2009 MLB Preview: American League Central

We’ll continue the previews with the AL Central. It’d make sense for me to jump to the NL East from here, what with their games beginning on Sunday night with the Phillies hosting the Braves, but hey, whatever.

Like the last post, the teams will be previewed in order of their appearance in the year-end standings a year ago, with my official predictions coming at the end of the six preview sets.

This will probably not be as exhaustive as the AL East preview, on account of my not being quite as familiar with these teams.

chisox

The White Sox rebounded from a terrible 2007 and found themselves back in the playoffs last year for the first time since their World Series championship in 2005. The return to form can be credited to the team’s pitching staff — which rebounded from being the worst in the AL to its sixth stingiest — as well as the additions of outfielder Carlos Quentin and utilityman Alexei Ramirez.

Before breaking his wrist, Quentin carried the Sox offense, slugging 36 homers, driving in 100 runs, scoring 96 times and on-basing .394. Meanwhile, the Cuban defector Ramirez belted 21 homers and swiped 12 bases while seeing time primarily at four positions. Their contributions to the lineup were especially important given how drastically Paul Konerko and Nick Swisher performed. (Let’s face it, in Swisher’s case, when a getting-by-on-fumes Ken Griffey Jr. seems like a better idea to play center field every day, you know it’s a bad year.)

On the hill, it was the unexpected emergence of Phillies prospect-turned-washout Gavin Floyd and the apparent leap forward made by John Danks that buoyed the Sox back into the playoffs. Whether they can repeat their performances remains to be seen, but my questions about Floyd are much more significant.

The bottom line is, before 2008, Floyd never looked like much of a pitcher at the Big League level. And that’s being kind. He had a career ERA over 6 in just under 200 innings. For every three batters he struck out, he walked two. He also allowed 37 home runs in that span. (And, for all you win-loss junkies out there, his record over this span was a dazzling 9-10.)

But then, suddenly, he figures it all out last year and posts a 3.84 ERA while winning 17 games. Now, I’ll give you this — most often, a player doesn’t enter the prime of his career until he turns 26. Last year, Floyd turned 25. So it’s possible that last season was his breakout year.

Unfortunately, there’s a lot of evidence that it was not that, and that Floyd just encountered a tremendous string of luck. Without delving too deeply into his 2008 season, it can surmised that he either regularly benefited from tremendous defense behind him — not likely — OR that he just got very, very lucky. The batting average for balls put into play against Floyd last year was .268, which was drastically lower than his career average. Batters seemed to hit slightly fewer line drives against Floyd last year as well, while his control didn’t appear to improve noticeably, and he still allowed a ton of home runs.

I’m not saying Floyd reverts to his pre-2008 form of a AAA pitcher masquerading as a big leaguer in 2009, but I’d be stunned if he was able to keep what appears to be an unbelievable string of luck going this season. Combine that with the replacement of the solid, if unspectacular Javier Vazquez with the doughy and frequently unspectacular Bartolo Colon, and Chicago’s pitching could take a major hit again this year.

It also remains to be seen whether Quentin is the real deal, especially coming back from a wrist injury, if Josh Fields is ready to step in for Joe Crede at third after a false start in his first Major League stint, and if Chris Getz will be productive as the team’s apparent every day second baseman.

KEY ADDS: Bartolo Colon, SP; Wilson Betemit, IF
KEY LOSSES: Javier Vazquez, SP; Orlando Cabrera, SS; Juan Uribe, IF; Joe Crede, 3B; Ken Griffey Jr., OF; Nick Swisher, OF; Boone Logan, RP

PROJECTED OPENING DAY LINEUP:
1.) Dewayne Wise, CF
2.) A.J. Pierzynski, C
3.) Jim Thome, DH
4.) Carlos Quentin, LF
5.) Jermaine Dye, RF
6.) Alexei Ramirez, SS
7.) Paul Konerko, 1B
8.) Josh Fields, 3B
9.) Chris Getz, 2B

That’s an interesting looking lineup.

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
1.) Mark Buehrle, LHP
2.) John Danks, LHP
3.) Gavin Floyd, RHP
4.) Jose Contreras, RHP
5.) Bartolo Colon, RHP
Key Relievers: Octavio Dotel, RHP; Scott Linebrink, RHP; Matt Thornton, LHP
Closer: Bobby Jenks, RHP

twins

I’ve all but stopped trying to figure out the Minnesota Twins. They seem to win around 85 games a year and always find themselves in the playoff picture when September rolls around. They do this despite the team’s need to maintain a low payroll, often leading to trades of many of the team’s star players — though I’m pretty sure they have Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau locked up.

They also have an elite closer in Joe Nathan and a ton of affordable, young pitching. Obviously, Francisco Liriano is a name most baseball fans are familiar with. Those same fans might be familiar with Kevin Slowey, but that’s not a sure thing. I have a feeling, though, that it will be by the end of this season. He’s got some good stuff and unbelievable control.

