize that he was only 22 last year. I think this is the year that people stop remembering him as the kid who threw the bat at the umpire  and start seeing the player he is going to become. I think he hits 20-25 home runs this year and steals over 30 bases. You would think I would learn no to expect so much from him, but here I go again. I just don’t think he’s going to disappoint this year. I think he is the catalyst of this usually inept lineup.

Might not live up to expectations:

franciscoFrancisco Liriano (SP): Don’t take this as me saying he won’t do anything this year. I just found myself putting way too high of expectations upon him. I’m logical, but I don’t think Twins fans will be this year about his level of success. I think he is going to make great strides this year to becoming one of the best pitchers in the league, but I just don’t think he will be one of the best this year. I think he has a lot to learn and has to stay healthy. Again I think he is going to do well this year, but just not as well as what the stupidly excitable voice inside my head thinks.

whitesox

Chicago White Sox:

The Chicago have a lot to be excited about, and just as much to be wary of.  They have a “come out of nowhere” slugger in Carlos Quinten. The scary thing about coming out of nowhere is that they can easily go back to nowhere. His numbers were outrageous last year and could’ve easily landed him an A.L. MVP. He does have age working for him, he is young and kids his age usually don’t decline in talent.

The White Sox also have one of the best young second basemen in Alexei Ramirez. His skinny little body somehow produced 21 home runs and 85 rbis. How many second basemen are doing that in the major leagues? Not many.

There is also young talent in their pitching rotation. Last year both John Danks and Gavin Floyd burst onto the scene and showed that the White Sox have something to build their rotation around. Floyd finally realized his potential and had a great season with 17 wins and pitched in over 200 innings. As solid as his season was it was only a bit better than his youthful counterpart Danks. Danks posted 12 wins but a better ERA.

These two could push each other this year and end up being one of the better young pitching duos in baseball. On the other side the White Sox are hindered by older declining talent in the pitching staff and at important parts of their lineup. They signed Bartolo Colon who will be turning 36 this year and hasn’t had a solid year 2005.

Offensively is where the White Sox really show their age. They have Jim Thome (38) ,Jermaine Dye (35),Paul Konerko (33), and A.J. Pierzynski (33). I’m not saying they can’t hit this year, but their durability has to come into the question.

When it comes down to it the White Sox need to do more than just hit home runs. They have to begin to acquire more speed and build upon the youth that they have. They stole 67 bases last year as a team, Willy Taveras had 68 by himself.

Diamond in the rough:

jerryowensJerry Owens (CF): This is a real dangerous pick. I love what Owens can do with his speed, which is exactly what the White Sox are missing. It’s just my concern with his bat. He has to develop his contact so he can use his speed. If he improves his bat he could be the missing piece to the White Sox’ offense. That is a big “if” though.

Might not live up to expectations:

paulkPaul Konerko (1B): This could’ve been said at the beginning of last year as well. He’s just not the same dominating force he used to be only a few years ago. It might not be fair to say “he’s not going to live up to expectations”, because I don’t have very high expectations to start with. I just think people are living in the past when they think he’s going to hit 30 home runs and drive in 110 runs. He’s getting old and his numbers are only going fade away slowly.

Predictions:

1st: Minnesota Twins

2nd: Cleveland Indians

3rd: Detroit Tigers

4th: Chicago White Sox

5th: Kansas City Royals

Leave a Comment

  1. Very nice Twins information. I think Morneau will be a future hall-of-famer.
    I hope to be in Minnesota for a game this fall. I am visiting from Peru.