American League Central Preview: Midwest Makeovers

Dale Perth | Fri. Mar 29 2013, 05:03 pm

Of all the divisions in the major leagues, this could be one of the toughest to predict. Many changes have occurred with most of the five teams here, and one of the clubs which overhauled the most will see an immediate payoff in the standings.

CHICAGO WHITE SOX

2013 Predicted Wins Over/Under: 80.5

The South Side of Chicago is the baddest part of town, and if you go down there you better become aware that the White Sox might as well sign Leroy Brown. The “bad, bad” fictional gangster of the Jim Croce song would at least provide some vibrancy to this team which, for the second straight off-season, has done almost nothing to improve itself while watching more of its talent depart (catcher A.J. Pierzynski, corner infielder Kevin Youkilis, pitchers Brett Myers and Francisco Liriano). Having said all that, the wins total seems a little low for this team because they still have Chris Sale, Addison Reed, Dayan “Tank” Viciedo, Tyler Flowers, free swinger Adam Dunn and the people’s champion, Paul Konerko. Sale has become one of the best starting pitchers in the league: if the rest of the rotation can stay healthy, they’ll easily finish above .500 and maybe even work themselves into a wild-card spot. However, there always seem to be health questions surrounding A.J. Peavy, John Danks and Gavin Floyd. If the best the front office can do is get Jeff Keppinger to play third base and Matt Lindstrom as a reliever and spot starter, no one should be surprised if this club remains mired in the middle of the pack, regardless of what Dylan Alexrod may be able to offer. Predicted finish: Third in the division, and seventh to 10th in the league.

CLEVELAND INDIANS

2013 Predicted Wins Over/Under: 77.5

Plenty of baseball-related errors have been made along the shore of Lake Erie in the past few years, but the brain trust have to be hopeful that they’ve turned a corner. While new manager Terry Francona left his last job in Boston under a cloud in 2011, he’s spent a year as a TV analyst and is likely to bring new insights to his latest position: let’s not forget the two World Series rings he helped bring to the Red Sox. The other new faces have some positives, too: Michael Bourn brings speed to center field and the top of the order, Nick Swisher hits for average and occcasionally finds the areas beyond the fences, and this could be the year Carlos Santana fulfils his promise and becomes one of the dominant offensive catchers in the league. Then there is the pitching rotation: Ubaldo Jimenez, Justin Masterson and Brett Myers should be productive, but closer Chris Perez always manages to injuure himself somehow. Lonnie Chisenhall has to prove he can justify the numbers and defense needed for a third baseman, Michael Brantley and Drew Stubbs also have to prove the naysayers wrong, and Jason Kipnis must find some consistency. Predicted finish: Fourth in the division, and eighth to 13th in the league.

DETROIT TIGERS

2013 Predicted Wins Over/Under: 92.5

Ladies and gentlemen, here are your American League champions … who could do nothing to prevent from being swept in the World Series. Sometimes when teams win a pennant but lose a World Series, they’re tempted to retool: not Detroit. The only move they made was to sign outfielder Torii Hunter, who is a significant upgrade on the departed Delmon Young. Hunter should slot nicely into the second spot in the batting order, which will only grow stronger with him, Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and the return of sweet-swinging Victor Martinez: his season-ending injury in 2012 prompted the club to go all-in on the Prince Fielder sweepstakes. So one of the best batting orders in the American League is now better, but what of the pitching? According to various sources, the Tigers will make 2011 AL MVP and Cy Young winner Justin Verlander the richest pitcher in MLB history. He’s the unquestioned leader of a staff which also contains Max Scherzer, Doug Fister, Anibal Sanchez and Rick Porcello, so that’s a pretty solid group. The story changes in the bullpen: everyone guessed that Jose Valverde would not be welcomed back after his meltdown last season, but it exposes one of the club’s few weaknesses: no proven closer. Bruce Rondon (who?) has the job for now. Even with that situation, the Tigers are still the team to beat. Predicted finish: First in the division, and first or second in the league.

KANSAS CITY ROYALS

2013 Predicted Wins Over/Under: 78.5

By far, the Royals have been the most active when it comes to rebuilding. They had to be, because there hasn’t been much for Kansas City baseball fans to cheer in the last few years. So the club went out and got starters James Shields and Wade Davis from Tampa Bay, Jeremy Guthrie from the Rockies, and Ervin Santana from the Angels. They should be able to thrive in the pitcher-friendly confines of Kauffman Stadium: if one or more of them fails, the bullpen has some starters-in-waiting with Bruce Chen, Luke Hochevar and even Kelvin Herrera, who has focused on relieving for the past couple of seasons. The management has enough faith in Greg Holland as a closer that the moved Jonathan Broxton to the Reds. The young hitters — led by 1B Eric Hosmer, 3B Mike Moustakas, DH Billy Butler and even catcher Savaldor Perez — have to improve for this team to make any noise. If Lorenzo Cain can sharpen his plate discipline, his base-stealing ability will be that much better. If both Alex Gordon and Jeff Francoeur can continue to hit, the Royals can go over on the 78.5 predicted wins and leapfrog the White Sox in the standings. Predicted finish: Second in the division, and sixth to ninth in the league.

MINNESOTA TWINS

2013 Predicted Wins Over/Under: 68.5

Another year, another last-place finish for the lowly Twins. Yes, they still have Joe Mauer, and Justin Morneau appears to have made it all the way back from his concussion issues, but urgent questions must be answered. For instance: can Trevor Plouffe hit enough, and stay healthy enough, to justify manning third base? Will Josh Willingham’s RBI total balance out what little else he brings to the squad? Also, the best they could do in center is Aaron Hicks? Really? Once again, though, it will be their spotty pitching which condemns them to the lower echelons of the league standings. If Vance Worley is your go-to guy at the top of the rotation, you are doomed. If the best you have after that is Mike Pelfrey and Kevin Correia, abandon all hope. Scott Diamond threw several dozen pitches in a minor-league game as he makes strides in his return from injury, but Kyle Gibson is still out. Even if both were ready to go on Opening Day, there are simply too many holes and not enough talent. Unless a miracle or two happens at Target Field, this may be the year longtime manager Ron Gardenhire packs his bags. Predicted finish: Last in the division, and just above Houston for second-last in the league.

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