There wasn’t a lot of turnover from last year’s 88-win team. Mike Lamb has essentially been replaced by Joe Crede, and perhaps the biggest loss was the defection of Dennys Reyes to the Cardinals.

The biggest question marks for the 2009 team may be the uncertain injury situations of Scott Baker, who will start the year on the disabled list instead of as the team’s opening day starter, and Mauer, who will be sidelined with a back injury. Obviously, this team needs Mauer healthy — even more than Baker — to be successful.

KEY ADDS: Joe Crede, 3B; Luis Ayala, RP
KEY LOSSES: Mike Lamb, 3B; Dennys Reyes, RP; Adam Everett, SS

PROJECTED OPENING DAY LINEUP:
1.) Carlos Gomez, CF
2.) Alexi Casilla, 2B
3.) Justin Morneau, 1B
4.) Michael Cuddyer, RF
5.) Jason Kubel, DH
6.) Delmon Young, LF
7.) Joe Crede, 3B
8.) Mike Redmond, C
9.) Nick Punto, SS

As you can see, the dropoff in this lineup without Mauer is considerable.

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
1.) Francisco Liriano, LHP
2.) Kevin Slowey, RHP
3.) Glen Perkins, LHP
4.) Nick Blackburn, RHP
5.) Scott Baker, RHP (starts on DL)
Key Relievers: Jesse Crain, RHP; Craig Breslow, LHP
Closer: Joe Nathan, RHP

indians

The Cleveland Indians were maybe the trendiest pick to make it to the World Series prior to the 2008 season. I was never really on board with that pick — I hopped right on the shittier trendy picks, Detroit and Seattle, though — but I guess the thought process was that the Tribe had a pair of aces in CC Sabathia and Fausto Carmona, a solid bullpen — in spite of closer Joe Borowski, of course — a tremendous slugger in Travis Hafner, an all-world leadoff man in Grady Sizemore, and one of the game’s top offensive catchers in Victor Martinez.

So, how did all of that turn out?

Well, Sabathia struggled for a month before he got going, and was traded away shortly thereafter, Carmona regressed to an amazing degree and finished the year with an ERA almost 2.5 points higher than his 2007 mark, Joe Borowski somehow managed to get worse and was mercifully cut, the rest of the bullpen sort of turned into a house of cards as they struggled to find a closer, leading to frequent late inning chaos (oh yeah, closer-in-waiting Rafael Betancourt melted down, too), Hafner looked anemic when he managed to get in the lineup, and Martinez was hurt for much of the year.

Sizemore, though, was still awesome.

In spite of all of this, the Indians managed to win 81 games. Maybe the bandwagoners were right. We’ll probably see this year, with a couple new faces along for the ride. I wouldn’t expect another miracle out of Cliff Lee, though.

KEY ADDS: Mark DeRosa, IF/OF; Kerry Wood, RP; Carl Pavano, SP; Joe Smith, RP
KEY LOSSES: Franklin Gutierrez, OF; Juan Rincon, RP

PROJECTED OPENING DAY LINEUP:
1.) Grady Sizemore, CF
2.) Mark DeRosa, 3B
3.) Shin-Soo Choo, RF
4.) Victor Martinez, C
5.) Travis Hafner, DH
6.) Ryan Garko, 1B
7.) Jhonny Peralta, SS
8.) Ben Francisco, LF
9.) Asdrubal Cabrera, 2B

Not sure if they’re thinking about it or not, but Sizemore would probably look pretty good as the #3 hitter.

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
1.) Cliff Lee, LHP
2.) Fausto Carmona, RHP
3.) Carl Pavano, RHP
4.) Scott Lewis, LHP
5.) Anthony Reyes, RHP
Key Relievers: Jensen Lewis, RHP; Rafael Perez, LHP; Masa Kobayashi, RHP; Joe Smith, RHP, Rafael Betancourt, RHP
Closer: Kerry Wood, RHP

royalsThe Royals took a step in the right direction last year, clawing free from the tyranny of last place in the AL Central and finishing the year at 75-87, good enough for fourth place in their division ahead of the team I thought would go to the World Series. (Because I’m a dumbass.)

There were some things to like about the team last year. Among them were new manager Trey Hillman, rookie Mike Aviles, the pair atop the rotation of Gil Meche and Zack Greinke — who looks like he’s finally realizing the potential that at one point had him gaining comparisons to Greg Maddux (I wouldn’t go that far, though) — and dominant closer Joakim Soria. The rest of the team’s regulars ranged from average to solid, with the exception of Tony Pena Jr., who is a black hole on offense.

Following a promising year, Kansas City GM Dayton Moore went out and made a few nice moves that essentially served to adequately replace players the team lost, while also removing the black hole Pena from the lineup. By trading for Coco Crisp, the Royals added possibly the best defensive center fielder in baseball. That move precipitated a shift from center to left field by David DeJesus, while Jose Guillen moved over to right field. Billy Butler will remain the team’s designated hitter, while Mark Teahen — last year’s right fielder, and originally the team’s third baseman — will return to the infield and try his hand at second base. Aviles, meanwhile, will slide over to shortstop to replace Pena, though in all probability Pena will see time at shortstop in late innings situations where the Royals hold a lead, and there’ll be a whole new series of shifts to worry about then.

