Thursday, April 2, 2009

First to Third: Divisional Previews - AL Central

The AL Central is bound to be an interesting race as talent-wise, the teams match up pretty well with one another.

Fresh Meat: Former Cubs utilityman Mark DeRosa should settle in nicely for the Indians at third base. Playing second, third, or either of the corner outfield positions in Chicago last year, DeRosa hit .285 with 21 home runs and 87 RBI in 505 at-bats. As an everyday player, look for DeRosa to do that and more. In spring training with the Indians he hit .400 in 25 at-bats with a slugging percentage of .907. You can argue that spring training doesn't mean anything (and I'm not considering his WBC stats) but any player who hits 200 points better than his career slugging percentage is bound for a break out season.

Dearly Deported: After failing to get his batting average over the Mendoza line during spring training, the Tigers chose to cut Gary Sheffield (pictured) and eat the $14 million left on his contract rather that watch him take cuts in the batter's box this season. Sheff is just another veteran power bat that will be homeless as the season starts as the game itself begins to place more of an importance on athleticism. Someone will take a chance on him and his 499 career home runs for the league minimum, so Sheff will be back.

How They'll Finish:
  1. Twins - Even without a veteran stopper at the top of the rotation, the Twins still managed to stay in the AL Central race until the very end in 2008, losing to the White Sox in a one-game playoff. This season, the Twin pitchers should continue to mature, leading Minnesota to the playoffs. It's their division to lose.
  2. White Sox - A lot of people think that the Sox will sink toward the bottom of the division, but I still like their pitching staff. The lineup isn't great and is getting old, which will keep them out of the playoffs. The Sox will miss Javy Vazquez at the top of the rotation and won't challenge Minnesota at the end of the year.
  3. Indians - There is no way Cliff Lee wins the Cy Young award in 2009. Given that, where does that leave the Cleveland rotation? Pavano? Carmona? Does anyone see any consistent production in that top three? If the Indians don't get consistency, they won't be playing meaningful baseball in the fall.
  4. Royals - KC added a couple of nice pieces in the off-season as they continue to strive for mediocrity. It won't be long until the Royals compete for this division, but I just can't see it this year, they just don't have enough pitching.
  5. Tigers - Detroit actually could be very good if everyone stays healthy and if their rotation returns to the 2006 form that took the Tigers to the World Series. Unfortunately, Justin Verlander has lost velocity on his fastball and is on a one-way trip to Mark Prior-ville. There is no one that Jim Leyland can count on in the bullpen and Dontrelle Willis was placed on the DL with an anxiety disorder. That just doesn't sound good and neither do the Tigers' 2009 chances.

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