The Royals also got Mike Jacobs relatively cheaply from the Marlins. He should take over as the team’s every day first baseman and add more power to a lineup that had only one 20 home run hitter in it a year ago.

New addition Juan Cruz will likely act as the team’s setup man, though Kyle Farnsworth is capable of doing so as well depending on how much of a headcase he is at that given moment. They’ll pretty much be asked to replace Ramon Ramirez, who was sent to Boston in the Crisp deal, and Leo Nunez, who went to the Marlins in the Jacobs deal, in the Royals bullpen.

KEY ADDS: Mike Jacobs, 1B; Coco Crisp, CF; Juan Cruz, RP; Kyle Farnsworth, RP
KEY LOSSES: Ramon Ramirez, RP; Leo Nunez, RP; Joey Gathright, OF; Ross Gload, 1B/OF; Brett Tomko, P

PROJECTED OPENING DAY LINEUP:
1.) Coco Crisp, CF
2.) David DeJesus, LF
3.) Billy Butler, DH
4.) Jose Guillen, RF
5.) Mike Jacobs, 1B
6.) Mike Aviles, SS
7.) Alex Gordon, 3B
8.) Mark Teahen, 2B
9.) John Buck, C

If Teahen continues to adjust well to second base, this is a lineup that could quietly do a lot of damage.

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
1.) Gil Meche, RHP
2.) Zack Greinke, RHP
3.) Kyle Davies, RHP
4.) Sidney Ponson, RHP
5.) Horacio Ramirez, LHP
Key Relievers: Juan Cruz, RHP; Kyle Farnsworth, RHP; Ron Mahay, LHP
Closer: Joakim Soria, RHP

tigersAs you may have guessed from my earlier comments that I jumped aboard this bandwagon last year and got totally fucked for it… I have some problems with this team.

This team’s opening day lineup a year ago contained Ivan Rodriguez, Miguel Cabrera, Placido Polanco, Carlos Guillen, Edgar Renteria, Marcus Thames, Curtis Granderson, Magglio Ordonez and Gary Sheffield. The hype, of course, was that they’d score 1,000+ runs. I’ll give myself this much credit: I never thought they’d score that many runs. However, I thought they’d score a lot of runs. And, here’s the key, I also thought they would allow fewer runs than they scored.

But no. Justin Verlander, Kenny Rogers, Jeremy Bonderman, Dontrelle Willis and Nate Robertson all had other ideas. I guess they thought their team would score 1,000 runs too, because these guys were the shits last year. The team’s ace ended up being a guy by the name of Armando Gallarraga. They signed the corpse of Freddy Garcia to try to bail them out, and that predictably failed miserably. The bullpen was a disgrace. I don’t even remember how the fuck Joel Zumaya injured himself last year, and I’ve long since stopped caring. Denny Bautista and Aquilino Lopez emerged as the team’s best options out of the pen a year ago. They’re no longer with the team. Closer Todd Jones is gone, too. Kenny Rogers departed, no big loss.

Among last year’s “Thousand Run Offense” (actual runs scored: 821), Pudge, Edgar Renteria, Matt Joyce and Gary Sheffield are all gone. They even swallowed $14 million to get rid of Sheffield after whatever the hell his 2008 season was.

And how did they improve upon last year’s debacle? They traded Joyce for the unproven former fifth starter of the Tampa Bay Rays, Edwin Jackson. They also signed a pair of catchers and no-hit shortstop Adam Everett, who will probably do his best Edgar Renteria impression anyway.

I hate this team.

KEY ADDS: Edwin Jackson, SP; Brandon Lyon, RP; Gerald Laird, C; Matt Treanor, C; Adam Everett, SS
KEY LOSSES: Gary Sheffield, OF; Edgar Renteria, SS; Kenny Rogers, SP; Todd Jones, RP; Kyle Farnsworth, RP; Matt Joyce, OF; Freddy Garcia, SP; Casey Fossum, RP

PROJECTED OPENING DAY LINEUP:
1.) Curtis Granderson, CF
2.) Placido Polanco, 2B
3.) Miguel Cabrera, 1B
4.) Magglio Ordonez, RF
5.) Marcus Thames, DH
6.) Carlos Guillen, LF
7.) Gerald Laird, C
8.) Brandon Inge, 3B
9.) Adam Everett, SS

PROJECTED STARTING FIVE:
1.) Justin Verlander, RHP
2.) Edwin Jackson, RHP
3.) Zach Miner, RHP
4.) Rick Porcello, RHP
5.) Armando Galarraga, RHP
Key Relievers: Brandon Lyon, RHP; Joel Zumaya, RHP
Closer: Fernando Rodney, RHP

Awful.

AL West coming up.

Logo photos courtesy of sportslogos.net.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: